This article is part of our NFL Draft series.
Day One of the draft is in the books and there's a lot to digest. Not only were five quarterbacks selected, but we also had a special tight end prospect added to the player pool along with a pair of stud running backs and five wide receivers. There's a lot to get to, so let's not waste any more time and break down the fallout for each fantasy-relevant prospect taken in the first round through a redraft and dynasty lens.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
We knew this was going to be the pick for months. But now that it's official, let's break it down. I'll start at the end and work my way back like a Tarantino film.
Trevor Lawrence is a fantasy QB1 as a rookie.
First of all, Lawrence is an unbelievable talent in his own right. As my colleague, Mario Puig puts it, you can't come up with a comp for him in football terms. You have to go to the Lebron James or Fernando Tatis stratosphere. That's how big of a deal he is, and he's going to back it up right away.
His production at Clemson was stellar. Dominant all the way through. But the stats don't do him justice, either. The film shows a player who is operating at a different speed than everyone else on the field. The game just looks easy to him. The way he processes the game is next-level, and the tools are off the charts as well. It's not just the size or the arm, it's the accuracy and the touch he puts on every pass. The way that Patrick Mahomes makes throws that no one else can, Lawrence is the only guy that comes close.
He'll start Week 1 and has a supporting cast that's much better than you might think for a team that tanked its way to 1-15. The offensive line is passable and the trio of DJ Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault has the potential to be a strength of this team. Toss in guys like former/now current teammate Travis Etienne and James Robinson to take the pressure off via the run game and Lawrence is set up for success.
Lawrence is going as QB15 in NFC Drafts dating back to April 1, going behind the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Jalen Hurts, and Joe Burrow. Don't be that guy who takes Ryan Tannehill ahead of Trevor Lawrence.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Unlike Lawrence, it's a little tougher to convince yourself that Wilson is not walking into an abject trainwreck of a situation. And unlike Lawrence, Wilson lacks the skills to overcome said situation as a rookie.
To be clear, Wilson is definitely talented. His arm is arguably the best in this class and his ability to make plays off-script and throw from any platform will translate to the next level. He's also on the smaller side for an NFL quarterback. There just aren't a ton of NFL quarterbacks out there under 215 pounds. Of course, weight isn't the end-all-be-all for a quarterback. But it raises questions about Wilson's ability to stay healthy. He already has an injury history coming into the league and now sits behind a young offensive line that, while promising in some spots, needs time to jell. The receiving talent isn't particularly impressive either, though Corey Davis is solid and Denzel Mims could develop.
All told, Wilson is a fine late-second-round pick in rookie drafts for dynasty leagues but I will be surprised if he has redraft value in 2021.
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
This one is interesting. We were told for a full month that Mac Jones would be the pick here, that he was the perfect fit for the Kyle Shanahan system. And when it came down to it, Lance's talent and upside won out. But where does he fit in San Francisco's plans for 2021? Jimmy Garoppolo is still there (for now), which cuts into even the most optimistic games played projection for Lance.
In the long run, I like this pick a lot for the 49ers. They stopped short of taking a low-ceiling, safe quarterback in Jones and instead took a toolsy, high-upside player in Lance. He was flat-out dominant at North Dakota State. And while you kind of have to be dominant to get drafted in the first out of an FCS program, his numbers were different. A 28:0 TD:INT and 42 total touchdowns in 2019 is just silly. It underlines what Lance can be at the next level – a prolific, strong-armed passer who can make plays with his feet when things go sideways. He can also add a designed run threat at quarterback, something we have yet to really see under Shanahan since his days in Washington with Robert Griffin.
There are warts and unknowns to Lance's game, too. He really just has one year of starting experience at a lower level of competition and is a year removed from playing as NDSU didn't have a season this fall outside of a one-off against Central Arkansas. His ball placement was spotty at times and his mechanics could use some cleaning up. And he doesn't turn 21 until May 9. A learning curve is likely, even in this system.
Lance is absolutely a dynasty target but his Year 1 expectations should be tempered based on what we know right now. Jimmy G could be the guy to start the year and the supporting cast of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk may be good enough to keep him afloat and Lance on the bench. If (when?) Garoppolo struggles, Lance will be a priority waiver add.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
One of the most surprising developments of Round 1, Fields fell out of the Top 10 and it was the Chicago Bears who made the move and traded up to get their guy. With Andy Dalton there (albeit on a one-year deal), Chicago has a built-in excuse to not rush Fields into the starting role. But come on, is Andy Dalton really going to stand in the way of Fields winning the job out of camp if Fields is as-advertised? I doubt it. It's easy to draw the parallel between Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky in Trubisky's rookie year. Dalton will only stand in the way as long as Fields is showing that he's not ready yet. And when Fields is ready, this could get good in a hurry.
In my mind, Fields was the second-best quarterback prospect in this class behind Lawrence. He's a big, sturdy quarterback with great arm talent and athleticism to stress defenses in multiple ways. His track record at Ohio State is sterling. Fields was a winner and performed on the biggest stages, like his dismantling of Clemson in this year's playoff. It's easy to see how he can succeed in the NFL.
The landing spot being what it is, Fields not only has long-term value in dynasty, but he has some redraft juice. If you're in the late rounds, investing in 13-14 games of Fields could definitely pay off better than 16 games of Ryan Fitzpatrick or even Ben Roethlisberger. He's now firmly on the Best Ball radar and as reports out of camp flow in over the summer, we'll have a better grip of when Fields will be ready to be QB1 in Chicago.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
This one feels straightforward. Jones is likely set to sit behind Cam Newton as a rookie. This isn't a Fields-Dalton situation. Newton would have to truly fail (possible, but I'm not betting on it) for Jones to be pressed into action. So Jones is already off the radar in redraft.
Looking ahead, Jones has some promising traits. His 2020 season at Alabama showed that he can thrive in the right system, demonstrating an ability to make the right reads and deliver an accurate ball. Alabama of course had the best offensive line in college football along with the best running back (statistically) and a pair of receivers who went in the Top 10. He'll have a year to learn and get acclimated before taking over in 2022. Jones can be a successful quarterback at this level, but I doubt that he will be much more than, say, an Andy Dalton. In the right situation, it can work. We'll see what Josh McDaniels and Co. can make of Jones down the road.
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh stuck out as one of the obvious candidates to be in on the running back market early in this draft, so it's hardly surprising they went after Harris. I'll leave the Never Take A Running Back In The First Round takes to other analysts, even though it's fair to say that Pittsburgh probably should have considered a lineman as the first step towards fixing its run game. The reality is that Harris is now on the Steelers and is clearly the best running back on the team
James Conner is gone, Anthony McFarland is a situational back at best and Benny Snell is now obsolete with Harris in town. Harris has a three-down skillset with the blend of speed and power to get it done between the tackles or bouncing it off tackle, and his pass-catching is the best of this group by far. There's little doubt in my mind Harris runs away with the workhorse role, but the question is: how valuable is that specific role in this offense?
The Steelers got exposed down the stretch after a hot start last year, and the culprit was the offense. An aging Ben Roethlisberger looked nonviable, especially as a downfield passer. The offense ground to a halt as Roethlisberger played hot potato with the football, getting rid of the ball to low aDOT options instead of waiting for routes to develop. Do we really think that's going to get better with another year of wear and tear on his body?
Point being, this is an offense that's teetering on the brink of being one of the NFL's worst. And a running back alone can't save that.
I could see Harris as a compiler who plods his way into RB2 status by season's end, but the week-to-week upside is a tougher sell in an offense that is so reliant on short passes that defenses can clog the line of scrimmage with impunity.
Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Etienne's situation couldn't be more different than Harris'. While Harris has a monopoly on the carries from Day 1, Etienne will have to work his way into the starting role with James Robinson and Urban Meyer favorite Carlos Hyde on the roster. Both are frustrating situations, though there's a higher ceiling in Etienne's case.
I know I just mentioned the competition Etienne faces, but let's be real. Etienne is the best running back on this roster. Robinson is a great story as an undrafted player who posted great production on a team actively trying to lose last year. But with a new coaching staff in place, that might not carry much cachet. Not to mention, the Jaguars just spent a first-round pick on Etienne, reuniting him with his college quarterback that Jacksonville made the top selection in the draft.
What could work against Etienne is a frustratingly deep running back rotation where Meyer insists on still using Robinson and Hyde even though the rookie is providing much better returns on a per-play basis. The hope is that once it's established on the field that Etienne is the Jags' best option moving forward, the offense will naturally shift to giving him the bulk of the carries. Therein lies the tension when it comes to Etienne's value in redraft. Does Harris' surefire workload make him more valuable than Etienne? Does Etienne fall behind guys like Josh Jacobs or Chris Carson? Does a Day 2 running back land in a more favorable situation?
Even though it could be less than ideal out of the gate, there's little doubt that by 2022, Etienne will be one of the best running backs in the league. If that unclear path to volume causes Etienne to slide in redraft or dynasty, you should jump on the discount. It would take a truly elite talent to prevent Etienne from taking over the starting role in a given backfield, and while Robinson is very good, he's not a real long-term roadblock for the Clemson product.
We've seen cases like this before in the not-too-distant past. Just last summer there were pundits pumping the brakes on Jonathan Taylor because Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines were there in Indy. Talent wins out in the end. Here's hoping Urban Meyer doesn't become the latest thorn in the sides of fantasy players, because if he just lets this run its course, Etienne will be a stud in 2021 and beyond.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
The first non-quarterback off the board and highest draft pick for a tight end in NFL history, Pitts is rare. Maybe unprecedented is the right word. Pitts is a tight end by trade but we basically need to invent a new framing for him because even with Arthur Smith's track record in using tight ends, Pitts will be doing something different. Or at least, it would be a waste to use him like Smith used tight ends in Tennessee. Snaps where you keep Pitts in as a blocker are wasted snaps.
Pitts ran his routes both in-line and in the slot at Florida and dominated at both. Per PFF, his aDOT was 13.8 in 2020, ranking fourth in the nation and his 311 "Deep Yards" ranked first. He is a legitimate downfield weapon with too much speed for linebackers to keep up with and too much size for defensive backs to check him.
He has a legitimate case to be the No.1 pick in rookie drafts and in a league starved for tight end production outside of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle and Mark Andrews, Pitts could be a Top 5 tight end right away. The only question is how many targets will be available in an offense that already has Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Even if Jones doesn't get traded, Pitts is still a likely Top 10 tight end. Don't apply the "Rookie Tight Ends Don't Produce" tag to Pitts.
Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Chase is the best receiver in this class. His value as a rookie is a little more up for debate, though. Cincinnati has a famously bad offensive line with an injury-prone Jonah Williams at one tackle spot and 32-year-old Riley Reiff at the other. It's a line that led to Burrow getting sacked on 7.3 percent of his dropbacks before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11.
Burrow is reportedly on track to be ready for Week 1, but that's a tight timeline to come back from that injury, and there's no guarantee that he'll be back to 100 percent. We've seen quarterback performance suffer in the first season back from a knee injury before. And there's no guarantee that the Reiff addition is a fix at left tackle. The team context is a concern for Chase's rookie value.
On the bright side, this is a pass-happy offense and Chase will have the benefit of having other established receivers drawing coverage so defenses won't solely be able to focus on him without risking the likes of Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd burning them. Chase is a Top 3 target in rookie drafts and a high-end WR2 in redraft. But Jaylen Waddle will have a case to be the top rookie receiver in 2021 redraft leagues.
Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
Prospect evaluation is of course such a huge part of the fantasy equation. We have to know what these players are bringing to the table and how they can translate to the next level. It's what makes Ja'Marr Chase the top receiver in this class. His prospect profile is simply the best. Waddle's profile isn't far behind, though.
And landing spot matters, too.
Finding the right balance between prospect evaluation and landing spot is the key to having success in drafting these players in fantasy.
And in this case, Waddle has a better team context. He has a promising quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, with whom he is already familiar. Waddle has a clear path to snaps in a receiving corps that already poses threats to the defense on the outside with a possession specialist like DeVante Parker and a speedster like Will Fuller. The Alabama product did most of his damage out of the slot with the Crimson Tide, so it's a clean fit into his new role in the NFL.
The only concern with Waddle – health permitting – is the development of Tagovailoa. Despite some bumpy moments as a rookie, there's plenty of reason to believe he can blossom into a good-to-very good quarterback that supports multiple fantasy targets. Waddle already has the ability and a clear path to targets, and if Tagovailoa can be at least league-average, he'll have a very real case to be the best rookie receiver of this bunch. And in case it needs saying, Waddle is a Top 5 value in rookie drafts, too.
DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
Smith had the microscope on him more than any other receiver in this class. The weight questions and the lack of workout numbers raised legitimate concerns about where he fit in this class and how he would project to the next level at 166 pounds.
Smith is somewhat like Kyle Pitts in that there's a lack of precedent. We haven't seen receivers this thin have major success in the NFL. But the skinny receivers his skeptics comp him to, like Dede Westbrook or Paul Richardson, are ignoring Smith's similarly unprecedented production profile. The man won the Heisman as a receiver, something that hasn't been done since Desmond Howard in 1991. He was utterly dominant against the best competition in college football and at no point did his frame get in the way. Really going out on a limb here, but I could see Smith being a very good NFL receiver, but I have to acknowledge the possibility that he doesn't hold up. That makes me rank him behind some of the other receivers in this class for both dynasty and redraft.
As for his fit in Philly, there are a ton of unknowns. How will Jalen Hurts look as the full-time starter now that teams have tape on him? How will the new system fit what he can do as a passer? Will his rushing ability put a cap on the expected passing volume of the offense?
But we know a couple of things about Philadelphia, too. Dallas Goedert may be the defacto No.1 option in this offense. And Zach Ertz is still on the roster and can still be effective. Receiver is wide open, though. Jalen Reagor gets a pass from me for his rookie season but we can't say for certain that he's going to be the WR1 this season, especially if Smith comes on strong. And even if Smith draws a smaller target share than Reagor, his floor is still high. He's not losing reps to Greg Ward or Travis Fulgham. For one, he's too good. And Philadelphia just spent a Top 10 pick on him.
Smith profiles as a risky dynasty asset but the upside keeps him inside the Top 10 for rookie drafts and makes him a worthwhile target as a WR4 or Flex.
Kadarius Toney, New York Giants
This was a head-scratcher after the Giants gave Kenny Golladay a big contract this offseason, adding him to a group that already has Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Maybe this is an indictment of Slayton after his uninspired sophomore season. However, Slayton plays a role in this offense that Toney is unlikely to threaten. Toney appears ticketed for a slot role, which is where Shepard already resides. And Slayton played 687 of his 877 snaps out wide last year. So the Giants are 1.) planning on sliding Shepard out wide (not his best spot) and Toney into the slot, thereby reducing Slayton's role or 2.) planning on using Toney as a backup to Shepard. The first option sounds more realistic given Toney's draft capital and Slayton's recent performance, but this is a situation that might not have much clarity until we're well into the season. Maybe I'm being naive in thinking that Slayton has a lock on the one outside role. Totally possible. And if that's the case, Toney becomes very interesting. Toney taking the slot role would put him in a position for the Giants to maximize his ability as a shifty, make-you-miss-in-space playmaker. There's the added bonus of him running lower aDOT routes, which helps minimize the impact of Daniel Jones' shaky accuracy.
Getting anecdotal, this was the play that put Toney on my radar in 2019.
Toney isn't my favorite receiver in this class, but I can't deny how electric he is with the ball in his hands. If the Giants use him right, Toney is firmly on the redraft and Best Ball radar. And as crazy as it sounds given the quarterback situation, I think the stock is up for Toney after going to the Giants.
Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
It wasn't surprising to see the Ravens go receiver with one of their two first-rounders Thursday, and Batemen ended up as their choice over Mississippi's Elijah Moore. Does this make Bateman an obvious fade? Let's discuss
Yes, this is a run-first offense. Like really run-first. Baltimore ran it 55 percent of the time last year. Only two other teams – New England and Tennessee – ran it over 50 percent of the time, and only six teams ran it over 45 percent. So pass volume is already working against any receiver in this offense. Then there's the matter of Mark Andrews taking up a hefty share of the targets as a seam-stressor. And, for better or for worse, I'm still a Marquise Brown believer. So Bateman projects, at best, as the No.3 option in a low-volume offense, and that's not even accounting for Sammy Watkins' introduction to the offense.
Luckily, Bateman can play outside or in the slot and was productive in both spots during his time at Minnesota. He's a physical receiver for a player his size with an ability to break tackles and tack on yards after the catch. That skill set should carry over nicely. There are some concerns elsewhere, though. Drops were a problem and he did not test as strongly as expected, especially after measuring in smaller than expected.
Devin Duvernay is the sleeper in this pass-catcher group and has a year of experience on Bateman already. Bateman might not have the cleanest transition to the pros and will be playing in a low-volume offense, of which he may have a small target share. I'm not optimistic about Bateman's redraft value. I won't be so dogmatic as to say I won't have any Bateman shares – every player can have value at the right spot in a draft – but my skepticism of him as a prospect, compounded with this team context, has me concerned.