How 2021 Fantasy Projections Impact Your Auction Draft
Every year, fantasy drafters seem to pick a few phrases out of a hat to define what we can expect in the coming season. You’ll hear people vocally proclaim that “wide receiver is deep this year” and “tight end is a wasteland”, but interestingly these comments are rarely presented with the information to back them up. For an industry driven by analytics, we frequently fall victim to subjective commentary. In order to understand the landscape of a draft, we must have a thorough understanding of how each player in each position is expected to perform, and understand how those expectations compare to prior years.
We can compare 4for4’s 2021 projections to prior years and see where we’re expecting changes in player value. Player value is determined by a combination of their points scored over a replacement player (VORP) and the last starter at their position (VOLS), ultimately producing a quantifiable score for each player’s 2021 projections. This data will highlight emerging trends that the other members of your league haven’t caught on to yet or seasonal nuances that you can take advantage of. All numbers below are focused on a 12 team, half-PPR league, but the underlying trends are common across league types.
The quarterback landscape has shifted dramatically in recent seasons. We’ve seen generational talents like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson enter the league and an uptick in the number of passers who also produce through rushing. This has led to top-end quarterbacks delivering unprecedented value over baseline, but also to an increase in the position’s value overall in fantasy.
The top two fantasy quarterbacks (Mahomes and Josh Allen) are both projected to be more valuable than the average year historically. However, you may not find them at a discount on draft night considering their projected value ($51 and $40, respectively) is still less than Mahomes and Jackson were slotted for in 2020. While the cheap quarterback strategy is embedded in many drafter’s minds still, people have begun to recognize the value that an asset like Mahomes can deliver to a roster.
The value is more apparent in the mid-late quarterback range, with QB4 through QB12 showing greater projected value than they have in any of the prior five seasons. Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert land in this range and have all shown to have league-winning upside. Even the back end of starters like Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford are projected to provide $10 of value but can probably be drafted for $1.
Given the overall increase in value to the position, how you approach quarterback in 2021 will depend on your league. If your league mates aren’t ready yet to pay upwards of $35 on a stud quarterback, you can get a lot of value in aiming to secure Mahomes or Allen. However, setting your sights on spending $1 on a late-round quarterback has never provided you a better player. The approach I find myself taking the most this season is allocating ~$10 on a mid-range quarterback with upside, knowing that you can likely grab one at a discount below their projected value and they can turn into league-winners.
At $81, the projected value of the top running back (Christian McCaffrey) is the lowest since 2016. In fact, a number of top-10 running backs are valued at their lowest level in years. However, the projected points scored for McCaffrey are in line with the top running back from prior years, which means his value is suppressed by depth at the position.
The run of depth, and therefore value, in 2021 lands between RB16 (Chris Carson) and RB23 (Miles Sanders). This cohort of players is projected to be notably more valuable in 2021 than prior seasons on average, meaning there’s a good chance that they will be discounts come draft day. Once we move past Sanders, the rest of the running back position falls largely in line with historicals, so don’t feel bad about budgeting some money for the late-round target you’re excited about.
Running backs are usually the most heavily targeted position in fantasy drafts, especially in auctions. While it never hurts to have a stud running back on your team, it’s a spot where many managers can find themselves overpaying in an effort to secure top talent. Based on this behavior and the data we have on 2021, don’t worry if you find yourself plugging your RB slots with mid-range players you grabbed at a good price while saving your budget for stronger values at other positions.
The wide receiver position begins with a two-headed monster, both Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams are priced in line with the historical top wide receiver by ADP. Perhaps because of this high bar, the next group of wide receivers (Calvin Ridley, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins and Justin Jefferson) all project a bit lower value than prior years; these players can be great picks based on their perceived upside, but don’t get caught overpaying for them in a bidding war.
After the top six, the projected value lands flat with historicals for a bit until we get to around WR16, which in these projections is Mike Evans. At this point, and continuing on to around WR30 (Tyler Boyd), players are projected for a lower value than their ADP peers from most prior seasons. This goes against the grain of the common trope that wide receiver is a deep position, as this year it has notably less depth than recent seasons.
Based on this data, I really want to take a Studs and Duds approach to the wide receiver position in 2021. If I’m not spending up for one (or two, or even three) top-12 receivers off the board, I’m going straight for the bargain bin targeting low-end players like Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks and Mike Williams. The middle range of targets, where your league may see depth and value picks, is rather underwhelming from a projection standpoint.
At $62, Travis Kelce’s projected value is a slight regression from his 2020 performance, but still a premium over the $45 that the top tight end is usually projected to deliver. I’ve already written about how he’s warranted this price tag, so don’t be afraid to target him if your league isn’t valuing him properly.
Darren Waller and George Kittle are the consensus next two tight ends to get drafted, although the order is up for debate. Both of them have projected value in line with the second tight end most seasons, which makes sense as either one of them is a great fit to be the top choice after Kelce.
After the top three, most remaining players are coming in at or below their average historical projected value. Interestingly, most of these spots are projected to outperform their 2020 performance, so there’s some sentiment that last year’s tight end wasteland won’t be so dry this time around.
There isn’t a wrong way to approach the tight end position in 2021 auctions; Kelce, Kittle, and Waller have all demonstrated how valuable they can be to a roster, mid-round targets like TJ Hockenson and Mark Andrews show promise, and you can always draft a late $1 player and rely on the waiver wire.
The 2021 season projects to be a bit different from others across positions, and you should keep the following in mind on draft night:
- Quarterbacks have never been more valuable, and your league probably hasn’t fully reacted to this yet. Targeting players with upside drafted at a discount can set you up for success going into the season.
- High-end running backs are projected to be less valuable than we’re used to seeing, with depth at the position between RB16 and RB23. Don’t feel pressured to chase a stud running back as you may have in other years.
- Wide receivers lack the depth that we’ve traditionally seen from the position, so prepare to implement a studs and scrubs approach to filling those roster spots.
- Tight end falls largely in line with historical projections, and there’s no bad approach to drafting them so long as you don’t overpay.