Most fantasy football owners are focused on getting the players they want in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Once they lock in the core of their team, opportunities open up to get creative and take players further down the board. But to find the best sleepers and worthwhile value picks to mark on your cheat sheet, it’s important to have a grasp on which position battles are having the largest impact on fantasy football rankings. As always, there are plenty of camp battles for fantasy owners to watch in 2021, whether they’re looking for a cheap QB, RB, WR, or TE.
There are a handful of position battles that fantasy owners would rather avoid if at all possible. Do we really know who will start at quarterback for the Saints? Or what about the Jaguars and Buccaneers’ running back battles? It’s true that often players in position battles from a fantasy standpoint turn into a committee, but other times, a true high-end contributor can emerge. If you’re lucky enough to land them in the mid-rounds of your fantasy draft, that can be the difference between winning a championship and missing the playoffs.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet
When you head into your fantasy football drafts, you have to know which players are embroiled in these fights for fantasy relevance and snaps. Below, we’ll break down some of the most notable position battles for fantasy football owners to watch. Some will have more importance than others but don’t scoff at the lower-end battles. The difference in choosing the correct man in a backup RB or No. 3 WR battle can often make more of a difference than you’d think.
Most important 2021 NFL position battles
There’s nothing more exciting than a good position battle at the NFL level. Whether it’s the guys fighting for starting jobs or fighting for the final roster spot, competition across positions is rampant.
We’re focused entirely on fantasy-relevant players that owners need to know about ahead of their drafts. Whether it’s the potential winners of each starting quarterback job or the running backs to own (or add to your watchlists for later), this list will run through the most important competitions. That includes starters, backups, handcuffs, and even No. 3 receivers. The Sporting News fantasy team will also be keeping this list updated with any new battles or winners that may emerge.
There are an unusual amount of unsettled quarterback jobs here, so we’ll start with those.
Will Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston start for the Saints?
This is probably the quarterback battle that will have the biggest impact on fantasy football in 2021. Why? Because either Hill or Winston could emerge as a QB1 depending on how things go in New Orleans.
Hill started four games at quarterback for the Saints last year in place of Drew Brees. In those outings, he averaged just 208.5 passing yards and a touchdown, but he also averaged 52.3 rushing yards and a rushing TD per game. That’s better than 23 fantasy points per game (FPPG). As such, he could be a top-12 quarterback if he can pass consistently, but his red-zone rushing ability would also take away potential TDs from Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray at a higher rate.
As for Winston, he was a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2019 when he threw for an NFL-high 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns. The only reason he wasn’t a starter in 2020 was because of his insane 30 interceptions. If he can cut down on those while maintaining his downfield passing prowess, he could emerge as a QB1. He would also be better for the Saints’ RBs than Hill since Winston would be less likely to vulture TDs and rushing opportunities for them.
Fantasy owners probably should only consider Hill and Winston as QB2s because neither is guaranteed to start the whole season, but if Hill wins the starting job, that would be a definitive downgrade for the likes of Kamara and Murray. Kamara would still be an RB1, but his upside would be less, especially in non-PPR leagues.
Update 8/24: In Monday’s preseason bout against the Jaguars, Winston looked in full command of the offense. He completed nine of ten attempts for 123 yards and two passing touchdowns. He found Marquez Callaway on deep balls and the Saints offense looked exactly like a Sean Payton offense you would expect. Hill’s line was 11 for 20, 138 yards, and one passing touchdown and the offense didn’t look at explosive with him under center. After this game, a point goes in Wintson’s column.
Update 8/27: Jameis Winston has won the quarterback battle and will start for New Orleans in Week 1.
Click here for more in-depth analysis of this QB battle.
Will Justin Fields or Andy Dalton start for the Bears?
As much as we may want to see Justin Fields, the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, in action early in his career, Andy Dalton has the edge to start right now.
“Andy is our starter,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said on the Cris Collinsworth podcast back in June. “Again, I can’t predict anything. You know how it goes. There’s so many things that can happen between today and that Week 1, but Andy is our starter and Justin’s our No. 2. And we’re going to stick to this plan.”
So, it seems like Dalton will start the year for the Bears at quarterback, but Fields will probably take over for him at some point during the 2021 NFL season. Both can be left on the waiver wire until Fields is confirmed as the starter. And if you’re doing a best-ball draft, either can be drafted late as a third-string quarterback, though Fields has more upside.
How might Dalton starting impact fantasy football owners? It’s hard to say exactly. It may cap the ceilings of Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney a bit lower than they would be with Fields, but Robinson was a top-12 fantasy receiver each of the past two seasons with a revolving door of Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles at the quarterback spot.
Mooney, meanwhile, will probably be better with the bigger-armed Fields, but he should still produce at a higher clip than last year when Foles and Trubisky couldn’t hit him on downfield throws at all.
Will Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance start for the 49ers?
Right now, it looks like Jimmy Garoppolo is set to start for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan confirmed that he sees Garoppolo as the starter ahead of training camp, though he said he wouldn’t rule out Lance starting if he’s ready.
“I definitely see it as Jimmy is the starter, but if Trey is ready to compete, I have no problem with it,” Shanahan said, per NBC Sports Bay Area. “I don’t sit there and say ‘Hey no, we’re not playing a rookie quarterback, we have to rest him the first year.’ I don’t really make any decisions like that until I actually have an opinion on it, and that’ll take to how I see him in camp.”
Lance has received some positive buzz in training camp, but Garoppolo has largely taken the first-team reps. As such, it seems that Jimmy G will be the starter and will be a solid streaming option, especially in Week 1 against the Lions.
That said, Lance still has some value, particularly in best ball leagues. He may be the starter by the end of the season, and Garoppolo has proven brittle in the past. Still, in re-draft leagues, Lance probably isn’t worth drafting right now. He’s a guy to watch on the waiver wire.
How does this impact the 49ers’ receiving weapons like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle? Not too much. Samuel and Kittle both have posted good fantasy seasons with Garoppolo at the helm while Aiyuk did well last season despite playing with Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard most of the season. They all will be solid weapons with him at the helm, and if Lance eventually overtakes him, they should continue to produce.
Long story short, this will have a bigger impact on fantasy quarterback rankings than anything else.
Update 8/23: While Kyle Shanahan has sworn Jimmy G is still solidly the 49ers starting QB, he wouldn’t commit to naming a starter after their Week 2 preseason game. In that game against the Chargers, Lance scored his first pair of NFL touchdowns and posted 102 yards of 8/12 passing and one interception. Jimmy G was 3/6 for 15 yards and an interception. Lance looked flat-out better and with Shanahan unwilling to announce as Garoppolo the starter, the window is open for the possibility of Lance taking over right away.
Will Cam Newton or Mac Jones start for the Patriots?
The Newton-Jones battle is somewhat similar to the Hill-Winston battle. Basically, it boils down to the following:
If Newton starts, the Patriots will probably skew run-heavy to start the season. That will provide opportunities for the likes of Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White (more on them later), but Newton could vulture goal-line opportunities from them. He ran for 12 touchdowns last year, and he will probably continue to go for the glory in the red zone.
Meanwhile, Jones would be less of a threat to the running game, but unlike Winston, he wouldn’t be a sure-fire upgrade for the Patriots’ receivers. Jones has a good arm, but it isn’t of Winston’s caliber. He would rely a lot on passing in rhythm and would have QB2 potential if all goes well. He isn’t very mobile, so he probably wouldn’t climb into low-end QB1 range like Newton could thanks to his rushing ability (39.5 rushing yards/game in 2021).
All told, Newton probably has more fantasy value on his own than Jones. However, if Newton can’t improve his downfield throwing ability and up his total passing TDs — he had just eight in 2020 — he could put a damper on things for Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. That, coupled with Newton’s penchant for vulturing TDs, might make Jones the better option for those relying on New England’s skill position players in RB2, WR3 and flex roles.
Update 8/20: In Week 2 of the preseason, Newton completed eight of nine passing attempts and recording a passing touchdown; one of his better performances through the air. Jones was 13-19 for 146 yards and looked comfortable in the offense early. There still isn’t a clear-cut leader for QB1, but Jones is at least gaining ground.
Will Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater start for the Broncos?
Update 8/25: Bridgewater has been named the Week 1 starter.
We know — you’re not likely to draft either Lock or Bridgewater in single-QB leagues. So, why should you care about who starts? Easy. The Broncos have a ton of skill-position talent that will rely on the quarterback in 2021. As such, it does matter whether Lock or Bridgewater starts.
Lock is more of a downfield risk-taker. He averaged 8.8 intended air yards per attempt last year, which ranked fifth among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. Meanwhile, Bridgewater’s mark of 7.1 ranked 32nd.
That said, Bridgewater is decidedly more accurate than Lock. Bridgewater completed 69.1 percent of his passes last year while Lock managed a completion rate of just 57.3 percent. Lock also threw 15 interceptions compared to Bridgewater’s 11 despite playing two fewer games than the former Panthers QB.
What does this all mean? Well, Lock starting would probably be better for Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant in terms of downfield playmaking ability. They’d have opportunities for bigger plays, which would benefit those in standard leagues. However, those in PPR leagues might prefer the more accurate Bridgewater, as he could allow Jeudy, Sutton and Fant more opportunities to catch passes.
While Lock and Bridgewater may impact these receiving weapons, they shouldn’t impact draft strategy too much on their own. Both are very low-end QB2s and should not be drafted outside of two-QB and superflex leagues.
Update 8/23: In Week 2 of the preseason. Bridgewater got his first start as a Bronco and impressed. He went 9 for 11 with 105 yards and a passing score. Drew Lock has shown off his deep ball in the preseason, but Bridgewater appears to have a better command of the offense. From a fan’s eyes, Bridgewater looks like the frontrunner, but Vic Fangio still insists the job is wide open.
More QB position battles to watch
Colts. If Carson Wentz (foot) needs time to recover, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger and Brett Hundley will battle for playing time.
- Our projected order: Eason, Ehlinger, Hundley
Texans. If Deshaun Watson holds out or is suspended, Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel and Davis Mills will be in the mix at QB.
- Our projected order: Taylor, Mills, Driskel
Should I draft Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones in fantasy?
It’s easy to get excited about the Tampa Bay running backs. The Bucs are returning all of their offensive starters, and the running backs will serve as a foil to Tom Brady and a strong passing attack.
However, picking the right guy is going to be difficult.
On the one hand, Jones averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year and came up just shy of 1,000 yards during the regular season. Meanwhile, Fournette sputtered to a 3.8 yards/carry average and saw nearly 100 carries fewer than Jones did.
On the other hand, Fournette came alive during the postseason. He averaged 112 scrimmage yards and a touchdown per game for the Bucs. Jones had just 139 total rushing yards while battling a quad injury during the postseason. Furthermore, his total yards/carry average was buoyed by a league-best 98-yard TD run. Without that run, he averaged 4.6 yards/carry compared to 5.1. That’s still more than respectable, but it’s worth noting.
In truth, this RB battle is a coin-flip. We currently have Jones ranked 37th in our fantasy football RB rankings with Fournette checking in at 38. The preseason should tell us more about this battle, but for now, it’s truly a pick ’em, with Jones having just the tiniest bit of extra upside, at least in standard leagues.
Of course, this whole situation could get complicated fast if Giovani Bernard siphons off catches as a James White-type option for Brady out of the backfield. So, keep an eye on his usage, as well.
Which Patriots RB should I draft in fantasy football?
- Damien Harris
- James White
- Rhamondre Stevenson
Speaking of White, the Patriots’ backfield is another tough nut to crack. They figure to skew run-heavy — especially if Cam Newton beats Mac Jones for the starting job — and the team has a top-five offensive line on paper. So, there is a lot of fantasy potential here.
The best way to approach this one is by a process of elimination. Sony Michel had just 79 carries last year and has had some injury issues. He still seems likely to make the team, but he’s in the final year of his deal. If he doesn’t look good, Bill Belichick could part with him. And even if he looks good, he’s more of a handcuff-type than anything else.
Next up is Stevenson. There’s reason to be excited about the LeGarrette Blount-type runner, but the Patriots tend not to let their rookies shoulder the load often during their first seasons. In fact, only one running back drafted by the Patriots in the last decade has received more than 90 touches as a rookie. That was Michel, and he was the lone first-round pick of the group.
So, Stevenson is, at best, a good late-round lottery ticket.
That leaves two options as the preferred Patriots backs: Damien Harris and James White. Harris represents the best of the bunch. He has a legitimate chance to be an RB2 with increased volume. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 10 games last year (137 carries, 691 yards) but he needs to score more TDs to be consistent (he had just two last year). That could get tricky if Newton starts or Stevenson emerges.
Meanwhile, White will continue to be a nice PPR option and potential matchup-dependent flex in standard. The Patriots don’t have a lot of receiving options, so perhaps White can establish himself as a preferred checkdown.
Update 8/20: In Week 2 of the preseason, Harris took all the first-team reps, rushing six times for 14 yards and a score. Stevenson looked received a big workload with 15 carries for 66 yards, while Michel rushed seven times for 34 yards. Harris had the least success on the ground, but it’s pretty telling he has dominated the first-team reps so far.
Update 8/25: New England traded Michel to the Rams, opening the door for Stevenson to be the top backup. That gives Stevenson even more sleeper value in drafts. White’s value stays roughly the same.
Will Melvin Gordon or Javonte Williams be the Broncos’ starting RB?
Gordon is the bigger name here, but don’t sleep on Williams. The Broncos spent a second-round pick on him for a reason. He totaled 1,445 yards and 22 TDs while averaging 7.9 yards per touch during his time at North Carolina and figures to be a dynamic starter in the NFL as well.
Last year, Gordon managed 1,144 total yards, 4.6 yards/carry, and 10 TDs in his first season with Denver. However, he had just three games with at least 100 yards, and that was with Phillip Lindsay missing five games. If there’s any TD regression from Gordon — and there certainly could be with Williams in the fold — it will be difficult for him to maintain his status as an RB2.
This is another seesaw battle, but this one tilts in Williams’ favor. Provided that he shows well and stays healthy in the preseason, draft him as a low-end RB2 and Gordon as a high-end flex with RB2 upside. You can’t go wrong with either, but Williams seems more likely to emerge as a true starter and potential bell cow.
Which Texans RB should I draft in fantasy football?
- David Johnson
- Phillip Lindsay
- Mark Ingram
Truth be told, the answer to this question might be nobody. The Texans figure to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year, especially if Deshaun Watson doesn’t play or is suspended.
For fantasy’s sake, one of these guys will probably emerge as a decent flex play, and because all three are well-known fantasy commodities, odds are at least two will be drafted.
It doesn’t seem likely to be Ingram. Father time appeared to catch up to him last year, as the Ravens largely benched him late in the season to roll with JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill at running back. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but that was his lowest mark since 2012. He can be left on the waiver wire.
The Johnson or Lindsay debate is much more interesting. Johnson actually averaged a career-best 4.7 yards per carry last season and cracked 1,000 scrimmage yards (1,005 to be exact). He missed four games, which has been a problem for the injury-prone back, but if he can stay healthy, there is some RB2 potential there.
The same can be said of Lindsay. However, he’s coming off a year in which he averaged a career-low 4.3 yards per carry and struggled with injuries for the first time in his three-year NFL career. He had averaged 1,024 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs per game in his first two seasons and made 35 catches in both campaigns. If he stays on the field, he could regain that form.
At the end of the day, though, this seems similar to the Jones-Fournette split. They’ll likely both have some relevance but might cannibalize one another, as well. It’s a coin-flip here, but we have Lindsay a single spot ahead of Johnson in our fantasy RB rankings, largely because of long-term value over the course of a season. However, we’d prefer Lindsay on draft day, too, especially considering that his FantasyPros ADP has him coming off the board No. 160 compared to Johnson’s 88th-ranked ADP.
Update 8/26: Camp comments from David Johnson have seemed to indicate he’ll have less of a featured role this year.
Is Travis Etienne or James Robinson the better fantasy football value?
UPDATE: It was announced on Aug. 24 that Etienne suffered a mid-foot Lisfranc sprain and will miss the rest of the season. James Robinson becomes a solid RB2, and Carlos Hyde is a valuable handcuff.
If Johnson vs. Lindsay was like Fournette vs. Jones, then Etienne vs. Robinson is comparable to Williams vs. Gordon.
The Jaguars surprised many when they selected Clemson’s Travis Etienne with their second first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but not because of his ability. Etienne averaged a whopping 19 TDs per season at Clemson and recorded at least 1,500 scrimmage yards in each of his past three seasons with the team. He’s a dynamic, explosive weapon, and his 48 catches last year show off his upside as a receiver.
Robinson is a good complement to Etienne. He’s less explosive but he’s a tough between-the-tackles runner who averaged 4.6 yards per carry and totaled 1,414 scrimmage yards as a rookie. He’s a solid receiver and a good do-it-all performer. He figures to have a role in the Jaguars’ offense, but it’s just a question of how he’ll compliment Etienne.
Etienne is practicing as both a receiver and running back, so he may be on the field even when Robinson is out there. That makes him the better option for fantasy leagues, especially ones that use PPR scoring. Considering that they’re closely ranked in terms of ADP, with Robinson actually having the slight edge, Etienne seems like the better value. His ceiling is higher than that of Robinson.
Which 49ers RB should I draft?
- Raheem Mostert
- Trey Sermon
- Wayne Gallman
- Elijah Mitchell
Is there anything better than trying to figure out what Kyle Shanahan is going to do at RB? Last year, the team had four different RBs lead them in rushing yards in a game at during the season: Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty. Of that bunch, only Mostert is considered a fantasy threat off the bat in 2021.
Mostert played in just eight games last season but racked up 521 yards on 5.0 yards per carry. He has a career yards/carry average of 5.6, so he should be considered the clubhouse leader for the job despite the 49ers spending a third-round pick on Sermon.
That said, Sermon still has plenty of upside. In his final four games at Ohio State, he totaled a whopping 638 yards, and that was despite getting injured after one carry in the National Championship Game against Alabama. He had a 331-yard outing against Northwestern in the Big 10 Championship and has the frame (6-0, 215 pounds) needed to be a threat at the NFL level.
Still, Mostert is proven at the moment, and Shanahan tends to roll with the hot hand. Sermon certainly has value and should be drafted, but Mostert should be the 49ers starter to begin the year.
Mostert and Sermon are certainly draft-worthy players, but while Gallman and Mitchell may not be on the radars of fantasy football owners, they should keep an eye on them on the waiver wire. Gallman did well filling in for Saquon Barkley last year and could thrive if Shanahan takes a shine to him. As for Mitchell, he was a sixth-round pick, but Shanahan and his father have turned those into gold before (think Alfred Morris and Terrell Davis).
More RB position battles to watch
Bills. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary figure to be a committee, but one will probably emerge as the slight favorite.
- Our projected order: Moss, Singletary (though Singletary could still have more value in PPR leagues)
Update 8/23: Singletary continues to flash in limited preseason work. In Week 2, he rushed only two times for 21 yards and a rushing score. Moss received lots of offseason buzz, but Singletary appears he won’t go down without a fight.
Chiefs backup. Owning the handcuff to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the dynamic Kansas City offense is ideal. It’s just a question of who it will be with Le’Veon Bell and Damien Williams gone.
- Our projected order: Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon, Darwin Thompson
Update 8/23: Clyde Edwards-Helaire sprained his right ankle in the Chiefs’ preseason game in the second quarter of Week 2. Backup Darrel Williams also left the game with a concussion. There aren’t details yet as to how severe CEH’s injury may be, but it’s concerning he’s already dealing with them after missing a few games last year. Concussions are always worrisome and should be monitored moving forward. Either way, it’s a smart move to grab either Williams or McKinnon as a handcuff with CEH sustaining yet another injury.
Raiders. The Raiders drafted Josh Jacobs in Round 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft. They added Kenyan Drake to the fold during the 2021 offseason. Jacobs seems likely to be better between the tackles while Drake will get more work as a receiver.
- Our projected order: Jacobs, Drake
Chargers backup. Los Angeles will almost certainly feature a back as the thunder complement to Austin Ekeler’s lightning. It’s just a matter of who: Joshua Kelley or Justin Jackson.
- Our projected order: Jackson, Kelley
Bears backup. The Bears figure to skew run-heavy with either Andy Dalton or rookie Justin Fields running the offense. As such, their choice for a backup RB/receiving back will be crucial. Tarik Cohen has experience in the offense, but Damien Williams could push him for playing time.
- Our projected order: Cohen, Williams
Who will be the Jaguars’ top receiver?
- DJ Chark
- Marvin Jones
- Laviska Shenault
The Jaguars’ offense should be a lot better than it was in 2021 with Trevor Lawrence taking over as the team’s new quarterback. That said, the battle for Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver spot is wide open.
Last year, Chark finished with a team-high 706 receiving yards and 93 targets, but he is dealing with a finger injury. That may not keep him out of action, but it might prevent him from building up chemistry with Lawrence. That could allow Shenault, who led the Jaguars with 58 catches last year, to step into a bigger role off the bat.
Jones is something of a wild card. The 31-year-old continued to perform well last season and logged 978 receiving yards and nine TDs with the Lions. How will he adapt to a new offensive system? And how many of the departed Keenan Cole’s 88 targets will he be able to soak up? These are the questions Jones will have to answer quickly during the preseason.
Chark probably has the most upside of this group — he was a Pro Bowler in 2019, after all — so he should still be considered the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver for now. Still, don’t sleep on Jones and Shenault. Both could emerge as high-quality WR3 or flex plays. Jones is the safer bet of the two after a good start to camp while Shenault has high-end PPR potential.
Who will be the Saints’ top receiver after Michael Thomas?
- Tre’Quan Smith
- Marquez Callaway
- Deonte Harris
- Chris Hogan
Thomas’ timetable return from offseason ankle surgery is unclear. As such, the Saints’ receiving room is in complete flux. They have yet to find a worthwhile No. 2 receiver next to Thomas, but now, their hodgepodge of spare parts will have to come together to form a receiving corps.
Already, the ceiling of these players will be limited by the absence of Drew Brees, and if Taysom Hill starts at QB, that could signal a run-heavy offense. Still, these receivers could emerge as flex plays due to volume if nothing else.
Among these players, Smith led the way in targets last year with 50, which ranked fifth on the Saints. He caught 34 passes for 448 yards and four TDs, but in a larger role, he could emerge as a high-end flex option. He’s the one to own, provided that he can recover from an apparent leg injury.
Callaway is likely next up in the pecking order. He’s averaged 10.1 yards per catch last season but played sparingly for the Saints. The same can be said of Harris (9.3 ypc), who could be a deep threat if given more playing time on offense.
Hogan may be the most familiar name on this list, but he’s just a player to keep an eye on. He signed with the Saints after a stint playing professional lacrosse. He could emerge as a starter for the Saints, which would make him a potential flex option. He’s the bottom-ranked player among these four but he’s a guy to watch on the waiver wire.
Update 8/26: Callaway has broken out in the preseason among Saints WRs and is quickly rising up draft boards.
Is Gabriel Davis or Emmanuel Sanders the better Bills WR?
Sanders is the better-known name of these two and has been a reliable fantasy asset over the years. With the Saints in 2020, he totaled 726 yards and five TDs on 61 catches. He finished second on the team in total targets.
Davis provides more upside. As the Bills’ No. 4 receiver last year, he racked up seven TDs and a 17.1 yards-per-catch average on 35 receptions. If he wins a starting job across from Stefon Diggs with Cole Beasley in the slot, he could go off as a deep threat for Josh Allen.
In this case, it’s better to bank on Davis’ upside over Sanders’ reliability. Sanders is a fine bench player to have, but Davis has WR3 upside, at the very least. He’s a high-quality, boom-or-bust flex play, but Sanders may be more of a backup to start the season. Feel free to scoop him late in drafts or watch him on the waiver wire, but don’t take him ahead of Davis
More WR position battles to watch
Patriots WR1. It’s not exciting to sort through the noise in the Patriots’ receiver room, but odds are that one of their top two receivers will be a decent WR3/flex play in good matchups.
- Our projected order: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry
Lions WR1. Similar to the Patriots, the Lions don’t possess a lot of top-tier fantasy weapons. Still, one of their top receivers should emerge as a flex play considering that the Lions will probably pass the ball a lot in 2021.
- Our projected order: Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Amon-Ra St. Brown
Chiefs WR2. Kansas City has a lot of weapons in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Edwards-Helaire, but Patrick Mahomes can turn anyone into a star. With Sammy Watkins gone, the Chiefs have an opening for a second WR to step up, and if you land the right one, they could be an ultimate boom pick.
- Our projected order: Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Cornell Powell
Cardinals WR2. Is Larry Fitzgerald coming back? Will A.J. Green return to form? Can Christian Kirk take a step forward? There are nearly as many questions as there are opportunities in Kliff Kingsberry’s pass-happy Air Raid offense.
- Our projected order: Kirk, Green, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella
Cleveland WR3. You may not draft these guys, but there is some boom potential in Cleveland’s WR corps (especially with Odell Beckham Jr.’s checkered injury history). Keep an eye on these guys on the early-season waiver wire.
- Our projected order: Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz
Packers WR3. Randall Cobb’s return largely renders these guys as boom-or-bust flex plays. Still, they work with Aaron Rodgers, and that’s hard to beat.
- Our projected order: Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers
Rams WR3. The Rams were able to support Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks as fantasy options with Jared Goff at QB. Can they support three receivers with Matthew Stafford as the starter? It seems possible.
- Our projected order: Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
Will Jonnu Smith or Hunter Henry be Patriots’ top TE?
The Patriots signed the two clear-cut top tight end options on the free-agent market during the offseason. Naturally, fantasy owners are wondering which will emerge as the better option.
It seems likely that Smith will be the No. 1 tight end in wake of a shoulder injury that Henry suffered during camp. It could keep him out of action during the preseason, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
Patriots TE Hunter Henry injured his shoulder in Sunday’s practice, and is having an MRI, per a source. While initial indications are that the injury doesn’t appear serious, the injury is painful and Henry could miss time in the preseason.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 9, 2021
Besides, from the get-go, it seemed like Smith — who signed first and fits the athletic, versatile blend that the Patriots like in their offensive weapons — would be favored. He had a career-high nine total TDs last year and can operate out of the backfield in addition to being a tight end. The Patriots will probably try to manufacture touches for him in 2021.
Henry will be a solid fantasy asset, as well, as the Patriots figure to use a lot of two-TE sets. However, it’s unlikely that he will approach the career-high 93 targets he saw last season. Smith had comparable production on just 65 targets, so he’s the safer bet to remain a TE1 this season.
More TE position battles to watch
Bears. Chicago spent a second-round pick on Cole Kmet in 2020, but they are still holding on to Jimmy Graham. The future is now for the Bears.
- Our projected order: Kmet, Graham
Cowboys. Blake Jarwin was a popular sleeper in 2020, but he got hurt early last season. Dalton Schultz emerged as a high-target streamer. Will either step up in 2021?
- Our projected order: Jarwin, Schultz
Saints. Adam Trautman is the popular candidate to step up in place of Jared Cook, who is now with the Chargers. Can veteran Nick Vannett or converted WR Juwan Johnson push him for a role?
- Our projected order: Trautman, Johnson, Vannett
Seahawks. Gerald Everett signed a one-year deal to join the Seahawks. He figures to be the starter, but don’t count out Will Dissly. Uncle Will was once a TE1 but has dealt with injury issues in recent seasons.
- Our projected order: Everett, Dissly
Titans. Ryan Tannehill likes throwing to his tight end. That will either be Geoff Swaim or Anthony Firkser. That bears watching for streaming purposes at the very least.
- Our projected order: Firkser, Swaim