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2021 NFL Fantasy Stock Rising by John Mendoza

Ten Fantasy Players Whose Draft Stock is Rising into 2021

It seems like only yesterday the fantasy playoffs was coming to a close as the NFL playoffs were preparing to start. Now, we have a long offseason ahead before mock drafts and fantasy rankings begin consuming our lives once again.

In this article, we’ll be looking at players whose fantasy value is on the rise after the 2020 season. You won’t find Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey, or Davante Adams on this list, as we know these players are at the top of their respective rankings and should (more or less) remain there as the season approaches. Here, we’ll try to draw attention to those guys who were mid-to-late round picks last year, but should see early round action this upcoming season.

Honorable Mention: Deshaun Watson

From the moment information leaked that NFL star quarterback Deshaun Watson wanted out of Houston, hundreds and hundreds of hours of offseason content have been produced by media outlets across the country. Watson’s future will be, unquestionably, the talk of the offseason. Where he ends up playing in 2021 will have a huge impact on his fantasy value heading into 2021.

Watson was deemed a low-end QB1 in 2020, as many analysts couldn’t picture a world where the Texans were more competitive after trading away DeAndre Hopkins. They were half-right. Playing on a train wreck of a 4-12 Texans team, Watson showed us just how special he is by finishing as the fourth-best quarterback in 2020. Watson even led the NFL in passing yards. 

There are so many possibilities that could happen to Watson going into the 2021 season: 

Worst case scenario: The Texans refuse to grant him his trade request and Watson ultimately retires. The NFL loses one of its star players, and fantasy owners lament what could have been. This is unlikely, but possible.

Not “worst” case scenario: The Texans still refuse to trade Watson, who is stuck on a talentless Texans team. This is probably the most realistic possibility, but will limit Watson’s ceiling on a team stuck in a rebuild without the assets to surround Watson with the pieces to be successful. Even still, he still had a great season with these same Texans in 2020.

Best case: The Texans trade Watson to any other team. The 49ers, Raiders, Broncos, Colts, Jets, and Dolphins have all been linked to have interest in Watson. We can sit here and debate (literally) all offseason about how likely each of these teams is to land Watson, but the morale of the story is that, except for maybe the Jets, each of these teams has more to offer Watson than the Texans. If Watson is traded, which at the time of this publication is unlikely, he will join Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen as a top three quarterback option heading into 2021.

Stefon Diggs

After forcing his way out of Minnesota, many questioned how effective Diggs would be in 2020 in a brand new offense while being the number one receiver for the first time in his career. Diggs staunchly shut down those doubts by having a breakout 2020 season to the tune of career highs in receptions (127), receiving yards (1535), while making the Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro. Diggs’ ADP of 65 in 2020 will undoubtedly be a fraction of that in 2021, as Diggs’ early 2021 fantasy rankings put him soundly in the top five of wide receivers available.

Diggs should continue his red-hot 2020 season in 2021, as Josh Allen’s rise from erratic gunslinger to MVP candidate will only see his numbers continue to rise, barring any significant injury. Look for Diggs to come off of the board early-to-mid second round in 12-team leagues, more so the former in PPR leagues.

James Robinson

If you were one of the lucky few who scooped up Robinson in post-draft free agency after the undrafted rookie was named the Jaguars’ starting running back, props to you. It’s finds like these that take a fantasy team from borderline playoff contender to a threat to win the entire league. Every season, fantasy veterans try to cast as wide of nets as possible in hopes of landing a gem like Robinson.

Robinson went from an afterthought in both the NFL and fantasy drafts to a rising star at the running back position. Even on a Jags team devoid of offensive talent, especially at the quarterback position, Robinson put up gaudy numbers with 1070 yards rushing and 7 rushing touchdowns. Robinson also boosted his numbers with an additional 344 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns. 

Robinson should get a boost in his potential for 2021 this offseason, as the team is widely expected to take perennial talent Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. With talents like D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault at wide receiver, the Jaguars’ 2021 offense should make their 2020 season feel like a distant memory.

Robinson’s days as an undrafted player are long gone. Expect him to be off the board by round 3 as a strong RB2.

Justin Herbert/Joe Burrow

Basically, 2020 rookie quarterbacks not named Tua. With all due respect to the Dolphins’ signal caller, Burrow and Herbert were just on different levels in 2020. 

Before his crushing knee injury that prematurely ended his season, Burrow looked every bit as talented as the player the Bengals were hoping to get from the 2020 number one overall pick. 

Herbert’s season got off to a bit of a slower start, as he sat behind veteran Tyrod Taylor for the first few games of the season. But once Herbert took over, the Chargers found out very quickly that he was now the face of the franchise after his record-setting 2020 campaign. Both second-year signal callers went undrafted in most leagues, as non-dynasty fantasy players often shy away from drafting rookie quarterbacks. That won’t be the case in 2021, as both quarterbacks should be solid QB1s heading into the 2021 season. Dynasty and Keeper players should keep extra tabs on Herbert and Burrow, as like their NFL teams, these are players that fantasy players can build their teams around for years to come.

Herbert returns to a Chargers offense loaded with talented players like Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and Hunter Henry. While Burrow returns to action to throw to a young core of talent such as Tyler Boyd, rookie breakout Tee Higgins, and running back Joe Mixon. So far, both teams appear to be building around their franchise quarterbacks well.

While it’s been all good news from Burrow’s camp so far, his recovery from knee surgery is something that should be closely monitored during the offseason. Those who draft Burrow should prepare to take a backup quarterback sooner rather than later to ensure a backup plan in case Burrow were to miss time.

Jonathan Taylor

There was no player who endured a more roller coaster of a season (fantasy-wise) in 2020 than Jonathan Taylor. The rookie out of Wisconsin entered the NFL with several question marks in fantasy circles. Originally listed behind 2019 breakout Marlon Mack in the depth chart combined with questions about his heavy usage at Wisconsin left many skeptical about his ADP of 51.

At first, it looked like those who took a flier on Taylor hit gold right away, as Mack’s 2020 season was ended week one after sustaining a knee injury. However, it looked to be fool’s gold when Taylor slipped in playtime behind both pass catching backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, who synergized much better with the dump-off happy Philip Rivers than the between-the-tackles Taylor. Most fantasy managers found Taylor permanently benched for most of the season, if they weren’t able to offload him to a RB-needy team. 

But then, Taylor came alive. Over the final six games of the regular season, and their wild card game against Buffalo, Taylor rushed for 729 yards and 8 touchdowns. That kind of production over the span of a 16 game season would equal roughly 1,950 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. That kind of production would put Taylor as a surefire top three pick.

It’s yet to be seen whether Taylor can keep that same momentum going into 2021. But behind a strong Indianapolis offensive line, and now the clear-cut bellcow back, Taylor should be off the board by the end of round one.

Cam Akers

Much like Jonathan Taylor, Akers is yet another example of a rookie running back who was buried on his team’s depth chart, only to finally awaken in the second half of the season. Excruciatingly stuck behind fellow backs Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, Rams head coach Sean McVay really made Akers earn every bit of playing time early in the season.

However, something must have clicked during the Rams’ week 13 win over the Arizona Cardinals, as Akers led the Rams backfield with 21 carries. Akers took over from there, exploding for 171 rushing yards the following week. Over the last six weeks of the Rams’ season (including two playoff games) Akers amassed 561 rushing yards along with three touchdowns. If we spread that out over a 16-game season, Akers’ season total would be 1,500 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns.

While not as meteoric of a rise as Taylor, Akers should be a locked-in RB2 in most drafts, whose ceiling only got higher with the Rams’ offseason acquisition of quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Darren Waller/TJ Hockenson/Robert Tonyan

In 2021, you are guaranteed to fall into one of three categories of players:

  1. You’ll spend one of your first three picks on two of the dominate tight ends (Kelce, Travis and Kittle, George) in the game to guarantee production at the position

  2. You’ll wait until the very end of the draft to take one of many “hey maybe he’ll have, like, five touchdowns this year!” leftover tight ends.

  3. You’ll fall somewhere in the middle to take one of these three rising studs at the position.

The tight end position is by far the most underappreciated position in fantasy football, despite being the thinnest in depth. After the two generational talents in Kelce and Kittle, the position suffers a steep decline in production. This year, there are three players that have the potential to rival the production of Kelce/Kittle.

Waller, Hockenson, and Tonyan had breakout 2020 seasons, despite being in completely different situations. Waller enjoyed a massive breakout season as the number two scoring tight end in 2020. Hockenson finished the season as the fifth-highest scoring tight end, and might have challenged Waller’s runner-up position if not for late-season injuries that impacted his performance. Tonyan came out of absolutely nowhere to finish tied with Kelce for the most touchdowns scored by a tight end as Aaron Rodgers’ favorite redzone target not named Davante Adams.

From late-round shots in the dark to undrafted, these players are going to provide great value for teams this year as great mid-round value for their TE1.

Bonus points for those who thought of Mike Gesicki here, who might surpass them all if the Dolphins land Deshaun Watson.

Brandon Aiyuk

Be honest – did you even know about this player until your week 8 opponent plugged him into their FLEX and won the game because of him? No, just me? Yikes.

Aiyuk was perhaps the most feel-good story of the 2020 fantasy rookie class. Aiyuk came on strong towards the end of the season, rewarding fantasy owners who scooped him off of waivers with 100 yards or a touchdown in all but one of his games after week 7. Not bad for a player whose name probably wasn’t even printed on most draft board labels.

Despite missing four games due to injury and instability at the quarterback position, Aiyuk still found ways to produce in Kyle Shanahan’s creative offense. With the 49ers rumored to be in the market for a new quarterback this offseason, Aiyuk could be even more effective in 2021. Likely to settle down as more of a WR2/FLEX option, Aiyuk’s value might climb even higher if the 49ers manage to pull off a big move in free agency or the draft for their new franchise quarterback.

Calvin Ridley

If you nabbed Ridley in the third or fourth round of your draft last year, congratulations! You landed the third-highest scoring wide receiver of the 2020 season. Only Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill scored more points per game than Ridley, who has officially unseated Julio Jones as Atlanta’s best wide receiver. 

Ridley won’t allow fantasy managers that same luxury this year, as Ridley will likely join Stefon Diggs as a top-5 option for the 2021 season, and likely won’t make it past the second round (unless your league REALLY likes running backs). As the Falcons continue to transition their offense around Ridley, it feels like we have yet to see the best of Ridley, whose ceiling really might not even be close to what he’s shown us so far. 

Robert Woods/Cooper Kupp

The Los Angeles Rams shocked the NFL with the first blockbuster move of the offseason, jettisoning incumbent quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. While some might argue that the Lions won the trade overall, there’s no denying that Stafford is the more talented passer of the two. This bodes extremely well for the Rams duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. 

Somehow, it just felt that Goff was holding back the Rams offense during the 2020 season, and while Woods enjoyed a relatively strong season as the 19th overall wide receiver in points per game scored, Kupp might be the biggest benefactor here, as he finished a dismal 39th in that same category while appearing out of sync with Goff last season.

Stafford should bring both consistency and big-plays to the Rams passing offense. And in the highly-competitive NFC West, look for the LA duo to improve on their 2020 numbers, especially Kupp. The longer the offseason goes, the higher these two will creep up draft boards as fantasy analysts dream of a Sean McVay-led offense with a superstar at quarterback.

Josh Allen

Winning fantasy championships for teams across the country, Josh Allen had himself an MVP-caliber season, and was unquestionably the Fantasy MVP of 2020. Rated as a very low-end QB1/QB2, Allen finished the season as the number one overall scoring quarterback, making big plays with his arm and adding those extra sweet rushing yards to his monster totals.

Allen won’t be there for teams to take in the 8th round like last year. He’s universally seen as the second overall quarterback behind the legendary Patrick Mahomes. And some might argue that Allen has more upside due to his tendency to run the ball more than Mahomes. Even the staunchest of leagues will see Allen off the board by no later than round four. If the Bills add a rushing attack to their offense this offseason, much like the Chiefs did last season, Allen will be the early season favorite for 2021 MVP.

Surely, we couldn’t write about every player who deserved to be on this list. Who else do you have your eye on this year? What late-round steal or free agent pickup won you your league last year that you probably won’t get away with next year? Let us know on social media!

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