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2021 Fantasy Football Rankings: Way too early top 40

Andy Behrens
·14-min read

In our first in-depth look at 2021 fantasy football rankings, Andy Behrens reveals his top 40 players for next season.

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

Drafting from the top spot in 2021 is gonna actually require some thought, which is not necessarily the case each year. If you make me choose right now, I’m taking the back-to-back rushing champ. Henry, like all high-volume runners, carries some level of injury risk, but he’s only missed two games over five seasons. He’s gained 3,887 scrimmage yards over the past two years, reaching the end zone 35 times. Henry is a throwback rusher in every possible good way.

2. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

CMC was last year’s consensus No. 1 overall pick, following a historic season in which he set the single-season reception record at his position (116) and led the league in both yards from scrimmage (2,392) and touchdowns (19). An injury-filled season followed, but there’s no reason to expect reduced usage in 2021, assuming improved health.

3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Cook hasn’t been nearly as durable as Henry, having never appeared in more than 14 games in any season. But his per-game production was just as impressive as Henry’s last year. He averaged a ridiculous 137 scrimmage yards per week in 2020 and he topped 40 receptions for a third straight season.

4. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

If you wanted to place Adams at the top of your draft board, I might be willing to look the other way. He led the league in receiving touchdowns (18) and receiving yards per game (98.1) last year, reaching double-digit TDs for the fourth time in five years. His catch rate was 77.2 percent, an outrageous number for a wideout who saw 10-plus targets per game.

5. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

He was clearly a league-winner in 2020, an unfair player in PPR formats, but the likelihood he’ll lose Drew Brees is a pretty massive concern. Kamara caught only 10 passes in Taysom Hill’s four starts. It’s a worry. Of course, if everything goes right for Kamara, he has 1,000-1,000 upside.

6. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

If you drafted Kelce in 2020, you enjoyed the greatest positional advantage in fantasy, period. He outscored the No. 2 fantasy tight end (Waller) by nearly 60 points in half-PPR leagues. The difference between Kelce and the No. 3 fantasy tight end (Tonyan) was identical to the difference between No. 3 and No. 50.

7. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

The timing of Barkley’s ACL injury and surgery makes it entirely reasonable for him to be ready for training camp. Let’s please remember he’s just two seasons removed from a 91-catch rookie year in which he led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,028) and reached the end zone 15 times.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 03: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants looks on during the Blue and White scrimmage at MetLife Stadium on September 03, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Where should Saquon Barkley, coming off knee surgery, go in fantasy football drafts next season? (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

8. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Remember back in mid-November, when Taylor was a confirmed bust averaging just 3.8 YPC? Yup, that was a legitimate #taek. He feasted on a friendly schedule over the final six weeks, delivering 139.5 total yards per game. Taylor wasn’t heavily involved as a receiving threat at the collegiate level, but he caught 36 of 39 targets as a rookie.

9. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

The league’s fastest player has certainly enjoyed the Mahomes era to this point. Hill has averaged 84.1 receiving yards per game since 2018, scoring 37 touchdowns over 43 games. His best performances are guaranteed week-winners for fantasy managers.

10. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

Chubb needed only a dozen games to reach the 1,000-yard plateau and find the end zone 12 times. It’s hard to believe he won’t win a rushing crown at some point in the next 3-4 seasons. He hasn’t been a major factor as a receiver so far, but we can say the same for other backs slotted inside the top-20.

11. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Zeke’s placement is no easy thing. On the one hand, he’s coming off his worst season as a pro by far. On the other hand, his worst NFL season still produced 1,317 total yards and eight touchdowns. Basically everything went wrong for Dallas’ offense last year, so a bounce-back to top-five (three?) status is certainly within the range of possible outcomes.

12. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

This past year, I managed to roster every Bills receiver somewhere with one exception: Diggs, the guy who actually led the NFL in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). He literally never had an off-week. Diggs caught six or more passes in 15 of 16 games, and he scored a touchdown in his one low-volume game.

13. Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington FT

For a guy who had next to zero experience as a ball-carrier entering the NFL, Gibson was pretty fair. All he did as a rookie was average 4.7 YPC, rush for 11 scores and haul in 36 of his 44 targets. He’s a lock to see an uptick in touches in his second season.

14. DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Metcalf is as physically gifted as any player in today’s NFL regardless of position, and he’s coming off a dominant season. He opened the year by topping 90 receiving yards in seven of his first eight games. Here’s hoping that Seattle’s post-Schottenheimer offense won’t remain as inert and uninteresting as it became in the second half of 2020.

15. Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

Jacobs was seemingly never not hurt in 2020, and may have led the league in limping to the sideline. And still, he managed to appear in 15 games, gaining 1,303 total yards and reaching the end zone a dozen times. He was a missed-tackle legend in 2019 but slipped in efficiency in his second season while battling various ailments. His receiving volume increased somewhat (33 REC, 45 targets), though not to the point at which he should receive any sort of PPR bump.

16. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Yet another 100-something reception, 1,400-plus yardage season is in the books for Hopkins, per his usual. He’s been metronomically consistent at the highest possible level, no matter his quarterback or coach, and he’s only missed two games over eight seasons.

17. Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

You can make a case for any of these next seven or eight running backs as the top player remaining, and I’m likely to shuffle and reshuffle this group many times before we’re drafting for keeps. Ekeler’s season was interrupted by injury, but he remained an efficient ball-carrier and volume receiver. If he gives us 16 games in 2021, he can reach 100 receptions.

18. Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Akers has averaged 24.8 touches per week over the Rams’ last five, playoffs included. His 131-yard rushing performance against Seattle in the wild-card round was his most impressive of the season in terms of eye-test, if not actually his biggest statistical effort. Akers didn’t distance himself from Darrell Henderson in production or efficiency during the season, but he’s absolutely owned the backfield work for the past month-plus.

19. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson just delivered the greatest fantasy season ever by an undrafted rookie running back. He was downright heroic, overcoming poor team context to average 101 scrimmage yards per week while scoring 10 touchdowns. Robinson delivered against the toughest defenses on Jacksonville’s schedule, too, entering the every-week circle of trust.

20. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

If you could guarantee that Dobbins would have a full, traditional featured workload next season, he’d be a no-doubt first-rounder. But obviously you can make no such guarantee. He’s been piling up touchdowns, scoring in seven straight games, but his receiving contributions are minimal and he hasn’t carried the ball more than 15 times in any week. As good as he is, he’s still only the second best rusher on the team, behind his quarterback. There’s also no reason to think Gus Edwards won’t remain part of the backfield plan for the Ravens.

21. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Yeah, OK, he was a disappointment relative to expectations (assuming you were expecting 2018 late-season Damien Williams production). All those CEH/meh jokes were not entirely undeserved. Edwards-Helaire is nevertheless the featured back in an unstoppable offense and he managed to gain 1,100 scrimmage yards over his 13 games, averaging 4.4 YPC. If not for the early ADP, we might have been encouraged by CEH’s season.

22. Aaron Jones, RB, FA

It should really go without saying that fantasy managers should want Jones to remain in Green Bay, where he is A) probably the team’s second-best receiver and B) he’s averaging one TD per game over the past two seasons. But the Packers have cap concerns entering 2021 and A.J. Dillon ready to roll, so there’s a decent chance Jones relocates.

23. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

I have no idea what, exactly, the Eagles will look like in 2021 (speaking of teams with hellish cap situations), and neither do you. Sanders will presumably remain a featured option. Everything else is a mess.

24. D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions

The Lions have their issues, no question, but it feels like the backfield is finally in good hands. Swift averaged 16 touches and 86.3 total yards per game over his last six, scoring five times. He’s a great bet for 60-plus receptions in a healthy season.

25. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

At the controls of the league’s most entertaining and high-powered offense, Mahomes led the league in passing yards per game (316.0). He would have easily topped 5,000 yards and 40 TDs for the season had his services been needed in Week 17.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates his 20-yard touchdown reception with Patrick Mahomes (15) Tyreek Hill (10) in the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
The Kansas City Chiefs have four players ranked inside the top 25 in our way too early fantasy football rankings for next season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

26. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

When you’re erasing Randy Moss’ name from the Vikings’ all-time record book … well, wow. Jefferson was phenomenal. He’s an every-route, all-situation threat coming off a 1,400-yard rookie season. There’s no confusion about the receiving hierarchy in Minnesota; Jefferson and Adam Thielen combined for 233 targets last year while no other Vikes wide receiver saw more than 30.

27. Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington FT

Get this man a quarterback. He managed to catch 87 balls for 1,118 yards despite the inadequate (and sometimes comical) QB play last season. McLaurin could be a 100-1,300-10 receiver with the right team context.

28. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Very little went right for Atlanta last season, as the team heads into a franchise reboot after winning just four games. But Ridley leveled up, producing career highs in receptions (90), receiving yards (1,374) and yards per target (9.6) while making nine house calls. He’d be a few spots higher in these ranks if we could be absolutely certain Matt Ryan will remain his quarterback.

29. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

Allen’s year-to-year improvement as a passer is honestly pretty mind-blowing. He entered 2020 having never thrown for more than 266 yards in any regular season game, then averaged 284 for the season. His completion percentage jumped from 58.8 to 69.2, his yards per attempt leapt from 6.7 to 7.9 and his TD rate went from 4.3 to 6.5. And while making all these gains as a passer, he retained his hold on goal-line carries for Buffalo, rushing for another eight TDs.

30. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers

Kittle is clearly at Kelce’s level as a playmaker, and few players are as entertaining after the catch. Injuries have been the only limiting issue for Kittle to this point in his career. When healthy, he’s unfair. Let’s hope the Niners pursue a QB upgrade.

31. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans

It’s kind of incredible that Brown has opened his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, considering his lack of substantial volume. He saw only 84 targets as a rookie and 106 last year, yet he’s converted them into 19 receiving scores and 2,126 yards. In 2020, Brown didn’t see double-digit targets in any game until Week 17.

32. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Too low? Maybe. I’ll consider it. Late-season injuries prevented him from reaching 1,000 receiving yards for a fourth straight year, but he still finished with 100 catches and eight TDs over 14 games. Allen saw double-digit targets in 10 different games last year, including a pair of 19-target weeks. Life should be good with Justin Herbert behind center moving forward.

33. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Based on Thomas’ record-shattering 2019 production, this placement is ridiculously low. But he was an almost total non-factor in 2020, sidelined by injuries (and off-field conflict) for more than half the season. We can’t assume Brees will return in 2021, which complicates the outlook for all Saints receivers.

34. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Another year, another 1,000-plus rushing yards for the most dangerous ball-carrier in the NFL. Jackson only just turned 24, so let’s not assume he’s a finished product. His passing numbers predictably regressed a bit in 2020, but he still completed 64.4 percent of his throws and delivered an exceptional TD rate (6.9). Baltimore has a glaring need for talent at receiver and this year’s draft and free-agent classes are loaded. It’s hard to believe Baltimore’s receiving corps won’t add a potential star in 2021.

35. Allen Robinson, WR, FA

It can’t possibly get worse for A-Rob. He dealt with a miserable quarterback situation in 2020, yet still finished with 102 catches for 1,250 yards. Imagine what he might do with a legitimate starting-quality passer.

36. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

For years, a staple of Cincinnati’s offense has been to put Mixon in seemingly impossible situations behind the line of scrimmage, then watch him wriggle his way to 3- or 4-yard gains. We missed out on most of those plays last season, as he was sidelined by a foot injury for much of the year. He’s still an excellent back in an ascending offense and his workload is secure.

37. Najee Harris, RB, TBD

As everyone knows by now, Harris is a big back (230 pounds) with cartoonish athleticism who absolutely feasted over the past two seasons at Alabama. He caught 43 balls for 425 yards this past season, so no worries about his readiness as a receiver. Pittsburgh would obviously be an ideal landing spot for either Harris or this next incoming rookie ...

38. Travis Etienne, RB, TBD

Like Harris, he’s a fully credentialed receiving threat, having caught 85 passes for 1,020 yards over the past two seasons. Etienne also broke the plane 78 times in his collegiate career while averaging 7.2 YPC. Let’s please find him a featured role in a competent offense.

39. Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Like every other Dallas skill player, Cooper was at his best in the opening weeks when Dak Prescott was on pace to rewrite passing records. Cooper still managed to finish with a career-best 92 catches and he produced yet another 1,100-yard season.

40. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

While he only managed to appear in nine games last season due to hamstring issues, let’s not ignore the fact that he still averaged 85.7 YPG while catching 75 percent of his targets. Jones is just a year removed from a 99-catch, 1,394-yard season and he was on a similar pace in 2020.

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