The NFL Draft is complete. Full attention can now be diverted towards the upcoming 2021 Fantasy Football season. After reviewing all the rosters moves from free agency, and additions from last weekend, here are ten bold 2021 fantasy football predictions that have a path to reality.
10 Bold Fantasy Football Predictions for the 2021 Season
10. Joe Mixon finishes as the overall RB1
Mixon truthers have been burned before, but everything lines up for a career season for the fifth-year running back. The Cincinnati depth chart is as shallow as ever after Giovani Bernard signed with Tampa Bay. Mixon only played in six games last year, battling through chest, shin, and foot sprains. But the versatile 24-year old back still managed 3.5 receptions on 4.3 targets per game and had the second-highest opportunity share of any running back when healthy. Every report coming out of Cincinnati is pointing to a great season for Mixon.
Bengals OC Brian Callahan: Joe Mixon shouldn't come off the field. https://t.co/GSRdAM4ED6
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) May 5, 2021
Notably, there has not been a repeat overall PPR RB1 in consecutive seasons since Priest Holmes in 2002 and 2003. This means it is not likely that Derrick Henry again finishes atop the fantasy running back leaderboard. Even with strong competition from Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and a full healthy Christian McCaffrey, Mixon has the perfect trifecta of talent, system, and limited competition for the overall RB1 campaign.
9. A.J. Brown finishes as the overall WR1
Tennessee has the second-most vacated targets from the 2020 season, and plans to compensate with Josh Reynolds (113 career receptions), fourth-round rookie Dez Fitzpatrick, and 2020 UDFA Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. Translation? The only thing standing between A.J. Brown and the overall WR1 season is health.
A.J. Brown in six career games with more than eight targets:
10 rec-151 yards-1 TD
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 4, 2021
Brown ranked fifth last year with 15.2 fantasy points per game in half-point PPR scoring. He missed two games with a bone bruise, but still finished fifth among all wide receivers with 11 total touchdowns. Brown has seen his targets increase from 5.2 to 7.6 per game over his first two NFL seasons. The Titans are a run-first offense, but imagine their passing attack if Derrick Henry sees just slight negative regression? Brown could easily approach 140 targets, which combined with his efficiency would place him atop the overall WR1 conversation.
8. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a Top 5 Overall RB: This one is obvious. Edwards-Helaire is the quintessential post-hype sleeper after what many fantasy gamers perceive as a disappointing rookie season. In actuality, all that was missing was touchdown production.
Just a word of caution if you jumped off the Clyde Edwards-Helaire bandwagon…
— Mike Randle (@RandleRant) April 25, 2021
Running behind an injured and underproducing offensive line, Edwards-Helaire tallied 1100 total yards and 36 receptions despite enduing only a 60 percent Snap Share (PlayerProfiler). The explosive rookie also missed three games as a result of high ankle and hip strains. Edwards-Helaire had four games of RB1 performances including the overall RB2 game in Week 11 against the Raiders. With a completely revamped and improved offensive line, the second-year former LSU star will be in the catbird seat behind All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
7. Melvin Gordon, Josh Jacobs, and Myles Gaskin will all fail to finish as a PPR RB1
Last season, J.J. Zachariason outlined several trends that can help identify breakout running backs in fantasy football. One of the most important is to identify ambiguous team backfields. He correctly identified that the overwhelming majority of breakouts came from players who were not the first running back drafted on their own team. Focusing on this season, Denver, Las Vegas, and Miami are teams with tenuous RB1s.
The Broncos may be monetarily invested in Melvin Gordon, but their actions in the NFL Draft illuminate some doubt in his production.
The Denver Broncos trade up to the 35th overall pick of the NFL Draft to select former @TarHeelFootball running back Javonte Williams.
This is the highest a UNC running back has been picked in the NFL draft since Ethan Horton went 15th overall to the Chiefs in 1985.
— Pat James (@patjames24) April 30, 2021
Miami was likely sniped by Denver for Williams, leaving 2019 seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin as their leading rusher. The Raiders signed veteran Kenyan Drake to a two-year, $11 million contract despite continuing to announce support for Josh Jacobs. All three of these backfields are more crowded than most realize, providing extreme value for zero RB enthusiasts to pounce.
6. Kyle Pitts will finish outside the Top 10 PPR Fantasy Tight Ends
Per Underdog ADP, Kyle Pitts is the current overall TE5. This is very optimistic given the lack of fantasy production for first year tight ends.
Pitts is a unicorn for a variety of reasons, which is why he was also the first TE *ever* to become a top-five pick.
But only two rookie TEs have surpassed 700 yards in this century (Shockey 2002, Engram 2017). Obviously a developmental curve that should be factored in. https://t.co/Rs1BLMgAUQ
— John Daigle (@notJDaigle) May 3, 2021
Over the last two seasons, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley have accounted for 465 targets out of Atlanta’s 1312 pass attempts. That translates to 35.4 percent of all targets, despite Jones missing eight games and Ridley missing four games due to injury. Barring an injury to either of these elite wide receivers, Pitts is unlikely to match his ADP value. In 2020, the PPR overall TE5 was Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson, who turned 101 targets into 67 receptions, 751 yards, and six touchdowns. Not only will Pitts need to greatly improve on his blocking, but he also will be competing for targets with former first-round pick Hayden Hurst. The Falcons declined to pick-up the fifth-year option on Hurst, meaning he will be playing for a contract in 2021. Pitts dynasty value is off the charts. However, in redraft leagues he is being overdrafted.
5. Marquise Brown Will Finish With Less Than 50 Receptions: One of the most unrecognized disappointments in fantasy football last year was Baltimore’s Marquise Brown. Remember all the reports touting how great Brown’s rookie season was despite playing with a screw in his foot? Brown entered the 2020 season completely healthy and with almost no competition for wide receiver targets. The result was a full 16 games of underwhelming production. Brown managed just one overall WR2 performance in the first ten games of the Ravens season. He was able to salvage mediocre fantasy totals by catching 15 passes with three touchdowns over the last three games.
Brown’s season totals of 99 targets (35th), 58 receptions (42nd), and 769 receiving yards (40th) are unlikely to be reached with Baltimore influx of wideout competition. The Ravens signed veteran Sammy Watkins to one-year, $5 million contract with an additional $5 million signing bonus. Next, they spend a first-round pick on Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman. At 6-foot, 190 lbs, Bateman was a mega-producer in college with an 18.8 (94th percentile) Breakout Age per PlayerProfiler. Finally, they added fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace of Oklahoma State, who tallied 86 receptions, 1491 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns as a just a sophomore. Combine the crowded depth chart with an offense that passed just 44.9 percent of the time (last in the NFL) in 2020, and it’s clear Brown is trending downward as an offensive weapon in Baltimore.
5. Sam Darnold Will Finish as a QB1:
There are few remaining Sam Darnold believers. This author is one of them. This single quote may have unfairly destroyed faith in the NFL potential of the 23-year old signal-caller.
Sam Darnold is mic’d up and he came to the sidelines and said, “I’m seeing ghosts.”
— Dan Roche (@RochieWBZ) October 22, 2019
Now free from the toxic hands of former Jets head coach Adam Gase, Darnold has landed in an ideal place to resurrect his promising career. The Panthers picked up his fifth-year option, traded away Teddy Bridgewater, and declined to select a quarterback in the NFL Draft, firmly declaring their support for Darnold as their QB1. Carolina has surrounded Darnold with the following offensive weaponry:
- An elite running back (Christian McCaffrey)
- A 24-year old wideout with over 2300 receiving yards the past two seasons (D.J. Moore)
- A 6-foot-3 former New York teammate with 4.41 speed, who tallied 102 receptions, 1521 yards, and 11 touchdowns during Darnold’s first two NFL seasons (Robby Anderson)
- Reliable veteran free agent wideout (David Moore)
- Explosive college wide receiver with 23 touchdowns in just 19 games the past two years at LSU (Terrace Marshall)
Quarterbacks have changed teams and fulfilled prior expectations, such as Ryan Tannehill with Tennessee. Darnold is more than capable of a Top 12 overall fantasy finish, and is currently an absurd value as the QB25 on UnderdogFantasy ADP.
4. CeeDee Lamb Will Finish as a WR1
The return of quarterback Dak Prescott should elevate the Dallas offense to one of the best in the NFL. Before his gruesome ankle injury, Prescott guided the Cowboys to an average of 32.6 points over their first five games. This included three top-five overall fantasy QB performances, including the the overall QB1 performance twice. This could translate to a breakout sophomore season for slot receiver CeeDee Lamb.
Lamb produced 29 receptions and 433 receiving yards over those first five games of his rookie season. That projects to 92.8 receptions and 1384 receiving yards in a full 16-game season with Prescott. While team WR1 Amari Cooper remains inconsistent against opposing top cornerbacks, Lamb’s target share in the short to intermediate remains secure. While the Cowboys spent their first six draft picks on defense, their efficiency is still very suspect. Dallas is still likely to be involved in many high-scoring games. Currently, Lamb is going behind Cooper and outside the overall Top 12 WRs. If the Cowboys repeat their first overall ranking in pass plays per game, and Prescott stays healthy, Lamb is a safe bet to dramatically improve on his 13.1 (35th-best) fantasy points per game.
3. Tyler Higbee Will Finish as a Top 5 TE
In the realm of bold fantasy football predictions, this has a very good chance of happening. The Rams upgraded their quarterback from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford, raising the fantasy value at every offensive skill position. Los Angeles also saw 26-year old tight end Gerald Everett sign with Seattle, vacating 61 targets and 41 receptions from the 2020 season. Many people forget just how productive Higbee was without Everett in three game sample size:
Remember those three games Tyler Higbee played in 2019 without Gerald Everett? That was something… pic.twitter.com/ttOi9Qz484
— John Paulsen (@4for4_John) May 4, 2021
Higbee is currently the TE10 in ADP, getting drafted behind Washington’s Logan Thomas. If you are looking for a productive tight end, with increased volume, a quarterback upgrade, in an explosive offense, give Tyler Higbee a long look.
3. Tua Tagovailoa Will Finish as a QB1
Fantasy drafters were drooling over the pro potential of former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa just a short time ago. He produced 48 total touchdowns, 3966 passing yards, and a 69 percent completion percentage as a sophomore en route to a runner-up finish for the Heisman Trophy. His college career ended in 2019 with a gruesome hip injury. Experts pondered where he would land in the 2020 NFL Draft. Tagovailoa was selected fifth-overall by Miami and battled through his rookie season to post two 300-plus yard passing games in the Dolphins final four contests.
The Dolphins now provided Tagovailoa with a litany of weapons upgrades, including former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle. A dynamic speedster, Waddle produced 45 receptions and seven receiving touchdowns during his 2018 freshman season with Tagovailoa. Miami also signed veteran Will Fuller (suspended one more game), who caught eight touchdowns from Weeks 3-12. Along with returning wideouts DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, as well as athletic tight end Mike Gesicki, the Dolphins will have one of the most talented receiving rosters in the AFC. I’m buying into Tua’s talent behind an improved offensive line with an influx of passing game weaponry.
2. Byron Pringle Will Finish as a WR2
This is a bet against Mecole Hardman. As the Chiefs 2019 second-round pick from Georgia, Hardman has done little more than become an occasional deep ball option for quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Suppose the 5-foot-10, 187 lb Hardman cannot ascend to the WR2 role?
The Kansas City coaching staff has repeatedly praised Pringle this off-season, indicating a huge opportunity for an increased role. The Chiefs signed Pringle to a $2.13 million free agent tender, and GM Brett Veach has gone on record about how much confidence the team has in the 27-year old wideout. There is currently a chasm of difference between the ADPs of Hardman (124.8) and Pringle (213.5). Kansas City ranked third in the NFL with 630 pass attempts last season, and the departure of Sammy Watkins provides a huge opportunity for someone to ascend in this offense. The bigger, stronger, and more experienced Pringle is more likely to grab that coveted role.
1. Terry McLaurin Will Finish as a Top 5 WR
Fitzmagic meet F1. New quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a long history of enhancing the fantasy production of his top wide receiver. McLaurin already had a dramatic increase in production during his sophomore season despite terrible quarterback play. With 41 more targets, McLaurin produced 29 more receptions and 99 more receiving yards. Fantasy players were disappointed with only four total touchdowns, which should certainly see positive regression with improved quarterback play.
McLaurin’s 4.33 40-Yard dash speed translated to the sixth-most yards after catch (468) among wide receivers. The signings of veteran wideouts Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries, as well as third-round draft pick Dyami Brown should force teams the diversify their defense away from concentrating on McLaurin. I expect Fitzpatrick to provide McLaurin with a plethora of targets, bolstering his fantasy value in the same way as past WR1 such as Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans, and DeVante Parker. McLaurin is the current WR13 in ADP, with strong Top 5 WR upside.