2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: Pre-Draft Rankings

Andrew Barton

With the NFL Draft right around the corner, there is no better time to start up the Fantasy Football hype train and begin thinking about your fantasy drafts. In this article we will be covering the 2021 Top 10 fantasy football players for the upcoming season. While the official NFL Draft has yet to take place, it is this writer’s opinion that the Class of 2021 will not yield any top ten fantasy players for the coming season. As a disclaimer all of these rankings will be based on ESPN’s PPR (Points per Reception) scoring format.

#1: Christian McCaffery, Running Back, Carolina Panthers, 2020 Position Rank: 54

2020 Stats: 225 Rushing Yards, 145 Receiving Yards, 6 Total TDs, 90.4 Fantasy Points

The NFL world, particularly fantasy owners, were robbed of one of the league’s most dominating offensive weapons last season. In the three games he played in 2020, McCaffery managed to average 30.1 fantasy points per game and found the endzone multiple times in all three contests. When healthy, McCaffery is all but guaranteed to rush for over 1,000 yards, haul in 90 receptions, and score upwards of 12 total touchdowns. With the added presence of Robby Anderson and the continued development of DJ Moore, he may be less involved in the passing game. However, with Mike Davis leaving for the Falcons, McCaffery will be the unquestioned lead back and likely see 20 touches per game. Don’t be surprised if he manages another 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000 yard receiving season. CMC is back and should be #1 off the board.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: McCaffery is the ultimate fantasy weapon when healthy. Expect him to go early.

#2: Derrick Henry, Running Back, Tennessee Titans, 2020 Position Rank: 3

2020 Stats: 2027 Rushing Yards , 17 Rushing TDs, 333.1 Fantasy Points

In a non-PPR format “King” Henry might have claim to the number one spot, but his lack of receiving upside (19 receptions, 114 yards) hurts him here. Despite his lack of receiving production, Henry has been highly effective and simply does not miss games. Since his rookie year, he has seen action in 78 of a possible 80 games making him insanely durable despite his physical style of play. With so many highly drafted players missing time (McCaffery and Saquon Barkley in 2020), having a player that can be counted on each week is critical to a successful season. Plus, his back-to-back seasons of 300+ carries ensure that Henry will get ample opportunities to carry your fantasy team.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: Count on Derrick Henry rushing for 1,300 yards and 12 TDs. If he falls out of the top 3 draft him immediately!

#3: Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings, 2020 Position Rank: 2

2020 Stats: 1557 Rushing Yards, 361 Receiving Yards, 16 Rushing TDs, 337.8 Fantasy Points

2020 was a reminder of how valuable Cook can be in fantasy when he can stay healthy. He averaged a stellar 24.1 fantasy points per game, found the endzone 17 total times, and proved versatile as a pass catcher with 44 receptions. Despite outplaying Henry from a fantasy perspective, his injury history prevents him from rising any higher. Having only played in 29 total games with an ACL tear on his resume, it is a safe bet that Cook will miss anywhere from 2-4 games this coming season.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: 2020 was our first glimpse at the damage a healthy Cook could cause.

#4: Alvin Kamara, Running Back, New Orleans Saints, 2020 Position Rank: 1

2020 Stats: 932 Rushing Yards, 746 Receiving Yards, 83 Receptions, 377.8 Fantasy Points

You could draft Kamara #1 overall and no one would blame you. He is one of the best receiving backs in the league and is a touchdown machine (21 total TDs in 2020). However, there are a few questions that remain. First, with Drew Brees gone, will Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill be able to lead the Saints’ offense? Hill tends to rely on his legs while Winston has a tendency to air the ball out. Secondly, a healthy Michael Thomas will undoubtably eat into Kamara’s production overall. Without Thomas, Kamara was the focal point of both the rushing and passing attack. He carried the ball 187 times and was targeted another 107. A healthy Thomas will force the Saints to lessen the touches Kamara gets. You can fully expect him to be a deadly, dual threat running back, but there are factors that could keep him from breaking into the top three.

2021 Top Fantasy Football Players: Run or pass odds are Kamara is going to be involved. He averaged 17 touches a game in 2020.

#5: Aaron Jones. Running Back, Green Bay Packers, 2020 Position Rank: 5

2020 Stats: 1104 Rushing yards, 355 Receiving Yards, 47 Receptions, 258.9 Fantasy Points

One of the most common themes so far is backs who are capable receivers, which makes them insanely valuable in PPR formats. Aaron Jones continues that trend as he broke 1,000 rushing yards and almost reached the 50-reception benchmark. Outside of Davante Adams (more on him later), the Packers lack proven playmakers. That all but guarantees that Jones will get around 15 touches a game. Jones does not have the upside that the top four picks do, but he is consistent (only one game under 10 fantasy points in 2020) and is the clear leader in the Green Bay running back hierarchy. 

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: Jones is as consistent as they come. Pencil him in for 1,000 yards in 2021.

#6: Davante Adams, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers, 2020 Position Rank: 1

2020 Stats: 115 Receptions, 1374 Receiving Yards, 18 TDs, 358.4 Fantasy Points

If there was one word that could be used to describe Adam’s 2020 season, it would be “dominant”. He posted 18 receiving touchdowns, averaged 98 receiving yards per game, and scored more than 30 fantasy points in six games. While running backs often dominate the early rounds in fantasy football, Adams easily could go in the top five beating out his fellow Packer teammate. His chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, elite route running, and 77% catch percentage are all reason enough to make Adams the first receiver off the board. If there is any cause for concern, it would be the injury bug. While never having suffered a season ending injury, he often battles minor ones such as sprained ankles, turf toe, hamstring strains, and an MCL sprain. On the other hand, Adams was unstoppable in 2020 and posted incredible stats despite missing two full games.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: Seven games over 100 yards and five games with multiple touchdowns. Adams is the #1 receiver and its not close.

#7: Nick Chubb, Running Back, Cleveland Browns, 2020 Position Rank: 11

2020 Stats: 1067 Rushing Yards, 12 Rushing TDs, 5.5 Yards per Carry, 207.7 Fantasy Points

For Chubb, a strong start to the season was derailed by an MCL sprain that caused him to miss four weeks. Yet, that injury has little factor in his top ten status. Upon returning from injury, Chubb posted three consecutive 100+ yard games and eight touchdowns across the final seven games of the season. One of the most efficient rushers in the league, Chubb knows how to maximize each carry and is rarely stopped in the backfield. The only thing that limits Chubb’s upside is the presence of Kareem Hunt. Having a running back partner that is capable of putting up 800 yards and is the superior receiver limits Chubb’s ability to fully control the touches in any game.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: Chubb could punch in 15 touchdowns this season. Cleveland’s backfield is legit.

#8: Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants, 2020 Position Rank: 120

2020 Stats: 34 Rushing Yards, 6 Receptions, 60 Receiving Yards, 15.4 Fantasy Points

As bad as 2020 was for McCaffery, it was somehow even worse for Barkley. In the one full game he played, he carried the ball 15 times for an abysmal six rushing yards. 2021 is a season entirely based on potential for the Penn State product. After his rookie year, Saquon suffered a sophomore slump in 2019 and was basically non-existent in 2020. This feels like a fair placement for the once highly-touted back. He has the ability to be a dual threat back similar to McCaffery or Aaron Jones. However, his injury history, three seasons worth of decline, and the Giants’ addition of Kenny Golladay could mean he does not reach the same highs as his dominant rookie season.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: If Barkley can return to form he could be a huge steal at #8. He may be worth the risk.

#9: Travis Kelce, Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs, 2020 Position Rank: 1

2020 Stats: 105 Receptions, 1416 Receiving Yards, 11 Receiving TDs, 312.76 Fantasy Points

For some, drafting a tight end in the first round is a cardinal sin in the world of fantasy football. However, Kelce is not the average tight end. He is one of the ultimate mismatches in football. His 105 catches are more than Calvin Ridley (WR #5), his 1,416 yards surpassed Deandre Hopkins (WR #4), and he had more touchdowns than David Montgomery (RB #4). The reason Kelce should be valued so highly is the guarantee that you will be starting the best tight end every single week. Regardless of your matchup, Kelce will likely outperform any opposing tight end and give you the head-to-head win at this position. At a traditionally thin position, Kelce is worth the high asking price.

2021 Top 10 Fantasy Football Players: Most TDs, yards and fantasy points by a tight end in 2020. Kelce is in a class of his own.

#10: Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills, 2020 Position Rank: 3

2020 Stats: 127 Receptions, 1535 Receiving Yards, 8 TDs, 328.6 Fantasy Points

There is a legitimate argument for Tyreek Hill to claim this last spot. No one can explode for a huge fantasy day like Hill, but Diggs is the safer bet. Despite scoring nine less touchdowns than Hill, he only scored 0.3 less fantasy points on the season. Diggs is the superior route runner, brought in 40 more receptions, and almost 300 more yards. With a weak run game, the Bills rely heavily on the pass and Diggs is the primary beneficiary of this. There are a handful of players that could fill this spot; Tyreek Hill, Jonathon Taylor, DeAndre Hopkins, and James Robinson are all valid choices, but Diggs has cleared 1,000 yards receiving over his last three seasons and seems to only be getting better while in Buffalo.