We were fortunate enough to see 13 fantasy-relevant players go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, including the first six picks of the draft. Some of these picks were expected, some unexpected, but all of them will heavily impact the first round of your rookie drafts.

Trevor Lawrence drafted to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Courtesy of SI.com

Trevor Lawrence- 1.01 Jacksonville Jaguars

We’ve been expecting this since Trevor Lawrence first stepped on the college field in 2019. Since his freshman year, he’s been regarded as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck  He is the easy 1.01 rookie pick in Super Flex (SF) leagues and likely a mid to late first round rookie pick in non-SF leagues. I feel really good about what Lawrence will be. He may never be the QB1, but he will be a QB1 for his entire career. This is a safe pick that should pay off.

Zach Wilson- 1.02 New York Jets

The smoke for Wilson to the Jets has been building since late February, so most of us expected this pick as well. However, as the off-season wore on and the draft approached, people started to poke holes in Wilson’s game. He bails from clean pockets, misses open throws, and takes risks that worked in college but may not work at the next level. Wilson has shown a high ceiling, but also demonstrated a low floor. I don’t think the Jets will help his chances of success, so at this point you have to feel completely confident in your evaluation of Wilson to have him any higher than QB3.

The Jets currently have two good receivers in Corey Davis and Denzel Mims, but lack a true WR1. Without an alpha WR to help him out or a strong running to bail him out, I think Wilson will struggle early on. Wilson has fallen to my QB4 and is a mid-first round pick in SF leagues and an early second in non-SF leagues for me.

Trey Lance- 1.03 San Francisco 49ers

Few players were helped by landing spot as much as Trey Lance. The seemingly perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s system, Lance also lands in a situation where he won’t have to start day one. Jimmy G is still on the roster and gives Lance a chance to adjust to the significant jump in competition from the FCS to the NFL.

Turn on the 2019 tape for Lance, and you’ll see a dynamic athlete with a big arm and a conservative nature. He has all the tools you want to see in a modern NFL QB, but you’d like to see him be a bit more aggressive. That could be what North Dakota State asked him to do, or he could have some Marcus Mariota in him. Either way, I think Lance has a higher ceiling than any QB taken thus far and arguably the highest ceiling overall. If you had Lance as the QB2 overall, I wouldn’t fault you for that. Lance should be taken as 1.02 or 1.03 in SF leagues and should be a late first in non-SF drafts.

Kyle Pitts drafted by the Atlanta Falcons
Courtesy of The Falcoholic

Kyle Pitts- 1.04 Atlanta Falcons

Kyle Pitts is an elite tight end prospect. He has the production, the athleticism, and the draft capital and is in a great situation. My thoughts on taking a tight end at fourth overall aside, Pitts should be more highly regarded than any tight end prospect in recent memory. In TE-premium leagues, Pitts is in the conversation as the 1.01. In SF, TE-premium leagues, he’s more in the 1.04 range for me given this level of QB prospects. And in non-SF, non-TE premium leagues, I still think he should be in the early to mid-first round conversation.

Ja’Marr Chase- 1.05 Cincinnati Bengals

Leading up to draft night, there was an increase in chatter about Chase to the Bengals at pick five. I didn’t agree with it then, and don’t agree with it now. While I am very high on Chase as a prospect (my WR2), I think this landing spot hurts Chase more than helps. The Zac Taylor offense is an off-shoot of the Sean McVay offense, so it is possible for the Bengals to support three fantasy relevant WRs, especially given the high end QB they have at the helm. However, I don’t feel comfortable betting on it. I still like Chase, but I’d be lying if I said I liked this situation. I still believe in Chase’s talent so he doesn’t fall far, but he does solidify his spot as my WR2. He is an early first round pick in non-SF leagues behind Najee and Waddle for me, and likely a mid-first in SF leagues behind at least three of the QBs.

Jaylen Waddle- 1.06 Miami Dolphins

We may never see another Tyreek Hill. But if anyone can do it, it’s Jaylen Waddle. He is incredibly dynamic with the ball in his hands. Nick Saban has said he’s one of the most explosive WRs in and out of his breaks that he’s ever seen. Reuniting with Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, Waddle will also fill the role that Tua tends to favor. Miami has a true X in Devante Parker, a field stretcher in Will Fuller, and a TE in Mike Geisicki. They now add a dynamic slot threat in Waddle. He was my WR1 entering the night and this only solidifies that for me. Waddle is arguably my 1.01 in non-SF leagues and I’d take him as early as 1.04 in SF.

Justin Fields drafted by the Chicago Bears
Courtesy of Land-Grant Holyland

Justin Fields- 1.11 Chicago Bears

Rumors that Justin Fields would fall on draft day had been circulating for most of the off-season. However, I didn’t see any chatter that Chicago would trade up to stop that fall. I believe Fields is the second best QB in this draft class and I think this landing spot is as good as we could have hoped for. There is no clear-cut starter ahead of him but Andy Dalton can serve as a useful stop-gap should Fields not be ready to start day one.

While I don’t necessarily have much faith in Matt Nagy as a head coach, he did make Mitch Trubisky a fantasy relevant QB and Fields is twice the talent that Trubisky is. Fields has a strong supporting cast that should help him adapt to the NFL. He has a true alpha WR in Allen Robinson, two other respectable WRs in Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney, an average-at-worst offensive line, and a solid running game to support him. I still believe in Fields talent, and I think this could be a Deshaun Watson/Patrick Mahomes type situation where teams will regret passing on him. He is firmly my QB2 and the 1.02 in SF leagues. In non-SF leagues, I would still take him in the late first.

DeVonta Smith- 1.12 Philadelphia Eagles

One of the most polarizing players in the fantasy community in years, Smith’s landing in Philly is absolutely fitting. In a situation where folks are split on their evaluations of the quarterback and the WR Philly took in the first last year, why wouldn’t they take another player that fantasy analysts can’t agree on? Regardless of your stance on Smith, the draft capital only stands to help his case. While he remains my WR5, I think he now has an argument to be drafted ahead of Etienne (more on that later). Smith is still a mid-first round pick in non-SF leagues and should be a late first round pick in SF leagues.

Mac Jones- 1.15 New England Patriots

Once rumored to be the favorite for the 3rd overall pick to San Francisco, Jones also experienced a fall on draft day. Belichick couldn’t let a Saban approved QB fall past him at 15th overall. I feel confident in saying that Jones is a system QB who benefited from a favorable system and talent at Alabama. His recent appeal in the fantasy community likely stemmed from the belief he would be in the Shanahan system as well. Now in New England, with less than stellar offensive weapons around him, Jones should be no higher than a mid to late second rounder in non-SF leagues. In SF leagues, I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking Jones at the end of the first, however I see him as more of an early second round rookie pick.

Kadarius Toney- 1.20 New York Giants

I’m not sure what the biggest surprise for me in the first round was: Dave Gettleman trading down in the first round or  Kadarius Toney being a first round pick. Toney is undeniably athletic, but also undeniably raw as a WR, a position he’s played full time for only a year. Despite his seemingly high-level of production this year, he still only had a 23% Weighted Dominator rating*. That’s not to say he can’t be successful in the NFL, but his ceiling is likely more Curtis Samuel than Tyreek Hill. Add in that he will be catching passes from Daniel Jones (for this year at least), and Toney cannot even be propped up by his situation. He should not be anywhere near the first round of your rookie drafts, regardless of format. The first round draft capital does help, but I would still be hesitant to take Toney before the early second round in non-SF leagues and the mid to late second round in SF leagues.

Najee Harris drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Najee Harris- 1.24 Pittsburgh Steelers

If there was a running back who was expected to get first round NFL draft capital, it was Najee Harris. The rumors that the Steelers were interested in Harris only gained steam as the draft approached and fantasy analysts began to drool.

However, Pittsburgh’s offensive line may present some challenges to those projections. Perennial Pro Bowl Center Maurkice Pouncey retired and LT Alejandro Villaneuva is gone in free agency, leaving the Steelers with only one proven offensive lineman. Big Ben can’t stretch the field with his arm like he used to, and Pittsburgh’s offense sputtered when other teams started to catch on. I don’t think this is as great of a situation as many believe for Harris, but he was my RB1 coming into the draft and he secured first round NFL draft capital. Harris is likely the favorite for 1.01 in non-SF leagues, but I’m not so sure I would take him there given the situation Waddle is in now and his game-breaking ability. In SF leagues, Harris is still an early to mid first round selection and should be in the conversation as the first non-QB off the board.

Travis Etienne- 1.25 Jacksonville Jaguars

Arguably the most explosive RB in the class, some saw Etienne as a borderline first round NFL talent. Ultimately, Etienne did find himself taken in the first round. While the first round draft capital wasn’t necessarily expected, it wasn’t shocking. What was shocking was that Jacksonville took a running back given their current depth chart. With UDFA star James Robinson and recently signed Carlos Hyde already in the backfield, I was stunned when Jacksonville selected a running back in the first round. Jacksonville reportedly see Etienne as a third down back, a role Etienne himself said he was not confident in as little as a year ago. He is an adequate pass-catching back at best, so I don’t see a ton of value in him in a third down role. While I still think Etienne is the second most talented RB in this class, I think this is a significant hit to his value. Etienne is now likely a mid-first-round pick in non-SF leagues and a late first or even early second round pick in SF leagues.

Rashod Bateman- 1.27 Baltimore Ravens

Like Etienne, Bateman was someone who was seen as a fringe first round NFL talent. Also like Etienne, Bateman’s landing spot in Baltimore is far from ideal. Baltimore has not consistently supported a fantasy relevant WR in the last two years. While Bateman is the best WR Baltimore has drafted in recent memory, this is still not a situation that sets him up for success. Bateman is going to be the true talent vs situation case for the 2021 draft. Bateman was my WR4 entering the day and that hasn’t changed for me. I would still take Bateman mid to late first round in Non-SF leagues and late first, early second in SF leagues. And given the aforementioned situation for Etienne, I would be more comfortable with Bateman.

* Weighted Dominator rating=  Receptions * 80% + TDs * 20%

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