With the NBA playoffs in full swing and MLB more than two months in, now is the time to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about who to invest in for the upcoming 2021 NFL season. The NFL market has been unique lately in that it has not seen the standard downward trend in the offseason and has been less impacted by the recent card market dip. Whether you are a collector or looking to make a profit, here are some players at each position that could present some value for the upcoming season.
Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa
Yes, Tua is already selling for a premium but he is still priced way behind Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow. When considering whether to start buying up a quarterback, you have to consider the paths to success. There are really only two ways to substantially increase a quarterback’s value. He could put up ridiculous stats (such as Kyler Murray), or he could win at the highest level (like Eli Manning). When both of those happen, you have the elite of the elite in terms of hobby value. Those are rare, esteemed names like Patrick Mahomes II, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers.
Let’s consider what Tua had working against him last year. He was coming off a broken hip that most thought would keep him out of the 2020 season. He had a shortened offseason with minimal contact between players and coaches due to COVID. His Offensive Coordinator didn’t believe in him, and the team had no weapons at all. The Dolphins still finished one game out of the playoffs even with all that working against them.
The Dolphins went all-in on Tua this offseason. Chan Gailey was fired. Speedster Will Fuller was signed to add a real receiving threat. They drafted Jaylen Waddle, Tua’s Alabama teammate, with the 6th overall pick (thanks, Houston). Tua is now fully healthy and has been with the team for over a year. All the reports from the Dolphins this offseason have been glowing.
With the improvements to the Dolphins as a whole and Tua himself, I believe he has a chance to put up great stats and lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. If that happens, Tua could find himself in that Burrow and Herbert tier, and even eclipse them with some postseason success.
Honorable Mention: Baker Mayfield
Running back: Cam Akers
As you’ll see from my tight end pick, I am pretty high on the LA Rams this year. While team success is not as important for skill position players, it certainly doesn’t hurt. With Matthew Stafford replacing Jared Goff, I expect the Rams to take a nice leap this coming season. After dealing with a running back committee all season, Cam Akers finally took control of the backfield in Week 14, averaging 22 carries per game and 93.5 yards to end the season. He did all this while battling injuries and Jared Goff’s noodle arm.
Now the team has a gunslinger Matthew Stafford behind center and Sean McVay can fully implement his offense. More efficient offenses will lead to more scoring. The fantasy football community has taken notice of the opportunity for an expanded role. He is currently being drafted at the end of the first round of early fantasy football drafts, and as collectors start preparing for their fantasy football drafts they are going to realize the potential Akers has for a huge season.
Honorable Mention: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Wide receiver: AJ Brown
In AJ Brown’s first two seasons, he only had double digit targets in three games. In those games, he averaged 8 catches for 116 yards and 1 touchdown per game. Over a full season, that would be 136 catches for 1,972 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those would be historic numbers. The Titans lost a lot of pieces on offense, and replaced them in a trade for Julio Jones.
While there are still a lot of targets missing from last year and Julio will get his share, I expect Brown to see more this season. With a beast like Julio on the opposite side and Derrick Henry to worry about in the backfield, defenses won’t be able to key in on Brown with their shutdown corner. The Julio trade may present an opportunity, if the market doesn’t expect Brown to be the alpha receiver in this offense, we could see a dip in his prices in the short term. I think we continue to see skill position guys gain in popularity like we did last year with Justin Jefferson, and AJ Brown could be the beneficiary of that bump.
Honorable Mention: Odell Beckham
Tight end: Tyler Higbee
In 2019, Gerald Everett missed the final five games of the season. In that time, Tyler Higbee averaged 8.6 receptions, 104.4 yards, and 0.4 touchdowns per game. Those numbers are great for an alpha wide receiver and are on par with what Travis Kelce does on a regular basis. Gerald Everett is no longer with the Rams. As I said earlier, the Rams offense got an upgrade in Matthew Stafford and the team as a whole should benefit. While tight ends don’t really hold much value in the hobby, there is still room for growth as his cards are dirt cheap.
Honorable Mention: Irv Smith