Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Way-too-early three-round mock draft

With three playoff games still to be played, we are roughly seven months away from when most casual fans begin to think about their fantasy football draft(s).

Between now and then, much will change due to NFL free agency, the 2021 NFL Draft, injuries and breakouts in training camp and the preseason, etc.

That said, it won't stop us from taking a way-too-early look at how the top of a fantasy football draft may shake out -- at least, if we were selecting for every team.

Our initial one-man, 12-team mock draft will go three rounds. For those 12 teams, all but three have started with at least two running backs.

While running backs (20, 55.6%) make up the majority of players selected, there were also 13 wide receivers and three tight ends selected. No quarterbacks were selected in the first three rounds.

[Note: We will release the first iteration of our 2021 fantasy football rankings no later than the Monday after the Super Bowl.]

2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Round 1

1.01 - Team 1: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

If you drafted McCaffrey first overall in 2020, you likely find little solace that he was fantasy's top-scoring back in the three weeks in which he appeared (Weeks 1, 2 and 9). In those games, however, CMC handled 76 touches including 17 receptions, racked up 374 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns. All of those numbers were either first or second among running backs.

Before his lost season due to injury, McCaffrey was nearly an every-snap iron man in 2019. Heading into his age-25 season, he remains the top choice for me in 2021 drafts.

1.02 - Team 2: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Once again, Cook has missed multiple games, but he set career highs in touches (356), yards from scrimmage (1,918) and touchdowns (17) and scored the third-most fantasy points (half-PPR) among running backs. The clear lead back in one of the league's most run-heavy offenses, Cook averaged a career-high 5.0 YPC and has a minimum of 40 catches in each of the past three seasons.

1.03 - Team 3: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

The clear favorite among the top five picks in this mock to finish last in receptions, Henry more than compensates for his smaller role as a receiver with his dominant rushing production. Not only is he the back-to-back rushing champion coming off a 2,000-yard campaign, but Henry has led the league in rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons with 33 rushing scores in 31 games.

No running back scored more fantasy points in non-PPR formats, but Henry finished second in half-PPR and third in PPR as well. In other words, the limited passing-game role hasn't hurt his value much, even in leagues that reward a full point per reception.

1.04 - Team 4: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

No running back scored more fantasy points in half-PPR formats than Kamara in 2020. The versatile back had exactly 81 receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons and then set a career high (83) in 2020. That said, he was on pace for a much higher career-best number before Drew Brees (ribs) missed four weeks. The only three games that Kamara failed to reach three catches came with Brees sidelined.

If Brees retires and the Saints utilize Taysom Hill as their starter, it will cap Kamara's upside and lead to more volatility in his weekly production. In the four-game span with Hill under center, 10 running backs scored more half-PPR fantasy points than Kamara. In the 12 games with Brees, Kamara was a top-10 weekly producer in all but one game. In four games with Hill, here were Kamara's weekly finishes: RB25, RB36, RB9 and RB9, respectively.

1.05 - Team 5: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

As a rookie, Barkley was as good as it gets. Technically, Todd Gurley was better as fantasy's RB1, but Barkley was the RB2 in his rookie season and led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,028), scored 15 touchdowns and hauled in 91 catches. Injuries have kept him out of 17 of the team's past 19 games, but if his health cooperates, he has the skill set to finish as one of the top two or three backs in the league.

1.06 - Team 6: Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

Not only did Adams miss two games in 2020, but he has missed multiple games in three of his past four seasons. The seven-year veteran led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (18) and yards per game (98.1) and also set a career high in receptions (115). With double-digit touchdowns in four of five seasons, Adams has a total of 58 scores in 71 games over that span.

MORE: Green Bay Packers NFL Mock Draft Roundup, 4.0

1.07 - Team 7: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

Despite missing four games, Chubb still finished as fantasy's RB9. Chubb has finished second and third in rushing yards per game in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Even with the league's best No. 2 back (Kareem Hunt), Chubb has averaged 18.05 touches per game since Hunt returned from his 2019 suspension.

1.08 - Team 8: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Tampa Bay's Rob Gronkowski finished as fantasy's TE8 (126.8), but Kelce doubled him up (260.26, TE1). Here's another way to look at Kelce's dominance: Denver's Noah Fant (55/626/3) scored 110.1 fantasy points, roughly the gap (109.66) between Kelce and the TE3 (Robert Tonyan, 150.6).

Kelce extended his 1,000-yard streak to five seasons and broke the single-season receiving yardage record (1,416) for tight ends in the process. In fact, he set career highs across the board (105/1,416/11) in his age-31 campaign. Kelce ended the regular season with eight consecutive games with at least seven catches.

1.09 - Team 9: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Over his final seven games of the season including a playoff loss, Taylor handled a massive 156 touches, racked up 921 yards and scored nine total touchdowns. Excluding the playoff appearance, Taylor ranked top four in the NFL in touches, YFS, touchdowns and half-PPR fantasy points from Week 11 on. Running behind one of the league's best offensive lines, Taylor carries plenty of momentum with him heading into 2021.

1.10 - Team 10: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Few players at any position have as much upside as Hill to erupt for a massive performance in any given week. Setting a career high in touchdowns (17), Hill had 87 receptions for 1,276 yards and 13 carries for 123 yards.

1.11 - Team 11: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

The offense went off the tracks when Dak Prescott sustained his season-ending injury and the offensive line injuries further impacted Elliott's production. From Weeks 6 to 17, Zeke finished as a top-12 fantasy running only twice in 10 games after doing so three times in the team's first five games. While Tony Pollard may have earned more touches in 2021, Elliott should rank near the top of the league in workloads and production in 2021 as long as Prescott is back and healthy. In fact, only three backs had more than six games with at least 20 touches -- Henry (14), Cook (11) and Elliott (11).

1.12 - Team 12: Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

Missing a significant chunk of time due to injury and not 100 percent when returning to the field, Ekeler averaged 5.5 yards per touch and scored only three touchdowns, both of which were career lows. Given his lead-back role and immense upside as a receiver, a healthy Ekeler is worth a late-first round pick in 2021.

Continue reading our 2021 Fantasy Football Mock Draft

Check out more of our content: