Fantasy News & Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Biggest risers and fallers in fantasy football after Round 1

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris (22) celebrates during the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone with plenty of crazy twists and turns. Like with every NFL draft, the fantasy landscape is going to look a little bit different with high-end talent added to rosters across the league. Certain rookies have landed in favorable landing spots, while others might not see much playing time right away. 

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

Here are the players whose fantasy value rose the most during the first day of the draft, along with those who lost value. For a more complete picture of where every player currently stands, check out my 2021 dynasty rankings and 2021 dynasty rookie rankings.

Biggest Risers

QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Lance is heading to the 49ers, a much better landing spot compared to the rest of the first-round quarterbacks. He'll have George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel at his disposal — Lance's third-best option is better than any of the rest of the rookie quarterbacks' second-best receiver.

Lance already had more fantasy upside than some of the other first-round quarterbacks due to his rushing ability and willingness to throw the ball downfield. The combination of talent and landing spot makes him the top quarterback option in dynasty leagues. Lance should be a late-first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts. Few dynasty teams will be in need of a quarterback, which will make Lance a value as a later pick.

RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

The majority of mock drafts successfully predicted that Harris would land with the Steelers, and the move solidifies him as the top running back option in rookie drafts. 

The Steelers were the best team for a rookie RB to join. Very few teams had a need at running back, and Pittsburgh was the least likely team to utilize a running back committee. Harris would have been among the fallers in any other landing spot; now he's is the most likely rookie back to lead his team in touches and most likely to be a RB1 on the season.

Travis Etienne will be competing for playing time with at least one or two other backs, while Javonte Williams wasn't selected in the first round. Reasonable minds can disagree about which of the three backs is the most talented, but thanks to the situation Harris should go first among the three in both redraft leagues and dynasty formats.

WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

Smith found an ideal home in Philadelphia. The other top rookie wide receivers all went to teams with two other solid wide receiver options, which limits their target shares. The Eagles' wide receiver room before the pick consisted of Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward and Travis Fulgham

Smith instantly becomes the top Eagles wide receiver and has the best chance to lead his team in targets. He reunites with former teammate Jalen Hurts, who also sees a boost after the draft. The Eagles had the opportunity to pick a quarterback but instead chose to help Hurts. Smith should be a WR4 as a rookie with the potential to be much higher. This solidifies Hurts as a QB1 in 2021.

New England Patriots Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The Patriots had a busy offseason, highlighted by the additions of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry and Nelson Agholor. Their fantasy upside was limited with Cam Newton as their quarterback. Newton runs a lot, particularly near the goal-line, which prevents the receivers from getting enough red-zone targets.

New England selected quarterback Mac Jones with their first-round pick. He isn’t anywhere near the runner Newton is, which will help the Patriots receivers once he takes over as the starter.

The big question is how much of an upgrade Jones could be in terms of pass accuracy. If Jones lives up to his potential and there's a big difference, the Patriots tight ends could rejoin the TE1 conversation. If the rookie is only a slight upgrade, then his receivers will only move modestly up the rankings. 

Biggest Fallers

Oct 18, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson (30) runs for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

RB James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson will be the biggest faller of the draft season, and it won’t be close.

Last year's breakout UDFA had the potential to go in the first round of re-draft leagues this season if the Jaguars hadn't made an addition at running back. Robinson was RB7 last season despite missing two games. Jacksonville's signing of Carlos Hyde this offseason hurt his value slightly but also suggested that the Jaguars might be set at running back.

That wasn't the case, as Jacksonville used the No. 25 pick on Travis Etienne, the second back off the board. Etienne should immediately see more touches than Robinson, which moves Robinson from a potential first-rounder to the middle rounds.

If Hyde gets his few touches per game as expected, Robinson might not see the field very much. It will be interesting to hear from coaches about how Jacksonville plans to use its backs in the next few days. If this is a two-back committee, then Robinson can still be a mid-round pick. If it’s a three-back committee or they give Etienne the job, Robinson is just a handcuff.

WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

Waddle was mocked to a number of different teams during the pre-draft process and most were better situations than landing with the Dolphins.

Miami had a definite need alongside DeVante Parker after Preston Williams didn't live up to expectations last season, but the team addressed the position in free agency with Will Fuller. As things stand, Waddle is probably only playing in three-wide-receiver sets in the slot. Mike Gesicki also plays in those situations, giving Tua Tagovailoa four good receiving options on any given pass play.

Waddle could potentially see the second-most targets on the team behind Fuller, but targets should be pretty evenly distributed. That would be OK if Tagovailoa takes a huge step in his sophomore season. But based on his rookie season, Tua won't be able to sustain three or four fantasy-relevant receivers

Denver Broncos/Carolina Panthers Receivers

Both the Panthers and Broncos have several great receiving options that were held back by their quarterbacks in 2020. Both teams addressed the quarterback situation via trade, but they only added signal-callers that other QB-needy teams were willing to let go. 

When it came time to draft, both teams passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones. It's likely that both franchises are looking for a quarterback again next year, which burns up another prime year for great young receivers like D.J. Moore and Jerry Jeudy. This all would obviously change if a team could swing a trade for Aaron Rodgers.

WR Sterling Shepard, New York Giants

Shepard led the Giants in targets per game at 7.3, and it looked like he would see more snaps from the slot in 2021 after the team added Kenny Golladay and let go of Golden Tate. Shepard has played better from the slot throughout his career, having played from the alignment more often in past seasons. 

But the Giants used their first round pick on wide receiver Kadarius Toney, a dynamic WR who spent the majority of college snaps in the slot. Now the Giants have three wide receivers fighting for one or two spots on the field behind Golladay. Toney will limit Shepard’s playing time and targets, potentially limiting his slot snaps as well. Any upside Shepard had heading into the season has disappeared.

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