2021 Fantasy Football Bold Predictions: J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, Brandon Aiyuk, Tee Higgins, Ja'Marr Chase, Dak Prescott & More

The SI Fantasy staff looks deep into the crystal ball to provide their bold predictions for the 2021 fantasy football season.
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Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano)

J.K. Dobbins will be a top 10 fantasy running back

Dobbins has all the tools to become an absolute star in the fantasy football world. He showed that in the second half of his rookie season, when he finished 13th in points among running backs from Week 9-17. He was also tops among runners in yards per carry average (6.0) for the entire season, and his 394 yards after first contact was third-best among backs with fewer than 455 offensive snaps. With Gus Edwards slated to become a free agent and Mark Ingram being released, the featured role in Baltimore’s run-based offense is a real possibility. 

Ben Heisler (@bennyheis)

2021 Brandon Aiyuk & Laviska Shenault = 2020 A.J. Brown & Terry McLaurin

Both Aiyuk and Shenault showed flashes for eye-opening potential during the 2020 season, with two of the worst quarterbacks in the league throwing them the football! Imagine what type of progress both can show with just a little bit of competence at the position.

Aiyuk finished as the PPR WR38 despite playing in 12 games, but if you look at his per-game production, he was the WR18 at 15.4 PPG. In the five games he played between Weeks 8 and 16, Aiyuk finished with no less than 17.5 points and averaged nearly 12.5 targets per game. With Deebo Samuel back, Aiyuk should see more single coverage, and Kyle Shanahan can find unique ways to use his skill set in space in the middle of the field.

As for Shenault, the likely addition of Trevor Lawrence becomes a massive upgrade for their entire offense. He led all rookie WRs in contested catch percentage (58.4) and really came alive down the stretch of the season, averaging 8+ targets and 5.5 receptions in the final four games of the season. He's a YAC (yards-after-catch) monster that can be used all over the field in opportunistic matchups with Chark and Cole on the outside, along with sleeper tight end Josh Oliver (perhaps next season's Logan Thomas/Darren Waller).

Brown and McLaurin showcased the same type of brilliant flashes in their rookie season to project their upside in their second-year. Don't be surprised if Aiyuk and Shenault take that next step in 2021.

Frank Taddeo (@Frankie_Fantasy)

Tee Higgins will be a top 10 WR

In 2020 we all witnessed Joe Burrow's immense ability at the NFL level, and the potential growth in his sophomore seasons should not go unnoticed by fantasy fans. This signal caller has top weapons at his disposal, including the 2020 sensation Tee Higgins. Higgins emerged as Cincinnati's top wideout in his rookie campaign, hauling in 68 receptions for 908 yards and six touchdowns - which ranked him outside of the top-25 in PPR formats. With Higgins ascending to the clear top pass-catching option in his offense next season - paired with one of the best young quarterbacks slinging the rock - expect Higgins to be among the top 10 wide receivers in PPR formats!

Corey Parson (@TheFantasyExec)

Dak Prescott will be the No. 1 QB

A healthy Prescott will finish the 2021 season as QB1. That's right! Prescott is armed with a team full of offensive talent. Prescott was having a great statistical year before his season-ending injury. He should be able to pick right back up and finish the job in 2021. Book it.

Shawn Childs (@Shawn__Childs)

Ja'Marr Chase will be a top 15 wide receiver

For an NFL team looking for the next elite WR1, Chase has all the tools to shine in his rookie. He dominated in 2019 at LSU (84/1,780/20) thanks to the great Joe Burrow. His size (6'1" and 200) and speed (4.4 forty) create his edge. Chase can beat a defense in the deep passing game while also offering open-field ability. Ideally, I'd like him to go to the Chargers (13th pick) due to the strong showing by Justin Herbert in his rookie seasons. Many teams will be looking for a lead wide receiver this draft season, but only a handful have the right structure of offensive players for Chase to hit the ground running in his rookie season. 

Roy Larking (@statsguru6)

Irv Smith Jr. will be a top 10 TE

Entering his third season, after being selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Irv Smith Jr. is positioned to take over as the TE1 in Minnesota. Veteran TE Kyle Rudolph may be done in Minnesota, as the Vikings will save between $5 and $8 million if they release him during the offseason. Following a slow start, with just 27.9 points over the first seven games, Smith posted 65.6 points over five games between Week 9 and Week 16. The late-season surge would have been even better had he not missed three games due to injury.

Smith finished third behind Adam Thielen (23) and Justin Jefferson (14) with 12 red-zone targets. Five of those targets resulted in a touchdown. Smith was targeted 43 times last season, including 20 times over the final four games, and 22 of his 30 receptions produced a first down. If Rudolph doesn't return, it's not a reach to project Smith with nearly 200 fantasy points next season. After loading up on wide receivers and running backs, consider Smith as a high-upside TE1 who may go overlooked on draft day.

Matt De Lima (@mattkdelima)

Cam Akers will finish as a top-three RB

Once upon a time, there was a Los Angeles Rams running back named Todd Gurley. In his 2017 & 2018 seasons, he totaled 535 carries for 2,556 rushing yards, 30 rushing TDs, 123 receptions, 1,368 receiving yards, and 10 receiving TDs. The former Georgia Bulldogs star finished ranked as the first and third running back in PPR scoring. Akers came on strong to close out the season with 16+ touches in every game from Weeks 13 to 19 (including playoffs) and 22+ touches in four of those six contests.

Not only will Akers approach Gurley's totals, but he will also skyrocket up average draft position (ADP) boards as the 2021 season nears. There are tons of question marks surrounding the game's most established banks. Christian McCaffrey is coming off an injury-laden season and has a middling QB limiting his offense's potential. Saquon Barkley is returning from a torn ACL, and you know the Giants are going to handle him with care during training camp. Ezekiel Elliott is coming off a disastrous season, and even with Dak Prescott's return, he likely left a bad taste in many fantasy manager's mouths. Alvin Kamara is a beast, but he'll be without Drew Brees, who's headed for retirement after a prolific 20-year Hall of Fame career. Derrick Henry is coming off an earth-shattering 2,000-yard season, but there's a lot of wear on those tires. Akers isn't likely to supersede any of these big names on draft day, but he will be an attractive choice if you've got the 12th & 13th picks in a snake draft.

Akers, like any running back, isn't bulletproof so let me bring the hype down to earth. We still haven't seen him carry a full workload for an entire season. Injuries can happen at any time. However, Jared Goff's mediocrity may actually work in Akers' favor as this offense will often need to fall back on the balance of a strong rushing attack.

The silver lining? The Rams had one of the top offensive line units, and this coaching staff does a wonderful job of tailoring the offense to their players' strengths. 

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