Super Early Mock Draft (2021 Fantasy Football)
It’s not even March, and we’ve had big names change teams (Jared Goff, Matt Stafford, Carson Wentz) with more to come after free agency and the draft. It may seem early, but this off-season is well underway, which means it’s not early to start mock drafting.
For this particular mock draft — using our free mock draft simulator — we’ll plug in settings for a 12-team PPR scoring league. Each team will consist of 15 roster spots with a starting lineup consisting of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, kicker, and defense. We also randomized our draft spot, which turned out to be fourth. So without further ado, let’s start mocking.
1.04 – Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG)
If there was one silver lining to Saquon Barkley tearing his ACL last season, it was that he did it early. Barely into the second game of the 2020 season is when Barkley went down and, luckily for fantasy players, the Giants were well out of contention with no need to rush Barkley back. It should mean Barkley is 100% healthy to start the 2021 season and pick up where he left off.
Before going down, he only managed six rushing yards in his only full game of 2020 but did total six receptions for 60 yards, continuing his workhorse role as a Giant. Over his first two seasons, he’s totaled 2,300-plus rushing yards, 1,100-plus receiving yards, and 23 total touchdowns. He’s been a slam dunk RB1 in both of those seasons and seems to be a shoo-in to do so again. The only risk for taking a player this high is the recent ACL injury. But Barkley’s still young and will undoubtedly be the focal point of the Giants offense again, no matter who they bring in via free agency or the draft.
2.09 – Travis Kelce (TE – KC)
If Travis Kelce were a wide receiver last year, he would have finished second in fantasy scoring at the position. So not only am I getting a top-two receiver, but I’m also getting, far-and-away, the best player at his position and giving myself an automatic edge against my opponent every week. Heading into last season, you would have been forgiven if you didn’t think Travis Kelce could improve upon his 1,229-yard season in 2019. No one expected Kelce, in his age-31 season, to set career-highs in yards (1,416) and touchdowns (11). His numbers may dip a little but not by much. The opportunity cost means I won’t be drafting a receiver until the third round, at the earliest, but only Kelce would have it a necessary sacrifice.
Neither Keenan Allen nor Cooper Kupp are sexy picks when it comes to fantasy receivers, but they’re good enough for PPR scoring. Kupp saw 124 targets last year and caught 92 of them; Allen saw 147 and caught 100. Neither averaged more than 11 yards-per-reception, though, so don’t expect a lot of home runs.
The good news is both receivers have something to look forward to when it comes to who’s throwing them the ball this season. Allen was the top target for 2020 Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and should continue to benefit from an ascending quarterback. Kupp, by all accounts, got an upgrade over previous quarterback Jared Goff. Matt Stafford is now the Rams starting quarterback and, whether the improvement over Goff is small or large, still represents a gain at the position.
Both Allen and Kupp are under contract and expected to be in Los Angeles, albeit with different teams, for this year and beyond. I’d be thrilled to pair these two with a top-three running back and elite tight end.
5.04 – Kyler Murray (QB – ARI)
It may be paranoia, but I always like to knock out my starting lineup before moving on to my bench. Plus, I get another chance to grab a top-three player at his position in Kyler Murray to lead this superstar fantasy team I have going.
Murray’s sophomore season was much like his rookie season. His passing yardage total (3,971-3,722) and passing touchdowns (26-20) were similar, along with non-fantasy stats like yards-per-attempt (7.1-6.9) and interceptions (12-12). If any category saw a boost last season, it was his rushing total. Murray had just 544 in 2019 but totaled 819 last year. That coupled with his 11 rushing touchdowns is what propelled him to the top-five fantasy finish. He enters the 2021 season at just 24 years old and should, at the very least, keep his numbers level with last year.
6.09 – Melvin Gordon (RB – DEN)
In Gordon’s case, 2020 was a resurgence. In his new home in Denver, Gordon rattled off 986 rushing yards – his highest total in four seasons – while his 4.6 yards-per-carry average was a whole half-yard higher than his career average. Now, some might consider that a red flag – a regression to the mean might be in order – but Gordon, for now, is the lead back in the Denver backfield and is coming off the better season.
Now we get into the benches of our team, where many championships are won. These players are typically not elite or in good fantasy situations, but they represent a possibility that they will contribute to your team and, sometimes, in big ways. At this stage in the draft, I’m looking at players that I know will be contributing to their real-life team. Take Jarvis Landry, who, while having his worst fantasy season since his rookie year, still topped 100-targets on a playoff team. For my fantasy team, with superstars at every other position besides receiver, having Landry as my WR3 is a win.
For my next two picks, with the war of attrition that the running back position usually is, I went for depth with players who should at least start for their respective teams. Both Raheem Mostert and Devin Singletary are, admittedly, in timeshares for their respective teams. However, they both proved to be the best back in their respective situations. In Mostert’s case, he only played eight games because of injury but managed over 500 yards on the ground in those games and an efficient 5.0 yards-per-carry. For Singletary, Buffalo ranked just 26th in rush attempts as a team, but he led the way with 156 attempts over 16 games played and managed nearly 700 yards on his own. Both would catapult to starter status if their respective teams suffered an injury in the backfield, but they’ll do as timeshare depth for now.
This late in the draft is where you can take risks when it comes to your bench and, hopefully, never have to rely on them. In each of the cases of Christian Kirk, John Brown, and Phillip Lindsay – they’re not even starting on their teams but are in prime position to break out if an injury occurs. For Kirk and Brown, they both play for teams that finished in the upper half of targets last year and showed no signs of slowing down. And in Brown’s case, his specialty is the home run, averaging nearly 15 yards-per-reception for his career and 14 last year. For Kirk, he may see more targets if future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald decides to retire.
In Lindsay’s case, we’re hoping the home run play is still a possibility after seeing his yards-per-carry drop last year to 4.3. He averaged closer to five-yards-per-carry over his first two seasons. It’s also nice to have the other piece of the Broncos running back committee in the event of an injury to either Lindsay or Gordon.
It seems as if we’ve been waiting for the Jonnu Smith breakout to happen for a while, but we finally got a flicker last year when he scored eight touchdowns. Of course, it looked a lot better early on when he scored six touchdowns in the first half of the season, but it was still good for sixth among tight ends. Smith is set to become a free agent this off-season but should find a home for a team that wants a young, pass-catching tight end who is still ascending.
Please, I beg of you, do not draft your defenses or kickers until the end. There is no consistency with performance year-over-year, so do not waste your time. I took the best defense and kicker left based on the 2021 outlook, which is all you need to do.
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.