2021 KUBIAK vs. ADP: Steelers' Claypool, Ebron Among Underrated Fantasy Stars

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Chase Claypool
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Chase Claypool
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Last week's article on overrated fantasy players identified that playoff success inflated the market prices of Buccaneers players such as Leonard Fournette, Mike Evans, and Rob Gronkowski in 2021 fantasy drafts. The opposite holds true for Steelers Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron after the disappointing early end to Pittsburgh's 2020 season. Yes, this is the list of fantasy players KUBIAK sees as values relative to their average draft positions.

Check out the previous examples of this exercise:

All referenced KUBIAK rankings are for players at their positions and based on PPR scoring.


Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
KUBIAK Rank: 13
Yahoo! ADP: 22

There are plenty of excuses for a poor rookie season that could provide optimism for a Tagovailoa breakout in 2021. The hip injury that ended his college career disrupted his preparation for last season. The Dolphins were in a playoff race and were quick to bench the rookie for capable veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. And even when he did play, Tagovailoa ran a limited playbook. He has told reporters he is much more comfortable entering his second season.

But those excuses are for a narrative that shouldn't exist. Tagovailoa was fine by rookie quarterback standards. His -8.5% DVOA was slightly above average for the top rookie passers from the last five seasons and barely shy of the last two No. 1 picks, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow, players with dramatically better public perceptions of the start of their NFL careers.

Rookie Passing DVOA, 2016-2020
Player Team Season DVOA
Dak Prescott DAL 2016 31.6%
Deshaun Watson HOU 2017 23.1%
Justin Herbert LAC 2020 10.2%
Baker Mayfield CLE 2018 8.1%
Kyler Murray ARI 2019 -3.1%
Joe Burrow CIN 2020 -7.3%
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 2020 -8.5%
Carson Wentz PHI 2016 -12.0%
Sam Darnold NYJ 2018 -15.2%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 2017 -16.8%
Daniel Jones NYG 2019 -19.2%
Josh Allen BUF 2018 -35.9%
Dwayne Haskins WAS 2019 -42.0%
Josh Rosen ARI 2018 -53.7%
Jared Goff LAR 2016 -74.8%

Typically, quarterbacks experience the biggest gains in efficiency when going from their rookie to their sophomore seasons. Expect a marked jump from Tagovailoa, who should couple his personal development with major improvements to his pass protection and skill talent in Miami. Offensive linemen Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, and Solomon Kindley will likely enjoy their own second-year improvements, and rookie and free-agent wide receiver additions Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller have the deep speed and separation skills to open the full field for Tagovailoa's passing. Fuller finished 12th among receivers in 2020 with 0.099 receiving plus/minus per catchable target (minimum 50 targets).

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
KUBIAK Rank: 17
Yahoo! ADP: 20

League context will decide whether Cousins is a viable fantasy sleeper. He doesn't run, but his team frequently does—the Vikings finished third with a 42.6% non-quarterback run ratio in 2020. In shallow formats, Cousins lacks the top-five ceiling that make some of the position's boom-or-bust prospects such as rookies Justin Fields and Trey Lance appealing. But in deeper and two-quarterback formats, Cousins in the consummate value pick. Since he joined the Vikings in 2018, Cousins is 11th among quarterbacks with 300 or more attempts with 16.5 average fantasy points per game. That's more than Dak Prescott (16.4) or Matthew Stafford (15.4) have managed. And while those other quarterbacks have shiny new toys in CeeDee Lamb and Sean McVay, Cousins has a second-year receiver in Justin Jefferson whose rookie season was one of the best in NFL history.

Cousins would be easier for many to root for if he took the COVID vaccine, but the risk to miss games he has added with that decision may not outweigh his otherwise impeccable track record of availability. The only game Cousins has missed since he became a starter in 2015 was at the end of 2019 when he sat while healthy to prepare for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Cousins carries $76-million and $45-million dead cap figures the next two seasons that will likely dissuade the Vikings from prematurely trying out any potential replacements.

Running Backs

Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
KUBIAK Rank: 16
Yahoo! ADP: 26

A quick scan of Davis' Pro Football Reference page will make you question even his mid-20s ADP. He needed four teams and a Christian McCaffrey injury to land his first extended opportunity in the NFL, and he managed just 3.9 yards per carry in that audition. One might even question the cap-strapped Falcons' willingness to pay the journeyman a guaranteed $3 million this offseason. But context explains that decision. The 2020 Panthers had poor offensive line play that limited both Davis and the quicker McCaffrey to similar 1.43 and 1.54 yards before contact per attempt. Davis consistently overcame poor blocks with the seventh-best yards after contact rate (2.46) and best broken tackle rate (12.7%) among backs with 150 or more carries. And while he hardly evoked McCaffrey with the smoothness of his receiving contributions, Davis fared better than most backs with a 0.2% receiving DVOA and +1.2 plus/minus. Expect the Falcons to offer their new starter plenty of work as both a runner and receiver this season. Beyond him, the team is lacking in enticing alternatives. Qadree Ollison was a fifth-round draft pick in 2019 and has just 24 career touches. The newly signed D'Onta Foreman has 116 career touches and a career-derailing Achilles injury. Cordarrelle Patterson is part wide receiver and mostly kick returner. And Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley are undrafted rookies.

Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
KUBIAK Rank: 29
Yahoo! ADP: 45

Singletary was a no-brainer inclusion for me when he showed up to camp in the best shape of his life (drink!) and when teammate and fellow third-round running back Zack Moss was slow to practice after offseason ankle surgery. I almost changed my mind when Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic reported that Moss had returned to camp and consistently outplayed Singletary. Finally, I decided to include Singletary after Moss injured his hamstring on Wednesday and made me wonder how healthy he can be this season.

That is the Singletary and Bills backfield fantasy experience in a nutshell. And given that Singletary has little touchdown upside with his smaller stature, lacks exceptional top-end speed, and plays behind a quarterback in Josh Allen who takes the bulk of the team's red zone carries himself, you may wonder why I even bothered to write him up. But while he may fall short of RB2 upside, Singletary has demonstrated an efficiency per touch that could demand an increased role in 2021, especially as a receiver. Since 2019, he has a 9.4% avoided tackle rate that is tied for seventh best among backs with 300 or more carries. And despite his inability to hit home runs, Singletary has a 35.3% breakaway rate on his well-blocked attempts, fifth-highest over the same time frame. When he has a hole, he converts on a chunk play. For me, it's enticing enough of a skill set to make Singletary a sleeper since his ADP has fallen outside the top 40 at the position.

AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers
KUBIAK Rank: 35
Yahoo! ADP: 39

Dillon caught some strays in the tornado of discussion about the Packers' 2020 draft and its implications for Aaron Rodgers. But whatever his real-life value, Dillon has clear fantasy potential. Dillon echoed the style head coach Matt LaFleur's prototype, Derrick Henry, with 3.20 yards after contact per attempt in his rookie season. That was the second-highest rate among backs with his volume of carries (46). Dillon is the obvious choice to run in touchdowns, and the Packers offer major potential in that department. The team ran on just 18 of their 48 plays (37.5%) within 5 yards of the end zone last season. They and the Jaguars (36.8%) were the only teams below 45.0%. And while star back Aaron Jones returned to the team with a four-year extension that likely ruins Dillon's chances at RB1 or RB2 value, Dillon has a runway in Jamaal Williams' vacated 150 touches. Jones is not much of a pass-protector, so Dillon could see a substantial offensive role even if his size limits his potential as a pass-catcher.

Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
KUBIAK Rank: 47
Yahoo! ADP: -

Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones ranked second and third worst among backs with 30 or more catchable targets with 16.3% and 15.2% drop rates last season, including the playoffs. Bernard has fewer drops since 2018 (eight) than Fournette had last year alone (nine). That made my case to avoid Fournette in the overrated article. But James White is the case to draft Bernard. White saw between 72 and 123 targets in Tom Brady's last four years with the Patriots and finished 26th or better at the position in PPR formats three times in those four seasons.

Wide Receivers

Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
KUBIAK Rank: 11
Yahoo! ADP: 18

Sean McVay seemed motivated to replace Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford so he could add more deep shots to his offense. As such, new Rams receivers DeSean Jackson and Tutu Atwell should benefit the most. But Stafford seems likely to make life better for all of the team's receivers. Kupp, in particular, seems undervalued. Even with Goff under center, Kupp has been a top-12 wide receiver with 15.6 PPR points per game since 2018. And whatever Stafford's big-play reputation, he has developed fantasy-friendly chemistry with slot receivers before. He turned Golden Tate into a fantasy star with averages of 132 targets, 93 catches, 1,056 yards, and 4.8 touchdowns per season in the latter's last four years with the Lions.

Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
KUBIAK Rank: 17
Yahoo! ADP: 27

This pick seemed unique before Claypool made a spectacular diving catch in the Hall of Fame game. Here's hoping that no one watches preseason football.

Or maybe it won't matter. KUBIAK likes every Steelers pass-catcher more than their market value, and so I suspect the dissonance comes from differing opinions of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger decreased his average throw depth markedly from 7.8 yards in 2018 before his shoulder injury to 6.9 yards last year, but that decline may reflect more than his health. The quick passing game replaced a non-existent Steelers running game behind the worst run-blocking line in 2020 (3.72 adjusted line yards), and it eased Roethlisberger to a career-best and league-low 2.1% sack rate. The change may actually extend Roethlisberger's career, and Claypool is poised to be a major beneficiary. His 62 catches and 873 yards may not stand out next to the best veteran receivers, but they nearly matched the totals of a similarly built DK Metcalf in his rookie season (58 and 900). Claypool could enjoy a corresponding jump to superstardom in his second season. And at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Claypool should continue to pace the position in touchdown-scoring. His nine rookie scores only slightly outpaced his 7.2 expected touchdowns estimated by the location of his targets. If any Steelers wideout is likely to see a decline there, it's JuJu Smith-Schuster, who doubled Claypool's surplus with nine touchdowns versus just 5.4 opportunity-adjusted scores.

Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
KUBIAK Rank: 38
Yahoo! ADP: 45

Williams sits on the other end of the scale of touchdown fortune. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver demonstrated his massive scoring upside in his second year when he found the end zone 10 times on just 43 catches. But in the two years since, Williams has suffered the biggest touchdown shortfall at the position with seven scores against 13.3 opportunity-adjusted receiving touchdowns. Regression would on its own improve Williams' value in 2021, but the fourth-year receiver has a bonus in Justin Herbert coming off one of the league's best rookie passing seasons and entering the year when quarterbacks tend to make the biggest improvements in their careers.

Tight Ends

Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
KUBIAK Rank: 10
Yahoo! ADP: 15

Ebron is the second Steelers receiver on my sleeper list, but his surplus value may say more about the public perception of teammate Pat Freiermuth and less about Roethlisberger. Freiermuth, a second-round rookie, has sparked optimism from reporters and coaches, but one shouldn't overrate what career potential will likely mean in Year 1 for a tight end. Since 2009, Tony Moeaki is the only tight end drafted in the second round or later with more than 70 targets in his rookie season. Only five tight ends from Round 2 or later had even 60 targets, and eventual fantasy stars Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews, and Jimmy Graham had modest totals of 59, 56, 50, and 44 targets in their rookie seasons. Ebron had 91 targets in his first year with the Steelers in 2020. That was ninth-most at the position and for me portends a similar fantasy finish in 2021.

Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
KUBIAK Rank: 16
Yahoo! ADP: 18

The Cowboys demonstrated that their offense could support a tight end other than Jason Witten in fantasy when Dalton Schultz landed ninth at the position in targets and 17th in PPR points in 2020. Maybe Schultz was too successful since his likely replacement Jarwin has an ADP even later than the former's fantasy finish. I don't see this as an open competition. Jarwin has enjoyed a quarterback advantage since he had Dak Prescott in 2019 while Schultz had mostly Andy Dalton in 2020. But Jarwin has also bested Schultz with 9.8 versus 9.0 yards per catchable target and a 2.9% versus 5.8% drop rate over the last two seasons. Now that he has returned to practice from his 2020 ACL tear, expect Jarwin to assert himself as the team's starter and threaten TE1 value at a fraction of the cost in fantasy drafts.

Dan Arnold, Carolina Panthers
KUBIAK Rank: 31
Yahoo! ADP: --

Arnold has not made his way into the early ESPN and Yahoo! ADP, and so in shallow formats, he may be an early-season waiver watch more than a necessary draft pick. But I wanted to highlight him here because I believe even his 31st ranking in KUBIAK undersells his fantasy potential. In his three-year career, Arnold has made his way onto the tight end leaderboard of yards per catchable target. And while the small-sample caveats apply, he and Will Dissly are the only interlopers on a list that otherwise features the unequivocable best real-world and fantasy players at the position.

Tight End Yards Per
Catchable Target Leaders, 2018-2020
Player Team CTgts Yards/
O.J. Howard TB 86 13.6
Rob Gronkowski NE/TB 96 13.6
George Kittle SF 234 13.1
Dan Arnold ARI 55 13.0
Jared Cook OAK/NO 165 12.8
Travis Kelce KC 328 12.2
Mark Andrews BAL 173 12.2
Will Dissly SEA 56 11.9
Robert Tonyan GB 67 11.4
Darren Waller OAK/LV 213 11.3
Minimum 50 catchable targets

Second-round rookie Terrace Marshall is the easy bet to replace Curtis Samuel's vacated 97 targets in Carolina, but the team's heavy reliance on three-receiver sets in 2020 may have been a bug of their lack of receiving options at tight end with Ian Thomas and Chris Manhertz rather than a feature of offensive coordinator Joe Brady's preferred offensive scheme. As an effectively free draft choice in even deeper formats, Arnold is a worthy flier to enjoy an expanded role with his new team.


Daniel Carlson, Las Vegas Raiders
KUBIAK Rank: 7
Yahoo! ADP: 18

Kicker conversion rates can vary wildly from year to year, and so I wouldn't rank Carlson as a top-10 kicker based solely on his 94.3% success rate on field goal attempts (ahead of Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker) and 95.7% success rate on extra point attempts (ahead of Younghoe Koo and Butker). But Carlson has the additional benefits of a dome stadium and a Raiders offense that finished 14th and ninth in offensive DVOA the last two seasons. Carlson enjoyed the sixth most field goal and ninth most extra point attempts in 2020, and with the 12th-best projected offense this year, he is poised to remain a league leader in attempts.


New Orleans Saints
KUBIAK Rank: 8
Yahoo! ADP: 19

The Saints will have a hard time replacing Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees. And if the preseason so far is any indication, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill will provide more than their fair shares of lowlights. But that offensive turmoil seems unlikely to sabotage a defense as talented as the one the Saints have. Stacked with Pro Bowlers at every level such as Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore, and Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints have allowed 17.6 points and forced 1.4 turnovers per game in eight contests without Brees—and excluding the outing against a Broncos team without a quarterback—the last two seasons. The team projections see more of the same with their third-best defensive DVOA forecast, and fantasy players should see similar value, especially if they can play the matchups. The NFC South draws the NFC East and AFC East as divisional opponents this year, so the Saints will have appealing matchups against the Giants, Eagles, and Jets beyond their pair of enticing intradivisional games against the Panthers.


2 comments, Last at 20 Aug 2021, 10:25am

#1 by tjb // Aug 17, 2021 - 11:39am

I'd stay away from Singletary even if Moss is hurt.  The Bills had little interest in running the ball in competitive situations last season and they leaned even more heavily into the passing game late in the season despite, you know, playing in freaking Buffalo.  The Daboll/Allen offense might be approaching the analytic nirvana of throwing the ball constantly and it's quite likely that there just won't be quality touches for any Bills RB

Points: 0

#2 by ALauff // Aug 20, 2021 - 10:25am

Hope these are correct! Just drafted Claypool, Mike Williams, A.J. Dillon, and Gio Bernard on a single team last night. Not all will be starters for me, but I'm feeling a little better about my depth after reading this. Saints defense went undrafted, likely because of the unappealing week 1 matchup versus GB. Seems a little early for me to carry two defenses, but their schedule after looks so friendly that I might just bite the bullet, drop my current streaming D (MIN), and start them through week 5.  

Points: 0

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