Best Ball 2021: My 5 Favorite Best Ball Draft Targets
Jake Tribbey looks ahead to 2021 Best Ball drafts, breaking down his best fantasy football targets for Underdog Fantasy’s Best Ball Mania II tournament. See what all the bark is about in our Underdog Fantasy review and click here to sign up with the promo code GRINDERS for a FREE $25 Best Ball Mania II ticket and your chance at the top $1.1 million dollar prize!
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With the NFL draft now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to dive into most fantasy player’s favorite thing: drafting actual fantasy football teams before things kick off in Week 1.
Utilizing ADP from Underdog (because they are both the largest Best Ball site and have the most casual players), I’ll be sorting through my favorite Best Ball draft picks. I also have a special interest in players not getting a lot of industry hype, so you won’t see the likes of Najee Harris on this list despite his picture-perfect landing spot.
Michael Thomas 29.7 ADP (WR10)
‘Slant Boy’ is coming off his worst fantasy season after injuries (and punching a teammate in the face during practice) led to him only suiting up 7 times during the 2020 regular season while averaging a career-low 12.0 PPR points per contest.
Despite the poor fantasy production and (at best) questionable practice etiquette, Thomas maintained a 28% target share (4th among WRs in 2020), 44% air yard share (1st), and 92.3 scaled WOPR (2nd) per airyards.com.
4/7 of those games came with the incredibly pass-inefficient Taysom Hill as a starting QB, but even that didn’t stop Thomas, who logged 104, 50, 105, and 84 yards in those games. With hyper-aggressive Jameis Winston likely to start in 2021, it’s easy to see a return to the 150-target seasons we are used to from slant boy. The worst-case scenario of a Taysom Hill-led offense would likely prevent Thomas from reaching 150+ targets, but it clearly won’t hurt his target share.
Even better, New Orleans didn’t draft a WR until the 7th round of the 2021 NFL draft. That leaves Tre’Quon Smith, Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson, Deonte Harris, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey competing with Thomas for targets.
My final bullish note for Thomas is the Saints’ historical pass rate. As Drew Brees lost arm strength, the Saints lost their willingness to pass the ball. Here are their pass rates since 2012:
2012: 65% (4th)
2013: 63% (6th)
2014: 63% (5th)
2015: 64% (7th)
2016: 63% (5th)
2017: 56% (20th)
2018: 54% (28th)
2019: 60% (13th)
2020: 53% (28th)
Jameis should enable the Saints to return to their 2012–2016 historical pass rate of 60%+. While the nagging possibility of Taysom Hill starting would obviously hinder that, neither QB will prevent Thomas from accruing a massive target share. Cheers to slant boy.
Mike Davis 50.7 ADP (RB24)
Davis has moved up draft boards significantly since I last wrote about him in my target depth piece from a few weeks ago. Given his backfield competition (Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, and Tony Brooks-James) and the fact Atlanta didn’t draft a RB, Davis’s value still hasn’t caught up to his ADP.
Barring injury, Davis is arguably the only player locked into 220+ touches available after pick 50. As I wrote about previously, he’s also a tremendously efficient runner, forcing “the 7th-most missed tackles in 2020 despite recording the 20th most rushing attempts among RBs. Davis also ranked 3rd in PFF’s elusive rating (among RBs with 100+ rush attempts), ahead of everyone not named Tony Pollard or Nick Chubb
Mike Davis isn’t just good, he’s a sure-fire starter in what should be a much-improved offense. He will be a top-18 RB by ADP come mid-August.
Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry 134.1 & 145.4 ADP (TE15 & TE16)
Since the heyday of beer-chugging Rob Gronkowski and murder-prone Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots have been searching for a way to return to their 80+ target two TE glory days from 2010–2012. During that three-year period, neither Hernandez nor Gronkowski ever ranked outside the top-14 in TE fantasy points. New England also managed to maintain not one, but two top-3 fantasy TEs during the 2011 season, something the NFL had never seen before or after.
The signings of established and talented TEs like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry show New England is ready to bring back the dynamism of that two TE era. Both Henry and Smith will be heavily featured, and I’d guarantee we see at least one of them end the year as a top-12 TE.
The icing on this dual-TE cake is an overall weak receiving core and the retirement of Julian Edelman. Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers are all solid third options, but none of those players are talented enough to take significant volume away from Henry and Smith. Factor in the departure of legendary slot WR Julian Edelman, and both TEs should have a bevy of short-range targets (TEs run shorter routes than WRs) and even extra slot snaps (primarily for Henry, who played 47% of his snaps lined up as a WR in 2020).
I view both players as having a VERY safe floor and compelling enough ceiling to warrant a 10th-round selection.
Baker Mayfield 143.7 ADP (QB20)
One of the clearest observations I was able to make while writing this piece is just how much we as fantasy players hold onto our priors. That’s extremely evident with Baker Mayfield.
The 2019 season was a complete disaster for Mayfield. He never eclipsed 24 fantasy points in a single game and recorded a 78.8 passer rating which ranked 37/44 QBs (min. 100 dropbacks). 2020 got off to a similarly rocky start, but Mayfield finally showed glimmers of what made him a #1 pick in the 2nd half of the year.
From weeks 12–17, Mayfield was fantasy QB6 and ranked 5th in total dropbacks while registering 0.51 fantasy points per dropback and an 88.6 PFF grade. Compare that to weeks 1–11, where he ranked 25th in dropbacks, was fantasy QB25, and was slightly less-efficient, recording 0.46 fantasy points per dropback and a 69.7 PFF grade.
So what changed? Isn’t this noise?
There is certainly some noise here as 3 of those games in weeks 1–11 were played in abysmal weather conditions (ever heard of a graupel?). Even if you remove those games from the sample, Baker was still 21st in dropbacks, fantasy QB22, along with averaging 0.5 fantasy points per DB and logging a 68.1 PFF grade.
Something clearly changed around the halfway mark of the season.
To me, the overarching tendency shift is obvious: head coach Kevin Stefanski gained significantly more confidence in Baker’s ability to run his offense in the 2nd-half of the year. He went from 29.2 dropbacks per game to 42.2. That isn’t noise, it’s a complete change of offensive game planning to put the ball into Baker’s hands more often.
With Stefanski (and his offensive system) entering year two in Cleveland, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a continuation of the play, and pass volume, we saw down the stretch from Baker and the Browns in 2020. QB20 is just too cheap.
Dyami Brown 182.1 ADP (WR77)
As I discussed in my target depth piece, the addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Washington QB room should drastically increase the target depth of this offense. While the main beneficiary is sure to be Terry McLaurin, rookie WR Dyami Brown is crucially also in the mix.
Brown profiles almost exclusively as an outside WR, which leaves Cam Sims as his primary competition for snaps and playing time. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Brown to earn some decent playing time early, and even potentially emerge as Washington’s WR2, and as I mentioned in my target depth piece, Fitzpatrick loves his top-2 WRs.
The real kicker here is Brown’s absurd college ADoT of 18.4, and the 94.4 PFF receiving grade he earned on his targets of 20+ yards. Playing on the outside with a QB who has ranked in the top-10 in QB ADoT in 4 of the last 5 seasons, Dyami offers the massive upside of long receiving TDs for a meager 15th-round pick.