NFL Draft fantasy football fallout: Which 2021 rookies to target

NFL analyst Michael Lombardi joins Follow The Money to discuss his biggest surprises from the first round of the NFL Draft, lead by Raiders taking Alex Leatherwood at 17.

The wonderful chaos that is the NFL Draft is behind us, and now we can really start to dig into the fantasy-football implications. Talent is one thing, but landing spot and opportunity are key when it comes to assessing fantasy value for prospects just entering the league.

Below is my analysis of the more high-profile rookies as well as a sleeper from each skill-position group. Let me know what you think on Twitter @AndyMc81.

Wide Receiver

Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals, 1st round (5th overall)

Cincinnati reunites Ja’Marr Chase with his LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. A six-foot, 201-pound wideout who can line up inside or outside, Chase is an excellent fit in the Bengals’ pass-heavy attack. He ran an impressive 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, but it's his toughness, durability, route running and sticky fingers that I like the most. Think a Jarvis Landry type.

My only issue is if Burrow will be able to remain upright enough to get the most out of his old college teammate. Cincy punted until later in the draft to select an offensive lineman, so we’ll wait and see how well their franchise QB returns from that surgically repaired knee.

Fantasy wise, Chase will compete for touches with Tyler Boyd and sophomore Tee Higgins. But he’s still the first rookie WR for me in dynasty drafts.

Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins, 1st round (6th overall)

Jaylen Waddle is the top slot receiver in the 2021 class, and for PPR purposes should be an excellent fit in South Beach. In another reunion of college teammates, Waddle will be the perfect quick dump-off option for Tua. The Alabama product can leave defenders in his dust and will reward fantasy owners with yards after the catch.

Kadarius Toney, Giants, 1st round (20th overall)

I liked Kadarius Toney’s gadget skill set in general, but the Giants are a poor landing spot for him. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett isn’t known for his creativity, and that is what’s needed to utilize the one-year starter who lined up everywhere at Florida.

The book is still out on how effective Daniel Jones can be, and free agent Kenny Golladay getting some big coin pushes Toney down the depth chart. Right now, I see him as a flier in deeper leagues.

Rashod Bateman, Ravens, 1st round (27th overall)

Another wideout I liked coming in, but I wish he was headed to a more aerial-based offence. We know the Ravens look to run first, whether that’s via Lamar Jackson or one of their running backs, so how much opportunity will Rashod Bateman have? Marquise Brown complained about not being targeted enough last season, and Mark Andrews and Sammy Watkins will also be looking for touches. I see Bateman as a better real-life player than one fantasy managers should pine after.

Sleeper: Terrace Marshall, Panthers, 2nd round (57th overall)

One of the few larger receivers in the draft, Marshall can grow into a second-half-of-the-season contributor, and really step up in 2022. Robby Anderson’s contract expires after this year, so Marshall’s 6’2”, 205-pound frame matches well as an eventual replacement.

At LSU, Marshall played outside and inside, scoring 23 touchdowns in 19 games as a starter. He needs to separate better off the snap in press coverage, but his speed and hands make him a smart late-round scoop in rookie drafts.

Running Back

Najee Harris, Steelers, 1st round (24th overall)

Finding a true RB1 is getting more difficult in today’s NFL, so it’s refreshing to see Najee Harris get a chance to become a bellcow. The Steelers’ rushing attack was a disaster in 2020, and with the oft-injured James Conner gone, Harris steps in. Le’Veon Bell–style patience to hit the hole, combined with power and pass-catching, makes him the no-doubt top running back in any rookie dynasty league.

Travis Etienne, Jaguars, 1st round (25th overall)

The football gods giveth and they taketh away. If Pittsburgh gave us a No. 1 rusher type in Harris, then Jacksonville us with the hated backfield-by-committee by taking Travis Etienne. Why spend a first-round pick on a running back when he’ll be competing for touches with James Robinson, who’s coming off a Pro Bowl, and a solid veteran like Carlos Hyde?

This diminishes the value of both Robinson and Etienne. It’s extremely frustrating that we must now treat both as RB2s for 2021.

Javonte Williams, Broncos, 2nd round (35th overall)

Selecting Javonte Williams in a dynasty draft is more of an investment for 2022 and beyond. Since Melvin Gordon is still the lead dog on the Broncos roster, the Tar Heel becomes a rotational piece to begin his career.

That doesn’t mean Williams won’t have some immediate value. His bulldozer power screams goalline touchdowns, and he catches the ball in stride smoothly on swing passes.

Trey Sermon, 49ers, 3rd round (88th overall)

Trey Sermon is a dark-horse prospect that I want shares of for this upcoming season. Best suited for an outside zone scheme, he lands in exactly that in San Francisco. The Buckeye isn’t the strongest power rusher, but does display terrific stop/cut execution and vision. That’s tailor made for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offence, plus Sermon is a sure-handed target for screen passes.

Though he’s currently third on the 49ers depth chart, I’m not counting on Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. to remain healthy. Both of their contracts also expire at the end of this 2021 campaign. Opportunity will knock for Sermon soon, and shrewd fantasy managers will be ready to slot him in.

Sleeper: Michael Carter, Jets, 4th round (107th overall)

Love this choice by the Jets. Tevin Coleman signed as a free agent, and has missed 10 games due to injury over the past two seasons. Michael Carter was an underrated part of that North Carolina backfield as the focus was often on Javonte Williams, and could be involved more heavily than expected.

Better for PPR because of his upside as a receiver, Carter doesn’t get enough credit as a ball carrier. The Tar Heels zone/gap scheme meshes well with what OC Mike Lafleur plans to do. Make this back-to-back 1,000-plus yard rusher a priority once you hit a fantasy draft’s middle rounds.


Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars, 1st round (1st overall)

Size, arm talent, and on paper the most can’t-miss quarterback since Andrew Luck — not much needs to be said about Trevor Lawrence. “Sunshine” is in the conversation to be the 12th QB off the board in redraft leagues in 2021, and is the safest signal-caller choice in any keeper format.

Zach Wilson, Jets, 1st round (2nd overall)

A new coaching staff in a QB-friendly offence will hopefully give Zach Wilson a better chance to succeed in New York than his predecessor Sam Darnold had.

On the rare occasion that Wilson faced higher-end competition at BYU, he didn’t fare well. However, the second-overall pick ran plenty of play action and a variety of personnel schemes in college, which is a staple of the Shanahan-style offence that the Jets will run. It could be a baptism by fire in The Big Apple for the slender-shouldered pivot.

Trey Lance, 49ers, 1st round (3rd overall)

There is no better landing spot for Trey Lance than San Francisco. Coach Kyle Shanahan is a true quarterback whisperer and someone who can work out the technical flaws in the soon-to-be 21-year old’s game.

Throwing only 318 passes in his entire college career, Lance flashes the sky-high upside of Josh Allen. The 6’3” North Dakota State sophomore played in a pro-style offence, often under centre, and utilized play action to throw on the move. He owns a ridiculous 30-to-1 TD/INT ratio and also ran in 18 scores.

Lance is the least ready to immediately contribute to your fantasy team QB out of the big five drafted in the opening round. However, if handled like Patrick Mahomes was in Kansas City, then he could become the best dynasty rookie QB pick from this class.

Justin Fields, Bears, 1st round (11th overall)

To me Justin Fields was the second best of this 2021 group of pivots, yet he kept getting pushed down until Chicago paid the piper to climb up to 11 and snag him. The current Bears regime is on the hot seat, which is why riding or dying with Andy Dalton and Nick Foles was not an option.

In Fields they get a performer used to the spotlight and high-pressure situations . Losing only twice as a starter (both times in the playoffs) at Ohio State, Fields showed undeniable leadership and toughness in battling through in-game injury. Let’s not forget the elite athleticism when it comes to making throws at all levels, and using his legs when needed for chunk gains.

One of the knocks on the high-school five-star recruit is his tendency to stare down receivers and be too methodical in his decision making. That said, tese are similar criticisms to ones Justin Herbert faced in his draft year, and I put Fields’ potential on a higher shelf.

In Chicago, he won’t need to be rushed in with two veterans in front of him. In dynasty/keeper situations, I would rank Fields as my second signal caller off the board.

Mac Jones, Patriots, 1st round (15th overall)

I believe Mac Jones will do more the fantasy relevance of the pieces around him than his own as a starting quarterback. The National Champion set the NCAA Div. 1 completion percentage record (77.4%), has the ability to throw receivers open, and processes information quickly. However, he doesn’t possess any elite “wow” physical traits, and the deep-ball power just isn’t there.

For fantasy purposes I see him as a nice second in two-QB leagues in the same vein as Andy Dalton or Derek Carr.

Sleeper: Ian Book, Saints, 4th round (133rd overall)

There is certainly a path for Ian Book to be a factor in fantasy football some day. Not anytime soon, but maybe once the Taysom Hill/Jameis Winston carousel gets wrapped up.

The winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history, Book’s mobility and execution of roll-out passing plays meshes very well with the style of offence that Sean Payton likes. The Fighting Irish team captain’s height (6’0”) and arm strength are not ideal. However, his quick release and rushing capabilities make Book an interesting longer-term dynasty stash while in New Orleans.

Tight End

Kyle Pitts, Falcons, 1st round (4th overall)

An absolute home run selection for Atlanta (and not just because I nailed it in my mock draft). Forget position designation, and just refer to Kyle Pitts as a “weapon.”

Things get real lean at tight end for fantasy owners after the top three or four, which makes Pitts finishing as the eight-best TE or better a strong possibility. In Atlanta’s high-volume air attack, there’s no reason why the speedy 6’5” rookie shouldn’t thrive. The 20-year-old lined up in a variety of formations at Florida, and should become a mismatch nightmare in the end zone for Matt Ryan.

Beyond Pitts, none of the other tight-end prospects stand out to me as anything more than a down-the-road flier.

Sleeper: Jacob Harris, Rams, 4th round (141st overall)

Harris is interesting because of his dual position categorization as a tight end and wide receiver. It suggests that he won’t be looked upon to do much inline blocking for Sean McVay in Los Angeles. I bet the 6’5” converted soccer player gets several looks from big-armed Matthew Stafford.

Desean Jackson was the Rams’ only notable addition at wideout, and is a shell of his former self at 34. His last 1,000-yard season came in 2016, and D-Jax hasn’t played in more than 12 games since 2017. I suspect Harris could see time as the third WR at some point. Something else to track is that the Rams traditionally favour two–tight end sets, and with Gerald Everett’s departure there may be some snaps available opposite Tyler Higbee.

Keep an eye on the fourth-round selection out of UCF.

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