(Image credit: Steve Flynn/USA Today Sports)
By: Jett Rosenstein
Well, just like that another fantasy football season has come and gone (unless your league is for some reason still playing in Week 18). Just like every year, we saw big names fall to injury, but this year was like no other as COVID played a major role in the availability of certain players. Despite that, we still had remarkable performances from rookies like Ja’Marr Chase, Cooper Kupp who is breaking record after record, Cordarrelle Patterson who came out of nowhere, and many other studs that lifted many fantasy teams to the promised land in 2021. In this article, I am going to take a look back at some of my biggest hits and misses from the year, a way-too-early 1st round mock draft, and much more!
RB Austin Ekeler (ADP RB8; My Preseason Rank: RB3; Final PPR Rank: RB2)
What a season it was for Austin Ekeler. Coming into the season, I was extremely high on him as he is one of the most versatile backs in the game. The biggest question marks surrounding him were, was he going to get more goalline work and could he withstand a full NFL season without falling to the injury bug? Yes and Yes. Ekeler had the 3rd most red zone touches to go along with 11 red zone TDs. Ekeler missed only 1 game this season and it was due to COVID, not an injury. The Chargers did a great job of not running him into the ground and keeping his legs fresh. Ekeler was surely a part of many fantasy championships this year and has rightfully warranted a top 5 pick in drafts next year.
RB Joe Mixon (ADP RB13; My Preseason Rank: RB6; Final PPR Rank: RB4)
Joe Mixon was one of “my guys” heading into the season and he played extremely well all year. Coming into the season, some of the question marks surrounding Mixon were, could he stay healthy and will his poor o-line impact his production? Mixon was banged up for a stretch during the year, but never missed any games cause of it. The narrative that Joe Mixon is injury prone needs to be put to rest. As for his o-line, they rank in the bottom half of the league, but it has had no impact on Mixon’s production. He racked up over 1200 yards on the ground and found the end zone 16 times. Look for fantasy owners to start to have more trust in Mixon as he should be a first-round pick next year.
WR Diontae Johnson (ADP WR21; My Preseason Rank: WR11; Final PPR Rank: WR8)
Diontae Johnson is starting to cement himself as one of the best WRs in the game today. After a 2020 season that was marred due to a large number of drops and an inability to stay healthy, Johnson is here to stay as an elite fantasy WR. He had 12 drops in 2020. In 2021, he had only 4. A significant difference. He continued his target share dominance once again by reeling in 159 targets, 4th most in the NFL. Going into next season, the Steelers QB situation is going to get interesting as Ben Roethlisberger is expected to retire. This could impact Johnson’s value heading into next year, but if he has a competent QB, he deserves to go off the board in round 2 of most drafts.
QB Tom Brady (ADP QB9; My Preseason Rank: QB13; Final PPR Rank: QB3)
Tom Brady continues to impress us even at the age of 44. He is breaking records left and right as he continues to play at a high level. The biggest question for Brady was whether or not age was going to catch up to him this year. I thought it might, but clearly, Tom Brady cannot be counted out. That is the lesson that can be learned here. He is on the brink of throwing for 5,000 yards along with 40 TDs. This high-powered Tampa Bay offense has done wonders for Brady. Nowadays, we are looking for a QB who is going to break the Konami code, but with Brady none of that matters. I will not be ranking Brady anywhere outside of my top 5 QBs for next year. I learned my lesson.
RB Leonard Fournette (ADP RB32; My Preseason Rank: RB38; Final PPR Rank: RB5)
Clearly what Leonard Fournette did throughout the 2021 NFL Playoffs was no fluke as he carried that production into the regular season and never took his foot off the gas. Coming into the season, we expected to see a full-blown committee between Fournette and Ronald Jones. After Jones struggled once again, Fournette began to slowly take over the backfield. Fournette is still in the prime of his career at age 26 and has resurrected his career in Tampa Bay. Fournette has proved to be one of the biggest draft day steals and heading into 2021, he has an argument to be one of the first top 10 RBs selected in drafts.
TE Jonnu Smith (ADP TE13; My Preseason Rank: TE8; Final PPR Rank: TE33)
This was probably the take that let me down the most. Coming into the season, Jonnu Smith was one of my guys as I felt that rookie QB Mac Jones was going to try and lean on his TE. Well, he definitely leaned on his TE. It just wasn’t Smith. It was Hunter Henry. Smith ended up being used more as a blocking TE as Henry was the main beneficiary of all the work through the air. While Smith is one of the more athletic TEs in the league, the Patriots clearly had other plans for a guy they gave a lot of money to in the offseason. Going forward, Smith shouldn’t be drafted in most leagues next year as there are much better options. The Patriots continue to be frustrating for fantasy purposes.
WAY-TOO-EARLY 2022 TOP 12 FANTASY RANKINGS
1. RB Jonathan Taylor (IND)
The best RB in fantasy who continued right where he left off in 2020. He can do it all and makes it look easy. Should be the #1 pick in most drafts next year.
2. RB Derrick Henry (TEN)
We can’t forget how productive Derrick Henry has been over the last several years. While this injury could potentially lessen his workload going forward, he has shown time and time again that he will be one of the more consistent backs. He can make a case for #1.
3. RB Austin Ekeler (LAC)
After going off the board at the tail end of round 1 in many drafts this year, Ekeler deserves to be a top 5 pick next year with his sensational performance in 2021. The only thing stopping him is an injury.
4. RB Najee Harris (PIT)
Najee Harris put together a top 5 finish in year 1. With that being said, the sky is the limit. Despite a poor offensive line, Najee was able to be productive in all facets of his game. If he gets an upgrade at QB next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished #1.
5. WR Davante Adams (GB)
In years past, you normally don’t see a WR going off the board this early but with how delicate the RB position is, there is going to be a shift towards getting that target hog at the receiver position. There isn’t much to say about Davante Adams. He produces every year. The only thing stopping him is a potential downgrade at QB next year if Rodgers leaves.
6. RB Alvin Kamara (NO)
Even with missing a handful of games in 2021, Alvin Kamara still finished as the RB10. That was with a revolving door at the QB position and a far from explosive offense. If he gets an upgrade at the QB position, we could be talking about him in the top 3 conversation once again.
7. WR Cooper Kupp (LAR)
Cooper Kupp has earned himself a spot in round 1 after his miraculous season in 2021. He can make a case for the #1 WR off the board but he hasn’t been as productive consistently for a long period of time like Davante Adams has.
8. RB Dalvin Cook (MIN)
He was a top 2 pick in most drafts a year ago. However, Cook cannot seem to escape the injury bug. With my first-round pick, I want a guy I know I can count on to be available. While he is as productive as anyone when healthy, he presents a little more risk than other guys in this round.
9. RB Joe Mixon (CIN)
The Joe Mixon we have been waiting for has finally shown up and I think he is here to stay. While many will feel hesitant to spend a first-round pick on a guy that has disappointed before, this Bengals offense is set up to be explosive for the next decade.
10. RB Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
Christian McCaffrey has a case for going as high as number 1 and as low as outside the first round. When healthy, there is no better player in fantasy than him. The problem is after the Panthers chose to run him into the ground, he is suffering the consequences. It is too risky to take him in the top half of round 1 when there are guys that have much more tread on their tires. He is the definition of a massive risk-reward.
11. WR Justin Jefferson (MIN)
Justin Jefferson has earned top 3 WR status in fantasy after back-to-back dominant seasons to begin his career. With the potential shift toward securing a target hog in round 1, Jefferson deserves to go off the board before some of his counterparts.
12. RB Javonte Williams (DEN)
Here we have the final pick of round 1 and it is a surprise. With Melvin Gordon potentially leaving Denver, that could leave Javonte Williams to be the workhorse back. If that were to happen, Williams deserves to be thrust into the RB1 conversation immediately. Especially if the Broncos get an upgrade at QB, the sky will be the limit for Williams and the whole Broncos offense.