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Kyle Yates’ Must-Have Players (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Kyle Yates | @KyleYNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 8, 2021

So much of the off-season is spent debating certain player’s values and whether or not they’re going to surpass what they’ve done in previous seasons. While there’s certainly benefit for these arguments to take place, at the end of the day fantasy football should be fun. It should revolve around getting the players that you want on your fantasy roster and enjoying watching them play on Sundays.

This article is all about that for me. It’s focusing in on the players that I absolutely want to have on my fantasy rosters this season for a variety of reasons. Last year, highlighting players like Calvin Ridley, Jonnu Smith, David Montgomery, and Robert Woods as players I wanted to invest in certainly paid off. Some of the players listed below are going to require a premium pick, while other options you can get with your last selection in your drafts.

This article is less about pointing out values in your fantasy drafts and more so focusing in on peeling back the curtain on which players I’m going to be selecting across my leagues. Unless you’re playing in a league with me, in which case I don’t want any of these options.

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Let’s start to turn the page towards 2021 and take a look at who I’m excited to select when I’m on the clock.

Lamar Jackson (QB – Baltimore Ravens)

The expectations for Jackson heading into 2020 were sky high and he ultimately fell flat with a QB10 finish on the year. NFL defenses were able to hold down the passing game enough that Jackson had to beat them with his legs alone, which wasn’t enough to get it done for fantasy football. Now, heading into 2021, the Ravens have invested a ton to fix that issue of the passing game. With a first-round pick in Rashod Bateman, adding Sammy Watkins to the offense, bringing Devin Duvernay assumedly into a starting role, all of this goes together to give Jackson more weapons than he’s ever had before. What happens if we see the Ravens take that jump like the Bills did last season and end up throwing the ball a little bit more? All of their off-season moves seem to indicate that this is in the realm of possibilities. With a solid receiving corps now, we could see Jackson take that next step forward as a passer and bounce back to fantasy dominance. You’re going to get him at a little bit of a discount this season and that’s something I’m very interested in.

Matthew Stafford (QB – Los Angeles Rams)

Perennially one of the most underrated QBs in the NFL, Stafford now has a new home in LA. On a prominent stage, I truly believe we’re about to see Stafford ascend this season into the top-5 QB conversation from the national media due to the numbers he could put up in this offense with Sean McVay. With the weapons he has around him now, plus the creative play-calling, Stafford ascending to a top-5 fantasy QB isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. His presence is going to mean fantastic things for this offense and he could end up being one of the best picks you make in fantasy this year due to his upside. The health is still a concern, but we know that Stafford’s going to gut through nearly anything and give it his all. He’s one of my favorite draft picks at the QB position later on in 2021 drafts.

Cam Newton (QB – New England Patriots)

One of my favorite streaming options at the QB position this year is Newton in New England. Did you know that before Newton contracted COVID-19 in Week 4 last year he was the QB7 in all of fantasy football? This was despite being put in a brand new system late in the off-season – which wasn’t really a true off-season – and without any significant receiving weapons. Jakobi Meyers was Newton’s top receiving option in 2020 and that’s not going to lead to productivity from any QB! It certainly was not pretty from Newton, but he still brought consistent fantasy viability with his rushing prowess. Newton saw 42 (!) Red Zone carries last year and scored 12 rushing touchdowns and this was all while battling the after effects of COVID. With a full off-season in this system, plus the revamped receiving corps around him, Newton’s my favorite buy at the QB position based on his price tag. There’s a possibility that he doesn’t start the entire season, but when you’re streaming the QB position, you don’t need that guarantee. The upside is too much to pass up on with Newton and I’ll be drafting him everywhere that I can this season.

Joe Mixon (RB – Cincinnati Bengals)

Did you know that Joe Mixon has actually played more games than Dalvin Cook since they both came into the league in 2017? Yet somehow Mixon gets labeled as an injury risk every single season and Cook is being drafted as a top-3 pick this year. While Cook’s production when he’s on the field is certainly worthy of a top-3 pick, it goes to show the recency bias that comes into play for fantasy managers when they’re on the clock. When Mixon is on the field, he’s going to receive one of the heaviest workloads in the entire league. He’s one of the most talented RBs in the league and this offense is set to take a major jump in 2021 with Joe Burrow and his surfeit of receiving weapons. If Mixon had been shut down immediately last season and put on IR when his injury occurred, we wouldn’t have this perception in our minds of him as a huge injury risk. However, because of Zac Taylor’s inconsistent commitment to Mixon returning to the lineup last year, fantasy managers have a bad taste in their mouths. Go get some mouthwash, clean out that taste, and draft Mixon at a major discount this year. The production’s going to be too good to pass up.

Najee Harris (RB – Pittsburgh Steelers)

One of the greatest discounts in all of fantasy football year-over-year is rookie RBs in redraft leagues. The casual fantasy manager isn’t quite sure about who this player is and what they bring to the table, so they choose to focus in on players that they do know instead. Harris – most likely – isn’t going to ascend into the top-10 of ADP (Average Draft Position) this off-season, but he has a very good chance of finishing in that range when it’s all said and done. The Steelers invested significant draft capital in this player due to needing to balance out the offense and Harris has the size and skillset to shoulder a huge workload for this offense. He’s a fantastic receiver out of the backfield and Big Ben should be looking to funnel targets his way repeatedly. If you can snag Harris as your RB2 in fantasy football this season, that’s a winning strategy.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB – Dallas Cowboys)

Our perception of Ezekiel Elliott may be a bit skewed after his lackluster performance for fantasy last season. However, we need to remember the full context of the situation and recognize that Zeke was a top-tier fantasy option through the first five weeks of the season. He was the RB3 when Dak Prescott was healthy and on the field and was averaging a healthy 19.9 fantasy points per game. With Dak presumably back and ready to go for Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, Zeke’s a fantastic option again this season to lead your team as a RB1. If you happen to get him at a bit of a discount because of what happened last season, that’s just simply icing on the cake.

Ja’Marr Chase (WR – Cincinnati Bengals)

More and more college football WRs are coming into the NFL and making an immediate impact. Whether that was DK Metcalf a couple of years ago to Justin Jefferson on his path to breaking records last season, rookies are now firmly in the conversation for redraft leagues. Chase is coming into the NFL as a ridiculously talented prospect that landed in a near perfect situation. He’s now reunited with his college QB and this offense figures to pass the ball at a ridiculous rate again in 2021. With his opportunity in this offense, plus his talent, don’t be surprised to see Chase come out of the gates on fire and be a consistent starter for your lineup almost immediately. A top-15 finish is not a crazy thing to predict when it comes to this rookie wideout.

Robert Woods (WR – Los Angeles Rams)

Woods has done nothing but outperform his ADP every single year for the past several seasons. He’s now finished as the WR10, the WR17, and WR13 the past three years and that was with Jared Goff as his QB. Now, Woods has Matthew Stafford in town and this offense could be on its path to going nuclear. Stafford should lean heavily on Woods this upcoming season and there’s the potential that we see Woods put up career high numbers across the board. He’s going to be undervalued yet again in 2021 – for unknown reasons – and that’s a perfect situation to add him to your fantasy football roster at a discount.

Jonnu Smith (TE – New England Patriots)

That’s right, folks! It’s Jonnu time yet again! After hyping up Smith all last off-season, it’s time to hop back on the Hype Train and talk about Jonnu’s potential for fantasy yet again. Once Smith signed with the New England Patriots for a massive deal in free agency, it seemed like the hopes of Smith finishing as a top-5 option at the TE position were all but locked in. Unfortunately, Hunter Henry‘s signing a day later put a damper on those dreams, but we still shouldn’t be scared off of Smith and his potential in this offense. With a revamped – but honestly still lackluster – WR corps, there’s a strong possibility that Smith leads this entire team in targets. The Patriots will be committed to getting him the ball in creative ways near the line of scrimmage and letting him create after the catch, which he does better than nearly every other TE in the league. I had Smith ranked as a top-8 TE last season and I’m going to have him in the same range again for 2021.

Tyler Higbee (TE – Los Angeles Rams)

Higbee’s certainly had his moments of relevancy in the past, but this was mostly occurring when Gerald Everett was out of the lineup. With Everett now completely out of the picture in Seattle, and no other proven commodities next to Higbee at the TE position in LA, there’s the potential that we see Higbee move back to being an integral part of this offense again this season. Matthew Stafford‘s now in town and this offense could be on the verge of going nuclear with Stafford’s ability combined with Sean McVay’s play-calling. At the TE position in fantasy football, you’re simply looking for opportunity that can lead to upside. It’s going to be hard to find a player who has more upside later on in your drafts than Higbee in this dynamic offense.


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Kyle Yates is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @KyleYNFL.

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