Draft Strategy by platform: ESPN

With less than three weeks left before the kickoff to the 2021 NFL season, the August 27th and September 3rd weekends are the two biggest draft weekends of the year. Fantasy players across the world will stake their claim to be champions in their leagues and many will be drafting on three websites. Welcome to the ESPN site coverage of our three-part site ranks deep dive. Just as our other two parts for Sleeper and CBS, we are comparing our ranks against the online draft clients for full PPR purposes. For each position, we are stating an over and undervalued player to each site. Additional players with a large difference from rankings to draft clients will also be listed.


Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) Listed Rank 3/ My Rank 5

The admitted issue with the quarterback ranks for the ESPN draft client, is that there are no issues, they are very similar to my own ranks. So Murray shows up here as more of a nit-pick—more so than any other player in this series. Murray has all the hallmarks of a quarterback deserving of being drafted as a top-five option at the worst. The issue primarily is that he has a poor chance to lead in any one category. The room for improvement seems minimal after a 2nd place finish in 2020. Murray was 7th in pass attempts, 13th in passing yards, 12th in passing touchdowns, all solid finishes for sure. Murray added 800 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores and the finish he had makes sense. The problem is that each passing category could be surpassed by one of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Dak Prescott, and Lamar Jackson is still the tour de force in the rushing category. Murray is stuck in a spot where there are just five great quarterbacks for fantasy, without even including Russell Wilson as the 6th option. Murray feels like a pure “drafted at his ceiling” fantasy option, and A player needed to fill this spot.
Draft instead: Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)


Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) Listed Rank 17/ My Rank 17

As stated above quarterbacks have no large differences, which is a benefit to Roethlisberger in this case. Currently, all three Steelers receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson are being drafted within the first 30 receivers and 75 overall picks for full PPR. Roethlisberger being disregarded as a top 12 option with such high stock being placed in all three, as well as rookie rusher Najee Harris is a point of interest. There is no rushing capability whatsoever for the 39-year-old, but if his arm is right 600 pass attempts in Roethlisberger’s last two healthy seasons could be repeated. Drafting Roethlisberger as a late upside pick for those inclined to draft a second QB in 1QB leagues is fully endorsed this season. Drafting such players to beat the waiver has never been a bad idea.
Draft over: Kirk Cousins(Minnesota Vikings), Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins)

Other QB’s of note:
Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins) Listed Rank 15/ My Rank 21
Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers) Listed Rank 35/ My Rank 20


Running Back
Leonard Fournette (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) Listed Rank 31/ My Rank 35

One of the more contentious backfields entering the 2021 draft season is that of Tampa Bay. Prior to the week 13 bye the stat lines for Fournette and fellow running back Ronald Jones were as follows. Jones: 162 carries, 820 yards(5.1 ypc), 40 targets, 27 receptions, 161 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns. Fournette: 69 carries, 271 yards(3.9 ypc), 37 targets, 28 receptions, 171 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns. Two things happened after that bye week, Jones’ injury, and Fournette’s tear down the stretch all the way to the Super Bowl. The stretch that Fournette had, 15 fantasy points in six of seven games down the stretch, does weigh on minds going into this season. The tear that Jones had to start the year is equally as impressive, how much both are affected by new running back addition Giovani Bernard is in question as well. Based on the early part of 2020 it would appear Fournette would take a hit from Bernard. Head coach Bruce Arians stated that in the week two preseason game no starters will play. Hopefully, that will be the clear sign of which way fantasy players should lean in this backfield.
Draft instead: James Conner (Arizona Cardinals), David Johnson (Houston Texans)


D’Andre Swift (Detroit Lions) Listed Rank 16/ My Rank 13

In 2020 Swift averaged 1.19 full PPR fantasy points per touch. Over the last three season averages, there are only players to equal or have more fantasy points per touch. Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara at 1.19 and 1.23 respectively. One-year samples are not much to go off of, but their common theme has been receptions. While Kamara tops the three in that department at 83 in 2020, it’s all relative to a per touch basis so there’s room to grow for Swift. Swift is no longer in an amalgamation of a backfield with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson. Swift finishing as the RB13 in PPG for full PPR is that impressive when those backs combined for 239 touches.
Draft over: Clyde Edwards-Helaire(Kansas City Chiefs), Chris Carson(Seattle Seahawks)


Wide Receiver
Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints) Listed Rank 39 / My Rank 46

Fantasy managers were thrown quite the curveball when the New Orleans Saints announced he underwent ankle surgery in late June. That timeframe puts week one firmly out of reach and the question then becomes how much longer would Thomas miss time. An optimistic view would have Thomas return in week seven on MNF vs. Seattle, just after the week six bye. Thomas has dealt with this ankle issue in 2020, and now even after that recovery time, it’s unsure how much that would affect him for 2021. The common nickname given to him “slant boy” is half insult and half observation of his most commonly run route. A player such as Thomas operates in quick movements to beat defenders. Exploding off the line is the key to his success and quick movements could be hampered by this ankle. Thomas is going to be on a team-by-team basis for risk assessment. Thomas’ 2019 149 reception record season, and completely derailed 2020 rightfully weigh heavily on players’ minds. Drafting in the top six rounds as his current ADP isn’t advisable, more towards the ninth or tenth is a different story.
Draft instead: Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati Bengals), Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers)


Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers) Listed Rank 10/ My Rank 6

Joe Lombardi, the new offensive coordinator in Los Angeles, knows well about Michael Thomas as he was the quarterback’s coach for New Orleans. Lombardi is expected to bring an offensive system to town that both Allen and versatile back Austin Ekeler should thrive in. Short yardage, explosive yards after the catch plays have made the careers of both Thomas, and Saints back Alvin Kamara. Few offensive systems feel so perfectly fitting as what can occur this year in Los Angeles. For full PPR purposes, Allen needs to be considered as near an elite option as possible. While yardage dipped last season with two games missed, penciling 100 catches for Allen is a near lock. Allen had nine instances of a game with five receptions or more in 2020. Having a safe floor to work off of weekly on receptions is the hallmark of a great player for fantasy.
Draft over: D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks), Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings)


Tight End
Dallas Goedert (Philadelphia Eagles) Listed Rank 9/ My Rank 12

The offseason move that was anticipated by many was the trading away of tight end Zach Ertz. At the close of the second week, Ertz is still an Eagle, and Goedert is firmly being over-drafted. Philadelphia has been one of the heaviest TE usage teams, listed as first or second most targets to the positions over the last five seasons. Most of those targets have been from Ertz though, having 100 targets from 2015 to 2019. With a head coaching change in Nick Sirianni, a new quarterback in Jalen Hurts, and Ertz still on the team the odds are against Goedert. Goedert is fully capable of a top 12 finish this season, that isn’t the point in question. The issue lies in is the 8th TE off the board is capable of producing enough PPG. Goedert currently going pick 82 overall is just not worth the selection to those behind him.
Draft instead: Jonnu Smith (New England Patriots), Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams)


Irv Smith (Minnesota Vikings) Listed Rank 13/ My Rank 8

Smith is propelled to step into a bigger role in his third year with the departure of fellow tight end Kyle Rudolph to New York. Smith was already being looked at in high-value situations, beating Rudolph in red-zone looks in the last two seasons, 22 to 16. Efficiency in and around the goal line has been paramount with a near 72% red-zone TD efficient rate in 2020. Minnesota made the most of their 19th placed plays per game (63.9 plays). If they increased their play volume their already elite team yards per game of 392.3 (3rd) could surpass 400 yards. For the 2020 season, only Kansas City cleared that mark and only 11 teams over the past three seasons. Two tight end sets are often used in Minnesota, but the run game is still the primary focus. That set alignment note is to calm fears if fantasy players see Tyler Conklin, the team’s backup tight end, more often than they anticipated.
Draft over: Robert Tonyan (Green Bay Packers), Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)


Other TE’s of note:

Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams) Listed Rank 14/ My Rank 12
Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles) Listed Rank 24/ My Rank 19

For Matthew’s rankings check them out here!

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