5 Must-Draft Players in Fantasy Football 2021


Since joining FTN a month ago, I’ve written a number of fantasy football pieces highlighting players I like for 2021:

But apparently that’s not good enough for content czar Josh Collacchi, who seemingly wants me to earn my paycheck.

Josh, I have news for you: No matter how much I write, I will never deserve what I’m paid, so dip that chocolate croissant into your morning cappuccino, punk.

(Nailed it. That was such a savage burn.)

So to the recent pieces written by Jeff Ratcliffe and Eliot Crist — 15 players to target in fantasy and 10 players to draft in the first five rounds — I add this piece: Five must-draft players for 2021.

Why five?

  1. I’m lazy, which is why I’m heavily “borrowing” from my other articles for this piece.
  2. I’m roughly half of Eliot and one-third of Jeff as an analyst. Just keeping it proportional.

One note: At the onesie positions — quarterback and tight end — I tend to have more of a flexible approach and am less dogmatic about needing to take particular players. But at running back and wide receiver, where I need to load up on both positions, I want to take a stand on specific players and have overweight exposure.

So that’s why there are only backs and receivers on my “Must-Draft List.”

Here they are — the five guys I most want to acquire in 2021 fantasy football drafts, along with their current average draft positions (via our ADP Report Tool).

Antonio Gibson has a sky-high fantasy ceiling

(ADP: 23.8, RB12)

Even in May, Derek Brown identified Antonio Gibson as a strong buy candidate “who could be a league winner if he hits his ultimate ceiling.”

I respectfully disagree: I think Gibson could be a league winner even if he doesn’t hit his ultimate ceiling — because his true upside is RB1.

Gibson is basically the arbitrage version of Jonathan Taylor: He’s firmly in his second- and third-year breakout window, he’s coming off a 2015 David Johnson-esque rookie season (1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage in 14 games), and he flashed an elite combination of size and athleticism (228 pounds, 4.39-second 40-yard dash) at the 2020 combine.

More of a receiver than runner in college, Gibson has the requisite pass-catching ability to be a true three-down lead back in the NFL, and with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Washington Football Team should have a significantly better offense this year.

Fitzpatrick is one of my 3 favorite longshot MVP bets for 2021. To see the other bets I’ve made for the upcoming NFL season — including a side or total for every Week 1 game — check out our FTN Bet Tracker.

It’s not a certainty that Gibson will take a 2018 Christian McCaffrey-like second-year step forward under offensive coordinator Scott Turner, but he certainly has the potential to do so, especially since the Football Team offensive line should be better thanks to the offseason additions of left tackle Charles Leno (free agency), left guard Ereck Flowers (trade), and right tackle Samuel Cosmi (draft).

Gibson is one of my favorite longshot backs to lead the league in rushing, and he’s also one of high-stakes savant Nelson Sousa’s breakout running backs for 2021. I absolutely love him.

To get all of Sousa’s analysis, check out his high-stakes fantasy package, which comes with coaching sessions and Sousa’s rankings.

D.J. Moore is a fantasy WR1 waiting to happen

(ADP: 55.2, WR18)

D.J. Moore is one of my favorite longshot pass catchers to lead the league in receiving: I have a +4000 ticket on him at Caesars — and I’m already wondering on how I should spend that money.

I am 100% in on Moore this year.

Here’s what I wrote about Moore in my 2021 fantasy football rankings article:

“Think of all the great receivers in the league. We are in a golden era of wide receiver play. Out of all those elite players, only one has managed to go over 1,200 scrimmage yards in each of the past two seasons — and that’s D.J. Moore. And he’s done it while catching passes from Teddy Bridgewater, Phillip Walker, Kyle Allen, Will Grier, and Cam Newton. He’s entering his prime at just 24 years old, and he could have more targets and advantageous usage coming his way this year now that Curtis Samuel is gone. His upside is massive.”

Calvin Ridley might disagree with me …

… but I think Moore is a top-tier receiver. As Adam Pfeifer has noted in his stellar ADP Decisions series, Moore has a developmental curve that gives him top-10 fantasy upside this year. I think this is the season Moore breaks into the upper echelon of fantasy receivers.

Side note: Eliot Crist generally isn’t all that good at Twitter, but he did good work with these back-to-back bangers.

Moore is going way too late in drafts, and that means I’m happy to reach for him and get him wherever I can.

Damien Harris is the Patriots back you want in fantasy

(ADP: 98.9, RB34)

Ace beat reporter Mike Reiss of ESPN views Damien Harris as the “surefire No. 1 option” in the Patriots backfield, so he has significant upside.

Last year, Harris was No. 6 with a 14% gash rate among all running backs with 100-plus carries (per our Advanced Rushing Stats Tool). Entering his third year, Harris has underappreciated talent as a rusher, and he’s also capable as a receiver: In college, he was 22-204-0 receiving as a senior.

Plus, we ought not forget about his all-important longstanding Alabama connection with rookie first-round quarterback Mac Jones.

I’m joking (probably), but the addition of Jones to the Patriots is worth considering. Last year, Harris had 10-plus carries in all but one of his 10 active games, and he played well with 5.0 yards per carry and 7.4 yards per target – but he had just three carries inside the five-yard line and only seven targets.

But that was in a coronavirus-impacted season with quarterback Cam Newton, who hogged all the goal-line carries for himself and rarely checked the ball down to running backs.

Jones isn’t guaranteed to win the starting job at any point this year, but there’s a chance he will …

… and if he does then Harris will likely see more high-value carries and targets in 2021.

On top of that, if the Pats offense improves even a little bit, then Harris could find himself with a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown campaign as the top back in a run-heavy offense propelled by perhaps the league’s best run-blocking offensive line, which produced an NFL-high 2.13 yards before contact on non-quarterback runs last year.

It’s very encouraging that through two preseason games Harris has been the locked-in lead back for the Pats when the starters have been on the field.

Mike Williams could put it all together for fantasy this year

(ADP: 126.9, WR48)

Mike Williams has had 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in separate seasons, so he has the ability to produce, and now he’s slated to play the “Michael Thomas X” role in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s system.

Over the past three years, Williams has been one of the league’s most efficient receivers on a per-opportunity basis, ranking No. 12 with 9.9 yards per target among all players with 100-plus targets.

It’s not hard to see why Williams is one of Nelson Sousa’s mid-round targets and one of Eliot Crist’s top upside players for best ball

Amon-Ra St. Brown could be a productive fantasy rookie

(ADP: 218.0, WR75)

I don’t want to overstate Amon-Ra St. Brown’s potential, but the last receiver selected on Day 3 of the draft with St. Brown’s combination of five-star pedigree, first-year college production, and immediate opportunity was Stefon Diggs in 2015, when he was the No. 1 receiver for the Vikings despite playing just 13 games.

As Brett Whitefield mentioned in St. Brown’s pre-draft prospect profile, he is a versatile receiver who can line up all across the formation and run efficient routes at all levels of the field. He’s especially good in the slot, where he’s likely to line up most this year with veterans Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams on the perimeter, and in the middle of the field he could become a Cooper Kupp-like go-to option for short-throwing quarterback Jared Goff.

In Nelson Sousa’s bold predictions for 2021, he is extraordinarily bullish on St. Brown relative to the other rookie receivers this year. It would not be a surprise if he easily led the Lions in receiving.

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