Fantasy Football Bouncebacks 2021
Fantasy football Average Draft Position (ADP) heavily relies on individual players’ most recent performance, and managers tend to overreact to poor performances from the prior year. However, one bad season shouldn’t completely dictate a player’s future value, and managers need to remove themselves from unnecessary negative feelings about players in the draft. Here are some players who I think are due for big bounce-back seasons after poor performances last year.
*Projections, rankings, and ADP for Half-PPR scoring, ADP sourced from Fantasy Football Calculator
ADP: Round 4, Pick 12 (#50, QB4)
2021 Projections: 3,564.6 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 1,094.4 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, QB4
If you drafted Lamar Jackson in the second or third round last season, it was probably a brutal start to the year for you as the Ravens‘ quarterback finished outside of the top 15 quarterbacks in five of the first eight games of the season. He recovered towards the end of the year with five straight top-12 finishes to land him as the QB10 on the year, but it’s unlikely fantasy managers even got to benefit from this torrid stretch as they were likely out of the running for the playoffs by that point of the year. However, Lamar Jackson still ran for over 1,000 yards last year and should do so again. Meanwhile, his passing efficiency should improve thanks to rookie Rashod Bateman and veteran Sammy Watkins who round out what is probably the best pass-catching corps of Jackson’s career. Jackson was the QB1 overall two seasons ago, and while his 2021 campaign likely falls somewhere between the last two years, he is arguably a value where he is currently being drafted.
ADP: Round 14, Pick 2 (#176, QB22)
2021 Projections: 4,431.6 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 213.2 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, QB22
I’ve never seen a quarterback get more criticism after a middling rookie year that came under some pretty awful circumstances. Tagovailoa was dealing with a rare, serious hip injury that happened just ten months before the start of the season. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, that injury kept Tagovailoa from working up-close and personal with his new teammates and coaches in the NFL, and his lack of confidence in running his new offense and his lack of chemistry with his receivers was evident. Now, Tagovailao has the benefit of a cleaner bill of health and a full offseason/preseason to learn the offense and gain more chemistry. The Dolphins also made a point of adding more pass-catching talent for him to work with as veteran Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle, who happens to be Tagovailoa’s former collegiate teammate, join DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki in a talented receiving group. Tagovailoa has every reason to take a significant sophomore leap. As the starter for the full season, he’s in for a bounceback campaign that makes him a relevant quarterback for fantasy football.
ADP: Round 1, Pick 5 (#5, RB5)
2021 Projections: 292 carries for 1,401.6 yards and 11 touchdowns, 54.9 catches for 472.2 yards and 2 touchdowns, RB5
Several factors outside of Ezekiel Elliot’s control went awry last year, including a season-ending injury to Dak Prescott as well as a litany of injuries to Dallas offensive linemen including La’el Collins, Cameron Erving, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Joe Looney. Zeke’s 244 carries for 979 yards, and 6 touchdowns were career-lows over a full season and came closer to his 2017 campaign in which he only played in 10 games. His efficiency was also noticeably worse as he ran for just 4.0 YPC and caught 73.2% of his targets, both career-lows. Now, with a healthy Prescott and reinvigorated offensive line, the Cowboys’ offense should return to being one of the best in the NFL. That means more scoring opportunities for Zeke as well as more touches overall. Elliott’s star role on this season of “Hard Knocks” should boost his draft stock plenty in fantasy, but in case you needed an extra push in the right direction, don’t hesitate to take Zeke with a top-five pick this season.
ADP: Round 2, Pick 4 (#17, RB13)
2021 Projections: 244 carries for 1,146.8 yards and 8 touchdowns, 56.4 catches for 490.6 yards and 3 touchdowns, RB11
There was a ton of hype about Clyde Edwards-Helaire after the Chiefs selected him with their first-round pick as the top running back in the Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid offense was assumed to be a lock for a top-12 season. Well, CEH missed a few games and finished as the RB22 overall and scored fewer points per game than several players drafted after him. Clyde’s first-round, sometimes top-five ADP got out of control last season, but we shouldn’t completely give up on him as a fantasy asset. CEH is still just 22 years old – for reference, Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Trey Sermon are all older and will be rookies this season. As he continues to evolve and improve as a player, CEH should take a leap forward in his second season in terms of efficiency. That’s especially true behind a remade offensive line that should be one of the best in the NFL. It may have been an inconsistent rookie year, but he showed flashes of brilliance in both the rushing and receiving game. You shouldn’t be afraid to draft CEH in the second or third round this year.
ADP: Round 3, Pick 10 (#33, RB20)
2021 Projections: 208 carries for 1,102.4 yards and 8 touchdowns, 41.9 catches for 351.9 yards and 2 touchdowns, RB20
It’s hard to recall a player as talented as Miles Sanders being met with the amount of resistance he is in fantasy football. I get it; the first two years of his career haven’t been superb. But he missed four games last year and still finished as the RB23 on the year thanks to great efficiency (5.3 YPC). That elite efficiency is even more impressive when you consider the state of the Philadelphia offensive line as Brandon Brooks missed the entire season, Lane Johnson played in just seven games, and the rest of the unit was underwhelming outside of Pro Bowler Jason Kelce. With a better season of health from Brooks and Johnson and the introduction of rookie Landon Dickerson, the offensive line should be improved this season. Sanders also benefits from a coaching change as former head coach Doug Pederson famously refused to use a workhorse running back. Nick Sirianni allowed a Colts’ running back to see 20+ touches seven times last season. The Eagles should also run the ball more with Jalen Hurts under center – Sanders was the RB9 in fantasy with Hurts as the QB last season. Sanders is being drafted at his absolute baseline at the moment, and he’s a player who has the ability to break into the top 12 running backs if he’s heavily utilized in the new offense. He has the makings of a potential steal in drafts this season.
ADP: Round 4, Pick 12 (#48, WR17)
2021 Projections: 92.9 catches for 1,227.4 yards and 7 touchdowns, WR14
What a difference one year makes. Following the 2019 season when Chris Godwin finished as the WR2 in half-PPR scoring (in just 14 games), the young Tampa wide receiver was pegged for a continued ascension as one of the great talents at the position, especially with the arrival of Tom Brady at quarterback. However, Godwin missed four games last season and finished as just the WR32 overall. Even when he did play, the slight reduction in passing volume, less aggressive approach of Tom Brady, and introduction of more target competition in Antonio Brown didn’t do Godwin any favors. However, Brown is 33 years old now, and Tom Brady remains one of the most efficient passers in football. Brady and the Bucs elevated their chemistry and production down the stretch last season. With a full offseason under his belt, Brady should be more than capable of unlocking the elite play of the Tampa wideouts. Mike Evans will get his, particularly in the red zone, but Godwin is still an integral part of the Bucs’ offense. Currently being drafted in the fourth round, you can start your draft by going RB-RB and then taking Godwin as your WR2 potentially – that’s a ridiculously potent foundation.
ADP: Round 5, Pick 4 (#54, WR20)
2021 Projections: 96.8 catches for 1,045.1 yards and 8 touchdowns, WR20
I’m in love with Godwin at his current ADP, but Cooper Kupp is just as exciting in the fifth round. He has his fair share of detractors following a 2020 season in which Kupp finished as just the WR27 overall despite playing 15 games. After 10 receiving touchdowns in 2019 helped Kupp finish as the WR4, he only scored 3 times last season. The introduction of Matthew Stafford at quarterback should lead to a much more efficient passing game than Jared Goff was ever capable of. Additionally, with Cam Akers’s Achilles injury, the Rams may have to throw the ball more than was originally anticipated. Darrell Henderson is unlikely to be able to handle the 20-carry role Akers would have seen this year. The Rams will have one of the best offenses in the NFL, with the partnership between Stafford and Sean McVay giving each other the best coach and quarterback they have ever worked with, respectively. Kupp has a double-digit touchdown upside and could finish as a top-ten wide receiver this season, and he’s currently being drafted in the fifth round. There are tons of great receiver options in this range, but a bounce-back season for Kupp could be the highest upside available at that point in drafts.
ADP: Round 6, Pick 3 (#65, WR23)
2021 Projections: 75.2 catches for 1,292.4 yards and 6 touchdowns, WR19
I had D.J. Moore on more than one of my fantasy rosters last season, and while he finished with a solid 66-1193-4 stat line, it was infuriating to manage him. Moore would follow up a great week on my bench with a poor week in my starting lineup, and this pattern continued throughout the year. However, Moore has had some of the worst touchdown luck in the NFL throughout his career, as his 10 touchdowns on 208 receptions are one of the lowest rates in the league over the past three years. It’s unclear which Sam Darnold we’ll get in Carolina this season, but he can’t be worse than the uninspiring play the team has gotten from Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen, and Cam Newton over the past few years. Moore may not need the quarterback upgrade to improve his touchdown rate, though as positive regression could be coming for a player who is still just 24 years old. Moore was going off the board as a top-30 selection last season, and while he didn’t quite live up to that lofty hype, he’s now a discount in drafts. Bank on at least a bounce-back in touchdown scoring this season and a continued increase in fantasy points for one of the fastest-rising receivers in the game.
ADP: Round 11, Pick 6 (#133, TE14)
2021 Projections: 74.1 catches for 829.4 yards and 6 touchdowns, TE7
We were a year too early on Tyler Higbee. The Rams‘ tight end went gangbusters at the end of 2019 as he scored 15+ half-PPR points in the final five weeks of the season. That resulted in Higbee being drafted as the 10th tight end off the board in the eighth round. He didn’t live up to that hype last year as he finished as just the TE18 on the season, but a lot has changed for this year. Higbee had that torrid stretch in 2019 without Gerald Everett on the field, and his fellow tight end is now with the Seahawks. Johnny Mundt isn’t nearly the pass-catcher Everett was. Higbee should also benefit from a boost in efficiency with the quarterback from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. Additionally, the Rams may look to kill the clock with the short-area passing game more than the run game late in games now that Cam Akers is out for the season. All that combines for all sorts of opportunity for Higbee as the clear-cut third-best receiving option in the Sean McVay offense. Higbee may not be an elite talent at the tight end position, but he’s not the slouch he’s made out to be, and the return of the Higbeast could be coming this season. He’s my favorite late-round tight end target.
ADP: Round 15, Pick 9 (#221, TE23)
2021 Projections: 55.6 catches for 494.3 yards and 5 touchdowns, TE17
Last year, I was lower on Austin Hooper than consensus as I anticipated the move from the Falcons to the Browns being a negative one in terms of passing volume, target share, touchdown upside, and overall efficiency in the offense. Cleveland had one of the better offenses in the AFC last year, but it was primarily because of the dominant run game shouldered by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. However, there has been talk of Baker Mayfield opening up the offense more this season in his second year in Kevin Stefanski’s system, which makes Hooper an intriguing value at a tight end. Hooper had a 19.02% target share last year, the seventh-best among tight ends. While some of that was with OBJ out, I wouldn’t expect him to be suddenly uninvolved this season. The real issue with Hooper is a limited upside, particularly with David Njoku and Harrison Bryant competing for tight end reps. However, he’s going undrafted in most leagues right now, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up providing some excellent top-ten tight end weeks for fantasy managers streaming the position.