Those who regularly read my Yahoo columns know that I primarily cover fantasy baseball. While big misses on early round picks are detrimental in baseball, smart managers can recover from those selections because of the large lineup size in baseball leagues. But in fantasy football, an early whiff is a huge problem. Most fantasy football teams start 10 or fewer players, meaning that the early picks need to come through in a big way. Here are some players who I don’t trust enough to place on my 2021 squads based on Yahoo ADP.
Round 1 – Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Barkley basically told fantasy managers not to draft him in the first round when he announced that he may not be ready for Week 1. The Penn State product is one of football’s best ball carriers when healthy, but we simply do not know how close he is to full strength in his return from a torn ACL. Additionally, Barkley may not be part of an elite offense, as QB Daniel Jones still has much to prove, as does the team’s offensive line.
Round 2 – Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Overall, I love the second-round options. There are several superstar receivers and the premium players at both quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) and tight end (Travis Kelce). In this strong group, I’ll take Ekeler as my overrated player. I like Ekeler’s talent, but his career high in rushing yards is 557, which gives me concern about his ability to handle the demands of a heavy workload over a full season. Additionally, a lack of red zone rushing opportunities could limit Ekeler’s touchdown total.
Round 3 – Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
I had J.K. Dobbins in this spot before he suffered a season-ending knee injury, as I didn’t like his rushing committee with Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson. I will pivot to another RB, as I love the wide receivers in Round 3. Mixon is coming off a lost season that included 566 total yards in six games. The Bengals offensive line remains a huge question mark, and the team has a deep corps of wide receivers to scoop up most of the pass targets. Mixon is going early in the third, but he fits better on the Round 3-4 turn.
Round 4 – Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’m generally avoiding the Bucs pass-catchers this year. Tom Brady should keep the defending champs rolling, but the team will be hard-pressed to match their overall offensive success from last season. Additionally, Tampa Bay has one of the deepest collections of receivers, including Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, multiple talented tight ends and pass-catching RB Giovani Bernard. I like Godwin's talent but don’t like his situation.
Round 5 – Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans
There are reasons to be skeptical regarding Jones. He is past his prime (age 32) and is coming off an injury-plagued 2020 season. And after years of being the top dog in a pass-heavy Falcons offense, Jones is part of a Titans squad that already has a No. 1 WR (A.J. Brown) and finished second in rushing attempts per game last season. I won’t be surprised if Jones racks up 1,000 yards, but I’m not projecting more than that.
Round 6 – Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
In short, I cannot draft a backup RB in Round 6. Hunt would be a fantasy stud if not for the presence of Nick Chubb, who is one of the most talented rushers in football and will garner most of the Browns carries. Hunt can get enough touches to be a flex play, but I can use my sixth-round pick on someone who doesn’t need a teammate’s injury to spur a breakout.
Round 7 – Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
I could take the low-hanging fruit and put the Rams defense in this spot, but everyone reading this article knows that you shouldn’t draft a defense or kicker in the initial 10 rounds. Instead I’ll explain my rejection of OBJ, who is coming back from a torn ACL that was suffered near the midpoint of last season. In addition to suspecting that Beckham will not open the season at full strength, I also worry about his longstanding struggles to develop a rapport with QB Baker Mayfield. After all, the LSU product has scored just 7 receiving TDs in 23 games since joining the Browns.
Round 8 – Ronald Jones III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones is part of a crowded Bucs backfield and doesn’t have much potential to break loose from the competition. Leonard Fournette is likely to split carries with Jones, who has never been a productive pass-catcher and won’t get opportunities in that area after the team added third-down back Giovani Bernard. The ceiling for Jones is just too low to be going off the board in Round 8.
Round 9 – Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers
Round 9 is full of defenses and kickers, which is giving me a headache. Among the remaining options, Tonyan is the least desirable to me. After collecting two TDs in his initial two seasons, Tonyan surprisingly scored 11 times last year. But the 27-year-old was otherwise pretty average, catching 52 passes for 586 yards. The Packers are likely to regress in terms of passing TDs, and Tonyan now has to share underneath targets with slot receiver Randall Cobb. I expect the fourth-year pro to finish outside the top-12 tight ends.
Round 10 – Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For similar reasons to my rejection of Jones, I’m not going to draft Fournette in any leagues. The former Jaguar had some good moments in his first season with the Bucs, but his overall production (600 total yards, 6 TDs) was uninspiring. Jones is still around, and the addition of Bernard is going to cut into Fournette’s pass-catching opportunities. Overall, I see the Bucs backfield as an area that will be more productive to their team than to fantasy managers.