Ranking the Best Fantasy Football Picks for 2021

By Anthony Haage in Fantasy Sports
| July 7, 2021 10:29 am PDT

The 2021 fantasy football season is rapidly approaching. With this year containing the first 17-game schedule the league has ever seen, it may pay to start your research early.

Scouting all aspects of your fantasy draft is encouraged but getting off to a hot start is crucial. After all, you can’t win your draft in round one, but you sure can lose it there.

To nail the best fantasy football picks for 2021, I’ve taken the liberty of ranking the top 12 players in fantasy for the coming season.

12. David Montgomery, RB, Bears

The Bears are donning a new look in 2021. They bring in a new quarterback in Justin Fields, who Chicago is just raving about. Fields may not start until later in the season, but Andy Dalton should be able to pass the ball and open the run game.

Last season we saw Montgomery in the backfield with Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky as his quarterback. The Bears struggled to find their personality on offense, as they tried to go pass-heavy and run-heavy at different points.

The Bears’ offense was significantly better when they established the run, and they should continue to do so this season.

Montgomery was RB6 last season in fantasy football in his second year, with a stat line of 1,508 scrimmage yards, 10 total touchdowns, and 54 receptions.

The return of Tarik Cohen shouldn’t take away too much value from Montgomery, as he remains their guy in the backfield. The Bears also did not bring back Cordarrelle Patterson who took away some carries from Montgomery, so those touches may go to Cohen instead.

Montgomery should be able to put up a good season and his value could skyrocket if Justin Fields turns out to be a star.

11. Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

Nick Chubb benefits from a great offensive line and scheme. The Browns’ offense is built around the run, with Chubb and Kareem Hunt leading the way.

Chubb only played 12 games last season, but he still gained over 1,000 yards rushing and tacked on 12 rushing touchdowns. Despite his impressive play, he continues to go overlooked when people discuss the best running backs in the NFL.

Chubb is not a big receiving back, as Kareem Hunt beat him out in the receptions category 38-16. Hunt played in all 16 games, but only made 5 starts and Chubb was their main guy. The Browns’ running backs are involved so much in the offense, that they both are viable options.

Chubb’s price is higher in 2021 fantasy football drafts, as he should get the majority of touches and he should be drafted towards the end of the first round.

Last season, Chubb finished as RB9, with Hunt finishing right behind him at RB10. If you are wary about Hunt vulturing some touchdowns, you may be right, but Chubb should still be drafted in this range.

10. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs

Without a doubt amongst the best NFL tight ends in 2021 – if not the best – Kelce should be the first of his position off draft boards this year.

Kelce attacks over the middle and consistently picks up first downs, while speedster Tyreek Hill takes the top off the defense. Kelce is Mahomes’ favorite target and that earns him this slot in fantasy drafts.

Having a top tier tight end in fantasy leagues is especially a boost because there aren’t many of them that are capable of putting up big numbers.

Kelce is certainly one of those rare breeds, as he’s fresh off of a historic year for his position.

The seemingly unstoppable Kelce had 105 catches last year for 1,416 and 11 touchdowns. Kelce has reached over 1,200 yards in his last three seasons and 26 touchdowns to go along with that.

Kelce has ranked as TE1 in 4 of the past 5 seasons. In the one season he didn’t get TE1, he fell all the way to TE2. Kelce is a beast and should be drafted as such.

9. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts

Taylor is the new, young running back in town. He had a solid rookie season with 1,169 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 299 receiving yards, and 1 receiving touchdown.

The second-year Colt was supposed to split running back duties with Marlon Mack, but Mack went down for the season after just four carries in week 1. He ended up taking over the starting job with Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins backing him up.

Look at what he did to close out the year.

Week Rush ATT Rush YDs Rush TDs
12 22 90 0
13 13 91 0
14 20 150 2
15 16 83 1
16 18 74 2
17 30 253 2
Wild Card Round 21 78 1

Taylor’s got a new quarterback in town in Carson Wentz, and it has yet to be seen how they will play together, but head coach Frank Reich and Carson Wentz were both on the Eagles when they won the Super Bowl in 2018.

Wentz obviously wasn’t the starter in that Super Bowl game due to injury, but he still had a good year with Reich as his offensive coordinator.

With a perceived upgrade under center and a monster role, Taylor should be a solid back again this season and is worth a late first round pick.

8. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants

Saquon is one of the best backs in the league, talent wise. His problems have come from lack of quarterback play, offensive line play, and injuries. He has the talent to put up unreal numbers if the Giants can give him some help.

Saquon’s best season was his rookie season where he put up a stat line of 1,307 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 91 receptions, 721 receiving yards, and 4 receiving touchdowns. He is certainly capable of putting up another 2,000-scrimmage yard season with double digit touchdowns.

He could also be moved up a couple slots in PPR leagues due to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. His second season he had 52 catches, which is very good for a running back in PPR leagues.

He only had 6 catches last season in his 2 games played, but he would’ve been able to reach another 50 catches again. Barkley was RB2 in his rookie year behind Todd Gurley and he was RB10 in just 13 games played.

Saquon’s draft price is not as high as in recent years, but this may be the perfect scenario. You can grab Saquon towards the end of round 1, with your next pick coming in early round 2 (that is if you are in snake drafts).

7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys

This might be the sneakiest pick in the first round. Elliott has been one of the best backs in the NFL ever since he made his debut in 2016. He has finished as a top 11 fantasy running back in every year that he’s played.

His worst season was last year, due to Dak Prescott’s injury. He still finished as RB11 and provided good value. That means that the RB11 slot might be his floor, if he plays a full season.

Zeke gets his quarterback back this season and his fantasy value will go up. He has 56 touchdowns in 5 seasons with 8,341 total yards from scrimmage. That equals out to 1,668 scrimmage yards per season.

Don’t miss out on Zeke if you have a chance.

6. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

Alvin Kamara is another huge talent in the NFL, but he has doubts going into this season. Kamara saw his numbers drop without Drew Brees, who has announced his retirement from the NFL.

Just look at his receptions in games with and without Brees under center in 2021

Games With Brees Games Without Brees
11 games, 73 catches, 6.6 catches per game 4 games, 10 catches, 2.5 catches per game

Kamara has shredded NFL defenses with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and take a handoff to the house. In his four years in the NFL, Kamara has surpassed 1,500 yards in 3 out of the 4. He also has 58 touchdowns in his 4 seasons.

Kamara’s production will be put into question without Brees, as we have already gotten a hint of that last season. The Saints’ quarterback battle is ongoing, so it is not certain if Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill will start.

With Taysom Hill at quarterback, Kamara’s stats were different. He had good touchdown totals in those four games, as he scored three touchdowns, but his receiving totals dropped to just 18.2 yards per game.

His rushing totals were consistent at 58.2 yards per game, however.

It’s possible that Jameis Winston wins out the position and Kamara’s numbers might look different than that with Brees and Hill. He’s got some serious questions coming into this season that don’t necessarily involve him, but he’s worth a top 5-10 selection in this year’s draft.

5. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs

Tyreek Hill remains the best deep threat in football. Other teams are always trying to get their own version of Hill, but there is nothing better than the true thing.

Hill benefits from being on one of the best offensive teams in football, along with one of the strongest arms in Patrick Mahomes. Hill has scored 34 touchdowns over the last three seasons and should be a good bet for double digit scores again.

You can’t take your eyes off Hill on defense, because he can score from anywhere. He is in the perfect offense because they give him tons of opportunities to score, which is huge in fantasy football.

If Davante Adams doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers throwing to him, Hill might overtake the WR1 position.

4. Davante Adams, WR, Packers

The Green Bay Packers have a lot of questions coming into this season, with their franchise quarterback having a lot of problems with the front office.

There have been rumors that Aaron Rodgers does not want to return to the Packers. This would be a huge problem for all fantasy players in
Green Bay.

If Rodgers isn’t in uniform for the Cheeseheads this season, Davante Adams may fall to the end of the first round in fantasy drafts, and maybe even further.

Adams is one of the most talented receivers in the league. He was the number one scoring wide receiver last year with 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns on 115 catches. He also only played 14 out of 16 games, but he still was the leagues’ highest scoring receiver.

If you want to draft Adams, you need to understand that he may not be a top option without Aaron Rodgers. He may still put up good numbers, but he won’t come near his touchdown totals as he would with Rodgers.

Wait as long as you can to draft, because the quarterback situation in Green Bay is very murky right now.

3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings

Dalvin Cook has yet to play a full 16-game season in his career, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a dominant fantasy player. He finished 5th and 3rd the last two years respectively, in RB rankings with only 14 games played in each year.

Cook will remain the focal point of the Vikings offense as they are built to run the ball. C.J Ham will lead the way for Cook running the ball and receivers, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, will keep defenses honest off play action.

Cook has a great chance to rush for more than 1,200 yards with double digit touchdowns, even if he only plays another 14 games. Cook also chips in as a receiver too, so that boosts his PPR value. He has had at least 40 receptions in the last 3 seasons each.

His balance and explosiveness combined to make him arguably the most reliable fantasy commodity in 2020.

Provided he can stay healthy, Cook should once again finish among the top fantasy players, but draft Alexander Mattison as a handcuff in deeper leagues for some extra safety.

2. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans

Henry is a human tank, and he dominated the NFL last season. Henry rushed for over 2,000 yards with 17 touchdowns, and earned the number one fantasy football scorer title, for non-quarterbacks.

The Titans offense will run through Henry, as he runs their opposing defenses. Oh, and not to mention they just added one of the best wide receivers in the league in Julio Jones.

Jones will help shoulder the load in the Titans offense and keep opposing defenses on their heels as the Titans wreak havoc on the league offensively.

In fact, the arrival of Jones also makes the Titans legit Super Bowl 56 threats.

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Henry now has the help of Jones, A.J Brown, and Ryan Tannehill to help keep the running lanes open. Henry has another realistic shot at another 2,000 yards rushing and 15+ touchdowns.

He is the only one who can come close to touching a healthy Christian McCaffrey in standard scoring leagues.

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers

Christian McCaffrey is incredible. If he didn’t get injured last season, he could’ve had another amazing season with close to or more than 2,000 total yards and double-digit touchdowns.

McCaffrey played at an insane level for fantasy teams in 2018 and 2019, and was on pace for another stellar year before his season was cut short after 3 games.

He was still extremely productive in his short time on the field in 2020, however. Just look at his stats compiled in those games.

Week Rush ATT Rush YDs Rush TDs Rec Rec YDs Rec TDs
1 23 97 2 3 38 0
2 18 59 2 4 29 0
9 18 69 1 10 82 1

In 2019, McCaffrey was the league’s second highest fantasy scorer, including quarterbacks. The only player to outscore him in that season was Lamar Jackson, who won MVP that year.

The next highest scoring non-QB was in the 11th spot that season (Derrick Henry), while McCaffrey outscored him by 78 points. McCaffrey’s stats in that season could have been his peak, but it could also be what to expect out of him every year.

He did absolutely anything and everything that season on offense with a whopping 403 touches. He gained 2,392 yards from scrimmage with 19 touchdowns and 116 receptions.

In his last two healthy seasons, he caught more than 100 passes. As a running back! McCaffrey could easily reach that number again in this season. He only played 3 games last season, but if you average out his numbers over those 3 games into a full 16 game season, he would’ve had 1,994+ yards and 32 total touchdowns.

The 32 touchdowns would’ve broken LaDainian Tomlinson’s all-time record of rushing and receiving touchdowns in a single season. To be fair, it was only a three-game span, but if anyone can do it, it’s Run CMC.

Pick McCaffrey number one in your 2021 fantasy football drafts without a doubt, especially if you are in a PPR league.

Other Players to Target in the 2021 Fantasy Football Drafts

  • Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
  • Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons
  • Darren Waller, TE, Raiders
  • Stefon Diggs, WR, Bills
  • DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals

Jones has been one of the most efficient running backs in the league in the past two years. Jones has been able to have a high yards per carry with big touchdown totals, but it has yet to be seen how the impact of Aaron Rodgers played in that role.

Rodgers and Matt LaFleur are a great pair of offensive minds and they showed up the league last year. If Rodgers is quarterback for the Packers this season, Jones should be in for another efficient, high-scoring season.

Ridley is now the number one option for Matt Ryan. The Falcons dealt away Julio Jones to the Titans and Ridley should be in line for over 125 targets. It remains to be seen how defenses will guard Ridley now that they don’t have to worry about guarding Julio Jones.

Waller is coming off a great season. He finished as TE2 behind Travis Kelce, with 1,196 yards on 107 catches. He could be a great value for a fantasy team, as elite tight ends are hard to come by. Waller is the main target in Las Vegas and should be able to put up great numbers. 

Diggs led the league in receptions last season with 127, 12 more than second-place (Davante Adams). Diggs played a huge role in the Bills success last season, as him and Josh Allen both put up huge years.

It would have been nice to see Diggs score more touchdowns with all that volume (166 targets, most in league), as he “only” scored 8 times. Diggs’ usage in the Bills offense makes him a potential first-round selection in fantasy drafts, especially in PPR formats.

Deandre Hopkins is one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. He had great volume last season (160 targets, second in league), but he only scored 6 touchdowns.

His low number of touchdowns hurt his value and he fell to WR10. His involvement in the offense is enough to put him in first-round discussions, but I would like to see the Cardinals use his talents in the red zone.

If you’re just getting ready for the coming NFL season, this breakdown of the best fantasy football picks for 2021 should be helpful. Who you draft – and when – is up to you, however.

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