The final rounds of a typical depth redraft fantasy league are essentially priority waiver wire plays. Especially with the dynamics at play, expect the turnover level in the early weeks of the season to be high - and they should be - on the back end of fantasy rosters. Between a shorter Injured Reserve status, PUP list players, COVID-19 designations, nagging injuries to keep players out from August or early September to plainly evolving preferred players from the waiver wire, flexibility is key with the valuable roster spot capital.
With that lens on the final draft picks, drafters need clarity quickly from said selections and a big dose of upside possibility if one of the previously mentioned scenarios occurs in the window between the draft and the first few weeks of the regular season.
Here are the high-variance options with a clear storyline of how they can be a season-changing selection right away to warrant keeping them. It only takes one 'now I have a fantasy starter' outcome from a handful of your final selections to pay significant dividends from this approach.
*Using mid-August Consensus ADP, Average Draft Position, for PPR leagues starting in Round 13*
Be conservative with extra quarterbacks on your roster in typical redraft leagues on the shallower roster size. If going true late-round quarterback to stockpile other positions, here are the best plays to begin the season:
Ben Roethlisberger: Roethlisberger has been a fantasy production stalwart of active quarterbacks with seven top-12 seasons in his career and only twice (over 17 years) finishing outside the top-20 of the position. JuJu Smith-Schuster returned in free agency, Diontae Johnson finished in the top-20 a year ago, and Chase Claypool has the historical markings of a WR1 in his career (not necessarily in 2021, but possible). Eric Ebron is underrated among tight ends, and Najee Harris offers a receiving uptick at running back as well. In the mid-20s of positional ADP, Roethlisberger is a no-brainer to best his draft cost.
Wildcard: Trey Lance. The upside is pronounced with Lance, an elite rushing option. He is paired with Kyle Shanahan and a strong group of skill-position weapons in San Francisco. The key variable is when Lance will start. If Jimmy Garoppolo starts the season and the team is winning, this could be an Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes II type situation in Kansas City where the rookie stays on the shelf of a playoff team.
The highest upside options who would benefit from any missed time to a running back ahead of them on the depth chart are THE priority selections late in a draft.
Chuba Hubbard: While a Day 3 rookie, Hubbard should win the RB2 job in Carolina, and Mike Davis showed in 2020 the value of having Christian McCaffrey's backup when they are sturdy profiles themselves.
Darrel Williams: Le'Veon Bell is gone, and Jerick McKinnon was added this offseason. Does anyone expect McKinnon to be healthy for a season and collect a strong workload? Williams is a sturdy all-around veteran and projects and the most likely benefactor if Clyde Edwards-Helaire misses time on the potent Kansas City offense.
Devontae Booker: Saquon Barkley could be slow-played early in the season, and any setback could fuel Booker starts. Ryquell Armstead was an intriguing veteran add to the depth chart in the offseason but has already been cut. Gary Brightwell is a ho-hum late Day 3 rookie if there is competition on the depth chart (unlikely).
Darrynton Evans: Evans should win the RB2 job in Tennessee as a Day 2 back entering Year 2. However, Jeremy McNichols played over him in 2020, and Brian Hill was added this offseason. Evans is a player who can provide early clarity with a late draft pick - if the RB2, hold him. If McNichols or Hill emerges as the injury-away option, move on from Evans.
Malcolm Brown: Myles Gaskin performed well in 2020 but has minimal pedigree otherwise and did not stay healthy later in the season with his tweener-sized frame. Brown has a quality veteran profile of outproducing expectations on NFL depth charts, especially versus younger players. Expect to see Brown as a strong RB2 or even in a committee with Gaskin independent of injury in Miami.
Be selective with later-round wide receivers in general, as few have clarified early-season stories like running backs.
Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway: The WR1 role for New Orleans is wide open with Michael Thomas out for a stretch. Smith's deep prowess aligns well with Jameis Winston should he perform like his Tampa Bay days as a vertical quarterback.
Bryan Edwards: There is plenty of buzz with Edwards in Raiders camp after injuries derailed a flash-contained rookie season in 2020. Henry Ruggs III failed to seize the WR1 role as a rookie and is a question mark until otherwise proven. John Brown was added, but durability has been his career watchword. Edwards has an alpha profile if the perfect storm of opportunity aligns in 2021.
Adam Trautman: Outside of Alvin Kamara, the entire Saints passing game is up in the air for targets and pecking order. Trautman has Day 2 pedigree, minimal depth chart competition, plus good enough athleticism to produce beyond his target share.
Eric Ebron: Ben Roethlisberger raises the tide of all the passing game boats, including Ebron, who is on a later career boost after his sluggish Detroit start. The limitation of three strong wide receivers in the Pittsburgh passing game hinders Ebron's upside. Still, Ebron is a quality streamer or committee option to begin the season.
Jared Cook: Still one of the better seam-stretchers and athletic tight ends in the NFL in his mid-30s, Cooks continues to find connections to quality quarterbacks during his career. Now paired with Justin Herbert, Cook has a passing game with only Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler as established options. Cook, like Ebron, has been a consistent top-20 seasonal finisher in his career and typically is drafted near or below his floor outcome.