1-32 poll, plus every team’s most pleasant surprise fantasy player

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6:45 AM ET

  • NFL NationESPN

It’s still early, so the 2021 NFL Power Rankings contain a bit of volatility. But ranking teams isn’t the only volatile early-season NFL exercise; categorizing the fantasy value of players is difficult right now too. But being the positive people we are, we decided to take a sunny side up approach and have our NFL Nation reporters pick the most pleasant fantasy surprise during the first two weeks on the teams they cover.

And due to that volatility, there’s a wide range of answers below. There are players who already are fantasy staples and have stepped up their games (take a bow, Cooper Kupp), others are young guys already making their mark (Rondale Moore) and some are older guys proving they can still provide points to fantasy owners (Julio Jones and Rob Gronkowski, we see you). And of course, you have players finding success in new locations (Sam Darnold) or players trying to make the most of a tough start for their team (see the tenants of MetLife Stadium).

How we rank in our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 2 | Preseason

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Previous ranking: 2

Fantasy surprise: TE Rob Gronkowski

It’s no surprise that Gronk is doing well. But this well? Especially compared to where he was a year ago — shaking off rust after being away from football and entering a system not known for using the tight end extensively in the passing game. He has caught four touchdown passes in two games; and going back to the Super Bowl last season, he has six TDs in his past three contests. Most importantly, he made it through a 16-game regular season last year, plus four postseason games, without injury. Even better? The Bucs’ opponent this week, the Rams, are giving up a 67% completion rate to tight ends, so there is opportunity for this to continue. — Jenna Laine

Previous ranking: 4

Fantasy surprise: WR Cooper Kupp

Kupp is no stranger to fantasy rosters, but his production through two games has exceeded expectation. With quarterback Matthew Stafford, Kupp has produced back-to-back games of more than 100 receiving yards and already has three receiving touchdowns, as many as he had in all of 2020. Kupp has quickly become Stafford’s go-to target on explosive plays, and their relationship is only in its infancy, so it’s sure to grow as the season evolves. — Lindsey Thiry

Previous ranking: 1

Fantasy surprise: WR Byron Pringle

What Pringle lacks in volume (three catches), he has made up for in impact (23-yard average per reception, including a 40-yard TD). Pringle is the steadiest of the Chiefs’ wide receivers, not including Tyreek Hill. Pringle doesn’t have the upside of Mecole Hardman or Demarcus Robinson but is a good route runner who is always where he is supposed to be and has reliable hands. — Adam Teicher



Matthew Berry details how Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk could get more opportunities next week with the 49ers’ running backs having so many injuries.

Previous ranking: 7

Fantasy surprise: WR Deebo Samuel

It’s not really a surprise that Samuel is productive. It’s more surprising just how productive he has been through the first two weeks. Samuel has 282 receiving yards, which is the third most by any 49er through two weeks in franchise history. On a team that has other dynamic pass-catchers such as tight end George Kittle and wideout Brandon Aiyuk, Samuel has established himself as Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target. And after an offseason spent working on strengthening his body to stay healthier, there’s little reason to believe Samuel is going to slow down much so long as his good health continues. — Nick Wagoner

Previous ranking: 5

Fantasy surprise: RB Devin Singletary

The Bills’ offense finished 20th in rushing yards per game in 2020 (107.7). The offense becoming more balanced this season would be big for the team going forward. Thus far, Singletary has shown that he is up to the task. While his 46-yard touchdown run versus the Dolphins was his first score of the year, he is already one TD away from matching his career high in rushing scores for a season. Singletary also is averaging 6.42 yards per carry — fourth most among league running backs. He has stepped into the role of starting running back and should continue to have significant opportunities. — Alaina Getzenberg

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Previous ranking: 3

Fantasy surprise: WR Tyler Lockett

Lockett has been one of the NFL’s best receivers since 2018, and he just earned a $69 million contract extension because of it. So, no one should be surprised that he is producing at a high level. But could anyone have expected this much production? Lockett’s 278 receiving yards are four shy of Deebo Samuel’s league lead, and the total easily broke Steve Largent’s franchise record for the most by a Seahawk through two games. Two of Lockett’s three touchdowns have been on catches of 60-plus yards. So Seattle’s new-found emphasis on short and intermediate throws hasn’t stopped Russell Wilson and Lockett from finding their usual success with the deep ball. — Brady Henderson

Previous ranking: 12

Fantasy surprise: WR Rondale Moore

It’s easy now for quarterback Kyler Murray to say that he expected the rookie wideout to have had this big of an immediate impact, but no one knew how good Moore would be this early. He leads the Cardinals in receiving with 183 yards and a touchdown. His speed makes him an threat every time he is on the field. And coach Kliff Kingsbury said he has been developing more assuredness in Moore’s abilities: “You see the dynamic stuff he can do in space when he gets the ball. That first guy rarely tackles him. He’s got legit 4.29 speed or whatever it was he ran, and he’s starting to get more and more confidence.” — Josh Weinfuss

Previous ranking: 6

Fantasy surprise: RB Demetric Felton

On the first offensive touch of his NFL career, the rookie spun out of two tackles then broke another on the way to a 33-yard touchdown on Sunday. The sixth-round pick out of UCLA wound up finishing with a team-high 51 receiving yards on top of returning punts and kicks in Cleveland’s 31-21 win over Houston. Coach Kevin Stefanski noted afterward that Felton’s role as a multipurpose playmaker in the offense would continue to grow. But with wide receiver Jarvis Landry dealing with a knee injury and fellow wideout Odell Beckham Jr. still yet to play, Felton’s role could grow sooner rather than later. — Jake Trotter



The Fantasy Focus crew praises Hollywood Brown after putting up big numbers in the first two games of the season.

Previous ranking: 10

Fantasy surprise: WR Marquise Brown

The Ravens added wide receivers in the draft (27th overall pick Rashod Bateman) and in free agency (Sammy Watkins), but Brown has become a legitimate No. 1 target. Teams have crowded the middle to take away tight end Mark Andrews as an option, and Lamar Jackson has responded by getting the ball more to the outside and into the arms of Brown. His 182 yards receiving ranks 10th in the NFL — more than DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs. Perhaps Brown’s production shouldn’t be a surprise. Dating back to Week 12 of last season, Brown has caught eight touchdown passes in his past eight games. No one in the NFL has more. — Jamison Hensley

Previous ranking: 19

Fantasy surprise: QB Derek Carr

Sure, quarterbacks are valuable players in fantasy, but with a patchwork offensive line that needed even more duct tape in Pittsburgh, who could have seen Carr’s production coming? All he has done is pass for a franchise-record 817 yards through the first two games of a season to go with four TDs. And he is just the fourth player in NFL history with at least 380 yards passing and multiple TD passes in each of his team’s first two games of a season, along with Drew Bledsoe (1994), Tom Brady (2011) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2018). — Paul Gutierrez



Field Yates and Matthew Berry discuss Derek Carr’s stellar start to the season and whether fantasy managers should consider starting him.

Previous ranking: 11

Fantasy surprise: Davante Adams, WR

How is Adams a surprise? Well, only because everyone in the league knows Aaron Rodgers is going to do everything he can to get Adams the ball. Adams was the Packers’ only productive player in the season-opening loss to the Saints. The Lions had to watch how the Saints doubled Adams whenever possible, but as Adams said last week, “Not every double-team is going to be successful.” Adams’ 100-yard game against the Lions on Monday night was the 24th of his career, the fourth most for the Packers during the Super Bowl era. — Rob Demovsky

Previous ranking: 8

Fantasy surprise: WR Diontae Johnson

There’s not a whole lot of positive fantasy news for the Steelers two games into the campaign, but with a TD in Week 1 and 105 receiving yards in Week 2, Johnson is performing as expected as Ben Roethlisberger’s top target. He sustained a knee injury on the final play of Sunday’s loss, though, and that could dampen his outlook, at least temporarily. Running back Najee Harris hasn’t been able to get much space to run, although his involvement in Sunday’s passing game suggests better days might be ahead. Even the Steelers’ defense, one of the best in Week 1, faltered in Week 2. — Brooke Pryor



Field Yates and Matthew Berry discuss Tony Pollard’s usage for the Cowboys and how it will affect Ezekiel Elliott.

Previous ranking: 13

Fantasy surprise: RB Tony Pollard

There hasn’t been anything really surprising about the Cowboys’ offense in two games in terms of Dak Prescott’s numbers and the production of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. But Pollard had 13 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. It was the third 100-yard game of his career. Does it mean he will continue to get this kind of workload? That seems doubtful with Ezekiel Elliott healthy, but Pollard gives the Cowboys some options. With wideout Michael Gallup (calf) out for at least two more games, Pollard’s touches could be higher than normal, if not solely his carries. — Todd Archer

Previous ranking: 20

Fantasy surprise: WR Tim Patrick

Look, it’s not a surprise in terms of his ability, his performance in big moments and his consistency. But the return of Courtland Sutton from last season’s knee injury and the continued emergence of Jerry Jeudy were supposed to cut into Patrick’s snap count from last season, when he led the team in receiving touchdowns. But Teddy Bridgewater’s consistency at quarterback and willingness to spread the ball around — he has completed passes to nine different players in each of the Broncos’ first two tilts — has Patrick with two touchdowns already. Patrick also has turned eight targets into seven receptions. And with Jeudy still expected to miss several weeks with an ankle injury he suffered in the season opener, Patrick figures to stay busy. — Jeff Legwold

Previous ranking: 23

Fantasy surprise: QB Sam Darnold

You can’t say Christian McCaffrey here because nothing he has done is a surprise. So, the nod goes to Darnold who, while not lighting it up, has shown the consistency the Panthers were hoping for when they traded for him. Darnold has three touchdown passes to only one interception, and he also has a rushing touchdown. Most impressive is that he has completed 68.5% of his passes, way up from the 59.8% he had in three years with the Jets. — David Newton

Deebo Samuel, Sam Darnold & Devin Singletary ESPN

Previous ranking: 18

Fantasy surprise: WR Julio Jones

Since we are being forced to pick a positive surprise fantasy performer, Jones is the pick. Being out for most of training camp resulted in questions about developing chemistry with Ryan Tannehill early in the season. The two didn’t seem like they were exactly on the same page in the season opener, when Jones finished with three receptions for 39 yards. But they rebounded in Week 2. After two games, Jones has caught nine of the 14 targets that have gone his way for a total of 157 yards. — Turron Davenport

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Previous ranking: 9

Fantasy surprise: TE Juwan Johnson

The Saints don’t have any worthy candidates for this category based on their Week 2 flop alone. But Johnson did at least catch a 23-yard pass on Sunday on the heels of his two-TD performance from Week 1. And he remains a sleeper option in the deepest of fantasy leagues and daily lineups because of his big-play potential. Johnson, who converted from WR to TE this offseason, flashed consistently throughout training camp and the preseason. — Mike Triplett

Previous ranking: 14

Fantasy surprise: RB Justin Jackson

His spot on the team was in question in training camp, and he doesn’t have much value now, but Jackson is a good player to keep on your radar if Austin Ekeler gets hurt again. Jackson had four carries for 21 yards against the Cowboys in Week 2, and he has performed when called upon in the past, so he could be worth stashing as a handcuff. — Shelley Smith

Previous ranking: 17

Fantasy surprise: RB Damien Harris

It’s slim pickings for an offense that has been limited, but Harris gets the nod because he has been the surefire No. 1 RB on a team that has traditionally favored a committee approach. He had 23 carries for 100 yards in the opener (with a costly late fumble) and followed it up with a 26-yard TD run in Week 2 on one of the best individual rushing efforts across the NFL. — Mike Reiss

• Chiefs don’t have championship defense
• Cowboys build confidence for season
• Bears can’t turn back from Fields
• Browns’ defense no cause for panic
• Colts are to blame if QB Wentz is out
• Harbaugh not flipping over Lamar’s leap

Previous ranking: 15

Fantasy surprise: WR Jaylen Waddle

Miami has not had any true standout from a fantasy perspective (a positive one, at least), but Waddle has been the closest thing to it, registering 10 catches in his first two games. They haven’t necessarily been terribly productive receptions — he has 109 receiving yards — but the No. 6 overall pick did score a touchdown in Week 1, and he has seen 13 total targets. That type of opportunity suggests the Dolphins trust him in the offense already, which is a positive sign for the rookie going forward. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Previous ranking: 21

Fantasy surprise: WR Quez Watkins

He entered training camp as a reserve but earned playing time with one electrifying play after another this summer. We’re now seeing that translate to the regular season, as Watkins hauled in a 91-yard reception against the 49ers on Sunday and finished with two catches for 117 yards. He’ll likely be boom or bust week to week, but if you catch him at the right time, Watkins might just go off for you. — Tim McManus

Previous ranking: 22

Fantasy surprise: QB Taylor Heinicke

It has to be Heinicke, considering that the others making plays — Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, Antonio Gibson — aren’t surprising. But Heinicke came in for injured starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns in a comeback win over the New York Giants. The only issue for fantasy — and it’s a pivotal one — is that while Heinicke can run, it’s not smart for him to do so. That’s why he has only carried seven times for 23 yards. But Heinicke will remain the starter for at least the next five or six weeks — the earliest that Fitzpatrick might return. There’s a lot to still learn about him, but in his two starts with Washington, Heinicke has thrown for a combined 642 yards and three touchdowns. — John Keim

Previous ranking: 16

Fantasy surprise: WR Zach Pascal

It’s very, very slim pickings when it comes to options for the Colts in this category. Every third reception by Pascal has been a touchdown for him through the first two weeks of the season. He is the only Colts player who has a touchdown reception, as he has three scores and nine receptions for 81 yards this season. Fantasy selections off the Colts could get even slimmer if starting quarterback Carson Wentz has to miss an extended period of time due to his ankle injury. — Mike Wells



Stephen A. Smith explains why the Bears should hold off on starting Justin Fields against the Browns on Sunday.

Previous ranking: 26

Fantasy surprise: WR Darnell Mooney

Let me preface this by saying that outside of David Montgomery, the Bears have very few viable fantasy options. However, the Bears are high on Mooney, who caught 61 passes for 631 yards as a rookie last year. Through two games, Mooney has been targeted 15 times. The second-year wideout has been Chicago’s most productive receiver, with 11 receptions for 92 yards. — Jeff Dickerson

Previous ranking: 24

Fantasy surprise: WR Ja’Marr Chase

The Bengals have only three feasible WR fantasy options, but the fifth overall pick has exceeded expectations after a rocky August. Chase leads all Bengals receivers in fantasy points per game in standard leagues (13.65). Both of his touchdown catches have come on long receptions, which suggests he will be a big-play option for managers moving forward. Chase is averaging 18.8 air yards per target, which leads the Bengals by a large margin, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. — Ben Baby

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Previous ranking: 25

Fantasy surprise: WR K.J. Osborn

As of Week 2, Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn was only rostered in 1.1% of fantasy leagues. After the way he has played in Minnesota’s first two games, those who play daily fantasy or are in deep leagues might want to snatch him up. The second-year wideout has snap counts consistent with what’s expected from a WR3 in Minnesota’s offense and early production to boot. Through two games, Osborn is averaging 13.9 yards per catch on 12 receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown. In years past, the Vikings struggled to establish a third WR behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson and, previously, behind Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Osborn has emerged as that guy in Minnesota. — Courtney Cronin

Previous ranking: 29

Fantasy surprise: RB Mark Ingram II

Because the Texans have five running backs on the roster, it made it a harder decision about whether one of the veteran backs (Ingram, Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson) was startable. It was Ingram in Week 1 who led the way with 85 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. He fueled the team again against the Browns, although he didn’t get in the end zone. A lot of how the Texans’ running backs are used will depend on the game script, which is why Johnson led the group in snaps played in Week 2. — Sarah Barshop

Previous ranking: 28

Fantasy surprise: QB Daniel Jones

Don’t sleep. Jones is in the top 20 in the NFL with 122 yards rushing. That’s more than Austin Ekeler, Jonathan Taylor and Ezekiel Elliott. Jones also should be tied for the league lead with three rushing touchdowns, if not for a questionable holding call on a long run Thursday night. Not to mention, Jones has produced quality fantasy numbers against two of the toughest defenses (Denver and Washington) he will face this season. It makes him a quality starting option going forward with some better matchups on the horizon. Atlanta and its putrid defense is on deck with 10 days’ rest. — Jordan Raanan

Previous ranking: 27

Fantasy surprise: RB Cordarrelle Patterson

Entering the season, there were a lot of questions about how Patterson would fit into Atlanta’s offense behind Mike Davis. It turns out, he isn’t as much behind Davis as he is partnered with him. Patterson has been used as a running back and as a receiver — leading to rushing and receiving touchdowns on Sunday against Tampa Bay. In both real life and fantasy, he has been one of Atlanta’s best players. — Michael Rothstein

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Previous ranking: 30

Fantasy surprise: RB Jamaal Williams

Williams was brought to Detroit to be a solid complement to RB1 D’Andre Swift. However, with Swift battling a nagging groin injury, Williams has “been the rock,” according to Lions coach Dan Campbell, after Week 1. “Jamaal has been the rock because he’s been there every day,” Campbell said. “He’s been steady; he’s been sound. We know exactly what he is. He’s been very durable and dependable.” In Week 1, Williams became the first Lions running back to rush for at least 50 yards and a touchdown in a game and produce at least 50 receiving yards since Joique Bell on Dec. 7, 2014, and the effort produced 25 fantasy points. The flex role could fit him in certain situations, but obviously not every week. — Eric Woodyard

Previous ranking: 32

Fantasy surprise: TE James O’Shaughnessy

The Jaguars weren’t expected to get much out of this position in the passing game, but O’Shaughnessy had seven catches for 72 yards in the first two weeks. However, the tight end suffered a high ankle sprain in the loss to the Broncos, and he will miss several weeks. When he returns, he’ll give Trevor Lawrence a reliable target and will be the Jaguars’ most productive pass-catching tight end. — Mike DiRocco

Previous ranking: 31

Fantasy surprise: WR Braxton Berrios

Berrios is not one of the Jets’ top three receivers, but he has garnered unexpected playing time due to Jamison Crowder’s absence. Working as the slot receiver, Berrios leads the team in targets (18), catches (12) and receiving yards (124). The coaches really like him because he is a precise route runner. Clearly, QB Zach Wilson trusts him. Now, with Crowder poised to return, it’ll be interesting to see how they divide the playing time. — Rich Cimini