With the NFL season less than two months away, fantasy football draft season is upon us. That time of year where you get together at someone’s house, meet up at a local sports bar or login to a group chat room and have a blast while mocking your leaguemate’s selections; or, yelling obscenities when someone snipes that mid-round receiver you thought would make it back to you again. Ah, good times.
The draft is where you lay the foundation for your fantasy football team. Whether you’re the kind of individual that goes with the crowd and gobbles up running backs early or you are the one who goes into the event with a totally off-the-wall strategy, it’s all about bringing your team to the starting line. From there, free agent acquisitions and trading will ultimately decide a large portion of your fate throughout the 17- or 18-week campaign.
In recent years, there have been a number of players who have rocketed out of the gate taking savvy managers to the top of the standings in no time. Most players who start off well tend to continue to do so for the majority of the season while some players cool off quickly, whether it be from injury, a depth chart shakeup or the dreaded bye week. Matt Breida kicked off the 2019 campaign averaging 85 rushing yards over the first four games before injury ultimately stifled his season. When Christian McCaffrey went down due to injury, Mike Davis surprised everyone. He pulled in 30 receptions and averaged 106.5 scrimmage yards per game from Weeks 2-5. McCaffrey did return for a few games and Davis seemed washed out by season’s end.
On the other side of the coin, there are players each year who start with very mundane performances, making the fantasy managers who drafted them very irritated and usually dropping them from their roster. Sometimes, these players have a late-season resurgence and make a huge difference for patient fantasy players. In 2019, Ryan Fitzpatrick almost single-handedly won championships for people with the huge numbers he posted in Weeks 12-16 (average of 309.8 passing yards per game with 12 total touchdowns, 11 in the air and one on the ground). In 2020, some of us also benefitted quite well from David Montgomery; he posted no less than 111 scrimmage yards during the final six weeks of the season and averaged 137.3 total yards per game.
Below, I’m going to take you through a number of players you’re going to want on your team, but not necessarily for the entire season. Here are six players you want this year and when you want them.
1. QB Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (Late Season)
Coach Matt Nagy has stated numerous times that Andy Dalton will begin the Bears’ campaign as the starting quarterback. This could be chalked up to “coach speak,” but he’s been adamant on his position regarding the 11-year veteran. That said, it’s more than likely that the rookie from Ohio State will get moved up the depth chart at some point this season with the move coming as early as Week 4, though Week 7 or 8 seem more plausible. Giving rookie quarterbacks as much time to digest the playbook is ideal, but if Cleveland makes a fool of Dalton in Week 3, that could be enough for Nagy to look toward the future and give Fields his first NFL start. While the mid-season opponents are a bit daunting (Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Baltimore), the end of the season looks juicy with games against Minnesota, twice, Seattle and the New York Giants. Another benefit of waiting longer to throw the young signal caller into the mix is that opposing teams won’t have much game tape to study when trying to plan a viable defensive strategy. With a slow or non-existent start, you could possibly pluck Fields from the waiver wire or trade another surging player for him.
2. RB Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers (Start of Season)
Mostert is a hard-nosed player. Over the previous three seasons in games where he has tallied at least 12 touches, Mostert has averaged 90.6 yards per game and scored eight touchdowns. Due to the numerous injuries he has sustained in his career, it’s only been 12 games in which he met that parameter. Because he hasn’t seen the field since mid-December, he has had a lot of time to recuperate and will be ready for Week 1. The absence of Jeff Wilson Jr. will give Mostert more chances with the ball throughout the first couple months of the year. After that, third-round pick Trey Sermon and the inevitable return of Wilson could easily cut into carries and targets for the former Purdue Boilermaker. If Mostert starts out strong, be ready to deal him to another team before his opportunities begin to dry up.
3. TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons (Late Season)
Overall, the Falcons have one of the least difficult schedules this season based on strength of schedule. Pitts has been touted as a “generational talent” by many and his college numbers back up that claim – 17.9 yards per reception and 12 touchdowns in his final season at Florida. His workout metrics are off the charts, ranking in the 98th percentile in speed score and the 85th percentile in catch radius, to name a couple. The problem for Pitts is that rookie tight ends struggle early in their NFL careers. They need time to adjust to the game at the next level. Your best bet is to wait until the Falcons have their bye in Week 6 and try to acquire him via trade from a disgruntled manager. After the bye, Atlanta faces softer defenses like Carolina, New Orleans, Dallas and Jacksonville in the following six weeks. By then, he may have digested the playbook and the next level competition well enough to really sparkle.