We are inching closer and closer to the start of the 2021 NFL season, and with that, we also see 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), a 10-team format.
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During these drafts 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 (or don’t) in drafts.
Let's look at some of the players who are on the decline as we enter mid-August.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger finished as the QB14 a season ago, averaging just fewer than 18 fantasy points a game. However, he's taken a major slide in 2021 drafts, coming off the board in the late rounds as a low-QB2. That's largely due to the projected decrease in pass attempts (he had 608 last season) with the addition of rookie runner Najee Harris. It also makes sense that at 39 years old, Big Ben is projected to see a decrease in numbers.
QB Cam Newton, New England Patriots
Newton, who finished one spot behind Roethlisberger among quarterbacks last season, has fallen so far in 2021 that he wasn’t even selected in the 14-team Jim Brown division of the King’s Classic. While most think he’ll open the season as the Patriots starter, Mac Jones has earned first-team reps in training camp and is making a push for the starting job. Regardless, it would be a surprise if Jones wasn’t the starter at some point in 2021. That train of thought has made Newton far less appealing among most analysts.
RB Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
Gaskin was once considered a very attractive flex starter in drafts as the projected top back in Miami. After all, he led the team with a 23 percent touch share in the 10 games he played last season. But in the first week of the preseason, Gaskin played behind Malcolm Brown in the backfield rotation. That doesn’t mean he won’t be the starter in the regular season, but it does put into question his role as the team’s top runner. That has caused him to fall a few rounds as more of a low-end flex option in recent drafts.
RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
This one is obvious, folks. Etienne had been the Jaguars running back of choice from a fantasy perspective, despite the fact that James Robinson was the RB7 in his first season with the team. That has flipped, however, as Etienne suffered an injured foot in the second week of the preseason that will cause him to miss the entire 2021 season. He should now be completely off your draft boards in all seasonal formats, while Robinson should be moved up into the top 15 among fantasy running backs.
RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
Johnson was projected to be the Texans' top back in a committee this year, but that wasn't the case in the team's first preseason game. Phillip Lindsay handled the early-down work, while Johnson played on third downs. What's more, reports indicate the Texans could use Johnson in that role rather than as the top back on the depth chart. With Mark Ingram also mixing in, Johnson’s stock has sunk like a stone. At this point, it appears that Lindsay could be the best bet for fantasy value among the trio.
WR D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
Chark’s value was rising when the Jaguars landed Trevor Lawrence with the top pick in the NFL draft, but he hasn't moved up in the wide receiver rankings. In fact, he was selected as a No. 4 fantasy wideout in the 14-team King's Classic. That has much to do with the addition of veteran Marvin Jones Jr., the presence of sleeper receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and talk of Etienne being used prominently in the passing game. Chark is also coming off finger surgery which has limited him in camp to this point.
WR Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
Cooks has produced 1,000-plus yards in five of his last six seasons across four teams, but the Deshaun Watson situation has his value on the decline. With journeyman Tyrod Taylor expected to open the season as the starter, Cooks has gone from last season's WR17 to a borderline No. 3 or 4 fantasy option in 2021 drafts. However, the Texans are going to be a bad team, and someone has to catch passes in the offense. As a result, I actually like Cooks at a discounted price. He's barely a top-100 pick at this point.
WR Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
Beasley finished last season ranked 27th in fantasy points among wideouts, but he has seen his stock decline in part because of his stance on the COVID-19 vaccination. Yet, he did report to camp on time and isn’t retiring (which had been rumored), so he is set to retain his role as one of Josh Allen’s favorite targets. Another season of 107 targets and 82 catches might not be in the cards, but Beasley has fallen out of the top 60 wideouts in some drafts (I landed him as the WR65 in the King’s Classic). While he does come with some risk due to not being vaccinated, Beasley has become a bargain.
TE Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
Henry had been one of the better fantasy tight ends in the league during his time with the Chargers, but his move to the Patriots has caused a decline in value. In fact, he's now being picked as more of a mid to low-end No. 2 option in drafts. Henry is also being picked behind his teammate, Jonnu Smith. Both players are dealing with minor injuries, as Henry has a bum shoulder and Smith is nursing a sprained ankle. Regardless, the duo has canceled each other out as TE1 options in fantasy drafts.
TE Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gronkowski was inconsistent during his first season with the Buccaneers, but he still put up a TE8 finish and was a big contributor in the team’s Super Bowl run. Regardless, the future Hall of Famer is being picked as a low-end No. 2 fantasy tight end in 2021 drafts. The presence of Antonio Brown for a full season and the return of O.J. Howard are big reasons for the decline, as the Bucs have many mouths to feed in the passing game. Gronkowski will have his share of good games, but analysts are down on him.
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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!