Fantasy Football Fallout: 2021 NFL Draft Round One

Zach Wilson New York Jets NFL Draft Fantasy Football Quarterback

The NFL Draft’s first two picks were so set in stone that the NFL begged the 49ers to not let their #3 pick leak early. Then, all hell broke loose on Thursday when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had a falling out with all the discreet privacy of a couple breaking up at 1 AM after one too many orders of the two-for-one margarita special. That certainly made things extra spicy for the lead-up to the 2021 NFL Draft! But what about for fantasy football purposes? What can we expect from the picks and moves that went down during the 2021 NFL Draft, and what can we expect from these players in 2021 fantasy football redraft leagues?`

Pick #1: Trevor Lawrence (6’6” 220 pounds), Quarterback, Clemson to Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars gave Trevor Lawrence their playbook weeks ago, so this one doesn’t come as a big surprise. If you’ve never heard of Trevor Lawrence, welcome in to literally the first piece of draft-related fantasy football content that you’ve read this season. Lawrence has long, flowing locks, so he looks like he’s a quinoa-fed QB1 for some coastal California high school in 1975. That exterior hides one of the most complete quarterback prospects of the last decade, right alongside Andrew Luck (who garnered different comparisons).

He’s the total package; height, weight, athleticism, and passing prowess. At Clemson, they used him as a precision strike artist underneath who has a nice deep ball (though Clemson didn’t really let him use it). He is the consensus top quarterback in the NFL Draft and has a shot to contribute immediately as a streamer in 2021 fantasy football leagues.

As for fantasy football purposes, he probably struggles out of the gate. I say probably because a QB rarely lights the league on fire immediately. Granted, Justin Herbert did it last season, but he still struggled down the stretch. The Jaguars have a good receiving corps with DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, and the newly-added Marvin Jones Jr. Still, there are plenty of good, experienced quarterbacks out there. That means at the most, I’m looking at Trevor Lawrence somewhere around QB15.

NFL Comparison: Smarter and Stronger Justin Herbert

Pick #2: Zach Wilson (6’2” 214 pounds), Quarterback, BYU to New York Jets

Zach Wilson to the Jets has been set in stone just waiting for the Jaguars to take Trevor Lawrence. Despite looking like the evil lacrosse captain in a Disney special, Wilson is a quality quarterback. He reminds me a ton of Baker Mayfield when he leaves the pocket, but inside the pocket, he is a lot like Jimmy Garoppolo without the errors. He has good accuracy and makes smart throws. Wilson also stays late in the pocket and lets the play develop, sometimes taking a hit to get the throw off. H throws on the run very well and has some great arm talent, and can scoot a bit, as well. I believe he would cap out at having streaming appeal in 2021 redraft leagues if that much. The Jets need to surround him with weapons to reach his cap, but his best-case fantasy football scenario is four-or-five second-half top-12 quarterback finishes.

The Jets used their second first-round pick to give him some protection up the middle, taking the top guard (Alijah Vera-Tucker) at 14.

NFL Comparison: Baker Mayfield

Pick #3: Trey Lance (6’4” 227 pounds), Quarterback, North Dakota State to San Francisco 49ers

The quarterback run continued with the pivot point of the 2021 NFL Draft’s first round. The San Francisco 49ers didn’t take my preferred quarterback (Justin Fields), but he makes for a great pick for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch down the line. If things work out as they should, Lynch and Shanny won’t lose their jobs after the 2021 or 2022 season. Here’s the problem with the pick for 2021 fantasy football: he definitely needs some seasoning. That means the 49ers have at least one more half-season under the league’s most handsome quarterback before turning the reins over to Lance.

As for the pick: he’s big, strong, and athletic. The guy can throw the ball over a mountain. He has questionable decision-making skills. He also loves to run and loves to run guys over. Am I describing Trey Lance or Josh Allen coming out of school? Lance feels very Allenish in that you can see all the physical traits, but a lot of problems are happening between the earpads. His vision is questionable, he stares at his reads until they come open, and he has almost no pocket presence. Lance alternates between YOLO balls and waiting for a hand-written letter from his receiver that says “I’m open” to get to him before throwing.

For 2021 fantasy football, the question is his rookie year usage. The 49ers might make him sit for half a season behind “Handsome” James Garoppolo. Whenever they unleash him, his running alone puts him in the weekly starting QB conversation. Don’t forget he gets the league’s premier offensive mind, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. Not a bad position for Lance, the only question is if and when they take off the regulator.

NFL Comparison: Somewhere between Colin Kaepernick and Josh Allen

Pick #4: Kyle Pitts (6’6” 240 pounds), Tight End, Florida to Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons begged and pleaded for someone to trade into this spot, but nobody did, and Atlanta ended up with the best player in the class. Pitts is the highest-drafted tight end ever and he deserves every bit of praise he deserves. He can do anything and everything you ask him to do, and his biggest knock is that he isn’t the best blocker. Who cares? Line him up with Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones (maybe) and Hayden Hurst and let Matt Ryan fly. I don’t care if his blocking isn’t the best, and neither should you. His closest comparisons are Vernon Davis and Calvin Johnson. That’s literally all you need to know.

I’m not super interested in what this does to Matt Ryan, since Ryan doesn’t run. Because of his lack of legs, it will take him topping 4 touchdowns to sniff the top-seven quarterbacks next season. Sorry, but those are the facts of the situation since the NFL changed. But I think Kyle Pitts could change another immutable fantasy football fact…

I would draft Kyle Pitts. I’m famously (in my own house) anti-rookie tight end, but Kyle Pitts is a gamer, he’s a baller, he’s a playmaker and a shot caller. He shattered the mold. Rookie tight ends have never had over eight games of fantasy football usefulness… but Pitts might break that mold. I see the Falcons using him more as a massive wide receiver than a true tight end, a cheat code that could break 2021 fantasy football leagues. For that reason alone, I’m in on Pitts. There’s no reason to take someone like Rob Gronkowski, Logan Thomas, or Hunter Henry with Pitts still on the board.

NFL Comparison: Vernon Davis or Calvin Johnson

Pick #5: Ja’Marr Chase (6’0” 208 pounds), Wide Receiver, LSU to Cincinnati Bengals

Ja’Marr Chase sat out 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, so that means the last time we saw him, he caught passes from… Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow. This is a fun one for fantasy football purposes, but I wanted them to take Penei Sewell to keep Joe Burrow upright. I said in my 10 Second Scouting that Chase had a good shot to be the #1 wide receiver off the board, and that’s what happened. Chase’s calling cards are his speed, ability to gain inside leverage, and an uncanny knack to never have the DB between him and the ball (unless he is blasting past the DB).

His biggest issue is press coverage, and his route running relying more on athleticism than technique. Still, I like him a lot. He also has a chance to pop in his rookie season for fantasy football purposes. He’s worth a shot in the middle rounds to see what he could be.

This crushes Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins a bit, but it does a lot for Joe Burrow if he can get back to running the football. His rushing plus three weapons like Boyd, Higgins and Chase means that he can end up in the backend top-twelve when all is said and done. He’ll need to get acclimated again after a year off, but that Burrow to Chase connection already destroyed the NCAA. He’s worth a shot around the middle of your draft. Unfortunately, this is arrows down for Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, pushing them to a backend WR3 and a high-end WR3, respectively. Chase is a WR4 for fantasy football in 2021 with WR3 upside.

NFL Comparison: D.J. Moore

Pick #6: Jaylen Waddle (5’10” 182 pounds), Wide Receiver, Alabama to Miami Dolphins

Well, this is fun. It also means that the Dolphins likely didn’t get the guy they wanted (either Chase or Pitts). But, they still get a great weapon in Jaylen Waddle. The guy is a poor man’s Tyreek Hill, with speed for days and the presence of mind to find the holes in the zone. He struggles a bit in man coverage, given that he doesn’t have the strength or chops to bully opposing defensive backs. Still, this is a great landing spot for Waddle. They have a robust passing game and enough to protect Tua Tagovailoa to make it work.

My only concern for Waddle is the crowded pass-catcher room, and Tua’s hesitance to throw it deep, which is Waddle’s biggest game. Waddle likely gets the AJ Brown rookie year treatment (starting slow, then exploding when they utilize him) at best. He’s likely not a guy you want to look at specifically in your drafts, but a double-digit round dart throw is fine. He’s a bye week fill-in for 2021 fantasy football with a lot of daily fantasy football intrigue.

Tua Tagovailoa is the big winner with this pick, as according to Pro Football Focus, his wide receivers were open just 58% of the time (fourth-lowest in the league). Waddle can and will get open, which will make Tua better able to throw to a competent receiver.

NFL Comparison: Poor Man’s Tyreek Hill

Pick #10: DeVonta Smith (6’1” 174 pounds), Wide Receiver, Alabama to Philadelphia Eagles

I loved DeVonta Smith during the predraft process, and I continue to love DeVonta Smith now. He’s skinny. I also don’t care. Why? Because he’s really good; that’s the difference between him and Tutu Atwell and J.J. Nelson and the like. Smith is my WR1 in this class because the dude might need to call Professor Xavier because he might have mutant DNA. He can pop in and out of reality at will to get open. At least, I hope that’s what is happening, for the DBs’ sake. Smith is fast, with excellent route running and great hands. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 953 yards after the catch last season, which was 307 more than anyone else in college football.

I wrote in my notes, “he has a chance to make an immediate fantasy football impact if he ends up going to a wide receiver-needy team like Detroit or Philadelphia.” So, let’s just say I’m excited about DeVonta Smith as Philadelphia’s WR1 next to Jalen Reagor and I am more than happy to take him with a seventh-round pick as a fantasy football upside guy. Barring injury, a top-40 season feels like his floor. But, this solidifies my previous position of 2021 Jalen Hurts: QB1.

NFL Comparison: Marvin Harrison

Pick #11: Justin Fields (6’3” 228 pounds), Quarterback, Ohio State to Chicago Bears

I’m sad that Justin Fields didn’t go to the Niners at 3. I love his game, and I think he’s the second-best quarterback in this class, and far closer to Trevor Lawrence than anyone wants to admit. His top traits are his decision-making, his toughness, and his athleticism. Fields is quick and strong, who does well inside and outside of the pocket. He can also run, which is an immediate path to fantasy football production. Justin Fields will find at least four top-12 fantasy football games in his rookie year. He’s just that good, and could perform at a higher rate than that in a by-hook-or-by-crook production a la 2020’s Jalen Hurts. He’s immediately worth a roster spot if you’re going for two upside quarterbacks in your 2021 redraft leagues, and is a slam dunk second quarterback in a 2 QB league. He just has to beat out Andy Dalton. I think he can manage that by the midway point of the 2021 season.

NFL Comparison: Tall Russell Wilson

Pick #15: Michael McCorkle “Mac” Jones (6’3” 217 pounds), Quarterback, Alabama to New England Patriots

I always knew the 49ers didn’t trade up to #3 to take McCorkle. Why? Well, if they didn’t take Mac Jones at three, he would still be there at their original pick (12). It turns out he lasted even further than that, slipping to the Patriots in the middle of the first round. Mac Jones is the last of the “good” quarterbacks in this draft, and going at 15 feels perfect for him. He’ll be around the fifteenth-best quarterback in the league on a given week once he gets rolling. Jones is completely immobile and doesn’t want to push the ball downfield. But luckily that isn’t necessary to succeed in a Bill Belichick offense. Jones is a perfectly cromulent quarterback thanks to his ball placement, accuracy, and (on-field) decision-making skills.

I’m not excited for Mac Jones in fantasy football leagues, and you shouldn’t be, either. I doubt he makes a significant splash this season behind Cam Newton, but once he gets going with all these weapons, it raises all their ceilings. But, their ceilings aren’t that high to begin with. I am just not bullish on Jones being the guy in 2021.

NFL Comparison: Kirk Cousins

Pick #20: Kadarius Toney (6’0” 193 pounds), Wide Receiver, Florida to New York Giants

This is an absolutely hilarious pick for the New York Giants. For starters, I like Toney, but not here. Not to the Giants. First off, there were at least two wide receivers still on the board at this point that are better than Toney. Second of all, the Giants have plenty of WR2 guys on their roster. Now they have Kenny Golladay, Evan Engram, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton, and Sterling Shepard. That’s a crowded pass-catching room and one without a 2021 standout outside of Golladay. This is my least favorite pick of the first round, and it destroys all fantasy football value Toney might have a shot at having his rookie year.

That having been said, I really like Kadarius Toney! He is a YAC monster who runs routes like his hair is on fire. If you want precise, defined routes, don’t look at Toney. He is reminiscent of Stevie Johnson, who gave both prime Darrelle Revis and prime Richard Sherman fits. He could have appeal when the inevitable New York Giants injuries start to stack up. But he’s not a guy I’m drafting in most fantasy football leagues because right now he’s pure unharnessed athleticism. Once he gets a season under his belt, he could do a lot, but he needs that season first. Think about how Laviska Shenault flashed last season but never really put it together, something like that.

NFL Comparison: Shorter Stevie Johnson.

Pick #24: Najee Harris (6’2” 230 pounds), Running Back, Alabama to Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee is the best pure runner in this class and has enough pass-catching chops to do some serious damage in that area. Pairing him with Mike Tomlin and his bell-cow back-preferred offense is a match made in heaven. Since joining the league, Tomlin is fifth in running back bell-cow rate (20+ touches to one running back). Harris has great vision at all levels and has wonderful body control and balance. Earlier this week I wrote: “He and the Steelers seem like they have a standing appointment on Thursday evening. That immediately makes him an RB1 if it comes to fruition.” That’s it. That’s the tweet. He can take the spot vacated by James Robinson in the RB1 ranks.

NFL Comparison: Todd Gurley

Pick #25: Travis Etienne (6’10” 205 pounds), Running Back, Clemson to Jacksonville Jaguars

Travis Etienne is my top running back in this class. He’s a versatile weapon with great hands, who is impossible to bring down at the line of scrimmage. Once he hits the open field, he’s unstoppable. He is efficient in his runs with very little wasted movement, without becoming robotic. However, I think this is an awful landing spot for Travis Etienne, but I think he is a great running back. He will dig his way out of the Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke-induced hole behind James Robinson and Carlos Hyde. Etienne is Alvin Kamara-esque in his play style and I see a Kamara rookie year path to relevance for Etienne. Urban Meyer said that they will use him as a third-down back to spell Hyde and Robinson to start and give him more as things develop. This is literally what happened for Alvin Kamara his rookie year with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson.

Let people stay away from Etienne, and you can draft-and-stash him for your 2021 redraft teams. He has a chance to be a league winner down the stretch once he casts aside Robinson and Hyde, but it will be an uphill battle for him. He will be a top-15 running back in the second half of the season, but the first half is the hard part.

NFL Comparison: Aaron Jones

Pick #27: Rashod Bateman (6’0” 190 pounds), Wide Receiver, Minnesota to Baltimore Ravens

I didn’t think Bateman would be a first-round pick but I still think he’s a really good wide receiver. He can catch, is good off the line, and is very athletic in his route running. He’s just sloppy with his routes and suffers from lots of focus drops, so he needs to rein that in for the Ravens. He lost 20 pounds from his listed weight due to COVID-19, so he will play closer to 210. He also lost two inches off of his listed height. He’s a good all-around wide receiver who will do wonders to help Lamar Jackson with short-area passes. I don’t think he will do a ton for fantasy football in 2021, but he is a guy to monitor (not draft).

NFL Comparison: Justin Jefferson

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Image Source: Zach Wilson on Twitter

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