The 2021 NFL Draft is almost upon us! It’s without question the biggest event of the league’s offseason, as the next in line of potential superstars have their names called in Cleveland, Ohio. Success or failure in drafts all comes down to statistics these days, as the emergence of fantasy football has put a bigger emphasis on the numbers. And what are every NFL team and fantasy fan looking to find in the draft?
You got it. Bargains.
The ability to land a future superstar at a bargain-basement draft price can be the difference between a championship-caliber team and a squad that’s battling for a .500 season. Just ask the New England Patriots what finding a hidden gem can do!
So, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at the best fantasy bargains from the last 20 NFL drafts. Some draft classes had more talent than others, but you’ll find that many of these players were taken far later than they would have been if NFL teams could have foreseen their future statistical success on the next level.
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2020 – Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts (Round 2, No. 41)
Taylor was the third running back selected in the 2020 draft, behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire (No. 32) and D’Andre Swift (No. 35). He finished better than both of them in terms of fantasy points, however, ranking sixth overall while posting nearly 1,500 total yards. Antonio Gibson, who went No. 66 overall (Round 3), was also a great bargain.
2019 – DK Metcalf, WR, Seahawks (Round 2, No. 64)
Metcalf’s fall in the 2019 NFL Draft was monumental, as he went from being a surefire first-rounder to the last pick in Round 2. In his second season, he finished seventh in fantasy points among wideouts. The list of receivers taken ahead of him in the draft includes N’Keal Harry, Mecole Hardman, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Andy Isabella.
2018 – Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens (Round 1, No. 32)
This draft didn’t include any fantasy “bargains” in Rounds 4-7. The third round saw Mark Andrews (No. 86), Dallas Goedert (No. 49) and Nick Chubb (No. 35), but Jackson was a Round 1 steal. Why? Well, he went behind lesser fantasy quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield (No. 1), Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7), and Josh Rosen (No. 10).
2017 – Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints (Round 3, No. 67)
This draft was absolutely loaded with bargains. Chris Carson (No. 249), Aaron Jones (No. 182), George Kittle (No. 146), and Kenny Golladay (No. 96) were all steals, but Kamara going in Round 3 is the best bargain from a fantasy perspective. Since his debut in the NFL, he’s been one of the elite fantasy running backs in the entire league.
2016 – Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs (Round 5, No. 165)
The 2016 NFL Draft didn’t have many great bargains, so this was between Hill and Dak Prescott (No. 135). I had to go with the Cheetah, though, as he fell in the draft due to off-field issues. All he’s done is make five Pro Bowls and produce three seasons with 75 or more catches, 1,183 or more yards, and a combined 37 total touchdowns in his last 43 games. Hill remains one of the five best wideouts in fantasy football for 2021 drafts.
2015 – Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings (Round 5, No. 146)
I considered Darren Waller (No. 204) too, but Diggs has a longer stretch of statistical success. He’s produced 1,000-plus yards in each of his last three seasons, and his 2020 campaign saw him led the league in receptions (127) and yards (1,535). Guys like Justin Hardy, Vince Mayle, DeAndre Smelter, and Rashad Greene went ahead of him!
2014 – Davante Adams, WR, Packers (Round 2, No. 53)
The 2014 NFL Draft included great wideouts like Mike Evans (No. 7), Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 12) and Brandin Cooks (No. 20), but Adams has been better than them all in recent seasons. Now the top wideout in fantasy football, Adams went behind wide receivers like Paul Richardson (No. 45), Jordan Matthews (No. 42), and Marqise Lee (No. 39).
2013 – Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs (Round 3, No. 63)
The best fantasy bargain in this draft was between Kelce and Keenan Allen (No. 76), but how could you not go with the top tight ends in fantasy football? He went No. 63 overall in the draft behind tight ends like Tyler Eifert (No. 21), Zach Ertz (No. 35), (don’t look, fellow Cowboys fans) Gavin Escobar (No. 47), and Vance McDonald (No. 55).
2012 – Russell Wilson, Seahawks (Round 3, No. 75)
This draft didn’t have many great fantasy bargains, but the Seahawks landing Wilson in the third round was clearly the biggest steal. Remember, the team added Matt Flynn to take over as its starting quarterback before landing Wilson. Flynn threw nine passes for Seattle, while Wilson went on to lead them to a Super Bowl and become a fantasy star.
2011 – DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys (Round 3, No. 71)
Murray didn’t make a huge fantasy impact until his third NFL season, and he became the top fantasy back in the league in 2014 with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Other running backs like Daniel Thomas (No. 62), Mikel Leshoure (No. 57), Shane Vereen (No. 56), and Ryan Williams (No. 38) all went ahead of Murray in this draft.
2010 – Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (Round 6, No. 195)
Brown wasn’t considered an elite prospect head of the 2010 NFL Draft, but an unreal 22 wideouts went ahead of him. That includes Dezmon Briscoe (No. 1919), Carlton Mitchell (No. 177), Kerry Meier (No. 165), and David Reed (No. 156). Of course, Brown went on to become the top wideout in fantasy football during his prime in Pittsburgh.
2009 – Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots (Round 7, No. 232)
LeSean McCoy (No. 53) was a nice bargain in the 2009 NFL Draft, but it’s hard to argue that Edelman was the biggest steal. The 28th wide receiver picked in the draft, Edelman went on to become a real Super Bowl hero while producing four seasons with 90-plus catches. He was also a valuable fantasy asset for managers playing in PPR formats.
2008 – Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs (Round 3, No. 73)
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of fantasy bargains in this draft, but Charles sticks out as the best of the bunch. He became a fantasy star, rushing for 1,000-plus yards five times and 64 career touchdowns. Eight different backs, including Kevin Smith (No. 64), Rashard Mendenhall (No. 23), and Felix Jones (No. 22), went ahead of him.
2007 – Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants (Round 7, No. 250)
This draft was also devoid of true fantasy bargains. If you don’t believe me, check out the entire draft. It’s not great. While Bradshaw wasn’t elite, he did rush for 1,000-plus yards twice and was considered a viable fantasy starter. What’s more, only Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch had more career rushing yards among 2007 backs.
2006 – Marques Colston, WR, Saints (Round 7, No. 252)
This draft had a number of fantasy bargains, but none was close to Colston in terms of draft position and statistics. A total of 28 wideouts went ahead of him in the 2006 draft, but Colston overcame the odds and went on to post six 1,000-yard seasons as one of the top options in the offense for Drew Brees. He also had 72 career touchdowns.
2005 – Frank Gore, RB, 49ers (Round 3, No. 65)
This draft had a bunch of fantasy busts in the first round, but it had at least a few steals too. The biggest steal has to be Gore, who went in the third round behind other running backs like Eric Shelton (No. 54) and J.J. Arrington (No. 44). Gore, who is third behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton in career rushing yards, might still be active in 2021.
2004 – Michael Turner, RB, Chargers (Round 5, No. 154)
Turner didn’t make a fantasy impact in his first four seasons with the Chargers, but who could blame him while playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson? Once he left for Atlanta, Turner became a superstar with three seasons of 1,300-plus rushing yards. He also rushed for a combined 60 touchdowns in his 75 career games with the Falcons.
2003 – Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys (Round 3, No. 69)
The middle to late rounds of the 2003 NFL Draft was devoid of a ton of fantasy stars, so I had to look into the top three rounds. That’s where I found Witten, who was the fifth tight end taken behind Dallas Clark (No. 24), Bennie Joppru (No. 41), L.J. Smith (61), and Teyo Johnson (No. 63). Witten became a fantasy star and will be a Hall of Famer.
2002 – Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles (Round 3, No. 91)
This draft had two great bargains among running backs, Westbrook in Round 3 and Clinton Portis in Round 2 (No. 51). I went with the former, as he went 40 picks after the former Hurricanes star. Westbrook went on to produce 50-plus catches five times, three seasons with 1,500-plus scrimmage yards, and was a fantasy star during the 2000s.
2001 – Drew Brees, QB, Chargers (Round 2, No. 32)
The 2001 NFL Draft had a few bargains, including T.J. Houshmandzadeh (No. 204), and Steve Smith Sr. (No. 74), but how can this not be Brees? He was the second quarterback picked (Michael Vick, No. 1), and there were plenty of busts who were picked ahead of him across all positions. Brees is arguably the best fantasy quarterback ever.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!
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