2021 NFL Draft Winners & Losers (Fantasy Football)
Barring unexpected trades or signings, the NFL draft is the last obstacle for players with tenuous fantasy value to overcome. Ideally, we all want the teams with needs to draft players to fill those voids, and we want the teams without needs to leave our precious fantasy assets alone. It rarely works out that way, but several players we expected to get vaporized managed to avoid disaster.
To keep things simple, I define a winner as any player who either benefited from his team’s decisions during the draft or avoided an expected decrease in value based on a decision. A loser is a player that did not escape either of the two. Let’s take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the 2021 NFL Draft.
Rondale Moore (WR – ARI)
When the Cardinals drafted Rondale Moore in the second round, it was a perfect confluence of talent meeting landing spot. The Cardinals’ front office has proven incompetent, as they have refused to address important positions, particularly their offensive line. That’s a problem when it comes to winning football games. However, when it comes to scoring points, Kyler Murray is looking at a starting trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore.
This is pretty much a death sentence for Kirk, as he will have to play outside because Moore, at 5-foot-9 and 180 lbs, will function as the primary slot receiver. Moore complements Hopkins perfectly and has a real shot at fantasy relevance as a rookie. Murray’s lack of offensive line may play in Moore’s favor, as the quarterback may have to get rid of the ball quickly, and Moore would be the closest guy to him. There isn’t an extremely high ceiling in year one, but Moore will be worth a roster spot in redraft right out the gate.
Trey Sermon (RB – SF)
Outside of the consensus top three running backs, Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams, Trey Sermon got the most hype. This is probably as good as it was going to get for Sermon. While he walks into a crowded backfield, he doesn’t walk into a clear roadblock in the form of a feature back or high-end talent. The 49ers’ backfield consists of Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty, and Wayne Gallman. Mostert is 29 years old and appeared to lose his job to Wilson down the stretch last season. Wilson is Kyle Shanahan’s favorite, but he’s not particularly talented. Hasty got his chance, flashed a bit, but was relegated to an afterthought once Mostert and Wilson were healthy. Gallman is no lock to make the team.
Sermon will almost certainly open the season without a role, but he’s the type of guy you can monitor or stash in deeper leagues knowing that production is virtually guaranteed if he finds a path to playing time.
Mike Davis (RB – ATL)
The Falcons sent a message to Mike Davis through their draft — “you’re our guy.” Davis has elite-level job security, at least right now, with WR/RB hybrid Cordarrelle Patterson and lumbering plodder Qadree Ollison behind him. The Falcons didn’t draft a single running back. With the NFL correctly devaluing the position, the Falcons have taken it to the extreme by not even bothering to throw a dart. While I am definitely on team, “running backs don’t matter,” they probably should’ve taken someone on day three. But even if they did, Davis is the unquestioned primary back in what should be a high-scoring offense.
Myles Gaskin (RB – MIA)
Unlike the moronic Jaguars, the Dolphins lucked into Myles Gaskin and actually ran with it. When you find a gem, you don’t need to replace him. The Dolphins spent one draft on a running back — their very last pick on Gerrid Doaks. The Dolphins will bring back Salvon Ahmed and signed Malcolm Brown. That will be your rotation for the 2021 Dolphins. Gaskin posted a 67.5% opportunity share last season. That number should hover around 60-70% once again. Brown may make appearances in short-yardage situation and the goal line. Ahmed will be a two-to-four carry per game guy, at best.
Gaskin is another guy whose ADP will skyrocket as most of us expected the Dolphins to at least spend a third or fourth-round pick on a running back to challenge him. Now that we know he’s the guy, the price gets richer.
Chase Edmonds (RB – ARI)
The Cardinals let Kenyan Drake go this offseason and replaced him with James Conner, one of the least talented running backs in the NFL. They were expected to draft a running back, at least on day three, but they didn’t take a single one. This is all systems go for Chase Edmonds. He is set up to be the Cardinals’ primary and most productive back. Despite my opinion on Conner, he’s going to play, and he may be the goal-line back, which caps Edmonds’ upside, but Edmonds should see at least 50% of the work (Conner about 40% and Eno Benjamin 10%) and will work as the primary passing-down back.
A.J. Brown (WR – TEN)
It’s not like A.J. Brown really needs to be a winner. Regardless of what the Titans did during the NFL draft, Brown is locked in as their alpha WR1. However, it’s what they didn’t do that could propel Brown to even greater heights. The Titans let Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis walk this offseason and added only two day-three receivers. Currently, Josh Reynolds is their WR2. I like Reynolds, but even in a run-first offense, the stage is set for Brown to command upwards of 140 targets and post a top-five season.
Wherever you have Brown ranked is probably not high enough. There so many talented wide receivers, especially at the top, but there’s a legitimate argument for Brown to be the third receiver off the board after Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill.
Amari Rodgers (WR – GB)
It goes without saying that everyone on the Packers would be considered a loser if Aaron Rodgers left, but I do not buy for a second that is even a remote possibility. Assuming that to be the case, this is the best-case scenario for Amari Rodgers as a landing spot. In the past 10 NFL drafts, the only wide receiver the Packers drafted at a higher position than Amari Rodgers was Davante Adams in 2014.
The Packers have had one of the least talented receiving corps behind Adams for the past three years. Amari should immediately slot in third on the Packers’ depth chart, at worst, behind just Adams and Allen Lazard. He has a very real chance to be the second option in the passing game by the midpoint of the 2021 season. There are serious concerns about Amari’s talent, as he spent four years at college and didn’t break out until his senior season — along with his below-average athletic measurables — but the opportunity should be there. This is a classic battle between situation/opportunity and talent.
Rashod Bateman (WR – BAL)
I really like Rashod Bateman as a talent, and I think he can succeed in Baltimore. Unfortunately, we can’t deny that this is a poor landing spot from a fantasy perspective. The Ravens have invested a lot of draft capital in wide receivers with little to show for it. This selection is basically admitting that Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay busted. I like Duvernay and think he should start in the slot this season, but with the addition of Sammy Watkins on top of Bateman, that seems unlikely. Hollywood Brown will start in three-receiver sets alongside what should be Watkins and Bateman.
However, given how the Ravens utilized Duvernay last season, it’s entirely possible they waste Bateman. Even if Bateman does start, Lamar Jackson cannot support two fantasy-viable pass catchers. The Ravens attempted the fewest passes in the NFL in each of the last two seasons. That trend is likely to continue. That strategy works for the Ravens because of Jackson’s dynamic rushing ability, but it’s terrible for his receivers from a fantasy perspective because we want volume. Bateman may see a quality target share, but when the overall pie is 150 targets fewer than the league average, there’s just nothing to get excited about.
James Robinson (RB – JAX)
It really doesn’t get worse than this. The new thing for NFL owners seems to be reuniting quarterbacks with their college teammates. The Jaguars did just that in drafting Trevor Lawrence’s RB1, Travis Etienne, in the first round. The Jaguars fell backward into James Robinson last year, but that doesn’t matter in the NFL. Phillip Lindsay recorded consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and was immediately cast aside at the first opportunity for the former first-round pick, Melvin Gordon. Draft capital matters whether it is warranted or not. UDFAs are a bad investment in fantasy because even when they appear to hit, they can disappear at any moment. That is exactly what happened to JRob.
By no means will Etienne render Robinson irrelevant. However, the potential second-round redraft pick is now relegated to a flex play with upside if something happens to Etienne. Urban Meyer did not draft Etienne to only play on third downs and passing situations; teams don’t spend first-round picks on part-time players. Etienne and Robinson will form a committee to start, but the only way this ends is with Etienne taking over.
Melvin Gordon (RB – DEN)
The Broncos not only drafted Javonte Williams in the second round, but they traded up to get him. Williams won’t render Melvin Gordon irrelevant as a rookie, but there is no way to spin this as a positive. Williams is going to play. Gordon had a 64% snap share in 2020 — a number that is almost certain to decrease. This backfield will either be a true timeshare, or the scales will tip in Williams’ favor. There is no outcome where Gordon retains his 1a role unless Williams gets hurt.
The only silver lining is this pick could be viewed as made with 2022 in mind. Gordon is on the last year of his contract and will be 29 years old for the 2022 season. There is a 0% chance he remains with the Broncos beyond this year. This is a great landing spot for Williams for the long term, and in terms of “losers,” this one bothers me the least because Melvin Gordon isn’t all that good, to begin with.
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