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11 Must-Have Players + Players To Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)

Aug 4, 2021

We’re another week closer to the start of the 2021 NFL season. Today our writers are sharing who their must-have player is heading into drafts, as well as which player they’re actively avoiding. The responses are shared below.

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Q1. Who is Your Must-Have Player?

Antonio Brown (WR – TB)
Brown is going off the board as WR48, which makes him an easy target for me across all formats. Tom Brady has fought hard to have Brown on his teams over the last two seasons and the pair have formed quite the chemistry in a short span. After not getting on the field until Week 9 last year, Brown grabbed 45 passes for 483 yards and four touchdowns over his final eight games. He ranked as the WR21 over that span and while I am not going to extrapolate those numbers out over 16 games, I don’t think it is out the question that Brown catches 80 passes and possibly eclipse 1,000 yards this year. While he did just turn 33, he is seemingly past the off-field and mental health issues that plagued him at the end of the 2018 season and most of 2019 so Brown appears poised to be one of the best values of any receiver in the draft. I will happily snap him up before his current 10th Round ADP.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)

Trey Sermon (RB – SF)
The 49ers have one of the best running back offenses in the NFL. They were the third-ranked RB offense in 2020 and the second-ranked RB offense in 2019. Any running back that sees carries in his offense has a chance to be a fantasy star. The 49ers currently have no established star in their backfield. Raheem Mostert has not shown an ability to stay healthy. Jeff Wilson Jr. is already injured and is expected to miss at least half the season. Wayne Gallman was signed to only a one-year contract. The 49ers used a third-round pick to draft Sermon and it seems inconceivable that the 49ers would not give Sermon a solid workload considering his competition in the backfield and the high draft position they used to select him. Sermon has an ADP of 92, but he seems destined to outperform that ranking and he could be the steal of fantasy drafts this year.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

TJ Hockenson (TE – DET)
While I see the value in taking a guy like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller in the first or second round, there are just too many other great players available in those rounds that I would build my team around. This means I’m usually targeting the next tier of tight ends after getting a solid base at RB and WR. Thanks to all of the hype around rookie Kyle Pitts, great tight end options like Mark Andrews and my guy Hockenson are falling even further down the board. Hockenson could be the number one target on his team this year, and outside of those top options, no other tight end is expected to do that in the NFL. On top of that, Hockenson is entering his third season in the NFL, which is usually when we see elite tight ends take that next step, and I fully expect Hockenson to be that guy this year. I will gladly take the discount on Hockenson and smile my way to the playoffs, making him someone I can’t leave my drafts without.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)

Laviska Shenault (WR – JAC)
Shenault quietly had a solid rookie campaign in 2020 despite missing a few games with a hamstring injury and inconsistent QB play. Down the stretch he was especially productive, nabbing at least five receptions in each of his final four games. Now he gets to catch passes from Trevor Lawrence – one of the highest regarded QBs to ever enter the league. While it’s true that the Jaguars added other pass catching talents in the form of Marvin Jones and Travis Etienne this off-season, they don’t have much of a pass catching threat at TE. This could open up the middle of the field for Shenault and make him and his powerful frame a weapon near the goal line. Reports out of OTAs this offseason have raved about him as well. Considering his ADP is in the mid-40s amongst wideouts I’m all in taking him as a bench stash to start the season that could pay big dividends.
– Scott Youngston (@fantasymutant)

Antonio Gibson (RB – WFT)
Gibson is on the precipice of a dominant RB1 season in Washington and should be acquired as much as possible despite the premium draft capital (RB13) required to get him onto 2021 redraft rosters. During his rookie season, Gibson averaged 0.94 fantasy points per opportunity, which ranked 12th amongst all running backs. He managed to produce highly efficient touches despite being severely limited in Washington’s passing attack, averaging only 3.1 targets per game compared to backup running back J.D. McKissic, who led the league in target total (110) and averaged 6.9 targets per game. This will not happen again in 2021, meaning Gibson is due for receiving touchdown regression, as he failed to find the end zone through the air on the 44 targets he received. Furthermore, he only surpassed five targets once (7) and had only one week with over 35 receiving yards (82), which means he could explode as a top-three fantasy running back if he can average a similar target share to the one McKissic saw in 2020. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a more mobile quarterback than Alex Smith and the added depth at wide receiver with Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown should help Gibson improve his 4.3 YPC average under center by forcing defenders to focus their coverage outside of the hash marks. Gibson is a must-have RB1 who should be prioritized in drafts this month.
– Matt MacKay (@Matt_MacKay_)

Josh Jacobs (RB – LV)
Jacobs is the Raiders’ RB1. No, I’m not worried about their new backup RB Kenyan Drake. Jacobs is an RB1, at worst the second-best weapon on his team, and is being drafted as the RB20. This is insane value. I’m leaving almost every mock draft with Josh Jacobs. He is effective as a receiver and in the red zone. Last season, Jacobs saw just over 300 touches, his now-NY Giant backup Devontae Booker had just over 100, and Jacobs still finished as the RB8. I could see a similar workload division this year with Kenyan Drake spelling Jacobs. We have no reason to believe Jacobs’ job as the Raiders RB1 is in danger, but he’s being drafted as though he’s in a true 50/50 timeshare.
– TJ Horgan (@TJHorganTV)

Check out our Consensus Dynasty Rankings here >>

Q2. Which Player are you actively avoiding?

Michael Thomas (WR – NO)
Thomas’ injury makes it hard to draft him in any round as he will be a bench stash for at least the first half of the season. Most of the redraft leagues I play in average six bench spots (and no IR spot), meaning Thomas isn’t worth hitting the button for me. Don’t be fooled by the fact that he could come back and be a WR1; this is a situation to avoid with the New Orleans offense more than likely looking different than it has with Drew Brees anyway. Stay away from Thomas and use your precious draft capital on players who will be healthy at the beginning of the year.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)

Thomas was one of the most dependable fantasy receivers in the league in 2018 and 2019, but a lot of things have changed since then. Drew Brees is no longer the Saints quarterback and there is a competition between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to replace Brees behind center. Thomas played through injuries last year and he had only 55 targets, 50 receptions, 438 receiving yards, and no touchdowns in seven games. He underwent ankle surgery in June that may cause him to miss the first six games of this regular season. Things are not off to a good start for the 28-year-old and I cannot justify using a top pick on a player that may not be available early in the season. I also cannot justify using that high of a pick on a player that is going to be stuck with a lesser quarterback than he has in the past and one that could not even find the end zone once in seven games last year. There are just too many risk factors for me to think about taking Thomas anywhere close to his current ADP.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

DeVonta Smith (WR – PHI)
Rookie receivers are usually slow to adjust to the speed of the pro game, regardless of how fast they play on the field. For me, Smith is someone I just can’t find myself pulling the trigger on in drafts. He worries me from a size standpoint but the team worries me from an overall production standpoint as well. The Eagles are starting Jalen Hurts under center, but it’s hard to know exactly how long of a leash he’ll get. This worries me for Smith, who might have to start building rapport all over again with a new quarterback for next season. Even though Smith isn’t going until the seventh round according to ADP, I’m still pretty much out on him at that price. There are other players around there with as much if not more upside that I’d rather have — such as Courtland Sutton, Damien Harris, and DJ Chark. If Smith were still available in the back half of my draft I’d probably take the risk, but I can almost guarantee he won’t be on any of my teams this year if I have to draft him as a starter. No thank you.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)

Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG)
I’m a big fan of Saquon, but I’m avoiding him in the first round as I think there’s a very real chance he won’t be ready to start the season. The Giants appear to be taking a conservative approach to his rehab. While this is probably better for him in the long run, it’s not the best news for the 2021 season. Even when he’s back, I could see them limiting his touches and snaps for a while. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he lacked his typical explosion when he does return. This happened to Dalvin Cook when he first came back after he tore his ACL tear in 2017. Barkley should be fine in time, but I think the expectations for him this year may be a little unrealistic.
– Scott Youngston (@fantasymutant)

Miles Sanders (RB – PHI)
The Philadelphia Eagles made several moves to upgrade their offense in 2021. A notable addition was using a fifth round draft pick to select University of Memphis rookie running back Kenneth Gainwell, who was one of the most pure receiving backs in the 2021 NFL Draft class, and offers incredible change-of-pace cuts to make defenders miss in open space. This is an ideal skill set to possess in the Eagles’ revamped offense led by new head coach Nick Sirianni, who is expected to deploy a run-centric offensive scheme relying on mobile quarterback Jalen Hurts and a running-back-by-committee (RBBC) approach. Sanders was given 52 targets in 2020 but only hauled in 28 receptions for 197 yards and zero touchdowns, ranking 37th in fantasy points per opportunity (0.77) despite seeing the 16th-highest target share of any running back in 2020. Receiving backs are crucial to success in PPR formats, so without that guaranteed workload to create additional upside, Sanders is too risky to draft, even as the RB18. Ignoring his inefficient receiving ability and the stable of running backs signed this offseason, Sanders only produced runs of 15 or more yards on just 3.0 percent of his carries, restricting his rushing upside as well. I’d rather draft Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, or Darrell Henderson, in the next trio of running backs available later in the fourth round of fantasy drafts.
– Matt MacKay (@Matt_MacKay_)

Will Fuller V (WR – MIA)
I’m averse to cementing someone onto a “Do Not Draft” list, because in a certain round anyone is worth consideration. However, Fuller is as close as it gets. In his last 4 seasons, Fuller has never played more than 11 games. Sure, he was electric at times … with Deshaun Watson throwing him the football. Tua Tagovailoa was 33rd in passing yards per game last season. The Dolphins have a plethora of receiving options as well. DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Robert Foster, Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have all proven to be capable receivers at various points throughout their careers. Fuller’s great when he’s healthy, catching passes from Deshaun Watson, and in a barren receiver room. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case in 2021.
– TJ Horgan (@TJHorganTV)

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