Last week’s flurry of player acquisition and movement in NFL free agency sent my fantasy football dynasty rankings through quite the whirlwind. Across the board, player rankings rose and fell based on the projected outlooks of reshuffled rosters.
With the first major wave of free agency in the books, it's time to see how things shook out on the dynasty side with the 2021 NFL Draft set to affect them one more time before the summer.
I’ve already hit on some of my early winners and losers from free agency, in addition to major risers/fallers in best ball. Here's how all of these changes played out when it comes to my 2021 dynasty fantasy football rankings.
2021 FANTASY FOOTBALL DYNASTY RANKINGS
|24||Patrick Mahomes II||KC||QB|
|34||Allen Robinson II||CHI||WR|
|51||Odell Beckham Jr.||CLE||WR|
|75||D.J. Chark Jr.||JAC||WR|
|76||Melvin Gordon III||DEN||RB|
|79||Will Fuller V||MIA||WR|
|85||Ronald Jones II||TB||RB|
|94||Irv Smith Jr.||MIN||TE|
|96||Laviska Shenault Jr.||JAC||WR|
|144||Jeff Wilson Jr.||SF||RB|
|147||Michael Pittman Jr.||IND||WR|
|153||Henry Ruggs III||LV||WR|
|169||Terrace Marshall Jr.||RK||WR|
|179||Lynn Bowden Jr.||MIA||RB|
|180||Marvin Jones Jr.||DET||WR|
|181||Chris Herndon IV||NYJ||TE|
|184||Anthony McFarland Jr.||PIT||RB|
|202||Todd Gurley II||ATL||RB|
|219||Benny Snell Jr.||PIT||RB|
|225||Amon-Ra St. Brown||RK||WR|
|246||Duke Johnson Jr.||FA||RB|
|253||Keelan Cole Sr.||NYJ||WR|
|272||Donald Parham Jr.||LAC||TE|
|275||Mark Ingram II||HOU||RB|
|313||Larry Rountree III||RK||RB|
|336||Jonathan Adams Jr.||RK||WR|
|348||Stevie Scott III||RK||RB|
RISER: THE 2021 ROOKIE RUNNING BACK CLASS
The incoming crop of rookie RBs could be considered a low-key winner at this point. Few teams invested in free-agent running backs, which means several backfields offer rookies immediate opportunity.
Good chance that rookie RBs find their way into immediate opportunities in 2021
Teams with the biggest hole at RB
Teams that might/will add another RB
Teams that have ambiguity in their RB backfields
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) March 20, 2021
The three premier landing spots (Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets) did absolutely nothing during the first wave of free agency to address their glaring holes at running back. It’s easy to see those teams adding to the position in the draft.
I’ve moved up my trio of top rookie running backs — Najee Harris, Javonte Williams and Travis Etienne (all projected for Day 1 to Day 2 draft capital) — along with the majority of the other rookie running backs
The top three could easily find themselves in ideal positions to produce fantasy points from Day 1 in the NFL.
My fourth-highest-ranked rookie running back, Kenny Gainwell, also gets a boost this week after weighing in over 200 pounds at his pro day. That's encouraging for his prospects at the next level after the pass-catching specialist was thought to be around 190.
FALLER: J.K. DOBBINS, BALTIMORE RAVENS
Unfortunately, the rise of the rookies comes at the expense of second-year running back J.K. Dobbins, who falls behind all three in the rankings. The rookie was spectacular down the stretch, finishing as RB11 from Weeks 11-17 in full PPR.
But, as I have warned in the past, running backs tied to a mobile quarterback are often short-changed when it comes to the passing game. As well as Dobbins performed for fantasy from Weeks 11-17, J.D. McKissic actually came in one spot ahead of him because he caught 37 passes. Dobbins caught three.
Dobbins’ outlook would look better if he was the clear-cut workhorse, but that’s not likely the case with Gus Edwards in the mix. Edwards didn't see fewer than seven carries in a game after Week 13. He also was only slightly out-touched by Dobbins (74 to 86) during that time.
FALLER: DAVID JOHNSON, HOUSTON TEXANS
Houston, we have a problem. I listed David Johnson as a “sell” on my Dynasty “To-Do” List piece before free agency, and things have shaped up in the worst ways for the former fantasy superstar. The Texans have a major question mark at quarterback and brought in Tyrod Taylor as their contingency plan.
This is the same mobile quarterback that nuked Austin Ekeler’s pass-catching role in Week 1 of the 2020 season while playing for the Los Angeles Chargers. Not good for anybody hoping DJ can stumble his way into fantasy production on dump-off passes.
To make matters worse, the team also signed former Denver Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay. We could be looking at the league’s ugliest three-headed monster in 2021 between Johnson, Mark Ingram II and Lindsay.
RISER: MIKE BOONE, DENVER BRONCOS
Mike Boone is one of the few backup running backs who saw his ranking significantly rise from irrelevance (outside the top-100) to back-of-the-roster-stash (RB67). Boone signed a deal with the Denver Broncos and only has Royce Freeman between him and the No. 2 role behind Melvin Gordon III.
Boone signed a two-year deal, which means he will be the only running back of consequence on the depth chart under contract at the end of the season, with Gordon/Freeman on expiring contracts.
A SPARQ-X and uber-athletic freak himself, Boone has flashed when given opportunities with the Minnesota Vikings. In a spot start versus the Chicago Bears in Week 17 of the 2019 season, he rushed for over 140 yards, ripping off three rushes of 10 yards or more.
He has explosive upside and should be rostered across every single dynasty league. He has legitimate fantasy RB1 upside if anything were to happen to the 28-year-old MG3.
OTHER RUNNING BACKS ON THE RISE: AARON JONES, CHRIS CARSON, CHASE EDMONDS
OTHER RUNNING BACKS ON THE DECLINE: JOSH JACOBS, A.J. DILLON, RASHAAD PENNY, J.D. MCKISSIC
RISER: JOSH REYNOLDS, TENNESSEE TITANS
Reynolds has been a plug-and-play starter at times with the Los Angeles Rams and has for the most part delivered when called upon. From Weeks 11-17 during the 2018 season, Reynolds stepped in for an injured Cooper Kupp and averaged 10.9 fantasy points per game as the team’s No. 3 starting receiver.
In 2019, Reynolds had a three-game stretch with at least a 90% snap share and averaged 10.7 fantasy points per game.
Reynolds had his best season to date in 2020. He he had at least eight targets and/or 12-plus fantasy points in four different games and was the Rams’ most-targeted receivers 20-plus yards downfield. I expect him to reprise a similar role with Tennessee. Davis led the team in targets 10 or more yards downfield.
With a bigger role on offense, Reynolds sees his ranking rise from outside my top-100 dynasty WRs to WR68.
FALLER: MECOLE HARDMAN, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
FALLER: MARQUISE BROWN, BALTIMORE RAVENS
Hardman and Brown are in eerily similar situations. Both of their teams seem dead set on adding additional pass-catchers, and that spells disaster for each of their fantasy values.
The Chiefs and Ravens were reportedly been linked to free-agent receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Sammy Watkins, Kenny Golladay and Josh Reynolds. Up to this point, neither team has been able to add another receiving threat, but there's still time to add competition for targets with a lesser free agent or the NFL draft.
Hardman’s biggest issue is that he just isn’t on the field enough to provide consistent fantasy value. He only saw a 65% snap share in a quarter of his regular-season games.
Considering the Chiefs are looking to add somebody to replace Watkins instead of promoting Hardman with an expanded role, dynasty managers have to wait for a Tyreek Hill injury for Hardman to have dynasty value.
The Ravens seemed to be connected mostly with slot receivers like JuJu and Watkins — not ideal for any Brown manager. They are scheduled to meet with Watkins this week.
Brown’s 32% target share after Week 11 will certainly fall with another WR option, but I'm more concerned that it will force him to play more on the outside. His smaller size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) has made it difficult for him to get open on the perimeter against bigger and more physical cornerbacks.
Since the start of 2019, Brown ranks 49th out of 67 qualifiers in PFF receiving grade versus man coverage when lined up outside (66.5). Many of Brown’s efficiency marks get a boost when he plays in the slot, so the move inside is a natural fit.
If the Ravens add a slot receiver, it’s back to the boom-or-bust WR3 factory of sadness for Brown.
If neither team lands a slot receiver in free agency, they'll almost certainly draft one. The 2021 wide receiver class is filled with excellent slot receivers.
OTHER WIDE RECEIVERS ON THE RISE: CURTIS SAMUEL, KENNY GOLLADAY, COREY DAVIS, ROBBY ANDERSON
OTHER WIDE RECEIVERS ON THE DECLINE: MIKE EVANS, D.J. CHARK JR., DARIUS SLAYTON, HENRY RUGGS III
FALLER: DESHAUN WATSON, HOUSTON TEXANS
With over a dozen lawsuits filed against him alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct, there is a very real chance he could miss the 2021 NFL season and even beyond.
Dynasty managers should probably hold him at this point. Watson would retain first-round start-up ADP value even if he's suspended for an entire season. Still, his fantasy stock has plummeted, making him a decent buy-low option for any fantasy roster that finds itself in quarterback purgatory.
If you feel stuck with Watson and just want to get out, then it might be worthwhile to send out a trade offer for the 2021 1.01 overall in your league. You might need to add something else to sweeten the deal, but some managers are willing to embrace the variance of Watson’s situation versus a potentially safer option in Trevor Lawrence.
In 2QB/SuperFlex dynasty league which would you rather have?
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) March 22, 2021
RISER: TUA TAGOVAILOA, MIAMI DOLPHINS
Tua Tagovailoa benefited from the last week of NFL free agency. Watson’s situation makes it less likely that Miami sends a godfather offer to Houston for his services, furthering cementing Tua as the team’s future quarterback.
The Dolphins added Jacoby Brissett as a veteran backup, and he isn't a threat to Tagovailoa’s job security. Miami also signed wide receiver Will Fuller, who can provide Tagovailoa with a legitimate deep threat.
Last year, Tua was left out to dry on his deep ball attempts. He suffered the league’s second-worst drop rate (23.1%) on passing attempts 20-plus yards downfield. Fuller didn't drop a single deep-ball target in 2020.
that's why you sign Will Fullerpic.twitter.com/2tY4Tz2Rum
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) March 18, 2021
Considering the Dolphins are also armed with several high-end draft picks in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft, Tua's fantasy stock looks like it’s just going to continue to rise.
OTHER QUARTERBACKS ON THE RISE: DANIEL JONES, MATT RYAN, JAMEIS WINSTON
OTHER QUARTERBACKS ON THE DECLINE: RYAN TANNEHILL, DEREK CARR, JARED GOFF
NO MOVEMENT: JONNU SMITH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
FALLER: HUNTER HENRY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Before the New England Patriots decided to sign both of PFF’s highest-ranked tight ends, I had both Hunter Henry (TE9) and Jonnu Smith (TE12) Hunter Henry (TE9) as top-12 options in my dynasty rankings. They're essentially switching spots now, with Smith as TE12 and Henry as TE13.
I have Smith over Henry because I'm banking on the former in the long-term. Smith’s YAC-ability is one of the traits we find in the most elite fantasy TEs, and Henry just doesn’t have that skill set. Year 1 might be tougher for Smith in New England for fantasy because he might be forced to block more than fantasy managers would hope. But his talent and receiving ability will hopefully translate into top-tier fantasy production eventually.
Smith is also a year younger and has a much cleaner injury history than Henry.