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Best Ball Late Round Targets (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
May 18, 2021

Mike Williams is one of the better best ball targets in the late rounds

There are some who approach best ball like it’s a redraft league in the later rounds, thinking about players who you’ll play during bye weeks and such. Stop it. Who cares about a player who’ll give you a five-point performance during a bye week? That player is typically the first one you drop in redraft leagues in order to pick up the hot waiver wire guys.

In best ball, there are no waiver wire guys. You need to predict who those players will be before they’ve actually broke out. Stop drafting players that we know who/what they are. Start drafting players you’re uncomfortable with. You don’t know where to start? That’s what I’m here for, to help guide you in the right direction.

There are some things that will change between now and September. Heck, some of the guys we’ll talk about in this article might not be on the same roster. But again, we’re not looking for boring, predictable guys in this article. These are late-round guys to target because there’s a nice ceiling somewhere in their projection. All these players are being drafted outside the top 120 in current best ball ADP.

Quarterbacks

Trevor Lawrence (JAX)
When targeting a late-round quarterback who has upside, you want to check a few boxes. Does he have mobility? Will there be plenty of passing opportunities in the offensive system? Does he have weapons to throw to? Will his defense be bad enough to increase his pass attempts? Lawrence checks all the boxes.

Carson Wentz (IND)
We’ve legitimately seen Wentz perform as a top-five fantasy quarterback in Frank Reich’s offense, so this one speaks for itself. The Colts offensive line might be better than the one the Eagles had in those days, though they’ll need Eric Fisher healthy as soon as possible. Despite his bad 2020 season, Wentz has posted QB1-type numbers in 44.1 percent of the games in his career, which ranks as the 16th best quarterback over the last 15 years.

Trey Lance (SF)
He may not start right out of the gate, but once he does, the rushing upside will be apparent immediately. Lance is the type of quarterback that can have a Josh Allen-type impact, so when you factor in his play-caller (Kyle Shanahan), the odds of him reaching that type of impact increase.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (WAS)
This might seem weird to some, but Fitzpatrick has produced QB1-type numbers in 18-of-37 games over the last four years (includes seven games where he threw 18 or less passes). Do you know how many quarterbacks posted QB1-type numbers in better than 50 percent of their games in 2020? 10 of them. That’s it. Under Scott Turner, the Panthers threw the ball 633 times with Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, and Will Grier in 2019. Then, in 2020, Washington threw the ball 599 times with Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, and Kyle Allen. Fitzpatrick will offer some upside in 2021, and even better, he’s practically free in best ball.

Running Backs

Mike Davis and Javian Hawkins (ATL)
It’s hard to find crazy value in best ball at running back, but Davis outside the top 120 players drafted? Does anyone realize that Arthur Smith took over as the head coach of the Falcons? This isn’t Dan Quinn’s or Dirk Koetter’s team. They’re likely going to run the ball a lot more in 2021 and they went out to snag Davis in free agency. Outside of Cordarrelle Patterson, there’s no one else of note on the depth chart, which makes Hawkins an interesting undrafted free agent to watch. Unless they add someone of significance, Davis will finish as a top-24 running back.

Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman (NYJ)
One of these guys is going to lead the Jets rushing attack under Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur. My guess is that it’s Coleman out of the gate considering his time in San Francisco working in LaFleur’s offense, while Carter will be the change of pace back who might eventually take over. Given their current cost in best ball (Carter in the 11th, Coleman in the 18th), I’m okay drafting both and reaping the benefits of whichever one is the starter.

Trey Sermon (SF)
I’ve seen him all over the map in terms of draft value, but according to the latest ADP we have available, he’s going around the 12th round. Will he start right away? I doubt it. Will he have usable weeks even if he’s not the starter? Absolutely. Of the top-10 single-game performances by 49ers running backs last year, there were four different names on that list. The 49ers didn’t trade up for him in the third round to have him sit on the bench.

Darrell Henderson (LAR)
You’re not getting a starter in the 14th round of best ball drafts, so let’s get that straight immediately. Let’s do an exercise really quick. Guess which running back is which…

Carries Rush Yds Rush TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD
Player A 138 624 5 16 159 1
Player B 145 625 2 11 123 1

 

Most would be surprised to learn that Player B is Cam Akers, while Player A is Henderson. They played for the same team. I’m not saying Henderson is starting, but I think it’s crazy to write him off completely.

Salvon Ahmed (MIA)
There were three games where Ahmed was the starting running back for the Dolphins last year. Those games netted 292 total yards and two touchdowns, yet everyone wants to forget that he exists? Despite having five picks inside the top-81 picks of the NFL Draft, the Dolphins didn’t draft a running back. While Myles Gaskin figures to be the primary option, Ahmed shouldn’t be left out of consideration.

Wide Receivers

Jaylen Waddle (MIA)
The Dolphins wide receivers are going to be hard to figure out from week-to-week, but if there’s one I want for best ball, it’s Waddle. He has rapport with Tua Tagovailoa and he’s going to be deployed out of the slot, which is huge for his efficiency. Tagovailoa said that his receivers weren’t separating as much in the NFL as he was used to last year. With Waddle in the slot, some of that separation should come back. He can take one to the house from anywhere on the field.

Mike Williams (LAC)
It’s not often you can get a 6-foot-4 wide receiver who’s already had a 10-touchdown season, and is tied to one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the game outside the top 50 picks, let alone the top 120 picks. Williams dealt with back issues last year and it’s caused his ADP to plummet, but he’s still the No. 2 option in the offense, and there’s legitimate top-20 wide receiver upside with him in a contract year.

Nelson Agholor (NE)
Despite being the No. 2 target in the Raiders’ offense led by Derek Carr last year, Agholor finished as the No. 29 wide receiver. He now goes to the Patriots and might be the No. 1 target in their offense with Mac Jones as the quarterback. Heck, even if Cam Newton is the starter, we’ve seen him support multiple fantasy-relevant options. In the 14th/15th round of best ball drafts, Agholor is an absolute steal as someone who might see 100-plus targets.

Henry Ruggs and John Brown (LVR)
Look, I wasn’t big on Ruggs coming out of school, but he wasn’t properly utilized in 2020. The Raiders were using him on the perimeter in a field-stretching role, which isn’t at all what he should’ve been doing. They need to get him into the slot, and the signing of Brown should allow them to do that. With Nelson Agholor out of town, it clears up 82 targets, which should be disbursed between the two of Ruggs and Brown. One of these two will be a consistent fantasy presence, and while I believe it’s Brown when healthy, his health hasn’t been something you want to bet on.

Parris Campbell (IND)
When looking at early ADP, most seem to think it’ll be a Michael Pittman breakout this year rather than Campbell, though I’m not so sure that’s the case. In the one game Campbell played last year, he saw nine targets, turning them into six catches for 71 yards. Pittman hit that mark just once all season, and that was with Campbell out of the lineup. Many forget Campbell was a former second-round pick brought in to be a presence over the middle of the field, which is precisely what Carson Wentz has liked throughout his career.

Cornell Powell and Byron Pringle (KC)
We know what Demarcus Robinson is. We don’t know what Powell and Pringle might be. That’s what this pick is for. We want to find out. The depth chart behind Tyreek Hill is wide open, as Mecole Hardman has never turned into anything more than a special teams player who plays around half the snaps, while Robinson is “just a guy.” These picks are about tying yourself to Patrick Mahomes without paying top dollar.

Tre’Quan Smith (NO)
We don’t know who the Saints quarterback is right now, but some are speculating that it’ll be Jameis Winston. If that’s the case, Smith is a steal with one of your final best ball picks. He’s the clear-cut No. 2 receiver with Emmanuel Sanders out of town, which amounts to targets. There have been 14 games over his career where he’s seen more than three targets, and his averages in those games are 4.0 receptions, 52.1 yards, and 12.2 PPR points per game.

DeSean Jackson (LAR)
This is one of those “we know what he is” picks, but he’s not being drafted like we know what he is, which is a boom-or-bust receiver. “But Mike, injuries… and he’s old.” I won’t disagree about the injury concern, but the age thing hasn’t affected him yet. His last six full games played have netted 22 receptions, 390 yards, and three touchdowns. And keep in mind that was with a dysfunctional Eagles pass attack. Now going to Los Angeles to play with Matthew Stafford while Sean McVay calls the plays? If he stays healthy, he’s going to help you win some best ball leagues.

D’Wayne Eskridge (SEA)
The Seahawks are notorious for trading back in the NFL Draft to acquire more draft picks. Knowing they had just three picks in this draft, with just one coming in the first four rounds, everyone expected them to trade back. They didn’t. They stayed put and drafted the burner Eskridge, who’ll be the No. 3 receiver alongside D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. When Russell Wilson is your quarterback and you have one-play upside, you’re worth a flier in best-ball leagues.

Tight Ends

Tyler Higbee (LAR)
I was approaching Higbee with caution last year, as I really did worry about his impact when Gerald Everett was healthy and back on the field. That proved to be the correct take at the time, but I’m buying in now that Everett is off the roster, and the Rams did nothing to replace him (outside of draft Brysen Hopkins last year). On top of that, Matthew Stafford gives the offense higher scoring potential. Higbee is an excellent post-hype sleeper.

Irv Smith (MIN)
Smith was in a similar spot to the above-mentioned Tyler Higbee, as he was stuck in a timeshare and there was no way to trust him when both were on the field. Now that Kyle Rudolph is gone, it’s Smith’s job. In the four games Rudolph missed last year, Smith finished with 20 targets, which would amount to 80 over a full season. When you factor in his development as a third-year tight end, that number could bump up a tad and get him into top-10 territory.

Jonnu Smith (NE)
Smith’s talent was not put on display nearly enough with the Titans, as he never saw more than 65 targets in a single season. Despite that, he finished as a top-12 tight end in 2020. The Patriots were aggressive with him, signing him the first day of free agency to a four-year, $50 million deal, which tells us all we need to know: They aren’t going to hide him. The signing of Hunter Henry hurt his projection a bit, but the drafting of Mac Jones improved it a bit because once he takes over as the starter, this team will throw a lot more. Once you get outside the top five tight ends, you’re chasing upside, and Smith has plenty of it. He’s the type of tight end where one single play can earn him a spot in your best ball lineup.

Cole Kmet (CHI)
It seems like Jimmy Graham should’ve been cut over a month ago, and while he’s still there, it’s hard for me to see him stay there with a $10 million cap hit. If the Bears release him, they would have just a $3 million in dead cap, meaning a $7 million savings. If Graham is released, Kmet is going to shoot up draft boards. Not only will there be more targets available (the two of them combined for 120 last year), but the targets should offer much more potential coming from Andy Dalton and/or Justin Fields.

Eric Ebron (PIT)
It’s odd to see Ebron lasting until the 15th/16th round of best ball drafts considering he was the No. 12 tight end from Weeks 1-16 despite it being his first season with the team. He saw five-plus targets in 12-of-15 games, which is the stable floor you want with tight ends. The addition of Pat Freiermuth is more for the future, as rookie tight ends almost never make an impact.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.