On the precipice of the fantasy football season, I’ve put together the list of my favorite picks for 2021. Much like Clark’s article of the same title, you won’t find any first rounders on this list here. These are all players you’ll have a chance to draft, and players you’ll regret not drafting if you don’t heed my advice! Unlike Clark’s article, I couldn’t contain myself to just one player per position. There are just too many names I’m excited about this year in fantasy so I’m coming at you with a whole list of players.
Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence
There are plenty of early QBs who I like this year—most notably Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott—and I do LOVE myself some Matthew Stafford, though his ADP puts him in that weird eighth-round QB draft spot which is never really where I want to draft a QB. If you want to sit and wait for a quarterback, I’ve fully come back around on Trevor Lawrence.
The golden Adonis has been touted as the next great signal caller and we’ve seen that bear out at every level he’s played at. Now in Jacksonville, Lawrence is surrounded by offensive weapons with D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, Marvin Jones, and James Robinson. There’s a real chance Lawrence throws for 25+ touchdowns while adding 7 to 8 scores on the ground. Going in the 11th round, Lawrence has become my go-to late round QB target.
Running Back: Austin Ekeler
Austin Ekeler is my RB5 this year, a fact that the rest of the fantasy community clearly doesn’t agree with given his current ADP is RB9 at the end of the first round. This is part of why I love Ekeler so much this year. First off, because him going at the backend of the first round means I can pretend you can get him in the second and thus sneak him under my “no first rounders” rule that I stated at the top of the article. But mainly because he’s still a value add even going in the first/second rounds.
Ekeler is no stranger to finishing among the RB fantasy elites. He was the RB6 in 2019 in .5PPR thanks to his proficiency in the passing game. During that season, Ekeler averaged 8.3 rush attempts, 6.8 targets, and 5.8 catches per game (14.1 total touches per game). Last year, with Justin Herbert under center and no Melvin Gordon on the roster, Ekeler averaged 11.6 attempts, 6.5 targets, and 5.4 catches per game (17 total touches). Had he played a full year in 2020, Ekeler would have set a career high in rush attempts and finished just four targets behind his pervious best. The moral of the story is Ekeler is a vital part of the Los Angeles Chargers’ potent offense.
Ekeler’s 2020 fantasy numbers won’t wow you because he missed six games last year. However, he was the RB14 in .5PPR points per game. A full season of his 13.8 PPG would’ve put him as the RB8 in total points for 2020. I’m drafting Ekeler confidently as my RB1 this year.
Running Back: D’Andre Swift
I’ve found myself becoming more and more of a D’Andre Swift advocate as we draw ever closer to the 2021 NFL season. Let us not forget that just four short months ago, Swift was being happily drafted at the start of the second round. Now he’s going as late as the fourth.
Last year, Swift was one of the highest rated running backs per NECC, a metric designed by our own Paddi Cooper to measure a player’s fantasy consistency and efficiency. If Swift can keep up this consistency with the monstrous workload he’s bound to see in 2021 (yes I know Jamaal Williams is there in Detroit, but Williams presence in Green Bay didn’t stop Aaron Jones from routinely being a high-end RB1), he seems locked and loaded to finish a top-12 fantasy back this year.
Running Back: Damien Harris
Damien Harris’ ADP is likely about to take off into space with the news that the New England Patriots have released Cam Newton, but I don’t care. I’ve been high on Harris all offseason and now with no Sony Michel and no Cam stealing goal line touches, Harris is a locked-in, high-end RB2 this year. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he flirted with RB1 territory.
Last year, Harris graded out as PFF’s No. 3 running back, behind just Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook. That is elite territory to find yourself in. Between Week 4 and Week 14—the weeks Harris was on the field for the Patriots—he was the RB27 in .5PPR despite only scoring two touchdowns. He is the clear RB1 in an offense that is built to run the ball with one of the best offensive lines in football and a rookie QB under center. Harris has been my go-to target in the RB doldrums and while he might quickly get priced out of that area, I would have no problem landing him as my RB2 for this year.
Wide Receiver: Robert Woods
I’ve written and talked plenty about Robert Woods this offseason so I’m going to be brief here in an effort not to be repetitive. Woods has been a vital part of Sean McVay’s offense since the two paired up in LA and now he’s playing with the best quarterback he’s ever had in Stafford. Woods has also been remarkably consistent in his fantasy finishes the last three years, finishing always as a high-end WR2 or better. I have him ranked as my WR12 this year. Don’t overthink it.
most heavily targeted wide receivers in the red zone over the last 3 years:
deandre hopkins – 472
davante adams – 440
keenan allen – 426
stefon diggs – 404
allen robinson – 397
robert woods – 394
the robert woods WR1 campaign continues to thrive pic.twitter.com/OH9cri8lMg
— pete astronaut aboard the pitts-8 rocket rogers (@petemrogers) July 27, 2021
Wide Receiver: Corey Davis
Don’t let the residual stink of Adam Gase keep you from drafting any New York Jets this year in fantasy. Under Mike LaFleur, a Kyle Shanahan decibel, the Jets offense should prove to be a fantasy goldmine, filled with undervalued players you can get for cheap. And there’s no one who better exemplifies that than Corey Davis.
Davis enjoyed a breakout year last season for the Titans, recording career highs in just about every major category. Davis’ 2.58 yards per route run (Y/RR) placed him fourth among wide receivers last year, behind Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and A.J. Brown. This offseason, the Jets paid Davis WR1 money to be their WR1 and during the preseason, he’s more than lived up to the billing.
Davis finished the preseason as PFF’s highest graded receiver and was targeted on 77% of his routes, the only wide receiver above 50%. With Zach Wilson looking more than competent, the Jets offense has a chance to be really explosive in 2021 and Davis looks to be in line for an easy 140+ targets in a 17-game season. Still going in the ninth round of drafts, he’s one of my absolute favorite targets this year.
Wide Receiver: Marvin Jones Jr.
Here’s a fun fact about Marvin Jones last year: From Week 10 to Week 17, Jones was the WR5 in .5PPR. THE WIDE RECEIVER FIVE. Only four other receivers were better than him in all of the fantasy world during those eight weeks of football.
Yes, Jones changed teams this offseason but he’s joined a Jaguars team that desperately needs a No. 1 red zone threat. Only the Houston Texans ran a higher percent of pass plays inside the 20 last year, yet the Jaguars only managed to muster 18 passing touchdowns in the red zone. Jones as been one of the best red zone weapons over the last two years and he could easily see double-digit touchdowns in 2021. He’s an easy “no risk, tons of reward” pick at the end of your draft.
Speaking of “no risk, tons of reward” picks…
Wide Receiver: Jakobi Meyers
Last year, Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots in targets (81), receptions (59), yards (729), team target percentage (19.5%), and was second in team air yard percentage (28.3%). He was the WR21 in .5PPR from Week 8 onward despite catching zero touchdowns. He was also ranked as PFF’s 24th best receiver last year and his Y/RR place him in elite WR territory. Meyers seems destined to see over 100 targets this season and with Cam Newton no longer there to steal red zone opportunities, he’ll definitely see his touchdown production skyrocket. I have Meyers ranked above Brandin Cooks, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Adam Thielen this year.
the touchdown floodgates are open & now jakobi meyers is bout to go for double digit scores on triple digit targets and he’s currently free in fantasy https://t.co/4YGXBnqaW1
— pete astronaut aboard the pitts-8 rocket rogers (@petemrogers) August 20, 2021
Tight End: Kyle Pitts