Fantasy Football All-Value Team 2021: Biggest sleepers, breakouts, surprises

We often spend too much time criticizing players who turned out to be busts, but how about appreciating the sleepers, breakouts, and surprises who greatly exceeded expectations and ADPs? That’s where our 2021 Fantasy Football All-Value Team comes in. These aren’t necessarily the top scorers at a position like Josh Allen and Jonathan Taylor; instead, these are the guys who were drafted much later than their actual finishes and provided huge advantages when compared to players drafted around them

Players such as D’Andre Swift and Elijah Moore obviously exceeded their ADPs mightily when they were on the field, but they were absent for large portions of the season, especially when it really mattered, so that keeps them off our list. There are also players like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Rashaad Penny who didn’t emerge until very late in the season, so while they helped “win leagues,” they didn’t really help anyone make it to the playoffs.

So, yes, there are certainly a lot more values than just the guys on the list below — especially if you just look at short stretches of the season. However, we’re highlighting the top guys who had a real hand in winning people fantasy leagues and/or at least getting them into the postseason race. 

Best 2021 Fantasy Football Values

ADP/season finish listed; All average draft positions (ADP) referenced below are via FantasyPros for PPR leagues.

Stats through Week 17

Best Fantasy Quarterback Values

Tom Brady, Buccaneers — QB9/QB3; Justin Herbert, Chargers — QB8/QB2

Brady and Herbert are deadlocked for the top spot among QB values, as they both finished six spots above their respective ADPs. Brady is always tough to trust in preseason drafts since he’s well into his 40s and doesn’t bring any rushing upside. However, we know how his season played out, as he smashed in virtually every matchup thanks to his loaded group of skill players. Most Brady teams were probably eliminated in the first round of the fantasy playoffs since Tampa Bay was shut out in Week 15, but ultimately, he paid off huge in all formats.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but it seems odd the fantasy community wasn’t higher on Justin Herbert. Of course, a few QB busts helped make room for him at the top, but Herbert’s big-play ability means he can score a ton of points on just a few passes. Moving forward, he’ll likely be a top-five QB off the board, especially since he continued to have solid production on the ground in his sophomore season.

Deep Value: Derek Carr, Raiders — QB25/QB12

Carr wasn’t a league-winner, but he finished the year as a low-end QB1 in 12-team leagues, so he more than paid off at his QB25 price. He had his fair share of bust weeks, but his boom weeks won matchups and he was a solid option after starting the year as a mere streaming consideration. He was drafted after Ben Roethlisberger, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Tua Tagovailoa, among others, so he was obviously a sneaky value.

Best Fantasy Running Back Values

Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers — RB32/RB5

There was a ton of preseason uncertainty surrounding Fournette’s role in the Buccaneers’ offense. Even though he broke out in the 2020 playoffs, we didn’t know for sure he’d be more than a committee back alongside Ronald Jones, who was drafted as the RB33. Fournette joined guys like Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, and D’Andre Swift as one of the most productive RBs in the passing game, so his PPR value was massive. He also put up over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns, so he was an elite option in standard leagues, too. Every year going into fantasy drafts, people are quick to warn you against drafting in the “RB dead zone” after the clear-cut workhorses are selected, but if you took a flier on Playoff Lenny, you were rewarded.

James Conner, Cardinals — RB35/RB8

As SN, we thought Conner had a great chance to score touchdowns around the goal line since Chase Edmonds came into the season with just one career goal-line carry. but virtually no one knew Conner’s role would be as big as it was. We certainly didn’t think he’d score 16 touchdowns. Edmonds’ midseason ankle injury helped clear the way for Conner, but he was productive before and continued it all the way up until he was inactive in Weeks 16 and 17. Obviously, it was disappointing to not have Conner in the playoffs, but given his preseason cost, it’s likely his owners had other good backs to fill in for him.

Deep Value: Cordarrelle Patterson, Falcons — Undrafted/RB7

Patterson has to be the best value among all fantasy stars this year because he was merely a waiver pickup around Week 2 or 3. He was easily the most surprising breakout of the season. At 30, his career seemed to be winding down, as he never seemed to be able to find the offensive fit. Atlanta utilized him as an RB and WR, and if your league allowed you to play him as either, it was a huge edge early in the season. He tailed off late in the year, but since he only cost you a few FAAB bucks or a waiver claim, his overall impact was huge.

Deep Value: Elijah Mitchell, 49ers — Undrafted/RB28

When Raheem Mostert injured his knee early in Week 1, Mitchell carried 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. Obviously, he was immediately a top option on waivers, as it was clear Trey Sermon wasn’t going to take the No. 1 RB role. There was some concern here given the tendency of San Francisco to use a running back-by-committee approach, but Mitchell’s upside was attractive enough to merit going all-in on. He ultimately finished the year as the RB28, but if he hadn’t missed six games with various injuries, he’d probably be in the low-end RB1 range (RB13 in points per game.)

Best Fantasy Wide Receiver Values

Cooper Kupp, Rams — WR18/WR1

Kupp was a fourth-round pick in most leagues, so it’s not as if no one had him on their radars, but he ended as the WR1 by a large margin (80.1 points more than WR2, Davante Adams). He scored more fantasy points (412.9) than Antonio Brown, Randy Moss, Julio Jones, or Calvin Johnson ever did en route to a historic season. If you had him, you were probably at least a championship contender. It was tough to know whether Robert Woods or Kupp was the better preseason option with Matthew Stafford, but those who chose Kupp were mightily rewarded.

Deebo Samuel, 49ers — WR35/WR3

The offseason fantasy hype in San Francisco all went to Trey Lance, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, as Samuel quietly flew under the radar. From Week 1, it was apparent Samuel was going to be a better fantasy producer than Aiyuk, and he continued to build his 2021 fantasy resume all season long. We just mentioned Kupp and Adams finished 1-2, but third place behind those two WRs in still an impressive feat. Samuel finished the fantasy season with north of 1,600 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns. If your league had bonuses for big plays, he was even better since he was seemingly ripping off 40-yard gains with consistency.

Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals — WR26/WR5

A rookie WR being taken at the WR26 spot doesn’t necessarily scream “value” on draft day, but since Chase finished the year as a top-five fantasy wideout, he was easily one of the top values in fantasy drafts. In PPR leagues, Chase eclipsed 20 points six times and went over 30 points twice. In the fantasy championship round, he put up a ridiculous 11-266-3 line en route to 55.6 fantasy points. The overwhelming majority of teams who had him in the finals won their league. He had plenty of down games, but WRs are volatile in general and his boom weeks rivaled any player in fantasy football.

Brandin Cooks, Texans — WR37/WR16

Cook’s ADP looks silly in hindsight, and he produced 1,000-yard seasons with four different teams. Yes, he wasn’t working with Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Deshaun Watson like in years past, but the combination of Davis Mills and Tyrod Taylor proved to be enough for him to produce a low-end WR2 season. He might hit his apex soon, but until further notice, he’s QB-proof. That said, don’t be surprised if his ADP doesn’t rise dramatically, so be ready to take advantage next year.

Deep Value: Hunter Renfrow, Raiders — Undrafted/WR11

Renfrow went from being undrafted in fantasy to a low-end WR1, as his target figures reach ridiculous levels. Henry Ruggs III was cut in the middle of the season, and with Darren Waller being out for the final weeks of the fantasy season, Renfrow was the primary target for Derek Carr. From Week 13 to 17, he was the WR7, and if you were able to grab him and make the postseason, he did his part in helping you secure a playoff or championship win. Ultimately, it’s unlikely Renfrow will get drafted anywhere close to a WR1 ADP since Waller will be back and Las Vegas will likely add more WRs in the offseason, but he’s one of the MVPs of the 2021 fantasy season.

Deep Value: Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins — WR45/WR14

Waddle benefited from Will Fuller (finger) and Davante Parker (hamstring) being inactive for large portions of the season, and he immediately rebuilt his connection with Tua Taogvailoa from their Alabama days and caught 99 passes for 988 yards and five touchdowns through 17 weeks. He finished 31 spots ahead of his ADP, and although he didn’t have many boom weeks, he was reliable with a safe floor, all the way up until his down performance in Week 17. His Week 16 performance 10-92-1 certainly helped some fantasy owners get there to begin with, though.

Deep Value: Marquise Brown, Ravens — WR49/WR17

Brown started off of the gates hot, producing as the WR6 in PPR leagues through the first five weeks. He was just the WR31 from that point forward, so even though Brown fantasy owners felt let down, his late-season production still exceeded his preseason ADP. His boom weeks were huge, but even when he tailed off, he was startable with a decent floor in PPR leagues. His production drop came when Rashod Bateman entered the Ravens’ lineup, so it’s difficult to expect his early-season production in 2022.

Best Fantasy Tight End Values

Dalton Schultz, Cowboys — Undrafted/TE4

One of our top preseason sleepers at TE was Blake Jarwin, but it was the other Cowboys’ tight end that broke out. Schultz was a top-five finisher in PPR leagues in a prolific offense, and thanks to his six receiving touchdowns, he finished as the TE8 in standard leagues. Schultz’s breakout was a reminder to take shots on tight ends in top offenses even if we don’t expect much out of them. He was undrafted and still fell under the radar for much of the year. Unless you can come out of a draft with Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or George Kittle, identifying a deep sleeper like Schultz can provide you with a huge edge over opponents.

Dawson Knox, Bills — Undrafted/TE10

Like Schultz, the case for drafting Knox was because of his elite offense and quarterback. Knox finished as the TE5 in standard leagues thanks to his nine receiving touchdowns. He wasn’t necessarily an elite option in PPR leagues since he didn’t draw a ton of targets, but he certainly paid off. His usage was similar to Robert Tonyan’s 2020 campaign, though, so we have to be careful heading into next season. Touchdowns are fluid year to year, and if Knox doesn’t replicate the volume in the end zone, he could have a drastic freefall.

Best D/ST Values

Dallas Cowboys — Undrafted/DST1

Dallas’ defensive unit was technically the 20th D/ST taken, but unless you play in insanely deep leagues, it likely wasn’t drafted. Dallas led the league with 33 total takeaways and scored five touchdowns on defense en route to finishing as the No. 1 fantasy D/ST. It’s impossible to actually project defensive TDs, so we’re not acting as if anyone “missed” here for a specific reason. If anything, this shows how volatile the defense position is from year-to-year.

New England Patriots — DST9/DST2

Did we forget who Bill Belichick was? For years, New England’s defense was one of the first off the board in fantasy, and although it had one down year in 2020, we should’ve known a rebound was coming in ’21. New England was fourth in the NFL in takeaways through 17 Weeks (30) and boasted the No. 3 total defense. Until further notice, it’s time to start drafting this unit as one of the first ones off the board every season.

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