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Fantasy Football 2021: Winners and losers in PPR leagues this season

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By Jennifer Eakins, 4for4

Special to Yahoo Sports

When it comes to PPR leagues, certain players become darlings in the format while others fall down a few pegs based on their lack of volume through the air every week.

This article will take a look at the players to target in full-PPR formats based on perceived workload, and will also go over those guys you want your leaguemates to worry about — instead of you.

Note: PPR ADP courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator

WINNERS

Austin Ekeler, RB - Chargers

Yes, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara are tops in PPR leagues, but you’re drafting them anyway. Austin Ekeler is a player who rises significantly in formats with points for receptions as an elite pass-catching back.

All of the Chargers' offensive weapons are on the rise with Justin Herbert under center, but Ekeler has the potential to really thrive in 2021. He posted an astounding 92 receptions in 2019 and another 54 in a shortened 10-game season due to injury last year. 4for4’s John Paulsen has the 26-year old projected for 82 catches this year, just one behind McCaffrey.

Ekeler goes from a ranking of RB16 in standard leagues to RB10 in half-PPR, up to RB6 in PPR leagues. As far as ADP goes, he’s still slightly undervalued, leaving boards at 1.11 as the RB9.

Diontae Johnson, WR - Steelers

All anyone seems to focus on with Diontae Johnson are his drops, but his production and volume are the things we should be paying attention to. Johnson ended last season as WR5 in targets per game with 9.6, and that actually isn’t even indicative of how heavily he was thrown to in 2020. In 10-of-15 games Johnson saw double-digit targets and in two of the other five contests, the wideout was sidelined due to injury early in the game.

Johnson finished the season as WR23 in PPR points, which is around where he’s being drafted, boasting an ADP of 5.10 as WR22. That’s his floor, which presents exceptional value right now in PPR leagues. As the WR1 in an offense that will need to throw even more in 2021 due to a shoddy o-line, Johnson could put up fantasy WR1 numbers, of course, if he can get those drops under control.

In standard formats, the 25-year old is ranked as WR24 but jumps up to 20th in half-PPR and WR17 in leagues with PPR scoring.

Travis Etienne, RB - Jaguars

Travis Etienne could emerge in a similar role he had with Trevor Lawrence at Clemson — where he was the QB's most reliable playmaker. The first-round pick saw 48 receptions last year in 12 games and averaged an impressive 11.3 yards per reception over four college years. He’s projected to catch 60 balls in 2021, the fourth-highest among RBs after only McCaffrey, Ekeler, and Kamara.

We can’t forget about James Robinson and Carlos Hyde, so his rushing totals won’t be within the range of a fantasy RB1 or even RB2, but in PPR leagues his potential third-down work and possibility of splitting out wide or sharing the field with Robinson make Etienne appealing in his rookie season. Etienne is currently being drafted as the RB27 in PPR leagues, leaving boards at 5.08.

Tyler Boyd, WR - Bengals

The least-sexy and oft-discarded member of the Bengals trio of receivers, Tyler Boyd is the one we should be going after in PPR formats. With Joe Burrow at the helm, Boyd averaged 8.7 targets per game, which sat 12th among wideouts in that 11-game span. The Bengals did draft Burrow’s former teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, in this year’s draft, but he’ll likely occupy A.J. Green’s vacated role on the outside opposite Tee Higgins, leaving Boyd to continue to be peppered with slot targets.

In the 10 games with Burrow under center in 2020, the rookie threw the ball 41.5 times per contest, which was third among NFL QBs, so there should be plenty of balls to go around for the Bengals pass catchers. Boyd’s 4for4 projections have him with 81 receptions in 2021, which is 18th among WRs, yet he’s being drafted right now as WR34 in the early eighth round.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83)
Tyler Boyd might be the best option in PPR leagues among Bengals WRs. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Consider Boyd a safe WR3 with WR2 potential in PPR formats but limit expectations in standard and half-PPR leagues as he doesn’t find the end zone as often as wideouts in a similar range, posting just 19 in five NFL seasons.

James White, RB - Patriots

The New England backfield is pretty gross to navigate, but in PPR leagues, James White is a bright light. Let’s disregard last season as he experienced a horrific family tragedy, plus the Patriots' offense never got going after COVID-19 plagued Cam Newton.

In 2019, White’s 72 catches were sixth among RBs and 33rd overall among all pass-catchers, and in 2018 the New England RB had 87 receptions, which were the third-most at his position and the 16th-highest among all players who catch the football. The guy has gone six years in a row with at least 40 catches; I think I’ve made my point.

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He’s not really an option in non-PPR formats, but White can smash his current 12.08 ADP as RB54 in leagues who give a point for every catch. White is 4for4’s 38th ranked RB heading into the season in PPR formats and presents some solid value at his current draft spot.

Giovani Bernard, RB - Buccaneers

Now part of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Giovani Bernard joins a running back room that’s legit crowded. HC Bruce Arians' usage of his backs is pretty frustrating to fantasy managers as well, which doesn’t help.

However, Bernard is arguably the best pass-catching back on the roster and Tom Brady threw 118 balls to his RBs in 2020. If Bernard sees close to half of those targets — which is certainly in the realm of possibility — that would put him among the Top 10 in targets at his position. His pass-game usage puts Gio in the conversation as an RB4 with RB3 potential in PPR formats, for the price of an RB5. (ADP RB57, 13.08)

LOSERS

Nick Chubb, RB - Browns

In standard leagues, Chubb is 4for4’s fourth-ranked RB with 1,224 projected rushing yards and just over nine touchdowns. However, in formats where you get points for catches, the Cleveland back falls to RB12.

In the 20 contests from 2019-20 that both he and Kareem Hunt were in the mix, Chubb only posted 27 total receptions which show his limited upside in PPR formats. The 25-year old is hyper-efficient on the ground and finds the end zone with frequency, but should be valued a bit less in leagues that reward receptions. Chubb’s PPR ADP is currently 1.07.

Adam Thielen, WR - Vikings

Last year’s WR11 finish in PPR points per game was predicated on a career-high 14 touchdowns, which were the third-most among all pass-catchers in the NFL. While he may continue to be QB Kirk Cousins’ favorite red-zone target, the emergence of Justin Jefferson should impact the number of balls tossed Thielen’s way in 2021.

While the soon-to-be 31-year old is ranked as 4for4’s WR18 in standard formats with his red-zone work baked in, Thielen falls to WR24 in PPR formats. Drafters are not concerned about a dip in targets though, as his ADP is currently 5.08 as the 19th wideout leaving draft boards in PPR leagues.

Thielen is certainly still worthy of a roster spot in 2021, but if drafting in formats with points for catches, you may want to roll with a higher volume guy in that spot like Tyler Lockett or Diontae Johnson.

J.K. Dobbins, RB - Ravens

From Week 8 to the end of the 2020 season, J.K. Dobbins averaged 13.6 PPR points per contest, which was 20th at his position. With Mark Ingram officially out of the way, Dobbins is set to become the Ravens’ lead back; so many are hitting the gas on an RB1 season from the sophomore. He’s currently being drafted in the early third round as RB16 in PPR formats, which is a bit high for my liking.

Gus Edwards will be heavily involved in this offense, as OC Greg Roman has stood his ground on a backfield by committee approach. Even when Dobbins was the lead back in that nine-game stretch at the end of 2020, he saw a measly 1.1 targets per contest. With little involvement in the passing game, Dobbins would need to be uber-efficient in his timeshare, including finding the end zone for most, if not all, weeks to return his current ADP.

When it comes to standard fantasy formats, Dobbins has a safe-ish floor, but he falls off in PPR scoring. With a projection of 29 receptions throughout the entire season (RB33) I’d rather grab Chris Carson, who’s projected to catch 44 balls or D’Andre Swift (56), as they are all in the same ADP range.

Tyrell Williams & Breshad Perriman, WRs - Lions

You get a two-for-one in PPR avoidance with this duo of Lions wideouts. Williams and Perriman are fresh to Detroit this season, and both are downfield guys with boom-or-bust potential in 2021.

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New QB Jared Goff is not known for his deep ball prowess; in fact, his completion percentage on throws over 20 yards ranked 32nd among QBs last season (61.7%). These guys are best suited for best-ball formats where those spike weeks when Detroit is playing from behind come to fruition, but in redraft leagues, they are better left on the waiver wire. If you’re really jonesing for some Detroit action, both receivers could be bench stashes in standard leagues based on potential yardage and touchdowns, but without a higher target share, they’re a pass in PPR.

Williams is ranked as WR65 in standard leagues and WR67 in PRR, with Perriman projected as WR69 in standard formats and WR78 in leagues that assign a point per catch.

Rob Gronkowski, TE - Buccaneers

After a slow start to the 2020 season, Rob Gronkowski ended as TE15 in PPR points per game. His ceiling is fairly limited in this Tampa Bay offense, plus a healthy O.J. Howard doesn’t help. With Howard on the field for four games to start last year, Gronk saw 14 total targets that he turned into nine catches for 88 yards and zero scores. Howard put up an 11-146-2 line on 19 targets during that same timeframe.

These two may just cancel each other out in 2021, but Gronk is probably all right in standard leagues, yet he’s just too touchdown-dependent with a plethora of surrounding weapons to count on in PPR formats. The 32-year old is 4for4’s TE14 in standard scoring but slides down nine spots to TE23 when given points for receptions. His current ADP in this format is 10.04 as TE12.

This article originally appeared on 4for4.com

A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.

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