Regardless of your specific fantasy football draft strategy, you want to find the best players at all points in your draft. It’s not difficult to walk away from at least the first few round with some top-tier studs, but the real challenges comes when trying to find potential breakouts and sleepers, be it in the mid-rounds with even slightly undervalued players or late in the draft with lotto tickets. “Draft-day steals,” as we like to call them, are how can you really put your team over the top, and no 2021 draft cheat sheet is complete without a list of potential targets at QB, RB, WR, and TE.
Studying consensus overall rankings and participating in some mock drafts are great ways to spot underrated players. You will find even more when you realize that even average draft position (ADP) doesn’t always correspond to how productive a player can truly be.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet
Based rankings and ADPs are from FantasyPros’ data for half-point PPR formats, here are the best values and biggest potential steals in the early, middle, and late rounds of your draft.
Fantasy Football Value Picks 2021: Quarterbacks
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (ADP: 60 | Ranking: 66)
Wilson is right in the middle of the QB1s, a reflection of being a safe, steady selection with unparalleled durability. Why some drafters shy away is the fact he’s developed an M.O. for hot starts followed by cold finishes, frustrating fantasy football owners in the key second half of the season. But gone is the stodgy nature of the Seahawks offense with new coordinator Shane Waldron, formerly of the Rams. Waldron will diversify the passing game so it’s less reliant on Wilson’s excellent deep ball, mixing in more personnel and routes with uptempo concepts. Wilson wanted change while still in his prime looking for that elusive second Super Bowl ring. He got it, and he will build on last season with limited TD regression (if any) and a little more effective volume to finish higher than QB6.
Matthew Stafford, Rams (ADP: 90 | Ranking: 93)
Stafford had a rough end to his time in Detroit, first with the 2019 back injury and second with trying to prop up a limited offense in ’20. He’s going as a borderline QB1 after finishing QB15 last year. When healthy and having the weapons, Stafford has been a surefire top-10 fantasy quarterback. He won’t need to throw as often as he did in the lean Lions years because the Rams’ defense is solid and their running game will support him well, even without Cam Akers (Achilles’), but he will light it up when needed, too. With Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and variety of others, Stafford’s big arm and short-to-intermediate sensibilities will play well.
Joe Burrow, Bengals (ADP: 106 | Ranking: 108)
Burrow will quickly bury his injury-marred rookie season, revamped for Year 2 with high passing volume to help a rebuilding defense and a suspect running game. Burrow also gets to pick up where he left off throwing to LSU go-to guy Ja’Marr Chase. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd round out one of the league’s best wide receiver trios. The Bengals have 195 vacated targets, meaning all three should be busy making plays and raising Burrow’s stats. Don’t forget about how well Burrow connected with the Bengals’ tight ends early, and the fact C.J. Uzomah is back healthy. He should join Stafford with firm QB1 numbers. He can finish higher, given he’s a much bigger factor running.
Baker Mayfield, Browns (ADP: 133 | Ranking: 137)
Mayfield is going as QB17 and later, which says that most everyone expects him to be essentially the same QB as last year. Like Stafford, he won’t be running much to upgrade those stats, but Mayfield also was hurt by limited weapons last season, as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry suffered injuries. Mayfield also was getting his feet wet in Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy offense. There will be more downfield passing from Cleveland this year with a deeper receiving corps. Playing off the rushing attack, there can be some Ryan Tannehill-like results for Mayfield on play-action and bootlegs. He should push up to 30-plus touchdowns and 4,000-plus yards, putting him on the brink of QB1-ness.
Trey Lance, 49ers (ADP: 155 | Ranking: 177)
It’s time for an exciting rookie run, not including Trevor Lawrence or Mac Jones. Lance looks like he’ll need to wait a little to start over Jimmy Garoppolo, despite his highlight-reel packed training camp setting up more promise in the preseason. But we know those veteran-over-rookie statuses are temporary, especially when the youngster is a high-upside athlete mature beyond his years. Lance has the running/passing profile to have immediate success in one of the league’s premier systems with awesome support. He has “league winner” potential early in the double-digit rounds.
Justin Fields, Bears (ADP: 145 | Ranking: 154)
Fields seems closer to start over Andy Dalton right away than Lance is over Jimmy G. Either way, Fields also offers the dual threat to be a dynamic producer and fellow rookie super stash. The Bears’ weapons are not as sound all-around as the 49ers beyond Allen Robinson, but there’s a lot more intriguing skill than you think. Fields can also play well off the running of David Montgomery. Talent is the No. 1 reason to draft a fantasy asset, and Fields joins Lance in having drool-worthy ability.
Zach Wilson, Jets (ADP: 179 | Ranking: 184)
Zach gives us bookend Wilsons to steal at different points of the draft. This Wilson will have his rookie ups and downs, reflecting what’s happening in camp. But he’s in a 49ers-like offensive system with Mike LaFleur. There’s also actually Jets receiving depth all of the sudden, led now by Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, and rookie Elijah Moore. This Wilson also is a fine athlete and can supplement his passing stats well on the ground. Forget the Adam Gase dysfunction and embrace the flowery near-future with LaFleur.
Fantasy Football Draft Steals: Running backs
Antonio Gibson, Washington (ADP: 16 | Ranking: 17)
With a last name matching the hangout from “The League”, you know Gibson was ticketed for fantasy football superstardom. Maybe he will also get a cocktail and a guitar named after him. Get giddy about Gibby in Scott Turner’s offense as he assumes his Christian McCaffrey-like featured role. He will see a ton of second-year touches as the centerpiece. The passing game is more dangerous overall, and the offensive line is good enough. Here’s to Gibson rocking out and helping us drink to sweet victory as a top-six RB.
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins (ADP: 47 | Ranking: 53)
The Dolphins had many opportunities to add more to their backfield than former Rams backup Malcolm Brown. They chose to stick with Gaskin for their adjusted offense with co-coordinators Eric Studesville (the elevated running backs coach) and George Godsey. He’s going as a borderline RB2, but he will deliver more than that based on volume. Gaskin also has committed to being a bigger, more durable back. Brown might steal a few key touches here and there, but Gaskin should be a productive fit in the new scheme.
Mike Davis, Falcons (ADP: 57 | Ranking 48)
New coach Arthur Smith will be calling the offensive plays, which should suggest to everyone the Falcons want to be a much more effective rushing team in 2021. Smith gave Derrick Henry insane volume and also used more 12 personnel (two wide receivers) than any other coordinator in the league in 2020. Davis is coming off an impressive supersub run for an injured McCaffrey in Carolina. The journeyman proved he can handle heavy touches when needed and doesn’t have the wear of other experienced backs. The Falcons also don’t have much else inspiring in the overhauled backfield yet.
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals (ADP: 62 | Ranking: 62)
File Gaskin, Etienne and Davis as firm RB2s vs. borderline ones. Edmonds is being undervalued as more of a flex in the rankings, somewhere between RB26 and RB30. There seems to be a strange amount of concern about oft-injured James Conner even though Edmonds is a Kliff Kingsbury favorite with his style of running and receiving made to complement Kyler Murray well. The Cardinals also are capable of spreading the field better with upgraded wide receivers. This offense will score a lot with Edmonds seeing good running lanes and TD chances in the red zone.
2021 FANTASY AUCTION VALUES (Standard & PPR):
Michael Carter, Jets (ADP: 80 | Ranking: 95)
Forget thinking anyone else will lead the Jets’ backfield in production. While former UNC teammate Javonte Williams has a higher cost with more clarity about him displacing Melvin Gordon for the key touches in Denver, Carter still hasn’t gotten the same fantasy draft treament in a better situation. Take advantage of stealing this quick, explosive back made to excel in LaFleur’s zone-blocking scheme. Getting Carter is the ultimate flex.
Trey Sermon, 49ers (ADP: 91 | Ranking: 86)
We could give you a lecture or long speech on why Sermon, with some similar traits to Carter, will produce big-time in a similar scheme to Carter. Instead, from this humble pulpit, we will say how bulliish we are in Sermon getting the key fantasy-friendly touches for Kyle Shanahan over Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., two guys you can’t expect to stay healthy. Can we get an amen?
Gus Edwards, Ravens (ADP: 108 | Ranking: 101)
The Gus Bus won’t give you much of anything receiving, which is preferred in the flex, but climb aboard this nasty power back made for more chunk runs and solid scoring to complement Lamar Jackson and JK Dobbins. It’s a desired two-man commitee in a high-volume rushing attack.
Latavius Murray, Saints (ADP: 122 | Ranking: 129)
he Saints’ passing game is undergoing major transition to either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston or a little of both. It’s also minus Michael Thomas (ankle) for a while. Sean Payton will lean much on the run with Murray and Alvin Kamara to manufacture wins, knowing that will be boosted by the mighty offensive line. Murray tends to produce best on the road, especially outdoors and in the elements away from the Superdome. He’s not had consistent standalone value when Kamara is healthy, but he’s been a premier handcuff and should see a spike in usage to complement Hill and relieve Kamara. He should be a RB3 vs. RB4.
Fantasy Football Best Value Picks: Wide receivers
Calvin Ridley, Falcons (ADP: 21 | Ranking: 13)
There’s not much higher Ridley can be than his WR6 draft status in 2021 or WR4 finish from ’20. Well, , actually, he could end up being the highest-scoring receiver in fantasy. He’s a great bet for 100-plus catches and 10 TDs, and he should push up to around 1,500 yards. There’s a case to take him over everyone except Davante Adams given he will have more receptions than Tyreek HIll and maybe double the scores of Stefon Diggs.
Allen Robinson, Bears (ADP: 38 | Ranking: 29)
It’s head-scratching why A-Rob is being underrated again after he proved he can produce huge numbers with Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky-Nick Foles alike. The Andy Dalton-Justin Fields combination is better than what he had last season, and he’s still the big-time alpha in Chicago with Darnell Mooney a distant second. Robinson finished as WR12 last season, and there’s no way he should be considered any lower than that.
Robert Woods, Rams (ADP: 43 | Ranking: 38)
Bobby Trees gets a much-needed QB upgrade with Stafford and can further distance himself from Cooper Kupp as the true go-to guy outside. Look for Woods to shoot past 90 catches and 1,200 yards and record double-digit TDs for the first time in his career. The WR13 from last season doesn’t deserve a drop to WR18.
Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals (ADP: 67 | Ranking: 64)
Drafters love to get excited by rookies, and they’re rightfully taking Chase just inside WR2 status vs. a middling WR3. Although Higgins and Boyd will do plenty of damage with Burrow, Chase is worth being most aggressive to get. The fact he didn’t play for LSU last year shouldn’t make anyone forget how much he dominated in college, standing out over last year’s rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Chase projects more as a high-end WR2 at worst. Consider Jefferson was WR6 for the Vikings in 2020.
Diontae Johnson, Steelers (ADP: 60 | Ranking: 53)
Chase Claypool is the glossy big athlete capable of big plays and JuJu Smith-Schuster is the more familiar fantasy name, but Johnson is the happy medium as the Steelers’ steadiest receiver for their style of offense, reliant most on the intermediate passing game with Ben Roethlsiberger. Johnson is the best route runner of the trio and should be more reliable with his hands. He’s a solid WR2 vs. a volatile WR3.
DJ Chark, Jaguars (ADP: 82 | Ranking: 79)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water off Jacksonville Beach, the Chark Attack is about to be back. Chark has made it work producing with Gardner Minshew when healthy. He will love catching passes from Lawrence, profiling as the ideal No. 1. Chark will see high volume and be efficient with yards and TDs. He’s well undervalued as a borderline WR3/WR4.
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos (ADP: 84 | Ranking: 66)
Jeudy, Jeudy, Jeudy! Courtland Sutton should also have a chance to bounce back well from his knee injury, but Jeudy is the better value from Denver’s wideouts. Sutton is less QB-dependent, given Jeudy and Drew Lock often were not on the same page, but he’s too good of a route-running, first-round talent with great hands to disappoint in Year 2, especially with Teddy Bridgewater.
Antonio Brown, Buccaneers (ADP: 98 | Ranking: 91)
Brown played half the season in Tampa Bay last season. His production, over a full year, would have translated to this: 90 catches, 966 yards and eight TDs. That’s a WR2, folks. There are more healthy mouths to feed for Brady in this passing game in 2021, but Brown isn’t going anywhere complementing Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. He’s a sneaky good WR3 going as a WR4.
Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins (ADP: 111 | Ranking: 119)
Waddle baby, Waddle baby, Waddle baby, Waddle (yeah). Why try to figure out what Will Fuller and DeVante Parker can do for the Dolphins with Tua Tagovailoa when the rookie first rounder has the most appeal reuniting with his Alabama QB? As much as Miami wants to stretch the field more, Waddle’s speed, quickness, and separation ability all over the field is most valuable for the second-year passer. He’s another WR3-in-the-making to watch.
Michael Gallup, Cowboys (ADP: 117 | Ranking: 100)
While some fantasy owners are still waiting on tight end Blake Jarwin to be a thing, this guy already is one. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper are headed safely to top-20 finishes, but Gallup also will take advantage of Dak Prescott’s return as a big-play threat in Kellen Moore’s frequent 11 personnel. Gallup knows he won’t be re-signed, so he will be motivated to deliver and land a nice contract elsewhere. Consider he finished WR38 mostly with Dalton last season.
Corey Davis, Jets (ADP: 113 | Ranking: 93)
Don’t be afraid of this Jets’ passing offense, OK? Davis was signed to be a No. 1 outside, and he will be treated that way by Wilson with the team figuring out the rest of the pecking order. He finished as WR31 as a complementary No. 2 to A.J. Brown in a low-volume Titans passing game last season. The Jets also will throw more than you think based on game flow.
Nelson Agholor, Patriots (ADP: 177 | Ranking: 148)
Agholor is a polarizing fantasy figure, but did you know he finished as WR29 in his lone rebound season with the Raiders? The Patriots do have Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers, as well as the two marquee tight ends. The Cam Newton connection also doesn’t inspire, but Agholor is made to be a key busy target for Mac Jones and anticipate that QB switch happening sooner rather than later.
Fantasy Football Sleepers: Tight ends
T.J. Hockenson, Lions (ADP: 61 | Ranking: 55)
Hockenson already has arrived as a solid starting fantasy tight end. This is more of a public service announcement that he’s the No. 1 receiver for the Lions’ new offense with Jared Goff. He’s a second-tier option between TE4 and TE6 on paper, but he has a real chance to finish only behind Travis Kelce in scoring at the position.
Dallas Goedert, Eagles (ADP: 95 | Ranking: 92)
He’s going as TE7, but he also has big-time breakout appeal, even with the continued presence of Zach Ertz. Goedert has a fair chance to be the Eagles’ leading receiver for Jalen Hurts, ahead of their wideouts in transition, especially with DeVonta Smith (knee) hurting early.
Noah Fant, Broncos (ADP: 101 | Ranking: 82)
If you can’t go get Goedert, favor Fant. He’s being undervalued because of that attachment to the Broncos’ cloudy QB situation, but whether it’s Bridgewater or Lock, they will be throwing a lot to this special security blanket down the seam.
Tyler Higbee, Rams (ADP: 129 | Ranking: 102)
Higbee gets to flex his muscles in their passing game with Stafford, no longer in an even veteran committee with Gerald Everett, now with the Seahawks. There are also some questions about third wideout after Woods and Kupp. We know if they throw to him, Higbee can be a great producer.
Irv Smith Jr., Vikings (ADP: 140 | Ranking: 111)
Smith also gets to break free from sharing the key receiving duties with veteran Kyle Rudolph, now with the Giants. Smith should be busy as the third key option all the way through the red zone for Kirk Cousins, after Jefferson and Adam Thielen. He, like Higbee, can easily sneak into TE1 status.
Adam Trautman, Saints (ADP: 186 | Ranking: 157)
Here’s touting Trautman, the second-year dyanmic athlete from Dayton, one more time. Thomas’ injury raises plenty of concerns about the wide receiver corps. Trautman is replacing both Jared Cook and Josh Hill as a key receiver. He has some chemistry with Taysom Hill, and Winston also has favored throwing to the tight end in the past. Trautman might be the best semi-deep sleeper at any position.