We hear the phrase upside repeatedly in fantasy football circles. However, upside alone does not describe fantasy league-changing players. A comparison to a player's cost is a key attribute. The concentration of production to a short window can even add to a player's appeal. Here is a look at the potential league-changing players at each skill position and the simple story of their arrival by the season's end with their mid-July ADP attached.
Jalen Hurts, QB8-14
Why: In four starts last season, amidst his passing struggles, he posted 272 yards on the ground, a pace that would be second in NFL history for quarterbacks. While passing limitations or a lack of growth can hinder Hurts' chances for starting longevity in the NFL, his audition in 2021 should be a pronounced one with only Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens on the depth chart for pressure. Rushing is the absolute fast track for elite fantasy seasons at quarterback. Combine a near-record-setting rushing season for Hurts with a decent showing for Devonta Smith and Jalen Reagor (both Round 1 selections) atop the wide receiver depth chart, and Hurts has a path to an elite finish. The biggest preseason wrinkle is if Deshaun Watson, a heating up to-be-traded player, lands in Philadelphia.
Deshaun Watson, QB16-22
Why: The simple hurdle is Watson being active this season. Houston is likely to struggle, which will promote Watson as the playmaker to carry the team. Watson has three straight top-seven aPPG finishes and, even with Will Fuller V notably gone from his weaponry in 2020, Watson can crush his ADP by simply being active and starting in Houston (or somewhere else).
Trey Lance, QB20-30
Why: See Jalen Hurts' write-up for a sense of Lance's rushing potential. Paired with Kyle Shanahan and a strong collection of weapons, Lance can be aided with his passing progression with defined reads and schemed-open receivers. Lance is in a small subset of quarterback prospects with >6.0 yards-per-carry in high school and college. The other qualifiers? Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Marcus Mariota, and Johnny Manziel. Monitor Malik Willis (2022 eligible) as the next potential qualifier. The biggest question with Lance is when he starts for the 49ers.
Why: The lead, clarified starting role for the Chiefs has elite upside. Jerick McKinnon was added this offseason but has yet to show he can hold up under any meaningful volume. Edwards-Helaire is on the success track post-Year 1, with Round 1 pedigree, and enters Year 2 on an elite offense. This is a no-brainer profile for an elite RB1 outcome, yet Edwards-Helaire can be drafted as a team's RB2. Williams has a three-down profile as a younger veteran and is a league-winner in waiting. Williams is priced as one of the least expensive injury-away backs in fantasy.
Mike Davis, RB20-30
Why: Davis was a league-changing player in 2020, with Christian McCaffrey missing most of the season and Davis picking up the Carolina slack. Davis is the unchallenged starter for Atlanta outside of a late add (Le'Veon Bell? Todd Gurley?) before the season starts. As it stands, Davis offers a dual-threat skillset on a team with a questionable defense and looking for playmakers on offense with Julio Jones gone to Tennessee. Davis has foundation back upside for the price of a fantasy teams' RB2/3.
Why: The 49ers backfield provides enough work for two running backs to be fantasy viable. Jeff Wilson is already out until midseason at the earliest and potentially the entire season. Mostert and Sermon are both quality values. The upside comes from a clarified RB1 via injury or running with the job as the hot hand. Mid-RB1 or higher production is the likely outcome.
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