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Andrew Erickson’s top targets in 2021 fantasy football drafts

It’s been a long, rigorous fantasy football offseason, but the time has finally come to put my stamp of approval on a select few players to target across all leagues.

I will be trying to acquire as many of these players as possible in my upcoming drafts — even if it means picking one slightly ahead of their average draft position (ADP) — because they are worth it.

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Last season, Calvin Ridley, David Montgomery, Will Fuller and Brandon Aiyuk were players I targeted frequently, and they paid off big time. 

This group of “my guys” are set up to exceed expectations and will play major roles in leading your team to a fantasy football championship. So with the greatest pleasure, let me introduce my favorite fantasy football picks for the 2021 season. #GiddyUp.

RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals | ADP RB12

Four running backs saw at least 300 touches in 2020, and they all finished as top-eight fantasy running backs. Through the first six weeks of the 2020 season, Mixon was on pace for over 370 touches. 

The Bengals running back ranked second in the league in carries (20 per game), ninth in routes run (21 per game) and 15th in targets (four per game). His overall touches per game (23.3) during the regular season ranked fourth-highest among all running backs.

The heavy workload helped him finish 11th in fantasy points per game (16.9) and fifth in expected fantasy points per game (18.1). 

Mixon’s poor yards per carry figure (3.6) and lack of explosive runs (only three runs of 15-plus yards) tarnished his efficiency metrics in 2020, but the 25-year-old is far from washed. Breakaway run rate is extremely volatile, and there’s no doubt Mixon would have broken off more big runs if he suited up for more games. 

In 2018 and 2019, the ex-Sooner ranked second and fourth, respectively, in 15-plus-yard rushes.

The former second-round pick has bounce-back written all over him for 2021, as Joe Burrow is set to lead a top-scoring offensive unit. Cincinnati’s offensive line is improved, and Giovani Bernard‘s days stealing targets are long gone. During a four-game stretch in 2018 with Bernard out of the lineup, Mixon averaged five targets, 30 routes run and 20 touches per game.

With a poor defense on paper, the Bengals are shaping up to be a fantasy bonanza — shootouts and offensive fireworks as far as the eye can see. If that ends up being the case, Mixon will more than pay off his late second-round ADP because his workload is going to be massive

And don’t just take my word for it. senior writer Geoff Hobson recently appeared on the Pro Football Focus fantasy football program on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio and said that he expects Mixon to see more work than last season. He also said that it’s not just Burrow’s team — it’s Burrow and Mixon’s team. 

So stop the hate, get over that he got hurt last season, and draft Mixon because 2021 is his year. 

RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys | ADP RB5

Elliott is going to get the fed as a rusher this year — the Cowboys rank 11th in rushes per game (26) since 2019. But he's also more involved in the passing game than most realize — his 135 routes run to start last season ranked No. 1 among all running backs and helped vault his fantasy points per game (22.6) to third overall. With quarterback Dak Prescott under center, Elliott was his usual self — an elite fantasy asset. 

Elliott’s offensive line was also healthy during the first five games of the season, which boosted his numbers. Entering 2021, the Cowboys' offensive line is PFF’s sixth-highest-ranked group, a massive improvement from its 2020 finish as the league’s fourth-lowest-graded run-blocking unit. 

The Cowboys' slimmed-down running back is primed for a bounce-back 2021 campaign as the featured runner and goal-line back in a high-powered offense, as he led the NFL in carries inside the five-yard line (26) last season. He's also due for some positive touchdown regression after converting just five of his goal-line carries into touchdowns. Dallas ranked fourth in goal-line plays per game last season (3.5).

Zeke’s fantasy points scored under expectation in 2020 (49.8, most among all RBs) was a residual impact of his unfortunate circumstances and is a tell-tale sign that 2021 is going to produce more positive results.

Tony Pollard truthers might disagree, but Dallas has $90 million reasons to #FeedZeke. Despite all the turmoil that ensued after Prescott went down, Elliott maintained his high-end usage, averaging just under 20 touches per game in 2020.

And let’s not forget that when Elliott split snaps the most with Pollard (54% snap share in Week 16 post-injury), he balled out. He compiled 23 touches for 139 yards from scrimmage and a season-high 5.5 yards per carry versus a stout Philadelphia Eagles defensive front. 

Elliott is a no-doubt, top-five selection in fantasy drafts with sky-high upside to lead the entire NFL in touchdowns, so fade at your own risk. He’s missed only one game in his five-year NFL career due to injury, which isn't for almost any of the other running backs being selected in the top 10. 

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