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2021 NFL Draft Winners & Losers (Fantasy Football)

by Matt Barbato | @realmattbarbato | Featured Writer
May 3, 2021

Evaluating the NFL Draft from a fantasy football perspective requires us to dig a little deeper in our analysis. There are often moves made on the surface that can make an offense better while worsening a player’s individual fantasy situation.

Check out all of our 2021 NFL Draft coverage >>

Fantasy Football Winners from the 2021 NFL Draft

Matt Ryan (QB – ATL)
Ryan wins for a couple of reasons. The first is that Atlanta didn’t draft his replacement with the No. 4 overall pick. This isn’t a surprise — Ryan’s contract made it impossible for him to be cut and inexcusable for him to be benched — but it’s certainly good news, especially for dynasty league owners.

So why is Ryan a double-winner? He now has an incredible trio of pass catchers to work with. Assuming the Falcons don’t trade Julio Jones, Ryan will have the Hall of Fame wideout, Calvin Ridley, and stud tight end prospect Kyle Pitts to throw to. Hayden Hurst and Russell Gage are also respectable ancillary pieces.

Atlanta’s passing offense could be legit in 2021 under new head coach Arthur Smith. I think Ryan has another top-10 fantasy season in him.

Najee Harris (RB -PIT)
Harris to Pittsburgh might’ve been the one pick every mock draft had right, and it’s a dream landing spot from a fantasy perspective. Harris has almost no resistance on the depth chart, as he’ll have to beat out Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, and everyone’s favorite, Kalen Ballage, for starting duties.

Harris may not be Pittsburgh’s Week 1 starter. But I expect him to be the lead guy not long after that. He’s clearly the best bet to lead all rookies in rushing, especially if Pittsburgh’s offensive line improves.

Joe Burrow (QB – CIN)
Burrow reunites with his old LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, and the two had a pretty decent connection in 2019: Chase caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns with Burrow slinging him the rock. Now, the explosive Chase joins a pretty good receiving group featuring Tee Higgins and mainstay Tyler Boyd.

Burrow should be in store for a big year if his offensive line can keep him upright. Burrow was among the league’s most sacked quarterbacks in 2020 before he suffered a torn ACL. The Bengals did give him some help during the draft by taking offensive tackle Jackson Carman in Round 2. But will it be enough?

Zach Wilson (QB – NYJ)
Look at the New York Jets — they seem to have realized that protecting and supplying your franchise quarterback with weapons is pivotal to success! The Jets learned from the failed Sam Darnold experience.

After taking Wilson second overall, they traded up to nab the best guard in the draft, Alijah Vera-Tucker. Then, they added dynamic receiver Elijah Moore and running back Michael Carter. If Wilson is the prospect many thought he was, the Jets could have something cooking on offense. Wilson probably won’t be more than a stash in redraft, but I’m taking notice in dynasty formats.

Allen Robinson (WR – CHI)
I’m happy for Allen Robinson. He might actually have a real quarterback to catch passes from this season. Okay, that’s harsh. Andy Dalton is, in fact, a real quarterback — he’s just terrible.

The trade for Justin Fields probably saved the jobs of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy. And it could make the franchise-tagged Robinson much happier and more willing to negotiate a long-term deal. Fields likely will start the season on the bench, but we know the Dalton experiment won’t last too long.

There’s a glimmer of hope that Fields can bring out the very best in A-Rob consistently.

Trey Lance (QB – SF)
I truly don’t know what to think of Trey Lance as a prospect. The sample size is just too small. But landing with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers can only be good for his long-term value. Many say Lance will need a year to learn, which will render him near-useless in redraft leagues. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people took Lance as the second quarterback in dynasty leagues.

Losers 

The Jaguars Backfield
Hey, Etienne is teaming up with his ole pal Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville. How can he be a loser? Well, Urban Meyer came out and said he envisioned Etienne as the third-down back.

Now, I know this is coach speak in April. But can you say “committee?”And unfortunately, this committee includes Carlos Hyde… excuse me while I vomit.

I really liked James Robinson as a low-end RB1 this year, but that’s completely out of the question now. And while Etienne is probably the best player of the three, it seems he’s going to get the least opportunity early on.

The Jaguars could have an exciting offense this year, but I want no part of this backfield.

Courtland Sutton (WR- DEN), Jerry Jeudy (WR – DEN), Noah Fant (TE – DEN), and Melvin Gordon (RB – DEN)
Let’s start with the pass catchers. The Broncos were on the clock with Justin Fields and Mac Jones on the board, and they took a cornerback. Classic Vic Fangio.

Why is this bad news for Sutton, Jeudy, and Fant? Just look at what newcomer Teddy Bridgewater did to D.J. Moore‘s fantasy stock. Neither Bridgewater nor Lock are exciting fantasy options. I still like Sutton a lot, but I like him a little less than I did before the draft started. This offense just screams conservative to me, with Fangio being a defensive-minded head coach.

For a little while, I thought Melvin Gordon might just be the guy in Denver. That changed right away in Round 2, as the Broncos traded up to snag running back Javonte Williams. Some regard Williams as the best back in this class, and I’m sure he’ll factor into the equation.

Depending on Williams’ involvement, Gordon might be a low-end RB2 at best every week.

Everyone on the Houston offense
The Texans are such a mess. They didn’t have a pick until Round 3, and they used their first pick on Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. It’s a smart long-term insurance pick, as nobody knows what’s happening with Deshaun Watson. But this pick suggests that Houston is preparing for the worst with their franchise signal-caller.

Houston has Tyrod Taylor and Mills as their backups in the event Watson is suspended. That isn’t good for guys like Brandin Cooks and David Johnson, who were already depth assets at best.

I’ll go ahead and say it. If Watson isn’t under center, the entire Houston offense is undraftable. If you disagree, have fun sorting out the timeshare between Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Mark Ingram.

Davante Adams (WR – GB)
My gut feeling is that the Packers will keep Aaron Rodgers and that he’ll return to play. But if Rodgers doesn’t come back, Adams’ fantasy value will take a significant hit. Unless Jordan Love is as amazing as Green Bay’s front office seems to think he is, then Adams won’t have a good shot at finishing as a top-10 wideout.

Come back soon, Aaron.

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Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.

Jared Lese is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jared, check out his archive and follow him @JaredL_FF.