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2021 Fantasy Football: 4 Players worth the gold price

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Heath tells you which fantasy football players are worth paying up for in 2021.

NFL: AUG 18 Preseason - Seahawks at Vikings

Yours truly has a never-ending thirst for all things epic. Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Spartacus, The Last Kingdom...you name it, and if there are swords involved, I’m probably into it.

But given how awful some fantasy (or historical) epics can be, inevitably I end up re-watching shows and movies all the time. Lately, it’s been Game of Thrones. I just watched Beyond the Wall, a singularly epic television show. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’ve forgotten, I urge you to get to clicking.

Anyway, what follows is my feeble attempt at blending pop culture and fantasy football—while primarily telling you who I like at ADP heading into this year. That is, I’m happy to pay the FULL price on the following players, what the ironborn would call the “gold price.” And while the ironborn would be disappointed with me paying up for anything, they are pretty awful at managing everything they’ve ever had. I’m sure that would extend to fantasy football teams as well. So we’ll be trusting me for fantasy football advice, not Theon. He can’t do that from the grave, anyway.

QUARTERBACK: Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers

FantasyPros ECR: QB26

Still just 23 years old, Darnold is now FREE from the chokehold that was Adam Gase and the ineptitude of the New York Jets. He’s going to enjoy being the new lord in Carolina, as he’s now yoked to the best back in the NFL (Christian McCaffrey), a studly young wideout (D.J. Moore), and a familiar comrade from his days as a Jet (Robby Anderson). Offensive coordinator Joe Brady was also one of the league’s best play-callers in 2020, which allowed even the ultra-conservative Teddy Bridgewater to post reliable numbers. As a THIRD quarterback option for your fake teams, he’s brimming with mid-range QB2 upside...I could see him cracking the top 15. Take this shot late, and enjoy the floor/upside mix that is the still young Sam Darnold.

Game of Thrones comp: Gendry Baratheon. A young stud who just needed to be given an opportunity. He’ll wind up being the lord of Storm’s End soon enough. There’s probably another parallel here surrounding legitimization. Whereas Gendry was legitimized from the bastard life to being a full-fledged Baratheon, Darnold should legitimize himself as a quarterback to be reckoned with (and counted upon) in the coming months.

RUNNING BACK: Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons

Fantasy Pros ECR: RB23

He’s in that uncertain territory where fantasy owners aren’t sure if he can be trusted. He filled in admirably for Run-CMC over 12 starts a year ago, only to fade a bit down the stretch. But wouldn’t that be expected? And wouldn’t we expect less of a fade in the ensuing year? We’ve seen the Falcons bring in another notable backup and give him the reins as the RB1—some guy named Michael Turner, who crushed it as a mid-round pick that season given the uncertainty around his role.

I view Davis as a rock solid RB2, one with upside for a top 10 finish. He’s being drafted as a bottom-end RB2, though. That may not sound like much of a savings to you, but his situation is very favorable. The Falcons have a bevy of passing game weapons, which should allow Davis to be efficient when he runs. That, and we’ve already seen him do a fair Run-CMC impression as a receiver in Carolina. What’s not to love about a dual threat runner who plays home games in a dome?

Game of Thrones comp: Robb Stark. Robb was notably thrust into a leadership role after the beheading of his father, Ned Stark—much like Davis was forced to take over for Christian McCaffrey in 2020. Robb Stark was called “The Young Wolf” by both friend and foe. That’s a seriously cool nickname, almost on par with Mike Davis, who is also known as “Milk Dud.”

WIDE RECEIVER: A.J. Green, Arizona Cardinals

FantasyPros ECR: WR76

He’s being drafted as the WR76 in half-PPR formats. When quarterback Kyler Murray says that too many people are sleeping on the once elite wideout, my ears perk up and I pay attention, especially at this price point. Green doesn’t have to be his former self to pay off his draft day cost. I love him in best ball formats, where you don’t have to guess when his two-score explosions are going to occur. It costs you NOTHING to find out if the change of scenery has rejuvenated AJG to the extent that Willie McGinest believes that it has. I’m leaving every draft with Green in 2021, especially given that Nuk Hopkins will be drawing the attention of each opposing team’s best cornerback...

Game of Thrones comp: Jaime Lannister. Jaime Lannister was once a formidable warrior, arguably the best sword in the land. And while his prime fighting days were behind him at the conclusion of GoT—having only one hand will do that to you—he was still savvy enough to be of use in his final days. Thankfully, Green isn’t hamstrung quite as much as the Kingslayer (he still has two hands) and he’s got a top 5 quarterback slinging him the rock. Just give it all to me. We are taking candy from babies with this pick. Or, giving babies over to Whitewalkers? Yeah, I got nothin’.

TIGHT END: Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

FantasyPros ECR: TE13

We know that Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are going to get theirs, but the third wheel in this offense is setup to be electric in 2021. He’ll enjoy more opportunity now that Kyle Rudolph is no longer in town, so he’s squared away as the clear-cut third option in the passing game. We also saw a bump in efficiency from his rookie year to last, jumping from 8.6 Y/R to 12.2 Y/R, from two scores to five, and from 19.4 YPG to 28.1 YPG. Only deal is, he played in just 13 games, so he saw a mere 43 targets. Now, sans Rudolph to siphon away targets, Smith Jr.’s added efficiency should pair nicely with a bit more volume. That, and Smith Jr. already logged 12 RZ looks to Rudolph’s five last year, anyway. The VERY simple math says that 17 total looks a year ago would have been a top 10 mark among tight ends, tied with the likes of Jared Cook and Hunter Henry. It doesn’t take much to be a quality tight end in the fake game. I’ll happily take the upside of youth and opportunity in Irv Smith Jr.

***Editor’s note: Smith Jr. is having surgery on his meniscus, and is expected to miss at least a month of action (if it’s a trim) or up to the full year (if it’s a full repair of the meniscus). We’ll have to wait to see. But if it’s the much shorter timeline and Smith’s ADP plummets, I’m stashing him everywhere.***

Game of Thrones comp: Benjen Stark. People forget that Ned Stark himself was a younger brother, and only became the lord of Winterfell after his elder brother, Brandon, was roasted by the Mad King. Jon Snow’s Uncle Benjen was the youngest of the three, and arguably the least heralded. However, Benjen ultimately ascended to the rank of First Ranger with the Night’s Watch, and in the aforementioned “Beyond the Wall” episode, he saves his nephew Jon from certain death, sacrificing himself to give his horse to Jon—who ultimately sets the kingdom on its right course. And while Irv Smith Jr. should do no sacrificing in 2021, he’s a heck of a complement to the already formidable duo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.

What say you all? Who are the players you love at ADP? How’d I do on the comps?