We are inching closer and closer to the start of the 2021 NFL season, and thus, that means an obvious increase in the number of fantasy drafts. I was in two over the weekend, drafting in the King's Classic League (14 teams) at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first annual Hall of Fame League (HOFL), which is a 10-team format.
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During these drafts that are loaded with the top analysts in the business, I noticed some big changes in the value of several players. Whether these players ultimately pan out or not, it’s still notable when the industry folks make a move on them in drafts.
Let's look at some of the players who are on the rise as we enter mid-August.
QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
When you throw an 80-yard bomb in your first NFL preseason game, you’re going to get noticed. That’s exactly what Lance did last weekend, as he hit Trent Sherfield with a strike against the Kansas City Chiefs. When you consider Lance's versatile skill set and the fact that he can score fantasy points with his feet, it's no surprise that he is a big riser. However, what is a surprise is that he's being selected as a high to mid-QB2 in some leagues, though Jimmy Garoppolo is the Niners starting quarterback.
QB Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Much like Lance, Fields showed some real flashes in his first NFL preseason game. The Bears seem committed to opening the season with veteran Andy Dalton, but no one in the fantasy world believes that will last long. That's pretty obvious in drafts, as Fields is now being picked as a mid-QB2 while Dalton is rarely selected at all. The reward might not come a few weeks into the regular campaign, but Fields is a hot commodity.
RB Michael Carter, New York Jets
Notice a trend here? Yes, the fantasy world is enamored with rookies. Aside from Najee Harris, there might not be a bigger mover among first-year runners than Carter. He split first-team work with Ty Johnson in the Jets' first preseason game and appears to have the inside track of a starting role. I would temper expectations, however, as the Men in Green will likely use a committee that includes Carter, Johnson, and Tevin Coleman. Still, the UNC product is being picked as high as the fourth or fifth round in drafts.
RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
Williams was considered one of the top running back prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, so it’s no surprise he’s moving up in fantasy drafts as we get deeper into the summer. He looked good in his preseason debut, rushing for 29 yards on five attempts. He also scored a touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty. He won’t be handed the top spot on the Broncos depth chart with veteran Melvin Gordon in the mix, but Williams is being selected as an RB2 in some leagues regardless. He could be a league winner.
RB Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
I don't want to preach when it comes to Sermon, but he's moving up draft boards at a rampant pace. He's seeing his name called before the Niners' projected starter, Raheem Mostert, in many leagues. Based on the discount, I like the veteran, but the Ohio State rookie is the shiny new toy playing in an RB-friendly system under head coach Kyle Shanahan. If Mostert has any injury issues, Sermon could be a fantasy football star.
WR Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
The fantasy community was high on rookie wideout Ja'Marr Chase when training camp started, but he's struggled with drops in the preseason. That, coupled with the fact that he hasn't played in a meaningful football game in over a year, has Chase falling in drafts. This all has Higgins rising up draft boards. In fact, he's now being picked as the top Bengals wideout in fantasy leagues. Tyler Boyd has also moved up to the point where Chase could end up being the third fantasy wideout picked from the team.
WR Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
I have had several Steelers reporters and beat writers on my SiriusXM show "Fantasy Dirt," and there's a buzz around Claypool. NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala said she would draft Claypool ahead of both Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. He has certainly moved ahead of the latter, and he’s coming off the board fewer than two rounds behind Johnson. At this point, Claypool has the look of a nice WR3 who could end up bringing back WR2 value in what should be a productive Steelers offense.
WR Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
Mooney showed flashes of potential last season, and the Bears (and fantasy fans) took notice. The team dealt Anthony Miller to the Houston Texans because it saw a lot of upside in their young wideout. Mooney still won’t cost a ton in drafts, but he has crept up into the top 100-110 overall selections in many drafts. With Allen Robinson playing on the other side and the potential of Fields, Mooney could end up being a real bargain.
WR Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints
Few players have seen their fantasy value rise at the same level as Callaway in recent weeks. The loss of Michael Thomas (ankle) for at least a month and maybe more left a big gap in the Saints passing attack, and all indications are that Callaway has made a big move toward being the top option. He caught three passes for 61 yards in the team's preseason opener, and his rapport with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill is growing. At this point, Callaway is being selected ahead of Tre'Quan Smith among Saints wideouts.
TE Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks
Everett hasn’t made a huge move up the tight end rankings, but his stock has risen, nonetheless. He's being selected as a mid-to-low TE2 more often than not. In recent high-stakes drafts, the veteran has moved into the Cole Kmet, Blake Jarwin, and Rob Gronkowski tier. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has also named Everett a possible breakout player. He has a good relationship with the new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron, from their time together in Los Angeles. Like my colleague Kyle Wood, I consider him a deep sleeper who should be targeted in the later rounds of drafts.
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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. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!