Measuring Consistency: 2021 Season in Review (Fantasy Football)
One year after the incredibly ambiguous and uncertain 2020 season, fantasy football in 2021 proved to be rather tumultuous, albeit from a more “normal” point of view. There was only one game that needed to be rescheduled due to COVID precautions; however, we still saw significant volatility each week, with several key players going down to injuries, ultimately reshaping fantasy football this year. Even looking exclusively at first-round picks, we saw:
- Christian McCaffrey battle another injury-plagued season, leading to multiple IR stints;
- Derrick Henry start off where he left last year before missing the second half of the season due to injury;
- Alvin Kamara lose a month of the fantasy season because of a knee injury; and
- Dalvin Cook go down several times throughout the season.
These notorious injuries don’t even capture Nick Chubb‘s or Saquon Barkley‘s occasional missed games. In all, the 2021 fantasy season was seemingly a competition of which team possessed the most depth to be the least inhibited by game-breaking injuries and which manager could most effectively rebound from them. With that being said, it’s still critical to evaluate the 2021 fantasy football season from a holistic point of view and, as such, it’s time for us to measure each primary position’s consistency across the season.
In case you’re new to my annual Measuring Consistency series, I analyze the top players at each major fantasy football position to understand their average production, before clustering and indexing them against their respective positional groups. Normally, I analyze these data and utilize them to formulate draft strategies, highlighting my favorite targets or fades based on current average draft positions (ADPs). However, as I did last year, this initial article is simply a quick review of the past season, enabling us to understand how each position fared and see who the league winners or losers were.
I focused on the top-producing players that would presumably be startable in standard leagues (i.e., 1QB, 3WR, 2RB, 1TE): top 18 QBs, top 24 RBs, top 36 WRs, and top 18 TEs. Considering none of these players were particularly awful, I want to spotlight stellar and middling performances through their average scoring and coefficients of variation (CV), since fantasy managers were generally forced to start many of these players.
Examining the QB landscape presents a similar takeaway as what we saw last season: most QB1s were generally safe and productive across the season. There were obviously some recurring issues, like Russell Wilson underwhelming for the second consecutive season, and Lamar Jackson going down with injury when fantasy managers needed him the most. Alternatively, second-year QBs like Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts (to an extent) were league winners for much of the season.
There were some great value picks, however, namely the aforementioned Hurts and Herbert, along with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Additionally, Joe Burrow‘s historic Weeks 16 and 17 performances may have single-handedly won teams championships.
- Tom Brady (21.8 PPG; 0.44 CV)
- Justin Herbert (21.4 PPG; 0.38 CV)
- Lamar Jackson (19.5 PPG; 0.55 CV)
- Ryan Tannehill (13.9 PPG; 0.28 CV)
Running backs, generally the most valuable position in fantasy football, presented a bit more diversity than quarterbacks for the second straight season. Despite the previously noted impactful injuries to key players in fantasy football, the position still presented several great season-long performances. Jonathan Taylor took the world by storm and may challenge McCaffrey as the 2022 top pick in most leagues, while Austin Ekeler finally put together a (close enough) full season and produced like the elite fantasy RB he is. Alternatively, poor offensive performance and unprofessional coaching thwarted James Robinson‘s sophomore season, while a growing role for A.J. Dillon led to an underwhelming performance for Aaron Jones.
- Austin Ekeler (19.1 PPG; 0.44 CV)
- Joe Mixon (17.1 PPG; 0.48 CV)
- Aaron Jones (24th5 PPG; 0.67 CV)
- Ezekiel Elliott (13.0 PPG; 0.50 CV)
Next are wide receivers, a positional group that despite its growing depth across NFL teams is becoming increasingly more impactful due to weekly scoring potential. Davante Adams followed his amazing 2020 campaign with a great 2021 season; however, Cooper Kupp stole the show with his historic performance this year. Finishing as the undisputed WR1 despite an early-to-mid-round ADP, Kupp was arguably the fantasy football MVP in 2021. Not only did he score a ton of points, but he was amazingly consistent along the way; he was the perfect fantasy football player: someone who scored a ton of points every week. However, managers who had high expectations for A.J. Brown and Tyreek Hill were probably disappointed this past season due to their immense weekly volatility and underwhelming aggregate production. These were players that were drafted as foundational pieces to their managers’ teams, but oftentimes left much to be desired.
- Cooper Kupp (21.7 PPG; 0.32 CV)
- Deebo Samuel (18.2 PPG; 0.38 CV)
- J. Brown (11.2 PPG; 0.82 CV)
- Tyreek Hill (14.5 PPG; 0.80 CV)
Lastly, everyone’s (potentially least) favorite positional group: tight ends. For the first time in over a half-decade, we saw the overall TE1 be someone other than Travis Kelce. Mark Andrews, despite erratic QB play across several different starters throughout the season for the Ravens, won fantasy leagues for his managers due to his immense production and consistency. He was sensational. We also saw some other nice stories in 2021, with Dalton Schultz finishing as a solid TE1 and Kyle Pitts putting up historic numbers for a rookie – let alone a TE.
Unfortunately, however, we saw many performances that we’d like to forget. After an amazing start to the season, Darren Waller fell off the face of the earth with middling production when healthy and then going down with a knee injury during Thanksgiving that ultimately (unofficially) ended his fantasy season. He didn’t even finish as a top 18 TE this season. Furthermore, after a hot start, T.J. Hockenson slowed considerably and finished as a back-end TE1. Furthermore, the porous Broncos offensive strategy and QB play stifled many managers’ expectations for a strong offense considering their extremely solid skill position talent (i.e., Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon, and Javonte Williams). With high expectations of a third-year breakout, Fant left a lot on the table for his fantasy managers.
- Mark Andrews (14.4 PPG; 0.59 CV)
- Dalton Schultz (10.2 PPG; 0.58 CV)
- J. Hockenson (9.9 PPG; 0.71 CV)
- Noah Fant (7.8 PPG; 0.72 CV)
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with How to Manage Early-Season Injury Problems or head to more advanced strategy – like How to Effectively Assess the Quality of Your Team – to learn more.