Let’s just dispense with the obvious right here at the top: Cooper Kupp is the 2021 Fantasy Football MVP.
With all due respect to Jonathan Taylor, Deebo Samuel and Austin Ekeler, those guys are simply the other invitees to an awards ceremony at which we’re celebrating Kupp. His season was both historic and unreasonably consistent on a week-to-week basis. Kupp offered the greatest positional advantage imaginable in 2021 on his way to the receiving triple crown.
Here’s a partial list of Kupp’s ridiculous achievements, in both fantasy and reality:
* He finished as a top-12 fantasy receiver in 15 of his 17 games, absurd consistency at an elite level;
* Kupp appeared on 68.2 percent of the top-500 Yahoo fantasy teams, easily the most heavily rostered player on the best squads.
It was just an absolute masterpiece of a season — as good as it gets, really. Even if you drop Kupp’s seventeenth game, he would have finished the year with 138 receptions for 1,829 yards and 15 scores. He’d still rank fourth all-time in single-season catches and sixth in receiving yards. There is no reasonable way to find fault with his season; he was stellar, start to finish.
Kupp isn’t going to win the NFL MVP in all likelihood, because that’s a boring, broken, single-position award in this era. But he’s the undeniable fantasy MVP of 2021.
With the biggest and easiest award out of the way, let’s acknowledge a few additional outstanding (and/or unique) performers …
… for outstanding fantasy playoff achievement by a previously unwanted player
Rashaad Penny was both the fantasy playoff MVP and arguably the most important waiver add of the year. He closed his season by rushing for 671 yards and six touchdowns in Seattle’s final five games; in the previous 13 weeks, he’d run for 78 scoreless yards. Penny was drafted back in 2018, yet 43 percent of his career rushing production has been delivered in the past month.
It was simply a legendary binge at the best possible time for fantasy purposes.
Runner-up: Sony Michel, who usurped the lead role in LA’s backfield and averaged 101 scrimmage yards per game over the final six weeks.
… for unreasonable dominance by a rookie
We don’t often see first-year players routinely embarrass NFL defenses, but Ja’Marr Chase was not a typical rookie:
Chase clinched this award with a cartoonishly dominant performance in Championship Week against the Chiefs, catching 11 balls for 266 yards and three scores on a dozen targets. It was his second 200-yard performance of the season and his third multi-TD game.
Remember when Chase was slipping in fantasy drafts because of *gasps* preseason drops? Yup, that really happened. Good times. He finished his brilliant first season with 1,455 receiving yards and 13 TDs. We can’t have the dynasty WR1 conversation without him.
Runner-up: Najee Harris, who quietly led all running backs in receptions (74) and missed tackles (92), plus he blew up on Monday night in Week 17.
… for a late-career breakout predicted by no one
Cordarrelle Patterson of course ranks among the greatest kick returners of this or any era, but he entered his ninth NFL season having never gained more than 627 yards from scrimmage in any year. Somehow, the Atlanta Falcons were able to unlock abilities in Patterson that the Vikings, Raiders, Patriots and Bears never discovered. He gained 1,166 scrimmage yards, topping 500 both on the ground and as a receiver, and he reached the end-zone 11 times. He finished as the overall RB9 and the WR11, which, in hindsight, seems a little unfair.
Patterson was slowed late in the year by an ankle issue (and Atlanta’s general offensive sluggishness), but that shouldn’t diminish his phenomenal age-30 breakout. He was unquestionably one of the best stories in a bizarre season.
Runner-up: None. This basically never happens.
… for scoring all the touchdowns and gaining none of the yards
It isn’t often that a player emerges as a true TD specialist, but that was James Conner‘s role in 2021. He crossed the goal-line 15 times as a rusher on 202 carries, despite running for only 752 yards (3.7). While he may not have been particularly efficient, he absolutely feasted near the goal-line. When it was time to gain three yards or less, he would not be turned away:
Conner handled 18 carries inside the 5-yard line on the year, ranking second among all running backs, and he converted those touches into 10 spikes. If not for a late-season heel injury, he might have led the league in TDs. Wherever you drafted him, he was an incredible value.
Runner-up: Hunter Henry, who produced three games in which he reached the end zone yet still didn’t score double-digit fantasy points.
… for superior second-half performance from a waiver add
If you want to argue for rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown as the fantasy playoff MVP over Penny, you can build a pretty compelling case. He was terrific — almost unstoppable. St. Brown never caught fewer than eight passes in any of his final six games, averaging 93.3 receiving yards per week. He thrived with both Tim Boyle and Jared Goff at quarterback, which seems impossible.
Detroit utilized St. Brown as a multi-tool in the closing weeks, feeding him from the slot and, occasionally, in the backfield:
Over the season’s final four weeks, St. Brown was actually the overall WR2 in fantasy, behind only Kupp. If we were drafting a 2022 fantasy league today, St. Brown probably wouldn’t slip past the fourth round.
Runner-up: Allen Lazard, who made five house-calls after Week 13.
… for producing a full season’s worth of stats in like eight weeks
Derrick Henry has not appeared in a game since Halloween, yet he still finished with 937 rushing yards, ranking ninth in the league. He was the RB16 on the season despite appearing in only eight games. That’s just wild. Henry was irrefutably the right answer in fantasy football this year before suffering his foot injury.
Let’s recall the time he threw a touchdown pass against KC:
Ridiculous. Henry was also going to crush his previous career-high in receptions; he caught 18 balls on 20 targets over the season’s first seven weeks. Assuming Henry looks like his old self in the postseason for Tennessee, he’s gonna be a top-three overall pick next year.
(Distant) runner-up: Christian McCaffrey may have only appeared in seven games, but he gained over 100 total yards five times. When he plays, he’s a machine.