11 Guys Who Can Win You a Fantasy Championship
But who are the guys you GOTTA have on your team?
We asked each member of the Draft Sharks staff for 3 guys that they’re targeting in every draft.
11 guys who could win you a 2021 fantasy championship (with 1 guy getting 2 votes!).
Highlight these dudes on your cheat sheet.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles
Schauf: If you were drafting back in June, then Hurts looked like a player on the rise. He climbed at least as high as QB8 in ADP. But Deshaun Watson rumors and reports of lackluster offense in Philly practices and preseason games have since knocked him back down. The 2nd-year signal-caller now sits just12th among QBs in common 12-team ADP.
Here’s why that matters …
Hurts has already showed us that he presents upside well beyond that level. He started weeks 14-17 last season and scored the 3rd most fantasy points among QBs over that span -- despite leaving the last of those 4 games at halftime.
In fact, if you take the 2nd half he played against Green Bay before his 1st start, add it to those 3.5 games and then extrapolate over a full 16, then you get a magical fantasy season:
-- Passing: 4,112 yards, 24 TDs, 16 INTs
-- Rushing: 1,204 yards, 12 TDs
That would have led all QBs last season and ranked among the biggest fantasy seasons ever.
I’m not saying that lies within this year’s range of possible outcomes. But a top-3 season for the position clearly does. And being able to draft Hurts at the bottom of starter territory mitigates the risk.
There is risk. There’s a chance Hurts proves not good enough to keep an NFL starting gig. You can easily prepare for that possibility by drafting a 2nd QB, though. And whether you want a boom-bust backup or high-floor veteran insurance, options abound.
Waiting and drafting Hurts also allows you to stock up at other positions for 3+ rounds beyond where your league mates are drafting Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott and other top QBs.
If Hurts hits for you, he brings with him earlier-round talent at other positions as well.
Trey Lance, QB, 49ers
Smola: I was waffling on whether I wanted to include Lance here. I’ve already talked him up plenty -- including in our Sleepers article.
And then I saw this TD in Sunday’s preseason finale.
Yeah, it’s preseason. Against a bunch of Raiders backups. So maybe I’m overreacting.
But c’mon … Look at how easy that was!
That’s the type of play that’s been dancing in my head since the 49ers spent the 3rd overall pick on Lance this spring. His athleticism coupled with HC Kyle Shanahan’s scheme could bring a ton of easy fantasy points.
We already saw it back in 2012, when Robert Griffin finished 7th in fantasy points under Shanahan. RG3 ran for 815 yards and 7 TDs that year. But he threw for just 3,200 yards and 20 scores -- at least in part because he was throwing to guys like Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and Logan Paulsen. Lance has passing upside beyond that with run-after-catch monsters in Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
You might need to wait a few weeks before Lance takes over as San Francisco’s starter. But once he does, he’ll have immediate top-5 QB upside.
Tom Brady, QB, Bucs
Pappano: There’s a lot to like from Brady’s fantasy prospects in 2021.
He’s returning to the same offense, with the same OC (Byron Leftwich), led by a pass-minded HC in Bruce Arians.
Then there’s the surrounding talent. He’ll throw behind a top-5 O-line — to a bevy of super talented receivers. WRs Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown have all made the Pro Bowl in recent years. Not to mention the ageless Rob Gronkowski at the TE spot. RB Giovani Bernard comes from the Bengals, where he served as a more-than-capable 3rd down back. He’ll give Brady yet another option in the passing game.
With so many factors in his favor, the only real question mark surrounding Brady is his age. Maybe that’s why his ADP is around the 9th round — after 7 or 8 top tier QBs are taken.
For a guy who’s likely to start every game this year — and post some very solid numbers — you’d do well to make him your starting QB.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
English: Barkley gets the nod here because of price. Once a top-5 pick in ADP, Barkley now falls into the 2nd round in some leagues.
He’s still not a lock to play Week 1. But what little we’ve seen of him moving around certainlylooks encouraging. You know he’s a stud athlete, and you know he won’t struggle for touches once up to speed.
Take a long-term approach, and you could be rewarded handsomely.
Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals
Smola: You might think of league-winners as late-round picks that come out of nowhere for big fantasy seasons. But in reality, it’s often the mega-producer RBs that turn in the highest win rates. Think Alvin Kamara last year. Or Aaron Jones in 2019.
Joe Mixon has a shot to be that guy this season.
Recency bias is pushing him into the mid- or late-2nd round of fantasy drafts when he should be going in the late 1st. Mixon missed the final 10 games of last year, crushing his fantasy owners -- and evidently scaring folks away in 2021.
But Mixon was a workhorse before going down, averaging 19.8 carries and 4.3 targets per game. Only 3 RBs -- Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry -- averaged more opportunities (carries + targets) per game. Mixon might even see more work in the passing game this season with RB Gio Bernard finally out of the way.
So we have ample volume, which is the most important ingredient for RB fantasy production. For a 25-year-old who’s already turned in a pair of top-13 fantasy seasons. On an offense with the potential to take a big leap in QB Joe Burrow’s 2nd season and with WR Ja’Marr Chase joining WRs Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
Mixon has top 5 -- maybe top 3 -- upside at his position. If you can get that in Round 2, paired with another stud, you’ll be tough to beat.
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
Pappano: The Broncos traded up to grab Williams in the early 2nd round in this spring’s draft. And so far, the only knock on the rookie from North Carolina is that Melvin Gordon is still in the Broncos backfield. HC Vic Fangio has expressed a desire to use both backs heavily.
All that said — there is a talent gap between Gordon and his rookie competition. Williams is simply the more talented back, and that will likely put him in a position to be the clear leader by the end of September. His fantasy stock is also boosted by Denver’s strong O-line, coached by (arguably) the best position coach in the NFL, Mike Munchak.
If you can get Williams in Round 5 or 6, he could be the winning piece to your team.
Elijah Moore, WR, Jets
Smola: Overreacting to practice buzz is dangerous. Ignoring a consistent drum beat of practice buzz is just as dangerous.
The Elijah Moore buzz has been deafening since the moment he stepped on the field for the Jets. The Athletic's Connor Hughes called Moore "undeniably the most impressive" player at June OTAs. The New York Daily News' DJ Bien-Aime called Moore “unstoppable” in training camp. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared Moore to Tyler Lockett after attending camp. And HC Robert Saleh praised Moore’s work ethic, football IQ and dynamism.
The buzz is even easier to buy into because Moore looked like a high-end prospect even before the Jets made him the 34th overall pick of this spring’s draft. The Ole Miss product led the entire country in catches (10.8) and receiving yards (149.1) per game as a junior this past year. The tape shows plus route running at all levels of the field, strong hands and dangerous after-catch ability.
Moore’s play over the past few months has him set to enter the season as a top 2 WR for the Jets, alongside Corey Davis. And these aren’t Adam Gase’s Jets anymore. With OC Mike LaFleur taking over the offense -- and QB Zach Wilson looking pro-ready -- this passing game could surprise.
Be thankful that Moore missed the preseason with a quad injury because it’s kept his ADP in check. Moore returned to practice last week and -- surprise, surprise -- immediately started making plays again.
Schauf: Moore’s quad injury in training camp seemed like a problem, but it might have been just what we needed.
The rookie seemed destined to spend all of draft season ascending the ADP rankings and getting ever more difficult to land. But missing all 3 preseason games helped quell the hype and position Moore as merely WR56 in current ADP.
We loved this guy as a prospect, and the Jets immediately started loving him as soon as he took the field. Corey Davis owned the preseason -- with Moore off the field -- drawing 10 targets among Zack Wilson’s 22 pass attempts (including plays negated by penalty). No other Jet claimed more than 4. Only TE Tyler Kroft (4) and WR Jamison Crowder (3) garnered more than 1 Wilson target.
So there’s room for Moore to claim a decent role right away, with upside well beyond that. Drafting him well into WR5 territory means minimal downside as we wait to see just how high the ceiling reaches.
Michael Pittman, WR, Colts
English: Carson Wentz’s foot injury put a pin in Pittman’s rising ADP.
In early August, that is.
Now, surprisingly, it seems as if Wentz is trending toward playing Week 1. T.Y. Hilton’s neck injury only supplies greater target potential for Pittman. The Colts’ passing game is thin even with a healthy T.Y.
Pittman’s ADP bottomed out at 10.05, but he’s still a strong pick for me in the 9th. Buy his talent. Buy his youth. And buy the buzz that’s come from the Colts all offseason.
Marquez Callaway, WR, Saints
English: I hate to put too much stock in his 5-104-2 preseason line against Jacksonville. But it followed a hype-filled training camp. Plus, with no Michael Thomas and a messy TE situation, targets are clearly up for grabs.
A 2nd-year player, Callaway goes 6’1, 205 pounds with some explosive athletic traits (80th percentile vertical jump; 82nd percentile broad jump). He wasn’t a major college producer at Tennessee, but he was a top high school recruit out of Georgia.
He’s a major winner from the announcement that Jameis Winston will start Week 1.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions
Schauf: Quick -- Who’s the #1 WR in Detroit?
Trick question. The team doesn’t have one.
Detroit just released WR Breshad Perriman. That leaves Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Khalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus as the Lions’ top 4 WRs. St. Brown led that group with 6 preseason catches -- for only 28 yards -- and didn’t play in any 2-WR sets.
In short: It’s a bad group.
That same factor helped propel Darren Waller to huge target shares with the Raiders the past 2 years. Hockenson ranked 5th among TEs in targets last season. Now Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are gone, and his new QB has worked more effectively in the short and medium ranges than anywhere else.
Don’t be shocked if Hockenson finishes closer to Waller and Travis Kelce than he does to the rest of the position in targets this season. A 32-reception gap between #2 Kelce and #3 Logan Thomas was the key difference between 2020’s elite TEs and the pedestrians.
Tyler Higbee, TE, Rams
Pappano: Higbee was the top-scoring fantasy TE in the final 5 weeks of the 2019 season — averaging more than 11 targets per game. That’s what made his 2020 stat line of just 44-521-5 so hugely disappointing to fantasy owners.
So what’s changed for the 28 year-old veteran going into 2021? A couple big things.
First is the upgrade at QB in which Matt Stafford takes over for an anemic Jared Goff. That change means the Rams are investing more in the passing game, and Higbee stands to benefit from that change.
Also, TE Gerald Everett, who routinely stole looks from Higbee — has taken his game to Seattle. That means Higbee will get virtually all of the targets from the Rams TE spot.
If you miss out on some of the top-tier TE talent in the first couple rounds of your draft, don’t panic. Higbee will be a nice addition somewhere in the round 7-10 range (depending on your league scoring), and could finish the year as a surprise top-5 TE.