Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Which veterans won the 2021 NFL Draft?

The NFL draft has come and passed; now it’s time to adjust, people. Identifying the top-five rookies at every position is great and all, but determining which veterans are now set up better than ever is equally important in fantasy land.

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What follows is a breakdown on the biggest winners by position based on their team’s decision to not add any sort of meaningful competition throughout the draft and/or free agency.

Quarterback

Washington Football Team QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

The artist known as Fitzmagic has been nothing other than a stud fantasy QB over the past three seasons:

  • 2018: fantasy QB1 in Weeks 1-3 while Jameis Winston was suspended
  • 2019: QB2 in Weeks 7-17 upon taking over full time from Josh Rosen
  • 2020: QB8 in Weeks 1-6 before “losing” his job to Tua

On the latter point: Fitz out-layed Tua for the entirety of the 2021 season. Credit to the Dolphins for attempting to see what they had with their first-round pick; just realize it wasn’t his own performance that kept the veteran gunslinger on the sideline.

Coach Ron Rivera made some headlines by not naming Fitz the starter, but the Football Team’s decision to not add a QB in the draft makes him the heavy favorite over the likes of Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen and Steven Montez. Throw in the reality that this passing game is overflowing with talent from the likes of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown as well as Logan Thomas, and it’s easy to crown Fitz as one of 2021’s prime late-round QB options.

Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

Hurts seems to be everyone’s favorite “late” round QB, although in reality he’s been going off the board as a top-eight signal-caller in best-ball contests throughout the offseason. This lofty valuation is warranted: He turned in QB10, QB1 and QB16 performances in his only three complete starts, even pitching in two rushing scores before being incredulously benched in Week 17.

We saw last year that Philly isn’t opposed to adding a high-round QB even with an established starter; good thing they didn’t do that again. Instead, Hurts has two additional weapons at his disposal in presumed No. 1 WR DeVonta Smith as well as potential pass-down RB Kenneth Gainwell. I couldn’t be less worried about Joe Flacco in terms of 2021 competition; fire up Hurts as a legit QB1 thanks to his fantasy-friendly dual-threat ability.

Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold

The Panthers’ unwavering confidence in Darnold is strange; he was a bottom-five QB by just about any metric last season. However, it’s tough to ignore the great situation that he’s been gifted at this point.

  1. D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Christian McCaffrey and rookie Terrace Marshall give Darnold anyone’s idea of a solid group of skill-position talent.
  2. OC Joe Brady was lauded for his work in 2020 as a play-caller and is back again in 2021.
  3. The Panthers are once again projected to have at least a below-average defense.
  4. Competition for snaps under center consists of: XFL HOF P.J. Walker, third-round bust Will Grier and Taysom Hill doppelganger Tommy Stevens.

Darnold is (wait for it) sneaky athletic and offered a surprisingly solid rushing floor in 2020. I understand the hesitation in even somewhat trusting Darnold; just realize he’s going to have to put up some level of numbers in order for DJM, Anderson and CMC to meet their respective lofty projections.

Honorable mention: Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t have to keep looking over his shoulder for FitzMagic in 2021 and should benefit mightily from the presence of speedy playmakers Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. … The Broncos are apparently willing to give Drew Lock and/or Teddy Bridgewater a year to prove what they got; we’ll see if a certain NFC North QB doesn’t ultimately find his way out to Mile High. … Jared Goff won’t have to fend off an early-round signal-caller; this Lions passing game will put up some points, even if the product generally isn’t aesthetically appealing. … Matt Ryan figured to keep any rookie QB on the bench at least for a bit, but now there’s no concern regarding his projection to start 17 games.

Running back

Miami Dolphins RB Myles Gaskin

We saw Gaskin for 10 games in 2020, and he commanded double-digit touches along with a 60%-plus snap rate in each. All in all, Gaskin functioned as the RB12 in PPR points per game, posting season-long 142-584-3 rushing and 41-388-2 receiving lines along the way. The latter point is great news for Gaskin’s fantasy floor in case the Dolphins’ reigning 30th-ranked offensive line in run-blocking grade fails to improve in a meaningful way.

The only offseason additions to the room are 1) seventh-rounder Gerrid Doaks, and 2) ex-Rams veteran Malcom Brown. Neither appears to present any sort of meaningful competition for the starting job. It’s not a guarantee that Gaskin will possess the same role with a new play-caller, although it seems likely considering co-offensive coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey were the RB and QB coach last season.

At the time of this writing, Gaskin (and our next back) boast average draft positions outside of Underdog Fantasy’s top-24 RBs. Scoop up these lead backs as long as they continue to be priced far closer to their floors than ceilings.

Atlanta Falcons RB Mike Davis

Davis made life bearable for Christian McCaffrey investors if they were lucky enough to properly handcuff the reigning 2019 fantasy MVP. All the sixth-year journeyman RB did in 15 games of action is rack up 1,015 total yards from scrimmage with eight trips to the end zone. Davis achieved all of this in style, leaving countless defenders grasping for air along the way.

In Weeks 1-16 only Dalvin Cook (78), Derrick Henry (67) and David Montgomery (67) racked up more total forced missed tackles than Davis (65). Only Nick Chubb (0.31) had a higher rate of broken tackles per touch than Davis (0.29) among 65 players with 100 total touches.

Davis finished 2020 as the overall PPR RB12 and now finds himself on another depth chart that should afford him a true three-down role. Perhaps the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson or Qadree Ollison force their way into a committee, but I wouldn’t count on it. Fire up Davis, like Gaskin, as a rock-solid RB2 that is currently being priced far cheaper in fantasy land.

Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson

Let’s go through what has happened to Carson over the past 12 months:

  1. Carson functions as the PPR RB5 in Weeks 1-5 before getting injured.
  2. Carson finishes the season as the PPR RB12 in Weeks 12-17 after returning from injury.
  3. The Seahawks re-signed Carson.
  4. The Seahawks decided to let Carlos Hyde take his talents elsewhere.
  5. The Seahawks declined Rashaad Penny’s fifth-year option.
  6. The coaching staff has (unfortunately) continued to bark about wanting to run the ball as much as possible.

I have my doubts that this defense is average enough for the Seahawks to pretend like they want to be a run-first offense; either way Carson is set up as the primary back in a perennial top-10 scoring offense. Injuries have impacted Carson over the past three seasons; he’s still managed to play in 41 of 48 regular season games since 2018.

If the season started tomorrow I’d expect to see Carson along the RB1 border in the majority of season-long rankings. Luckily, the season doesn’t start tomorrow, and the public continues to price the Seahawks’ undisputed lead back as more of a low-end RB2. Take this discount and grab this bell-cow back in Round 4 whenever the opportunity arises.

Honorable mention: Chase Edmonds is the expected starter in Arizona after Kenyan Drake took his talents to Las Vegas; just realize James Conner will steal early-down work, and we could see Rondale Moore get some of the backfield’s targets. I like Edmonds; treat him as more of a low-end RB2 as opposed to borderline RB1. … The opposite is true for Joe Mixon, who looks poised to see far more pass-down work after Giovani Bernard signed with the Buccaneers. The NFL’s leader in total touches before getting injured, Mixon deserves to be a top-10 fantasy RB in the year 2021. … Both Devin Singletary and (especially) Zack Moss stand out as prime zero-RB options after the Bills declined to add any sort of serious resources to the position. … There were murmurs that Washington might add a RB; they didn’t. It remains to be seen if Antonio Gibson will get a true every-snap role and emerge as Ron Rivera’s D.C. CMC; at least that pipe dream is in his potential range of outcomes. … The Tampa Bay backfield is a mess with Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and Gio all vying for touches; at least there wasn’t another rookie added to the mix.

Wide receiver

Tennessee Titans WR A.J. Brown

AJB WR1 szn never ends, but if these Aaron Rodgers rumors are true: 2021 will be AJB *THE* WR1 szn. There simply isn’t another offensive situation that offers 1) a proven high-efficiency QB, and 2) next to zero target competition. We’ve unfortunately only seen Brown garner more than eight targets in five career contests; he’s ripped off 8-114-1, 10-151-1, 7-82-1, 6-83-1, 4-101-1 and 7-112-1 receiving lines in those games.

I already had Brown as my overall WR2 before the draft; the reality that the Titans only added Josh Reynolds, fourth-round WR Dez Fitzpatrick and sixth-round WR Racey McMath adds credence to the idea that AJB could finish 2021 with a target total beginning with a two.

New England Patriots WR Nelson Agholor

Yes, the Agholor crying baby memes are funny. Also yes, he was nothing short of great for most of 2021. The Patriots could feasibly utilize more of a pass-first offense once Mac Jones inevitably takes over for Cam Newton. Even if the transition takes longer than expected, Agholor is the clear-cut No. 1 WR in an offense that was dying to get any sort of high-level play from this position in 2020.

Agholor is virtually free in fantasy land at the moment, going behind guys like Gabriel Davis, Darnell Mooney, T.Y. Hilton and Denzel Mims. This isn’t to suggest that those other players can’t out-produce Agholor; just realize it’s rare to find a legit No. 1 WR this late in drafts. Agholor is more than worthy of your time as a 12th-round pick. 

Jacksonville Jaguars WRs Laviska Shenault and D.J. Chark

The Jaguars’ main addition to their WR room this offseason was Marvin Jones. With all due respect to the 31-year-old veteran: Shenault and Chark look poised to see triple-digit targets apiece. We won’t know just how polished Trevor Lawrence is against NFL defenses until September, but at a minimum we can expect an improvement over the likes of Gardner Minshew and Mike Glennon on a team expected to (again) face plenty of negative game script.

The potential for Shenault to become Urban Meyer’s newest WR/RB hybrid in the form of Percy Harvin or Curtis Samuel is borderline erotic.

The answer to Chark vs. Shenault is simple: both. Treat each as high-end WR3s with the potential for much more if Lawrence is as generational as he’s been made up to be.

Honorable mention: Lions WR Breshad Perriman has been more than solid in each of his past three stops with the Browns, Buccaneers and Jets; don’t be surprised if he makes the most out of 100 targets from Jared Goff. … The Colts WR room remains a bit crowded between T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman, Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell; at least no other serious contenders were added to the group. … Ditto for the Raiders, but don’t feel like anyone in this spread-out passing game should be prioritized other than Darren Waller. … Michael Thomas joins AJB as a WR with a chance to have a target total starting with a two, while Tre’Quan Smith is also objectively a post-draft winner based on the team’s lack of additional resources at the position. … The Steelers, Broncos, Cowboys and 49ers are four additional offenses that weren’t exactly expected to add any more high-end WRs, and they didn’t, so yay for the fantasy prospects of their respective incumbent receivers.

Tight end

Tennessee Titans TE Anthony Firkser

The Titans declined to add any sort of real competition to replace Jonnu Smith, meaning Firkser is locked in as Ryan Tannehill’s No. 1 TE. The 26-year-old has posted 8-113-1, 5-51-0 and 3-19-0 receiving lines in his only three career games with more than five targets and finds himself in an offense completely devoid of target competition outside of A.J. Brown.

New Orleans Saints TE Adam Trautman

Jared Cook is now a member of the Chargers, meaning the Saints’ 2020 third-round pick is locked in as either Taysom Hill or (more likely) Jameis Winston’s starting TE. Trautman essentially unseated Cook as the offense’s primary TE down the stretch of 2020 anyway; now we should see him get the full volume pie for the position. Considering the Saints declined to add any meaningful receivers to the picture, Trautman could easily finish third in targets inside of one of the league’s perennial top-scoring units.

Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee

We didn’t like Higbee in 2020 because of the presence of Gerald Everett. Now that Everett is employed by the Seahawks, we can get back on the Higbee train at a steep discount compared to this time last year. There’s little reason to believe Matthew Stafford can’t enable Higbee in a similar manner as T.J. Hockenson. There aren’t many players in today’s NFL that truly never leave the field; Higbee has the potential to be that guy in a passing game fully expected to improve compared to what we saw last season.

Honorable mention: Yes, we’re (kinda) doing Chris Herndon szn again. As much as I have a bad feeling that Zach Ertz eventually makes his way to gang green, Herndon is positioned to work as a near-every down TE in an offensive scheme that regularly fed the likes of George Kittle, Jordan Reed and, hell, even Ross Dwelley, targets over the years. … The likes of Robert Tonyan, Irv Smith, Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett are additional non-obvious options at the position that continue to offer plus fantasy value after their respective teams didn’t make any meaningful additions to the spot.

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