Fantastic Fantasy Freshmen: 2021 Post-Draft Rankings
2021 Post-Draft Rankings
The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and it is time to begin preparing for the upcoming fantasy football season. The past year has been challenging for the entire nation, and the Pandemic placed an additional challenge on the assessment of prospects in the industrial-scouting community, NFL organizations and fantasy footballers. I am here to help appraise all of the rookies in their new homes.
In order to evaluate the freshman’s potential and gage a grade, a player’s skill, organizational aptitude and offensive scheme all must be factored into the analysis. For the last eight months, I studied the college prospects, analyzed career numbers and logged Pro Days results. After the Draft, I assessed each player’s organization and the team’s depth chart. I also forecasted their alternative-reality production in 2021.
Finally, I rank the players in tiers—Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Cum Laude and Honors—to provide flexibility for readers based on a league’s scoring format, roster construction and starting lineup requirements. It is more appropriate to provide fantasy footballers with player tiers along with projected statistics for their personal rankings.
Please whet your appetite by examining the tiers and projections incorporating the aforementioned standards below. All projections are based on the upcoming 2021 crusade.
Twitterverse on Fire!
Who was the biggest riser among fantasy football running backs after free agency and the NFL Draft?
Zack Moss, Buffalo: 12%
Myles Gaskin, Miami: 47%
Mike Davis, Atlanta: 39%
Summa Cum Laude
RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
It seemed too good to be true: the vast majority of Mock Drafts forecasted the Steelers selection of Najee Harris. How often have fantasy owners been disappointed with the landing spot of a top-level running back? Not this year. The former Crimson Tide bulldozer dropped into the Steel City. It is an idyllic combination of scheme and skills for fantasy owners. “He was the top back on our draft board, and anytime you get an opportunity to get a top player on your board at a position of need, you're excited about it,” coach Mike Tomln proclaimed after the Draft on NFL Network (steelersdepot.com). At 6’2'' and 230-pounds, Harris is a patient, smooth, fluid and powerful three-down back. He is a stupendous pass catcher and route runner with natural hands. In fantasy football, the newest Steeler projects as a tremendous second running back on rosters and a second-round selection in drafts.
2021 Projections: 1,020 rushing yards, 48 receptions for 375 yards and 11 touchdowns
WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati needed to improve its O-line around franchise-quarterback Joe Burrow. Interesting decision by the Bengals to select WR Ja’Marr Chase over OT Penei Sewell with the fifth pick in the Draft. Both prospects ranked atop their respective position rankings. The former LSU product opted out of the 2020 season, but snatched over 100 passes from Burrow two seasons ago as the Tigers captured the National Championship. Allegedly, the former Heisman winner lobbied the organization to draft Chase, and the team obliged with his request. “...Ja'Marr was a true freshman. Joe had come in without a lot of playing time at Ohio State. That '18 season was a real growing process for them. You could see, especially as the year went on, they just progressed and got better and better as the year went on,..." Bengals assistant receivers coach Brad Kragthorpe stated (Bengals.com). Cincinnati jettisoned veteran A.J. Green in the offseason, and Chase steps into a nice opportunity for targets as a rookie. He easily finishes among the Top 36 receivers in fantasy football in 2021.
2021 Projections: 70 receptions for 910 yards and nine touchdowns
Twitterverse on Fire!
Who was the biggest riser among fantasy football quarterbacks after free agency and the NFL Draft?
Sam Darnold, Carolina: 36%
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami: 43%
Daniel Jones, New York: 19%
TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
New coach Arthur Smith acquired another playmaker for his veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Falcons’ aerial assault will soar higher in 2021. Kyle Pitts earned my highest grade among all tight end prospects over the past decade. There is no questioning the incredible athletic ability and future potential as a dominant fantasy player. The former Gators’ game breaker wins vertically, out runs bigger linebackers and out muscles smaller safeties. Defenses must defend against Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the outside, and Pitts presents massive challenges between the hash marks. “We’re very excited about our pick today. We coveted that player (Pitts) for a long time. His skill set, the talent is clear, what he’s going to bring on the field, and also he’s a tremendous young man. Every exposure, every opportunity to talk to him and spend time with him, all the research, he’s got high character,” Falcons GM Terry Fontenot proclaimed after the Draft (ajc.com). Fantasy footballers are also delighted that Pitts is perched in Atlanta. I’ll be conservative in my season-long projections; the fantastic freshman concludes the crusade among the top eight fantasy tight ends.
2021 Projections: 65 receptions for 780 yards and eight touchdowns
Magna Cum Laude
RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
An undrafted free agent last year, James Robinson became one of the best waiver wire pickups in fantasy football with 1,070 rushing yards, 49 receptions for 344 yards and 10 touchdowns. New coach Urban Meyer covets speed at every skill position, and Travis Etienne provides an explosive runner who can score from long distance at any moment. The former Clemson star scored 78 touchdowns, logged 102 receptions and averaged 7.2 yards per carry during his campus tenure. In Meyer’s offensive scheme, Etienne creates distinctive challenges on the edge, and in space, for defenders. At 5’10” and 215-pounds, the freshman combines ankle-twisting burst, acceleration and speed with fantastic footwork and very good contact balance to leave opponents in the rear-view mirror. “This is a multi-dimensional back...we all feel that the idea of offense is to create matchup nightmares. He’s as good outside as a receiver as he is as a running back,” Meyer stated after the selection of Etienne (Jaguars.com). Meyer stated that his new running back will open the season as the third-down ball carrier. Talent usually rises to the top, and Etienne earns the majority of the backfield touches by the end of the campaign in Jacksonville after the organization spent so much draft capital.
2021 Projections: 650 rushing yards, 60 receptions for 420 yards and eight touchdowns
RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
I am anxiously awaiting to watch ADP evolve between Etienne and Javonte Williams throughout the summer months in fantasy drafts. Currently, it is my favorite debate in Dynasty leagues: Who should be taken off the board first? Both open training camp second on the depth chart; yet, each runner has a path to fantasy production on their respective teams. Last year in Denver, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined for 153 carries for 672 yards and 19 catches for 109 yards. Even with veteran Melvin Gordon, there are plenty of touches available for the Broncos’ rookie ball carrier. At 5’10” and 220-pounds, Williams is a compact, one-cut runner with revered contact balance and quick feet. He also employs a breathtaking combination of vision, burst and agility. “He (Williams) was one of our favorite players in the draft. We feel he’s a three-down back. He’s got incredible instincts, incredible contact balance,” GM George Paton stated (DenverBroncos.com). In fantasy drafts, savvy diehards will bypass Gordon. Instead, they will scoop Williams up later while patiently waiting for the rookie to bust loose in the second half of the season.
2021 Projections: 800 rushing yards, 35 receptions for 200 yards and six touchdowns
WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
In the past two NFL Drafts, General Manager Howie Roseman desperately attempted to upgrade the receiver position: He drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (2019) and Jalen Reagor (2020), bypassing DK Metcalf (2019) and Justin Jefferson (2020)...Ugh! Once again, the Eagles GM acquired another receiver to ignite the aerial assault in an attempt to unlock QB Jalen Hurts as a passer and leader. "We saw a player that was a smooth mover. He can open up and run and he was a player that can win at all three levels from different alignments. I think his ability to high-point the ball, to play above the rim, to adjust to the football, to make contested catches, really stood out,” Andy Weidl, vice president of player personnel stated (PhiladelphiaEagles.com). At 6’0” and 166-pounds, the Heisman winner dominates opponents with precisie route running and elusive speed. He is a quick-twitch competitor with outstanding body control and first-rate concentration. As a rookie, Smith is in store for a large opportunity share of targets in Philly. Do not let Smith slide past the first round of Dynasty drafts.
2021 Projections: 65 receptions for 800 yards and six touchdowns
WR Elijah Moore, New York Jets
For the second time in four years, the Jets handpicked a quarterback among the top three picks in the Draft. Unfortunately, New York never provided Sam Darnold with difference makers along the offensive line or gamebreakers at receiver during his tenure and traded the former USC gunslinger to Carolina. GM Joe Douglas does not want to make the same mistake with QB Zach Wilson. He drafted OT Alijah Vera-Tucker with the 14th pick and added receiver Elijah Moore with the 34th selection. The former Rebels’ speedster governed the SEC last year and left campus after three seasons. "This is a first-round slot...he kind of reminds me of the Carolina (Panthers) Steve Smith. Just the stop-and-start ability is so explosive, and he's a great route runner," Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said of Moore (newyorkjets.com). Throughout the draft process, Moore rose up draft boards, checking more boxes each step along the way: early breakout age, elite production and Pro Day results. The Jets are not likely to retain Jamison Crowder after June 1, and Moore steps into the slot/inside role. Without a dependable pass-catcher at tight end on the roster, the freshman playmaker gets peppered with targets from Wilson in 2021.
2021 Projections: 68 receptions for 760 yards and five touchdowns
WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
If the Dolphins want to rank among the elite teams in the league, second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa must be surrounded by offensive playmakers in order to jump start the aerial assault. Miami sought a speedster who can change field position in the blink of an eye, and Jaylen Waddle assures that opponents must defend every yard of the field vertically. The Tagovailoa-Waddle duo dominated college football in 2018-19, and seek to replicate their team success at the next level. “This is two years in a row we lost a player who was probably the most popular player on the team in terms of being a good teammate and being liked...Tua (Tagovailoa) was that way last year, and Jaylen's that way this year...they're just such great competitors and they mean so much to their team and their teammates," Alabama coach Nick Saban recalled (miamidolphins.com). At 5’10" and 182-pounds, Waddle easily defeats man coverage with instant acceleration and burst. An Uber field flipper, the Crimson Tide speedster averaged 19.3 yards per punt and 23.8 yards per kick return. Waddle can assuredly assist fantasy owners seeking a home run hitter to boost their receiver corps.
2021 Projections: 55 receptions for 700 yards and five touchdowns
Twitterverse on Fire!
In Dynasty league rookie drafts, who are you most interested in acquiring among the wide receivers in the third or fourth rounds?
Jalen Camp, Jaguars: 7%
Josh Palmer, Chargers: 55%
Dez Fitzpatrick, Titans: 28%
RB Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
From Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Alfred Morris and Dalvin Cook, I have been a firm believer in the Shanahan-Kubiak one-cut, zone-blocking scheme. Over the past two seasons, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has plugged-and-played runners into his backfield with success. Yet, the scheme works best with an alpha dog ball carrier, and San Francisco drafted two more backs, who possess the skills to shine. "You look at our backs in the past and I think one common element is the (lack of) speed. And you may look at his (Sermon) 40-time and say he doesn't really fit...I think what speaks to us is that his [10-second split] time was very good. And you can see that burst. You see that ability to stick his foot in the ground, break tackles and hit it in a hurry," 49ers GM John Lynch stated (49ers.com). Before the Draft, I ranked Trey Sermon No 4 and Elijah Mitchell No. 13 among my RB prospects. I still prefer the former Ohio State bruiser in fantasy drafts. I know the 49ers’ backfield is crowded now, but the locker room will be thinned before the season kicks off. Sermon is my target in 2021.
2021 Projections: 850 rushing yards, 22 receptions for 140 yards and eight touchdowns
WR Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals
Before the Draft, I ranked Rondalle Moore No. 9 among wide receiver prospects. The Cardinals selected the former Purdue playmaker as the seventh receiver off the board. In my post-draft rankings, I had to move Moore up considering his home base for the next four years. With the departure of future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona needed a quick-twitch competitor to line up in the slot in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. “We’re going to use him in as many different ways as we can. Rondale is able to do a bunch of different things, whether it’s handing him the ball from the backfield, tossing it to him on a sweep, go outside and run a fade route, he does it all,” coach Kliff Kingsbury proclaimed (azcentral.com). At 5’7” and 180-pounds, Moore profiles as an electric playmaker in the Cardinals’ Air Raid-themed offense. Purdue manufactured touches for Moore within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and Kingsbury might replicate a similar plan for the team’s second-round pick. The rookie excels in motion, on jet sweeps and quick passes. I am very interested in how the relationship between QB Kyler Murray and Moore develops in the Valley of the Sun during training camp.
2021 Projections: 62 receptions for 620 yards and six touchdowns
RB Michael Carter, New York Jets
Michael Carter is the opposite of Sermon in regard to depth chart competition, and fantasy footballers immediately identified the Jets’ fourth-round selection as a post-draft riser. When training camp opens, the backfield is less daunting with veteran Tevin Coleman and sophomore Lamical Perine the first men up in the huddle. There is clearly an easier road to carries and catches in New York for the former Tar Heels’ gamebreaker than the one in San Francisco for Sermon. New offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur implements a wide-zone blocking scheme, and Carter’s skills ideally fit in New York. “My style? Explosive. Fun. I'm fun to watch. I like to try and score every time I carry the rock. I like to have fun when I play football. It's a game, a fun game. I'm just excited to go run in the NFL," Carter stated (newyorkjets.com). In eight years, it is the first time that my post-draft rankings include two Jets: Both Carter and Moore earned high marks. The Jets’ offense is demonstratively better that last year, and the dynamic ball carrier is a nice third running back on fantasy rosters.
2021 Projections: 600 rushing yards, 38 receptions for 240 yards and five touchdowns
QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
For the past 18 months, I have proclaimed Trevor Lawrence as the best QB prospect in a decade and a combination of Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson. Finally, we get to watch the former Clemson star on Sundays. At 6’6” and 220-pounds, Lawrence has superior athleticism, elite arm strength and a dazzling football IQ. A problem solver, he works well outside of play structure and keeps eyes scanning downfield while avoiding pass rushers. A dual-threat signal caller, Lawrence could ascend among the Top 12 fantasy quarterbacks with his rushing ability and inflated passing attempts by a negative game script, which foreshadows lots of second-half production.
2021 Projections:4,000 passing yards, 450 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns
Twitterverse on Fire!
In early Best Ball drafts, who are you targeting among wide receivers after the sixth round based on early ADP?
Corey Davis, Jets: 17%
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos: 46%
Laviska Shenault, Jr., Jaguars: 36%
13. WR Terrace Marshall, Jr., Carolina Panthers
Offensive coordinator Joe Brady coached Terrace Marshall at LSU, and the former Tiger projects as an underrated playmaker as a third-receiver in Carolina.
14. WR Kadarius Toney, New York Giants
While the Twitterverse community dislikes Kadarius Toney, astute fantasy footballers will not bypass a receiver with first-round draft capital despite a late-breakout age.
15. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
Despite being selected in the fourth round, Amon-Ra St. Brown lands in a nice spot in Detroit. The Lions’ receiver corps lacks an alpha male, and the former USC wideout might garner 100 targets in the slot.
16. QB Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
If Justin Fields wrestles the starting job away from veteran Andy Dalton, he might sneak into the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks with his rushing upside. The ceiling is high for the former Buckeyes’ field general.
17. QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets
There is no doubt that Zach Wilson starts at quarterback from the opening day of training camp. Put aside your pre-draft analysis and be open to the idea that Wilson will be productive in New York.
18. RB Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles sought a backup to Miles Sanders, and Kenneth Gainwell upgrades the depth chart significantly in Philadelphia.
19. WR Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
Did a player touch down in a worst spot for fantasy production at wide receiver? The Ravens win games on the ground, and Rashod Bateman’s ceiling is low in Baltimore until the offensive scheme changes.
20. WR Josh Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers
Tennessee has bottomed out in the SEC. Playing in a foul offense, Josh Palmer barely made an impact with only 99 career receptions in for seasons. Yet, the Chargers graded Palmer highly and drafted him in the third round. Any WR tethered to QB Justin Herbert must be considered in fantasy circles.
21. WR Amari Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Ultimately, Amari Rodgers fantasy value will depend on Aaron Rodgers. With Devante Adams on the outside demanding attention, the former Tigers’ slot receiver slides into a nice role in Green Bay.
22. WR Nico Collins, Houston Texans
A Nico Collins stan before the Draft, I still covet the big-bodied playmaker afterwards. The Texans roster looks baren at receiver but someone other than veteran Brandin Cooks must be targeted in Houston.
23. WR Dez Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans
One of the more interesting receivers during my pre-draft analysis: Dez Fitzpatrick propels upwards after being selected by the Titans early in the fourth round.
24. RB Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
During the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots’ running backs have frustrated fantasy owners. Only Damien Harris and Sony Michel, who might be released, stand in front of meaningful carries on the depth chart for the former Sooners’ battering ram.
25. QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
26. WR D’Wayne Eskridge, Seattle Seahawks
27. WR Tutu Atwell, Los Angeles Rams
28. WR Dyami Brown, Washington
29. RB Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
30. WR Tylan Wallace, Baltimore Ravens
31. TE Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
32. WR Jalen Camp, Jacksonville Jaguars
33. QB Mac Jones, New England Patriots
34. WR Anthony Schwartz, Cleveland Browns
35. RB Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears
36. RB Elijah Mitchel, San Francisco 49ers
Best of the Rest
37. RB Kylin Hill, Green Bay Packers
38. WR Cornell Powell, Kansas City Chiefs
39. WR Frank Darby, Atlanta Falcons
40. RB Larry Roundtree, San Diego Chargers
41. RB Gary Brightwell, New York Giants
42. TE Hunter Long, Miami Dolphins
43. WR Seth Williams, Denver Broncos
44. RB Gerrid Doaks, Miami Dolphins
45. RB Jermar Jefferson, Detroit Lions
46. WR Izmir Smith-Marietta, Minnesota Vikings
47. QB Davis Mills, Houston Texans
48. RB/WR Demetric Felton, Cleveland Browns
49. QB Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
50. WR Dazz Newsome, Chicago Bears