Must-Have Quarterbacks & Tight Ends (2021 Fantasy Football)
The 2021 NFL Draft is now behind us, meaning that we are inching closer to the most active time of the offseason for fantasy football drafts. Throughout the draft, we learned a lot about certain situations for quarterbacks and tight ends, allowing us to get a better grasp of who to target.
Regardless of what strategy you deploy in fantasy football drafts, having consistency at the quarterback position is key to putting together a championship roster. And with more leagues taking part in TE premium scoring to incentivize taking tight ends earlier, the tight end position is becoming more of a focal point in drafts. While everyone continues to make cases for “their guys” this offseason, here are a couple of my must-have quarterbacks and tight ends relative to their current Expert Consensus Rankings.
Matthew Stafford (QB – LAR)
There weren’t many – if any – players that went from a worse situation to an elite situation like Matthew Stafford did this offseason. Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, and the veteran signal-caller is surrounded by loads of talent, even when it comes to who is calling the plays. Despite the Detroit Lions having a tough time winning games over the years, Stafford had quite a few years of being a top option in fantasy football.
From 2012-2017, Stafford finished as a top 10 quarterback in five out of those six seasons. While Stafford is 33 years old, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, and the Rams should be able to put him in a prime position to flourish. Besides the reliable duo of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Los Angeles features an offense with veteran DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, newly-drafted Tutu Atwell, Tyler Higbee, and a potential superstar at running back in Cam Akers.
Above all, amid the injury woes he’s had in recent years, Stafford gets to go from playing behind the 21st ranked offensive line in adjusted sack rate (7.2%) to the second-best offensive line in adjusted sack rate (4.2%) in 2020. Even though Stafford isn’t going to bring much in the rushing department, there’s potential for a 5,000-yard, 30+ touchdown season from the gunslinging quarterback in 2021.
Matt Ryan (QB – ATL)
One quarterback that is trending in the right direction following the NFL Draft is Matt Ryan. Instead of selecting a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick in the first round, the Atlanta Falcons elected to bolster Ryan’s supporting cast by bringing in an offensive weapon in Kyle Pitts. Pitts should immediately make a difference in Atlanta’s offense, giving Ryan an opportunity to produce gaudy numbers through the air.
After finishing as QB2 in 2018, Ryan has come close to cracking the top 10 in scoring in the past two seasons. The emergence of Calvin Ridley, along with Julio Jones still being a part of the offense, should put the Falcons in an ideal spot to boast one of the best offenses in 2021. Also, Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson’s additions show that Atlanta is committed to throwing the ball often under new head coach Arthur Smith.
Similar to Stafford, you shouldn’t expect to get much of anything on the ground from Ryan. But if you are content with targeting a high-upside quarterback that could produce stellar numbers with his arm, then Ryan could be a massive steal in drafts this offseason.
Kyle Pitts (TE – ATL)
Speaking of Pitts, I’m all in on the rookie pass-catcher becoming an immediate contributor in a pass-oriented offense in 2021. Yes, there is the well-documented narrative of tight ends failing to be worth taking in their rookie campaigns as they get acclimated to the NFL. However, Pitts isn’t a typical tight end, and labeling him just a tight end is naive.
Coming out of Florida, Pitts is a generational talent, and he perfectly fits what NFL offenses are looking for when searching for players that can induce mismatches. In his final collegiate season, Pitts corraled 43 passes for 770 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in only eight games.
The Falcons didn’t pass on taking a quarterback to take Pitts, just for him to have an inconsistent role in the offense. Plus, Atlanta declined Hayden Hurst’s fifth-year option, showing that the team is committed to Pitts for the future. While some people believe Pitts is being overdrafted as of this moment, the first-year tight end could find himself as a top-five performer at a position that lacks consistency outside of the elite options.
Irv Smith Jr. (TE – MIN)
At the end of the 2020 season, we got a glimpse of what Irv Smith Jr. is capable of doing when the Minnesota Vikings give him opportunities in the aerial attack. The former second-round pick out of Alabama would finish as TE3 in Weeks 14-17 in half-PPR formats, placing him behind only Darren Waller and Travis Kelce in that span.
Of course, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook are going to get plenty of targets from Kirk Cousins. That being said, with Kyle Rudolph no longer in the mix, Smith should see a massive uptick in his usage entering his third season with Minnesota. Smith concluded the 2020 season with 12.2 yards per reception (eighth-most among tight ends), and he notched a 134.4 quarterback rating when targeted, which was the second-best mark among tight ends.
It goes without saying, especially with how the Vikings were adamant about taking a quarterback in this year’s draft, that they would prefer to pound the rock with Cook rather than put the ball into Cousins’ hands often. Even though that may be true, Smith should still see a prominent role as Minnesota’s number one tight end.
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Skyler Carlin is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Skyler, check out his archive and follow him @skyler_carlin.