For football fans in the Eighties, few events surpassed watching the All-Madden Teams on TV at the end of the season. John Madden, the former coach who turned broadcaster, picked a team of players that best represented the game of football. I looked forward to the show every season and loved debating Madden’s selections with my friends.
In 1989, I played fantasy football for the first time. Thirty-three seasons later, I have the honor of presenting the second-annual Fantasy Football Awards with my Fantrax teammates. Four writers—Justin Dunbar, Colin McTamany, Ahaan Rungta and Meng Song—joined me to vote on their top three players in seven categories. The results were totaled, and the top fantasy football performers are listed below.
Enjoy my fellow fantasy football fanatics!
2021 Fantasy Football Awards
Quarterback of the Year
- Josh Allen, Buffalo (15 points)
- Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia (8 points)
- Joe Burrow, Cincinnati (8 points)
As the 2021 fantasy football season comes to a close, Josh Allen finishes as back-to-back QB No. 1, and lives up to his preseason Average Draft Position (ADP) following a breakout 2020 season. He is the proven exception to the rule many have of “waiting on a quarterback,” providing the most complete package of ability to score points with his arm and, more importantly at times, with his legs.
Allen follows up his 2020 average of 25.32 points per game with a 24.6 points per game average in 2021. In 10 of Allen’s 16 fantasy games this season, he rushed for at least 39 yards, topping 50 in six of those contests. The Bills dual-threat QB also rushed into the end zone six times in 2021, two of which came in the fantasy football finals in Week 17. Grabbing Allen off the draft board early paid off yet again, and we have no reason to believe it won’t in 2022.
Circling back to the idea of waiting on quarterback, but also cashing in on a dual-threat player, Jalen Hurts cracks our top three of fantasy football quarterbacks. He entered his second year in Philadelphia with justifiable question marks as the Eagles’ season-long starter. Hurts silenced the doubters and quickly got things going with seven-straight games of at least 21.8 fantasy points.
With 784 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, 43% of Hurts’ fantasy points this season are a result of his ability as a ball carrier. Rolling the dice on Hurts in the late rounds of drafts may have won a league title. He far outplayed his ADP and made a statement as one of this year’s best with a 19.42 points per game average in the fantasy football playoffs.
Joe Burrow is the King in the (AFC) North. Following a 2020 rookie season that was cut short by a torn ACL in late November, Burrow remarkably played in every game in 2021, leading the Bengals to a divisional title. For fantasy football purposes, perhaps the most value provided by Burrow was the fact that he commanded an offense that supported Joe Mixon (RB No. 4), Ja’Marr Chase (WR No. 5), Tee Higgins (WR No. 20), and Tyler Boyd (WR No. 29) for all fantasy managers to enjoy. Every Bengals’ skill player came at a value in 2021.
Specifically looking at Burrow, he remained a steady streaming option for most of the 2021 season. He logged at least 17.4 fantasy points in ten of 13 fantasy regular-season games. Burrow combined for 971 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns in the fantasy football playoffs over the past two weeks for an average of 36.47 points per game. If fantasy fanatics put their faith in Burrow when it really mattered, they are likely a fantasy football champion.
Putting the Packers’ abysmal Week 1 loss to the Saints behind him, it is worth mentioning Aaron Rodgers would go on to average 22.84 points per 14 games played. Furthermore, he had a league-high average amongst quarterbacks of 25.59 points per game from Weeks 11 to 17. It is, however, hard to ignore his COVID-19 drama piece that held him out of Week 9 that arguably hindered his Week 10 performance, as well. Though not a top-three vote-getter here, Rodgers will likely see more in the NFL MVP race.
Colin McTamany, @Colin_McT
Running Back of the Year
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis (20 points)
- Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles (12 points)
- Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay (5 points)
It’s only natural that Jonathan Taylor received the most votes. The Colts’ ball carrier was the No. 1 running back in PPR-scoring and the No. 2 running back in points-per-game formats. He also finished as the third highest-scoring fantasy player across all positions behind only Kupp and Allen. For those who believed in him enough to draft Taylor in the second round despite the injuries to Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson last August, the gamble certainly paid off. After a rocky start to the season, Taylor was incredibly consistent, having scored double-digit fantasy points or better in every single game since Week 4, and the cherry on top was his monstrous 53-point outing in Week 11 at Buffalo.
Another significant contributor at the running back position was Austin Ekeler. Though his first-round ADP was costly, it was worth it, as Ekeler was the No. 2 running back in PPR-formats behind only Taylor and the No. 3 running back in PPP-points-per game behind Taylor and Derrick Henry. Like Taylor, Ekeler was remarkably consistent with just one single-digit fantasy outing the entire season when active. And while he missed one game, Ekeler helped fantasy GMs out by personally recommending Justin Jackson as a confident replacement fantasy starter. Jackson came through with 34 fantasy points against Houston in the fantasy semi-finals.
And finally, while Leonard Fournette didn’t contribute to any fantasy titles after his Week 15 injury, he certainly helped fantasy GMs get to the playoffs. Like Taylor, Fournette finished the season with just two games of less than 10 PPR points as the No. 5 running back in PPR scoring and the No. 4 running back in points-per-game. But unlike Taylor and Ekeler, Fournette was a bargain with a ninth-round preseason ADP as the No. 36 running back off draft boards. Had he stayed healthy for the final two games, it’s arguable that Fournette would’ve been the fantasy MVP at running back considering his cost to acquire. Finding an elite RB No. 1 like Fournette in the middle to late rounds of fantasy drafts is a massive advantage.
Meng Song, @FFA_Meng
Wide Receiver of the Year
- Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles (25 points)
- Deebo Samuel, San Francisco (10 points)
- Devante Adams, Green Bay (7 points)
Often considered the deepest position in fantasy football, wide receivers were again mostly volatile and dependent on narrative, matchup, and situation in a COVID-inflicted season. With consistency so rare, we must reward those that were a certified lock to be in their owners’ starting lineups every week.
It’s even more of a luxury when that player comes after the daunting first round of your draft. That’s why Cooper Kupp was the clear unanimous choice to win the award at his position. After narratives surrounding his relationship with his quarterback, many were excited to see how Kupp’s usage and fantasy production would be affected by the acquisition of Matthew Stafford.
While the 28-year-old wideout clearly possessed good hands and an elite post-reception play-making ability, the previously-trustworthy Robert Woods was viewed as a limiting factor to Kupp’s target share and ability to earn red zone touches. Instead, Kupp made history, leading all wide receivers this season in receptions (138), targets (184), receiving yards (1,829), and touchdowns (15)—all while being drafted as the PPR WR No. 17, per Fantrax ADP.
For some added perspective on his consistency at commanding opportunities, he had just two games all season with single-digit targets; in those games, he still scored a touchdown in each. He had fewer than 90 receiving yards in just one game; in that contest (Week 4), he still scored 11.4 PPR points, thanks to five receptions on 13 targets. If you owned Kupp for the entire season, you were nearly a lock to be a championship contender: MVP performance for sure.
Cooper Kupp owners' final ranks in my five redraft leagues this season:
✅ 1/14 (me ❤️)
✅ 2/14 (me 😑)
✅ 3/12 (me 😑)
My #FantasyFootball MVP. 🏆pic.twitter.com/Me1RWEmz9Y
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) January 3, 2022
The other finalists for wide receiver did not quite put up the all-time season that Kupp did, but were still in the elite category that likely set your teams up for success all season.
In second place, it was the 25-year old gadget player Deebo Samuel who served as both a running back and wide receiver for the run-first 49ers throughout the season. Samuel spent the first half of the season lining up primarily as a pass-catcher, drawing no fewer than eight targets in any game until Week 9. Starting Week 10, he became a monster on the ground, primarily due to the injuries to the 49ers’ backfield. To top it all off, during the fantasy playoffs, he put it all together and tallied 12 rushes and 17 targets during the last two weeks. The versatile San Francisco yard-machine earns runner-up honors at this position for the elite, consistent production this season while being drafted as the PPR WR No. 36, per Fantrax ADP.
In third place, it’s a familiar veteran in Davante Adams, who simply lived up to his elite draft capital nearly every week. Behind NLF MVP front-runner Aaron Rodgers, Adams unsurprisingly led his team in all offensive categories. His 333 PPR fantasy points, 117 receptions, 162 targets, 1,498 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns all ranked top five among wide receivers, despite being inactive in one game (Week 8). He helped win leagues around the world by racking up 21 receptions for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns during Weeks 16 and 17.
Ahaan Rungta, @AhaanRungta
Gridiron Scholar’s 2021 All-Fantasy Team
QB Josh Allen, Buffalo
RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis
RB Austin Ekeler, LA Chargers
RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati
WR Cooper Kupp, LA Rams
WR Davante Adams, Green Bay
WR Deebo Samuel, San Francisco
TE Mark Andrews, Baltimore
Kicker Nick Folk, New England
SuperFlex Joe Burrow, Cincinnati
Tight End of the Year
- Mark Andrews, Baltimore (25 points)
- Travis Kelce, Kansas City (6 points)
- D. Knox, Buffalo and D. Schultz, Dallas (5 points)
Oh, the tight end position. This position is quite unstable in terms of performance from year-to-year, mainly because tight ends notably rely on touchdowns for their success. There aren’t many target hogs at the position.
Coming into the season, Travis Kelce was the clear top tight end, with Darren Waller and George Kittle following him. In the end, though, it was Mark Andrews who ended up as the TE No. 1. To no one’s surprise, he was the unanimous pick as the top tight end, and it was certainly deserved.
Simply put, his finish to the season was absurd. From Weeks 5 to 17, he finished outside the top-five just three times, while he finished in the top three in every playoff week. Fantasy coaches want their top contributors to come through when needed most, and that’s exactly what Andrews did in 2021. I have a strong feeling he won’t be drafted as the fifth or sixth tight end off the board in next year’s draft.
Really, it will be interesting to see how close Andrews comes to Travis Kelce in drafts next season. Kelce still finished as the TE No. 2, but considering that he was a first-round pick, it still feels like a mild disappointment. That being said, when being the overall TE No. 2 is a disappointment, you know you’re an extremely talented player. Kelce missed Week 16 while on the COVID list. He did have two top-four finishes in the other two playoff weeks in addition to a 36.1-point outing in Week 15. He and the Chiefs’ offense went through their bumps and bruises this year, but they seem to be trending up at the right time. Even at 32-years-old, he should still be considered the favorite to be the TE No. 1 next season.
Since tight end is such an unpredictable position, there tend to be gems on the waiver wire for fantasy managers who don’t invest a lot in tight ends to take advantage of on the waiver wire. This year, the two gems were Dawson Knox and Dalton Schultz. Both of these competitors played in productive offenses and became featured assets in the red zone. Knox, the TE No. 10 despite missing multiple weeks due to injury, tied for the lead with nine touchdowns, and took the third-year leap many were hoping to see.
As for Schultz, he wasn’t even expected to be the team’s starting tight end. Yet. Clearly outperformed Blake Jarwin, who hasn’t played since Week 8 due to injury, and has been a major asset in the Cowboys’ offense. He finishes the year as the TE No. 4, while his 75 receptions rank third among tight ends. These two players are certainly deserving of recognition and are a great example of the potential rewards of not investing much at the position.
Justin Dunbar, @TalkMvp
Kicker of the Year
- Nick Folk, New England (21 points)
- Matt Gray, Los Angeles (12 points)
- Evan McPherson, Cincinnati (8 points)
I have a very unpopular opinion: I like kickers in fantasy football. I have even commissioned leagues with two kickers per team and points based on distance of kick, ie. 54-yard FG scores 5.4 fantasy points.
As a historian, I can’t even imagine telling the story of the NFL without the great kickers. I can never forget Hall of Famers Jan Stenerud and Morten Anderson or Garo Yepremian’s gaffe in Super Bowl VII. The Patriots dynasty cannot be written without a mention of Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning kick against the Raiders in the snow and his two Super Bowl winning boots against the Rams and Panthers.
Speaking of New England: Is there a better special teams and kicker coach than Bill Belichick? Not only did he coach Vinatieri, but he unearthed Stephen Gostkowski, who dominated fantasy football rankings and scoring for years.
In 2021, Belichick guided veteran Nick Folk to the top of the fantasy rankings. Folk wasn’t even drafted in many fantasy leagues with a kicker ADP of No. 20. I acquired the Pats’ star on four of my 10 teams with kickers and enjoyed the amazing production. Folk averaged more than 10 points a week, connected on 35-of-38 Field Goal attempts and hit five over 50 yards. Just remember: Kickers are people too and deserve our admiration in the fantasy community.
John Laub, @GridironSchol91
Rookie of the Year
- Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati (23 points)
- Jaylen Waddle, Miami (15 points)
- Najee Harris, Pittsburgh (5 points)
When the Bengals decided to pass up on an offensive lineman in the First Round of the NFL Draft to take another LSU offensive weapon in Ja’Marr Chase, the immediate thought for fantasy football players had to have been the ceiling of that connection for years. Still, some apprehension about drops and Burrow’s return from injury caused Chase to be drafted as the PPR WR No. 23, per Fantrax ADP. Chase quickly shut the haters up, recording 220 yards and four touchdowns in his first three games as a professional.
Despite the touchdown streak not staying as red-hot for the entirety of the season, Chase was still a must-start every week. He mixed in a 159-yard game in Week 5 and a 201-yard game in Week 7 just to remind people what his ceiling might look like. To cap off a successful season, he single-handedly won championships for his managers by popping off for 391 yards on 18 receptions and three touchdowns in the last two weeks of the fantasy season. Chase’s 13 receiving touchdowns on the season was the second-most among all players. He finished as the PPR WR No. 5 on the season, despite the preseason hesitation on his ability to produce immediately in the NFL. Steal.
Meanwhile, another first-round wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle earned the attention of fantasy owners, particularly for PPR managers. Another quarterback-wideout connection in Waddle and Alabama product Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins showed no hesitation in getting Waddle involved in the offense. He posted seven games with double-digit targets. Despite only five touchdowns on the season, he finished as the PPR WR No. 15 after being drafted as the PPR WR No. 44, per Fantrax ADP.
Finally, the only rookie drafted in the top 50 of preseason drafts, per Fantrax ADP, Najee Harris (drafted as the PPR RB No. 11) was a monster in volume. Despite some worries about the Steelers’ offensive line, Harris lived up to his first-round fantasy potential. He posted 11 games this season with at least 20 opportunities and racked up 10 total touchdowns, finishing as the PPR RB No. 3. In part, his success was due to being one of the few first-round talents to actually play the full season.
It should come as no surprise that all three of our finalists are entering 2022 as highly-regarded dynasty fantasy football assets. Owners have a full offseason to follow narratives and buy stock on these stars. Can these rookies repeat their elite fantasy performances next season? Time and situation will tell.
Ahaan Rungta, @AhaanRungta
Fantasy Football MVP
- Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles (25 points)
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis (15 points)
- Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles (3 points)
In 1995, a good friend and I often discussed if wide receiver Jerry Rice, 49ers and Carl Pickens, Bengals were worthy of first-round selections, and possibly, the first-overall pick in fantasy drafts. Running backs and quarterbacks dominated the top players and rarely would a fantasy owner grab a wide receiver. We had these debates long before value-based drafting (VBD), late-round quarterback or zero running back strategy became popular. Also, PPR-scoring did not even exist in the Nineties: We played in a standard-scoring league—only receiving yards and touchdowns.
In my lifetime, I have seen so many records shattered by receivers. The first two were in 1984. Art Monk, Washington logged 106 receptions and Mark Clayton, Miami scored 18 touchdowns. Three years later, Rice surpassed Clayton’s mark with 22 touchdowns in only 12 games during the strike-shortened season. Of course, I will never forget Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis (2002), Randy Moss, New England (2007) and Calvin Johnson, Detroit (2011), and their memorable fantasy campaigns.
In 2021, Cooper Kupp deserves to be mentioned for eternity among the all-time great fantasy wideouts. After 17 weeks, he is the favorite to capture the receiving triple crown, pacing the NFL in receptions (138), yards (1,829), and touchdowns (15), producing 25.8 PPR-points per game, after 17 weeks.
On all three of my fantasy teams with the Rams’ game breaker, I advanced to the championship and captured two titles. There is no question that Kupp led millions of fantasy diehards, like me, to championships and is deserving of the Fantasy MVP.
John Laub, @GridironSchol91
Voting Points Awarded:
1st place = 5 points
2nd place = 3 points
3rd place = 1 point