If you live your life fully, there's a point when the things you care about change in number and intensity. Tweens and teens are good examples. There are few things these partially-formed human beings don't care about.
Yes, if you've parented a tween or teen, then you've heard them say, "I don't care!" a zillion times between the ages of 9-16, and depending on the kid (and parents), few years after that.
Or course, we know that whenever an individual tells everyone important to them that they don't care about something, it's a dead giveaway that they care about it with the intensity of a dozen suns.
Everything has to be on-the-nose perfect. Music, slang, clothing, and hair must be cool and current—down to the thread, pore, and follicle. If it isn't, a mundane trip to the grocery store becomes an anxiety-ridden event.
Most people experience enough life to grow out of this. I'm confident that once Footballguy Adam Harstad experiences enough life, he'll realize that his assessment of the individuals in this picture is as backward as Brock Osweiler quarterbacking an Adam Gase offense with his hands under the guard's butt:
When you realize there's a steep rise in things that you could give a rat's ass about, the few things that still matter become precious. I'm not talking about the state of the world, but the state of your inner world and your 2021 fantasy draft board.
Clarity is the name of the game, folks. There's greater freedom and firmer direction in life without all that trash weighing you down, and this is absolutely true with how you sort through your cheat sheets, tiers, or Draft Dominator App. I'm hoping my list of players not to draft in 2021 provides the clarity that you need.
Most of these players are unlikely to fall well below their ADPs. Unless any of the players listed here with ADPs between rounds 1-7 fall more than 16 picks below their ADP, I'm not considering them. The same goes for players with ADPs between rounds 8-12 that don't fall more than 24 picks.
And hey, if you want to use it as a reverse barometer for making this a list of players you must draft for your leagues, I wish you luck with that, too. There are some valuable people in my life whose approach to things offers a clear lesson for going in the opposite direction. If you think I have a severe blindspot on a matter, go for it.
As you can see in the picture above, I don't care.
Round 1: Saquon Barkley
Barkley is a fine running back and an elite athlete. He's also returning from an injury that increases the likelihood of him incurring a compensatory injury. This isn't a fact, but it's a concern rooted in nearly 20 years of studying running backs in fine detail.
Barkley has always leaned on his rare athletic ability — stop-start movement, jump cuts, spin moves, and reversing field. This led to awe-inspiring highlights during his career. But it comes at the cost of efficiency and decisions you can see from his Penn State tape are still decisions he has made in New York.
The result of Barkley's desire to be the hero in situations that don't call for heroics has contributed to highs and lows with his weekly output as much as the caliber of his offensive line.
There's no doubt that a healthy Barkley has the skills to deliver top-three fantasy production, even with his flaws as a decision-maker. The problem is that Barkley isn't completely healthy — not "football healthy." This is a physical and emotional mindset, and most players have to experience enough game-tested scenarios to believe in the stability of the surgically repaired body part. Otherwise, they compensate for that body part with movement that isn't efficient or healthy for the rest of their body.
Based on numerous cases in the past, players with surgically repaired knees often suffer compensatory injuries during their first season after the procedure. Barkley's movement style is so physically dynamic that I fear he'll tax his legs and feet too greatly before he can gain full confidence in the knee in scenarios he would have never thought about in the past.
I'm trying to get safe players in the first round of drafts. Barkley's past skills and the appeal of his potential return to health make him a first-round value to most, but his style of play and the nature of his injury and typical recovery course don't match expectations.
ROUND 2: Jonathan Taylor
If it weren't for Carson Wentz's foot injury, he would have been on this list, but Captain Obvious isn't an intern at the RSP Cave. Even if Wentz returns in September — the promising end of his prognosis for recovery — he's still the same quarterback he was as a rookie in Philadelphia. That guy is a high-level, back-yard player with a ton of limitations.
What does this have to do with Taylor? Stay with me.
Wentz has never thrown the ball with deep pinpoint accuracy (beyond 35 yards) and has the pocket footwork of a spider trapped in wet concrete. Year after year, I've explained how Wentz needs an offense predicated on short drops and quick-hitting throws for him to be accurate. His biggest passing plays come from scrambling and throwing the ball over the heads of safeties who allow receivers to work behind them.
While he can be a productive fantasy player, I don't care to invest in a player who so much catered to his game for it to happen. This extends to his receiving corps. I've long been a fan of T.Y. Hilton and I appreciate the potential of Michael Pittman Jr, but unless one falls to a spot of significant value, I'm not placing my hopes in the Colts' offense this year.
Sure, everything could go right for the Colts, and the offense gallops to the most optimistic fantasy analyst's expectation:
- Wentz's rehab from foot surgery could only cost him part of September, and he's healthy enough to run as well as execute his awkward pocket footwork that becomes God-awful under pressure. Sure, I'm buying that Wentz won't have any additional missed time upon his return.
- Guard Quenton Nelson's rehab from foot surgery is as swift as Wentz's. Nelson is telling the media that he aims to be ready by Week 1. This may be true, but it's more likely that Nelson is suffering from the typical arrogance of a professional athlete. This is something all athletes competing at the highest level need in large supply, but that resource becomes an ailment when it comes to assessing rehabilitation time. I'm not buying it.
- Tackle Eric Fisher's Achilles rehab stays on schedule, and he returns from the Achilles tear as explosive, mobile, and powerful as ever.
- Oft-injured center Ryan Kelley's elbow issue is indeed a short-term problem (that doesn't bother him all year and then requires postseason surgery).
That's four of the six players in an offensive unit that have a pivotal impact on the ground game. As much as I love Taylor — and I'm not bailing on him in dynasty formats — when I can get Ezekiel Elliott or Nick Chubb in the same range, I'm not taking Taylor with these developments unfolding. Even if I'm not taking a runner, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and DeAndre Hopkins hold way more appeal.
Nyheim Hines may gain more value in an offense that could be under siege in the pocket this year, making Carson Wentz a great candidate as a frequent catch for my weekly Fresh Fish segments in-season. Taylor would have to fall to the fourth round for me to feel good about him as a likely low-end, fantasy RB2. That's my prognosis with this mess.
ROUND 2: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
I appreciate the Chiefs reformatting the offensive line and installing gap plays into the scheme. These plays should create excellent play-action opportunities for Patrick Mahomes II because pulling guards draw box defenders forward better than any form of play-action. This should open the middle of the field a great deal for various targets at every range of the field and lead to big plays.
It should also create some big holes for Edwards-Helaire between the 20s. Gap plays require a marshaling of forces to one crease and are slower-developing blocks than zone plays. When defenses have to cover a wide and deep range of the field that they do between the 20s, this makes these runs viable — especially with the vertical threats that Kansas City has.
However, that speed doesn't impact opposing defenses when the teams are in the compressed area of the red zone and green zone. The Chiefs have already optimized the threat of its speed with jet sweeps that stretch the field horizontally and use fakes off it.
None of that helped them get Edwards-Helaire into the end zone as a runner last year. Gap plays won't do it, either. Because they are slower-developing blocks and the play has one real crease, opposing NFL defenses can often disrupt the designated area with greater ease in compressed areas of the field.
Edwards-Helaire has excellent vision in terms of seeing the field but pressed too much as a decision-maker last year and ignored keys that cost him scores early in the year. The Chiefs stopped featuring him in the red zone with the same frequency. While this may improve, he has never been a powerful runner.
Watch closely, and the players that Edwards-Helaire finishes strong against are defensive backs. In the red zone, a back has to finish strong against linemen and linebackers. As much as I want the Edwards-Helaire ascension to fantasy RB1 value to occur, the deciding factor will be touchdown totals.
When seeing Justin Jefferson, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and George Kittle are all in the same range, I'd rather be on them having equal-to-greater yardage totals to Edwards-Helaire and more total touchdowns. And if I miss out on them, I'll take J.K. Dobbins over Edwards-Helaire and the next back listed below.
ROUND 3: D'Andre Swift
The denial remains strong in these parts. Swift is not the athlete people think he is. Perhaps that changes after his offseason training, but I'm skeptical. In the first five rounds, I want backs with first-round value as their upside. Swift's third-round value looks more like his ceiling when factoring the scheme, the competing talent on the depth chart, Swift's deficiencies, and the hot-hand approach the coaching staff will use.
Round 5: Travis Etienne
At best, Etienne will be splitting time with James Robinson. According to Michael Salfino at the Athletic, "Urban Meyer historically throws about 14 percent of his passes to running backs, which is terrible. Assuming 600 attempts, that works out to 84 passes total to RBs."
With the trio of D.J. Chark Jr, Marvin Jones Jr, and Laviska Shenault Jr in the fold, and a young quarterback with excellent wheels, I'm not buying Etienne as a frequent target this year. The Jaguars will heavily scheme Etienne into a rotation of plays where the team force-feeds the ball to him early in games, but that won't equate to fantasy production remotely worth a fifth-round pick.
Neither will his work on the ground. He's neither as powerful nor as good of a decision-maker between the tackles as Robinson. The latter has improved over the course of two years, but Etienne may need another year or two to reach Robinson's prowess.
Etienne's ADP is this high due to fantasy analysts and fans who follow draft capital but don't study the game enough. The fact that Etienne is in the same tier as Kareem Hunt, Russell Wilson, T.J. Hockenson, D.J. Moore, Brandon Aiyuk, and Ja'Marr Chase indicates draft capital's failings as an analysis point in fantasy football.
Etienne is even above Robinson. Ludicrous.
ROUND 6: Kenny Golladay
Making the rounds on the interwebs, there seems to be a sentiment that wide receiver depth is so great that running backs must be a priority this year. That may be true, but this is the first non-running back I've listed. If you're prioritizing runners, I hope you see the minefield I've mapped out above.
Golladay earns a lot of love for his athletic displays at the catch point. Dave Gettleman brought Golladay to the Giants to mitigate Daniel Jones' accuracy issues in the vertical passing game. It may help, but Golladay already has a minor hamstring issue after spending a week chasing around errant targets that should be pinpoint.
I'll take Odell Beckham Jr, Courtland Sutton, Brandon Aiyuk, and even D.J. Chark Jr before considering Golladay. All these receivers are far better route runners with better quarterback support. I'd rather take my chances on Robby Anderson and Tyler Boyd, and they are all going well after Golladay. No thanks.
ROUND 7: DeVonta Smith
We've seen rookie receivers miss training camp with nagging muscle injuries and return in a big way during the regular season. A.J. Brown and Odell Beckham Jr come to mind immediately. Both are far more physical than Smith. While I'm optimistic about Jalen Hurts this year as a garbage-time fantasy producer who will earn a lot of value with his legs and passing against soft zones, there are way too many receivers and backs I value head of Smith to consider him inside of the 10th round.
Round 7: Noah Fant
Everyone loves top athletes in football. Even football players drool unnecessarily over great athletes. Watch the NFL 100, and most of the player commentary is "He's so big...so strong...so fast." The elite players are the ones that usually comment about skills and concepts, and only if those players have in-depth knowledge of the position they are commenting on.
Fant is an elite athlete with J.A.G. (Just A Guy) technical skills and concepts. It's why I don't care if Von Miller is gushing over Fant's athletic ability in camp.
In complex situations that good pros handle well, Fant still has to think too much in situations where he should be fluidly transitioning from one task to the next. The Broncos run a lot of plays designed to force the ball to Fant. When a player is heavily game-planned into an offense, it's often due to his lack of high-end skill to be a mismatch in the base offense.
Like Swift, I think Fant's value is at his ceiling of production. The better talent is Albert Okweugbunam, and if the second-year tight end can get healthy by early October, Fant's ceiling could get lower.
Round 8: Will Fuller V
I love his game, but he's the Cicada of fantasy wide receivers, spending most of his time out of view and earning great expectation for his return only to watch him die soon after his appearance. And like the smell of Cicada, after they die, Fuller's injury stinks up your fantasy rosters like roadkill.
ROUND 9: Ronald Jones II
An excellent after-contact runner, Jones is on a stacked offense that now includes Giovani Bernard. Unless Bernard and Fournette both get hurt during the preseason, good luck determining when Jones will have games of fantasy value. Those games will happen, but I'd rather bet on Michael Carter II, Shenault, Antonio Brown, and Darrell Henderson if his value doesn't continue climbing.
ROUND 10: Marquise Brown
Brown must prove that he's a complete receiver. The fact the Ravens added Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman indicates they don't think he is. As much as fantasy analysts whine about not wanting to trust Watkins yet again, it's not like his ADP requires serious thought. Brown's ADP requires giving up on Jaylen Waddle, A.J. Dillon, Tyler Higbee, Mike Williams, Nyheim Hines, and Jamaal Williams — players with well-rounded games and potential to deliver high-end production on a weekly basis when given an opportunity. Unless the Ravens change the passing offense and Lamar Jackson becomes something he's not, Brown won't earn those opportunities against defenses that are no longer unprepared for Baltimore's game plan.
ROUND 11: Evan Engram
The best thing Engram does is an imitation of Will Fuller V, but Fuller runs better routes and catches the ball routinely. An excellent talent who has never built on his rookie season, I fear Engram is one of those players who had a great start and rested on their laurels, thinking that they made it.
Round 12: Mecole Hardman
I never understood the infatuation with Hardman. And somewhere, I read someone linking me as a proponent of Hardman. I think they have me confused with another one of the dozen Matt's who write about fantasy football. I know I'm the prettiest (see above), so I realize folks want to give me more credit for dumb things than I even deserve.
At best, I thought Hardman would help the Chiefs offense as a field stretcher. As a producer, I've been critical of his routes and skill at the catch-point in contested scenarios. I saw these things as obstacles to him ever remotely earning mention in the same receiver tier as his teammate Tyreek Hill.
I'd rather take my chances on Cornell Powell or Byron Pringle in free agency and draft a late-round quarterback with huge upsides like Deshaun Watson, Justin Fields, or Tua Tagovailoa. Rob Gronkowski is still more appealing to me here.