Players to Target In Each Round (2021 Fantasy Football)
With 2021’s draft season on the horizon, it’s great to stay as informed as possible to be ready for anything that can happen. Today, we’ll be going through round-by-round draft options from Round 3 and forward until the end of the draft that are my favorite values in each particular round. If you know me, it was incredibly difficult not to take just wide receivers or tight ends, but no worries, as a resident #ZeroRB truther, I did include some running backs in here.
You can find the ADP I used here, which condenses average draft position (ADP) from a host of different websites to help you make the most informed choices in your draft.
Darren Waller (TE – LVR)
One could make the argument that he’s the second tight end that should be off the board, and I’m honestly in agreement with that sentiment. Waller is the engine that makes the Raiders’ passing game go. He’s THE target in the red zone, not just in his offense but among all NFL tight ends, leading the league with 27 red zone receptions and 21 red zone receptions. A mortal lock for 100-plus targets with good health, Waller is an anchor in the early rounds of your draft where you can take advantage of positional scarcity and nail down a massive contributor at an overall weak position.
If you’re still wary about selecting a tight end in the early rounds, Waller would have finished as WR8 last season, and with one more touchdown, he would have finished as WR5 between locked-in second-rounders Calvin Ridley and DeAndre Hopkins.
Keenan Allen (WR – LAC)
Allen has been dynamite the last few seasons, remaining as consistent as ever, and now has a developing superstar at quarterback in Justin Herbert. This time last season, we wondered how the Chargers’ passing attack would shake out with Tyrod Taylor starting. How time flies.
Averaging 100 receptions on 148 targets since 2017, Allen is a borderline WR1 in fantasy that you can get at a discount almost every season for some inexplicable reason. If you go into your drafts selecting two running backs with your first two picks, Allen is a heck of an option to take with fantasy ceiling, upside, and an amazingly high floor. You can’t go wrong here.
Chris Carson (RB – SEA)
Another player undervalued by fantasy managers seemingly every season, Carson improved his peripherals from last season, becoming a more significant threat in the passing game with 37 receptions, which happened to the same number he had in 2019 but in four fewer contests. He’s never the sexiest name you’ll see on draft day, but when push comes to shove, Carson’s role is locked in with him returning to Seattle when most thought Carson was headed elsewhere in free agency.
In Round 4, locking in an RB2 like Carson is always a great strategy when you’re able to lock up some premium talent in the early rounds of your draft.
Adam Thielen (WR – MIN)
Much has been said about the touchdown regression on its way for Thielen in 2021. Thielen scored 14 touchdowns last season, finished as WR8 in half-PPR, and is slated to be the number two receiver going into this upcoming season rather than the main cog in the Minnesota offense.
Seeing Thielen going in the fourth and sometimes fifth round in fantasy drafts is insane to me, as Thielen has not declined in any form or fashion besides some nagging injuries. Thielen is only going into his 6th season as a full-time starter as he came out of Minnesota State-Mankato at 24 years old. He doesn’t have as much tread on his tires as one would expect from a player heading into his age-31 season. While the touchdowns are likely to come down, the 108 targets, 74 receptions, and 925 yards he put up should all come up with an entire season of good health, and the condensed nature of the Vikings’ passing game should allow Thielen to keep a solid hold on WR2 status.
Robert Woods (WR – LAR)
Another consistent performer that is glossed over, Robert Woods, now gets a considerable quarterback upgrade with Matthew Stafford that should open up the passing game even further from what we thought were halcyon days of Jared Goff. Among starting quarterbacks who started at least 12 games last season, Stafford’s intended air yards per pass attempt (IAY/PA) were fifth-highest among starting quarterbacks last season. Goff was 25th in IAY/PA, and it showed up in fantasy stat sheets. Woods did not reach 1000 yards last season and, per Mike Tagliere, the 10th-lowest air yards per target among wide receivers. Despite those numbers, Woods STILL finished as WR13 in half-PPR.
With Woods seeing a consistent 130-135 targets each season, his yards should regress up to the mean with Stafford’s presence, and “Bobby Trees” represents a tremendous value in drafts as a WR2 that could finish as a WR1 again.
T.J. Hockenson (TE – DET)
Hockenson will be in my top-3 of exposures as somebody I will continually draft time and time again. We know Jared Goff can get the ball to his playmakers, and right now, Hockenson is the only true playmaker in the passing game, which will necessitate throwing the ball a bajillion times because they may not win a game this season.
When you’re looking at tight end potential, look for one with the potential to be a top-two target share in their offense. Even in an offense that’s as bad as the Lions are, Hockenson should be top-ONE. A massive volume play; he’s my TE3 in half-PPR format and should catch a handful of touchdowns while putting up gaudy reception and target totals.
Tee Higgins (WR – CIN)
A healthy Joe Burrow means all systems go for the Bengals’ passing attack and, of course, for Higgins, who got a new receiving mate in the fifth overall pick Ja’Marr Chase. While Higgins won’t likely have a chance to ascend even further from an excellent rookie season in 2020, he certainly can benefit from the potentially prolific offense. In the nine games that Higgins played with Burrow before he got hurt, he was on a half-PPR WR14 pace and would have been talked about on close to the same wavelength as fellow rookie Justin Jefferson.
We see what Higgins is capable of in this offense. Suppose we can project the Bengals to be just terrible on defense (we can) with their set of skill position players. In that case, Higgins can crush his average draft position of 74th overall and provide massive value in a pass-happy offense. Just know that Higgins isn’t the only mouth that Burrow will be feeding.
D.J. Chark (WR – JAC)
There is still a lot to figure out in this Jaguars offense and a lot of offseason to go, but one pretty clear thing? In this offense, D.J. Chark is the WR1 and tied to 2021’s top draft pick Trevor Lawrence for the foreseeable future.
Chark is an upside WR3 who has already produced as 2019’s half-PPR WR16 with steady quarterback play. His numbers fell off with the quarterback carousel, leading the Jaguars to draft Lawrence. That merry-go-round stops now, and Chark should take this quarterback upgrade and run with it. He’ll get plenty of targets and opportunity, and in the seventh round, Chark seems to be a unicorn as an upside pick who has produced at a high level as recently as 18 months ago.
James Conner (RB – ARI)
Ambiguity reigns supreme in Arizona, more specifically, its backfield. With Chase Edmonds and Conner, two backs who have seen their share of time on the sidelines due to injury, they may have a combination that can effectively timeshare this offense. You know they’re going to have lanes to run through, thanks to defenses needing to key on Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins.
Nobody has ever said that Edmonds is a lock to start for the Cardinals anyway, so if Conner can regain some health and hit the ground running, he could be in line to smash based on where he’s drafted. He has the environment to do so.
Joe Burrow (QB – CIN)
Take a lot of what I said about this Bengals offense and bring it over to this paragraph. The Bengals’ defense should be terrible, and Burrow should be throwing the football 600 or more times this season. With three stud options at wide receiver and a knee ligament on the mend, Burrow may favor taking to the air more than usual which should pad those statistics even more.
The Bengals are going to have to score a bunch, and if some are figuring that the Bengals’ offense is the AFC version of the Dallas Cowboys, then you have to believe in Burrow’s ability to get the ball to his playmakers. He’s my favorite value outside of the top-10 quarterbacks to vault into fantasy set and forget territory in 2021.
Jerry Jeudy (WR – DEN)
Jeudy showed off his route-running prowess his entire rookie season but caught less than half of his targets and suffered several costly drops. If Teddy Bridgewater is the Week 1 starter for Denver, I think that will certainly flip the script for Jeudy. There are ranges of outcomes for the Denver pass-catchers in which Jeudy, not Courtland Sutton, is the WR1 and top target in the offense. At a ninth-round price point, I’m willing to take him there in every single draft.
Gus Edwards (RB – BAL)
The man named after a large, multiple-passenger carrying vehicle just got paid by the Baltimore Ravens, and he’s not making $10,000,000 on a two-year contract to sit in the sidecar while everybody else is having fun.
In Baltimore’s run-heavy scheme, Edwards will have stand-alone value even with starter J.K. Dobbins entrenched there. If Dobbins goes down, you’re looking at a weekly high-end RB2. Edwards will never be counted upon in the receiving game, but he doesn’t have to provide great stand-alone and contingent value. For that, he’s worth a 10th round price in fantasy drafts.
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND)
While Pittman was a bit inconsistent last season, he never really materialized as a fantasy option even when he started running more routes in the offense. That said, if you believe in Carson Wentz improving from his move to Indianapolis and embracing the familiarity of Frank Reich, you need to believe in at least one piece of his offense. Reich, then his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia and now his head coach in Indianapolis, brought Wentz in. Now, he’s in the best situation he’s been in where Wentz doesn’t have to do it all and carry the team on his shoulders.
Moving back to Pittman, you’re still getting any piece of the Colts’ wide receiver room at value. As much as T.Y. Hilton came on at the end of last season, he’s going to be 32 years old by the time the 2021 season wraps up. Hilton has been an elite producer in fantasy all of one season since 2017. He’s good, not great. Parris Campbell was great when he was in the lineup, and that’s the take: “when he was in the lineup.”
At the very least, Pittman has the size and traits that should remind Wentz of a receiver he’s had in his career: Alshon Jeffery. He’s an ascending talent that the Colts spent second-round capital on. You don’t have to spend much to get the best chance of an elite pass-catching producer in this offense.
Jamaal Williams (RB – DET)
Here’s the thing: D’Andre Swift averaged 13.2 opportunities per game last season and still went out and signed Williams to a two-year deal. They then released Kerryon Johnson. With so many opportunities there for the taking in Detroit, it’s looking like a split backfield if you read the tea leaves. Much more so than anybody (especially those in dynasty formats that roster Swift) would like to admit.
Williams has always been extremely steady and productive in his role with Green Bay and looks to do the same in Detroit. Per Pro Football Network’s Eric Moody, Williams finished as an RB3 or better in 69% of his career games in PPR formats, including 11 RB1 finishes.
If you can get the cheapest option in what has become more of an ambiguous backfield in the 12th round with that kind of production, you almost HAVE to select him.
John Brown (WR – LV)
In these rounds, you’re looking for either high-upside contributors or veteran values, and Brown constitutes a mix of both. Brown comes over from Buffalo, and right now, you can make the case that he’s the second target in this offense behind Darren Waller. The Raiders did not draft any other receivers, so between Brown, slot man Hunter Renfrow, and second-year receiver Henry Ruggs, Brown has the ideal path to consistent work and upside. The volume may not be there like it was two years ago when he was the WR1 in Buffalo, but at this stage of the draft, Brown is a steal.
Kirk Cousins (QB – MIN)
Because Cousins doesn’t give you any of that rushing floor, he’s lumped into that group of non-rushers that fall into the double-digit rounds. Still, Cousins is as consistent as they come for quarterbacks, and the scheme he’s in with two elite receivers and a potential ascending tight end still gives Cousins value each week as a steady-hand passer. I’m delighted with him as a QB2 in drafts that will perform well in fantasy lineups, given the matchup.
Justin Fields (QB – CHI)
If you can find a way to get Fields in the 15th, kudos to you, intrepid drafter. With the Bears investing the draft capital to not only trade up to the position and then actually draft Fields, but it also wouldn’t shock me if Fields starts day 1. Jalen Hurts proved you don’t even have to be a competent passer to be a fantasy league-winner, and Fields is more than capable though it might take a little bit to iron out chemistry and concepts. As a QB2 on a fantasy roster, you could have yourself THE league-winner with a “Konami Code” quarterback.
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