By Jason Dambach
The NFL season has entered Week 14, which means it’s playoff time in the majority of fantasy football leagues.
If you’re one of the lucky four or six teams still alive in your league, you certainly aren’t looking ahead to 2021 just yet.
For those of you not fortunate enough to still be alive for a fantasy championship, this is for you.
After all, there’s no better way to erase the taste and smell of a losing fantasy season than to use the last few weeks of NFL games to plan ahead for your 2021 fantasy drafts.
Of course in this space we’re just going to focus on former Penn State players, but there are some big names among that group to consider within the first four rounds of next year’s drafts along with some emerging young players to potentially target.
(Note: The draft projections are based on a 12-team, PPR league set up)
Saquon Barkley (RB/Giants)
Assuming his off-season rehab from ACL surgery on his right knee goes well and he remains on track to open next season healthy, Barkley will once again be a first round commodity in 2021 fantasy drafts.
No, his average draft position (ADP) won’t be second overall like it was this year, but he should still be picked in the Top 5.
Personally, there are only three other running backs that I would definitely draft ahead of Saquon — Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara.
You could also make a strong case for taking Derrick Henry over Barkley simply based on his longevity, heavy workload and incredible production, but Barkley has much more pass-catching ability to complement his rushing ability.
A healthy Barkley with a three-down skill set in what should be an improved Giants’ offense in 2021 would be pretty hard to pass up if I had a top five selection.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: 1st Round, Top 5
Miles Sanders (RB/Eagles)
Sanders was a borderline first round selection in many leagues this year and was definitely scooped up by the middle of the second in almost every league.
Fantasy owners were hoping that Sanders terrific ending to his 2019 rookie campaign — he rushed for over 200 yards, caught 11 passes for 127 yards and scored three TDs in Weeks 14 and 15 — would be enough to earn him a three-down role with the Eagles despite head coach Doug Pederson’s affinity for a running back-by-committee approach.
While his 2020 campaign certainly has had some flashes, overall Sanders has failed to provide a good ROI on his draft position due to injuries and less-than-ideal usage in a bad offense.
Sanders is a classic buy-low opportunity in 2021 drafts. Even if Pederson is still the head coach, and whether it’s Carson Wentz or Jalen Hurts under center, there’s almost no chance that the Eagles draft or sign another running back who can challenge his ability.
Assuming the Eagles address their porous offensive line and he can log a mostly-healthy season, Sanders should have Top 8 running back upside even if he is somewhere between the 14th and 16th running back selected.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: Mid-to-Late 2nd Round (18-22 Overall)
Allen Robinson (WR/Bears)
Robinson will be a hard player to project entering 2021.
On one hand, there is tremendous uncertainty about what the Bears’ quarterback situation will look like with Mitch Trubisky on his way to free agency and Nick Foles less than a sure thing to return.
On the other hand, Robinson has been a consistent Top 15 wide receiver and has garnered the fourth-most passing targets (115) in the league through Week 13.
As happens every year during draft season, steady veterans like Robinson won’t be viewed as sexy or high upside as younger breakout candidates (think D.J. Chark or Marquis Brown from this year’s fantasy drafts), but savvy fantasy owners will cherish his consistency and unquestioned status as Chicago’s top pass target.
Of course, this all assumes that he returns to Chicago in 2021 either with a new contract or under the Bears’ franchise tag, but Robinson will make a great target for owners who want to draft running backs early and wait for their starting wide receivers.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: Late 3rd round (30-36 Overall)
Chris Godwin (WR/Buccaneers)
Like Robinson, when looking ahead to Godwin’s fantasy value in 2021 we have to assume that he remains with his current team.
The 2017 third-round draft pick is currently playing out his rookie deal and is due a hefty, new contract for 2021 and beyond.
While injuries and lack of chemistry with Tom Brady have curtailed his fantasy value this year, Godwin will be a classic bounce back candidate in 2021.
He was on average the sixth wide receiver taken in fantasy drafts in 2020, which made him a late second rounder. Unfortunately, he has not provided a good return on that investment, checking in as WR46 entering Week 14.
His stock will certainly fall in 2021 drafts, especially with a boatload of quality, young receivers who will garner more attention, but that’s good news for owners who will be looking for WR1 production after the first three rounds.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: Early-to-Mid 4th Round (36-40 Overall)
Mike Gesicki (TE/Dolphins)
Gesicki was on average TE15 off the board in 2020 fantasy drafts and thanks to a weak year overall at the position, he surprisingly ranks inside the top 10 in fantasy scoring through 13 weeks.
The problem for anyone who drafted Gesicki is that a hefty portion of his production came in just a handful of games.
That means consistency has been and likely will continue to be an issue even as the Dolphins’ future looks very bright.
That said, outside of the top players at tight end (Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller, T.J. Hockenson), there’s really very little that separates the next tier at the position.
If you are one of the last people in your league to draft a starting tight end, Gesicki is likely going to be in consideration in 2021 along with names like Hayden Hurst, Jonnu Smith and Logan Thomas.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: 11th Round (120-130 Overall)
KJ Hamler (WR/Broncos)
Hamler, the rookie second rounder for the Broncos, has shown flashes of fantasy relevance in an offense that has struggled most of the season.
At best, Hamler will be Drew Lock’s fourth-best receiving option behind wide outs Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy and tight end Noah Fant, but he will be the team’s primary slot receiver, which means plenty of snaps in what John Elway wants to be a pass-first offense.
If you are at the end of your season-long draft and want to take a flier on a possible breakout candidate, Hamler warrants consideration.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: Last Round
Pat Freiermuth (TE/TBD)
One of my personal rules of thumb in fantasy football is to never draft a rookie tight end, but for owners looking to draft a potential fantasy stud at the position, Freiermuth should be in consideration for selection in 2021 fantasy drafts as a stash and hope.
Kyle Pitts of Florida will certainly be a first round NFL pick and that status will make him a surefire draft selection in the majority of fantasy leagues, but Freiermuth could follow suit as the other rookie tight end to hold value.
Of course, his NFL landing spot will have a lot to do with his fantasy value as a rookie, but assuming he ends up in a spot that offers plenty of early playing time, Freiermuth will likely be drafted in fantasy.
2021 Fantasy Draft Projection: Last Round
NFL Week 14 Fantasy Plays and Fades
(Note: These picks come from the week’s consensus Top 10 rankings at each position)
QB- Russell Wilson (SEA vs. NYJ)
RB- Aaron Jones (GB at DET)
WR- Keenan Allen (LAC vs. ATL)
TE- T.J. Hockenson (DET vs. GB)
DEF- New Orleans (at PHI)
QB- Deshaun Watson (HOU at CHI)
RB- James Robinson (JAC vs. TEN)
WR- Adam Thielen (MIN at TB)
TE- Darren Waller (LV vs. IND)
DEF- Baltimore (at CLE)