This article is all about must-draft players in best ball this summer. These aren’t values or sleepers. These are the guys I’m taking every time they’re available anywhere even close to their current average draft position (ADP). Your draft slot will play a huge role in your options at the top of drafts and as the draft goes on, roster construction becomes more important. Still, these are the players I’m not letting get past me in best ball whenever it makes sense for my build.
Note the positional and overall ADP listed next to each player, taken from Underdog Best Ball drafts on June 22, 2021.
Lamar Jackson (QB4, 54.5 overall)
Jackson broke fantasy football during his 2019 MVP campaign when he averaged a record 27.7 fantasy points/game. That’s why it may have felt disappointing when he only averaged 22.2 fantasy points/game in 2019, still good enough to tie for seventh-most among all players that appeared in at least eight games.
Jackson is the most dangerous running quarterback in the league, but his passing numbers aren’t too shabby. His completion percentage and yard/attempt took a slight dip from 2019 but his touchdown rate of 6.9% was the third-highest in the league, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. and was still slightly lower than his career average of 7.2%.
His production fell in 2020 in large part due to loss of volume as he threw 25 fewer passes than in 2019. That’s an entire game’s worth considering Jackson averaged just 23.5 pass/attempts game in 2020. The Ravens only passed the ball 406 times last year, the fewest since Seattle attempted just 405 in 2012. Statistically speaking they’re unlikely to have fewer attempts in 2021 and even a slight uptick in passing volume could lead to huge fantasy gains for Jackson.
The most appealing reason to draft Jackson in best ball is how easily you can stack him with multiple offensive weapons. Drafting both Jackson and Mark Andrews at the four-five turn is one of my favorite stacks. Marquise Brown is a threat to score every time he’s targeted and should see less defensive attention with the arrival of Rashod Bateman, the first-round pick who’s built to be an NFL target hog. Even Sammy Watkins has some best ball appeal late in drafts.
Daniel Jones (QB23, 162.3 overall)
Jones doesn’t have the same ceiling as Lamar Jackson but he has many of the same qualities that have me drafting him every chance I get. He had a down year in 2020, in part due to injuries to both himself and teammates, but we saw his upside in 2019 when he put up four top-two quarterback performances.
Now he gets Saqoun Barkley back from injury, red zone monster Kenny Golladay via free agency, and playmaker Kadarius Toney via the draft. Big play threat Darius Slayton is still there and Sterling Shepard should return to his preferred role in the slot. And let’s not forget that Evan Engram is still one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL. All of these playmakers can be easily stacked with Jones and will surely provide some boom weeks on your best ball roster.
Aaron Jones (RB11, 14.6 overall)
Jones could go under-drafted for the third season in a row. He was the RB4 and RB6 in fantasy/points game in each of the past two seasons and has scored 39 touchdowns over his last 42 games played. Yet he still can’t crack the top-ten running backs in best ball ADP. That’s ok though, that’s why I’ll draft him every time I can.
Unless you’re afraid of Aaron Rodgers actually leaving Green Bay in 2021 (I’m not), the only things that have changed for Jones are positives for him. The Packers signed him to a big-time contract and his former backfield by committee mate Jamall Williams left for the Lions.
Joe Mixon (RB12, 14.8 overall)
Mixon is one of the most polarizing players in all of fantasy football, but count me in as a Mixon believer. His touches only continue to go up; from 18.8 over his career, to 19.6 in 2019, to a massive 23.3 over his six healthy games of 2020. Giovani Bernard has moved on to Tampa Bay and the Bengals are primed to take a step forward in Joe Burrow’s second year. I’m not letting Mixon get past me in best ball drafts.
Davante Adams (WR3, 17.5 overall)
There’s no reason that Adams should be anything less than the first wide receiver selected in any fantasy draft, including best ball formats. OK, there’s one reason. If you think Aaron Rodgers would retire before coming back to Green Bay, I guess I get it. But here’s the thing…even if Rodgers isn’t the one delivering the ball to Adams, it will be Jordan Love using Adams as a security blanket all season long. He’ll still dominate in the red zone and it’s tough to imagine a scenario that doesn’t involve Adams as one of the most targeted wideouts in the NFL.
Tyler Lockett (WR22, 49.2 overall)
Lockett is already typecast as a prototypical “better in best ball” wideout due to his tendency to produce week-winning performances one week and disappear the next. It seems to be a misnomer, however, that Lockett is Seattle’s secondary receiver. Last season Lockett led Seattle with a 24.6% target share. He edged out DK Metcalf by three targets but is going almost 25 picks later. Lockett is a wideout I’m not letting get past me in best ball drafts.
Odell Beckham Jr. (WR28, 64.8 overall)
Beckham is being drafted as though he’s washed up, but I’m taking a shot on the 28-year-old wideout. There’s no doubt that he’s a top-24 wideout when he’s healthy and the early offseason reports on his injury recovery have been positive so far. He’s also easy to pair with Baker Mayfield, who made big strides down the back half of last season. A Mayfield-Beckham stack is a sneaky and affordable one for 2021 best ball.
George Kittle (TE3, 25.3 overall)
Kittle is the third tight end off the board right now but is arguably the last one that has the potential to finish as the top fantasy tight end in 2021. He finished as TE3 in 2018, TE2 in 2019, and was the TE1 in fantasy points/game (14.9) in 2020 before suffering a long-term injury in Week 8. I’m taking Kittle absolutely every chance I get when he’s available in the third round.
Evan Engram (TE14, 134.6 overall)
Engram had a disappointing 2020 season, and his ADP reflects it. However, he’s still one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL. He was a bit unlucky when it came to touchdowns last season, catching just one despite 109 targets being thrown his way. He may lose a few targets but a little positive regression could go a long way for Engram in 2021. He’ll likely be too inconsistent to trust in season-long formats but he should still put up his fair share of spike weeks, which fits best ball perfectly. As noted earlier, pairing him with Daniel Jones makes sense as a discount best ball stack.
Featured Photo Credit: Erik Drost