Now that the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft has officially been put in the books, we have a near full layout of what NFL rosters are going to look like for the upcoming season. With that, we have a host of rookie content and freshly updated ranks for season-long and dynasty formats already up in our 2021 content hub.
During the draft, a number of veteran players had their 2021 fantasy dynamics impacted for better or worse. Throughout the week, we are going to highlight some of the biggest winners and losers from the draft from each position.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Now that free agency and the draft have passed, Nick Sirianni can say whatever he wants about competition and establishing culture in Philadelphia, but Jalen Hurts is set up to at least get the 2021 season to prove himself.
After trading away Carson Wentz, the Eagles traded out the No. 6 pick overall and still had an opportunity to draft both Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the first round. Not only did they pass on adding another rookie with draft capital in the first round, but the Eagles also did not draft a quarterback at all during the draft. They did sign Jamie Newman after the draft to join veteran Joe Flacco behind Hurts, but every move made this entire offseason has given Hurts more and more runway to be the Week 1 starter.
Not only did the Eagles bypass adding a top passer in the draft, they also gave Hurts another weapon by trading up for Heisman Trophy Winner DeVonta Smith. In 2020, the Eagles wide receiving unit combined to finish 30th in the league in receptions per game (10.4) and 29th in yardage per game (130.1). Greg Ward led the team in targets (79), receptions (53), and touchdowns (six) in 2020 while off-the-street pickup Travis Fulgham led the team with 539 yards.
Hurts scored 19.3, 37.8, 18.6, and 16.3 fantasy points in his four starts last season after the Philadelphia season was a lost cause, had little to no playmakers, and the league’s most injury-riddled offensive line. His 272 rushing yards in those starts were second in league history for a quarterback over his first career four starts behind Lamar Jackson.
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
After trading for Darnold three weeks prior to the draft, the Panthers still had yet to pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option. Holding the No. 8 pick overall, Carolina still had carte blanche to keep the door open in selecting a rookie passer. That came to pass as the team selected cornerback Jaycee Horn. Combined with the trade of Teddy Bridgewater days prior to the draft, Carolina did not select a quarterback at all, leaving Darnold locked in to have a shot at rejuvenating his career. Then the Panthers officially picked up the fifth-year option for 2022.
Not only passing on adding competition, but the Panthers also gave Darnold some added pieces to an already improved environment over what he worked with during his tenure in New York. Already having Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson to work with, the Panthers added Terrace Marshall in the second round, while using their two third-round picks on offensive tackle Brady Christensen and tight end Tommy Tremble.
Darnold still has plenty to prove on his own merit, but he also will not move out of QB2-territory in terms of fantasy cost. If you are into the upside factor, there is low investment to make.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals reunited Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall selection. While there will be discourse on whether or not the Bengals should have gone offensive tackle with that pick, the addition of Chase is still a win for Burrow’s fantasy stock (the team then drafted an interior offensive lineman in the second round with Jackson Carman out of Clemson).
No team has used three or more wide receivers over the past two seasons than the Bengals and they came into the draft with just Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd as reliable options at the position. Chase comes in to immediately occupy the role and target opportunity that was allocated to A.J. Green last season, who was a significant drain on this offensive and Burrow’s efficiency in 2020.
Burrow targeted Green on 19.2% of his passes last season, but the duo connected on just 45.3% of those passes for 4.7 yards per target and one touchdown. Targeting other Bengal options, Burrow completed 72.8% of his passes for 7.4 yards per target with 12 scores. On throws over 15 yards downfield, Burrow and Green connected on just 3-of-27 targets (11.1%) while Burrow was 21-of-47 targeting anyone else with those downfield targets (44.6%).
While the addition of Chase is an upgrade, we do still have to monitor Burrow the rest of this offseason. Burrow suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 10 and had reconstructive knee surgery in December. Burrow continues to trend positively towards starting the season, but Week 1 is still only roughly nine months from the injury, leaving little wiggle room for any setback.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Not only did Jackson have his fifth-year option picked up this weekend as he and the Ravens work on a larger extension, but Baltimore also went out and added some passing weapons for Jackson after failing to land multiple free agent wideouts they were linked to in free agency.
The Baltimore wide receiving unit struggled last year to say the least. No team used and got less out their wide receiving unit in 2020 than the Ravens. Baltimore wide receivers collectively tallied 8.6 receptions for 108.1 yards on 13.8 targets per game, all league lows for a wide receiver corps.
Part offensive philosophy and part lack of talent at the position, the Ravens only had one reliable option at the position in second-year wideout Marquise Brown. Brown accounted for 45.3% of the wide receiver targets, which was the second-highest wideout target share in the league behind Davante Adams at 51.2%. After Brown’s 100 targets, the next targeted wide receiver for the Ravens was Willie Snead with just 48 looks in the passing game.
The Ravens used their first pick in the draft on Rashod Bateman, who was one of the most precocious wide receivers in this draft. They then added Tylan Wallace in the fourth round, who was fourth in this 2021 wide receiver draft class in career receptions (205) while his 5.5 receptions per game rank fifth. Turning in 92.8 yards per game for his career, Wallace ranked third in that department.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tagovailoa had nearly no support last season as he struggled through his rookie season. Tua’s top receivers on the season were Mike Gesicki (29 receptions), Lynn Bowden (27), DeVante Parker (23), and Jakeem Grant (21). While we are still left with questioning how much Alabama’s supreme talent depth at receiver and offensive talent pool played a role in elevating Tagovailoa as a prospect, the Dolphins needed to continue to invest in playmakers to answer that question.
After adding Will Fuller in free agency, Miami went after another big-play asset at No. 6 overall when the Dolphins selected Tagovailoa’s former collegiate teammate Jaylen Waddle.
Over the opening four weeks to the 2020 season prior to injury, Waddle had more receiving yardage than the future Heisman Trophy Winner DeVonta Smith (557 to 483) while averaging 4.5 yards per team pass attempt, which would have been second in this class over the full season. Waddle turned in a gaudy 21.1 yards per receptions this past season while his 18.9 yards per reception for his collegiate career trail only Ja’Marr Chase among early-declare prospects in this draft class.
Miami also added a solid tight end prospect in Hunter Long in the third round. Long closed out his career at Boston College with a 57-685-5 line and led all collegiate tight ends with 88 targets in 2020. Long accounted for 23.6% of the Boston College receptions, 21.9% of their receiving yardage, and 2.17% of their touchdowns. Those team shares of reception and yardage marks for Long were tops among all tight ends in this class over the full season.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Herbert was already a popular fantasy option after he set a rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns, completing 66.6% of his passes with 10.9 yards per completion last season.
What was impressive is that he was able to do that behind the offensive line the Chargers put on the field last season. Herbert was pressured on 36.6% of his dropbacks (12th highest) and hit on 10.7% of his dropbacks (eighth highest). The Chargers finished 2020 31st in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (47%) and dead last in their Run Block Win Rate (67%) metrics. Per Pro Football Focus, they graded out 30th as a team in pass blocking and 32nd in run blocking grade.
The Chargers had just three offensive linemen (Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, and Sam Tevi) play more than 10 games last season as those three players were the only offensive lineman to play more than 50% of the team snaps. All three were subpar options at their position and are no longer with the team.
After already adding Corey Linsey and Matt Feiler via free agency, the Chargers landed offensive tackle Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 overall selection. Slater opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID, but when we last saw him on the field, Sports Info Solutions credited him with just one blown pressure and just one sack allowed in 2019 at Northwestern in 11 games.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons could have gone in any direction at the No. 4 overall pick. They could have drafted Ryan’s inevitable successor or add another quarterback in the draft to give an opportunity to in season, but Atlanta did not draft a single passer (they signed A.J. McCarron) and added arguably the best offensive skill player available in the draft in Kyle Pitts.
Among all tight end prospects since 2000, Pitts ranks first in touchdowns per game (1.5), second in receiving yards per game (96.3), and 15th in receptions per game (5.4) in their final college season. His 17.9 yards per catch is the highest among all of those prospects who caught 40 or more passes and his 27.9% touchdown rate on those grabs is second among the same group.
Ryan has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in 10 straight seasons and has completed over 400 passes in each of the past three seasons. He has led the league in completions in each of the past two seasons. Put in a more friendly offensive climate under Arthur Smith that will put more of an emphasis on play action in 2021, Ryan has a loaded set of playmakers in Julio Jones (should they retain him over the remainder of the offseason), Calvin Ridley, and Pitts paired with a still very suspect defense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team
Another team that could have traded up in the first round for a top prospect but instead stayed put was Washington. They also did not draft any quarterback at all, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team’s starter and Taylor Heinicke as the backup.
Fitzpatrick will turn 39 years old this November, coming off a career-high 68.5% completion rate and 7.8 yards per pass attempt, which was good for the third-highest mark of his career.
When he has been on the field, Fitzpatrick has turned in fantasy points, averaging 20.1 fantasy points per game over his past 18 starts. In Washington, this is arguably the best offensive line and defense that Fitzpatrick has been attached to in several years. Not only has Fitzpatrick shown he can be viable himself as a fantasy option, he has also shown over his career that he is a talent elevator for fantasy production due to his hyper-aggressive nature.
Sure, Fitz has had the luxury of throwing to Stevie Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Mike Evans, and DeSean Jackson and kept those players productive, but also has gotten a lot out of guys like David Nelson, Kendall Wright, Quincy Enunwa, and helped DeVante Parker break out. For Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas and company, Fitzpatrick breathes some extra excitement that did not exist with the quarterback play Washington has had in recent seasons.