Fantasy Football 2021: Way-too-early three-round mock draft
BY KEVIN HANSON (@EDSFootball)
Updated: Tuesday, January 19th
With three playoff games still to be played, we are roughly seven months away from when most casual fans begin to think about their fantasy football draft(s).
Between now and then, much will change due to NFL free agency, the 2021 NFL Draft, injuries and breakouts in training camp and the preseason, etc.
That said, it won't stop us from taking a way-too-early look at how the top of a fantasy football draft may shake out -- at least, if we were selecting for every team.
Our initial one-man, 12-team mock draft will go three rounds. For those 12 teams, all but three have started with at least two running backs.
While running backs (20, 55.6%) make up the majority of players selected, there were also 13 wide receivers and three tight ends selected. No quarterbacks were selected in the first three rounds.
[Note: We will release the first iteration of our 2021 fantasy football rankings no later than the Monday after the Super Bowl.]
2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Round 1
1.01 - Team 1: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
If you drafted McCaffrey first overall in 2020, you likely find little solace that he was fantasy's top-scoring back in the three weeks in which he appeared (Weeks 1, 2 and 9). In those games, however, CMC handled 76 touches including 17 receptions, racked up 374 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns. All of those numbers were either first or second among running backs.
Before his lost season due to injury, McCaffrey was nearly an every-snap iron man in 2019. Heading into his age-25 season, he remains the top choice for me in 2021 drafts.
1.02 - Team 2: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Once again, Cook has missed multiple games, but he set career highs in touches (356), yards from scrimmage (1,918) and touchdowns (17) and scored the third-most fantasy points (half-PPR) among running backs. The clear lead back in one of the league's most run-heavy offenses, Cook averaged a career-high 5.0 YPC and has a minimum of 40 catches in each of the past three seasons.
1.03 - Team 3: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
The clear favorite among the top five picks in this mock to finish last in receptions, Henry more than compensates for his smaller role as a receiver with his dominant rushing production. Not only is he the back-to-back rushing champion coming off a 2,000-yard campaign, but Henry has led the league in rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons with 33 rushing scores in 31 games.
No running back scored more fantasy points in non-PPR formats, but Henry finished second in half-PPR and third in PPR as well. In other words, the limited passing-game role hasn't hurt his value much, even in leagues that reward a full point per reception.
1.04 - Team 4: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
No running back scored more fantasy points in half-PPR formats than Kamara in 2020. The versatile back had exactly 81 receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons and then set a career high (83) in 2020. That said, he was on pace for a much higher career-best number before Drew Brees (ribs) missed four weeks. The only three games that Kamara failed to reach three catches came with Brees sidelined.
If Brees retires and the Saints utilize Taysom Hill as their starter, it will cap Kamara's upside and lead to more volatility in his weekly production. In the four-game span with Hill under center, 10 running backs scored more half-PPR fantasy points than Kamara. In the 12 games with Brees, Kamara was a top-10 weekly producer in all but one game. In four games with Hill, here were Kamara's weekly finishes: RB25, RB36, RB9 and RB9, respectively.
1.05 - Team 5: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
As a rookie, Barkley was as good as it gets. Technically, Todd Gurley was better as fantasy's RB1, but Barkley was the RB2 in his rookie season and led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,028), scored 15 touchdowns and hauled in 91 catches. Injuries have kept him out of 17 of the team's past 19 games, but if his health cooperates, he has the skill set to finish as one of the top two or three backs in the league.
1.06 - Team 6: Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
Not only did Adams miss two games in 2020, but he has missed multiple games in three of his past four seasons. The seven-year veteran led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (18) and yards per game (98.1) and also set a career high in receptions (115). With double-digit touchdowns in four of five seasons, Adams has a total of 58 scores in 71 games over that span.
1.07 - Team 7: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
Despite missing four games, Chubb still finished as fantasy's RB9. Chubb has finished second and third in rushing yards per game in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Even with the league's best No. 2 back (Kareem Hunt), Chubb has averaged 18.05 touches per game since Hunt returned from his 2019 suspension.
1.08 - Team 8: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Tampa Bay's Rob Gronkowski finished as fantasy's TE8 (126.8), but Kelce doubled him up (260.26, TE1). Here's another way to look at Kelce's dominance: Denver's Noah Fant (55/626/3) scored 110.1 fantasy points, roughly the gap (109.66) between Kelce and the TE3 (Robert Tonyan, 150.6).
Kelce extended his 1,000-yard streak to five seasons and broke the single-season receiving yardage record (1,416) for tight ends in the process. In fact, he set career highs across the board (105/1,416/11) in his age-31 campaign. Kelce ended the regular season with eight consecutive games with at least seven catches.
1.09 - Team 9: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Over his final seven games of the season including a playoff loss, Taylor handled a massive 156 touches, racked up 921 yards and scored nine total touchdowns. Excluding the playoff appearance, Taylor ranked top four in the NFL in touches, YFS, touchdowns and half-PPR fantasy points from Week 11 on. Running behind one of the league's best offensive lines, Taylor carries plenty of momentum with him heading into 2021.
1.10 - Team 10: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Few players at any position have as much upside as Hill to erupt for a massive performance in any given week. Setting a career high in touchdowns (17), Hill had 87 receptions for 1,276 yards and 13 carries for 123 yards.
1.11 - Team 11: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
The offense went off the tracks when Dak Prescott sustained his season-ending injury and the offensive line injuries further impacted Elliott's production. From Weeks 6 to 17, Zeke finished as a top-12 fantasy running only twice in 10 games after doing so three times in the team's first five games. While Tony Pollard may have earned more touches in 2021, Elliott should rank near the top of the league in workloads and production in 2021 as long as Prescott is back and healthy. In fact, only three backs had more than six games with at least 20 touches -- Henry (14), Cook (11) and Elliott (11).
1.12 - Team 12: Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Missing a significant chunk of time due to injury and not 100 percent when returning to the field, Ekeler averaged 5.5 yards per touch and scored only three touchdowns, both of which were career lows. Given his lead-back role and immense upside as a receiver, a healthy Ekeler is worth a late-first round pick in 2021.
2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Round 2
2.01 - Team 12: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
In his first season in Arizona, Hopkins tied a career high in receptions (115) and his 1,407 receiving yards were the third most of his career while Stefon Diggs (166) was the only receiver with more targets than Hopkins (160). While his six touchdowns were a four-year low, Hopkins still finished as a top-five fantasy receiver in half-PPR formats.
2.02 - Team 11: Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
Things could not have gone better for Diggs in his first season with the Bills. Buffalo's starters played fewer snaps in Week 17, as Diggs played a season-low 48% of the team's offensive snaps. Even so, that Week 17 performance (7/76) was the only game over the past five weeks where Diggs had fewer than 128 receiving yards. A top-three performer across all scoring formats, Diggs led the league in targets (166), receptions (127) and yards (1,535) in 2020.
2.03 - Team 10: Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
One year after leading the NFL in touchdowns (19, 2019), Jones averaged a career-high 5.89 yards per touch in the league's top-scoring offense. Even though he missed two games and scored eight fewer touchdowns in 2020, he has finished as a top-five fantasy running back in consecutive seasons. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, Jones will go higher than this if re-signed this spring.
2.04 - Team 9: Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
Bad news first, Jacobs was less efficient (4.26 yards per touch) compared to his rookie season (5.02) and was only slightly more involved as a receiver (2.2 receptions per game). That said, Jacobs missed only one game, scored 12 touchdowns (compared to seven in 2019) and only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook had more touches than Jacobs (306). Despite the drop in efficiency, Jacobs still finished eighth in fantasy scoring in 2020.
2.05 - Team 8: James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson had modest performances in Weeks 14 and 15 and missed games in Weeks 16 and 17. Before that, however, he was the favorite for fantasy football MVP (if such an award existed). As lead back of a one-win team, the UDFA was fourth in half-PPR fantasy points, fourth in YFS and third in touches through Week 13. It's possible that competition is added in 2021, but Robinson has shown that he can be highly effective as the featured back.
2.06 - Team 7: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
The sky is the limit for Metcalf, who is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign (83/1,303/10). Through Week 9, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing offense was unstoppable and Metcalf had more than 90 yards in seven of his first eight games. Through Week 9, only Tyreek Hill had scored more fantasy points than Metcalf.
The only concern for Metcalf (and Wilson) is the Seahawks unresistance to letting Russ cook. Over the final eight regular-season games, Metcalf exceeded 61 yards in only two games. As great as Metcalf was in the first half of the season, he was tied with Carolina's Curtis Samuel as the WR25 from Weeks 10-17.
2.07 - Team 6: Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams
In his final six games played including the playoffs, Akers averaged 23.8 touches per game as the team's lead back. During that six-game span, the rookie averaged 118 yards from scrimmage per game. While the Rams will still try to sprinkle in some reps for Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, I'd expect Akers to handle in the range 15-20 touches per game in 2021.
2.08 - Team 5: Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Ridley closed the season the same way he started it (with 100-plus yards in four of five games). Along with Davante Adams (six) and Stefon Diggs (three), Ridley was one of three receivers to finish as a top-two weekly fantasy receiver at least three times in 2020. Ridley finished last season with 90 catches on 143 targets for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns and should be a top-six fantasy wide receiver in 2021.
2.09 - Team 4: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
It was an injury-plagued 2020 season for Thomas, who failed to score in seven regular-season appearances. While Thomas played in the four Taysom Hill starts and had a pair of 100-yard games, both against the Falcons, an expected Drew Brees retirement this offseason should temper expectations of what fantasy managers should expect from a healthy Thomas in 2021.
2.10 - Team 3: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Mixon appeared in only six games in 2020 and he has now missed multiple games in three of his four NFL seasons. That said, Mixon had a minimum of 19 touches in the six games in which he appeared in 2020. Through Week 6, Mixon had more carries (119) than all running backs not named Derrick Henry (123) and was top 10 among running backs in targets (26).
With offensive line a common target for the Bengals in mock drafts, that would be a welcome sight for Joe Burrow, Mixon & Co.
2.11 - Team 2: Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Vastly underperforming compared to his preseason expectations, Sanders missed four games and averaged just 3.1 yards per target after his catch rate dropped from 79.4% as a rookie to 53.8% in 2020. Although he averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry for the season, Sanders failed to exceed 3.8 YPC in four of his final five games. Given the offense's general struggles in 2020, I'm inclined to bet on his skill set with better things to come in his third season in 2021.
2.12 - Team 1: Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
A free agent-to-be in March, it's unclear where Robinson will play football in 2021. While Aaron Jones slid a bit in this mock due to the potential that he may not return to the Packers high-scoring offense, you could argue that Robinson would benefit by escaping his situation in Chicago. Even so, Robinson has a total of 200 receptions and a minimum of 1,147 yards over his past two seasons in Chicago.
2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Round 3
3.01 - Team 1: George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
The only thing that can slow Kittle down is injury. Missing exactly half of the 2020 season, Kittle had 48/634/2 in eight games, which is comparable to a 96/1,268/4 pace. Meanwhile, Kittle had 85/1,053/5 in 2019 and 88/1,377/5 in 2018.
3.02 - Team 2: Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Allen missed a couple of games and was limited in others, but he finished with 100 catches for the third time in four seasons despite playing with a rookie quarterback. Although just shy of the 1,000-yard mark and averaging a career-low 9.92 Y/R, Allen tied his career high (set as a rookie in 2013) with eight touchdowns. Along with Davante Adams and Diontae Johnson, Allen was just one of three receivers to get double-digit targets in 10 games in 2020.
3.03 - Team 3: A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
Brown missed a couple of games, but he followed up a strong rookie campaign (52/1,052/8) with career highs across the board -- 70 catches, 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns on 106 targets. Despite playing in a run-first offense, Brown has averaged 17.4 Y/R and scored a touchdown on 15.6% of his receptions.
3.04 - Team 4: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Given how productive a third-round rookie (Kareem Hunt) was in Andy Reid's offense just a few seasons ago, Edwards-Helaire, the only first-round running back in the 2020 NFL Draft, was a relative disappointment despite a couple of big performances in the first half of the season. Even so, he has the skill set and draft pedigree to be much more productive than he was as a rookie.
3.05 - Team 5: Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Jefferson exceeded all expectations in his inaugural season with 88 catches for a rookie-record 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. Not only did the former LSU Tiger have seven 100-yard games, but he had double-digit targets in five of his final six games after doing so in only two of his first 10 games. Going forward, Jefferson will be the 1(a) to Adam Thielen's 1(b) in Minnesota's passing offense.
3.06 - Team 6: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Although he set a career low in yards per game (62.9), Evans exceeded the 1,000-yard mark -- now seven consecutive seasons to begin his career -- and set a career high with 13 scores. Even though I assume the Bucs will re-sign all of these pass-catchers, it's worth noting that Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski are all scheduled to become free agents in two months.
3.07 - Team 7: Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders
Waller set career highs across the board -- 107 receptions on 146 targets for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns -- and was dominant down the stretch. Not only did Waller have a 13/200/2 game in Week 13, but he exceeded the 100-yard mark in four of his final five games of the season.
3.08 - Team 8: D'Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions
Swift was much more involved in the second half of the season and he finished his rookie campaign with 114/521/8 (4.6 YPC) rushing and 46/357/2 (7.8 Y/R) receiving. Swift had three-plus catches in 12 of 13 games and his ability as a receiver gives him the upside to outperform this draft slot.
3.09 - Team 9: Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
It was a lost season for Golladay, who appeared in only five games and will be an unrestricted free agent in March. When healthy, however, Golladay is a top-10 talent and could be available at a slight discount in 2021 drafts if fantasy managers let recency bias cloud their judgment.
3.10 - Team 10: David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
Over the final six weeks of the season, Montgomery was absolutely dominant. The second-year back scored no less than 19.1 fantasy points and finished no worse than fantasy's RB9 during that stretch. Montgomery exceeded 100 scrimmage yards and scored a touchdown (or two) in all six of those games and only Derrick Henry had more fantasy points during that span.
The return of a healthy Tarik Cohen in 2021 may lead to a few less touches for Montgomery, but he'll be a high-upside RB2 in 2021.
3.11 - Team 11: Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team
Before suffering a turf toe injury early in his Week 13 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gibson had a five-game stretch where he performed as fantasy's RB5, RB11, RB8, RB7 and RB2, respectively. Even without adjusting for Washington's Week 8 bye, only Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry scored more fantasy points during that stretch. Especially if Washington has more stable quarterback play in 2021, Gibson would be a bargain here.
3.12 - Team 12: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have had a 1,000-yard rusher in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately (for the team's running backs), that player is quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Dobbins emerged as the team's lead back down the stretch with Mark Ingram a healthy scratch. Although Gus Edwards is a free agent and Ingram will likely be a cap casualty, Dobbins may still not get as many touches as fantasy managers would like as Jackson will push to lead the team in rushing for a third consecutive season. Given his talent and the team's run-first offensive philosophy, however, there is plenty of profit potential with Dobbins at this draft-day cost.
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