Fantasy News & Analysis

Eight underrated fantasy football players for the 2021 NFL season

Targeting underrated fantasy football players in drafts is a solid way to find surplus value and strong points per reception (PPR) producers. Projection is the name of the game, with consistency and past performance being great indicators of a player’s future potential. Based on their historical data and current average draft price (ADP), those listed below are some of the most underrated fantasy football players in drafts right now.

Let’s dive into why these eight players could return major value in fantasy football leagues in 2021.

Editor's Note: All ADP info is sourced from Underdog Fantasy.

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Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams: QB13 (113.4 ADP)

As it stands, Stafford is being valued just outside of QB1 territory. And while that could be considered a fair price tag when considering his health, Stafford has played in 16 games nine times in the past decade. When it comes to his on-field performance, he has been a relatively consistent and high-level producer. Here are his historical finishes in total fantasy points:

Matthew Stafford fantasy points and rankings among QBs | 2014-20
Category Fantasy Points (Rank)
2014 267.2 (17th)
2015 307.4 (9th)
2016 291.8 (7th)
2017 293.6 (6th)
2018 231.2 (20th)
2019 (Injured — 8 games played) 177.6 (29th)
2020 268.6 (15th)

While the table doesn't include anything prior to 2014, Stafford managed QB6, QB10 and QB5 finishes in the three prior seasons. He’s been trending in the wrong direction, but he is set to embark on a new journey this season with a new team in a new offense and new city. Sean McVay is the best head coach Stafford has ever had, and it’s arguable his weapons are the best he’s ever played with, too.

The Rams got QB18, QB12, QB6 and QB12 finishes out of Jared Goff over the past four seasons. Stafford is inherently more talented, and the Rams' offense could also experience some regression. In 2020, they ran the fourth-most goal-line plays (56) yet scored touchdowns on only 21.2% of their drives (24th).

The talented Stafford is in his best situation yet as an NFL player, the Rams could experience positive regression in the scoring department and the team's skill positions are littered with talent. This is certainly an offense to have a piece of in 2021.

Cam Newton, New England Patriots: QB31 (210.1 ADP)

Newton’s first season in New England was borderline disastrous. The team lacked talent at nearly every skill position, and Newton himself dealt with a bout of COVID-19, which clearly derailed his early-season success. Still, after 15 appearances and the coronavirus, Newton ranked 17th among quarterbacks in total fantasy points (259.5).

He also ranked second in rushing attempts (137), third in rushing yards (592), first in rushing touchdowns (12) and first by a long margin in both red-zone rushing attempts (42) and rushes inside the five-yard line (22).

Mobility is always an asset, and Newton possesses the top-tier ability to create fantasy points by way of his legs. Sure, Mac Jones could eventually take the starting quarterback job, but Newton’s consistency and utter dominance over the past decade (five top-five finishes) is well worth his current price tag, especially when considering the Patriots’ upgrades at tight end and wide receiver.

Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders: RB22 (55.9 ADP)

Much has been made about the Raiders' addition of Kenyan Drake, and rightfully so — he could be a thorn in Jacobs’ side. But Jacobs still finished as the RB8 last season (PPR leagues) and as the RB21 in his rookie campaign.

Jacobs’ biggest knock is his lack of involvement as a receiver, but he still led the running back room in target share (8.1%) and ran the most routes (196) last year. In addition, Jacobs led the way with 65 red-zone rushing attempts (first among all running backs) and 21 carries inside the five-yard line (fourth).

There are some legitimate concerns, though. As a noted pass-catching specialist, Drake could eat into Jacobs’ target share and he also ranked third among running backs with his 22 carries inside the five-yard line. That’s a concern, as is the possible downgrade along the Raiders’ offensive line. Jacobs is still a borderline workhorse back in a half-decent offense and is capable of a top-15 finish at the position. It’s worth the risk.

James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars: RB33 (95.7 ADP)

Not often do you see a player produce a top-seven finish at their position, remain healthy and fall out of the top 32 in drafts the subsequent season. That’s exactly what’s happening with Robinson. The undrafted rookie managed an RB7 finish with 250.4 fantasy points in only 14 games. Had he played 16 games, there was a legit shot for him to finish inside the top four at his position.

Of course, the Jaguars drafted Travis Etienne in the first round, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the potential timeshare that looms. But if preseason Week 1 was any indication, Robinson will be the first running back on the field for Jacksonville. Jaguars beat reporter John Shipley suggested Robinson was going to start based on his and Etienne’s usage in training camp, which is reassuring news.

While Robinson is sure to lose some work to Etienne, most likely in the passing game (56 targets in 2020), he has enough talent and ample opportunity to secure his RB1 role in the offense. His current draft price has him going in the range with strictly committee backs and even behind Green Bay’s A.J. Dillon.

Not to mention, the Jaguars’ offense should experience positive regression this season. The unit ran the ball 30.9% of the time (31st), most likely due to playing the most snaps (791) while trailing of any NFL team.

Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals: WR33 (71.7 ADP)

It makes perfect sense why Boyd is underrated — everyone loves the new shiny toy. Rookie Ja’Marr Chase and up-and-comer Tee Higgins are both tremendous talents and great players, but Boyd has been a consistent weapon for the Bengals over the past three seasons. He has two 1,000-yard seasons across that span and could’ve achieved the feat a third time last year had he remained healthy.

Even with the injuries, Boyd led the way with 108 targets and a strong 19.6% target share. He also led the Bengals in targets in 2019 (142) and 2018 (103). His fantasy finishes over that same time frame have resulted in WR30, WR17 and WR15 rankings.

There should be a slight level of concern with the new additions at wide receiver, but A.J. Green’s departure is a perfectly cleared route for Chase to inherit, leaving Boyd with more than enough work — and potentially another team-leading target share — to produce this season.

Luckily for Boyd, he does a lot of his damage out of the slot. He ranks fifth in receiving snaps, first in targets and first in receiving yards in the slot among all receivers over the past three seasons. His work out of that alignment should go largely uninterrupted.

Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans: WR44 (88.8 ADP)

The Texans feel like an absolute wasteland for fantasy football purposes this season, but they may actually provide some decent value. Yes, there are a ton of question marks surrounding the team and the quarterback position, but being risky pays off. It may be smart to take advantage while prices remain low.

Cooks is one such gem, as his talent and past performances suggest his ADP should be significantly higher. Outside of an injury-riddled 2019 season, he has topped 1,000 receiving yards in five of the past six seasons and has finished at the WR17, WR13, WR15, WR10 and WR14 spots.

Cooks is an incredibly talented player who wins vertically by stacking cornerbacks and making big plays downfield. Since 2015, no player has secured more receiving yards than Cooks (2,549) on passes traveling 20-plus yards downfield.

The uncertainty is justifiably frightening, but we’re talking about one of the most consistent players in football. And Tyrod Taylor, the presumed starting quarterback, has shown the ability to spin the ball deep. Cooks’ ADP takes into account the terrible situation at quarterback and the Texans’ lackluster roster. What it doesn’t take into account is his upside and consistency.

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins: TE13 (133.2 ADP)

Like some of the other players on this list, Gesicki’s quarterback is in a transition period — albeit a much more stable one. Going from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua Tagovailoa will certainly have some impact on Gesicki’s production. But dating back to last season, the tight end finished as the seventh-highest scoring player at the position (159.3 fantasy points) and showed off his big-play ability with a strong 11.56-yard average depth of target.

Even after shortening the sample size to only games with Tagovailoa as the quarterback (Weeks 8-11, 13-17), Gesicki ranked sixth in scoring (89.7 points) — and that includes Week 15 (Gesicki did not play). Removing that week boosts him up to the TE3 spot.

Gesicki’s ADP drop is likely due to Miami's additions in the receiver room. They may eat into some of his 15.5% target share from last season, but he and Tagovailoa appeared to have nice chemistry in Week 1 of the preseason, as they hooked up on two receptions for 56 receiving yards and two first downs. PFF’s strength of schedule metric ranks the Dolphins’ tight end schedule as the third-easiest this season.

Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots: TE15 (141.8 ADP)

Smith is one of the NFL's best after-the-catch threats, although his raw box score statistics may not show it. He’s finished as the TE16 and TE19 in the past two seasons in limited roles. Over the same time frame, Smith ranks third in yards after the catch per reception (6.8), tied for seventh in yards per route run (1.64) and sixth in missed tackles forced (17).

He could see a decent target share in New England as the team's TE1, but free agent addition Hunter Henry is definitely worrisome for those prospects. With that being said, the hope here is that Smith — and maybe even Henry — will be utilized to a much greater degree, particularly the former, than in his last stop. Both guys have different skill sets, and head coach Bill Belichick has a history of extracting a lot of juice out of his famous two-tight end sets.

While this one is a bit of a projection play, it’s certainly worth the shot — especially at a weak tight end position that may have only a handful of surefire concrete contributors. Draft Smith and make sure to double-down at the position with another relatively reliable threat, providing you with both the upside and protection needed to find at least one weekly starting tight end.

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