The first round of the NFL Draft is in the books and there was a lot for Fantasy players to sort through in this one. Especially early because each of the first picks were skill players. Those six players were generally expected to go off the board in some order to kick things off, and they were joined by seven other skill players in the first round, plus five offensive linemen, as offenses around the league got help.
While we know offense isn't all that matters, we here at Fantasy Football Today have to applaud NFL GMs for finally, after all this time, putting Fantasy players first. We see you, and we appreciate you.
Each morning after the draft, I'll be right here in your inbox, recapping everything you need to know about from the previous night, including our breakdowns and reactions to each pick plus winners and losers from around the NFL. But sometimes, there aren't obvious winners and losers.
Like, when the Bears took Justin Fields, my initial reaction was that this was great news for the offense and Allen Robinson in particular. And, while I still think it should be a positive, I'm less sure now than I was at first. I think Fields is the second-best QB prospect in this class, and the Bears paid a ton to move up from 20 to 11 to take him, so you know they like him, too. Given their struggles at the position in the Ryan Pace/Matt Nagy era, they should like him.
And he should be better than Andy Dalton, who was amazingly dubbed the starter shortly after the Bears signed him, more than a month before the draft. I'm sure it wouldn't be a big deal if they walked that back, but I would be a little surprised if Dalton wasn't the starter in Week 1, so at least to begin with, the status quo should reign. Fields should take that job at some point, and hopefully he gives the Bears the upgrade they've been so desperate for -- and I think he'll be a borderline top-10 QB as soon as he steps on the field.
- Who is our favorite Bengals WR now? Who is our favorite rookie WR? When would we draft Travis Etienne and Najee Harris? We review Round 1 of the NFl Draft on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
But I'm not sure it would actually be an improvement for the rest of the offense, at least for Fantasy purposes. David Montgomery would have more running lanes opened up by the threat of Fields legs, but that same threat will limit Tarik Cohen's flex appeal -- rushing QBs tend to throw to their RBs less. And it may limit Robinson's opportunities, too. Robinson has been a target hog in his time in Chicago, but with a rushing QB at the helm, you have to expect fewer pass attempts overall. And, while I do suspect Fields will be an improvement over what they've had in the past, it's no guarantee -- even very good quarterbacks often struggle as rookies.
I didn't make any significant changes to Robinson's projections, but he still fell from WR12 to WR17 with Fields in place of Dalton. That's not a far fall, but it's enough to drop him from the third round to the fourth, probably.
I could be entirely wrong about that, obviously, but the more I sat with it, the less sure I was that the Bears offense were the big winners I thought they were. That'll happen -- I'm not sure if Mac Jones makes the Patriots offense more or less attractive for Fantasy, and ditto for Trey Lance with the 49ers. Time will tell.
But that doesn't mean we can't make our opinions known now. We were reacting to every pick in our live blog, and Fantasy editor and prospect-hound Dan Schneier and I also expanded on each pick for every skill player selected in the first round in our prospect profile series. You can find each below:
- QB: | | | |
- RB: |
- WR: | | | |
We'll be back at it tonight at 7 with the start of the second round, so make sure you bookmark that live blog link and our Fantasy Football Today Watch Party at Youtube.com/FantasyFootballToday, with Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard and Heath Cummings being joined by a slew of NFL experts and ex-players for the ultimate second screen draft experience. We'll be breaking down everything as it happens in both places, so whether you're watching or reading along, we've got you covered.
And now, here are the biggest winners and losers from the first round of the NFL Draft:
This was a surprisingly chalk-y first round. The 49ers were the biggest question mark coming in, but even they went with the betting favorite in the end. The first truly surprising pick of the draft may have been Fields to the Bears, but it's not like we didn't expect someone to trade up for a QB. I suppose it was somewhat surprising that the Patriots weren't the team to trade up, but even they ended up with the obvious pick in Mac Jones. Teams with obvious needs mostly filled them, and that's what we always want to see. This draft could have been one of the most unpredictable in memory, given how little information teams have about prospects compared to most seasons, but things went about as expected in Round 1.
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There are four second-year QBs set to open the 2021 season as starters, and all four of them come out of the first round in better shape than they were entering it. Let's go through each one:
- Joe Burrow -- The Bengals could have gone in a bunch of different directions with the No. 5 overall pick, and while I might have preferred to see them take Penei Sewell to beef up the offensive line, it's hard to complain about adding the best wide receiver in the class. Ja'Marr Chase could step on the field as Burrow's No. 1 target, and you know Burrow has to be happy to see a familiar face from his record-setting season at LSU. As long as the Bengals can keep him upright, there's a lot to like about Burrow's situation in Cincinnati.
- Tua Tagovailoa -- The Dolphins followed up the Chase pick with Jaylen Waddle, and all of a sudden the second-year QB has an incredibly intriguing group of receivers to work with. DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, last year's leading receivers, are back, and they might be the third and fourth-best options on the team now. Will Fuller is an incredible playmaker as long as he is on the field, and Waddle is an incredibly dangerous player with the potential to stretch the field or make players in the short area. Tagovailoa struggled to connect on deep balls last season, and you could chalk it up to a lack of playmakers. If he struggles again in 2021, he won't have that excuse anymore.
- Justin Herbert -- Herbert didn't get a new toy to play with, but his foundation got stronger with the addition of tackle Rashawn Slater. That's in addition to Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler, who were added in free agency. Herbert was incredible as a rookie -- arguably the greatest rookie season for a QB in NFL history -- and while he lost Hunter Henry, the net effect of this offseason has been an obvious positive for Herbert. Even if Fantasy players might not notice it immediately.
- Jalen Hurts -- Wide receiver was an obvious need for the Eagles, and now they've invested consecutive first-rounders at the position after they traded back up to take DeVonta Smith at No. 10 overall. Jalen Reagor has to prove his rookie season struggles won't define him, but Smith could be the No. 1 receiver they've been looking for. This is a better receiving corps than it was before the draft, and with Hurts' rushing ability, he just has to be good enough as a passer to be a potential elite Fantasy QB. He should be.
The Steelers have been looking for a reliable three-down back since their relationship with Le'Veon Bell fell apart, and Harris could be it. Historically, the Steelers have wanted to ride their lead back heavily, and while there's no guarantee Harris will get plugged into the Bell role … he probably will. He has legitimate three-down skills, and the collection of Benny Snell, Anthony MacFarland, and Jaylen Samuels proved last season they aren't going to be an impediment to anyone. This is pretty much a perfect fit of player and situation, and Harris should enter the season as a mid-range RB2, worth a second- or third-round pick. And he has plenty of upside even beyond that.
It will be interesting to see what the Falcons end up looking like with Arthur Smith as the head coach, but after they selected Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick, it's hard to see them turning into some run-heavy offense. I wasn't expecting that to happen anyway, but with a trio like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Pitts, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to try to force the ball into Mike Davis' hands instead. They may not be the pass-happiest team in the league in 2021 as we've seen the past couple of seasons, but Ryan now has a nearly unparalleled collection of pass-catching talent. He struggled when Jones was hurt in 2020, but Pitts should help pick up any slack if that happens this time around. With the addition of Pitts, I have moved Ryan up to QB12, which is pretty impressive for a QB who doesn't run.
James Robinson .. and maybe Travis Etienne?
The concern for Robinson all along this offseason has been that the new Jaguars brass would bring in their own guy at running back and he would lose playing time, and that's exactly what happened when they took Travis Etienne late in the first round. It absolutely torpedoes Robinson's value, and I'm not sure you can draft him as anything more than a fringe flex starter. But, it might not have been particularly good news for Etienne, either. I could see him being an absolute superstar in this offense -- he came out as RB11 in my first run of projections before I sobered up a bit -- but he may not get that opportunity. Urban Meyer told reporters after the first round he views Etienne as more of a third-down back and matchup play, with Robinson and Carlos Hyde handling first and second. Obviously, this could just be coach speak, and even if that's the split in Week 1, it will only last as long as everyone stays healthy and produces. Remember, Cam Akers and Jonathan Taylor were in committees to start last season, too. Still, while I would love to draft Etienne as a No. 2 back, you probably have to view him as more like a No. 3 with huge upside.
I guess if the Bengals taking Chase wasn't particularly surprising, then we should have expected Higgins to lose value here. But it wasn't fated -- they were linked to both Pitts and Sewell at various points. Higgins may still be the No. 1 target for the Bengals even with Chase, but the fact is, he wasn't as good a prospect as Chase, and Chase has that LSU connection with Burrow. This offense could certainly support multiple starting Fantasy options if Burrow takes his expected step forward, but I have Higgins (WR38) closer to Tyler Boyd (WR40) than Chase (WR27) in my initial ranks -- and Boyd even has a more clearly defined role.
As with the Bengals taking Chase, there was little surprise here, but it's still not an ideal landing spot for Waddle, at least as a rookie. Between Fuller, Parker, Gesicki and Waddle, the Dolphins actually have quite a bit of playmaking in the offense, and Waddle may struggle to garner significant targets among the veterans. He should be an incredible player, and I'll still draft him in re-draft and especially Dynasty if the price is right, but you might need to remember to be patient.
Cam got the vote of confidence from Bill Belichick after the first round, but this isn't good news for Newton. You might have already written him off after last year's showing, but with his rushing ability and the improved receiving corps in New England, there was still a chance he could emerge as a viable starting Fantasy QB. Now? Well, there's certainly still that chance, but the margin for error is even slimmer with a highly-regarded rookie waiting in the wings. And, honestly, there's a non-zero chance the Patriots decide to go with Jones by the start of the season and Newton isn't even on the roster by Week 1. I'm not rooting for that -- Newton's rushing ability makes him a much more interesting Fantasy player than Jones -- but it seems possible.
Kadarius Toney/Rashod Bateman
Talent matters, and Toney and Bateman both have it to spare. But landing spot matters just as much for Fantasy, and you couldn't have asked for much worse ones than the Giants for Toney and the Ravens for Bateman. The Ravens are a low-volume passing offense that uses a tight end as the top target and has Sammy Watkins and Marquise Brown as competition for the remaining targets -- and it's not obvious Bateman is a better option than either as a rookie. As for Toney, while the Giants figure to throw it plenty, he might be in line for targets behind Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley. Obviously, outside of Barkley and Golladay that isn't particularly stiff competition, but he'll have a lot of work. In both cases, these picks feel more like opportunities to help Lamar Jackson and Daniel Jones take the next step than anything that will make an impact for Fantasy. Expect multiple second-round wide receivers to rank ahead of both Bateman and Toney.