No. 12) Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
Fantasy Points per Game: 18.4 (No. 4 among qualified running backs)
<Editors Note: this was written before Jones re-signed with the Packers on a four-year, $48 million deal, hence the caveat of the ‘Way Too Early’ rankings. Look for some movement in the post-NFL Draft update>
One of the biggest dominos set to fall this upcoming offseason is Aaron Jones. Easily the best free agent running back available, Jones could be a high impact newcomer for several RB-needy teams, or he could return to Green Bay in a high-powered offense. He followed up a terrific 2019 with an equally efficient 2020, increasing his yards per carry to a stellar 5.5 and rushing for a career high 1,104 yards. A capable receiver, he has had 95 receptions in the last two seasons combined.
Although leaving Green Bay would be a worry for some, Jones would see more volume on another team. He has never seen more than 236 carries or 68 targets- it is easy to envision him with 250-plus and around 85 on another team. He has now finished as a top 5 RB in Fantasy Points per Game in two straight seasons- joining Dalvin Cook as the only two RBs to accomplish this feat. At only 26 years old, Jones has a lot of high level football left in the tank.
He could slip down this list if the landing spot is not ideal, but he is a talented player who could be viewed as the focal point for another offense.
No. 11) Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
FFPG: 20.5 (No. 3)
There was no better pick in fantasy football drafts in 2020 than Stefon Diggs in the sixth round. The terms “league winner” and “league winning pick” are often overused, but if you drafted Diggs, his first-round scoring at a sixth-round price was almost like a cheat code in winning regular seasons as well as fantasy playoffs. Needing a No. 1 WR, The Bills traded four draft picks (including a first-rounder that turned into Justin Jefferson) to Minnesota for Diggs. Now, it is almost laughable to think about fantasy gamers being leery of Diggs, but many were apprehensive about his production in a new offense, and the perception was that Josh Allen could not support an alpha WR1. This could not have been more wrong.
Diggs posted career-highs in receptions (127), targets (166) and receiving yards (1,535). The Allen-Diggs connection helped lead the high-powered Bills to a 13-3 regular season and an AFC title game appearance. There is no reason to think that the offense should slow down in any way. With offensive coordinator Brian Daboll returning in the same capacity after being rumored for several head coaching openings, the Bills dodged a bullet.
Diggs should settle in as a locked-in late first-rounder or early second-rounder in redraft leagues, and he should challenge for overall WR1 honors.
No. 10) Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
FFPG: 17.3 (No. 7)
One of the safer RB choices in 2021 will be Nick Chubb. Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Chubb has been one of the more efficient running backs in football. This past season, he posted a career-high 5.6 yards per carry despite missing four games, and added a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns. The Kevin Stefanski offense should be even more potent in his second year at the helm, and Chubb will continue to be the team’s focal point.
It will be difficult for Chubb to be RB1 overall due to a lack of targets and Kareem Hunt‘s presence, but he is a safe bet to finish as an RB1. If he can stay healthy, he can lead the NFL in rushing yards and rushing TDs. If Hunt were to go down to injury, Chubb has shown the receiving ability to be an every-down back with 36 receptions in 2019.
He should be a locked-in first round pick in redraft.
No. 9) Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
FFPG: 21.9 (No. 2)
Tyreek Hill continues to be a potent weapon in the high-flying Chiefs passing attack, and quite possibly the most exciting player in football. Few possess the ability to win fantasy weeks like “Cheetah.” Who can forget his ridiculous performance at Tampa Bay in the regular season: 13 catches for 269 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He tied a career-high with 87 catches, and hauled in a career-high 15 touchdown catches. As an added bonus, he found the end zone twice on the ground.
The Andy Reid offense has been perfect for Hill. “Cheetah” has now finished as a WR1 in three out of the last four seasons, and it would have been four straight if not for injuries. There is a chance that Kansas City could upgrade the WR2 slot opposite Hill. The Patrick Mahomes-led passing game is already unstoppable with Hill and Travis Kelce, but there is a chance we could see even higher efficiency in 2021.
Hill is a locked-in first round pick in redraft. In dynasty, he is a top 5 WR. Draft him with confidence.
No. 8) Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
FFPG: 7.7 (n/a)
Last summer, Saquon Barkley was the consensus No. 2 overall pick in most redraft and dynasty formats. Barkley was set for another season as the focal point of the Giants offense: a star player with size, speed, burst, vision and exceptional receiving ability. An ACL tear in Week 2 was a catastrophic moment for teams that drafted him. The Giants offense never recovered, finishing second-to-last with a dismal 16.8 points per game. Now entering his fourth season in the league, he is set for a big rebound campaign.
Barkley has displayed an incredible ceiling, averaging 18.8 Fantasy Points per Game in 2019 and 24.1 in 2018, and should be around the 20.0 mark yet again this season. Fantasy gamers will be able to draft him with an injury discount. If Adrian Peterson was able to overcome an ACL tear and return as a dominant force in fantasy, there is no reason the 24-year-old Barkley cannot as well. The Giants offense will need him, and he has a guaranteed volume of touches that few other backs possess.
He is a first-rounder in redraft and a high first-rounder in dynasty.
No. 7) Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
FFPG: 16.9 (No. 8)
Jonathan Taylor lived up to the immense hype and then some last season with a dominant rookie campaign. There were a few slow games along the way, with the rookie conceding touches to Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. But as the season progressed, he not only returned value on his ADP, but he looked like one of the next great backs in football. One of the most promising signs was his receiving production. The knock on Taylor coming out was that “he was a great runner but a question mark at receiver.” He ended up with 36 receptions on only 39 targets, which put him ahead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, J.K. Dobbins and Cam Akers, and tied him with Antonio Gibson among 2020 rookie RBs, with only James Robinson having more receptions.
Rushing-wise, Taylor averaged 5.0 YPC, finishing with 1,169 yards and 11 TDs; good for a 16.9 Fantasy Points per Game average. The Colts offensive line remains among the best in the league, and they have a lot of cap space to keep improving their weapons. The sky is the limit for Taylor. The defense is also strong and should provide him the Game Scripts necessary to wear down opponents in the second half of games. Expect his carries to rise to above 250 this season.
He is a locked-in top 6 RB in redraft, and most likely the No. 1 overall pick in dynasty startups this summer.
No. 6) Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
FFPG: 20.7 (No. 1)
Travis Kelce is on a historical tear at the TE position that has never been seen before in fantasy football. He has now finished as the fantasy TE1 in each of the last four seasons. To put in perspective just how dominant he is, he would have finished WR8 in Fantasy Points per Game two seasons ago, and WR3 last year.
While other players slow down in their late 20s, Kelce had career-highs in catches, yardage and TDs at age 31. His age should not be a deterrent for dynasty managers either, unlike at other skill positions. He should offer top-tier production for as many years as he is attached to Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and the Chiefs offense.
In PPR leagues, Kelce should be drafted at his highest ADP ever- somewhere in the middle of the first round. In TE-premium formats, he could be considered even higher.
No. 5) Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
FFPG: 25.6 (No. 1)
In a year where many WRs should be prevalent in Rounds 1 and 2, there is only one player who can top them all: Davante Adams. Fantasy Points per Game-wise, he had one of the greatest fantasy seasons of all time. He exceeded previous WR1 overall finishers in Michael Thomas (2019), DeAndre Hopkins (2018) and Antonio Brown (multiple seasons). Despite missing multiple games, he finished No. 1 at the WR position with 358 PPR points. He was a “week winner,” with massive spike week performances propelling his fantasy teams to victory and helping lead the Packers to the NFC Championship.
In Week 16 of the fantasy playoffs – Championship Week for 99-percent of leagues- Adams scored 43.2 fantasy points, going absolutely bonkers with 11 catches for 142 yards and three TDs. He managed to lead all skill position players in Fantasy Points per Game and trailed only Alvin Kamara in total points scored. The Packers could and should add more weapons to the offense, but Adams’ role and Target Share should remain the same.
In dynasty, he is a top WR and should go off the board in the top 15 or so picks in startup drafts.
No. 4) Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
FFPG: 23.7 (No. 2)
After playing in only four games his rookie year, and 11 in his second season, Dalvin Cook has played 14 games in back to back seasons and produced as the clear cut alpha RB he was drafted to be. He has quickly shaken off his “injury risk” red flag, and has now finished among the top 5 RBs in both Fantasy Points per Game and total points for two straight seasons. Last year saw him set career-highs in rushing yards (1,557), TDs (16) and yards per carry (5.0). His receptions and receiving yards both decreased from 2019 levels, dropping from 53 catched to 44 and from 519 receiving yards to 361, but he has now caught 40 or more passes for three straight seasons.
With Cook, you know you are drafting a two-way back with high level production and volume. After signing a huge contract extension last season, he should continue to be the focal point of the Vikings offense. With Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Irv Smith, Minnesota should continue to be a productive offensive attack and provide Cook many scoring opportunities.
In redraft, he will be among the top 5 picks, and in dynasty startups, he will go in the first two rounds.
No. 3) Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
FFPG: 20.7 (No. 3)
While fellow top 5 RBs Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook dominate with both receptions and rushes, displaying balance and efficiency in the process, Derrick Henry is the dinosaur RB who destroys opponents with an old-fashioned ground and pound game. Quite simply, there is no one in football who brings it like Henry. He is an absolute hammer who has earned the title “King Henry.” Defenses know the rushes are coming, and most teams struggle to stop it most games. Henry rushed for a mind-blowing 2,027 yards in 2020, with a staggering 5.4 yards per carry. He handled a whopping 378 carries.
Henry went over 200 yards rushing three times, including a 250-yard showing in Week 17. He logged six multiple-score games. This is now a two year run with over 3,500 yards rushing and 33 rushing TDs. Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith took the Atlanta Falcons head coaching position, but the Titans promoted from within as TEs coach Todd Downing takes over. We should see fewer carries this season, somewhere closer to his 303 carries from 2019 than this past year’s 378, but stylistically we should continue to see King Henry lead the Titans offense.
He is a great pick in redraft leagues and should settle into the top five.
No. 2) Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
FFPG: 25.2 (No. 1)
This past offseason, Alvin Kamara was a potential holdout due to a contract situation. Right before the season, the Saints signed him to a five-year deal – with $34 million guaranteed and a $15 million signing bonus. He did not disappoint the Saints or his fantasy managers. Kamara had a career season, finishing No. 1 in fantasy Fantasy Points per Game among RBs, and total fantasy points among all skill position players. He posted a career-high 932 rushing yards and career-best 16 TDs. One of the best receiving backs ever, he continued his consistent reception total production with a career high 83- this after three straight seasons with 81.
Kamara won many fantasy managers league titles with a historically dominant Week 16 performance in which he scored 56.2 PPR points, including six rushing TDS. This ridiculous TD total set an NFL record for the most ever in a single game. Sean Payton is too good of a coach to waste an elite talent like Kamara in the pinnacle of his career no matter who is starting at QB.
With his receiving floor and ability to find the end zone, he looks like one of the safest bets in football at finishing as a RB1- and another year of RB1 overall is within his reach. In redraft leagues, Kamara will be a top five pick and he will continue to be a first rounder in dynasty startups.
No. 1) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
FFPG: 30.0 (n/a)
The return of the King. It was tempting for me to rank Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry or Dalvin Cook in the top slot, but I had to go with the RB1 in Fantasy Points per Game in both 2019 (29.5) and the RB1 (tied) in 2018 (24.5) in Christian McCaffrey. He was the consensus No. 1 pick in both dynasty and redraft last year. The season started out as could be expected from a player of his talent and volume – two rushing TDs and 135 combined yards in game one against Las Vegas followed up by two more TDs the next week against Tampa Bay. In the Tampa game, McCaffrey left early with an injury that turned out to be high ankle sprain, and it ended up keeping him out for almost two months of the season. He then returned in Week 9 and delivered a classic CMC performance against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kanas City Chiefs: 18 carries for 69 yards and a TD on the ground, with 10 catches on 10 targets for 82 yards receiving. He then suffered a shoulder injury, effectively ending his season.
Only three games played was a disastrous result for fantasy managers picking first. McCaffrey should come roaring back and is absolutely worthy of the top pick in all formats. Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady and QB Teddy Bridgewater will be entering their second seasons in their positions. Scheme-wise, he should return to his 25-plus FPPG scoring average. Mike Davis set career-highs in all categories filling in for McCaffrey and was No. 14 among RBs with a 14.8 FPPG average. McCaffrey should have over 2,000 combined yards and double-digit TDs.
When healthy, he remains the best fantasy producer in football. Expect CMC to be the number one pick in all redraft formats, and the top pick in most dynasty startups.