The 2021 NFL Draft had a major impact on the fantasy football landscape. The biggest winners of draft weekend have already seen major spikes in their fantasy football value. Several other players now have their fantasy stock on life support.
Who are the fantasy winners and losers of the 2021 NFL Draft? Let’s break down six players with their fantasy stock rocketing to the moon and four players whose fantasy value is trending downhill.
A.J. Brown the WR1 season has officially arrived. The Titans decided to forgo adding wide receiver help with their Day 1 or 2 draft picks, thereby cementing Brown as the only dependable option in the passing game. The stud wide receiver could realistically see 150 targets next season en route to fantasy football super stardom.
Since entering the league in 2019, Brown has been a master of efficiency on minimal volume. He has seen 109 and 93 targets in the last two seasons, respectively, yet has averaged a league-high 11.3 receiving yards per target. Now extrapolate that elite production rate with an alpha workload from Ryan Tannehill, who has been the most productive passer in the entire league since 2019 at 8.6 yards per attempt (first).
There is a legitimate argument that Brown should be ranked ahead of every wide receiver not named Davante Adams.
For the first time in his football career, Allen Robinson finally has a real quarterback. Chicago’s addition of Justin Fields gives Robinson a pinpoint accurate passer — Fields led college football with a 68% accurate pass rate on throws past the sticks last season.
Not only did the Bears provide Robinson with an immense quarterback upgrade, but they also waited until the sixth round in the draft to address the wide receiver position. Robinson has a league-high 303 targets over the last two seasons, and he will once again be a favorite to lead the NFL in targets in 2021.
Robinson has legitimate top-five wide receiver upside next season.
When the Falcons signed Mike Davis to a modest two-year, $5 million contract ($3 million guaranteed), it seemed like Davis would be a placeholder for whichever running back the Falcons chose early in the 2021 NFL Draft. Surprisingly, the Falcons did not select a running back with any of their nine draft picks. The only addition to the running back room over the weekend was UDFA Javian Hawkins out of Louisville.
Davis proved to be fully capable of handling a sizable workload in Carolina, and he is the prohibitive favorite to lead this Falcons backfield next season. The dynamic back has a 27% missed tackle rate per touch since 2019, tied with Nick Chubb for highest among all running backs.
Mike Davis weekly fantasy ranking when he had 15+ touches last season:
Week 3 – RB9
Week 4 – RB7
Week 5 – RB1
Week 6 – RB20
Week 11 – RB11
Week 12 – RB23
Week 14 – RB5
Week 15 – RB37
— Jarad Evans (@PFF_Jarad) March 23, 2021
The Falcons offense should be a much-improved unit, and Davis will push for high-end RB2 value next season at an undervalued draft cost.
The Dolphins did not draft a running back until the seventh round (Gerrid Doaks), which gives Myles Gaskin a massive leg up in the competition to be Miami’s starting running back next season. The Miami coaching staff seems to love Gaskin — he was the featured back any time he was healthy and active during the 2020 season. His 18.3 touches per game ranked ninth, and he finished sixth in expected fantasy points per game (17.6) and 12th in fantasy points per game (16.8). That is bona fide RB1 production.
The 2019 MVP is one of the biggest winners of this draft in both real and fantasy football. Baltimore beefed up its wide receiver corps with the addition of two exciting prospects in Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace.
Lamar Jackson’s fantasy value is first and foremost tied to his running. However, he also tossed a whopping 36 touchdowns during his record-breaking MVP season. Last year’s disappointing QB10 fantasy finish occurred because he only tallied 26 passing touchdowns. Had Jackson found those extra 10 touchdowns, then he would have finished smack in the top tier of quarterbacks.
The fact that the Ravens used their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on a wide receiver tells us that they are committed to improving Jackson’s passing. This team is going to lean on the run, but Jackson has already demonstrated overall QB1 upside in this exact offense.
Talented wide receivers elevate the game of their quarterbacks. It happened last year with Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Jackson now possesses a dynamic quintet of pass catchers in Bateman, Wallace, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews and Sammy Watkins.
Bateman is a physical receiver and a gifted route-runner who can win both outside and from the slot.
Back in 2019, Bateman led college football in yards per route run from an outside alignment. He shifted to the slot on 67% of snaps in 2020 and averaged a healthy 15.5 yards per catch. Bateman’s release package is exceptional, allowing him to blast off the line of scrimmage against anyone. There is a lot of Stefon Diggs in Rashod Bateman’s game.
Wallace is a big and physical contested catch artist who bullies defensive backs downfield at the catch point. He tallied 40 career catches of 20-plus yards at Oklahoma State, more than any other wide receiver in this entire draft class.
The Bengals attacked this draft with the mindset of elevating their young quarterback. Ja’Marr Chase joins Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to form one of the most explosive wide receiver corps in the entire league. Cincinnati also fortified the offensive line with their second-round pick, grabbing versatile tackle/guard Jackson Carman.
Burrow possesses Dak Prescott-type upside in a similar situation to what the Dallas Cowboys rolled out prior to his injury last season. Like the 2020 Cowboys, Cincinnati boasts one of the worst defenses in NFL. They were PFF’s 23rd-ranked defense last season and failed to make any meaningful upgrades this offseason. William Jackson III is gone. Trey Hendrickson simply replaces Carl Lawson. Expect the Bengals to be in a lot of shootouts next season, with Burrow slinging it to his weapons downfield and racking up plenty of fantasy points in the process.
Burrow is one of the premier late-round quarterback targets in fantasy football drafts next season.
The former undrafted free agent turned fantasy superstar is the single biggest loser of the entire 2021 NFL Draft. Jacksonville added Travis Etienne and Carlos Hyde this offseason, which transforms their running back room into a crowded fantasy nightmare.
Robinson was a true bell cow last season, seeing a whopping 73% of Jacksonville’s combined carries and targets at the running back position (second most, trailing only Derrick Henry). Those days are gone, and Robinson will be lucky to see even a 50% snap rate in 2021.
Early indications point to Robinson and Hyde sharing early down work, with Etienne handling third down and receiving duties. Just an absolute mess for fantasy football.
The Broncos landed their running back of the future after trading up to select Javonte Williams with the 35th pick in the draft. The North Carolina tackle-breaking machine was the No. 1 running back on PFF’s Big Board after smashing a PFF college record with a 48% missed tackle forced rate last season (first).
Melvin Gordon surprisingly posted the No. 14 overall fantasy finish among running backs last season. He will now be relegated to committee duties with Denver’s hotshot rookie. Gordon is nothing more than a low-upside mid-round pick in fantasy drafts that will have trouble even sniffing low-end RB2 value.
Kyle Shanahan simply loves stocking up on talented running backs. The 49ers traded up to select Trey Sermon in the third round and then added the speedy Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round. Sermon and Mitchell join Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty to form arguably the most crowded running back room in the entire NFL.
Mostert will have the highest draft cost in this backfield, followed closely by Sermon. However, trying to predict the roles for Kyle Shanahan’s running backs is a fool’s errand. Chase whichever players are cheaper to acquire, and fade whoever is more expensive.
Thomas ranked third among all tight ends with 105 targets last season. That is completely unrepeatable next season after the Football Team’s offseason additions of Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown. Thomas’ fantasy production was entirely dependent on volume last season — he averaged a paltry 6.4 yards per target. The 6-foot-6 tight end will enter the year a distant third on the target pecking order behind Samuel and Terry McLaurin, with the explosive Brown likely commanding a sizable role as well.
The problem with Thomas in fantasy lies in his mid-round ADP. As the No. 3 or 4 option in Washington’s offense, Thomas offers essentially zero ceiling compared to players like Jerry Jeudy and Laviska Shenault Jr., who are being drafted in this same mid-round range. T.J. Hockenson is also being drafted in the same range as Thomas and he is a much safer bet to see consistent target volume.