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The Ideal Fantasy Football Draft for 2021

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If you have been limbering up for fantasy football draft season with mock drafts or a few best ball drafts at Drafters, you already know that every draft is a different animal. Depending on your draft spot, your league scoring, and the tendencies of your league mates, each draft can proceed quite differently. With that in mind, I will lay out some guidelines for you to attack your draft with and then walk you through my favorite players each round to select. I’ll be drafting from the 1.06 for this exercise while selecting players within four picks of these draft positions. 

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2021 Fantasy Football Draft Plan

Be liquid in the draft

Every draft can unfold differently once the human element is injected into it. Players you have repeatedly been selecting in mock drafts per ADP might go earlier or slip depending. This can happen because of bias on either side, or the simple fact that your father-in-law is a die-hard Jets fan (yes, they do exist), so Corey Davis is his must-have.

Make sure that you are pre-planning before each pick, not one solitary player you will select with your next upcoming pick, but a shelf of players usually four players deep. This will keep you from freezing on the clock. The thirty-second clock waits for no one, and there’s no worse feeling than getting auto-drafted. Be willing to float between various roster builds depending on how the draft plays out, knowing that your team building does not end with the draft. This is only the beginning. 

Pay up or punt the tight end position

The peace of mind and advantage an elite tight end offers your roster is fantastic. Depending on the size of your league, there are different priorities that you should consider as well, with tight ends. Travis Kelce and Darren Waller are likely locked into the top two rounds of your drafts, but if Waller or Kittle happens to fall, then snatching them up is the go-to move. 

The middle rounds for tight ends have been an avoid for me outside of T.J. Hockenson, who has the raw talent and target upside to access the top three of the position. If your draft plays out that the top three or Hockenson don’t make it back to you, then punting the position till the later rounds is viable. Targeting the tier of Cole Kmet, Anthony Firkser, or Gerald Everett offers you upside and high touchdown equity from those offenses. 

Target pace, passing rate, and rushing at the quarterback position

The rushing upside for a quarterback and this factor propelling a signal-caller to a ridiculous season is well known. There are also other factors to consider though. The offensive pace (total plays run) and the passing rate of the team should also factor into your decision-making when targeting quarterbacks. Players like Joe Burrow or Tom Brady won’t get you giddy about their rushing boxscores, but they will both operate inside of offenses that will finish in the top 10 in pace and passing rate. All of these elements weigh heavily into my quarterback rankings at FTNFantasy and each of these offers a different path to fantasy stardom. 

Avoid the running back dead zone

Take a look at Matt Jones’ article on the running back dead zone: https://ftnfantasy.com/nfl/a-look-at-the-rb-dead-zone

After rounds 1-2, the running back position is littered with landmines which were laid out by FTN’s own Eliot Crist. Once you enter this “running back dead zone,” wide receivers with projectable healthy target shares and paths to immense upside are the targets. For many seasons rounds, 3-6 have been the fantasy gold mine for wide receivers and that’s again true in 2021. My top 36-72 ranked fantasy football players are filled to the brim with wide receivers. Targeting running backs in the first two rounds and then slamming wide receivers can help you to avoid running backs that are set to sink your fantasy season. 

Pad your bench with handcuff running backs late

The “handcuff tier” of running backs is notable with many well-known names like Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard, but even after these players are off the board, there are rushers that are also one injury away from league winning upside. Tony Jones and Damien Williams both reside in backfields where the options surrounding them are sparse. These two players can be drafted with the last picks of your drafts and offer similar workload upside as running backs selected three rounds ahead of them. Taking two of these darts with your last picks is the way to go over wide receivers that won’t likely sniff more than a 12-15% target share even in the best scenarios. 

2021 Fantasy Football – Ideal draft

**Drafted from the 1.06 with each pick within four picks of the draft position. **

1.06 – Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team

(ADP: RB11, 16.4 Overall)

Antonio Gibson has RB1 overall upside this season, and while yes, he is customarily a second-round pick, this is one of the instances where I’m going against the grain and getting my guy. I have Gibson ranked aggressively in my PPR rankings at FTN Fantasy. Aaron Jones is the more customary pick for me if sticking closer to ADP. 

2.07 – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

(ADP: RB14, 24.7 Overall)

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is one of my flag-plant players this season. The fact that he is still attainable as your RB2 even if you have the 1.01 pick is criminal. This year we see Edwards-Helaire unlocked. 

3.06 – Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

(ADP: WR16, 35.0 Overall)

Recency bias has blinded everyone to the real WR1 in Los Angeles, and that’s Cooper Kupp. With Matthew Stafford in town, this team will be top 5-7 in pace and passing attempts. Kupp is easily attainable in the third round of drafts, and you might even see him slip to the fourth at times. 

4.07 – D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

(ADP: WR19, 40.6 Overall)

In his only preseason action, D.J. Moore was peppered by Sam Darnold around the line of scrimmage. We could see his role change this season into more of a high-volume, intermediate receiver. He can make big plays with the ball in his hands after ranking 16th and eighth in yards after the catch over the last two seasons. If Moore can eclipse the four receiving touchdowns he’s posted in back-to-back seasons, he has top 10 upside in the fourth round. 

5.06 – Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

(ADP: WR26, 33.4 Overall)

Chase Claypool flashed a ridiculous ceiling if everything coalesces in his second season. He ranked third in deep targets and 25th among all wideouts in yards per route run in his rookie year. In a full-time role this year, Claypool has the talent to finish the 2021 season as Pittsburgh’s best fantasy wide receiver. 

6.07 – Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers

(ADP: RB26, 69.7 Overall)

Raheem Mostert does not have to evaporate for Trey Sermon to crush this season. Per FTN Daily’s brand new pace tool, the 49ers were eighth in neutral script rushing rate. There is plenty of rushing volume to go around in this offense to support two successful fantasy running backs. T.J. Hockenson (61.5 overall) and Javonte Williams (62.3 overall) are also in consideration here, but for the purposes of this exercise, they didn’t fit the ADP parameters.

7.06 – DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

(ADP: WR35, 75.1 Overall)

New Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen led a Chargers passing attack that targeted Keenan Allen incessantly last season. Per FTN Fantasy’s advanced receiving stats Keenan Allen was tied for fourth among all wideouts with 50 or more targets in first read share (29%). This is the type of role that is within the range of outcomes for DeVonta Smith

8.07 – Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints

(ADP: WR48, 93.8 Overall)

Marquez Callaway’s upside is worth chasing at this point in the draft despite his rising ADP. Michael Thomas is a question mark even to suit up this season. While I believe he eventually plays, it’s a question of when Callaway could be the unquestioned alpha in this offense by that time. 

9.06 – Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

(ADP: QB11, 109.3 Overall)

Jalen Hurts flashed top-five fantasy quarterback upside last season. The fact that his ADP has fallen from the 70s to the 100s is ridiculous. He fits the criteria for targeting a quarterback with rushing upside and in the later rounds of drafts as he’s currently going outside the top 100 players. Yes, I drafted him seven spots above his ADP, but if I’m targeting my “ideal” players in this draft, there’s no way I’m not getting Hurts. 

10.07 – Terrace Marshall, Carolina Panthers

(ADP: WR58, 116.3 Overall)

Yes, I know we’ve added two Eagles to this list and now two Panthers. The simple fact is there are offenses in fantasy football that continue to be values. Terrace Marshall looks like he’ll be Carolina’s primary slot wide receiver this season, and in that role, he is a mismatch for any corner that attempts to guard him. Also in this ADP range in consideration for this pick are Michael Carter (108.2 overall) and James Conner (118 overall).

11.06 – Bryan Edwards, Las Vegas Raiders

(ADP: WR61, 126.4 Overall)

Bryan Edwards didn’t play a single snap in the preseason, which already alluded to the fact that he was a full-time starter, but John Brown leaving Las Vegas seals it. Edwards broke the breakout age metric (17.8, 100th percentile), and now healthy, he gets to show off that type of immense talent. 

12.07 – Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills

(ADP: WR64, 135.2 Overall)

Gabriel Davis is a fantastic target at this point in the draft. He will reprise his role as the team’s deep target after leading the Bills in this category last season. Buffalo will run plenty of four-wide receiver sets so Davis will have a weekly role, but his ceiling is immense on a team that will rank inside the top five in passing rate. 

13.06 – Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

(ADP: RB44, 147.0 Overall)

After crushing preseason competition now, the world is fully aware of Rhamondre Stevenson’s skill set. Stevenson could eat into work on the ground and through the air with the Patriots paring down their running back depth chart. He’s quickly made waves this offseason after starting camp on the NFI list. 

14.07 – Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears

(ADP: TE17, 160.0 Overall)

After emerging down the stretch last year, Cole Kmet walks into a role oozing with upside. If you’re punting the tight end position, Kmet should be a priority target. Last season, per FTN Data, Chicago was second in the NFL in red-zone passing rate through the first 11 weeks. Graham was the tip of that spear last season, but this year Kmet could be the shiny new weapon for Matt Nagy inside the 20. 

15.06 – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team

(ADP: QB22, 171.0 Overall)

Ryan Fitzpatrick is a priority target as your QB2 late. He sneakily fits the criteria outlined above with targeting quarterbacks. Last season Washington ranked seventh in netural script pace and passing rate per FTN Data

16.07 – Ty Johnson, New York Jets

(ADP: RB57, 192.5 Overall)

Ty Johnson looks to have a stand-alone role from Week 1 in this backfield. Earlier this offseason, I broke down how each running back fit with the Jets’ new zone scheme attack. Johnson will excel behind an offensive line quietly set up to play well while running the football. 

17.06 – Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans

(ADP: TE23, 196.8 Overall)

Anthony Firkser’s role as the pass-catching tight end on this team is set in stone. After ranking sixth in yards per route run among tight ends last season, all Firkser needs is more volume to find his way into the top 12 fantasy tight ends this year. 

18.07 – Tony Jones, New Orleans Saints

(ADP: RB65, 208.0 Overall)

Tony Jones continues the approach by targeting undervalued offenses and ambiguous situations. Jones capped a stellar preseason with rumors of his ascension to the RB2 role in the Saints’ offense. While the team kept Latavius Murray on the roster, this could be as an insurance policy. Murray looked every bit the rusher on his last legs. 

Fantasy Football Draft – Takeaways

The best fantasy football draft strategy is to remain flexible throughout the process and deploy these tips while doing so. If you enter a draft with a rigid design for how you want your team to look at the end, you’ll most likely be disappointed with the result no matter how it unfolds. 

Varying your approach will allow you to stack value throughout that particular league and the overall portfolio of your 2021 fantasy football leagues. By doing so, you’re giving yourself multiple outs or paths to first place, which is needed. It’s a long season filled with injuries, surprises, and other types of insanity, so buckle up Week 1 is upon us. 

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