2021 Mock ‘Rookie’ Draft (using the 2018-2019-2020 rookie classes)
We typically start every new season of CFM with a redo mock draft, of sorts. Taking the last three draft classes and doing a draft just using those prospects available.
This is me drafting…using my scouting, my data, my grading, my tape watching of the 2020 NFL season, and my gut and making picks as if this were a startup Dynasty draft with only 2018-19-20 rookies available. This will differ some from our 2020 ending Dynasty Stash rankings, as there are different/more players available here, thus changing the dynamic a little bit.
We will begin picks #1 through #5 and then add a new pick/commentary each day until the end of January. We may shift the rank any given day based on some new info, etc.
In February, we will use this draft to then insert the early feel for the 2021 prospects…and where they might land by comparison.
Here we go…
1) QB Josh Allen, BUF (2018)
Should be the 2020 NFL MVP but won’t be. I’ve never seen such a turn of talent at QB in my entire career scouting football…or ever going back in time as a football fan, pre-career. Not sure I’ve seen such a turn of talent in any sport or any walk of life as I saw with Allen 2020 vs. Allen 2019 vs. Allen 2018 vs. Allen at Wyoming.
It’s one thing to go from sketchy to competent or from good to great, but it’s another to go from struggling to OK to best QB in the NFL all in about two seasons. Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow were instantly/obviously good-great from their first game or two. Allen was as far from elite as you could be two years ago – and now is on par with Mahomes out of nowhere.
Can Allen keep this up? Was this a flash in the pan? Fair question. We’ve seen guys Cam Newton flash a great year and then never again. We’ve seen Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles put up numbers for a year. However, I think this is different with Allen. The entire time Cam or Jameis or Bortles were doing their thing, I was watching and complaining about it the whole time – talking about ‘luck’ (blindly throwing passes and them landing), plus a lot of garbage time numbers, luckily dropped picks all season – sometimes it can just be a ‘QB’s year’. It dissipates quickly…with the ‘lucky’.
The moment I saw Allen this year, I knew something was different Week 1…but when I saw it again Weeks 2-3, I was writing novellas imploring FF owners to trade for him while there was disbelief in his ‘hot start’ in 2020. It’s not a blip…or, if it is, it’s the greatest blip I’ve ever seen.
Why Allen is top of my list to start…
1) Arguably throwing the ball as well/like Mahomes.
2) Is a more willing runner than Mahomes.
3) Is built sturdier than Kyler to continue running-passing at a high level.
4) Has a better head coach than Mahomes or Kyler or Herbert or Burrow…or any NFL QB.
5) He’s only 24 years old, as of this writing. Plenty of years left.
6) As RBs and WRs fade, especially RBs…dominant QBs stay dominant. For that reason, I’m with QBs in a long-term sense than RBs.
2) RB Saquon Barkley, NYG (2018)
When judging RBs for fantasy…it’s not ‘talent’ you go by. It’s what RB has the path/no blockage to ‘all the touches’? Which RB is bigger (in status) than the coach? Which RB is beloved by his coach? Saquon Barkley checks all the right boxes. He’s talented enough. For sure, but he’s also ‘the franchise’ much like Ezekiel Elliott.
Saquon is never coming off the field when it matters. Saquon plays in an offense, with a QB, that allows him to ‘be the offense’. He’s not competing with a Mahomes-Allen type QB or runners like Lamar-Hurts for touches…Saquon IS the offense.
Injury-prone? Perhaps, but that is a bit unfair…29 of 32 games played in his first 2 seasons. Injured in 2020, major…ACL. He should be rehabbed and fresh for 2021. Dalvin Cook tore his ACL early 2017 season and was back for Week 1 of 2018 season and became a star 2019 and 2020 season.
I see some nitpick flaws with Saquon as a runner of the ball (I think he dances a little too much and gets caught behind the line a bit much), but his ‘status’ overrules any little nitpick items in that regard. Saquon might not ever be the #1 fantasy RB out there, but he will always be a top 5 type threat and not leave you hanging (unless injured again).
Plus, people LOVE him. His trade value is always amped and explodes anytime he does something. His street value is better than his real FF value to your roster – but perceived value is value to use/trade as needed too. People will pick Saquon over a Nick Chubb 10 out of 10 times based on ‘feelings’. Saquon has media momentum at all times.
3) QB Justin Herbert, LAC (2020)
Why Herbert ranked below Saquon when our Dynasty stash had him above Saquon? The 2020 Stash didn’t have Josh Allen under consideration. Given the choice between Allen and Herbert, I have to go Allen…knowing it might be Herbert as the right answer in another year or two. Being tied to Anthony Lynn held Herbert back. Now, free of Lynn – it should unleash him (but we need to see who the new coach will be).
Herbert is like if Josh Allen was polished right out of the NFL gates. There’s a lot of Allen in Herbert, but Allen has arrived at a high level now…and Herbert showed he’s ‘it’ too – but just a notch below due to Allen as a more willing/effective runner for FF purposes.
Herbert deserves to be anywhere from #1-5 on this list. I’m starting him #3, considering how many great QB options are available in this mock draft format (Kyler, Burrow, Lamar, Hurts are guys still available in this draft).
Who Herbert’s new coach ends up being could change this ranking.
If you play in 6pts per pass TD and/or with 300+ yard bonuses…you’re gonna want Herbert if at all possible -- over Saquon, in that instance I believe. Herbert is better than Trevor Lawrence.
4) RB Jonathan Taylor, IND (2020)
Physically built to be a star – 220+ pounds, a 4.39 runner…that’s a freak show size-speed combo. Huge production in college and then crushed it in the NFL when he was given the touches. I have no doubts about Taylor as a talent.
I do have doubts about what Frank Reich wants from his backfield moment-to-moment. He LOVES rotating RBs in and out and will ride a hot hand the moment he perceives it. I don’t see Reich as sold out to Taylor as you’d think he’d be or want him to be as an FF-owner of Taylor. However, as the 2020 season went on…it became obvious and even Reich started riding it.
Taylor is a for-sure star. How big of a star will be determined by Reich…and that holds his value back a smidge.
Chubb vs. Taylor…both great, but how do you not like Taylor a smidge better?
5) RB Nick Chubb, CLE (2019)
Arguably, could be the top RB on here…a more gifted/instinctual RB than the physically superior Saquon Barkley. I wouldn’t complain if someone liked Chubb better than Saquon or J. Taylor.
My concern is -- Chubb could be a top five RB for 2021…or a nice top 15-18 RB for fantasy in 2021, and then he is not really worth a top 5 overall ranking here if he’s just a nice top 15-18 guy. The FF-world is filled with ‘good+’ RB options – are we REALLY sure Chubb is a top guy in Cleveland with Kareem Hunt on the roster…and thus worth the gamble to take him highly?
Given his O-Line and the propensity of the head coach to be run-game leaning…I like Chubb to make a run as a top 5-10 RB for fantasy ahead. However, given the presence of Kareem Hunt and the lack of good targeting for Chubb (Hunt more the receiving back) – it makes me pause on really paying the price here in PPR, much more comfortable in non-PPR to pay up.
I begin this ranking Chubb behind Saquon for sure because I KNOW the Giants will be sold out to Saquon. The Browns are content for a medium blend in of Kareem Hunt, and it’s the minor detail that makes me pause on making Chubb the top RB prospect here.
6) LB Darius Leonard, IND (2018)
In a world of random performances among IDPs in any given year, year-to-year, one constant stands out – Darius Leonard as a top LB and overall IDP play.
The #1 IDP overall PPG scorer as a rookie (2018).
The #1 IDP overall PPG scorer in 2019.
The #3 IDP overall PPG scorer in 2020…#2 if you take away his Week 4 game where he left late 1st half with an injury (and then missed the next 3 weeks).
It’s hard to find that kind of consistency at any position in fantasy, especially in IDP – not just top of his position, but top overall performance year after year, week after week.
I’m not sure any other IDP will crack the top 25-30 here…and I’m also not sure if I’m undervaluing Leonard here. He IS the clear best IDP (for most scoring systems).
7) RB D’Andre Swift, DET (2020)
1/24 UPDATE = The addition of Anthony Lynn as O-C with lunatic HC Dan Campbell...that's a boost for the RBs/run game/Swift.
I don’t love him like most of the NFL does, but I know he’s good…and I also know, more importantly, that the NFL thinks he’s great. The Lions have invested in him as ‘great’. They are not going to make him a nobody with the new regime. He’s going to be Detroit’s Alvin Kamara, worst case scenario. Mostly, he’ll be their lead guy in the backfield, a three-down back playing in dome conditions a lot.
I think the player is ‘meh’/fine but his FF outlook is RB1 in PPR because of his perception/status. I could see him as a PPR RB1 in the seasons to come, especially with a former Saints assistant coach as the new head coach here.
8) RB Antonio Gibson, WSH (2020)
The more I think about his 2020 season, the more I’m stunned at what happened…
Think about it – a guy who was physically huge, athletic, and failing at WR player in college for 3+ seasons…he starts getting some jet sweep opportunities halfway through his senior season and ended up making a few huge plays off them – just a couple touches per game, looked really good running it. End of his football story? No.
Gibson then gets a Senior Bowl invite off his size and late season work, everyone is curious about him being called a ‘running back’ when he has been a WR and return man…and he ends up the most physically dominant RB there. He goes and lights up the speed times at the NFL Combine, and winds up getting drafted in the 3rd-round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
No real preseason to get more comfortable with for the RB-convert Gibson, so he just goes out with limited time ever playing RB and becomes the Washington Week 1 main guy/starter and goes on to compile 1,000+ total yards and 11 TDs (despite missing 2 games) for the season. Also, consider when he returned from missing games with a turf toe…he didn’t have his best games. Much of his stat tally came in the first 12 games of the season.
Yes, the NFL is very difficult. So difficult a failed college WR who never really played RB can jump into the league and be one of its top RBs without a real preseason.
This never happens in the NFL. Guys like this rarely get a chance right away. That’s why I was cautious/uninterested in Gibson for FF in his rookie season. Let him work out the kinks as a rotational RB in 2020 and I’ll reassess his following season/2021. Nope – right in as a productive main starter right away. I missed it, because I assumed the NFL would not make this kind of push…because they never do.
*Note – RBs with storied college careers and huge prospect status coming in (Taylor, Swift, Dobbins) didn’t get this kind of respect from their team…but failed WR turned jet sweep guy just did with Washington. It never happens like that…until it did.
Don’t you have to believe Gibson only gets better from here? He’s just beginning to play the position. I’m willing to pay a reasonable price to acquire. Don’t forget, for his current owner…Gibson ended on a very downbeat note…no TDs from Week 13 on and missed 2 games in there. He’s not being mentioned alongside the names of Dobbins, CEH, Swift – but isn’t he in as good or better of a spot? Gibson is not cheap to acquire but the price is not as high as I think it should be.
9) WR Deebo Samuel, SF (2019)
Why Deebo as the top WR? Aren’t there more highly lauded guys, more physical freaks, guys on better passing games than Deebo Samuel…guys not recently hurt half the season? Yes. There are plenty, but Deebo has one thing over all the other WRs on this list – he IS the main guy in his offense. The offense is built around him.
And it’s just not any old offense where the WR is dependent upon the QB/the targeting levels. No. Deebo gets targets in a way that no other WR does and in a way that neutralizes/makes meaningless the covering CB – there are no ‘bad matchups’ for Deebo against Jalen Ramsey or anyone else.
Deebo gets a bunch of work behind the line of scrimmage. Pitch passes. Handoffs as a tailback. Jet sweeps. Normal sweeps. Bubble screens. All that before we even discuss his regular targeting – of which he’s a great medium-short passing game receiver and a poor man’s A.J. Brown after the catch.
Deebo had five games playing 60%+ snaps (had a foot injury to start the year, and concussion and hamstring issues in-season). In his five games in 2020 (with 60%+ snaps), Deebo averaged 6.0 rec., 71.2 yards, 0.17 TDs per game – working mostly with backup QBs the entire time. He paced as a top 24 fantasy WR in PPR with a lack of TDs/with backup QBs.
I believe, if everything turns normal (SF not having everyone injured, nor Deebo hampered all season), he’s going to push towards 7-8 catches, 75+ yards, 1-2 carries per game and then his TD count will push him to a WR1 status.
Deebo may have nice PPR upside…but for sure he’s not going to burn you for lack of touches/numbers/the coach/QB turning away from him. He has the coach’s full confidence, a very smart, offensive-minded coach.
The risk…is Deebo injury prone? A foot injury to start the 2020 season. A hamstring injury forcing missed games later in the 2020 season. Broke his fibula in college 2017 but came back fine in the 2018 season and then was pretty good as an NFL rookie in 2019. No ACLs or achilles, etc., but two injuries in his last 4 seasons does make you pause.
Deebo gets a bump here like a good-not-great RB might because they are the coach’s favorite, and they get heavy/great touch counts. There might be 4-5+ more gifted WRs to take – but Deebo is in such a perfect spot for touches/production, I list him above them all right now. There’s a million talented WRs…which ones do you KNOW for sure are the MAIN guy?
10) RB Josh Jacobs, LV (2019)
Running backs who have the head coach/franchise in their pocket…who always start, get as many touches as they can get shoved to them, and basically have the offense built around them with no other RB on the depth chart putting any pressure at all to getting touches – those type of running backs are becoming extinct species…but Jacobs is one of them that’s still alive and kicking.
I could claim that these RB types who ‘have the coach wrapped around their finger types’ fall into three tiers…
Tier 1 = ‘A’ talents AND get all the touches (Henry, CMC, etc.)
Tier 2 = ‘B’ talents AND get all the touches (Jacobs, James Robinson 2019, etc.)
Tier 3 = ‘C’ talents AND get all the touches (James Conner, Chris Carson, etc.)
I put Jacobs in the ‘B’ class…meaning he’ll never be as sustainably great for FF as Henry or McCaffrey or Saquon, but is still very FF valuable in that you have no worries (for now) when you possess him – solid O-Line, good/run-oriented offense, and (again) the head coach worships him.
I think Saquon and Chubb (on this list) are clearly ahead of Jacobs in this pecking order, but Jacobs is still very valuable because he is in the pecking order.
11) QB Kyler Murray, ARI (2019)
Why so low? I’m a fan, but this is a draft with Josh Allen and Justin Herbert in it…and I believe in Allen and Herbert more than Kyler right now – especially in a 6pts per pass TD league and/or with 300+ bonuses.
Kyler was the #1 QB in FF in PPG (Weeks 1-16) and that’s fantastic. However, it was accomplished on the back of him running the ball a lot/effectively the first half of the season. The worry is…he stopped running as much as the season went on, but his passing tallies didn’t get any better.
8 rushing TDs = First 8 games of 2020
3 rushing TDs = Last 8 games of 2020 (including just one his final 7 games played).
300+ yard passing games…
2 times = First 8 games of 2020
1 time = Last 8 games of 2020
16 passing TDs = First 8 games of 2020
10 passing TDs = Last 8 games of 2020
Blazing hot start for Kyler, cool finish. I think Kyler looks mostly great…he carried this offense, but therein lies the problem – this Air Raid offense sucks. The 2nd-half collapse took the Kliff for Life excitement off the table some…thus if Arizona doesn’t make the playoffs next year, takes a step back in the toughest division in football, then I believe Kingsbury is in trouble. If Kyler loses Kingsbury, what will Kyler do? If Kliff stays because of Kyler…will Kyler ever get any better? Was peak Kyler Weeks 1-10 in 2020?
You have to take/rank highly because of his respect/value, but then I’d probably consider taking him to sell him off getting into Josh Allen (4 or 6pts pass TD) or Justin Herbert (6pts, depending upon who the new HC is).
12) WR Terry McLaurin, WSH (2019)
I debated back and forth setting this up…who deserves a higher ranking among these top/good-great WRs? Deebo, A.J. Brown, Justin Jefferson, Ridley, Diontae, etc.? How do you choose?
The reason I have McLaurin over several of them is – he’s clearly the #1 WR for his team for now and for the future…others have some roadblocks. Justin Jefferson has Thielen. Diontae has Claypool, and vice-versa. Ridley has Julio. All of them did fine in 2020 working with that #1 WR on the team, but they’re still not the obvious/all-out #1s for their team yet (Diontae is in 2020, but will he be in 2021 over Claypool?).
We’re looking for THE GUY (Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs) but we’ll settle for just short of that and being great – but we’re trying to find the next Stefon Diggs-Josh Allen outbreak.
McLaurin is talented and CLEARLY his team’s #1 WR/best WR. He’s a real QB away from getting unlocked…and maybe Washington finds that guy in 2021, but at a minimum – it won’t be what was holding McLaurin back all along…Dwayne Haskins -- that issue has been extracted from every haunting him again.
I could argue McLaurin as the top WR on the list…I could argue that some I will mock draft/rank below him should be above him. It’s fluid, but #1 WRs are worth a FF mint, especially in PPR. McLaurin is that #1 set-up and he’s a real QB away from being a true FF WR1.
13) WR Justin Jefferson, MIN (2020)
Obviously, a phenomenal rookie season…even working with Adam Thielen (as he had a great season too), Jefferson got enough targets/work to be a top fantasy WR his rookie season. Why wouldn’t it continue?
It should. The only mild hesitation would be that Stefon Diggs used to be here and wasn’t a top target start all the time…more a great WR2 who would have WR1 stretches but seemed to wind up as a WR2 by year’s end in scoring…and he was so frustrated by it that it led to his revolt to get himself out of Minnesota. Will Jefferson fall into a WR2 rut like Diggs did when Minnesota gets to run Zimmer’s offense the way he wants it (he doesn’t want all this throwing of the ball, his defense dying/being overhauled brought this on)? Jefferson is good but Stefon Diggs was good/talented there too. However, Kirk Cousins seems more comfortable with Jefferson than he ever did with Diggs…a gut reaction after seeing this one season
Will Jefferson be hurt in the future when Thielen is gone – when the coverage/attention shifts over to him heavier? Maybe. But in this era of hot passing, the Jefferson-Cousins connection is obviously there and playing in a dome is a great boost, and Cousins being a top 12 fantasy QB (it’s true in 2020) helps push this narrative as well (unless Cousins reverts if Zimmer gets control of the offense…).
I could argue Jefferson higher or maybe some WRs below him should be rated higher than Jefferson – at the end of the day, Jefferson has proven his worth and he should be highly productive wherever he should rank here – you’re not getting a bust prospect here.
14) RB Cam Akers, LAR (2020)
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Akers’ talent – I think he’s generically ‘good’, a ‘C’ talent. However, his head coach thinks he’s an ‘A’ talent and that matters most. I think Darrell Henderson is the more superior talent, in every way, but he’s going to be a 3-5 touch a game backup for Akers getting a heavy majority of the snaps and touches. There’s value in being ‘the guy’.
However, I have a hard time bringing myself to going in on him – because I know/believe he’s just ‘OK’ and that could open him up to criticism if he’s not faring well…and then a better, more talented Darrell Henderson is sitting right there. I just hate investing in (big price) players I don’t ‘like’/believe in – even though I know they’re the ‘smart’ move because their coach loves them.
I have to put him on the list, but I don’t like it. If I made the pick in a real draft here…it would be to trade him right after. There are plenty of other RBs to play fantasy with…than to go in on a guy I’m rooting for his backup to overtake him.
15) WR Chase Claypool, PIT (2020)
1/22/21 UPDATE = We'll get into this more in a separate piece, but the risk of Ben retiring and the Steelers responding with signing Dwayne Haskins...that's not good. We'll discuss deeper ASAP.
1/11/21 UPDATE = After watching the mess that was the Steelers vs. the Browns and considering the plight of the Pittsburgh offense the past 6-7 games, and the way Mike Tomlin hurts this offense in inexplicable ways (as Claypool was off the field too much of the middle part of their blowout/all-pass comeback effort) – I cannot push Claypool as high as I want to because it’s a risk, where as many WR options here are not a risk.
I am sure Claypool is a mega-talent…but when/will it get unleashed quick enough? It’s too speculative to begin with a top 10 ranking I think.
Org. Comments (1/4/21)…
This is a risky top 10 ranking, but I’m going to bet on the following – Claypool is the best WR of the 2020 rookie class, maybe the most talented rookie WR in my 10+ years scouting. Physically built like rare few prospects in NFL history. We saw glimpses of his GREATness (not GOODness) early in the 2020 season when he was forced into more snaps/targets. By midseason, teams were covering him with their #1 corner.
The risk being…soon after, Mike Tomlin ‘benched’ Claypool/put him back as a #4 WR because he was worried about a phantom ‘rookie wall’. There was no wall…just the wall blocking Mike Tomlin’s brain from smart offensive personnel decisions on the other side. The risk is…Mike Tomlin has no idea what he has in Claypool (or he wouldn’t treat him this way).
There’s also some risk that we don’t know about the QB situation ahead. However, there’s too many good-great QBs flooding the NFL. The Steelers will figure it out, and when they do – Claypool can be a Calvin Johnson-esque weapon to use. We’ve already seen it in 2020…it’s not a projection or hope.
There are a lot of really GOOD WRs on this list/mock draft. There is no one like Chase Claypool, thus he is here in the top 10…he may wind up #1 ranked in hindsight when we look back in a few years…but he might never get into the top 10 in a look back if Tomlin doesn’t get with the program. Mike Tomlin thinks Josh Dobbs is a franchise QB, so be careful betting on Tomlin-related things.
However, Claypool is so talented…he’s worth the gamble.
16) QB Joe Burrow, CIN (2020)
He might be top 10…top 5 here, if not for the unfortunate, major ACL injury in-season 2020. Not that he won’t heal from it and be fine or is somehow going to lose his QB skills because of it – more worry that he loses part of 2021 in rehab and that he loses some of his mobility (which was a big asset for the NFL/for FF) for a season or two…or forever, in a sense.
He might be totally fine from this injury and it’s nothing to really worry about, but we have to at least furrow an eyebrow about it.
Unfortunately, a twinge of doubt has been created. If you are not worried about that at all – he’s a top 5-10 guy on this list, and ahead of Kyler Murray in 6pts per pass TD leagues for sure.
I think Burrow is great, differently great than Justin Herbert is. Burrow is a better Joe Montana with better feet/speed/running ability. I just pray Burrow didn’t lose that runner ability off his injury.
17) WR Calvin Ridley, ATL (2018)
He’s not my favorite of the new breed WRs but I have to respect what he’s producing – a top 20 PPG PPR WR in 2019…and then a top 5 PPG WR in 2020 – with or without Julio Jones in the lineup, didn’t matter. Matt Ryan is only 36 years old (in 2021)…still semi-young for an NFL QB. As long as Ryan is there, then Ridley is going to be a WR1 threat…and eventually be ‘the guy’ when Julio hangs ‘em up.
I like the talent of a Chase Claypool or Diontae Johnson or D.K. Metcalf more, but I don’t like the situations they are in as much as I like Ridley’s WITH Matt Ryan.
Ridley plays in a home dome, and in a conference of favorable weather places to play. Ridley has advantages other more talented WRs do not have – that helps as well. When other guys are playing in 30-degree weather almost every December game day, Ridley (among others) is in a dome or in Florida, etc. The Falcons might have one bad weather event if that to contend with a season – which is an advantage when trying to delineate between all these great WR performers.
18) WR A.J. Brown, TEN (2019)
1/18/21 UPDATE = Double Knee surgery...ummm...we need to find out more info before we get too overheated here.
Moving down from original #7 ranking.
There are so many talented WRs to consider from the 2018-19-20 group…and I went round-and-round trying to figure out which one to put atop the list. You, in theory, can’t go wrong with most any of them – you’re not crazy to favor any one of them over another among the top 5-8 WRs listed here.
But why A.J. Brown over most all of them?
Well, every top WR on the list/of the options has shown to be able to put up stellar numbers. There’s no ‘hope and pray’ with any of the options…they’re all great, proven already. Really, a lot of the ‘tiebreakers’ got sorted out by ‘who is their QB?’ but Brown was different to go on top of the list (initially)…
A.J. Brown is physically dominant…arguably the most physically dominant WR in the NFL.
Brown is built like a power RB or outside linebacker playing WR…a guy with 4.4+ speed who gets simple passes crossing over the middle and then either hits the jets and runs away or when the small DBs try to lasso him while AJB just breaks away from the tackle and then hits the jets and then is off to the races.
Brown is uniquely set up to keep producing, even with a bad QB, because of his physicality. And his bigger, thicker frame ‘should’ help him stay on the field/not hurt or dinged up with minor injuries that will befall the excellent-but-thin-framed burner WRs.
For those reasons, I give AJB the very slight edge over the Diontae, J. Jefferson, Ridley, McLaurin type WRs.
19) WR D.K. Metcalf, SEA (2019)
After the first few weeks of the 2020 season, I was ready to proclaim Metcalf the best WR for fantasy overall. He was unstoppable. I was a skeptic of Metcalf from the jump because I saw him as a deep ball threat who gaffed a lot of passes when pushed over-the-middle…and I saw SEC defenses play him deep every snap (taking away his deep ball stuff instantly, as the QB wasn’t going to throw deep when the CB was already 5+ yards deeper than Metcalf -12 seconds into the read/look) and thus SEC DBs forced him short/inside more and neutralized him that way. I figured the NFL would copy that, but they’re too stupid to do that…they have to be because for a year and a half they kept playing him up in his face off the snap and he’d just burn them deep. In October 2020, I just assumed the NFL would never change and Metcalf would keep having a field day.
However, 2nd-half of the 2020 season defenses did start playing way off him so he couldn’t go deep and he’d have to go short-medium more and then he started dropping passes and his numbers collapsed from where they were.
The downside ahead: Metcalf has no ability to expand his game, and he just becomes a giant deep ball threat/decoy.
The upside ahead: if Metcalf becomes a better interior receiver (and he has never shown much ability to do so) then he’s back to being a freak of nature. And he is for sure ‘Russ’s guy’.
With so many great FF performers available at WR, I’m very wary of investing hard into Metcalf and being left with an erratic, TD dependent WR2. But I recognize that his FF upside is so great if he improves his game under a new O-C/offensive philosophy/coaching.
20) RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC (2020)
You thought CEH was NFL Drafted into a GREAT fantasy spot…I know I did. I mean, how could it get any better than being the lead RB for the greatest offense we know of? That’s true, and it carries some value, but there’s another ‘developing situation’ – the KC offense, smartly, is not built around the running back. It’s built for Patrick Mahomes to do as he pleases.
When you have Mahomes, you don’t need to ‘establish the run game’. When you have Mahomes’s arm, you don’t need to throw a bunch of cheap screen and swing passes like Drew Brees or many others have to – you throw downfield at will.
It might be we should say…CEH is NOT in a great spot for fantasy purposes. Just a good one…because there’s a lot of activity happening in the offense and CEH can prosper from his share of it being on the field.
How do you FF-value a running back who is absolutely not the center of his offense, and his QB is and doesn’t need to throw a bunch of dump passes all game? The upside being…the main RB on a top offensive machine – they get FF points by existing in the offense/playing a lot of snaps. CEH will score well for FF regardless of whether we think he is good or great or average.
21) WR Diontae Johnson, PIT (2018)
1/22/21 UPDATE = We'll get into this more in a separate piece, but the risk of Ben retiring and the Steelers responding with signing Dwayne Haskins...that's not good. We'll discuss deeper ASAP.
Diontae is hurt most/big time if Ben is gone. Who the Steelers really replace Ben with (if) will change Diontae's rank again...maybe higher, maybe lower.
I could see Diontae as the best WR on this list…or lower than his spot right here. So many really good WRs to delineate between.
Why I have Diontae a tick behind of those similar, slender, highly productive WRs…
1) His QB is aging fast and we have no idea who the plan is for the future. If the Steelers try to make Kyle Trask, for example, their future (or Josh Dobbs) – then Diontae might be screwed.
2) The presence of Chase Claypool. How highly can you rank a WR who is very good, but the second best WR on his own team?
I also can’t forget…we had the ‘drops’ issue in 2020. We haven’t seen that with the other top WRs. What if it rears its ugly head again? On the other hand, I compare Diontae’s career arc to that of Davante Adams – and Diontae could be a next Davante-like WR. However, this isn’t 2010…there’s a million really good WRs. Why try to force it too hard with Diontae now?
22) RB J.K. Dobbins, BAL (2020)
On a talent-only basis, he deserves to be ranked higher than this…but he has a major problem for Fantasy – he’s stuck in a (seemingly) terrible situation for FF number production.
The Ravens will have their same coaching staff and philosophy back in 2020. Their system splits carries at RB…three ways, Dobbins with Gus Edwards, and the rushing leader of the pack…Lamar Jackson. Dobbins could lead the group in carries in 2020, but that might be 15 +/- totes per game with JKD competing with Lamar for the short yardage rushing TDs.
On top of that, Lamar does not throw to the RB hardly at all. So, you’re going to have this great RB weapon getting 15 carries and 1 target per game, fighting Lamar and Gus for short yardage TDs. Meanwhile, a lesser talented Cam Akers will play almost every snap at RB and get every touch and target. D’Andre Swift as well…and Swift might catch 80 passes in a season while Dobbins catches 20 – thus Dobbins would need to score 10+ more TDs than Swift just to close the gap of point differential in a PPR league.
Non-PPR, Dobbins is much better off…but still fighting Gus and Lamar for touch dominance.
Love the player, hate the FF-situation.
23) TE Noah Fant, DEN (2019)
Where do you value the most physically gifted TE in the NFL (arguably)…but one stuck with the Denver passing game/Drew Lock? What if the Broncos make a change at QB with John Elway out of the GM way now? What if it is a good+ change? What if it is a bad one?
I want to put Fant and Dallas Goedert higher on the rankings, but their current situations are in such flux and with currently bad/weak QBs that you don’t want to stick your neck out for one of them and get a generic TE1…like the 3-4 catches, 40-50 yards and a TD every 2-3-4 games. Plenty of those guys to find during waivers. No, we’re looking for high impact TEs, and Fant is arguably the most athletic, best FF created TE in this draft…him vs. Dallas Goedert.
Because Goedert is staring at Wentz or Hurts in 2021, and neither is 100% appealing for Goedert, per se – I’ll put Fant ahead of him for right now.
24) LB Devin White, TB (2019)
I thought White had all the physical tools of a star (as did everyone) but I thought I saw wavering motivation/effort in his college play…which made me worry if he could turn in on and keep it on in the NFL. He has had a helluva 202 season into the 2021 playoffs. He’s everywhere making plays getting turnovers. He’s been as good as there has been for IDP/FF purposes since about midseason 2020.
White has another year before the Bucs will think about an early contract extension, so if there are ‘effort’ worries (once he’s paid) – you got at least another year with him on top/firing on all cylinders getting towards his new mega-deal to come.
White will be on the short list for highest scoring LB for IDP/FF in 2021, and that’s very valuable. Use it, and then reassess as his contract gets redone…the effort/contract thing may be nothing but ‘in my mind’ (from my scouting/background study of him).
25) RB A.J. Dillon, GB
Going out on a limb here – if Aaron Jones leaves via free agency (likely) then it’s going to be obvious A.J. Dillon is the remaining RB of note in Green Bay.
What would happen if the Packers named Dillon as their primary starter today? He’d go into the top 20 on this list? To what degree we’d have to sort out. Wouldn’t he be a top 10-12 RB for 2021 redraft as named starter for GB? A radical move like that is all possible the next month or two…or maybe this is the 2022 story of rise-up? Either way…it’s coming.
Dillon is built to run at Lambeau field. If Aaron Rodgers leaves, the offense would be behind Earl Campbell 2.0, A.J. Dillon. At least that hope is on the table.
26) WR Tee Higgins, CIN (2020)
You want the #1 WR working with an elite QB…and that seems to be Tee Higgins, not Tyler Boyd. I was way wrong about Higgins I n my initial scouting and computer grading (it happens) – didn’t think he had the athleticism or play style to be a great NFL WR, but I see that he is at a minimum ‘good’…and I know Joe Burrow is great, so the combination of that has to be at least very good for FF…if not great.
Higgins needs targets (and needs Burrow). He’s not a gamebreaker type super-athlete. He needs to Michael Thomas his way to the top. I respect Higgins, now, but this is mostly about Burrow. If you get any sense that Higgins is not Burrow’s main guy…then this is going to be a WR2 at best not a WR1 hopeful.
27) TE Dallas Goedert, PHI
If Goedert were in a known stable, consistent offense with an entrenched (good) head coach and O-C and working with a sweet passing QB…he’d be a top 10 player on this board. Tight ends are in short supply and Goedert may be the best young, classically designed TE in the NFL.
It’s a big ‘win’, in a sense, for Goedert that Nick Sirianni is the new head coach – a passing game mindset and there to fix Carson Wentz…not to groom Jalen Hurts, is my take. ‘Fixed’ Wentz is better for Goedert than Hurts…just on style of play and volume of passing game.
The concern is…can you fix Wentz? What if Wentz dies, again? Then that’s bad for Goedert…and Hurts going in to save the day would be not great either, in theory.
We can only assume Zach Ertz won’t be here again either…and everything I am told, he is absolutely not wanting back and not wanted back…bad blood now between him and the organization. I want to LOVE Goedert, but there are way too many question marks to do so fully. However, in a Fantasy world desperate for young stud tight ends…Goedert is in a rarified air – and might be leaving in free agency in a year on top of that.
28) WR Courtland Sutton, DEN (2018)
I wish Sutton didn’t have to play with Drew Lock. I wish Sutton didn’t tear his ACL. I wish a lot of things for Courtland.
Aside from the Lock and then ACL thing…Sutton is a dominant #1 WR talent. He can succeed even with Drew Lock. Had he not torn his ACL Week 1, maybe we’re already discussing him as a superstar/top 10 guy on this list. He has that kind of talent.
What if Sutton, like so many, heals up just fine from the ACL…AND Denver gets a real QB to replace Lock (even if by accident)? Then Sutton is set up for stardom. The upside is there…waiting.
Jerry Jeudy is not the Denver future at WR…Sutton is. He’s going to be Denver’s #1 WR for talent and targets. The valuation question is – will he be fine from his injury in 2021 and what QB is he working with? We can only speculate…but players are bouncing back from ACLs like it is nothing these days…and there is getting to be an oversupply of QBs in the NFL, so Denver’s odds of lucking into one is increasing.
There are as many reasons for hope as there are items to fear.
29) QB Lamar Jackson, BAL (2018)
Lamar still carries a ‘name’…and with that the hopes that he can somehow replicate his 2019 MVP season. I’m not thinking he will…I think 2020 may be more his norm – good-not-great for fantasy, better for 4pts per pass TD leagues and weak for 6pts per pass TD leagues.
My interest in taking Lamar would be to try to use Lamar + ____ to get into Josh Allen or Justin Herbert, as I’ve been preaching most of the 2020 season.
When Lamar gets that $500M contract extension…then I’m even more worried about a dip in running tallies/effort and subsequent drag on his FF numbers.
30) RB James Robinson, JAX (2020)
I am not too high on James Robinson – I reluctantly took him here to trade him. I better make that trade before March/April when Urban Meyer brings in a free agent RB and/or NFL Draft RB to his liking/preference (Dallas should be trying to dump Zeke on the Jags every day of the offseason).
James Robinson is fine/solid…and if the Jags don’t bring in any studs, then JRob jumps 10-15+ spots higher here, but I’m pretty convinced the new regime of the Jags will add a better RB or decent RB for a duo and then Robinson will be a split role back with a regime who didn’t draft him or make a big story of him in 2020. In fact, the new regime is likely to see JRob as the ‘old regime’s guy’ and want to make changes from that – because that’s what new regimes do.
Other names I considered…
WR CeeDee Lamb, DAL – I’m not as high on him but I know he’s good and will be a very good PPR WR. I’m not interested in Jeudy or Ruggs either, from the 2020 draft. People will someday recognize that Darnell Mooney is as good/better than Lamb-Jeudy-Ruggs…and most of the WRs from the 2020 NFL Draft.
…but Lamb is in a much better place for FF output.
RB Damien Harris, NE – I’m a big fan, but you can’t bank on any Patriots RBs until you see it for yourself. I think Harris might draw a legit main starter role for NE in 2021…with White and Rex likely gone.
LB Kenneth Murray, LAC – One of my favorite IDP future guys. A Pro Bowl middle linebacker in-waiting.
WR Darnell Mooney, CHI – One of my favorite names from 2020…but with the Bears coaching staff in flux in another year, it’s hard to predict what coach or QB Mooney will be playing for in the next few years. In 2021, assuming Allen Robinson leaves…Mooney becomes the top WR for CHI pre-free agency adds (of which no one wants to go here) and pre-Draft of any hot WRs.
WR Brandon Aiyuk, SF – Terrific talent, but Deebo is a better/more coveted option for SF in a similar role. Aiyuk will be fine, but not top 25 here (unless Deebo goes down again).
RB David Montgomery, CHI – I’m just not a Montgomery guy, and I think the Bears offense is on the verge of collapse and then a new staff comes in and Montgomery is moved away from.
WR Parris Campbell, IND – Might be on next year’s version of this. He just hasn’t stayed healthy enough to see what he’s got.
TE Mark Andrews, BAL – With the lack of TEs, Andrews has a case…but I like so many other TEs better than him for talent and QB-he-works-with purposes.
QB Jalen Hurts, PHI – I think he’ll be a better Lamar Jackson, but I can’t put him top 25 until we see what Philly truly does at QB…and what WRs they add.
WR Bryan Edwards, LV – I think he’s going to really splash in 2021 or 2022, but 2020 was such a dud and Las Vegas goes from good-to-weak at QB if they go Carr to Mariota.
WR D.J. Chark, JAX – Should already be a big enough star, but the Jags have wasted him.
TE T.J. Hockenson, DET – Solid FF option, but he’s just a ‘he’s playing, so he has some numbers’ option…there will be random guys having 4 rec., 50 yard games with a shot at a TD. I don’t have to chase TJH for it.