5 gut predictions for fantasy football 2021


The beauty and allure of fantasy football is in the experience. 

From prospecting NFL draft arrivals in the spring, to research and “draft SZN” in the summer, to the wild ups and downs of regular season fall, to the end results – whether feast or famine – come wintertime, we love it and take it all in like the air we breathe. Day in and day out, it brings us together in the spirit of competition and in the enjoyment of the sport – on Twitter, with close friends, league-mates and in the Discord channels.

The element of unpredictability looms large in this game we love. Some of us who took drafted like the early bird who got the worm were hit hard by preseason injuries to Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins and Travis Etienne. More injuries, in the course of the season, are inevitable. Some of our drafted squads will endure better injury luck than others. All of us will endure disappointment from players who will be flat-out busts. 

But there will also be celebration. Drafting that 14th rounder who breaks out and provides third-round value. A WR3 we’ve plugged into our lineups who goes nutty for 33 fantasy points and helps us squeak out a win in our march towards fantasy playoffs in Week 12. The turbulent tilting and voracious victory laps are both a part of the journey; with the end goal of taking down league titles and winning some money along the way.

(Take advantage of the FTNFantasy Platinum package for the 2021 season!)

A quick background

For those who know me as a fantasy baseball guy, let me show you my other side. Like many of you, I’m a fantasy football fanatic. My home league (now in its 19th season) has evolved over the years from your typical, turn-of-the-century standard draft league to a PPR superflex auction. Thanks to a big fantasy score as an entry-level post-college graduate way back in 2003, I’ve been able to parlay a bankroll and foray in the high-stakes fantasy football arena (namely, NFFC) for the past decade. In 2012, and with gratitude to a couple of late-round ‘sleepers’ (C.J. Spiller, Randall Cobb), I won CDM’s Football Super Challenge, beating out 6,000-plus contestants for a $25k prize and earning induction into their Hall of Fame.

NFFC continues to be an annual grind, going toe-to-toe with many of the world’s most consistent high-stakes fantasy football winners (colleagues Nelson Sousa and Matthew Davis are among the best of them). 

I won my $1,700 entry NFFC Primetime league in 2017, stumbled in 2018 on the heels of a holdout Le’Veon Bell and an underperforming Leonard Fournette. In 2019, I won my Primetime entry again with a push from a 12th-round Lamar Jackson and a 20th-round New England Patriots DST. Last season, I took down two of my three Primetime entries. A common theme on those squads was buying in to a possibly boring and slow Bills’ offense featuring Josh Allen and an unpopular sixth-rounder by the name of Stefon Diggs.

But we’re never as good or as fortunate as we think we are. The roto gods always have a way of keeping us humble. That’s why I’m never resting on my laurels; always doing my best to out-grind and out-edge my opponents. Fantasy football is much more nuanced than just “picking the right players,” because even the best fantasy managers will fall short on their projections, predictions and expectations on a set of draft day targets every year. Much of those extra layers involve the following:

  • Assessing offensive schemes/usage/target share/schedule/making educated assumptions
  • Comfort with drafting (drafting multiple Best Balls/getting feel for ADP/marketplace)
  • Game theory (strategic interaction among rational decision-makers, aka your league-mates)
  • Pouncing on market inefficiencies (using ADP and group-think to your advantage)
  • Staying on top of news/ahead of trends for in-season FAAB/waiver wire and lineup setting

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to those extra layers, and I’d be happy to discuss them anytime in the Discord channels now that I’m aboard the FTN ship.

Since we’re in the home stretch with our most important drafts and an exciting football season on the horizon, wanted to kick my 2021 football content off with a few strong feelings I’ve had this draft season. Intuitive leans I’ve tried, in earnest, to incorporate in the few dozen drafts I’ve completed thus far. Let’s call them, Gut Predictions.

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Gut Prediction #1 – Dak Prescott is the 2021 NFL MVP

It really isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination considering his odds are tied for fifth highest (+1700) on both DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook. It was the lone wager for the 2021 season that I pounced on way back in June. Because of the uncertainty surrounding his 2020 ankle injury and the training camp shoulder strain scare, that odds line hasn’t moved at all in the last couple of months. The latest is that he’s good to go for Week 1, but we haven’t seen Dak Prescott in action since last October. The MVP favorites ahead and around him in terms of best odds (Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson) are stout company, but there is a path to Prescott besting them in this race if can stay healthy. Prescott had a monumental run as the league’s most prolific fantasy scorer in those first five games of 2020, leading the field with 27.9 PPG and looking like the early favorite for the MVP award before that horrific season-ending injury. 

The Cowboys’ offense is poised for success with an electric wideout corps of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. A newly lean-and-mean Ezekiel Elliott enters his age-26 season and surprisingly dropped down to his collegiate weight this offseason. The return of offensive linemen Tyron Smith and La’el Collins should provide a huge boost with the health of both players hinging greatly on whether Prescott’s MVP season can come to fruition. From a fantasy standpoint, he certainly belongs in the tier with Mahomes, and three running QBs (Allen, Jackson, Murray), yet his ADP falls a round or two below them. Prescott may not produce rushing yards at the same pace as those Konami Code QBs yet between 2016 and 2019, no signal-caller in the NFL ran more balls into the end zone than Prescott (24). Suffice it to say, a healthy Dakota Rayne Prescott could be a fantasy monster and the league’s most valuable in 2021.

Gut Prediction #2 – Allen Robinson is a top-3 fantasy wideout

Something about Allen Robinson’s current NFFC ADP of 29.8 as the 12th receiver off the board doesn’t feel right, and there could very well be some semblance of profitability to be had with the Bears’ alpha. He has ranked among the top 10 WR in PPR fantasy points these past two seasons and is one of only seven wideouts in the NFL with a team target share over 25% and a team air yards share over 35% in 2020 (per FTN Data). The eventual takeover of talented rookie Justin Fields as the team’s leader and Darnell Mooney’s ascension as an ideal No. 2 to keep opposing cornerbacks honest could help bolster a monster season for their target hog, Robinson. 

Robinson averaged a stat line of 100-1,198-6.5 over these last two seasons, and it’s hard to forget that monster sophomore campaign in 2015 when he tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions (14). ARob has seen at least 150 targets in every season in which he’s played 16 games (four of seven). Though most consider him a third-round pick with a safe floor, I’d argue that with a legitimate QB for arguably the first time in his career, his upside is much greater than just WR12. As it stands, the only wideouts I’ve been confidently drafting ahead of him are Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, Calvin Ridley and DeAndre Hopkins.

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Gut Prediction #3 – No San Francisco 49ers out-earn their late-August fantasy ADPs

Most of us expect big things from the Niners this season. Alas, sportsbooks have them listed as one of just six teams with win total odds greater than 10. I’m also a Raheem Mostert apologist and he’s one of my highest-drafted players on both NFFC and Underdog thus far this draft season. But these Niners are just so well-balanced on all fronts (once Trey Lance takes over as the starting QB, of course). From the respected coaching staff to the strong offensive line, power RB tandem of Mostert and rookie Trey Sermon and two versatile and talented receivers (Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk). Oh, and I haven’t even touched on George Kittle. As well as a defense that likely won’t let games get out of hand and force a high number of shootouts. 

Here’s how the last week of ADP on NFFC breaks down for the key players (check the FTN Fantasy ADP tool to track ADPs from multiple host sites):

Granted, a long-term injury to one of the backs or pass-catchers would create scenarios where the healthy Niner RB or WR/TE gain more carries or target share. But rolling out the full crew every week will lead to more balance among them from a box score perspective. Week 1 could be Deebo Week, Week 2 Sermon Week, and so on. You get the picture. I’d be genuinely surprised if anyone from this well-balanced attack truly smashed his draft day value. Even someone as quick, shifty and talented as Mostert will be reasonably managed because of his fragility and the presence of a talented counterpart who can balance the rushing workload. Most of us have recognized that the Niners’ fantasy playoff schedule looks gorgeous on paper (Week 15 vs. ATL, Week 16 @ TEN, Week 17 vs. HOU), but that should not be the sole reason to jump San Francisco skill players up ADP a couple rounds. I’m comfortable drafting these guys around or below their respective average draft positions but I am usually not going out of my way to force any one of them ahead of market price range. 

Gut Prediction #4 – Donovan Peoples-Jones is the early-season WR FAAB darling of the year

My gut will fail me from time to time, but I have this awfully strong inclination that Donovan Peoples-Jones is going to find his way onto the fantasy radar and carve himself out a worthwhile role on this Browns’ offense. It’s a run-first group with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind a strong offensive line, but there should be some ceiling games for Peoples-Jones in store. Sure, those invested in Odell Beckham hope his full-fledged comeback season is coming. But we should approach him with trepidation even though he appears to be fully recovered from the torn ACL in his knee in Week 7 last year. OBJ has managed just one full season since 2016, and that was the last time he found paydirt more than six times in a campaign. Fellow wideout Jarvis Landry has been healthy for most of his career, but he’s the team’s designated underneath man. Nice hands and a fine route runner, but a very defined role that doesn’t interfere with the quicker, perimeter, field-stretching guys. 

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Peoples-Jones’ sample in 2020 was small, but he managed a whopping 21.7 yards per reception on 14 catches — four for over 20 yards, including a deep 75-yard catch-and-run against the Titans in Week 14. A sixth-rounder out of the University of Michigan last year, DPJ adds a vertical element to this offense that jives well with Baker Mayfield’s slinging prowess. DPJ boasts a 99th percentile burst score (per PlayerProfiler) and won the #3 WR gig outright ahead of veteran Rashard Higgins

Peoples-Jones has been targeted in the Round 16-19 range of NFFC drafts with an ADP this past week of 236 (surging upward). He’s off the radar completely in more traditional Yahoo!, CBS and ESPN leagues where drafts typically cut off after the 15th or 16th round. I’m dubious of Beckham’s ability to stay healthy for an entire season and even foresee a scenario where Peoples-Jones shocks the DFS world in a potential shootout with the Chiefs in Week 1. If the latter happens, you’ll see every FAAB article in the world clamoring for you to pick him up. They’ll spend big bucks on him. But it won’t matter since he’s already on your roster.

Gut Prediction #5 – Ty Johnson and Damien Williams are top-30 running backs

Two of my favorite late-round running back targets both have paths to fantasy usefulness this season though the masses and market has slowly been catching up. 

Ty Johnson is a stout (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) sixth-round draft afterthought who averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry (54-for-254) in light duty last season. Johnson ran wild the one time in the 2020 season where he was asked to carry the workload — 22-104-1, 2-13-0 against the Raiders in Week 13. Johnson had a strong camp and preseason, earning a role as a versatile asset who can help out as a pass-catcher as well. Fourth-round rookie Michael Carter will likely need time to develop early on with Johnson and the oft-injured and likely washed Tevin Coleman leading the way the first few weeks. With positive news about his role, Johnson’s NFFC ADP has risen over the past week (from 259 in the first half of August to 221) with a high of 113 in a $350-entry last week. Those who have been paying attention have snagged a potential steal of a deal for a back I believe will lead his team in fantasy points this season.

The Bears’ Damien Williams has been a fantasy infatuation of mine since early June as I read between the tea leaves on coach Matt Nagy’s quotes on Tarik Cohen and his recovery status. Tuesday, Cohen was placed on the PUP list, meaning he will miss at least the first six games of the season. Bears GM Ryan Pace was asked a yes/no question by the media on whether Cohen had a second surgery recently and Pace quipped he didn’t “want to get into specifics.” So, what we have here is a backfield primarily dominated by volume monster and accumulator David Montgomery, who I believe is nothing more than a slightly above-average runner with a tighter talent gap from Williams than many seem to believe there is. We recall Williams’ prolific playoff outings in 2019 but it should be noted, he ranked fourth among all backs in yards-after-contact per rush-attempt among runners with at least 100 attempts. He is familiar with Nagy’s system from those KC days and could easily earn a larger share of carries and third-down backfield routes if Montgomery isn’t as shifty behind this lackluster Bears’ O-line. Johnson and Williams both have tremendous paths to substantially outearning their current price tags.

Good luck with the rest of draft season this week. I’ll be around in the FTNFantasy Discord channels all week if you want to dive into some deeper strategies before your big drafts.

Also, you can get Fantasy Baseball for just $1 for the rest of the season, and 50% off next season.

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