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Top NFL Free Agents for Fantasy Football 2021
Free agency is the first big milestone of the NFL offseason and with it comes a host of changes for fantasy purposes. Here we'll look at the top players at each fantasy position and how a change could affect their value. I'll only be looking at players who have a realistic chance at changing teams so if a big name is missing, it's because they are going to be returning to their current team in 2021.
Despite currently rehabbing from the gruesome ankle injury he suffered early in the 2020 season, Dak Prescott is the unquestioned top free agent overall. However, the Cowboys know this and have already tried to get him on a long-term deal. That leaves Jameis Winston as the next best choice. Winston's physical skills have never been the problem. He has a cannon for an arm and is even able to dial it in better than most people give him credit for. He simply misses defenders when making reads or throws into windows that the best passers aren't going to be hitting. Because of his unparalleled aggression, he's great for his team's fantasy options and isn't a bad choice as an upside QB2 himself. The Saints are adamant about keeping Winston but they're in no shape to be making big signings because of their cap situation.
2. Cam Newton
Newton's days as a premier NFL quarterback are long gone but he could still get a contract as a spot-starter and his rushing upside is entirely intact. He averaged 9.1 carries for 39.5 yards and scored 12 times in 15 games with the Patriots. His passing ability looked dismal in New England but a more creative offensive coach with better weapons than practice squad receivers and rookie tight ends could coax a modest passing season out of Newton to go along with his incredible running. Seeing Newton work with Matt Nagy in Chicago would be interesting, to say the least. Ryan Fitzpatrick is also on the table for teams looking to free agency for a passer but his upside seems like a lessened version of Winston's ceiling.
1. Aaron Jones
Jones comes in as the only high-end running back on the market if Green Bay chooses to let him walk. The team could bring Jamaal Williams back instead of him and did see some signs of life from second-round pick AJ Dillon at the end of last year. Jones has a three-down skill set but Green Bay consistently spelled him with the less talented Williams. It's likely that the same thing happens no matter where Jones lands. His biggest draw from a fantasy perspective was that he was on one of the best offenses in the league. If he gets a deal from a middling team, he'll be an easy fade for fantasy purposes.
2. Kenyan Drake
Drake disappointed in 2020 with a lack of big games and mediocre tackle-breaking ability. He hit a few home runs that saved an otherwise forgettable season but didn't earn himself a massive contract with a new team. He wasn't used as a pass-catcher much in his second season with the Cardinals. He could land somewhere that gives him the opportunity to operate as a three-down back and that would certainly restore the value he lost in his second season with the Cardinals. It's more likely that he continues on as a committee back for the rest of his career, wherever he lands.
Fournette isn't guaranteed to stay in Tampa Bay because they'll have multiple receivers worth bringing back over him but that is easily the best way he retains his fantasy appeal in 2021. Fournette was adequate at everything in Jacksonville but never exceed in a specific category. He looked like the same well-rounded player again with the Bucs but going to an improved offense in every way imaginable boosted his already robust collection of skills. Like Aaron Jones before him, owning a large role within an elite offense is enough to unlock any fantasy runner. He's unlikely to find that if he walks.
Robinson is simply an alpha wide receiver whose floor is so high based on his ability to command targets. He's been a WR1 with Mitchell Trubisky and Blake Bortles. No bad landing spot can hold him down but an above-average passer could certainly unlock him. For early best ball drafters, he's one of the safest selections with the highest ceiling because of a potential 180 shift in his quarterback's talent.
Smith-Schuster began his NFL career on a torrid pace with over 2,300 yards by the age of 22. His next two years were disappointing steps backward but can be explained. He suffered a myriad of injuries in 2019 and was catching passes from backups all year. In 2020, the Steelers made him run routes that hardly passed the line of scrimmage and he was rarely tasked with pushing past the sticks. Given his early career success, it's hard to believe Smith-Schuster's lot in life is to be a lessened version of Jarvis Landry. If a team breaks the bank on him, it will be a good sign that they see him as a corner-stone piece of their offense.
3. Will Fuller
Running back dropped off quickly after Aaron Jones but receiver is incredibly deep this year. Fuller has the highest upside of any player remaining because of his proven track-record of mind-bending efficiency but he'll need a passer with at least a nice deep ball to continue flourishing. If he's able to find that, we'll hammer Fuller in fantasy drafts once again.
1. Hunter Henry
Tight end is weak for free agent purposes but it's possible that the Chargers let Henry walk and juice up the player pool a bit. Henry has looked like a high-floor, low-ceiling player for his entire tenure in LA/San Deigo but he has had good quarterbacks and never managed to reach the upper echelon at his position. If a contending team like Buffalo makes a splash signing with Henry then he'll be worth a long look in fantasy circles. Otherwise, he's a player who is more name-brand value than fantasy value.
2. Jonnu Smith
Smith doesn't look likely to leave Tennesee but if he does, he could lose the one thing that has kept him on the fantasy radar in the past two years: his efficiency. Smith has scored touchdowns at an absurd clip just like the entirety of his offense but outside of that he doesn't do much that we care about for fantasy football. He has never commanded a large target share and often gives up routes to his backups while blocking. He plays half right tackle and half red zone threat. If that red zone role is for Jets instead of Tennesee, we'll forget Smith exists by Week 5 of 2021.