Players Trending Up & Trending Down (2021 Fantasy Football)
The first week of preseason games are fully behind us, meaning fantasy drafts are inching closer. Average Draft Position (ADP) and Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR) tend to aggressively react to a player based either on beat reporter coverage or the player’s preseason usage. Wading through the hype is extremely important because entering a draft with tunnel vision for a specific player can often be detrimental to competitive roster construction.
Let’s focus on a few players who have their ADP trending up or trending down and dissect whether or not they are worth being drafted at their current value.
Aaron Jones (RB – GB) ADP: 7.1, ECR: RB7
Since Aaron Rodgers’ (QB – GB) return to Green Bay to report to training camp, all doubts about the Packers have been erased. Aaron Jones has been one of the biggest climbers in ADP since Rodgers showed up at Lambeau Field, seeing his ADP rise from 10.8 to 7.1 across the last two weeks. Jones earned his first Pro-Bowl honors in 2020 after averaging 16.8 fantasy points per game (FPPG), which ranked sixth-highest amongst running backs. Even better for fantasy managers drafting in PPR leagues, Jones saw the ninth-highest target total (63) amongst running backs, which played a huge part in his RB5 finish in half-PPR formats. The departure of Jamaal Williams (RB – DET) to Detroit adds an additional 2.7 target opportunities per game for Jones, justifying his mid-first round ADP.
Mike Evans (WR – TB) ADP: 39, ECR: WR13
One of the biggest names being faded this offseason has been Mike Evans. This could be attributed to several factors, including the depth Tampa Bay has at wide receiver. It could also be a result of Evans averaging 1.79 yards per route, which ranked 45th in 2020. This was seen in the multiple one-yard touchdown receptions Evans racked up, finishing with a career-high 13 touchdowns during his seventh season in the league. As 2021 fantasy drafts approach, Evans’ ADP has started to creep up, but he still holds value if he climbs into the back of the third round. Seeing a career-low in targets (109) last season didn’t stop Evans from finishing as the WR10. A full offseason spent developing chemistry with Tom Brady (QB – TB) will only create more production for the big-bodied wideout in 2021. You can draft a great pair of running backs and possibly another alpha wide receiver before taking Evans as a solid WR1 prospect available in the fourth round of fantasy drafts.
Brandon Aiyuk (WR – SF) ADP: 65.8, ECR: WR26
San Francisco 49ers second-year wideout Brandon Aiyuk has been the recipient of a ton of hype after an impressive rookie season. While Aiyuk led the team in targets per game (8.0) he had 13.2 targets per snap percentage, which ranked fourth on the team behind Jordan Reed (TE – RET), Deebo Samuel (WR – SF), and George Kittle (TE – SF). Aiyuk will certainly have his target share reduced with a fully healthy Samuel and Kittle in 2021 and will have to be more efficient with his targets, as he ranked 48th with an 85.7 percent true catch rate, which divides total receptions by total catchable targets. Trey Lance (QB – SF) could unleash some valuable deep-ball targets to Aiyuk in 2021 but there is a ton of talent within their backfield and depth at wide receiver that make me question taking him over other wide receivers with a similar ADP such as Tee Higgins (WR – CIN) and Chase Claypool (WR – PIT).
Travis Etienne Jr. (RB – JAC) ADP: 51.5, ECR: RB22
Travis Etienne Jr. is the Clemson rookie with the most fantasy relevance in drafts. He has seen his ADP rise from 55.3 to 51.5 across the last two weeks, meaning he’s now going off of draft boards in front of Myles Gaskin (RB – MIA), Mike Davis (RB – ATL), Kareem Hunt (RB – CLE), Javonte Williams (RB – DEN), and Chase Edmonds (RB – ARI). In a new offense led by head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, there could be a lot of 11 and 21 personnel called, with Etienne featured alongside James Robinson (RB – JAC) in the backfield to create RPO-styled wrinkles. There are a ton of excellent players available at the beginning of the fifth round where Etienne is currently valued, making it difficult for me to justify drafting a rookie, albeit a first-rounder, in a young offense changing its identity. Stability from a workhorse running back like Josh Jacobs (RB – LVR) or a heavy target share wide receiver such as Diontae Johnson (WR – PIT) is much more preferable because it provides a massive floor while minimizing the risk associated with Etienne’s role and usage. He could very well put up RB2 production to justify his ECR but I think the Jaguars’ offense will experience growing pains, especially with a 23rd ranked offensive line, per Pro Football Focus.
Robert Woods (WR – LAR) ADP: 44.3, ECR: WR17
The trade that sent Matthew Stafford (QB – LAR) to the Los Angeles Rams has me fully invested in Robert Woods as a WR1 in 2021. With pedestrian quarterback play from Jared Goff (QB – DET) in 2020, Woods totaled the 12th most targets (130) amongst wide receivers. This yielded a WR13 finish in half-PPR formats, with 90 receptions, which sounds really good. In reality, Woods saw 439 yards less and three fewer touchdowns than Calvin Ridley (WR – ATL), who totaled the same amount of targets. This is best illustrated in his 7.1 average depth of target (ADOT), ranking 83rd amongst wideouts in 2020. Woods will see better target separation with Stafford delivering more accurate targets, allowing the 29-year old to extend plays to elevate him from WR2 into WR1 territory. Drafting Woods at his current WR17 value is a good decision and I’d be willing to continue investing in him if he moves into the beginning of the fourth round.
George Kittle (TE – SF) ADP: 29.2, ECR: TE3
Just because a player is trending down in ADP doesn’t mean I’m disinterested. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. Seeing a player’s ADP fall can happen for numerous reasons, so it’s important to look at the player’s health and the offensive personnel. Kittle is coming off of a sprained left knee and a fractured foot that kept him out for the latter half of the 2020 season. Prior to the foot fracture injury, Kittle maintained the third-highest targets per snap percentage, finishing with a higher rate than breakout rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk. Jordan Reed actually led the 49ers in this metric and has since retired, leaving even more opportunity for Kittle to see 100+ targets to challenge Travis Kelce (TE – KC) as the TE1. Drafting a top-tier tight end provides a massive edge against fantasy managers drafting or streaming less consistent tight ends, so being able to draft Kittle at the beginning of the third round is an incredible value to seize upon.
Russell Wilson (QB – SEA) ADP: 68.2, ECR: QB6
It was a tale of two offenses for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in 2020. After a lightning-fast start on offense across the first eight games, Wilson was unable to surpass 300 passing yards in the back half of the season, while only finding the end zone once with his legs. If a quarterback has the innate ability to be an explosive ball-carrier like Kyler Murray (QB – ARI), Lamar Jackson (QB – BAL), or Josh Allen (QB – BUF), their passing woes don’t concern me as much. However, Wilson is now 32 years old and learning a new system under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who spent his last three years as the Rams passing game coordinator. It’s tempting to invest in Wilson having a bounce-back year in an offense that seems to be inclined towards a more pass-centric approach, however, we heard this same narrative entering last season. Wilson uses his legs as an extension of a pass or to pick up a first down, not to rip off chunk plays and dazzle defenders on the way to the end zone. Waiting for one more round to draft Aaron Rodgers or Justin Herbert (QB – LAC) is the better decision, as both quarterbacks give you a similar rushing floor with a markedly higher ceiling for passing.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT) ADP: 86.8, ECR: WR31
Will the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers function differently under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada? Or will Ben Roethlisberger (QB – PIT) continue to deploy a three-step dropback to eliminate the pressure he faced behind a bad offensive line in 2020? This is the biggest question surrounding any Steelers player for fantasy purposes. JuJu Smith-Schuster signed a one-year deal to return with Pittsburgh and could be in for another sneakily productive season, particularly with the addition of rookie running back Najee Harris (RB – PIT). A talented running back with a receiving skill set like Harris will keep the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, opening up more opportunities for Smith-Schuster to soak up targets behind the second-level of the defense. Smith-Schuster averaged eight targets per game in 2020 but saw the fewest targets per snap percentage (13.9%) compared to Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Drafting any of the three Steelers wideouts is ideal when looking for a WR3 with WR2 upside and Smith-Schuster is the cheapest option to acquire, dropping in value to the eighth round. I certainly like JuJu more than Robby Anderson (WR – CAR) (WR30) and DJ Chark Jr. (WR – JAC) (WR32) and think he returns a good value with a low-end WR2 finish.
DJ Chark Jr. (WR – JAC) ADP: 85, ECR: WR32
I’ve gone back and forth with my thoughts on DJ Chark’s outlook in a new offense with a new coaching scheme. On one hand, Chark has shown the ability to produce a 1,000-yard season while garnering 118 targets during his breakout campaign in 2019. We saw extreme regression happen in 2020, as the third-year wideout averaged a pedestrian 57 percent catch rate, down five percent from 2019. Factor in the depth added at wide receiver with the signing of Marvin Jones Jr. (WR – JAC) and the emergence of Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR – JAC). Collin Johnson (WR – JAC) and Laquon Treadwell (WR – JAC) could also steal targets if they make the final 53-man roster. Targets could be heavily funneled to include running backs, Travis Etienne and James Robinson, as they may see a prominent role in the passing game while split out wide or lined up in the backfield. As Chark’s ADP descends into the eighth round, I’m tempted to bank on him returning to his 2019 version. However, I cannot bring myself to draft him in good conscience knowing that Deebo Samuel, Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU), and Jerry Jeudy (WR – DEN) are available.
Joe Mixon (RB – CIN) ADP: 17.6, ECR: RB11
Skepticism swirls around Joe Mixon, primarily due to the lingering foot injury he dealt with that held him to just six games in 2020. We’ve seen what a healthy Mixon can produce but not on an offense led by a trio of incredibly talented wide receivers. The oft-maligned offensive line got enhanced via the signing of Riley Reiff (OT – CIN), drafting Jackson Carman (G – CIN), and the return of a healthy Jonah Williams (OT – CIN) at left tackle. Prior to Joe Burrow’s (QB – CIN) arrival, Mixon averaged the third-highest yards created per attempt (1.84), seen in his 32.9 percent juke rate, evading 103 tackles to show off his elite elusiveness when given a running lane. He’s got the backfield virtually all to himself now that Gio Bernard (RB – TB) signed with Tampa Bay, which makes me like Mixon’s outlook quite a bit in 2021. If he can see 50 targets and surpass 250 carries, I believe Mixon will finish as an RB1. Drafting him as your RB2 in the mid-second round is safe, so long as injuries don’t flare up again. This is a potent offense that will be creating more running lanes and moving the ball at a faster tempo with elite pass-catchers, which means Mixon could receive numerous screens and dump-offs while getting fed carries at the goal-line. He’s a polarizing fantasy player but one that I like a lot considering his skill set and location.
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