The 2021 fantasy football season seems like 4000 Elon Musk tweets ago, and it’s time to start thinking about our 2022 fantasy drafts. I’m happy to move on from a dreadful 6-8 season, but a wise man examines past mistakes to avoid repeating them. Let’s see where we went wrong last season on the very first day – draft day, by looking at fantasy football’s biggest surprises of 2021.
Your Drunk Mother Wouldn’t Have Drafted this Team
Imagine your 2021 fantasy football season kicking off with this starting roster:
- QB – Tom Brady
- RB – Cordarrelle Patterson
- RB – James Conner
- WR – Deebo Samuel
- WR – Ja’Marr Chase
- Flex – Cooper Kupp
- TE – Mark Andrews
It’s a starting lineup uglier than Betty, but you know what your mama taught you – beauty is only skin deep. This Ugly Betty team would’ve won your fantasy football league in 2021.
The Ugly Betty Fantasy Football Team
|*Matt Ammendola K||5||32|
As you can see, the Ugly Betty players massively outperformed their ADPs. The seven position players would’ve scored our fantasy teams an average of 122.25 points per game in half-point per reception scoring. That number alone is enough to be King of the League. Add in the worst defense and kicker to round out our teams, and we would’ve been unstoppable. This team would’ve beat every team in my home league, the great UCFL, every year over the last four.
Why did we whiff on these players last August?
Looking Through the Rearview Mirror
Never bet against Brady. I don’t care that he’s older than your father and entered his 21st season last year. Brady came off a Super Bowl-winning season in 2020 and still had all the major pieces ready to go in 2021. And he’s only getting better. Let’s look at the legend’s last four finishes in fantasy football at the quarterback position.
Brady improved three years in a row heading into 2021, and his supporting cast was just as strong. We should’ve seen this one coming. Brady didn’t deserve to be one of fantasy football’s biggest surprises of 2021. Don’t overlook TB12 in 2022. He’s still got the studs, and Pro Football Focus graded the Bucs offensive line as 4th best in the league. The man plays with a chip on his shoulder and fire up his nether region.
Flash surprised everyone – except the Atlanta Falcons. Patterson is a Swiss Army Knife, versatile as a kick returner, wide receiver, and running back. Entering the 2021 season at 30, he was old for a running back but only had 167 career rush attempts and 216 receptions. The Falcons gambled that Patterson had more tread on his tires, and they were right. And Atlanta was desperate for a playmaker since Julio Jones flew the coop, and their hopes and dreams were invested in running back Mike Davis. Davis only had two seasons before 2021 in which he carried the ball more than 100 times. He wasn’t the answer.
Why not give C-Patt a chance? A man talented enough to play both sides of the ball should’ve been on our radars, given his situation. Patterson was definitely one of fantasy football’s biggest surprises of 2021, but should he have been?
Yeah, ok, maybe we shouldn’t have seen the Conner train coming down the track. Conner was a longshot coming off two lackluster seasons, plagued by injuries with the Steelers, and destined for a timeshare with Arizona running back Chase Edmonds. But maybe we should’ve seen him as better than the 40th running back off the board in a high-flying, up-tempo offense. But still, Conner only averaged 3.7 yards a carry. His saving grace was falling into the endzone 15 times. I guess someone in that offense had to, so why not Conner?
Huge whiff here. Deebo was the 38th wide receiver drafted in the 8th round of the 2021 fantasy drafts. Maybe he left a sour taste in fantasy players’ mouths after an injury-riddled 2020 season. But we were short-sighted on Deebo and forgot about his immense athletic talents. We ignored his 11 receptions in week 12 of 2020 against the Rams. Fantasy drafters didn’t recall Deebo’s 14 rush attempts for 159 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. All we remembered was his mediocre, injury-filled season in 2020. A healthy Deebo deserved more respect than the 90th overall player off the board. Think about this – we drafted these wide receivers ahead of Samuel: Corey Davis, Robbie Anderson; ok, I can stop there.
2021 looked like an uphill battle for Chase.
- Sitting out the 2020 season
- Being a rookie
- Playing for the Bengals
- Catching balls from second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, who was coming back from a torn ACL and MCL
- Competing for targets against wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, damn good in their own right
- Dropping balls in preseason
Fantasy football players baked these factors into their decisions to draft Chase as the 31st wide receiver off the boards. Chase scandalized his skeptics by finishing as the fourth-best wide receiver with 128 targets, 81 receptions, 1455 yards, and 13 touchdowns. No one will doubt Chase in this year’s draft.
Yeah, we have to talk about this one. Kupp singlehandedly propelled new UCFL member Bad Lucking Trucking Brad to an 8-6 record for a $16 auction price – the same price paid for wide receiver Cory Davis. Kupp savaged secondaries for 343.9 fantasy points – 70 more than second-place Davante Adams. Kupp averaged an outlandish 21.5 points per game (PPG) over 16 games. You have to go back to 2015 to find a wide receiver with 16 games played who came close to matching Kupp’s PPG. In 2015, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones averaged 19.6 points and 19.2 PPG across 16 games. Tyreek Hill was close in 2020 with 19 points in 15 games.
Kupp finished 2021 with 145 receptions, 1,947 yards, and 16 touchdowns in the regular season, becoming just the fourth wide receiver in NFL history to lead the league in all three categories.
Why didn’t we predict that new Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford would fill this Kupp to the rim? UCFL league mate, Kendall, said everyone expected Rams wide receiver Robert Woods to be the go-to man in LA. We should’ve been tracking the time Stafford and Kupp spent over breakfast.
We all knew Andrews was a stud. He was a top-5 tight end in 2019 and 2020, but Andrews exploded for almost 100 more fantasy points in 2021. He dusted second-place tight-end stud Travis Kelce by 30 fantasy points. Furthermore, Andrews ran 209 more routes in 2021 than 2020, which is hard to predict. With wide receiver Marquise Brown off to the desert of Arizona, 2022 could be another banner year for the big man of Baltimore. We whiffed less on Andrews than other players on the Ugly Betty team, so we’ll give ourselves a pass on this one.
Lessons from Fantasy Football’s Biggest Surprises of 2021
Does Ugly Betty’s team teach us any important life lessons? We should be able to distill a few nuggets of truth to avoid another lousy draft day.
1 – Look for Old Faces in New Places
Conner and Patterson teach us this lesson. They were new to their teams and had something to prove. Was Patterson too old at 30? Coming off back-to-back seasons as a Pro Bowl kick returner, could he handle more responsibilities with his fifth NFL team in nine years? Patterson had the following words in January:
“I don’t think anybody thought I would have the season I had…Everybody looked at me as a special teams player…That’s probably what a lot of people thought when I signed here.“Cordarrelle Patterson
The Falcons hinted last April at taking advantage of Patterson’s versatility in the running game, and why not? Atlanta was second to dead last in 2020 in yards-per-carry (3.7). We weren’t listening to Atlanta, but who does?
When the Steelers kicked Conner to Arizona, Conner signed just a one-year deal for $1.75 million. That’s not a lot of cash in NFL dollars for a 26-year-old starting running back. Conner knew he had something to prove and questions to answer.
“For me personally I thought I did everything I could,” Conner said. “Obviously, they didn’t think that I could do the job. So, just try it again here and put my best foot forward.”James Conner
Old faces in new places often indicate players with chips on their shoulders. Keep up with key off-season trades. These guys have critics to quiet. These guys play angry, which fuels them on to great seasons. Are you thinking of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning? I was…
2 – Look for Key Players Getting an Upgrade
No one will disagree that Matthew Stafford is an upgrade over Jared Goff, right? Yet, Cooper Kupp caught 92 Goff balls in 2020 and 94 in 2019. Enter Stafford to Kupp’s world. The remotest of possibilities existed that Kupp would improve (or blow the hell out of) those numbers.
Demaryius Thomas exploded in Denver in 2012 when the Peyton plane landed. Peyton was a bit of an upgrade over Tim Tebow.
3 – Look for Good Players Coming Back from Injuries
I love to talk about my glory days of 2012, the year of my spectacular perfect 15-0 season. I single-handedly won the championship on draft day. Do you remember Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson from 2012? Neither stud was high on anyone’s draft list.
Manning had several obstacles to overcome –
- Underwent neck surgery in May 2011
- Missed all of 2011
- Traded to a new team, the Denver Broncos, in 2012
- Started the season at 36 years old
All Day Adrian Peterson also had an uphill struggle. He tore his ACL and MCL in the last regular-season game of 2011. The injuries required season-ending and possibly career-ending surgery – for mere mortals. At a minimum, running backs don’t return to their prior form after these surgeries. However, AP is beyond mortal; he’s super-human. He did return eight months later and started the 2012 season.
The questions circling Manning and Peterson coming into the 2012 season worried fantasy football players on draft day. Manning’s ADP was 6.07, the 52nd overall pick and the 9th quarterback. His brother, Ely, was ahead at pick 45. In 2010, before his neck surgery, Peyton was the third QB off the draft boards. Peterson’s ADP was also deflated at 2.06, pick 19, and the 11th running back. Peterson was the top overall pick a year earlier in 2011 and the second pick in 2010.
I took chances on both players on draft day 2012. I claimed Peterson as my keeper and jumped on Manning in the fifth round. These guys torched the league and set me on autopilot to a landmark undefeated season, a feat never done before or since in the great UCFL.
All that bragging to say, don’t overlook stud players returning from an injury-laden season. Talent wins out. In 2021 we whiffed on Deebo, who was one of fantasy football’s biggest surprises of 2021.
4 – Look for Talented Players Attracting Bad Publicity
Lamar Jackson probably still has critics who say he can’t play quarterback. He certainly had naysayers entering the 2019 season, so he fell to the 9th round in snake drafts. Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, and Jared Goff were drafted ahead of Jackson. Don’t you feel silly now? Lamar roasted the league and finished the season as fantasy football’s top scorer with 421.7 points in half-PPR scoring. The closest quarterback was Dak Prescott, who averaged over six points per game less than Jackson.
The publicity about Ja’Marr Chase pushed him further down draft boards than his raw talent and athleticism deserved. Why didn’t we expect Chase to catch on, especially with his college QB Burrow tossing him the ball? Immense talent, baked-in chemistry with the quarterback – we whiffed on this one. Pay attention this preseason for top talent getting scorched by the press. Bet on the talent.
5 – Don’t Ever Bet Against Tom Brady
I know I’ve already said that, but it bears repeating. Maybe it should be said once for every Super Bowl ring the man wears. Another lesson that Brady teaches us is to look for ascending players. Before 2021, Brady had three consecutive seasons of improving stats. We call that a trend. Look for similar trend lines in players for this year’s draft.
It’s time to put in the work for draft day. Good luck favors the prepared, and the Bullrush will help you get ready. Our analysis of fantasy football’s biggest surprises of 2021 will prevent us from making the same mistakes again. If you’re not in a fantasy football league, why not start one?