It has been said that you can’t win your league in the first round of drafts but you can lose it. There isn’t a lot separating most of the players in the first round of fantasy drafts, however, there are always players taken here that disappoint. Last year, 5 players taken in the first round of fantasy drafts busted (performed outside of the top 12 at their position). CMC, Saquon, Michael Thomas, Joe Mixon, and Kenyan Drake all failed to reach the top 12 mark. Every year we see an average of 4 out of the 12 first-round picks bust, whether it’s due to injury or not living up to the hype. While we don’t project injury or disappointing seasons from these twelve players I think that fantasy managers have to be honest and look at the pros and cons of each player before making their selection. We’re going to take a look at the twelve first-round picks – according to Underdog ADP – for 2021 and talk about the pros and cons of each pick.
1.01 Christain McCaffrey RB CAR
- Pro: There are VERY few players in the NFL with the guaranteed workload like CMC. He is the unquestioned focal point of the offense when healthy. Although he only played in 3 games last year, he scored over 20 points in all 3 contests. He ended up being the #1 RB in fantasy points per game last year. He absolutely deserves the 1.01.
- Con: There isn’t a lot to say here. The only knock that CMC has against him is last year’s injury and general wear and tear. He has been the major player in Carolina for so many years that some managers are afraid that his 2020 injury was the start of a decline.
1.02 Dalvin Cook RB MIN
- Pro: Over the past 2 seasons Cook has finished as the RB5 and RB3 while only playing in 14 games each season. His consistent production and explosive season last year has him firmly entrenched in the 1.02 slot. He is a true three-down workhorse for the explosive Vikings offense. Pick him here and don’t look back.
- Con: Since his time at Florida State, Dalvin Cook has struggled with injuries. While he has consistently produced in the NFL he has also consistently missed games. Keep an eye on his injuries for 2021, fantasy managers might get fed up with their RB1 missing 3-4 games a year.
1.03 Derrick Henry RB TEN
- Pro: The human wrecking ball known as Derrick Henry finished last year as the RB2 in .5 PPR. That is a crazy stat on its own because Henry only saw 31 targets. He is as close to a lock for the rushing title as you can get. According to FantasyPros’ Mike Tagliere, Derrick Henry played 3 games in 2020 with 200+ rushing yards and 2+ touchdowns. There are only 3 other RB’s in NFL history who did this over their entire careers: Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and LaDanian Tomlinson.
- Con: Since the beginning of the 2018 season Henry has seen a staggering 896 rushing attempts. Eventually, this will catch up with him, whether that is in the 2021 season is still to be determined. The other knock on Henry is that if you are taking an RB this high in any type of PPR league, you want an RB that is involved in the passing game at least a little.
1.04 Alvin Kamara RB NO
- Pro: Kamara is in the conversation with the previous three backs on this list as the best RB in the NFL. He has a stranglehold on this backfield and will relinquish very few snaps to Latavius Murray. Kamara finished 2020 as the RB1, I expect him to be very close to that in 2021.
- Con: The main issue with Kamara and why he is at 1.04 instead of 1.02 is the confusion the Saints have at the QB position. His fantasy production could change drastically depending on if Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston are taking snaps under center. I like his chances more if Winston is the QB1 but I don’t think he will see too much of a drop-off if Taysom is starting.
1.05 Saquon Barkley RB NYG
- Pro: Very few players in NFL history have had a rookie season like Barkley did in 2018, finishing as the overall RB2 in fantasy. As with the other backs listed above, Saquon is the unquestioned leader of his team/offense. He remains one of the most electric backs with the ball in his hands. He is only 24 years old which makes him even more valuable in keeper or dynasty leagues.
- Con: I have several problems with Saquon being taken with the fifth pick. First, players coming off of an ACL injury often take a while to get back to their old selves if they do at all. Second, when he was on the field in 2020 he did not look like the Saquon we all know and love in fantasy, scoring only 12 points over two games. Finally, the NYG offensive line was ranked as the worst o-line in 2020 according to PFF, and are projected to remain in the last spot in 2021. It is hard to run behind a bad o-line coming off of an ACL injury. Saquon scares me in this position in 2021.
1.06 Ezekiel Elliott RB DAL
- Pro: For some reason, the fantasy community is disrespecting Ezekiel Elliott, although his ADP has risen over the past few weeks. Fantasy managers were disappointed with his RB11 finish. We often forget that he only played 5 games with his starting QB, Dak Prescott. Through week 5 Zeke was the RB3 in half-point PPR. The offense is back up to full strength and I expect a big year from the former first-round draft pick.
- Con: One thing fantasy managers need to consider before drafting Elliott in 2021 is that the Cowboys have a very hard schedule for RB’s this season. The division has become more competitive when it comes to run defense in the past two years with WFT emerging as one of the NFL’s best defenses overall. Facing them twice will certainly be a test. You could also make the same argument for Zeke that was made for Derrick Henry, he has seen so much work that eventually you have to think his production will dip soon. Since entering the league in 2016 Elliott leads the NFL in rush attempts and rushing yardage.
1.07 Jonathan Taylor RB IND
- Pro: Taylor is lucky enough to come into the league and rush behind PFF’s 2nd best o-line in the NFL. He wowed fantasy managers late in 2020 after a slower start. He averaged 21 points in his final six contests. Another thing that Taylor has going for him in 2021 is an upgrade at the QB position. It isn’t up for debate that Carson Wentz is a better QB than Phillip Rivers last year. This means that the offense should have more trips to the red zone and Taylor should see similar targets as he did last season.
- Con: The one thing that scares me about JT this season is Marlon Mack. Mack went down with an injury early in week 1. We didn’t get to see the two of them share the workload like promised in Taylor’s rookie season. I don’t know if Frank Reich will lean on Mack more than fantasy managers want. I’m willing to bet that there will be weeks where Mack siphons off enough points to make Jonathan Taylor owners frustrated. The crowded backfield is the only thing keeping Taylor outside of the top 5 at the position.
1.08 Travis Kelce TE KC
- Pro: The first non-RB in this year’s first-round is Travis Kelce. The man has been a top 2 TE since 2016. His production has been historical. Not to mention, the TE position is more scarce than ever before. After the top 3 guys (Kelce, Kittle, and Waller) there is a massive drop-off in potential points and overall production. Selecting as close to a guarantee as you can get at a thin position might not be a bad call in the first round. This gives you the most bang for your buck.
- Con: The only knock on Kelce is his age, how long can he keep this up? He will turn 32 in October. We have not seen many tight ends keep up great production after they turn 30. I still don’t know if this is a big enough issue to take him out of the TE1 spot for 2021.
1.09 Tyreek Hill WR KC
- Pro: The WR2 of last year is being taken as the WR1 off the board according to Underdog ADP. A lot of that has to do with the uncertainty surrounding Davante Adams, however, Tyreek Hill made a strong case to be considered the best fantasy WR last season. He shook the idea that he is only a gadget deep threat by seeing consistent targets all over the field. In 2020 Hill saw 6 or more targets in all but 1 game. This consistent production is a very encouraging sight for Hill. He will continue getting consistent targets from the best QB in the NFL.
- Con: There isn’t much to say against Tyreek Hill in the upcoming season. The only real reason to consider a different WR here would be that Hill is the second option for QB Patrick Mahomes in the Chiefs offense behind Kelce. The superstar TE led the team in targets yet again in 2020, he remains Mahomes’ favorite target. Although there are still plenty of targets to go around for Tyreek to produce at a high level.
1.10 Cam Akers RB LAR
- Pro: The fantasy football community is willing Cam Akers to greatness for 2021. Everyone wants to see Head Coach Sean McVay use an RB as he did with Todd Gurley in 2018. Akers has all of the potential in the world, he averaged 13.2 points over his last 5 games where he saw massive improvements in snaps and attempts. He also has a new team member lining up under center this year in Matthew Stafford. Stafford is certainly an upgrade for the Rams over Jared Goff and should help Akers see more work in 2021.
- Con: There are a few reasons ‘Akers-haters’ are against him being a 1st round pick this season. He is lower in my rankings in any type of PPR league because he only saw 11 receptions in 2020, a number that doesn’t reflect a top-10 RB finish. Simply put, Akers hasn’t produced at this level yet. He is being drafted at this point in the draft based simply on his opportunity. Akers in 2021 drafts reminds me a lot of Kenyan Drake in drafts last year. The opportunity is there, it’s really up to the player if they live up to the promise that he showed in the final 5 games of 2020.
1.11 Nick Chubb RB CLE
- Pro: One of the most pure-runners in the NFL. In terms of best ‘real-life’ NFL RB’s Chubb is very high on the list. That doesn’t always translate to fantasy success. He has several things going in his direction for 2021. First, he is running behind PFF’s highest-ranked offensive line. They will open massive holes in the running game for Chubb. Secondly, the Cleveland RB will see an easier schedule for running backs than most of the league. Some of his best games last season came against bad rush defenses (i.e. CIN, JAX, and HOU). He will find success facing similar bad competition in 2021.
- Con: Nick Chubb only saw 18 targets in 12 games last season. That will place a hard cap on his production in any PPR format. His running mate in Cleveland, Kareem Hunt, seemed to vulture all of the RB targets last season. That is something that I do not see going away. Hunt will continue to be the primary pass-catching back for the Browns.
1.12 Stefon Diggs WR BUF
- Pro: Surprisingly enough Diggs was being taken in the 6 round of most drafts this time last year. No one could have guessed that after switching teams with a developing QB he could lead the league in targets, catches, and receiving yards. I do think that Diggs’ production will regress slightly, I don’t think it will regress enough to push him outside the top 5 WR’s in 2021. He will continue to be Josh Allen’s first read and go-to target.
- Con: The one area that Diggs could improve on his 2020 campaign was receiving touchdowns. He only had 8 TD’s last season. Compare that to the other WR’s in the top 3, Davante Adams had 18 TD’s and Tyreek had 15. A lot of that has to do with Diggs seeing fewer Red Zone targets than the other two receivers listed above. Allen really enjoys rushing inside the 20-yard line, which ultimately leads to fewer targets for Diggs.
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