Fantasy Football top picks from Round 1 of the NFL Draft
After months of pontificating, prognosticating, and predicting, we finally saw the NFL Draft unfold before our eyes. To no one’s surprise, there was plenty of intrigue and a lot of fantasy-relevant moves that took place. What could some of these selections mean for your fantasy life in 2021? Read on, dear reader as I try to make sense of it all.
*Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars: This was a surprise to absolutely no one. Lawrence was ticketed to Duval County ever since the Jags locked up the top pick near the end of the season. There’s little doubt about his potential and he’ll now land in an offense that has some solid weapons in D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault. There is Justin Herbert-like upside in Year 1 for Lawrence and he’s likely to be among the top 10 quarterbacks drafted in plenty of redraft leagues. In dynasty rookie drafts, look for Lawrence to be gone early in the first round — and likely the 1.01 in Superflex formats.
*Zach Wilson, QB, Jets: Wilson made the headline throw of the Pro Day season and has a skill set that will make him a lot of fun to watch. The good news is that New York also traded up to take a solid tackle in USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker. That’s a huge plus. What would be even better is if the Jets used some of their later picks to get Wilson some weapons. Signing Corey Davis was nice but not enough to put Wilson on our redraft radars.
*Trey Lance, QB, 49ers: This was the first surprise of the night. Most of the draftniks projected Mac Jones to San Francisco. Instead, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took the dynamic quarterback from North Dakota State. Lance’s physical gifts make up for his lack of on-field experience (19 total games in three seasons) and pairing him with an offensive mind like Shanahan has fantasy types drooling. Lance is likely to be a first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts. His redraft value, however, is still cloudy. That could become a little more transparent once we know where Jimmy Garoppolo will be.
Watching Kyle Pitts made me think of Julio Jones. This should be fun to watch.
*Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons: Plenty of people mocked this selection and plenty more just wished that it would happen. There has been some chatter that the Falcons could trade Julio Jones. We’ll see what happens with that. But the prospect of Pitts, Jones, and Calvin Ridley all lined up together is enough to make you giddy. I’ve made the case that in dynasty rookie drafts (non-SuperFlex), Pitts could be the 1.01 and should be off the board by the middle rounds in most redraft leagues. At the thinnest position in fantasy football, he has the chance to truly be a game-changer.
*Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals: That sound you heard were the wails of Tee Higgins truthers. Adding Chase to the Bengals offense won’t make Higgins irrelevant but it will eat into his opportunities. The upside for all of Cincinnati’s pass-catchers is that they’ll still need to throw the ball a ton, which should mean targets for everyone. The next step will be getting some protection for Joe Burrow so he can make it through a full season. Nonetheless, Chase has a first-year ceiling as a WR2 but is more likely to finish the year in the WR3 range.
At his peak at Bama, Tua wasn't afraid to take shots downfield. If that QB comes back along with Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle? Whew!
*Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins: Miami has spent the offseason loading up on deep threats for their quarterback, first adding Will Fuller in free agency then selecting Waddle with the sixth overall pick. Initially, it concerned me since Tua Tagovailoa didn’t seem eager to throw downfield much last season. But after watching some of his old games at Alabama, my fears were somewhat alleviated. The next question is who becomes the odd man out in the wide receiver corps. At first blush, Preston Williams would seem to be the man getting the shortest end of the stick. Nonetheless, it would be wise not to draft Waddle as anything more than a fourth receiver early in his career.
*DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles: The Eagles have been in desperate need of a wide receiver and they got arguably the best route-running technician in this class. Considering the rest of the depth chart at the position, Smith could immediately turn into Philly’s WR1. If Jalen Reagor takes a step forward in Year Two, it helps everyone on the offense. But at the very least, Smith projects to have WR3 upside from the get-go.
*Justin Fields, QB, Bears: What will you most remember about the Andy Dalton era in Chicago? After a bit of a slide down the draft board, Fields lands in Chicago, exciting just about everyone outside of Green Bay, Minneapolis, and Detroit. The early chatter is that Dalton will be the starter while Fields learns the ropes but I’m not buying that. Fields is a sure-fire first round rookie dynasty pick and should have some late-round appeal in redraft leagues. The best part of this? Allen Robinson gets the quality quarterback so many of us have wished for him to have.
*Mac Jones, QB, Patriots: Speaking of quarterback slides… After the Niners passed on Jones at No. 3, it became a question of where the Alabama signal-caller would go. Thankfully for Jones, Nick Saban’s good friend Bill Belichick snagged him at 15. This could set up an interesting competition in the short term with Cam Newton, though all signs point to Jones being the Patriots’ long-term future under center. Even with New England’s offseason upgrades at wide receiver, it’s not enough to believe Jones can have a ton of fantasy relevance in his rookie season.
*Kadarius Toney, WR, Giants: I found this move to be a head-scratcher. Big Blue added Kenny Golladay and John Ross this offseason to go along with Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. Taken individually, none of those players really blows you away. But in combination, it feels like a lot of players for not enough targets. The biggest takeaway is that Daniel Jones can no longer use lack of weapons as an excuse – though a shaky pass-blocking line won’t do him any favors. Toney has big play ability, but this feels like a bad fit and one that won’t excite fantasy managers.
*Najee Harris, RB, Steelers: It took until pick No. 24, but we finally got a running back! Nearly everyone predicted Harris going to Pittsburgh and for good reason. The Steelers needed a back who could be a workhorse and they appear to have found that guy in Harris. There is cause for concern about a poor offensive line, but Harris should do yeoman’s work in the backfield with no real threats for touches. The early buzz might push Harris to the end of the first round, though I expect he’ll settle somewhere in the mid-second round by the time we get to August. For dynasty rookie drafts, he’ll be in the mix among the top 3-5 picks regardless of format.
*Travis Etienne, RB, Jaguars: After waiting all night for a running back to be drafted, we had them go with back-to-back picks. It’s anyone’s guess how this backfield will break down, however, few are buying head coach Urban Meyer’s expectation. One thing is certain – James Robinson isn’t likely to see the type of workload that made him a fantasy darling in 2020 and helped him finish in the top 10 among running backs. Etienne’s pass-catching upside makes him my early favorite to be Jacksonville’s top-scoring rusher in 2021. Yet until we get a better sense of how many snaps he’ll play, it will be hard to determine his overall ceiling.
*Rashod Bateman, WR, Ravens: Baltimore wanted to get some help for Lamar Jackson, and they did in the form of Bateman. Due to a pair of COVID opt-outs, he didn’t play much in 2020 but was a stud in 2019 for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Hopefully he can be the big outside target that Marquise Brown isn’t. It would be wise to temper your production expectations since the Ravens aren’t likely to become a pass-happy offense any time soon. Still, Bateman could be a nice depth piece on fantasy rosters if he pans out.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who will probably end up staying up way later than he should tonight. For no apparent reason. Send him your lifestyle mistakes or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or Instagram at MarcasG.
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