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Must-Have Quarterbacks and Tight Ends (Fantasy Football 2021)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jun 23, 2021

I know this is a controversial take, so let me start by saying I’m in the camp that believes in drafting a high-end quarterback and/or tight end in the early rounds if the draft falls that way.

The last part is key, though, as I’m unwilling to force it if the draft room is pushing the top players at those positions up. Further, in the case of the top tight ends, whether I select them is largely contingent on the draft slot I draw. With that in mind, the following players are more easily attainable, and you should be able to score them regardless of your draft slot.

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Trey Lance (QB – SF): 187.7 ADP in PPR Formats
I recently touted Trey Lance as an undervalued player. The crux of the argument is the value of running quarterbacks and Lance’s rushing exploits. Taysom Hill and Jalen Hurts are examples of quarterbacks whose value last year came chiefly from their rushing ability, regardless of passing talent. I won’t rehash that argument.

Instead, I’ll turn my attention to head coach Kyle Shanahan’s ability to use play-calling — saying nothing of the YAC-monsters in the offense — to get the most from even mediocre talent. Enter Nick Mullens. The Eagles only recently signed him to serve as quarterback depth. He was undrafted, and he lacks high-end tools.

Still, he completed a respectable percentage of passes and piled up yardage in bunches for Shanahan. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Mullens completed 64.01% of his passes and averaged a whopping 275.3 passing yards per game as a starter.

Lance offers Shanahan more tools to work with, including his elite rushing ability. The looming question with Lance is when he’ll climb atop the depth chart. When he does, however, I expect him to perform at the level of a fantasy starter immediately. Lance is my favorite fantasy football backup quarterback target, whether I draft an elite option or wait and dip my toe in the fringe starter territory.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB – WAS): 166.7 ADP
Speaking of fringe starters, I have Ryan Fitzpatrick ranked a few spots outside the top-12 quarterbacks. I’m bullish on his 2021 outlook in an up-tempo offense with a significantly upgraded collection of pass-catchers at his disposal. The cupboards weren’t exactly full in his two years with the Dolphins, yet he still played admirably.

If you go back to his 2018 campaign with the Buccaneers, you’ll see Fitz’s high-end range of outcomes. He fully utilized the bevy of talented receivers and tight ends on the Bucs to average a whopping 295.8 passing yards per game. Further, among qualified passers that year, he ranked third in touchdown pass percentage (6.9%) and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (8.04 ANY/A).

Musical chairs crippled his fantasy value that year, as the club re-inserted Jameis Winston as the starter. Still, according to the FantasyPros Fantasy Football Leaders tool, he ranked fifth at quarterback in average fantasy points per game.

Fitz will be playing with the best collection of weapons since the 2018 season. Further, Washington’s offense is up-tempo and passes at an above-average rate. According to Sharp Football Stats, with a scoring margin ranging from trailing by seven to leading by seven, the Football Team tied for passing at the seventh-highest rate (60% compared to a league average of 57%) and tied for the fifth-fastest offensive pace. The club has upgraded at quarterback and their skill positions, so I see no reason to expect them to slow down or dramatically change their play-calling.

If the top-six quarterbacks are selected earlier than I’m willing to pull the trigger, waiting to pair Fitz and Lance is a strategy I’m open to deploying. It’s risky, but embracing volatility creates a higher ceiling. Further, unless the league has a flatter payout structure than most, shooting for the moon in hopes of winning the ‘ship and pocketing the top cash prize should be the goal.

Kyle Pitts (TE – ATL): 71.7 ADP
Rookie tight ends rarely hit the ground running in the NFL. Lumping Kyle Pitts in with traditional tight ends feels misguided at best, though. He didn’t become the earliest selected tight end in the history of the NFL draft to block. Pitts is extremely athletic with the testing numbers to back that assertion.

Unlike some of the measurable wunderkind at the position in other NFL drafts, Pitts has also produced on the field. In eight games last year, he hauled in 43 receptions at 17.9 yards per reception for 770 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

As our resident prospect evaluator, Kyle Yates, mentioned in his Fantasy Football Outlook write-up for Pitts, he has a golden opportunity for volume out of the chute. The Falcons dealt Julio Jones to the Titans, creating a sizable void in the offense to be filled by the remaining players on the roster.

In addition to the eye-catching measurables and glowing statistics, the scouting reports are emphatically complimentary, too. NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein gushed about Pitts in his analysis, offering a comparison to Darren Waller. He also graded him as a 7.19 prospect on their 8.0 scale, placing him a pinch above the 7.0-7.1 grade they define as a perennial All-Pro prospect.

Pitts’ ADP will skyrocket, and his ADP of 47 at RTSports is likely more reflective of where he’ll be selected going forward. I’m still in at that cost. Having a stud tight end creates an edge unseen at other positions, as the talent drop-off is steep.

Noah Fant (TE – DEN): 81.3 ADP
If I don’t select one of the Big Three tight ends — Travis Kelce, Waller, and George Kittle — then I’ll stick two irons in the fire in the young, high-upside tight end pool. Pitts is my top option in that group, and Noah Fant is second.

Fant’s yards per target dipped from 8.5 in his rookie season to 7.2 last year. However, he upped his production by hauling in 4.1 receptions and 44.9 receiving yards per game after averaging 2.5 receptions and 35.1 receiving yards per game as a rookie. His efficiency wasn’t a total bust, either.

According to Pro Football Focus, out of 34 tight ends targeted a minimum of 40 times, Fant ranked fifth in their receiving grade and sixth in yards per route run (1.64 Y/RR). Former college teammate and earlier selection T.J. Hockenson ranked tied for 11th with 1.57 Y/RR and tied for 10th in Pro Football Focus’s receiving grade, to add perspective.

I’d much rather have Fant at his ADP than Hockenson at 60.7. In best ball drafts, I’m willing to double or triple-up on cheap tight end options. In traditional leagues with weekly managed lineups, my goal is to snag one of the Big Three tight ends or double up with Pitts and Fant in the hopes of one or both blossoming into a top-five option at a fraction of the cost of Kelce, Waller, and Kittle.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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