The 2021 fantasy football season was the most challenging campaign that fantasy managers have ever endured. Playing in the middle of a pandemic that kept us guessing about players' statuses on a week-to-week basis), blew up schedules and changed waiver deadlines, there were more hurdles than ever before en route to a league championship. But we endured, getting through a full 18 weeks (544 games) and crowing a league winner. So, now’s the time to hand out a little online hardware with my annual Fabby Awards for Sports Illustrated. Because... it’s all about the gold!
Most valuable player
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams: Kupp is coming off the greatest fantasy season of all-time among wide receivers, scoring 439.5 fantasy points in 17 games. That broke the previous record of 414 points set by Jerry Rice in 1995, but he did it in just 16 games. Kupp scored 20-plus points 14 times, including scoring 30 or more points six times and averaged nearly 12 more fantasy points per game than he did the previous year.
Breakout player of the year
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts: Taylor showed flashes of potential as a rookie, but he took it to the next level in his second NFL season. He rushed for a league-high 1,811 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns, which tied Austin Ekeler for the most among running backs. Taylor also led all running backs with a 23.7 points-per-game average, nearly seven more fantasy points than he averaged during his rookie year.
Sleeper of the year
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins: Fantasy managers knew about Waddle’s talent from his time at Alabama, but there were some concerns about him coming off serious ankle injuries in his rookie campaign. However, he put those concerns to rest, finishing with 104 catches, 1,105 yards, and six touchdowns while ranking 13th in fantasy points. He would have finished even higher had he not missed a game due to COVID-19, too.
Super sleeper of the year
Hunter Renfrow, WR, Raiders: No one was talking about Renfrow in drafts, as he was the 97th wideout off the board based on ADP data from the National Fantasy Football Championships in the first week of September. He finished in the top 10 in fantasy points among wideouts, posting 108 catches, 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns. The “new Wes Welker” will now be seen as a No. 2 receiver in 2022.
Rookie of the year
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals: This was a close call between Chase and Najee Harris, but the Bengals wide receiver took the title with a strong finish. He scored 19.5 fantasy points in the fantasy semifinals and led countless managers to a title with his 55.6-point performance in championship week. In all, Chase finished fifth in fantasy points among wideouts and was a tenth of a point behind Randy Moss (1998) for the best rookie season of all-time among rookie wideouts. He’ll be a top-20 pick in 2022.
Bust of the year
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears: Robinson was seen as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy wideout in most 2021 drafts, evident in his 28.9 average draft position on NFFC. He finished tied for 81st in fantasy points among wideouts behind the likes of Olamide Zaccheaus, Zach Pascal and Jaylen Guyton. Slated to become a free agent this year, Robinson’s fantasy value for next season is very much up in the air.
Draft value of the year
Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers: Most fantasy analysts were all in on Brandon Aiyuk as the breakout in San Francisco, but Samuel earned that title. He was selected on average at 80.8 in September NFFC drafts, and he went behind Laviska Shenault, Courtland Sutton, Robby Anderson, and Julio Jones. Samuel finished as the third-best wide receiver in fantasy football, recording career-highs across the board in 2021.
Waiver pickup of the year
Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, Falcons: Patterson wasn’t even on the fantasy football radar in most drafts, which was evident in his 284.9 ADP on NFFC. Well, he went on to finish as a top-10 fantasy running back with 52 catches, 1,166 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. Patterson's totals took a nosedive late in the season, but overall, he still helped many fantasy managers reach their postseason.
Comeback player of the year
Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals: Burrow suffered a brutal knee ailment as a rookie, which had some folks in the fantasy world concerned about his prospects for 2021. Well, the LSU product went above and beyond expectations with 4,611 passing yards and 36 total touchdowns in his 16 starts. He was a league winner during the fantasy postseason, throwing for 971 yards with eight touchdown passes in Weeks 16-17.
Performance of the year
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals: Chase broke a ton of records during his rookie year, and he also had the best performance of the season (at the best time too). He hauled in 11 catches for 266 yards with three touchdowns to finish with 55.6 fantasy points in a win over the Chiefs, and he did it in fantasy football championship week. Based on his ADP and this massive performance, many fans with Chase won a league title.
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!
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