NFL Fantasy Football News & Info 2021/2022 🏈

Wagerallsports

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Staff member

Fantasy football: AFC South division storylines to watch​

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AFC South​

Key fantasy offseason movement​

--Start at quarterback in this division, as the Jacksonville Jaguars proudly used the first selection in the draft to secure future star Trevor Lawrence, while the Indianapolis Colts used draft picks to trade for controversial Philadelphia Eagles starter Carson Wentz. As for the Houston Texans, well, that situation remains unclear at this point. Controversial Deshaun Watson remains on the roster, but between his trade demands and his legal issues, it may not be for long.

--The Tennessee Titans have no such issues at quarterback, as Ryan Tannehill finished seventh at the position in PPR points, ahead of Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert. Yeah, Tannehill was exceptional and now he gets to add future Hall of Famer Julio Jones to his stable of options to target. Jones came from the Atlanta Falcons for draft picks and should upgrade from what Corey Davis (now on the New York Jets) achieved, but Davis had a solid season. Jones must share attention with electric A.J. Brown and in an offense that was second to the Baltimore Ravens in rushing yards. In Derrick Henry, we all trust.

--The Jaguars hardly stopped with a new quarterback. New coach Urban Meyer, in his first foray into the NFL, made sure another talented Clemson product joined the crew by drafting running back Travis Etienne Jr., and he may see extensive work in the passing game. Former Detroit Lions veteran Marvin Jones Jr. should aid the young wide receiver corps led by DJ Chark Jr. as well. Assuming Lawrence is as good as most everyone believes the Jaguars may end up in myriad shootouts this fall, which is just fine in fantasy.

Something to prove​

--Wentz neither won nor even finished the opening quarter of a playoff game with the Eagles and could not wait to start over somewhere else. He becomes the Colts' fourth starting quarterback over the past four seasons, following Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. Two of them are now retired, while Brissett backs up Tua Tagovailoa with the Miami Dolphins. The pressure is really on for Wentz, an MVP candidate back in 2017 who has battled injury and erratic play much of his career, but few doubt his impressive skillset.

--Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was once a fantasy star, but he enters his 10th NFL season coming off several frustrating campaigns. Hilton boasts three NFL seasons averaging 90 receiving yards per game. He led the league in 2016. The past two seasons, he has averaged 50 receiving yards per game. He turns 32 this fall and this may be his final chance. Meanwhile, running back Marlon Mack, on the mend after tearing his Achilles' in Week 1, also may be running out of time in the fantasy world, especially with Jonathan Taylor entering his second year expected to reach stardom.

Whose fantasy stock may fluctuate?​

--Fantasy managers may presume Etienne racks up tons of fantasy points, but it is not as if James Robinson just went away. There is competition! Robinson, the undrafted rookie and fantasy find who finished seventh at running back in PPR points, and fifth in PPR points per game among qualifiers last season, figures to remain a key part of the offense and should end up the better bargain in drafts, PPR or otherwise. Watch the Jaguars tout his positives all summer, even as Etienne flies up draft boards. Lawrence offers tremendous skills, and he should approach QB1 status in drafts, which seems optimistic.


--Watson's season seems far from clear at this point, so investing as if he will produce another top-5 fantasy season is dangerous. There are larger things going on here. Fantasy analyst rankings on him are all over the place, some presuming all will work out and he delivers top-10 numbers, others wanting no part of this. My hand is up for the latter scenario. We should point out journeyman Tyrod Taylor likely starts for Houston in Week 1. Taylor used to be intriguing because he accumulated rushing yards, though he is 31 and far from his starting days. Stanford's Davis Mills came via the recent draft and may get his shot sooner than anyone expects, for deeper fantasy formats in which every starter matters.

--Meanwhile, the Texans still need to fill a football team, and they a jolt in the running game after finishing 31st in rushing yards, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Steelers. Enter former Denver Broncos undrafted surprise Phillip Lindsay. His is a one-year deal and he must battle overrated incumbent David Johnson, former Raven Mark Ingram and former Patriot Rex Burkhead (yep!), but I like Lindsay's chances here. Fantasy managers keep gravitating to Johnson, but 2016 was such a long time ago. Johnson is 29.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member

Fantasy football: Saints QB battle among top NFC South storylines to watch​

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NFC SOUTH​

Key fantasy offseason movement​

--The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were rather quiet, keeping just about every impact player on the roster, but interestingly enough, a pair of future Hall of Famers have left the division. The New Orleans Saints have not had to name a new starting quarterback since Drew Brees arrived in 2006, but he has retired and they seem to be taking their time naming a new one! Brees won 142 regular season games for the Saints and a Super Bowl, and just as with Peyton Manning, we will probably keep seeing Brees on our TV sets for a while, just not accruing relevant statistics.


--Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons, also with a tight cap situation, traded wide receiver Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans for draft picks, ostensibly replacing their all-time leading receiver (848 catches, 12,896 yards, 60 TDs) with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, the No. 4 choice in the draft. Hey, this could work out nicely. Pitts is a fantastic talent. Matt Ryan can still sling it. Calvin Ridley is great. The Falcons also ditched running back Todd Gurley II after one disappointing season, bringing in journeyman Mike Davis, and it may be an upgrade. Pitts is going to be great.

--The Carolina Panthers also have a new starting quarterback, moving on from former Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater after one rough season, and trading for New York Jets disappointment Sam Darnold. What could go wrong? Darnold, with 39 interceptions versus 45 touchdown passes in a spotty, underwhelming, three-year career, gets to play with the best running back in fantasy (assuming health) and reunites with wide receiver Robby Anderson. His new tight end is another former Saint in Dan Arnold, and his name sounds a lot like Sam Darnold, right? Try saying "Dan Arnold-Sam Darnold" five times fast. Dare ya.

Something to prove​

--As for the alluded to running back in Carolina, Christian McCaffrey, after producing a ridiculous 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns in 2019, averaged even more PPR fantasy points per game in 2021! The problem was he participated in a mere three regular season contests, succumbing to various injuries that tortured fantasy managers. The Panthers drafted Oklahoma State star Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round, and McCaffrey investors may want to practice the fine but often overrated art of drafting insurance here, but really, we just want McCaffrey to dominate for four months again.

--Whichever direction the Saints go at quarterback, that fellow has something to prove. Athlete Taysom Hill won three of four starts last season, relying on his legs and not quite his throwing arm, while Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers quarterback pre-Tom Brady, desires to throw on every play and only occasionally knows where the football is going. Very different players. Fantasy managers can win either way. Hill rushed for eight touchdowns in 2020, half of them coming in his starts. Winston barely played, throwing a mere 11 passes, but nobody had more passing yards (5,109) and interceptions (30) in 2019. This will be interesting!

--Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, much like McCaffrey, delivered a record-breaking 2019 campaign (149 catches, 1,725 yards) and fantasy managers invested quickly in Round 1 for 2020. Then Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 and ... that was mostly it. He played in seven games, and a few of them in the second half of the season went statistically well, but he scored nary a touchdown. He should bounce back but again, he has a new quarterback.


--As for the Buccaneers, Brady sure proved himself in his age-42 season, tossing 40 touchdown passes, a figure he never reached for the New England Patriots. The skill players around him, however, dealt with the offense's noteworthy depth, affecting all their stats. Running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, either of whom would be a nice RB2 in fantasy if the other was somewhere else, now have to compete with pass-catching Giovani Bernard as well. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin shared targets with Antonio Brown, compromising them all a bit, and tight end Rob Gronkowski really needed touchdowns to save his fantasy value. It is crowded.

Whose fantasy stock may fluctuate?​

--Everyone loves the rookies, most entering the league with worlds of promise and fantastic college numbers, and they tend to swiftly rise in summer ADP, deserving or not. Pitts may really deserve it. Fantasy offers three top options at tight end, and then things are a tad problematic. Pitts likely ends up fourth at the position in drafts and I actually think that is just fine.

--Whomever wins the quarterback job in New Orleans seems unlikely to infiltrate QB1 status in drafts, but many leagues enjoy multi-QB formats or allow the position at flex. Winston is a more proven option than Hill, obviously, and if the former starts, the latter would remain involved in the offense. That would not be the case if roles reverse. In addition, star running back Alvin Kamara saw his role drastically diminished, albeit in a small sample, when Hill started in 2020, and that may scare fantasy investors if Hill wins the job. By the way, for those in dynasty formats, Notre Dame's Ian Book, a fourth-round selection, may actually be the organization's future at quarterback.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member

Fantasy football: Who stands to gain/lose the most targets in 2021?​

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Identifying the best skill sets might be paramount to fantasy football success, but a player can't get there without opportunity. Spend the majority of your time evaluating the former, but don't do so at the complete expense of the latter.

At the receiving positions, fortunately, there's a quick-and-easy method to identify players who stand to gain or lose opportunity in the coming season: The vacated-targets method, which compares a team's past year total to the total accumulated by the players on its roster for the upcoming season. It stands to reason that if a team lost personnel during the offseason, that means more opportunities should open up for the players who remain, and if a team added personnel without removing any, it means more mouths to feed and therefore diminished opportunity.

It's an inexact science, as injuries do impact these numbers, as you'll see with the first team on the list below (though in their example, the absent player's departure actual signals even more targets that might've been vacated had he stayed healthy). Regression to the mean, or progression to the player's expected average, also impacts vacated-target numbers, as in the example of the Baltimore Ravens, who threw a league-low (and lowest single-year total by any team in eight years) 406 passes in 2020 and will probably see an increase (even if slight) this season.

The types of targets also have influence on opportunity, as not every target is equally valuable. It's for that reason that, this season, I've also split out red-zone and end-zone targets, as well as targets by position, in order to identify specific changes in opportunity for each team.

The following four teams stand out as those who should provide great, expanded opportunity for current receivers on their rosters, due to the departure of key players from 2020. These teams rank among the leaders in vacated targets:

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Detroit Lions: Since the conclusion of last season, they've lost their No. 1-on-the-depth-chart wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, who led the team in targets in both 2018 (119) and 2019 (117) and had 32 in his five games played in 2020, as well as their top two target-getters from 2020, Marvin Jones Jr. (116) and Danny Amendola (68), to free agency. All in all, this team has a league-high 180 vacated targets, all of them by wide receivers, and their 22 vacated red-zone and 13 end-zone targets are fourth- and third-most. There's a lot of chatter surrounding tight end T.J. Hockenson, who had 102 overall, 15 red-zone and eight end-zone targets in 2020 and will be entering his third NFL season, and will be playing under a tight end-friendly coach in Dan Campbell with a new quarterback in Jared Goff who targeted the position 22.8% of the time in 2019-20 combined. While it's difficult to envision Hockenson absorbing the majority of those vacated targets, considering he had the fifth-most at his position already and the top tight ends annually usually total in the 140s, there's still enough opportunity to potentially vault him into the positional top three. It's also a golden opportunity for wide receivers Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and fourth-round draft pick Amon-Ra St. Brown, as someone is going to grab a sizable chunk of Goff's passes. St. Brown is one of my preferred rookie wide receiver sleepers for this reason.

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New Orleans Saints:
Their 143 vacated targets rank fourth-most in the league, but they're more of an offseason story than the two teams ahead of them, following quarterback Drew Brees' retirement. That'll probably change the team's offensive makeup, considering the Saints averaged 10.5 pass attempts per game fewer during Brees' Week 10-13 absence than the remainder of the year, but it's still a significant enough number to enhance some of their receivers' opportunities. Most notably, 19 of those were end-zone targets, the NFL's largest vacated number in that department, 10 of which belonged to tight end Jared Cook. That's a lot of the reason for Adam Trautman's sleeper case, as the second-year player stands to benefit most from coach Sean Payton's historically tight end-friendly offense.

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Cincinnati Bengals:
Before Joe Burrow's season-ending injury, theirs was one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the league, their 371 attempts through Week 10 ranking fourth-most. While Burrow's recovery from reconstructive knee surgery might keep the team from leaning excessively heavily upon him, the Bengals' makeup suggests this should again be one of the most pass-oriented teams around. That's what makes their 175 vacated targets, the second-most in the league, so significant, as theirs is an up-and-coming passing game where opportunity could fuel a breakthrough for any of three different wide receivers: Tee Higgins, rookie Ja'Marr Chase or Tyler Boyd. In other words, departed wide receiver A.J. Green's 107 targets will go to one of -- or more likely divided up amongst -- the three, with Higgins and Chase particularly attractive candidates as second- and first-year receivers who line up on the perimeter. The team also lost Giovani Bernard's 58 targets and didn't really bring in a viable candidate to absorb them, so there's a good chance that Joe Mixon could breeze past his career high of 55 targets (2018), giving him bona fide RB1 appeal.

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San Francisco 49ers:
What stands out most in their numbers is their league-high 26 vacated red-zone targets, as while they might be a less pass-heavy offense should rookie Trey Lance quickly overtake Jimmy Garoppolo as the team's starting quarterback, someone stands to benefit with those looks in scoring position. Brandon Aiyuk (14) was the team's categorical leader in 2020 and Deebo Samuel (17) and George Kittle (16) were easily one-two in 2021, and all three might stand to benefit with Kendrick Bourne (10), Jordan Reed (8) and Trent Taylor (8) no longer on the team. From a total-targets angle, the 49ers' 123 vacated ranks fifth-most.

Other teams high on the vacated-targets list: Los Angeles Rams 146, Carolina Panthers 108, Seattle Seahawks 83, Indianapolis Colts 75.


Conversely, these two teams are in a bit of a numbers crunch, having added personnel to an already crowded roster. Incumbent receivers on each might take a hit in 2021 in terms of opportunity:

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New England Patriots: They spent a combined $136 million on wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Bourne and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith during the offseason, and after doing the math, they'll need to squeeze 221 more targets from 2020 into their stat sheet in 2021, by far the most in the league. It's the reason that fantasy analysts and early drafters are so unwilling to take a stand on either Henry or Smith, with each threatening to cut into the other's opportunities, and it's perhaps a reason why wide receiver N'Keal Harry is requesting a trade. Keep this in mind, too: The Patriots, at least for so long as Cam Newton is the quarterback, are certain to be one of the most run-oriented offenses in the league, so it's not like coach Bill Belichick is going to significantly shift directions and send 200-plus targets the receivers' way. Someone is going to lose out here, and early signals that Jakobi Meyers should retain his No. 1 receiver status hints that all of the free-agent additions might be it, so all that tight-end hedging probably does make sense.


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Washington Football Team: For as much as I like the Curtis Samuel fit, adding his 97 targets to the ledger does present opportunity-driven issues, as Washington's 118 added targets rank second-most in the league. This team barely shed any receivers during the offseason, and it's not like it was an exceedingly run-oriented team in 2020, ranking ninth with 601 pass attempts. Terry McLaurin (131 targets), J.D. McKissic (111) and Logan Thomas (108) remain, and all of them seem likely to remain big parts of the passing game. Someone stands to lose some of that opportunity, and it's possible it'll be spread across the quartet.

Other teams high on the added-targets list: New York Jets 84, Buffalo Bills 67, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 52, Miami Dolphins 50.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member

Backup RB rankings: Pollard poised to shine if opportunity knocks​

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Fantasy football insurance is a tricky animal.

On one hand, you want to protect yourself from injuries by warehousing your star player's backup.

On the other hand, the opportunity cost of expending that roster spot could cost you a valuable waiver pickup.

The fact is insurance is a valuable tool if used correctly.

Some backups are very good players, while others are not. In the event of an injury, some would be positioned for a clear path to a large share of touches, while others would see only a slight uptick in work. When evaluating insurance, the best game plan is to select players with high ceilings should the player ahead of them on the depth chart miss time. For example, if Dalvin Cook goes down, Alexander Mattison would handle a feature back role in Minnesota and would be in the RB1 discussion. If Derrick Henry goes down, however, some combination of Darrynton Evans, Jeremy McNichols and Brian Hill would share touches and none would be a clear fantasy starter. If you selected Henry and not Cook, don't cross Mattison off your draft board and force a dart throw at Evans. Pick the guy who can win you a league championship, not a player who would barely be worth flex consideration.

Below is an examination of the 2021 running back insurance landscape, with a 1-to-32 ranking of the top RB backups for each team, as well as some thoughts on how the backfield might look if the starter goes down.

For updated insurance information and advice throughout the season, be sure to keep up with our fantasy depth charts.

Running back insurance rankings

1. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns - RB1 if Nick Chubb is out


Hunt is the best insurance option in the business, but the problem is that he also has standalone value and is quite expensive on draft day. The 26-year-old was fantasy's No. 13 RB during 11 games both he and Chubb played in full last season and 11th during the four games Chubb was out. Hunt is already a borderline RB2, but with little competition for touches in a run-first offense with an elite offensive line, he'd leap into the top-10 (if not top-5) in the event of a Chubb injury.

2. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys - RB1 if Ezekiel Elliott is out

Pollard has played well as Elliott's backup over the past two seasons, though the 2019 fourth-round pick has only played more than 47% of Dallas' snaps in one game. That was a Week 15 game last season in which Elliott was sidelined. Pollard impressed with 12 carries for 69 yards and two TDs, as well as 63 yards on nine targets. He was fantasy's top-scoring RB that week. Pollard doesn't have standalone value, but he'd leap into the RB1 mix if Elliott were to miss time.

3. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings - RB1 if Dalvin Cook is out

Mattison has proven to be an effective back during his first two NFL seasons, but the 2019 third-round pick simply hasn't see the field much when Cook has been healthy. Cook has struggled with durability, however, missing at least two games in all four of his NFL seasons. In three games in relief of Cook last season, Mattison was fantasy's No. 7 RB thanks to 277 yards and three TDs on 58 touches. With Ameer Abdullah and fourth-round rookie Kene Nwangwu his primary competition for touches in the event of another Cook injury, Mattison would be positioned for a large workload and would be in the RB1 discussion.

4. Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars - RB1 if James Robinson is out

I could've gone either way here, as the Jaguars are expected to utilize a committee backfield this season. Both backs are very pricey in drafts, but it's pretty clear that, should one go down with an injury, the other would rise to borderline RB1 territory. Carlos Hyde would play a role on early downs, especially if it's Robinson who misses time, but not enough of one to significantly impede starting-caliber production for the team's lead back.

5. AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers - RB2 if Aaron Jones is out

With Jamaal Williams now in Detroit, Dillon is all but cemented as Jones' primary backup. The 2020 second-round pick will play a significant offensive role even with a healthy Jones, but may not see near enough passing down work to allow standalone value. However, if Jones is out, 247-pound Dillon would be the high-scoring Packers' feature back and handle goal line work while chipping in with, at least, the occasional catch or three. With Dexter Williams and seventh-round rookie Kylin Hill his primary competition, Dillon would rise to RB2 -- if not RB1 -- territory.

6. Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders - RB2 if Josh Jacobs is out

Drake is going to get plenty of run as a change-of-pace back behind Jacobs this season, but he's likely to struggle for consistent fantasy production barring a Jacobs injury. Drake has 266 career targets and ranked no lower than 12th in snaps, carries, rushing yards, TDs and carries inside the 5 while with Arizona last season, so we know he can handle lead back duties if called upon. Jalen Richard and/or Theo Riddick would likely steal some passing-down work, but Drake would leap into the top-15 mix if Jacobs were sidelined.

7. Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos - RB2 if Javonte Williams is out

Gordon may be the veteran and incumbent starter, but it's the second-round rookie Williams who is being selected earlier in most 2021 drafts and who figures to take over as lead back fairly quickly. Of course, like with Jacksonville, this is going to be a two-headed backfield and, should one of Williams or Gordon go down, the other would see a moderate-to-large increase in workload. The healthy back would defer some work to Mike Boone (and perhaps Royce Freeman), but 17-to-20 looks would be on the table.

8. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals - RB2 if Chase Edmonds is out

A healthy Conner very well could lead Arizona in carries this season, but also be the 1B to Edmonds 1A in terms of overall touches. Edmonds is the better receiving option of the two, though should he miss time, Conner could pick up most of the load. The 26-year-old has caught at least 34 passes each of the past three seasons, including 55 in 2018, so we know he as it in his arsenal. Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward are next up on the depth chart and neither played an offensive snap last season.

9. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints - RB2 if Alvin Kamara is out

Murray was third on this last season, but he's now 31 years old and no longer benefits from the presence of Drew Brees. Kamara didn't miss any action last season, so Murray didn't play more than half of New Orleans' snaps in a single game, but we saw his insurance appeal back in 2019. Murray was fantasy's top-scoring RB thanks to 307 yards and four TDs on 60 touches during the weeks the Kamara was out. With Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington his top competition for touches, Murray would still have value in the event of a Kamara injury - just not as much as in year's past.

10. Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - RB2 if Leonard Fournette is out

Jones has a role in the Tampa Bay offense, but with Fournette and Giovani Bernard also factors, it's not a role that will allow standalone fantasy value. That would change if Fournette were out of the mix. We caught a glimpse of it last season during the four games Fournette was sidelined. Jones played 64% of the snaps, averaged 19.5 carries and 4.8 targets per game and was fantasy's No. 4 RB. So why isn't Jones higher on this list? Tampa Bay added Bernard during the offseason and the veteran back is going to play a major role in passing situations even when Jones and Fournette are both healthy.

11. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions - RB2 if D'Andre Swift is out

Williams was busier than you probably realize during his four seasons in Green Bay (125.0 carries and 38.3 targets per season) and figures to play a similar role while working as a change-of-pace back behind Swift in Detroit. Williams very well could see enough work to flirt with flex value in deep PPR leagues even with a healthy Swift, and should Swift miss time, Williams likely wouldn't leave the field often. His top competition for touches? Seventh-round pick Jermar Johnson.

12. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens - RB2 if J.K. Dobbins is out

This may seem low for a back who sits second in the NFL in yards per carry (5.2) since he entered the league in 2018, but Baltimore has shown a commitment to utilizing a backfield committee and Edwards isn't a factor in the passing game. Edwards has played a pretty defined role (he's been between 133 and 144 carries all three seasons and has 18 career receptions) and, other than a boost in carries, that wouldn't change a ton if Dobbins were to miss time. Instead, we would expect Justice Hill to handle change-of-pace and pass-catching duties, with Edwards ticketed for a majority of the carries and goal line work. It's just enough for back-end RB2 production.

13. J.D. McKissic, Washington - Flex if Antonio Gibson is out

Gibson missed two full games (and all but four snaps another week) last season and McKissic was fantasy's No. 8 RB those three weeks. He racked up 144 yards and one TD on 23 targets and 127 yards on 29 carries while playing 76% of the snaps. He'd defer work (including a hefty chunk of carries) to Peyton Barber and perhaps Lamar Miller this season, but his passing-game role would launch McKissic into the RB2 discussion.

14. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills - Flex if Zack Moss is out

Moss may enter 2021 with a slight leg up on Singletary, but it's very likely that Buffalo will again utilize a two-headed backfield attack. Of course, should one of the two recent third-round picks go down with an injury, the other would vault into weekly fantasy lineups. We got a taste of that last season. During the five games Moss was out, Singletary played 74% of the snaps and handled 11.0 carries and 3.6 targets per game. That's compared to 53% of the snaps and 8.4 carries/3.1 targets per game during the 14 games both were active. That's not as much of an increase as we'd like, but it's enough to flirt with RB2 numbers in a high-scoring offense. Matt Breida is next up on the depth chart.

15. Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs - Flex if Clyde Edwards-Helaire is out

Williams is positioned as the No. 2 back in Kansas City after the team's only notable offseason move at RB was replacing Le'Veon Bell with 29-year-old Jerick McKinnon. In three full games in place of Edwards-Helaire last season, Williams played 66% of the snaps and handled 9.7 carries and 4.0 targets per game. His numbers were far from impressive (210 yards and 0 TDs on 38 touches), but we obviously can't ignore the lead back in arguably the NFL's best offense. Williams would surely defer some work to McKinnon and perhaps Darwin Thompson, but he'd see enough work for flex consideration.

16. Devontae Booker, New York Giants - Flex if Saquon Barkley is out

Booker signed with the Giants after flashing behind Josh Jacobs in Las Vegas last season. Booker would step into a sizable role in place of an injured Barkley, with sixth-round rookie Gary Brightwell and Corey Clement making for underwhelming competition.

17. Damien Williams, Chicago Bears - Flex if David Montgomery is out.

Williams quietly signed with Chicago after opting out of the 2020 season. The 225-pound back would step into most of Montgomery's workload, though Tarik Cohen would remain heavily involved, especially in passing situations. Cohen would be the better fantasy option, but Williams would figure to be close behind.

18. Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers - Flex if Raheem Mostert is out

Sermon is a popular sleeper pick, but RBs picked after Round 1 have a shaky rookie-season resume and we know San Francisco has tended to play musical chairs at the position. Sermon would be a must add if Mostert misses time, but it's very possible Wayne Gallman (or perhaps Elijah Mitchell or JaMycal Hasty) leads the backfield.

19. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts - Flex if Jonathan Taylor is out

This is going to seem way too low for Mack, but he missed all of 2020 and has not been a good fantasy back even when atop the depth chart. Mack was top-10 in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs during his last full season in 2019, but was held to 14 receptions and failed to manage his first top-20 fantasy campaign. Even if Taylor is out, Mack would share with Nyheim Hines and perhaps Jordan Wilkins, which would limit him to flex territory.

20. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks - Add to bench if Chris Carson is out

Penny has flashed since being drafted in the first round back in 2018, but injuries have limited him to 161 carries and 33 targets in 27 career games. Though he has potential for a big role if Carson were to miss time, he'd need to fend off the likes of DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer and perhaps Alex Collins. A committee attack makes sense.

21. Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins - Add to bench if Myles Gaskin is out

Ahmed filled in for Gaskin in four games last season. The then-rookie played 63% of the snaps and averaged 15.8 carries and 2.5 targets per game. He was fantasy's No. 9 RB those weeks thanks to 329 yards and a pair of TDs. Miami signed Malcom Brown during the offseason, so he'd likely team up with Ahmed in the event of a Gaskin injury, though Ahmed would be the preferred flex option.

22. Sony Michel, New England Patriots - Flex if Damien Harris is out

The New England backfield is crowded as usual and that wouldn't change if Harris were to go down. Michel (assuming he makes the team) would figure to handle most of the carries, leaving passing-down work to James White. There would also be a role for fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson and perhaps even a touch or three for J.J. Taylor.

23. Michael Carter, New York Jets - Flex if Tevin Coleman is out

Carter is being drafted way too early in season-long and rookie drafts this offseason, as many expect him to lead a shaky Jets' backfield. Perhaps he will, but the history of Day 3 rookie backs suggests otherwise. Carter would obviously benefit if Coleman (the likely Week 1 starter) misses time, though a committee with La'Mical Perine and Ty Johnson (perhaps among others) is a near lock.

24. Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans - Flex if Derrick Henry is out

Evans landed in a very insurance-friendly spot when he was drafted in the third round last season, but he went on to play only 34 snaps as Henry held up for all 17 games. Evans projects as a change-of-pace/receiving specialist in the pros, so while he could flirt with flex numbers in PPR, he'd certainly share snaps and carries with Brian Hill and Jeremy McNichols.

25. Kerryon Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles - Flex if Miles Sanders is out

The Eagles' RB depth chart is wide open behind Sanders, with Johnson competing with fifth-round rookie Kenneth Gainwell and veterans Boston Scott and Jordan Howard. A committee is very likely if Sanders goes down, though Johnson, who is still only 24 years old, is the most appealing name of the bunch.

26. Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers - Add to bench if Christian McCaffrey is out

Hubbard is a fourth-round rookie, so expectations need to be kept in check here. That said, we saw journeyman Mike Davis deliver RB1 numbers in place of an injured McCaffrey last season and he's now in Atlanta. Hubbard would compete with the likes of Rodney Smith and Reggie Bonnafon for work in this scenario and would have a shot at a sizable role.

27. Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans - Add to bench if David Johnson is out

Houston added Lindsay, Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead to the depth chart behind Johnson during the offseason. A three-headed committee is the likely gameplan in the event of a Johnson injury. Lindsay's explosiveness makes him the most appealing fantasy option, but he'd likely max out as a flex.

28. Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals - Add to bench if Joe Mixon is out

Perine played 32% of the snaps during the 10 games Mixon missed last season, averaging 6.2 carries and 1.2 targets per game. He managed two top-30 fantasy weeks. Giovani Bernard is out of the picture, but feature back duties for Perine is a longshot. Trayvon Williams and sixth-round rookie Chris Evans would also be mixed in.

29. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers - Add to bench if Austin Ekeler is out

Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Kalen Ballage (now with Pittsburgh) handled most of the work in place of an injured Ekeler last season. Jackson was 26th at RB in fantasy points during four games he played an Ekeler was out/limited, whereas Kelley sat 54th while averaging a horrific 2.4 YPC in seven games sans Ekeler. Jackson is the preferred flex target if Ekeler misses time and sixth-round rookie Larry Rountree III is worth monitoring.

30. Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers - Add to bench if Najee Harris is out


The Pittsburgh offense provides plenty of value to the RB position, but the problem is that the depth chart is very unclear behind Harris. Last season, Snell was the first man up when James Conner was out. During those three games, Snell played 65% of the snaps and racked up 210 yards and one TD on 50 touches. He was 22nd at RB in fantasy points. If Harris goes down, Snell could return to lead back duties, but it's likely that second-year Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Samuels and/or Ballage will be involved.

31. Javian Hawkins, Atlanta Falcons - Add to bench if Mike Davis is out

Atlanta did not prioritize the RB position during the offseason, which left them with a 28-year-old journeyman (Davis) atop the depth chart and a bunch of unknowns behind him. Undrafted Hawkins would likely get an extended look if Davis goes down, though 228-pound Qadree Ollison and receiving-specialist Cordarrelle Patterson are also in the mix.

32. Xavier Jones, Los Angeles Rams - Add to bench if Darrell Henderson Jr. is out

Henderson is this year's first example of the value of stashing insurance backs, as Cam Akers' torn Achilles has launched him from late-round pick to RB2 status. With Henderson now the only back on the active roster who has played an NFL snap, the Rams' backfield depth is very shaky and their insurance situation muddy. If Henderson is out, the likes of Jones, Raymond Calais and seventh-round rookie Jake Funk would battle for touches. It's very possible the Rams add a veteran back at some point so this is a situation to avoid in all but the deepest of leagues.
 

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Fantasy football: 15 players who could be this season's breakout stars​

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It's one of the questions I get asked most often during the offseason.

"Who is this year's ______?"

It's not a simple question to answer because no two scenarios are exactly alike. But there are obviously comparable players in similar situations. And, if the people want comparisons, comparisons they shall have.

The process here was simple: I jotted down each of 2020's top breakout players and came up with a short list of players who fit a similar pedigree as they enter 2021. Below is analysis of each player who best fits the bill, as well as the other players who landed on the short list.

Note that this is not my way of predicting that these players will definitely break out this season. Again, it's simply the players positioned to do as a product of landing in a similar situation to those players who exploded onto the fantasy scene last season.

This season's David Montgomery: Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Montgomery was a post-hype RB who enjoyed a breakout season.

Montgomery was the recommended post-hype RB target in this piece one year ago and, thanks in part to a Tarik Cohen injury and an extremely easy schedule, he delivered the goods. Edwards-Helaire is actually better positioned for a breakout than Montgomery, as the 2020 first-round pick has less competition (Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon) and is operating as the clear feature back in an elite Kansas City offense. "CEH" disappointed with only two top-10 fantasy weeks in 13 outings last season, but dealt with injuries and bad touchdown luck. Behind an overhauled and improved offensive line, Edwards-Helaire could be a major value in Round 2/3 of 2021 drafts.

Other candidates: Zack Moss, Ronald Jones II, AJ Dillon, Darrell Henderson Jr.


This season's J.K. Dobbins/Cam Akers/Jonathan Taylor/Antonio Gibson/D'Andre Swift: Javonte Williams and Travis Etienne Jr.

These five 2020 rookie running backs came out of the gates slowly (to varying degrees) before eventually leaping onto the fantasy radar.

Slow starts are common for rookie backs -- especially those not selected in the early first round -- so last year's results were far from a surprise. Whereas Pittsburgh rookie Najee Harris is positioned for a feature back role right out of the gate, Williams and Etienne appear destined for committee work early on. Williams will need to fend off veteran and likely early-season starter Melvin Gordon III for touches, whereas Etienne will defer a hefty chunk of carries to James Robinson and perhaps a few to Carlos Hyde. It may take a month or so, but both young backs are likely to take on a larger workload as the season progresses and, if things go as expected, should eventually emerge into weekly RB2 options.

Other candidates: Trey Sermon, Michael Carter


This season's James Robinson: Javian Hawkins

Robinson was an undrafted rookie who quickly became a weekly lineup lock.

OK, this one is borderline impossible, but I know you're wondering, so I'll address it. The fact is, we may not see another James Robinson for, say, 20 years. Does that seem like an exaggeration? It isn't, as evidenced by the fact that Robinson is the only undrafted free agent (UDFA) to finish as a top-12 fantasy RB in more than 20 years. In fact, only three UDFAs have even managed a top-25 campaign during the span (Phillip Lindsay 2018, Dominic Rhodes 2001). Granted it's a long shot, but in the spirit of limiting myself to one "None" per article (still to come), I went with Falcons' UDFA Hawkins as the most likely to follow in Robinson's footsteps. Hawkins doesn't exactly profile as a feature back, and actually Lindsay might be the better comp here, as he's undersized, quick and explosive but not a strong bet for much between-the-tackles work. The reason he makes the list here is pretty simple: opportunity. Atlanta's lead back is 28-year-old and longtime reserve Mike Davis and the team's top backups are Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James. It's obviously unlikely, but if Hawkins shows well in camp (as Robinson did) and during the preseason, he has a path to a big rookie-season role. Keep his name on your radar.

Other candidates: Jaret Patterson (UDFA), Gerrid Doaks (seventh round), Jermar Jefferson (seventh round), Jake Funk (seventh round)


This season's Mike Davis: Devontae Booker

Davis was an overlooked veteran insurance back who leaped to RB1 status.

This is another tough once since it relies on injury, but there are a few overlooked insurance backs worth keeping your eye on. Remember, Davis was released by Chicago in 2019 and entered last season competing for a backup job. All it took was a Christian McCaffrey injury and Davis was vaulted into the weekly RB1 mix. Booker is in a similar situation as the direct and clear backup to Saquon Barkley. If Barkley has a setback during his recovery from last season's knee injury or misses additional time, Booker very well could push for 15-plus touches per game (a mark he reached twice in Las Vegas last season). Booker busted in Denver and is now 29 years old, but similar to Davis, he's one injury away from major fantasy value. For more on the topic, check out my complete 1-to-32 ranking of 2021 insurance RBs.

Other candidates: Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, Phillip Lindsay


This season's Myles Gaskin: Ty Johnson

Gaskin was a young, low-pedigree back who leaped to RB2 status by emerging in a messy backfield.

Gaskin was overlooked big-time last season after Miami added presumed lead backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida during the offseason. Similarly, Jets' incumbent RBs Johnson and 2020 fourth-round pick La'Mical Perine aren't getting much attention after the Jets signed Tevin Coleman and drafted Michael Carter in the fourth round. Considering how little Coleman did in San Francisco and the low hit rate of Day 3 backs, it wouldn't be a surprise if Johnson -- a 2019 sixth-round pick by Detroit -- plays a big early-season role. Johnson has appeared in 29 games and has shown well, racking up 527 yards on 117 carries (4.50 YPC), while also chipping in as a receiver (208 yards on 53 targets). Johnson has already generated some offseason buzz and is, at the very least, a name to keep on your watch list. The same goes for Perine.

Other candidates: Wayne Gallman II, Qadree Ollison, J.J. Taylor, Darius Bradwell, Antonio Williams, Xavier Jones


This season's Kyler Murray: Justin Herbert

Murray emerged into a top-end QB1 in his second NFL season.

Murray made the leap from QB8 as a rookie to QB3 last season, whereas Herbert was QB9 during an impressive rookie campaign in which he didn't even play in Week 1. Herbert benefited from an extremely high-volume offense (the Chargers' 1,125 offensive snaps was the league's eighth-highest mark over the past decade) and will have a new coaching staff in 2021. The scheme change could limit Herbert's volume, but he can overcome it with a step forward in play (as expected for a second-year QB) and continued production with his legs (234 yards, five TDs last season). The 23-year-old has a ton of upside.

Other candidates: Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts


This season's Justin Herbert: Trevor Lawrence

Herbert was a fantasy QB1 as a rookie.

So if Herbert is this year's Murray, who is this year's Herbert? Though there are several appealing rookie QBs, Lawrence is the obvious pick. The first-overall pick back in April, Lawrence will be the Week 1 starter for a Jacksonville offense loaded with talented targets, including DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr., Marvin Jones Jr., Travis Etienne and James Robinson. Over the past decade, eight rookie QBs have finished better than 15th in fantasy points. Six were early-first-round picks and all eight were productive with their legs, with each adding at least 213 rushing yards (442.3 average) and four TDs (6.4 average). Lawrence is more than capable with his legs, having run for 943 yards and 18 TDs on 231 carries (43 were sacks, 46 were scrambles) during three seasons at Clemson. Lawrence is best valued as a QB2, but don't be surprised if he flirts with QB1 numbers.

Other candidates: Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields


This season's Stefon Diggs: Kenny Golladay

Diggs was a polarizing veteran who changed teams during the offseason before exploding into a WR1.

Prior to last season, Diggs was valued as a WR3 by most after never appearing in a 16-game regular season or finishing higher than 10th at WR in fantasy points. Similarly, Golladay (who is one month older than Diggs), has managed only one 16-game season, has never finished a season higher than ninth in fantasy points, moved from the Lions to the Giants during the offseason and is being drafted as a WR3. Golladay's stock is down after he appeared in only four full games due to injury last season, but he was productive when active, managing at least 14.5 fantasy points in all four outings. If Daniel Jones can make a leap forward (similar to the leap Josh Allen made with Diggs in the mix in Buffalo), Golladay could easily return to the WR1 discussion.

Other candidates: Corey Davis, Curtis Samuel, Nelson Agholor


This season's Calvin Ridley: Terry McLaurin

Ridley exploded into a weekly WR1 in his third NFL season.

Year 3 used to be the breakout age for WRs. We're impatient these days, but there are still some high-end talents who need a few years before emerging into a fantasy star. Ridley posted fantasy finishes of 22nd and 27th before exploding to fifth last season. McLaurin finished 29th and 20th in his first two seasons and is well positioned for another big leap in Year 3. The biggest boost in his outlook comes via a quarterback upgrade from Dwayne Haskins (96 of his career targets), Alex Smith (51), Case Keenum (41), Kyle Allen (27) and Colt McCoy (seven) to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Assuming the more-aggressive Fitzpatrick pushes the ball down field more often than we've seen from Washington recently, the speedy McLaurin "F1" will have plenty more opportunities for big plays, especially if he sustains last season's 25% target share.

Other candidates: Diontae Johnson, Deebo Samuel


This season's Justin Jefferson: None

Jefferson emerged as a WR1 in his rookie season.

Three WRs picked in the top 10 and I go with the boring "None" answer? The humanity! Here's the thing, though: history tells us that rookies are extreme long shots to reach WR1 status. Consider that Jefferson is one of only four rookie WRs to finish top 12 in fantasy points over the past 20 years (Anquan Boldin, Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr. were the others). Oddly enough, none of those four were top-10 overall picks. Of course, while they may not reach WR1 status, all three rookies do have a good shot at Year 1 fantasy relevance. Over the past decade, six wide receivers have been picked in the top 10 and went on to appear in at least 13 games. All six were top 30 in fantasy points and two cracked the top 20 (Mike Evans, A.J. Green). Chase, Smith and Waddle should be on your radar as WR3/flex options with WR2 upside.

Other candidates: Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle


This season's CeeDee Lamb/Brandon Aiyuk/Tee Higgins/Chase Claypool: Elijah Moore

Lamb, Aiyuk, Higgins and Claypool emerged as weekly fantasy starters as rookies.

Jefferson was the main man, but he wasn't the only fantasy-relevant rookie last season. Lamb (22nd), Claypool (23rd), Higgins (28th) and Aiyuk (35th) all had their ups and downs, but each was top 35 in fantasy points by season's end. Including Jefferson, those five wideouts made up nearly half of the 11 WRs picks in the first 50 picks of the draft. In the 2021 draft, 10 WRs were selected in the first two rounds, including seven in the top 50. Of those selections, Moore has generated the most hype this offseason and appears ticketed for a major role right out of the gate. Granted he's dealing with plenty of veteran competition and a rookie QB, but you could've said one or both of those things about Lamb, Higgins and Claypool last season. Rookie receivers picked on Day 1 or 2 should always be on your radar late in your draft.

Other candidates: Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., Kadarius Toney, D'Wayne Eskridge


This season's T.J. Hockenson/Noah Fant: Adam Trautman and Cole Kmet

Hockenson and Fant both emerged as TE1s in their second NFL season.

Hockenson and Fant were both first-round picks, whereas Kmet and Trautman were Day 2 selections, but it's fair to say the two second-year tight ends are positioned for a big leap this season. Kmet (the first tight end selected in the 2020 draft) wasn't a fantasy factor as a rookie, but he did get a big promotion in the second half of the season, playing 88% of the snaps and handling a 17% target share (5.7 per game) during his final six games. He could rise as high as second in line for targets in Chicago this season. Trautman was a third-round pick last season and is now atop the New Orleans depth chart following the offseason departures of Jared Cook and Josh Hill. The Saints have major depth issues behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, so Trautman could rise as high as third in line for targets. Both young tight ends should be on your radar late in drafts.

Other candidates: Brycen Hopkins, Harrison Bryant, Colby Parkinson


This season's Logan Thomas/Robert Tonyan: Anthony Firkser

Thomas and Tonyan were "late breakout" veteran tight ends who posted a TE1 campaign.

The Titans acquired another potential target hog in Julio Jones during the offseason, but they also watched Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Jonnu Smith depart via free agency. The latter is, of course, most notable, as Firkser is the next man up at tight end with Smith out the door. We got a tease of this scenario last season when Smith left injured in Week 6 and then was out in Week 13. Firkser posted an 8-113-1 receiving line on nine targets in Week 6 and then a 5-51-0 line on seven targets in Week 13. Tennessee is a run-first offense with an elite WR duo, but this is also a unit that is tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns over the past two seasons (seriously). Firkser is available late in drafts and certainly sports TE1 upside.

Other candidates: Blake Jarwin, C.J. Uzomah, Dan Arnold, Jacob Hollister, Kahale Warring, Donald Parham Jr., Mo Alie-Cox, Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Will Dissly, O.J. Howard (I know. This is way too many names, but there are a lot of intriguing candidates for this designation).


This season's Darren Waller: Logan Thomas


Waller was a 2019 breakout who was underrated in 2020 drafts after his team added competition for targets.

Waller was one of the best values in drafts last season after the Raiders added Nelson Agholor and rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards at wide receiver. Similarly, Thomas is being knocked after Washington signed Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and drafted Dyami Brown. Thomas is fantasy's reigning No. 3 wide receiver, but often can be had in the ninth round of 12-team leagues. That is a major steal for a variety of reasons, which I laid out at length in this piece.

Other candidates: Eric Ebron, Mike Gesicki, Evan Engram
 
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