Best Ball Mid-Round Targets (2021 Fantasy Football)
Mid-round is ambiguous, so for clarification, I’m classifying anyone selected after pick 84 and before pick 160 as falling within the middle rounds. A perenially underrated receiver headlines my favorite mid-round targets. He’s joined by a rookie running back who’s joining a dreamy situation.
Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU): 89.06 ADP in 12-team BestBall10s (All Drafts) from 5/1/21-5/18/21
Deshaun Watson’s legal issues and trade demands make it likely he won’t play a snap for the Texans this year, leaving Cooks with a less than ideal quarterback situation. Free-agent addition Tyrod Taylor is the best bet to start this year, and the Texans project to be the NFL’s worst team this season. FanDuel Sportsbook lists them with the lowest win total at only four wins.
He should see ample pass attempts with the Texans in negative gamescripts on the plus side for Cooks. Further, Cooks is a highly productive receiver with a long track record.
Cooks has eclipsed 1,050 receiving yards with at least five receiving touchdowns in five of his seven seasons. He’s also extremely efficient. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Cooks’ 9.7 yards per target tied for 19th out of 153 qualified pass-catchers in 2020. For his career, he’s averaged 9.3 yards per target.
He also ranks highly in yards per route run. Out of 84 wide receivers targeted a minimum of 50 times in 2021, Cooks ranked 20th with 2.05 yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus. He sports a 1.83 yards per route run for his career, which, to provide context, would have ranked 31st last year among receivers targeted at least 50 times.
In addition to being efficient, Cooks should see a heavy target volume as the best pass-catcher by a wide margin on the Texans. Further, Taylor has showcased a willingness to air it out to his receivers.
In Taylor’s first year as a starter with the Bills in 2015, Sammy Watkins led the team in targets (96), receptions (60), receiving yards (1,047), and receiving touchdowns (nine). Robert Woods was the second-leading receiver in targets and receiving yards that year. The following season, Woods ranked second in targets and receptions and finished first on the team in receiving yards. Watkins was limited to only eight games due to injuries in 2016. Still, his 52 targets put him on a 100-plus target pace over a 16 game season.
Taylor started only one game for the Chargers last year, but he continued to show a preference for targeting receivers. He attempted 30 passes against the Bengals, directing eight to Keenan Allen and nine to Mike Williams.
Taylor is a below-average starting quarterback. However, he’ll at least sling it to his receivers. The passing game volume should be hearty enough for Cooks to survive a near-certain dip in efficiency accompanying his downgrade at quarterback. I have him firmly ranked in the high-end WR3 territory, making him worth popping before his highlighted ADP that puts him at the 39th receiver off the board.
Trey Sermon (RB – SF): 107.14
The 49ers used two fourth-round selections (117 and 121) to trade up and select Sermon in the third round (pick 88). The move is an indication the organization views Sermon as a valuable fit in their running game.
Back in the middle of April, Kyle Yates provided his scouting report for Sermon. Vision, pass catching, power, and contact balance were Sermon’s skills, which Yates graded the highest.
NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein offered his scouting report for NFL.com, and one sentence, in particular, stood out to me. Zierlein wrote, “he does have potential as an outside-zone back, where he has more time and space to utilize his skills.”
I won’t pretend to be a tape grinder. Instead, I’ll defer to the wisdom of others. Derrik Klassen wrote an article for Football Outsiders analyzing “The Shanahan Run Game.” The opening sentence states, “outside zone is the heart and soul of the Shanahan offense.” Ding, ding, ding. That’s an alarm going off, signaling Sermon’s seemingly a great fit when coupling the club’s move up to draft him and Zierlein’s scouting report. You love to see players in scheme fits.
Additionally, it’s been a fantasy-friendly scheme for running backs. The following table shows the highest-ranked running back from the 49ers’ weekly finish in point-per-reception (PPR) formats in 30 fantasy football weeks (Week 1 through Week 16) in 2019 and 2020 combined, per our Fantasy Football Leaders tool.
An RB1 finish in one-third of fantasy football weeks over the last two years isn’t too shabby. An RB2 finish in another one-third of games is rock-solid, too. Guessing which of San Francisco’s backs is most productive weekly can be maddening. However, you don’t need to sweat the start-and-sit decisions in best ball formats, getting only the good and avoiding the duds.
From May 1 through May 18, Sermon is the RB40 in BestBall10 12-team drafts. I have him ranked as RB29, making him worth reaching to secure.
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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.