It’s nearly impossible to build a fantasy football championship season without taking advantage of the waiver wire. Players you add to your rosters from weekly waivers will not only help you win individual weeks, but can also become staples in your starting lineups for the rest of the season.
Given the overwhelming number of injuries and COVID cases this season, everyone playing fantasy football had key players negatively impacted at some point and found themselves scrambling for replacements. Depth and bench spots were more important than ever.
If you take a look at the rosters in your leagues, you’ll notice that none of them look close to how they did on draft day. If you and your league-mates were active members, you all had to pivot from your initial plans. Highly anticipated players underperformed, unexpected players emerged, and injuries altered the fantasy landscape.
Which players proved to be saviors for fantasy teams this year? Let’s recap some of the most important waiver wire adds for the 2021 fantasy football season.
Best Fantasy Quarterback Pickup 2021
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Every year, Kirk Cousins is an underrated fantasy asset. The fact that you can still get this man off waivers to begin the season should be a crime.
Cousins has been a top-12 fantasy quarterback every season since 2015 with the exception of 2019, when he was the QB15. He has now finished as the QB11 in back-to-back seasons, proving he should be rostered on draft day going forward.
Cousins had few games where he hurt your fantasy team enough to potentially lose. In fact, he scored 20+ fantasy points in eight games this season. He was a safe fantasy option with 33 touchdown passes in 16 games, notching at least one TD pass in every game and multiple scores in 12 contests.
Given his overall consistency from week-to-week and season-to-season, Cousins shouldn’t find himself on this list again.
Best Fantasy QB Pickup Honorable Mentions
- Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
- Mac Jones, New England Patriots
- Davis Mills, Houston Texans
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Best Fantasy Running Back Pickups 2021
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons
I first mentioned Cordarrelle Patterson as a “player to stash" in my Week 3 waiver wire article. At that point, Patterson was rostered in just 14% of fantasy football leagues, as many thought his hot start was a flash in the pan. Congratulations to those who picked him up off waivers and stuck with him — you got the steal of the season.
Given his hybrid role, Patterson was eligible at both running back and wide receiver in many formats, which essentially made him a free flex play. Regardless of where you played him in your lineups, he went on to become the RB9 and scored enough points to be a top-20 fantasy wide receiver.
Patterson saw heavy usage in an Atlanta Falcons offense that was strapped for weapons, especially after Calvin Ridley (personal) left the team midseason. The 30-year-old veteran finished the year with 11 touchdowns — six on the ground and five through the air.
His safe floor and lofty ceiling made him a must-start every week, and his presence likely produced several wins for fantasy managers.
Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers
Not all waiver wire heroes are the same. Elijah Mitchell stepped up immediately after Raheem Mostert went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, rushing 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown in the season opener.
While he ended up missing six games, Mitchell was excellent when he suited up, notching double-digit fantasy points in seven of the 11 games he played in. He topped 100 rushing yards five times, including Week 17 during many leagues’ fantasy championships.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Devin Singletary had an up and down season. At times the lead back for the Buffalo Bills and at other times an afterthought, he was difficult to trust on a weekly basis.
If you needed a running back down the stretch, however, Singletary delivered. He finished the season strong with double-digit fantasy points in each of his last five games, racking up 375 rushing yards, 110 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. He also had his best game of the year during Week 17, exploding for a season-high 110 rushing yards and two TDs.
Singletary isn’t someone I would have expected to make this list, but he definitely deserves it for his fantasy playoffs heroics.
Best Fantasy RB Pickup Honorable Mentions
- Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
- Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
- Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Best Fantasy Wide Receiver Pickups 2021
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
Another surprising player who stepped up for his team and became a consistent fantasy asset was Detroit Lions rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown got off to a slow start to the year and didn’t score his first touchdown until Week 13.
That game marked the turning point of his season, however. After averaging just 4.7 targets, 3.5 receptions, and 32 receiving yards through his first 11 games, St. Brown posted at least 10 targets, eight catches, and 70 receiving yards in each of his final six games. He also scored five times and saw some rushing work as well, adding 61 yards on the ground during that stretch.
After finishing the season on fire, St. Brown will likely be drafted higher than he should be in 2022 given how many fantasy championships he won people this season.
K.J. Osborn, Minnesota Vikings
Similar to Singletary and St. Brown, K.J. Osborn produced much of his value towards the end of the season when Adam Thielen missed time. Osborn made the most of his opportunities, scoring five touchdowns over his final six games.
If you positioned yourself to make the fantasy playoffs and were also lucky enough to snag Osborn off the waiver wire, then you got the best of him at the best time of the year. He proved how vital the “next man up" can be and is a prime example of why you should be active on the waiver wire when players get injured.
Osborn may have done enough down the stretch to warrant additional opportunities next season. I have a feeling he could end up on this list again next year.
Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons
Russell Gage was another late bloomer this season, ultimately stepping up as Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver following the offseason trade of Julio Jones and Ridley’s unexpected midseason departure.
It took a while, but Gage finally began clicking with Matt Ryan down the stretch. Gage put up 10 or more fantasy points in five of his last seven games, topping 60 receiving yards five times and sprinkling in three touchdowns during that span.
Gage may not have been someone to rely on all year, but he added plenty of value to your fantasy roster leading up to the fantasy playoffs.
Best Fantasy WR Pickup Honorable Mentions
- Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders
- Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots
- Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
Check out more of our 2021 Fantasy Football Awards
- 2021 Fantasy Football All-Pro Team
- 2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers Team
- 2021 Fantasy Football All-Busts Team
Best Fantasy Tight End Pickup 2021
Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
Dalton Schultz was a surprise to most this season. A lot of people were expecting Blake Jarwin to take over as the main pass-catching tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, but it became clear early on that Schultz would be the tight end Dak Prescott targeted in this offense.
There are very few tight ends that can be relied on for weekly production and Schultz was one of them. He had over 50 receiving yards and/or scored a touchdown in 11 games this season. He was also one of just six tight ends to amass over 100 targets on the season.
In the end, Schultz’s consistent volume produced some remarkable numbers, as he finished 2021 with the sixth-most targets and receiving yards, third-most receptions, and second-most touchdowns among tight ends.
After finishing as the TE3 in fantasy this year, Schultz will deservingly be viewed as an elite option in next year’s fantasy drafts.
Best Fantasy TE Pickup Honorable Mentions
- Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals
- Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks
Best Fantasy Defense Pickup 2021
Dallas Cowboys D/ST
It’s very common to stream the defense/special teams position throughout the year, mostly because the position lacks consistency and is often matchup-dependent. If you were able to acquire the Cowboys’ defense/special teams, however, you were set at the position all season long.
After ranking as one of the NFL’s worst units in 2020, the Cowboys emerged as one of the best this year. Dallas recorded 41 sacks, 26 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries, and six defensive touchdowns. Their special teams unit added three TDs as well for good measure, making this the best fantasy D/ST by far in 2021.
This won’t happen every year, but if you were able to get the Cowboys’ defense off waivers, you were sitting pretty all season.
Best Fantasy D/ST Pickup Honorable Mentions
- New Orleans Saints D/ST
- Tennessee Titans D/ST