The 2020 fantasy football season just ended, but we’re already looking ahead to 2021. A crazy offseason of player movement and drafting lies ahead, but it’s never too early to begin prepping for a future fantasy championship. Each Tuesday from now through the Super Bowl, I’ll be adding one round to my “Way-Too-Early 2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft,” starting with the opening round on Dec. 29.
Things to know before reading: This mock is based on a 12-team, single-QB, full-PPR league with the following starting positions: QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, FLEX, K, DST. This draft will simulate what I would do if I were drafting for each of these 12 teams. After the first round, this is not a big board—players will be drafted based on team needs and value, not just overall ranking. All scoring mentioned below is based on full-PPR and all per-game averages carry a seven games played minimum unless otherwise noted.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to dive in:
ROUND 1 (Written 12/29/20)
1.1 RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
I’m going to struggle with this top selection all offseason, it feels like. There are a few options here at the top. Christian McCaffrey would normally be the player to take here, but he played just three games this season. Alvin Kamara is great, but what will a post-Drew Brees Saints offense really look like? Derrick Henry is a beast, but he’s the high-floor option of the bunch because he doesn’t really have a ceiling above 20 fantasy points per game like the other three do. After Cook played 14 games in 2019 and (barring Week 17 weirdness) 14 games again in 2020, we can mitigate the injury risk he holds back down into the range that pretty much every ball-carrier is in. The Vikings’ running back was the RB2 last season in average fantasy points per game (20.9) and was the RB1 this season in that category with 24.7 FPPG (minimum seven games played). He’s proven to be an elite option that’s remained relatively healthy each of the past two seasons and his offensive situation—save for adding some OL through the 2021 NFL Draft—should remain close to the same. He’d be my top pick in redraft if I was on the clock right now.
1.2 RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
The dude simply doesn’t miss games… until he did. A lot of them. Still, despite only playing in three games in 2020, I can’t drop McCaffrey too far down the pecking order. In the games McCaffrey did participate in this season, he blew everyone else out of the water by averaging 30.1 points per game—28.5 points in Week 1, 24.8 in Week 2, and 37.1 in Week 9. The Panthers’ offense proved to be more than competent this season and will only improve next season with McCaffrey back—I expect Joe Brady to be back too as Carolina’s offensive coordinator. In his last 33 games, McCaffrey is averaging 27.85 fantasy points per game! That’s just ridiculous. There is no player with more upside than him. Period. He has to go in the top two.
1.3 RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry’s run from the end of the 2018 season to now has been nothing short of remarkable. Henry is an absolute workhorse who is thriving alongside Ryan Tannehill in a Titans offense that is lightyears ahead of where it was a couple of years ago with Marcus Mariota. The only real knock on Henry is his lack of pass-catching and usage in games the Titans fall way behind in. In PPR, it keeps him just outside of the top couple of picks—because, as mentioned above, he’s not a player who’s going to score into the 20s in average points per game across an entire season like McCaffrey, Cook, and Kamara have. Still, he has matchup-winning potential any given week and is the lifeblood of Tennessee’s offense. The big train will break down eventually, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down heading into 2021.
1.4 RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
This may surprise some, but I think this is the start of a mini tier break. While last offseason I was all about positive touchdown progression for Kamara, pushing him as the No. 3 overall pick whenever I could, I have way more concerns heading into next season. It has nothing to do with Kamara himself per se, but more about the Saints’ quarterback situation. I don’t expect Drew Brees to play in 2021, meaning Kamara’s quarterback will either be Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston, or someone not currently on New Orleans’ roster. Quite frankly, Kamara simply hasn’t been as good without Brees under center. In his nine games over the last two seasons with another starter, Kamara is averaging about 15.9 fantasy points per game—for context, he’s averaging 22.6 fantasy points per game with Brees since the start of 2019. While he averaged 17.3 points per game with Teddy Bridgewater in 2019, he was down to 14.2 points per game with Hill in 2020, the most likely Saints starter for 2021 as of this writing. So much of Kamara’s value is tied to his pass-catching that an untrustworthy option at that spot has to give fantasy managers pause.
1.5 RB James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
How can you not be impressed by what the undrafted free agent out of Illinois State did this season? He set the new record for most single-season yards from scrimmage for an undrafted rookie and finished as the RB4 in total points and RB5 in average fantasy points per game. He did all of that despite little-to-no training camp, a mess at quarterback, and a lame-duck coaching staff. He’ll enter 2021 with a (presumed) full camp, Trevor Lawrence as his quarterback, and a lock on the top running back role for Jacksonville. The offense will be significantly improved next season, keeping the Jaguars in games longer, which’ll make Robinson even more relevant late in games. Robinson thrived with so many things working against him in 2020 that will instantly turn into benefits for him in 2021. Take him in the top five!
1.6 RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Chubb missed a few games this season but picked right back up and performed with more consistency than he did in the early portion of the season upon his return. His lack of pass-catching is a concern, but being part of a better offense this season has helped spike his touchdown total. Chubb ranks as the RB6 in average fantasy points per game this season (17.4) after finishing as the RB10 in that category in 2019. He should be viewed as Derrick Henry light, and given the scarcity at the position and the run-heavy offense he operates in, should garner plenty of consideration in the top half of the first round.
1.7 RB Aaron Jones, Pending Free Agent
Jones’ free agent status complicates his 2021 projection this early in the process. Will he return to Green Bay? If so, he’s a no-doubt top-six pick in my mind—it’s unlikely Green Bay signs both Jones and Jamaal Williams, so A.J. Dillon can get a lot of Williams’ touches without eating too much into Jones’ work. If the Packers elect to go cheap and re-sign Williams to pair with Dillon, then Jones’ next destination will obviously have a major impact on where he lands in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts. Longtime readers know how much I pounded the table for Jones as a top-five running back last offseason and that paid off, as he finished as the RB4 in average fantasy points per game (18.5) and the RB5 overall. There’s no reason he can’t make it a third consecutive season inside the top-five running backs in 2021, but the possibility of leaving Green Bay forces me to hedge my bet and put him here at No. 7.
1.8 RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
It’s hard not to be impressed by Taylor’s late-season surge after many fantasy managers had buyer’s remorse earlier in the season. From Weeks 11-16, Taylor was the RB3 in average fantasy points per game (21.5). He has truly emerged as the undisputed top back for Indianapolis and should only see his role grow in 2021, regardless of Philip Rivers’ status with the team. Taylor has been more than serviceable as a pass-catcher, has a nose for the end zone, and will continue to be a featured piece of the Colts’ offense you can trust in any matchup. I fully understand taking Davante Adams here, but position scarcity breaks the tie for me and pushed Taylor ever so slightly above the Packers wide receiver for this spot.
1.9 WR Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
There’s no longer any debate. The undisputed best wide receiver in fantasy football is Adams, who blew away the competition in 2020. Despite missing two games, Adams finished as the WR1 in total points (341.8) and had a 4.4-point lead over the WR2 in average fantasy points per game (26.3). He had six 30-plus point outings—including three 40-plus point games—in 2020, an absolutely absurd accomplishment. Aaron Rodgers is playing at an MVP level and is showing no signs of slowing down. Keep in mind, Adams was the WR1 in 2018 and the WR6 in 2019 in average points, so taking him this high is not about recency bias. I don’t love taking wide receivers in Round 1, but Adams is the no-doubt best of the bunch.
1.10 RB Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
It’s been a strange year for Ekeler, but his production may have flown under the radar a bit because he missed a lot of time. Playing in just nine of the Chargers’ first 15 games this season, Ekeler produced mostly like his old self. He averaged 16.5 points per game, good enough to rank as the RB8. It didn’t match his 19.4-point (RB4) effort from 2019, but there’s promise that a healthier season with a known franchise QB intact and new coaching staff will only help Ekeler. This will likely be a controversial pick as many will favor the next two guys or Saquon Barkley in this spot. But securing an RB1 early in fantasy drafts—and one that’s not coming off major knee surgery—is a big selling point.
1.11 TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce was the fourth-best fantasy wide receiver in 2020, you know, despite being a tight end. Kelce averaged 20.9 fantasy points per game this season, the best season a tight end has had since Rob Gronkowski’s insane 2011 campaign. That sort of production simply cannot be ignored as we get toward the end of the first round. Given the high volume of quality wide receivers available in the middle rounds, going Kelce-RB with two top-15 picks isn’t a bad way to start. Kelce is the best player at a tough position to get production from with the best quarterback in football throwing him the ball. It’s tough to find a better situation. If he was listed with “WR” next to his name, no one would bat an eye at spending a top-15 pick on him—and being a tight end makes him even more valuable. For additional context, on a points-per-game basis, he would’ve been the WR8 in both 2018 and 2019 as well. Playing a top-eight wide receiver in a tight end spot? That’s a Taysom Hill-like cheat code!
1.12 WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Things really open up after this pick, but I believe Hill is the last semi-obvious first-rounder available (yes, I can hear you screaming about Barkley from here). The same arguments from the Kelce section apply here regarding his offensive situation and Hill finished as the WR2 in total and average fantasy points in 2020. His four-year run as WR6, WR6, WR9, and WR2 in average fantasy points per game is notable, as were his seven 21-plus-point games in 2020. The Chiefs’ offense is showing no signs of slowing down, so Kelce and Hill will continue to be major fantasy contributors for years to come.
ROUND 2 (Written 1/5/21)
2.1 WR Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
(Previous pick: Tyreek Hill)
In an RB-heavy fantasy draft, the player at the turn is always forced to make a tough decision. There are two choices: 1) Reach a half-round for a running back to ensure you at least have a low-end RB1 on your roster, or 2) Take two top-four wide receivers, have a tremendous advantage there, and hope mid-round picks/waiver wire adds salvage your running back situation. The latter is the choice here, even if the pick may surprise some. While I see a lot of D.K. Metcalf in this spot, he didn’t even rank as a top-25 wide receiver from Week 10 on. That and the inconsistency of Seattle’s passing offense as a whole in that timeframe makes me knock him down a few pegs. On the other hand, Diggs is coming off a remarkable season in which he finished as the WR3 in both total and average fantasy points per game. He really demonstrated a chemistry with Josh Allen that I believe is replicable next season. Diggs led the NFL in receptions (127), targets (166), and receiving yards (1,535) in 2020 and will challenge to do so again next season.
2.2 RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
(Previous pick: Travis Kelce)
I’ll admit that I’m a bit uneasy about this selection here. It’s just so hard to get the final two-thirds of the season out of my mind. Elliott averaged just 11.2 fantasy points per game (including Week 17) after Dak Prescott’s injury, absolutely sinking fantasy teams that used a top-five pick on him back in August. However, Elliott was averaging 22.3 fantasy points per game in the five contests started by Prescott this season and has a multi-year history of elite fantasy production. Elliott will be a fascinating player to watch all offseason and into training camp, as I expect his fantasy value will fluctuate as much as 10 picks or so depending on reports out of Cowboys camp. For this exercise, I decided to weigh his with-Prescott and post-Prescott numbers equally (getting his 2020 per-game averages to around 16.75 FPPG) and have him as a second-round pick. He goes a couple spots earlier than I would like here only because I’m opposed to starting a draft TE-WR. However, for now, I’m content with Elliott being my RB10.
2.3 WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
(Previous pick: Austin Ekeler)
While he wasn’t a double-digit touchdown guy this season, Hopkins largely replicated the production he had in Houston. He got 160 targets (check). He got well over 100 catches (check). He had about 1,400 yards (check). He played 16 games (check). The only disappointment, if you can even call it that, is that he caught only six touchdowns compared to the 9.2 he was averaging over the previous five seasons. Hopkins is simply elite, and the production always follows. He’s an incredibly safe pick here for a team with a running back already and even has an argument to push Diggs for the WR3 spot. Any fantasy manager would be happy to have Hopkins on their squad.
2.4 RB Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
(Previous pick: Davante Adams)
There is a razor-thin margin between these next two picks. The tiebreaker for me is that I expect Gibson’s role in the receiving game to grow compared to the next pick in this mock. Plus, with Adams’ trustworthy, high-level production already on the roster, I went with the player who had a bit more upside. This was Gibson’s first full season as a true running back and he showed tremendous game-by-game growth until a turf toe injury slowed him down. From Weeks 1-12 before suffering the injury, Gibson ranked as the RB5 in total points and RB10 in average fantasy points per game (minimum five games played). He looked fine upon his return in Weeks 16 and 17, even if the fantasy impact was limited. I’m projecting growth for Gibson in year two, and for Washington to build its offense around him running the ball—while still sharing pass-catching duties with J.D. McKissic. Also, I’m willing to bet Gibson gets significantly more than the 3.1 targets per game he averaged as a rookie.
2.5 RB Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
(Previous pick: Jonathan Taylor)
I’m not sure Jacobs is ever going to be the fantasy superstar many thought he would be coming out of college, but he’s still a very productive back that can be an elite second option on your team in the middle of Round 2 like he is here. Jacobs finished 2020 as the RB12 in average fantasy points per game and that’s where he ranks for me heading into 2021. He’s in a similar category as a Derrick Henry or a Nick Chubb because pass-catching simply isn’t a big part of what he’s asked to do. Let’s not fall into that trap again this year, fantasy managers. His ceiling is 40 catches and he’ll likely be in the 30-35 range if healthy for a full season. I’m not paying for an uptick that many want to happen versus what’s likely to happen. Still, he was the RB12 this year, RB15 last year, and his situation is staying relatively constant heading into 2021. He’s a very solid selection here. [Editor’s Note: Keep an eye on how his DUI arrest from the first week of January plays out in terms of a possible suspension].
2.6 RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
(Previous pick: Aaron Jones)
I strongly considered taking a wide receiver here, but ultimately decided to keep the RB mini-run going. Swift had a strong rookie season, but it should’ve been so much better—and it will be next season with a competent coaching staff. There’s no reason Adrian Peterson should’ve received as many touches as he did early in the season—the veteran even said himself that Swift should’ve had a more featured role sooner. And guess what happened when he did? From Weeks 9-17, Swift ranked as the RB9 (minimum four games played) with an average of 16.8 fantasy points per game. And he only had one game where he was on the field for 70% or more of the offensive snaps in that stretch. An increased workload next year might vault him into RB1 territory, but I love him here as an elite RB2 option in the middle of the second, as long as Matthew Stafford remains in Detroit.
2.7 WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
(Previous pick: Nick Chubb)
Fun fact: Brown caught a touchdown in 10 of the 14 games he played in 2020. Another fun fact, Brown finished as the WR6 in average fantasy points per game this past season (17.7) if we include Week 17. Another another fun fact: Corey Davis might not be in Tennessee in 2021. Ano… OK, that bit is getting old. The race for fantasy WR5 is fascinating because there are legitimately four of five options based on personal preference/research. I elected to go with Brown over the options below because of his big-play ability and the high floor his frequent touchdown scoring provides. Brown has 17 receiving touchdowns (19 total) in his 24 career regular season games with Ryan Tannehill throwing him the ball. That sort of production puts him among the NFL’s elite pass-catchers and there’s no reason to expect he’ll slow down next season.
2.8 WR Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
(Previous pick: James Robinson)
Allen is no longer underrated, because everyone says he’s underrated. But what he is is a damn good wide receiver who’s been extremely productive over the last few years and has a very bright future with Justin Herbert throwing him the football. Allen averaged 10.5 targets per game in 2020 and finished as the WR7 in average fantasy points per game (17.5). His current run of finishing as the WR3, WR10, WR12, and now WR7 in points per game since 2017 is quite impressive. Plus, he might get a boost with a potentially more aggressive head coach/offensive coordinator calling plays in Los Angeles. He should not fall outside of the top-eight receivers in 2021 fantasy drafts and I could be tempted to take him as high as WR5.
2.9 WR D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
(Previous pick: Alvin Kamara)
I eagerly await the hate mail I’ll receive for the bottom-third of the second round, and this feels like one of the picks that’ll have you looking up my Twitter account to call me an idiot—it’s @JaimeEisner, by the way (check the spelling of “Jaime”). After being too low on him heading into 2020, I want to be careful not to overcorrect while also being mindful of not underselling his talent. But, as mentioned above, I have some concerns based on the way his season finished up. From Weeks 10-16, Metcalf was just the WR26 with an average of 14.1 fantasy points per game. If we include Week 17, that changes to an average of 12.9 fantasy points per game and a ranking of WR36. That’s a sample size of half the season! Metcalf is a physical specimen and a tremendous athlete, but let’s not let his magical first half cloud our judgment. He’ll be a favorite pick for casuals near the Round 1-2 turn, I’m just not sold. I’d be way, way more comfortable taking him in the back half of the second round and I caution against drafting him in the top-15 based on his first-half resume alone.
2.10 WR Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
(Previous pick: Derrick Henry)
Ridley is coming off a tremendous year in what turned out to be a forgetful season for the Falcons. Ridley finished as the WR4 in average fantasy points per game this season, truly showing he can be an elite talent with Julio Jones out of the lineup. The only knock on him, and the reason he isn’t higher in this mock, is that Jones will be coming back next season. We don’t know for how many games, but it’s something to consider when it comes to valuing Ridley. Ridley was really good even when Jones was active, averaging 17.58 fantasy points per game. But he was great with Jones sidelined, averaging 20.13 fantasy points per game. Ridley’s arrow is pointing up and he feels like a perfect player to start a solid WR corps with after taking a top running back.
2.11 RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
(Previous pick: Christian McCaffrey)
We’ve finally reached Barkley’s landing spot—and just four months ago starting a team with McCaffrey and Barkley was unthinkable. I know I’m going to be the outlier having him this far down, but the history of running backs not named Adrian Peterson in their first season back from a torn ACL isn’t great. I’ll be fully back in on Barkley come 2022, but I’m way more guarded for the upcoming campaign. A study from Fantasy Labs in 2015 discovered that: “Since 1999, running backs coming off ACL surgery have produced right around two-thirds of the fantasy points on a per-game basis as compared to their pre-ACL selves.” Given my lofty projections for Barkley before the season started and using that decline in production mentioned by Fantasy Labs, we’re looking at around 14-14.5 fantasy points per game for Barkley in 2021. If we split the difference, we’re talking about production just shy of what D’Andre Swift and David Johnson were able to accomplish this season. That’s a solid RB2, but not someone you’re taking in the first round or early second. Given Barkley’s supreme talent, I have him as my RB14 right now, not a mid-RB2 like Swift and Johnson were, but that’s as high as I can justify taking him at this stage. I realize this means I will have exactly 0 shares of Barkley next season, but I’m OK with that and you should be too.
2.12 WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
(Previous pick: Dalvin Cook)
The draft really opens up again here as there are a plethora of options. The margin between the top wide receivers left is minuscule, many will be tempted by the pair of second-year running backs (Clyde Edwards-Helaire and J.K. Dobbins) who remain on the board, and some might even start eyeing their QB1 or George Kittle. However, I feel really good about taking a receiver here. I can’t wait to see how Jefferson follows up his record-setting rookie season. Jefferson was a true WR1 this season—depending on where you place your cut-off line, Jefferson was either the WR9 (including Week 17) or WR11 (stop after Week 16) in average fantasy points per game. The presence of Adam Thielen won’t allow teams to ever truly take him out of games, which should help guard against a sophomore slump. Jefferson is a stud in every sense of the word and must be taken as a WR1 next season.
ROUND 3 (Written 1/12/21)
3.1 RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
(Previous picks: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson)
From Weeks 11-17, Dobbins ranked as the RB10 in total points and average fantasy points per game (minimum four games) as the Ravens leaned on him more and more down the stretch as they phased out Mark Ingram. Ingram likely won’t be back next season, but restricted free agent Gus Edwards should be. A timeshare of some sort is inevitable. Even in Baltimore’s playoff game, the snap-count split was fairly close, 33-29 in favor of Dobbins over Edwards. Dobbins is a tremendous talent who would be a first-round pick if he had a “traditional” lead back role. For now, he’s my RB15 until we get more clarity on Baltimore’s backfield situation. However, I expect Dobbins to rise from this spot over the summer.
3.2 TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
(Previous picks: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley)
Feeling confident with two top-14 running backs already on the roster and a ton of wide receiver depth left, this team elects to go with the overall TE2 here. While the margin between Kittle and Darren Waller is thin, I still lean Kittle—especially if the 49ers make any sort of quarterback upgrade next season. Over the last two seasons, Kittle ranks as the No. 14 WR/TE in average fantasy points per game (15.8). That’s a better output than players like A.J. Brown, Adam Thielen, Tyler Lockett, etc. You’ll have to factor in some missed games, but he’s a true difference-maker at a scarce fantasy position.
3.3 WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(Previous picks: Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley)
2020 was an incredibly strange season for Evans. It all started out with a peculiar 1/2/1 stat line on four targets in Week 1 followed by a more Evans-like 7/104/1 game in Week 2. Then Week 3 happened and featured one of the strangest outputs ever for a star receiver: two catches, two yards, two touchdowns. The next six weeks featured a mixed bag of some highlights (7/122/1), lowlights (1/10/0), and some in-between. But from Week 10 on (including the wild-card round), Evans averaged 8.4 targets per game with six touchdowns over an eight-game stretch. He finally seems more locked in with Tom Brady and his future workload could increase with Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski all set to be free agents. Because of his boom-or-bust nature, having Evans as your WR2 (even though he’s ranked as a low-end WR1) is a really nice advantage.
3.4 WR Allen Robinson, Pending Free Agent
(Previous picks: Alvin Kamara, D.K. Metcalf)
Ranking/mocking pending free agents is a difficult task because not only are we trying to project what a player’s production may look like, we’re trying to project what team/offense he’s playing for, and in this case, who’s throwing him the ball. But you can’t ignore the obvious: There's no way Robinson is going to have a worse offense than the one he’s been in over the last two years, and it’s very unlikely he’ll have a worse starting quarterback than the Mitchell Trubisky/Nick Foles duo. Robinson was the WR9 in average fantasy points per game this season from Weeks 1-16 (17.2 FPPG) and is the WR12 over the last two seasons (16.2 FPPG). Wherever Robinson ends up, even if there’s another good receiver alongside him, will likely be a better situation than he’s been in. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be a WR1 in 2021.
3.5 RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
(Previous picks: James Robinson, Keenan Allen)
While most of the “where the heck are we going to rank this guy” attention has gone toward Elliott, another running back that is just as fascinating is soon-to-be sophomore Edwards-Helaire. He was the apple of the fantasy community’s eye this past summer and became an obsession once Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season. He had an unbelievable debut, was buoyed by his pass-catching in Weeks 2 and 3, and then sort of fizzled. His weekly average of 12.5 fantasy points per game from Weeks 4-15 ranked as the RB24 before he missed the final two games of the regular season due to injury. While it’s reasonable to expect that the Chiefs will lean on Edwards-Helaire more after having a full offseason to prepare, the impending return of Williams could complicate things. Williams may not be as explosive as Edwards-Helaire, but he has Andy Reid’s trust. That’s not to say Edwards-Helaire won’t be the lead back—he will be—but any sort of significant time split has to be factored in (a la Dobbins-Edwards situation above).
3.6 TE Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
(Previous picks: Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown)
How can you not root for and be impressed by Waller? The tight end broke out in 2019 but truly blossomed in 2020, finishing as the TE2 with an average of 17.4 fantasy points per game. That output would’ve been good enough to be the WR8 if he were eligible at that position. Over the last two years, only 15 WRs/TEs have averaged more fantasy points than Waller’s 15.61. The best part is that his situation won’t change much. His head coach and starting quarterback will return in 2021, and the Raiders probably won’t make a big pass-catching splash this offseason with Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards entering their second seasons and Tyrell Williams set to return. Waller, who hasn’t missed a game over the last two years, can assume his dominant role for the Raiders again next season.
3.7 WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
(Previous picks: Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift)
After an injury-plagued season, Jones ever so barely hangs onto a WR1 spot as my WR12. Jones averaged 16.2 fantasy points per game in his nine games in 2020—and that includes two games in which he played fewer than 40% of the offensive snaps because of his nagging hamstring injury. Potential injuries must be accounted for as Jones enters his age-32 season, but it’s also important to remember that he missed only four games combined over his previous six seasons. His upside is higher than any player remaining on the board and is an ideal WR1 to start with if you go RB-RB at the top of your draft. He’s the WR6 in average fantasy points per game over the last two seasons.
3.8 WR Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
(Previous picks: Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs)
After an RB-RB start, taking a wide receiver is in order here and the top one on the board is Woods. He’s a very safe option. He doesn’t really have top-eight fantasy receiver upside, but he’s a near lock to get you WR2 production—he finished as the WR14 in total points in each of the last two seasons. That steadiness has allowed him to rank as the WR16 in average fantasy points per game over the last two years. If I go back-to-back running backs to start my draft, getting a player as safe as Woods is quite appealing. If he fell, the upside of Jones would’ve been too much to pass up, but Woods is a rock-solid consolation prize.
3.9 RB Chris Carson, Pending Free Agent
(Previous picks: Davante Adams, Antonio Gibson)
I love Gibson and think he’ll thrive in Washington next season as their lead back, but there is some risk worth acknowledging here. Washington’s quarterback situation is up in the air and one must wonder if J.D. McKissic or a potential rookie running back will come in and play a pass-catching role in lieu of Gibson getting the full workload. With fantasy’s best WR already on the team, the prudent move is to grab an RB2 here and Carson has proven to be that—even if he’s not always the most fun player to roster. His pending free agent status complicates this ranking, but if he returns to Seattle, he’ll continue to be productive. On a per-game basis, Carson finished as the RB12 in 2019 and 2020. Over the last two years combined? You guessed it: RB12. If you can ride the wave, you’ll be content with what you got by season’s end.
3.10 RB Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
(Previous picks: Austin Ekeler, DeAndre Hopkins)
Buckle up for the run of WRs in Round 4, but given that Ekeler missed six games last season and Hopkins is as steady as they come, locking down the RB2 spot (which has been a theme lately) gets the slight nod over the top WR2s left on the board. After some peculiar early-season usage followed by an injury, Sanders showed some signs of life upon his return and the quarterback switch from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts. In his three games played over the final four weeks of the regular season, Sanders was the RB8 with an average of 19.3 fantasy points per game. It’s a small sample size and who knows what the Eagles’ coaching situation will be in the wake of them firing Doug Pederson, but it gives fantasy managers hope that he’ll return RB2 value at worst next season (health permitting).
3.11 WR Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
(Previous picks: Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott)
While he’s been overshadowed a bit by Justin Jefferson’s unreal rookie season, Thielen was a touchdown monster in 2020. He racked up a career-high 14 touchdowns and had a career-high four multi-score games this past season. He finished as the WR11 in average fantasy points per game. I expect some touchdown regression in 2021, but he’ll still be a major red-zone threat and might benefit from an offseason of defensive coordinators focusing on Jefferson.
3.12 RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
(Previous picks: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs)
If you go WR-WR at the turn, you’ve got to follow up with a pair of running backs in Rounds 3 and 4. I’m going to take a chance on Akers here, who looks like the player who should be Los Angeles’ bellcow moving forward. From Week 12 on, Akers ranked as the RB17 in average fantasy points per game and had a huge 28-carry, 176-total-yard, one-touchdown game on wild-card weekend against the Seahawks. Darrell Henderson will be back and in the mix, but Malcolm Brown is a pending free agent. While Henderson has flashed at times, I see no reason why Sean McVay wouldn’t lean on Akers as his lead back for 2021.
ROUND 4 (Written 1/19/21)
4.1 RB Najee Harris, 2021 NFL Draft
(Previous picks: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Cam Akers)
There appears to be a new RB1 in NFL draft circles and he’ll be bringing a freshly-won national championship to the NFL for a team to be determined. As for any rookie, the landing spot will be a significant determining factor in their fantasy value, but let’s project ahead a little. In our last six mock drafts on The Draft Network, Harris has been selected by the Dolphins (three times), Jets, Cardinals, and Falcons. All four of those teams would allow the former Crimson Tide rusher to play a prominent role right away. The Jets and Falcons could easily make Harris a three-down back in Year 1, while the Dolphins and Cardinals would likely mix in Myles Gaskin and Chase Edmonds, respectively, on passing downs—although, Harris has made strides as a pass-catcher so that isn’t a weakness. Travis Etienne’s pass-catching potential will entice many in the fantasy community, but I’ll lean slightly toward Harris’ physical, touchdown-magnet style—at least until we know where these incoming rookies land.
4.2 WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
(Previous picks: Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott, Adam Thielen)
Some may be surprised to see Thomas fall this fall down draft boards as my WR15, but we have to remember how uncertain New Orleans’ quarterback situation is. Barring something completely unforeseen, Drew Brees played his final NFL game in a Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. The only quarterback under contract for the Saints is Taysom Hill and let’s just say cap space isn’t going to be friendly to New Orleans this offseason. Thomas averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game in Hill’s starts this season—for context, that’s right in the mix of the weekly averages of Cooper Kupp, Cole Beasley, and Corey Davis. The glimmer of hope is that Thomas was nearly an 18-points-per-game player back in 2019 with Teddy Bridgewater as his short-term starting quarterback. I’m splitting the difference here until we know who’s under center for the Saints in 2021. However, Hill is the most likely (and most worrisome) option for Thomas.
4.3 WR Chris Godwin, Pending Free Agent
(Previous picks: Austin Ekeler, DeAndre Hopkins, Miles Sanders)
I’m fully expecting Godwin to be back with the Buccaneers next year, but you never know. You also have to factor in the handful of missed games due to injury that we’ve seen over the last two seasons. However, with all of that being said, Godwin simply produces at a high level whenever he’s on the field. Over the last two years, Godwin is the WR4 in average fantasy points per game (17.97), behind only Davante Admas, Michael Thomas, and Tyreek Hill. He was the WR15 in average fantasy points per game this past season and his 15.9 points were the highest average among all Buccaneers receivers. Tom Brady will be back next season, and if Godwin is too, you can’t take him any lower than this.
4.4 WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
(Previous picks: Davante Adams, Antonio Gibson, Chris Carson)
Let’s hope that McLaurin gets some semblance of strong quarterback play for a prolonged period of time, because few have done more with less over the last two seasons. McLaurin finished as the WR20 in total and average fantasy points per game in 2020, despite a carousel of average-to-horrible quarterback play from four different starters. Over the last two seasons, McLaurin ranks as the WR24 with an average of 14.33 FPPG (tied with D.K. Metcalf) with no help from either his quarterback situation or complementary weapons to help ease the opposing defensive focus. While there is no guarantee the former will be significantly improved in 2021, the latter should be. WIth McLaurin, you’ve got a solid floor with an immensely high ceiling if everything breaks just right.
4.5 WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
(Previous picks: Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Robert Woods)
All things considered, Cooper put together a pretty solid 2020 season. He finished as the WR15 in total points and WR21 in average points per game despite having backups and third-stringers throwing him the ball for two-thirds of the season. Back when Dak Prescott was playing, Cooper ranked as the WR9 in average points among those who had played in more than two games at that point. Prescott is coming back in 2021, which’ll be a considerable boost. Cooper was the WR10 in total points and WR14 in average points last season with Prescott and it feels like having the receiver all the way down here at WR18 is almost disrespectful. As we learn more about Prescott’s timetable and contract status, I expect Cooper’s fantasy stock to rise.
4.6 WR Kenny Golladay, Pending Free Agent
(Previous picks: Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift, Julio Jones)
Man, the wide receiver position has so much depth. 2020 was essentially a lost season for Kenny Golladay—he played in only five games due to injury. However, when he was on the field he was as productive as ever. In his four full games this season (I’m excluding his injury-shortened final outing), Golladay averaged 16.45 fantasy points per game. That would’ve ranked as the WR13 in average output, almost identical to Allen Robinson’s season. In 2019, Golladay ranked as the WR9 in total points and WR12 in average points per game. Golladay’s injury and free-agent status, plus a possible Matthew Stafford trade, are all items of note. But if he’s healthy and back in Detroit with Stafford in 2021, he’ll be in the top-15 wide receiver conversation.
4.7 RB Travis Etienne, 2021 NFL Draft
(Previous picks: Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown, Darren Waller)
Just like with Harris, Etienne’s true fantasy value will depend on who selects him in the 2021 NFL Draft. The same four teams discussed above with Harris are the ones Etienne was also mocked to, albeit with the following distribution: Falcons (2), Dolphins (2), Jets (1), Arizona (1). Barring a surprise riser (like Javonte Williams) into the top two or a team spending a luxury pick on a running back for some reason, it feels likely that at least two of those four aforementioned teams will have a rookie rusher in 2021 with Harris and Etienne serving as the top two options off the board. I love the potential upside here over some of the other veteran running backs remaining.
4.8 QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
(Previous picks: James Robinson, Keenan Allen, Clyde Edwards-Helaire)
OK, it’s finally time to take the plunge. With two running backs secured and plenty of wide receiver talent left on the board, the first quarterback gets drafted here. I am anti drafting quarterbacks early in single-QB formats. More often than not, waiting pays off. But when it comes to Mahomes, once you get outside the top 40 picks, he starts to be in play. While Josh Allen had a great season and Lamar Jackson eventually got there with a strong second half, for my money, Mahomes is the best quarterback in real-life (I know, hot take) and fantasy football. On a per-game basis, Mahomes paced the field at the position (minimum six starts) with 25.36 fantasy points per game. His three-year average is No. 1 in the NFL and his two-year average is bested only by Jackson. I anticipate the Chiefs will add a healthier, more reliable third weapon this offseason (compared to Sammy Watkins) and the Chiefs’ passing offense will continue to thrive.
4.9 RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
(Previous picks: Alvin Kamara, D.K. Metcalf, Allen Robinson)
Where oh where does Mixon belong? His prolonged absence to end the season left a sour taste in many fantasy managers’ mouths, and understandably so. However, it is important to remember how good Mixon was this season before he got hurt. On a per-game basis, Mixon ranked as the RB9 with an average of 16.6 fantasy points per game—numbers comparable to Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, and Myles Gaskin. From Weeks 10-17 the prior season, Mixon ranked as the RB7 with an average of 18.2 fantasy points per game. He’s been a true RB1 over his last 14 games played, but he missed a lot of time this season and the first half of his 2019 campaign left a lot to be desired. Uncertainty is scary for fantasy managers, but here at RB22, there is a tremendous amount of upside.
4.10 RB David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
(Previous picks: Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans)
I’m not sure how much I’m buying into Montgomery’s breakout second half. From Week 12 on, Montgomery was the No. 1 running back in fantasy in total points and No. 2 in average points. But prior to that, he was the RB21 (minimum five games)—right in the low-end RB2 range most see Montgomery fitting into. Given the uncertainty surrounding Chicago’s quarterback situation and the impending return of Tarik Cohen, I’m simply not willing to take Montgomery as a top-20 running back. However, he doesn’t have any more potential warts than the other running backs remaining on the board, so his slide stops here.
4.11 WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
(Previous picks: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, George Kittle)
This team must dip into the wide receiver pool here and they get their feet wet with a player who had a pretty nice season in 2020. Johnson was Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to target all season long, averaging a whopping 10.4 targets per game Roethlisberger played in (including the playoffs). From Weeks 1-16, Johnson was the WR18 in total points and WR20 in average points and may not have to compete with JuJu Smith-Schuster (pending free agent) for targets any longer. Roethlisberger’s arm looks shot, but that won’t stop him from peppering Johnson with short-yardage targets that PPR players love. If Johnson can fix his drop issues, he could very easily volume his way into the top-15 receiver conversation.
4.12 WR Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
(Previous picks: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, J.K. Dobbins)
Boyd almost always feels like a bit of a value pick and it might be easy to overlook him after a forgettable end to the season that included the loss of Joe Burrow and an injury of his own. However, from Weeks 1-11 with Burrow, Boyd was the WR11 in total points and WR14 in average points per game. You’re almost guaranteed WR2 production with Boyd and any competent quarterback. It remains to be seen whether or not Burrow will be healthy enough to play Week 1, but as long as he returns in September, Boyd is worthy of this pick—especially with A.J. Green leaving the team via free agency.
ROUND 5 (Written 1/26/21)
5.1 QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
(Previous picks: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, J.K. Dobbins, Tyler Boyd)
The debate over QB2 will be a fascinating conversation to follow in the coming months. There is a strong argument to be made for as many as five players to be the next-best passer prize behind Patrick Mahomes. I’m going to give my vote to Jackson, who—despite finishing as the QB8 in average fantasy points per game for the season—really turned things on late and looked a lot like the fantasy star from 2019. From Week 6 on, Jackson ranked as the QB3 in average points and jumped up to the QB2 in average points from Weeks 13-17. I fully expect the Ravens to add another pass-catching weapon to his arsenal next season, and his late surge is enough to convince me to take him here. Note: While I said as many as five players can be discussed at QB2, for me, it’s really only a debate between Jackson and Josh Allen.
- Jun 28, 2022
- Jun 24, 2022
The Draft Network
- Jun 28, 2022
- Jun 24, 2022