20 NFL players who had surprisingly great fantasy seasons
Matt Pendleton/USA Today Images

20 NFL players who had surprisingly great fantasy seasons

Every fantasy football season presents major surprise players, and 2021 was no different. These 20 players were major boons for fantasy football managers.

 
1 of 20

Marquise Brown, WR, Ravens

Marquise Brown, WR, Ravens
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports Images

Many fantasy managers had given up on Brown after the Ravens drafted Rashod Bateman, but Brown came through in his third NFL season. He returned WR2 value with 88 catches for 981 yards and six touchdowns through Week 17.

 
2 of 20

Marquez Callaway, WR, Saints

Marquez Callaway, WR, Saints
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The Saints had to throw to someone with Michael Thomas injured again, and Callaway was the beneficiary. The second-year wideout had 46 catches for 698 yards and six touchdowns through Week 17, making him a strong bye week fill-in.

 
3 of 20

Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Bengals

Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Bengals
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Chase had a historic rookie season and turned out to be a great value in drafts after struggling in the preseason. The former LSU star was the fifth-ranked PPR wideout through Week 17 after an epic performance against the Chiefs.

 
4 of 20

Tyler Conklin, TE, Vikings

Tyler Conklin, TE, Vikings
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After the Vikings lost starting tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the preseason, Conklin was able to step up. He was a fringe fantasy starter for much of the year, with 59 catches for 587 yards and three scores through 16 games.

 
5 of 20

Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles/Cardinals

Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles/Cardinals
Joe Nicholson / USA Today Sports Images

Despite a long track record of production, Ertz wasn't seen as a viable fantasy option entering the year. He was able to salvage another strong season, especially after getting traded to Arizona mid-year. He had 67 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns through Week 17, putting him sixth in PPR scoring at the position.

 
6 of 20

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers
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Rookie tight ends are rarely valuable, but Freiermuth was an exception this year. He came on strong late in the year as a fringe starter as a direct result of seven touchdowns.

 
7 of 20

Devonta Freeman, RB, Ravens

Devonta Freeman, RB, Ravens
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Freeman was out of the league when most drafts took place and didn't start a game for the Ravens until late October. The former Falcons star was still a great find for fantasy managers, returning RB3 value with over 700 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns through Week 17.

 
8 of 20

Taylor Heinicke, QB, Washington

Taylor Heinicke, QB, Washington
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Heinicke flashed late last year, but he was undrafted in most leagues with Ryan Fitzpatrick slated to be Washington's starter. He came to the rescue when Fitzpatrick was injured in Week 1, finishing as a top 20 quarterback.

 
9 of 20

Van Jefferson, WR, Rams

Van Jefferson, WR, Rams
Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today Sports Images

Much of the attention in 2021 has been paid to Cooper Kupp, and rightfully so after his history 2021 season. However, Jefferson was able a great find for fantasy managers, recording nearly 800 yards and six touchdowns through Week 17.

 
10 of 20

Mac Jones, QB, Patriots

Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images

Jones was overlooked compared to many other rookie quarterbacks drafted earlier, but he was easily the most valuable rookie quarterback of 2021. He returned top 20 quarterback value through Week 17 and looks like an excellent keeper.

 
11 of 20

Christian Kirk, WR, Cardinals

Christian Kirk, WR, Cardinals
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With the addition of A.J. Green and the presence of DeAndre Hopkins, Kirk was a forgotten man in drafts this year. He will likely end the year as the top Cardinals wideout and a solid WR2.

 
12 of 20

Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots

Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports Images

The Patriots made several additions at wide receiver during the offseason, but Meyers was their top performer. The third-year player had 79 catches for 796 yards and two touchdowns through Week 17.

 
13 of 20

Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers

Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers
Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports Images

The 49ers drafted Trey Sermon early in 2021, but he was upstaged by a sixth-round pick in Mitchell. He was a fringe RB2 despite missing significant time to injury, with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and six scores through 17 weeks.

 
14 of 20

Darnell Mooney, WR, Bears

Darnell Mooney, WR, Bears
Philip G. Pavely / USA Today Sports Images

Allen Robinson seemingly passed the baton to Mooney in 2021 as the Bears' No. 1 wideout. Mooney led the team in most categories, with 69 catches for 929 yards and four receiving touchdowns through Week 17.

 
15 of 20

Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, Falcons

Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, Falcons
Matt Pendleton / USA Today Sports Images

There wasn't a more improbable breakout fantasy star in 2021 than Patterson. The long-time wideout and kick returner took on a role as a running back for Atlanta and was easily top 10 at the position. Through 17 weeks, had had 1,154 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.

 
16 of 20

Hunter Renfrow, WR, Raiders

Hunter Renfrow, WR, Raiders
Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today Sports Images

Renfrow went from role player to No. 1 receiving option for the Raiders in 2021. He greatly benefitted from Darren Waller's knee injury late in the year, and tallied 99 catches for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns through Week 17.

 
17 of 20

Dalton Schultz, TE, Cowboys

Dalton Schultz, TE, Cowboys
Tim Heitman / USA Today Sports Images

Schultz has developed into a solid fantasy option, with a career-high 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns through Week 17. He was the fourth most valuable PPR tight end entering Week 18.

 
18 of 20

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions
Joe Nicholson / USA Today Sports Images

The lack of receiving options in Detroit worked to the benefit of St. Brown. The rookie emerged to lead the Lions in most receiving categories, with 82 catches for 803 yards and four scores through Week 17.

 
19 of 20

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins
Jasen Vinlove / USA Today Sports Images

Waddle successfully overcame a leg injury in his final year at Alabama to have a terrific rookie season. He emerged as Miami's No. 1 receiver, with 99 catches for 988 yards and five receiving touchdowns through Week 17.

 
20 of 20

Darrel Williams, RB, Chiefs

Darrel Williams, RB, Chiefs
Kareem Elgazzar / USA Today Sports Images

With Clyde Edwards-Helaire sidelined for a large part of the season, Williams stepped in for the Cheifs. He was a key contributor in several weeks, including Championship Week 17, and had 963 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns heading into the final game.

Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter @sethroto.

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