Way-Too-Early 2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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.

5.2 WR Will Fuller, Pending Free Agent

(Previous picks: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, George Kittle, Diontae Johnson)

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Fuller this offseason, as we don’t know where he’ll be playing football next. Also, he’ll be suspended for the first game of the 2021 season. Still, don’t allow the premature end to his 2020 campaign overshadow how good he was this year when he got to be the No. 1 wide receiver in Houston. In his 11 games played, Fuller had 14 or more fantasy points eight times and four games with 21 or more points. His season-long average of 17.2 points bested fantasy starts like Justin Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf and fell just behind A.J. Brown and Keenan Allen. If Fuller re-signs with the Texans and Deshaun Watson stays, he should go at least a full round sooner than his spot here at WR22.

5.3 QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

(Previous picks: Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans, David Montgomery)

With four pretty steady players already on the roster, we elect to forgo a flex for another round and add the last option in the elite quarterback tier instead. Allen took a tremendous step forward as a football player in 2020 and a fairly big leap as a fantasy player as well. He finished as the QB2 in average fantasy points per game, only 0.04 points per game (the equivalent of 1 passing yard) behind Patrick Mahomes. His rushing success—particularly in the red zone—gives him a very high floor. The likely return of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is a huge plus as well. While I don’t expect him to have quite as good of a season as he did in 2020, I don’t expect more than a minuscule dropoff. 

5.4 RB Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos

(Previous picks: Alvin Kamara, D.K. Metcalf, Allen Robinson, Joe Mixon)

2020 was a far cry from the good ol’ days of Gordon providing first-round fantasy value, but it certainly wasn’t a bad season overall. Gordon finished as the RB23 in average fantasy points per game and split some work with Phillip Lindsay (a pending RFA). While I do expect Lindsay to be back in Denver, it’s clear the Broncos want to feature Gordon. They not only paid a fairly hefty price to sign him in free agency, but they featured him as the RB1. Gordon outsnapped Lindsay by seven or more in all but one game this season in which both players were healthy (Week 14)—the overall snap disparity was 369-230 in favor of Gordon for games both players played in. The Broncos should, hopefully for their fans, be a little better next year and in a better position to run the ball late than they were this season.

5.5 WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

(Previous picks: James Robinson, Keenan Allen, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Patrick Mahomes)

Lamb starts a new tier of wide receivers that all have top-15 upside if things break right. The former Oklahoma Sooner had a magnificent start to his rookie season while Dak Prescott was still healthy, averaging 17.1 fantasy points per game (ranking as the WR16 at the time). He fell to WR38 in average points with second- and third-string quarterbacks throwing to him from Week 6 on. I expect Lamb to be a lot closer to WR20 than WR30 next season. His skill set is out of this world and he’ll be getting plenty of favorable matchups as long as Amari Cooper is playing. With Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore calling the shots, Lamb’s upside is tremendous.

5.6 WR Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

(Previous picks: Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown, Darren Waller, Travis Etienne)

If I told you that you could draft a player in the fifth round who was the WR18 for the season in average fantasy points per game and the WR5 from Week 7 on, you’d be interested… right? That exactly the season Aiyuk is coming off of as one of the few rookie pass-catchers flying under the radar. I fully expect the 49ers to make an upgrade at the quarterback position this offseason, which should help counteract (for AIyuk’s fantasy value) the returns of a healthy Deebo Samuel and George Kittle to San Francisco’s lineup in 2021. While Kittle will always be the top target, I’m not certain AIyuk won’t be the WR1 for the 49ers when it’s all said and done next season. The former Sun Devil was incredibly productive as a rookie with a carousel of mediocre quarterbacks throwing him the ball in 2020. I can’t wait to see what he does with improved quarterback play.

5.7 WR Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

(Previous picks: Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift, Julio Jones, Kenny Golladay)

Given the injury risk associated with the talented receiving duo of Jones and Golladay, making a safer wide receiver pick for a flex spot/WR2 insurance is needed. Kupp can be had at a bit of a value because he’s coming off a pretty underwhelming season in which he ranked as the WR30 in average fantasy points per game. Still, he has a prolonged history of providing WR2 value and I believe he gets back to that range in 2021. Over the last four seasons combined, Kupp ranks as the WR17 in average fantasy points per game. He ranks as the WR13 since 2018 and the WR15 over the last two years. I’m buying into a bit of a bounce-back season that should keep him among the top 25 wide receivers at least.

5.8 WR Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

(Previous picks: Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Robert Woods, Amari Cooper)

This team has a quartet of high-floor players, so let’s add a high-ceiling receiver to the mix with their fifth selection. Claypool’s rookie season ended with him finishing as the WR35 with an average of 13.4 fantasy points per game. The likely departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster should open up some more targets for the former Notre Dame product. While Ben Roethlisberger returning is likely a good thing for Claypool since Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins are the options behind the future Hall of Hamer, I do worry that Roethlisberger’s deep ball deteriorates even more in 2021. There’s some risk with this pick, but it’s a worthwhile gamble on Claypool’s talent and upside.

5.9 RB David Johnson, Houston Texans

(Previous picks: Davante Adams, Antonio Gibson, Chris Carson, Terry McLaurin)

Johnson had a better fantasy season than you might think. His 15.0 average points per game were better than guys like D’Andre Swift, Antonio Gibson, Ezekiel Elliott, Miles Sanders, etc in 2020. Johnson finished as the RB14 in average fantasy points per game and the RB21 in total points despite missing four games. He’d be off the board already if Watson was guaranteed to be staying in Houston. At this price, he’s the perfect complement to higher upside RBs that have some risk associated with them. Johnson doesn’t have to be an every-week starter, but he has a reasonably high floor when called upon.

5.10 TE Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

(Previous picks: Austin Ekeler, DeAndre Hopkins, Miles Sanders, Chris Godwin)

If you subscribe to single-player tiers, Andrews sits alone in the second tier of tight ends. There is really no reason to even consider drafting him ahead of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller, and the same can be said for drafting him behind T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, Logan Thomas, etc. Even in an OK season, Andrews should be able to match the latter group’s output—and would need a near-perfect season to be a top-two tight end. But what you’re really buying with Andrews is the potential separation from TE4 to TE5. That gap was only 1.2 fantasy points per game apart in 2020, but I can easily see that doubling in 2021. The 11.0 FPPG group behind Andrew’s 12.2 points consisted of Robert Tonyan, Thomas, and Hockenson. Tonyan is a pending RFA and likely won’t repeat his touchdown success. Thomas could theoretically improve, but I think 2020 was his peak season (but one he can replicate). Hockenson will be without Matthew Stafford for 2021, so his value takes a hit. I think Andrews’ 58/701/7 season is close to his floor when healthy, with an increased output likely to come in 2021.

5.11 RB Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Previous picks: Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas)

Drafting three pass-catchers with the first four picks necessitates a running back selection here. Jones is the last clear-cut starter (as far as any RB can be on the Buccaneers) on the board and there’s hope that with the departure of Leonard Fournette, Jones will assume a bigger role. He finished as the RB22 in average fantasy points per game and the RB20 in total points in 2020. The Tampa Bay offense should be just as high-powered next season. Assuming the Buccaneers don’t spend a Day 1 or 2 pick on a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jones should easily be an RB2 who will go sooner than this.

5.12 RB Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

(Previous picks: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Cam Akers, Najee Harris)

This team goes with its third consecutive running back here after nabbing two top-three wide receivers to begin the draft. Hunt is a safe bet at this spot because he’s a point accumulator with a carved out role on a run-heavy team. He’s going to be available pretty much every week and can provide high-end production if Nick Chubb misses time. Chubb missed four games in 2020 and Hunt finished as the RB20 in average points and RB10 in total points. While I wouldn’t bank on Chubb missing time as part of a draft strategy, you’re essentially getting a borderline RB2 that could turn into a must-start at any time.

***

ROUND 6 (Written 2/2/21)

6.1 WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

(Previous picks: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Cam Akers, Najee Harris, Kareem Hunt)

While this pick seems to indicate that 2021 will be another year in which Lockett is undervalued in fantasy drafts, the Seahawks receiver is a tough player to roster. While it does seem likely that he’ll finish higher than the WR27 spot I’m drafting him as here, fantasy managers better be ready to ride the wave. Lockett had four games with 21 or more fantasy points, and three of those were 33-plus-point performances. He also had seven games where he didn’t even reach 8.5 points. Seattle will go back to a more run-heavy approach next season, so that’s a factor as well.

6.2 QB Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (for now)

(Previous picks: Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas, Ronald Jones)

As mentioned earlier in this mock, the real fun at the quarterback position (in my estimation) is at QB4. A handful of names could be considered for this spot but I’m giving the nod to Watson, who I fully expect to be playing for a non-Texans team in 2021. I believe the Dolphins are the best bet for a landing spot, but I’d be comfortable with him at QB4 in either Miami, San Francisco, Houston, Carolina, Denver, and maybe even New York. Any of those teams either have weapons already or will be in a position to add them to give Watson plenty to work with after finishing as the fantasy QB5 last season. If he’s somehow back in Houston, he’ll be bumped down to my QB6.

6.3 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pending Free Agent

(Previous picks: Austin Ekeler, DeAndre Hopkins, Miles Sanders, Chris Godwin, Mark Andrews)

This is some potential that this could end up being one of the steals of the draft. There’s no denying that Smith-Schuster’s fantasy production has dipped over the last two seasons from his peak, but in the debate over why that is, I think the wrong conclusion is being drawn. While it’s easy to fall into the “he hasn’t been as good since Antonio Brown left” narrative, I believe Smith-Schuster’s production is all about quarterback play. He wasn’t able to do much with the combination of Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges at quarterback in 2019, and while he did better with a deteriorating Ben Roethlisberger in 2020, he never got any sort of opportunity to stretch the field. That could change with a new team next season. If it does, you’re getting a high-end WR2 at the price of a mid-level WR3.

6.4 QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

(Previous picks: Davante Adams, Antonio Gibson, Chris Carson, Terry McLaurin, David Johnson)

I fully expect Murray to be off the board sooner than this after finishing as the QB2 in both total and average fantasy points per game last season. However, I do have some concerns about Arizona’s offense as a whole and their non-Hopkins weapons in particular. Murray’s rushing will continue to give him a high floor, but I don’t want to buy Murray at his peak when it’s entirely possible we’re sitting here this time next year wondering who Arizona’s new head coach and general manager are.

6.5 RB Michael Carter, 2021 NFL Draft

(Previous picks: Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Robert Woods, Amari Cooper, Chase Claypool)

The first rookie running back of the round and third one overall pops up here. While I have a couple of running backs ranked ahead of him in a vacuum, this team has plenty of high-floor players and wants to take a shot on some upside. As of this writing, I’d be slightly surprised to see any other running back come off the board as the RB3 in the 2021 NFL Draft—Javonte Williams and Kenneth Gainwell have arguments in their own right to that spot, however. Carter is shifty, elusive, and a strong receiving threat poised to play a significant passing-down role as a rookie. In our last four mock drafts, Carter went to Pittsburgh (2), Arizona, and Buffalo. Instant success could elude Carter—especially if he ends up going as a third-rounder—but I expect him to be prominent in the weekly flex conversation in the second half of the season.

6.6 QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

(Previous picks: Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift, Julio Jones, Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp)

I strongly considered dipping my toes back in the WR waters here to start this team’s bench, but at the last second decided to go with the final player in my second tier of quarterbacks. Rodgers is coming off an MVP-caliber season and looks poised to continue his “FU” tour for another year given the way his season-ending press conference went down. The Packers have to (seriously, have to) add another pass-catching weapon this offseason to go alongside Davante Adams and (maybe) Aaron Jones. I wouldn’t bank on another 24.2 FPPG season, but I do believe he’ll finish in the top half of QB1 territory again and doesn’t have as many potential question marks as the rest of the QB group left on the board. 

6.7 WR D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

(Previous picks: Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown, Darren Waller, Travis Etienne, Brandon Aiyuk)

Moore had a solid, but unspectacular 2020 season. He finished as the WR28 in average fantasy points per game and as the WR25 in total points. However, I expected some improvement next season in year two in Joe Brady’s offense and with a hopefully upgraded quarterback situation. Curtis Samuel’s potential departure in free agency would only be a boost to Moore, who could easily finish as a top-20 receiver next season if things break right despite being drafted closer to WR30 here.

6.8 WR Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

(Previous picks: James Robinson, Keenan Allen, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Patrick Mahomes, CeeDee Lamb)

Injuries hindered what could’ve been a strong sophomore season for Samuel. He played in only seven games but scored a dozen or more points in four of them. Kyle Shanahan manufactures plenty of touches for Samuel and, as mentioned in the Brandon Aiyuk section, I fully expect the 49ers to make an upgrade at quarterback this offseason. WR30 is right where I had Samuel ranked coming into the 2020 season while assuming three games missed. That projection seems appropriate again this season when weighing a potential new quarterback in the positive category and Aiyuk’s emergence in the slightly negative category.

6.9 WR Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers

(Previous picks: Alvin Kamara, D.K. Metcalf, Allen Robinson, Joe Mixon, Melvin Gordon III)

Anderson finished right behind teammate Moore as the WR29 in average fantasy points per game last season, truly emerging as a threat in the intermediate level of the field in his first season post-Adam Gase. I expect his high volume to carry over to 2021 with the potential departure of Samuel. Like Moore, a quarterback upgrade will only help Anderson, but you’re buying him essentially at the cost of his 2020 production—so his upside is pure profit, with his floor being right around this ADP anyway.

6.10 WR D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars

(Previous picks: Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans, David Montgomery, Josh Allen)

Let’s go semi-bold here since this is a pretty safe team overall. Chark did not have a good follow-up campaign to his breakout 2019 season. Chark missed three games and finished outside the top 40 receivers in both average fantasy points (WR43) and total points (WR49). However, he’s just a year removed from being a WR2 with Gardner Minshew as his quarterback. The addition of Trevor Lawrence should only boost his fantasy stock, but beware of a floor that puts him in WR4 territory. There are a lot of unknowns in Jacksonville, but it’s worth gambling on a few of their pass-catchers to see who Lawrence favors in his rookie season.

6.11 WR Antonio Brown, Pending Free Agent

(Previous picks: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, George Kittle, Diontae Johnson, Will Fuller)

We’re now in the part of wide receiver territory where you’re going to have to call your shots. Do you want to target players coming off major injuries (Courtland Sutton, Odell Beckham Jr.)? Do you want to bet on talent with uncertain QB situations (Brandin Cooks, DeVante Parker, Marvin Jones Jr.)? Do you want to play it safe with low-ceiling, but potentially high-floor options (Jarvis Landry, Laviska Shenault, Corey Davis)? Do you fancy a rookie (Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith)? 

I landed on a player that doesn’t quite fit either of those categories but has plenty of risk and upside. Brown, the former undisputed WR1 in fantasy, has a strong half-season with the Buccaneers in 2020, finishing as the WR24 in average fantasy points per game (14.6). Tampa Bay’s offense really hit its stride late in the season, and Brown potentially having a full offseason with the team and Tom Brady to prepare could do wonders for his fantasy production. It’s possible Chris Godwin doesn’t return too. There are a lot of ifs here—and the potential floor is a possible multi-game suspension—but if Brown returns to the Buccaneers, he won’t be anything worse than a WR3 when he’s active.

6.12 RB Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

(Previous picks: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, J.K. Dobbins, Tyler Boyd, Lamar Jackson)

We’ll end with only the second running back to come off the board in the round. The market at the position is now incredibly iffy with pending free agents, role players, timeshares, and mid-round rookies left on the board. Mostert himself is a major question mark health-wise and role-wise, but not talent-wise. His potential weekly upside is higher than any running back remaining on the board. His downside is quite low given his injury history and the 49ers’ penchant to use multiple backs. Taking him here will require a lot of faith and patience, but he has the potential to nearly single-handedly win you 2-3 matchups over the course of a season. 

*****

ROUND 7 (Written 2/9/21)

7.1 WR Ja’Marr Chase, 2021 NFL Draft

(Previous picks: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, J.K. Dobbins, Tyler Boyd, Lamar Jackson, Raheem Mostert)

This team has a pretty safe floor with the first two receivers taken, so let’s go for some upside here. The common thought process at the time of writing is that the Eagles will take Chase with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase’s explosiveness and instant opportunity to be the Eagles’ WR1 is worth the risk here. No other receiver (aside from the Lions taking one at pick No. 7) has a better chance to instantly step into a WR1 workload for a team. Once you get into WR3 territory in ADP, the rookies start to be on the table—we’ve seen two draft classes in a row have an instant fantasy impact.

7.2 QB Dak Prescott, Pending Free Agent

(Previous picks: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, George Kittle, Diontae Johnson, Will Fuller, Antonio Brown)

I honestly feel like I’m too low on Prescott by having him down here at QB7. However, he is coming off a major season-ending injury (compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle) and there is a (small) chance he may not return to the Cowboys—a tag-and-trade isn’t likely but isn’t impossible. However, there’s no denying the production he’s had over the last couple of seasons. He went from underrated to the QB3 in average fantasy points per game in 2019 (QB2 in total points). In his five contests in 2020, his 27.73 average points per game paced the field. If/when Prescott is healthy, he should give you top-five quarterback production.

7.3 RB Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts

(Previous picks: Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans, David Montgomery, Josh Allen, D.J. Chark)

Looking to bolster the RB room, this team elects to add a player who finished as the RB15 in total points last season. Hines was one of 28 running backs (minimum six games played) who averaged a dozen or more points per game in PPR last season. He scored in double figures in seven of his final 10 games of the season with two 21-plus point performances. He’s a great fill-in option/flex contender to have at the top of your bench. He’ll get plenty of work in the passing game even with Jonathan Taylor serving as the Colts’ lead back.

7.4 QB Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

(Previous picks: Alvin Kamara, D.K. Metcalf, Allen Robinson, Joe Mixon, Melvin Gordon III, Robby Anderson)

Carson Wentz’s days in Philadelphia are numbered, which means Hurts will be the Week 1 starter for the Eagles. He flashed his fantasy success over the final four weeks of the regular season, averaging 23.8 points per game—comparing that to season averages around the league, it ranked sixth among all QBs with more than one start. Hurts’ rushing ability gives him a high floor and it would not be shocking to see him finish among the top-five fantasy quarterbacks if he stays healthy all season. 

7.5 RB Leonard Fournette, Pending Free Agent

(Previous picks: James Robinson, Keenan Allen, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Patrick Mahomes, CeeDee Lamb, Deebo Samuel)

Fournette is an incredibly tough evaluation at this stage. Does he stay in Tampa Bay? If so, will he be “Playoff Lenny” in 2021 or “regular season Lenny”? The latter isn’t terrible, even if he’s splitting time with Ronald Jones, but the former would put him in top-15 territory. Fournette (including the playoffs and Super Bowl) scored an average of 18.37 fantasy points per game over his final seven games—with four 21-plus point performances and only one game with fewer than 15.6 points. Before that, he wasn’t really worth rostering. He does have a history of some fantasy success in Jacksonville that could translate to another team, however. For now, with all of the uncertainty, he lands here.

7.6 RB Kenyan Drake, Pending Free Agent

(Previous picks: Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown, Darren Waller, Travis Etienne, Brandon Aiyuk, D.J. Moore)

Drake was overdrafted coming into 2020—as we tried to warn you on the TDN Fantasy podcast—but he still provided RB2 production by finishing as the RB16 overall and the RB24 on a per-game basis. However, there’s no guarantee he returns to Arizona in 2021. If he doesn’t, he’s likely going to be in a major timeshare that will sap his value. If he returns to the Cardinals alongside Chase Edmonds, Drake will be a serviceable top-25 running back. If not, he’ll likely be closer to RB35. We split the difference here and add him to a team that can use some depth at the position with a rookie serving as the RB2 right now.

7.7 TE Noah Fant, Denver Broncos

(Previous picks: Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift, Julio Jones, Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Rodgers)

It’s finally time for TE5 to come off the board and this may be a surprising pick to some. I had Fant ever so slightly leap over T.J. Hockenson with the quarterback change in Detroit and the fact that it appears Drew Lock will at least start the season as Denver’s starter. Lock and Fant have a connection and plenty of targets flow the tight end’s way when Lock is on the field. While many predicted 2020 as Fant’s breakout year, I’m expecting this coming season to be his mini-breakout campaign. The Broncos have plenty of exciting pass-catchers and defenses may choose to (or have to) focus more on Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy than Fant.

7.8 TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions

(Previous picks: Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Robert Woods, Amari Cooper, Chase Claypool, Michael Carter)

This team doesn’t care about any of the above and is thrilled to get Hockenson here. The last three weeks of the 2020 season were a little rough, but Hockenson was a pillar of consistency before then. From Weeks 1-14, he had at least nine fantasy points in all but one game and four games with more than 15 fantasy points. He finished as the TE5 in total points and TE7 in average fantasy points per game. Consistent weekly production at the tight end position is rare, and this fantasy manager hopes that it can continue with Jared Goff at quarterback instead of Matthew Stafford.

7.9 WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

(Previous picks: Davante Adams, Antonio Gibson, Chris Carson, Terry McLaurin, David Johnson, Kyler Murray)

With pretty safe bets at WR1 and WR2 so far, this squad elects to take some upside by gambling on the return of Beckham Jr. following a late-October ACL tear. We’ve yet to see him really take off in the Browns’ offense like he did in New York—Beckham Jr. was the RB39 in average fantasy points per game prior to his injury—but Cleveland’s passing offense never looked better than it did late in the season. If that carries over once Beckham Jr. is healthy, we think we know what the peak can be. He’s a great flier to have at the top of your bench if he falls this late.

7.10 RB Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins

(Previous picks: Austin Ekeler, DeAndre Hopkins, Miles Sanders, Chris Godwin, Mark Andrews, JuJu Smith-Schuster)

While it feels incredibly likely that the Dolphins will spend a Day 1 or 2 pick on a running back, I expect Gaskin to still have a significant role—even if it’s only on third downs and in two-minute drills. I’d argue that, from a real-life NFL standpoint, that’s the best way to use him anyway. Still, there will be plenty of PPR value to be had in that scenario—and he’ll likely get to start the first few weeks of the season ahead of a rookie to boot. Bonus points if the Dolphins do make the upgrade from Tua Tagovailoa to Deshaun Watson. 

7.11 WR DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins

(Previous picks: Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas, Ronald Jones, Deshaun Watson)

Assuming Watson does end up in Miami, this team is going to roll with the Watson-Parker stack. Parker is coming off a down season, but Tagovailoa is mostly to blame for it. Parker’s splits were far better with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter in 2020 (and we know what they did together in 2019), and him potentially serving as Watson’s WR1 is extremely exciting. I imagine Parker goes higher than this if the trade becomes official, but he could be a sneaky good value if the fantasy community floods to a potential rookie wide receiver (Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Rashod Bateman, etc.) the Dolphins draft instead.

7.12 RB Javonte Williams, 2021 NFL Draft

(Previous picks: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Cam Akers, Najee Harris, Kareem Hunt, Tyler Lockett)

This is the last pick of the Way-Too-Early 2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft and it fittingly ends with an incoming rookie. While this team likely follows up with either Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, or Russell Wilson with the next pick, they continue to shoot for the moon at the running back position after starting WR-WR. Whether Williams lands in Pittsburgh, Arizona, Miami, or in New York with the Jets—all places he’s been recently mocked to on Day 2 here at The Draft Network—he’ll be given a prominent role sooner rather than later. Williams had a spectacular 2020 season at North Carolina and can be a true three-down threat in the NFL that doesn’t need to come off the field much. Between Harris and Williams, if things break right, this team could be a second-half powerhouse in 2021.

Written By:

Jaime Eisner

Managing Editor

Managing Editor of The Draft Network. He’s a former editor for Sports Illustrated, FanRag Sports and Arizona Sports. He’s the co-host of the TDN Fantasy Podcast and has an extensive background covering fantasy sports and sports betting.

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