QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
For a fantasy owner looking to cheat the quarterback position, Burrow should be the go-to option based on his late July rankings (13th quarterback drafted). The Bengals invested in his top receiver in college (Ja’Marr Chase – 84/1,780/20) while already two top wideouts. Burrow averaged over 40 passes a game in his rookie season, leading to 20.9 fantasy points per game in four-point passing touchdown leagues. However, he gained only 6.7 yards per pass attempt in his rookie season with struggles making scoring plays in the red zone (13 touchdowns in 10 starts). I expect Burrow to rank in the top five in passing attempts in 2021, with added value with his legs. Cincinnati cleared him for training camp, pointing to him being ready for Week 1. My early projections have Burrow on a path for 4,850 combined yards with 34 touchdowns. At the sportsbooks, my bets are on over 4,200.5 passing yards and 26.5 passing touchdowns.
RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
When working on the early projections, I only had Harris ranked 15th in PPR leagues with 65% of the rushing opportunities and 75% of the passing chances. His early ADP (16) in the 12-team high-stakes came in higher than my initial outlook. The Steelers’ offensive line has plenty of questions while looking to be in rebuilding mode. Pittsburgh has talent at wide receiver while having a history of leaning on one running back. I don’t see much competition for Harris on passing downs, and no other back offers as much explosiveness in the run game. When adding in his possible variance in overall chances, I’m willing to be on the come while understanding my starting point is about 1,500 combined yards with dozen scores and 45 catches. I’ll also take the over in his rushing yards (990.5) and rushing touchdowns (7.5) at the sportsbooks.
RB Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
The lead running back in the 49ers’ offense has a chance to post an exceptional season with an entire season of games. My top two points in favor of Sermon are the durability and career path for Raheem Mostert (at age 29, he never had over 151 touches in a season while coming into this summer with a knee issue) and the production by Jeff Wilson (733 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 13 catches) off the bench for San Fran in 2020. Over the past two seasons, San Francisco’s running back gained 5,673 combined yards with 56 touchdowns and 170 catches (33.54 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues). In addition, the 49ers have a top offensive line with three dynamic receiving options at wide receiver and tight end. With an ADP of 76, Sermon should easily surpass his draft value while showing potential upside in the passing game in the early OTAs. His next step is proving he can handle a more significant workload.
WR Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Fantasy owners are quick to dismiss Chase as a potential stud WR1 in his rookie season while also placing a premium bet on Justin Jefferson (ADP – 25 as the seventh wide receiver drafted) in 2021. Both players shined under Joe Burrow at LSU in 2019 (Chase – 84/1,780/20 and Jefferson – 111,1,540/18). Chase adds big play and scoring ability to the Bengals’ offense, and his experience with Burrow should lead to him hitting the ground running in his rookie season. Jefferson had no problem with the move to the NFL (88/1,400/7) while playing in an offense with a high volume running back. I have Chase projected 95 catches for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns. The sportsbooks have him under projected by about 30% in receiving yards (1,025.5) and touchdowns (7). Chase has a backend WR2 ADP (57) in late July, which screams buying opportunity.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ offense could take a new shape in 2021, with Najee Harris projected to upgrade Pittsburgh’s rushing offense. Better success on the ground should lead to fewer passes and a messy situation for their top three wide receivers. Smith-Schuster finished last year as the 16th highest scoring wideout in PPR leagues while underperforming in receiving yards (831) and yards per catch (8.6). This draft season is the 29th wideout off the board, with an ADP of 71 in 12-team leagues. His high-volume catch skill set points to a consistent player each week while offering a higher ceiling with a rebound in his yards per catch. However, the sportsbooks looked to have mispriced his receiving yards (790.5) and touchdowns (6). Smith-Schuster scored seven touchdowns or more in three of his four seasons in the NFL.
WR Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
After an excellent finish to 2019 (45/926/4) over 11 games, Samuel missed nine games last year while flashing in only one matchup (11/133). I’m intrigued by the 49ers’ offense this year, but their receiving core would have a higher ceiling if Jimmy Garoppolo earns the starting job. Samuel is the 37th wide receiver drafted in 2021 with an ADP of 90. San Francisco will rely on three players to move the ball via the passing game, and I have Samuel ranked ahead of Brandon Aiyuk while having a more favorable price point, supported by the early odds at the sportsbooks in receiving yards (Samuel – 895.5 and Aiyuk – 875.5).
TE Evan Engram, New York Giants
Each draft season, there are a couple of tight ends that emerge as top 10 options. One typically comes via the free-agent pool, and the other tends to fly under the radar on draft day. Engram is the 14th tight end drafted in late July with an ADP of 138. His career started with an excellent season (64/722/6), but he failed to live up to expectations over the past three years while missing 13 games. Even with a down 2020 (63/654/1), Engram still finished a couple of touchdowns away from being a top-eight tight end. This season, he needs to improve his timing and chemistry with Daniel Jones.
More Fantasy Football:
- 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings & Stat Projections
- TE Sleeper: Gerald Everett Will Cook With Russell Wilson
- Case Against Darrell Henderson: Skyrocketing ADP Doesn't Match Talent
Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. A inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!