Fantasy Football: Why Jordan Akins Could Surprise in 2021

Is Jordan Akins a viable late-round dart throw? His first three seasons provide a glimmer of hope for a 2021 breakout.

The tight end position is top-heavy, featuring the three studs: Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle. Beyond them, there are question marks for even the proven or semi-proven options. Despite the optimism surrounding some of the middle-tier options, they're far from bulletproof. So there's a strong case to be made to spend an early pick on Kelce, Waller, or Kittle and avoid the risk associated with other options.

However, hitting on a cheaper choice is a windfall for fantasy football teams. Since there are question marks abound in the middle tier, there's also a case for waiting beyond them and taking a shot or two in the late rounds, with streaming as a fallback option if you whiff. Even if you venture into the middle tier, sticking a second iron in the fire with a last-round selection has merit.

Namely, Jordan Akins stands out to me as a viable breakout candidate who doesn't require more than a last-round-pick commitment.

2020 Recap

Akins didn't produce a head-turning 2020 campaign. However, he set new highs with 2.8 receptions and 31.0 receiving yards per game in 13 contests, per Pro-Football-Reference. It's a step in the right direction if nothing else.

Further, his efficiency marks and usage are intriguing. Out of 40 tight ends targeted a minimum of 35 times last year, Akins ranked 12th with 8.22 yards per target, per Stathead. Also, Akins ranked 13th with 0.41 Target Net Expected Points per target. He also ranked a respectable 19th in yards per route run (1.36), according to Pro Football Focus.

His above-average rank in yards per route run is made all the more impressive by his volume of routes, which brings me to his usage. Akins ran a route on 92.5 percent of the Houston Texans' pass snaps last year, ranking fifth-highest at the position. Combining his usage as essentially a big wideout with his solid yards per route run creates an enticing foundation for fantasy relevance.

In Good Company

Yards per target is admittedly only one data point among many. However, it's one which Akins shares stellar company with when looking at a tight end's first three years dating back to 2001.

Akins sports 8.11 yards per target on 129 targets through three years in the National Football League. Only a dozen tight ends have bested 8.10 yards per target on a minimum of 125 targets in their first three seasons over the last 20 years. Mark Andrews is among those tight ends, and, like Akins, he's entering his fourth campaign.

The following table shows how the other 11 tight ends fared in their fourth season.

Player Year Games Tgt Rec Yds TD Rec/G Yds/G
O.J. Howard 2020 4 19 11 146 2 2.8 36.5
Rob Gronkowski 2013 7 66 39 592 4 5.6 84.6
George Kittle 2020 8 63 48 634 2 6.0 79.3
Dallas Clark 2006 12 57 30 367 4 2.5 30.6
Travis Kelce 2016 16 117 85 1125 4 5.3 70.3
Tony Scheffler 2009 15 50 31 416 2 2.1 27.7
Brent Celek 2010 16 79 42 511 4 2.6 31.9
Jared Cook 2012 13 73 44 523 4 3.4 40.2
Heath Miller 2008 14 66 48 514 3 3.4 36.7
Antonio Gates 2006 16 120 71 924 9 4.4 57.8

The table above includes some of the game's best tight ends active and in recent history. Obviously, not everyone included is in that class, though. Additionally, I'm not suggesting Akins will leap to the elite class.

Still, it's always good to find yourself on a leaderboard with elite talent, and even some of the others have provided gamers fantasy-relevant seasons -- even if it wasn't necessarily their fourth year.

Jordan Akins' 2021 Fantasy Football Outlook

FanDuel Sportsbook lists the Texans with the lowest team win total at only four wins. The low win projection is suboptimal for Akins' touchdown-scoring upside, as is the uncertainty at quarterback. However, being on a bad team could still be a positive for his target volume if the Texans are routinely in a negative game script and playing catch-up.

Further boosting Akins' target outlook is a roster bereft of top-flight pass-catchers. Brandin Cooks is excellent and the unquestioned top receiver. Still, beyond him, Randall Cobb is ho-hum and should have a prominent role as their slot receiver. Rookie Nico Collins offers the team a big-bodied wideout, but he's a rookie, and his role in the offense is likely to be contingent on his learning curve. The team also traded for Anthony Miller, who could benefit from a change of scenery, though he's hardly a sure thing.

Targets are earned. I can't stress that enough. Nonetheless, the lack of target hogs in the offense bodes well for Akins' path to looks in the passing game. numberFire's projections are bearish on Akins, projecting him for approximately 34 targets, 23 receptions, 252 receiving yards, and a pinch under 2 touchdowns.

Obviously, I'm more bullish on his 2021 outlook. Ascending to the second option in the passing game behind Cooks is within Akins' range of outcomes. He's going undrafted at most fantasy providers utilizing point-per-reception scoring, with an average draft position of just 179.0 only at Fantrax, per FantasyPros.

Rather than select another long-shot at running back or wide receiver when plenty go undrafted with similar cases for rostering, I advise picking Akins.

The rationale is simple. If Akins shows any signs of life in Week 1, he'll immediately enter the tight end streamer conversation or find his way onto benches as a stash-and-monitor player. But, on the other hand, if he flops, plays fewer snaps than expected, or is used as a blocker more often by the new coaching staff, then gamers who picked him can cut bait and scoop up a dart throw at another position.

Joshua Shepardson is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Joshua Shepardson also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username bchad50. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he/she may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his/her personal account. The views expressed in his/her articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.