2021 Fantasy Draft Do’s and Dont’s

Matthew Durgin

In preparation for your upcoming draft (if you’ve already drafted then you drafted way too early), here are my do’s and don’ts.

DO: Go heavy on running backs in the early rounds

Every fantasy player has seen the decline of three-down running backs. As I look through the rankings, there are roughly ten guys I think will be the workhorse of their teams. Does that mean there are only going to be that many productive backs? No, but in a perfect world, you want to get two of those types of players. As a result, you need to be aggressive at the position in the early rounds. You’ll be able to find quality receivers in rounds three through six. You don’t need to try and act like the smartest person in the room by using a zero running back or hero running back strategy. Go get your studs early!

DON’T: Be afraid to draft players coming off of injury

Guys like Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and Saquon Barkley are coming off of injury-riddled seasons. Common sense says to be hesitant on drafting them early. However, they’re all dynamic running backs and are three of the best receiving backs in the league. I can understand being slightly worried about Barkley’s slow return to practice, but by week four or five he’s going to be a fantasy RB1. In his rookie season, Barkley had the second-most receptions for a running back and looked the part.

For receivers, a guy like OBJ might have a lot of hype, but with Baker Mayfield looking improved he’s without question a top 18 receiver and is going outside the top 20 in most leagues. Even when Beckham Jr. was struggling at the beginning of last season, he was getting seven targets a game. If you average that over a 16 game season, he would have finished tied for twenty-first with 112.

Giants' Saquon Barkley will miss Wednesday's practice vs. Patriots
Don’t be afraid to draft Saquon Barkley in the first round.

DO: Think of Kyle Pitts as a top four fantasy tight end

I’ve said it for months, buy all the stock you can in Kyle Pitts. Some are hesitant because of rookie tight ends usually struggling, but Pitts is a different beast. You have to treat him as a wide receiver, meaning that he’s going to be one of the most targeted tight ends. The trio of Kelce, Kittle, and Waller (in any order you’d prefer) are set in stone for TE 1-3. I don’t see a reason why Pitts can’t eclipse Mark Andrews for TE4. Andrews is a heck of a player but is in an offense where they had the fewest pass attempts in the league in 2020. The Falcons, on the other hand, figure to be pass-heavy with Matt Ryan. It also doesn’t hurt that Atlanta might be trailing in most games and should be a pass-heavy offense. The stars are aligned for Pitts to be a fantasy stud as a rookie.

DON’T: Be the guy who is the first person to draft a defense

This is common sense, but there will be someone in your draft that wants to draft the Rams or Steelers defense a few rounds before they actually should. Are there a few defenses that are better than the rest? Yes, but the margin might not be as big as you think. Last year, the difference between the best defense in fantasy and the fifth-best was less than a point a game. Two of those defenses, the Colts and Dolphins, weren’t even drafted in most leagues. Wait until the later rounds and look at what defenses have favorable matchups in the first few weeks of the season.

DO: Wait until the last round to draft a kicker

Some people want to act like a fantasy guru and draft a kicker like Justin Tucker in round 10. It sounds crazy, but it’s happened. The difference between the best kickers in fantasy and even the tenth best isn’t a huge gap. Maybe you get more consistency, but the scoring is similar in most years. You could do what myself, and what many others do, and just pick one in the last round and use the waiver wire every week to acquire a kicker based on matchups. If one just so happens to be consistent week in and week out then you’re in great shape.

Justin Tucker's back-to-back playoff doinks were worse than you thought -  SBNation.com
Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the league, but don’t draft a kicker until the last round

DON’T: Rely on receivers in a run-heavy offense

As the league becomes passing-focused, there are still teams who want to keep a balanced approach. Specifically, the Ravens, Patriots, 49ers, Raiders, Titans, and Saints figure to want to focus their attention on their run game. Because of this, you should be very cautious with their receivers. That means Marquise Brown, Brandon Aiyuk, Michael Thomas (when he gets healthy), and Julio Jones should be on the buyer beware list. All of those aforementioned players don’t lack talent, but will lack targets. This is especially true with everyone besides Thomas being the second option on their team. A guy like A.J. Brown is too talented to fail so he doesn’t really apply to my theory on this, but it is something to consider when comparing him to another top receiver.

DO: Be aggressive in drafting Najee Harris

Remember what I said earlier about the lack of true three-down running backs? Najee Harris is one of them and the rookie should be treated as a first-round fantasy pick. Not only is Harris is a physical runner, but he’s an improved receiver. He brought in 43 receptions as a senior in 2020 and proved he could run every route. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t a gunslinger anymore, with his yards per attempt and air yards per attempt both hitting career lows last year. He wants to get rid of the ball quickly and let his playmakers do the work. As the best pure runner and the best receiver in the Steelers running back room (yes he’s better than Jaylen Samuels in that regard), he will see a high volume of touches. He’s not in that first tier, but consider Harris firmly entrenched in the first round.

Steelers to rest RB Najee Harris versus the Panthers
Najee Harris is worth a first round pick

DON’T: Draft a quarterback until round 4 at the earliest

Despite being one of, if not the highest scorer for your fantasy team, you shouldn’t be selecting a quarterback early. Players like Mahomes, Allen, and Murray are seen as top fantasy quarterbacks due to their running ability or volume stats. However, you need to spend the early rounds on skill players. Like I said earlier, the running back pool is scarce and you don’t want to ignore them or receivers to reach on a quarterback. As much as you want to grab a top quarterback, filling out a balanced roster is a key to a championship run. If one of those four guys is there in the fourth round, definitely think about it. In my opinion though, I’m waiting until a later round to target a Justin Herbert or Matthew Stafford type.