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NFL Draft Winners 2021
Trey Lance, QB, 49ers
No quarterback gained more in the evaluation to draft process than now 49ers' QB Trey Lance. Lance was a one-year starter at an FCS school who hasn't put more than 20 throws to film since 2019. Still, his sophomore tape, incredible efficiency, and monstrous rushing ability earned him the last spot in the top three picks of the NFL Draft. Not only was Lance a solid quarterback prospect, but the draft capital bestowed upon him also affirms how talented we perceived him to before the pick was in. On top of a rock-solid evaluation (as far as one can be for a player who has never faced an FBS opponent), Lance joins a team that will maximize his talent. The 49ers have two dynamic young receivers on rookie contracts and one of the league's two best tight ends. Pro Football Focus ranked their offensive line as a top-10 unit at the end of the 2020 season. Lastly, Kyle Shanahan's offensive prowess will unlock another level of rushing ability within Lance, who rushed for 1,100 yards in 2019. Lance may not have the staying power of first overall pick Trevor Lawrence but he'll outscore Lawrence on a points per game basis as a rookie.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins
The Dolphins pushed their chips in on Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. Instead of staying put and contemplating a quarterback at No. 3, they quickly moved back, only to then move up and ultimately select Alabama wideout, Jaylen Waddle. Then, in the third round, they bolstered their already talented offensive line with Liam Eichenberg, a tackle from Notre Dame. They nabbed pass-catching tight end with Week 1 potential. This comes off the heels of adding Will Fuller in free agency. Fuller was arguably the most efficient receiver in the league last year. Deciphering the Miami pass-catchers will be a tall order this year but Tagoviala is a screaming buy in Superflex leagues.
Trey Sermon, RB, 49ers
Outside of the next player we'll be looking at, the rookie running backs got decimated during the draft. Travis Etienne earned first-round draft capital but landed on a Jacksonville team that got the best season from a UDFA back ever out of James Robinson last year. That's a wash at best from pre-draft to post-draft value. Javonte Williams went in the second round to a Denver team that just paid Melvin Gordon a substantial contract and has no direction at quarterback. When a team has no direction at quarterback, they'll quickly be going nowhere as an offense. Trey Sermon was the next back off the board and the only other runner to go on Day 2. He was also one of three backs to not fall to a team that already has a back with a massive contractor has spent significant draft capital on a runner in recent years. Sermon now slots into the backend of the second tier of running backs.
Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
Najee Harris solidified himself as the only back in the top tier of runners in this draft class and the presumptive rookie 1.01 in drafts. With James Conner walking in free agency, the Steelers lost the seventh-most carries and the seventh-highest percentage of their carries this offseason. The reaming backs on the roster showed few reasons, if any, to be trusted with anything more than distant backup duties last year. Both Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell averaged under 3.5 yards per carry. Even Conner ran at a respectable 4.3 clip. Harris also showed off impressive pass-catching chops at Alabama. That's a skill that the Steelers have been missing in their backfield ever since the departure of Le'Veon Bell. Harris projects similarly to David Montgomery as far as his baseline stats go. His offense and offensive line could struggle but he is a safe bet to hit 250 touches as a rookie. That makes him the top overall pick in non-Superflex rookie drafts because of the lack of premium players in this draft class.
A.J. Brown, WR, Titans
No player dodged bullets in the draft better than A.J. Brown. The Titans lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith in free agency. Combined with some smaller losses, Tennessee saw 224 targets, 15 of which came within the 10-yard line. Those numbers were third and first in the league. They brought in Josh Reynolds as their marquee signing at receiver in free agency. Then the Titans added Racey McMath in the sixth round of the draft after taking Dez Fitzpatrick in the fourth. These are not the types of players that are going to soak up vast quantities of targets. Brown is that player. The Titans' offense has been incredibly efficient when passing since Ryan Tannehill became the starter and Brown didn't falter in an increased role last year. Adding more targets that are highly efficient to his profile is going to send him to a top-three season a receiver this year.