Mike Tagliere’s 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings vs. ECR
Now that the NFL Draft has forced us all to change our positions on certain players, it’s time to look at early ECR and see which players I’m higher on than others. This is an exercise I do every year, as it allows me to identify early values, or potentially re-thing something I may have missed in the process that everyone else is seeing.
This exercise helps me identify players that could be steals early-on in best ball, as well as players to target in dynasty trades if I’m competing right now. On the flip side, we can find players to trade away before the market has properly adjusted for their new competition. Here are the players with the biggest differences between my rankings and the ECR (Expert Consensus Rankings) right now.
Quarterbacks I’m Higher On
Ryan Tannehill (TEN) My Rank: QB10 (3 spots higher than ECR)
This is a ranking that could certainly change as the weeks/months go on, as I don’t believe the Titans are done addressing pass catchers. Losing Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith certainly doesn’t help us feel better about Tannehill, and some will be downgrading him after losing play-caller Arthur Smith. While I won’t deny that Smith’s departure could lead to less efficiency, it will also lead to more pass attempts to compensate. I don’t think there’s a large discrepancy between the QB10 (where I have him) and QB13 (where ECR has him).
Trevor Lawrence (JAX) My Rank: QB14 (3 spots higher than ECR)
While it’s typically tough for a rookie quarterback to make it into top-12 territory, Lawrence is likely the exception to the rule. He comes in as an advanced passer who has tremendous touch on his passes that not many rookies do. The Jaguars defense is in clear rebuild mode, which should allow for plenty of pass attempts, making 4,000-plus passing yards likely. On top of that, Lawrence has great mobility and is likely to rush for 400-plus yards and a handful of touchdowns on the ground. That alone should get him into the top-15, with a good chance at top-12.
Quarterbacks I’m Lower On
Kirk Cousins (MIN) My Rank: QB18 (3 spots lower than ECR)
Yes, I’m fully aware that Cousins has continually finished as a top-12 quarterback, but my rankings are based on how I’d draft quarterbacks and not where I project them to finish. Why? Well, Cousins has stayed healthy and played all 16 games, allowing him to finish higher than those right around him who missed a game or two. But on a week-to-week basis, you’re never going to say Cousins is a top-12 quarterback. He’s a rock-solid QB2 in Superflex formats, but he’s just a streamer in 1QB leagues. I’d rather draft someone like Trevor Lawrence for upside.
Baker Mayfield (CLE) My Rank: QB21 (5 spots lower than ECR)
We watched Mayfield take major strides in Kevin Stefanski’s offense as the year went on in 2020, but it’s important to remember that he didn’t throw the ball more than 33 times in 12-of-16 games. They want to play good defense and run the ball as much as possible, which makes Mayfield much more efficient. While he’s a great target in 2QB leagues, there’s rarely a week-to-week ceiling to his projection.
Running Backs I’m Higher On
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) My Rank: RB13 (4 spots higher than ECR)
Not many realize that Edwards-Helaire was the No. 11 running back through six weeks without Le’Veon Bell on the roster. Even better, he was the No. 11 running back while scoring just once during that time. In fact, had he scored one more touchdown, he would’ve been the No. 6 running back through six weeks. Once they traded for Bell, though, it ruined the stable touches he was getting. With Bell gone and no one significant brought in this offseason, Edwards-Helaire should return to his 18-plus touch role in the offense. The Chiefs have rebuilt their offensive line this year, which should help make life easier on Edwards-Helaire, who did average a solid 4.44 yards per carry his rookie season. Touchdowns are what were lacking, but don’t bet on that again in what’s likely to be the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL.
Najee Harris (PIT) My Rank: RB12 (6 spots higher than ECR)
Running backs are at their prime when they enter the NFL, which makes them the most valuable their rookie season, unlike quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. Because of that, Harris, who takes over as the Steelers’ lead back, is someone you want to have on your roster. The Steelers are a team that hasn’t been shy about giving running backs 18-plus touches per game with Mike Tomlin at the helm. You don’t draft a three-down back like Harris in the first round and put him in some timeshare. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him average 20-plus touches per game, which puts him smack dab in the middle of the RB1 conversation.
Mike Davis (ATL) My Rank: RB23 (5 spots higher than ECR)
My guess is that analysts are worried about the Falcons adding a free agent running back because even my RB24 ranking feels a bit low for a back who should have no issue getting 15-plus touches per game. That would amount to 240-plus touches on the season. There have been 144 running backs who’ve hit that mark over the last 10 years and none have finished worse than RB28 (his current ECR). In fact, just 10 of those running backs (6.9 percent) have finished worse than RB20. If the Falcons don’t add anyone of significance, I’ll be moving him up even more.
Running Backs I’m Lower On
Jonathan Taylor (IND) My Rank: RB10 (4 spots lower than ECR)
This time last year, I was much higher on Taylor than the consensus. I like Taylor, but did everyone forget about what happened the first 10 weeks of the season? Taylor was the RB19 and David Montgomery was the RB20. Taylor finished the year as the RB6 while Montgomery was the RB4. Many will talk about Montgomery’s schedule as the reason for his production, hence why he’s ranked at RB20 in ECR right now, but are they ignoring Taylor’s schedule? He played against the Texans TWICE, Packers, Raiders, Jaguars, and the Steelers (who were decimated by injuries for that game). That’s a large reason for his jump in production. I still like Taylor, just not nearly as much as the consensus.
Antonio Gibson (WAS) My Rank: RB19 (6 spots lower than ECR)
I like Gibson, it’s not that I don’t. The issue is that he’s not heavily involved in the passing game, and he topped 94 yards on the ground just twice all of last season, with both of those games coming against the Cowboys. In fact, 28.7 percent of his fantasy points in 2020 were against the Cowboys. I can certainly see Gibson finishing higher than my ranking, but those above him have either (a) a more consistent track record, or (b) less question marks. He scored a touchdown once every 15.5 carries last year, a number that’s surely to go up.
Wide Receivers I’m Higher On
Odell Beckham (CLE) My Rank: WR18 (8 spots higher than ECR)
Let’s do an exercise… How many targets per game do you anticipate Beckham getting this year? I’m going with an extremely low number and say he averages 6.5 targets per game. That sounds more than reasonable, right? Beckham had 7.0 targets per game during the 2020 season before getting hurt and that includes a three-target game against the Steelers. The Browns were also throwing the ball a lot less early in the year as Baker Mayfield was still getting grasp on Kevin Stefanski’s playbook. If Beckham gets 6.5 targets per game, that’d put him on pace for 104 targets, which again, is what I’d consider low. There were just 32 receivers in the NFL who hit that number last year, with 24 of them (75 percent) finishing as top-24 receivers and just two finishing worse than WR38. You mean to tell me with Beckham’s talent, he can’t produce top-24 numbers? There are health risks for sure, but there’s also top-five wide receiver upside if the Browns throw more in 2021.
Antonio Brown (TB) My Rank: WR35 (15 spots higher than ECR)
This ranking is odd, as Brown was expected to be back with the Bucs all along. From the time he joined them in Week 9, Brown finished as the No. 38 wide receiver in fantasy. And to be fair, he got better as the year went on, as he had to get back into football shape. Over the final three games he saw 27 targets and turned them into 19 receptions for 266 yards and four touchdowns. Look, he’s not going to surpass Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but he’ll be closer than some think.
Wide Receivers I’m Lower On
Kenny Golladay (NYG) My Rank: WR26 (5 spots lower than ECR)
Going to a new team is never easy, especially for someone who’s coming from a team that was lacking any depth of pass catchers. It was easy for him to get eight-plus targets per game, especially when Marvin Jones was hurt. Now going to the Giants, who have a bevy of options, including Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, and Saquon Barkley. To be fair, you don’t go out in free agency and sign someone like Golladay to give him five targets per game, but he’s not going to get the consistent targets he got in Detroit, and the targets he does get aren’t going to be as efficient.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) My Rank: WR37 (7 spots lower than ECR)
Though it was better than his 2019 season, there were plenty of ups and downs from Smith-Schuster in 2020. Part of the reason for inconsistency is due to Ben Roethlisberger‘s volatile performance, but even if he rights the ship in 2021, the bigger part of the problem for Smith-Schuster is the competition he has for targets. Chase Claypool will be entering his sophomore season, Diontae Johnson seemed to figure out his drops as the year went on, and they added Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth in the first two rounds of the draft. Suddenly, Smith-Schuster might be third in line for targets in this offense. He’ll probably finish as a WR3, but I just don’t see the upside to drafting him as anything more than a low-end WR3.
Tight Ends I’m Higher On
Jonnu Smith (NE) My Rank: TE12 (3 spots higher than ECR)
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.
Tight Ends I’m Lower On
Blake Jarwin (DAL) My Rank: TE22 (4 spots lower than ECR)
It’s odd to have Jarwin this low, but it really comes down to the tight ends in front of him who have a better shot at top-10 production. The Cowboys have three wide receivers who have a legitimate shot at finishing top-36 at their position and a running back who’s likely to finish top-five, which is going to limit Jarwin’s stability and ceiling. My ranking might be a tad low, but I’m okay taking someone like Cole Kmet over him.