The NFL season is right around the corner, and 2021 fantasy football leagues are starting to take shape. This series focuses on starters, startable players and sleepers for IDPs on every NFL team, working through all eight divisions.
With a week of preseason games in the books, there are also some subtle clues that could give us an idea of potential in-season usage to watch in 2021.
What each category means:
Starters: IDPs who should be drafted highly and expected to be utilized on a regular, if not weekly basis, once the season begins. They are the most trustworthy and offer the highest upside and fantasy potential.
Startable: IDPs who are still likely being drafted in most leagues but aren’t players in the “set it and forget it” category. They can provide value as depth pieces who can fill in on bye weeks or in case of injuries to starters.
Sleepers: IDPs who are more under the radar and not necessarily even in a starting role for their respective teams but are good enough to make an impact if situations work out for them. These players are not always being drafted and most will be easily attainable in the average IDP league.
LB Roquan Smith
Smith was a top-three fantasy linebacker in 2020 in pretty much all IDP leagues. He finished sixth in the NFL in total tackles (139) and led all linebackers in tackles for loss (18). His coverage ability sets him apart from the rest of the pack, though. The former Georgia Bulldog finished fourth among all linebackers in coverage grade (84.0) thanks in part to seven passes defensed and two interceptions. Smith will undoubtedly be among the first players drafted at his position this year and has a legitimate shot to repeat his stellar 2020 season, coming in at LB3 in the 2021 IDP rankings.
ED Khalil Mack
Now entering his eighth NFL season, Mack finished 2020 as PFF’s highest-graded edge defender in overall grade (92.3), run-defense (91.7) and as a pass-rusher (90.8). One of the truly elite defenders in the NFL, Mack racked up nine sacks and 50 tackles, and he had league-leading three sacks called back because his team committed penalties. Consider Mack a top option (ED10) in formats where he is eligible for a DL tag but more in the LB3 range if not.
Trevathan’s days as an every-down linebacker may be over — landing more in the 75-80% of snaps category — but he can still be an effective IDP. Trevathan offers a reliable tackle floor, having managed 113 total tackles in 2020 despite just a 77% snap share. After missing seven games in 2019, the nine-year veteran played in every game this past season. Trevathan is locked in as the LB2 for the Bears defense as long as he is healthy, which will allow him to be a serviceable LB3.
DI Akiem Hicks
Hicks has been a solid IDP option along the defensive line since joining the Bears in 2016. Though he missed significant time in 2019, Hicks has managed at least 49 total tackles and 3.5 sacks (his 2020 total) in four of five seasons. He has always been a volume player for IDP, having played over 800 snaps in every season except 2019, and should continue that trend in 2021.
Jackson and/or Gipson are perfectly reliable IDPs for those looking for solid, reliable production. Both players rarely leave the field when healthy, and they are going to split time playing deep and up closer to the line of scrimmage. Figuring out which one of the two to rely on week to week is going to be the biggest struggle, as they both have the ability to either produce or fall flat on the score sheet. It’s very close, but Jackson gets the slight edge in drafts, coming off his most efficient tackling season yet.