The 2021 NFL Draft is finally here, and it kicks off at 8 p.m. ET tonight with the Jaguars making the No. 1 pick. And there's no real drama around who they'll take. I looked into my crystal ball and found out they'll be taking Trevor Lawrence. Lock in your bets! And you might want to put something down on Zach Wilson to the Jets. Just saying.
Of course, the whole night won't be that predictable. The draft never is, and coming off a season where many prospects opted out or had their schedules shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it figures to be even less predictable than ever. There will be surprise picks and shocking trades, like always, and there will be teams who fundamentally reshape their outlook with a single move.
Keeping up with all of that might be tough, but we've got you covered. The Fantasy Football Today crew will be live on our YouTube channel throughout the next three days -- Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET, Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET, and Sunday at noon ET -- with Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings plus several of our CBS Sports NFL experts reacting to everything as it goes down on the Fantasy Football Today Watch Party. It's the ideal second-screen experience for you Fantasy players and they'll be answering your questions throughout, so don't miss it.
We'll have episodes of the FFT podcast immediately following each day to catch you up on everything you need to know, too, focusing on the fallout from everything that happened. And, over on CBSSports.com, I'll be leading a live blog for the draft, where the FFT team will be posting immediate reactions to every Fantasy relevant pick, what their Fantasy outlook for both 2021 and beyond will be, and how it impacts their new teammates. Plus, I'll be back here in your inbox at the end of the day with winners and losers from Thursday and Friday, plus a recap of everything Saturday night.
I've spent the last few weeks cramming for the draft, and if you feel like playing catch-up before things kick off, you can find our breakdowns of the top quarterback prospects here, the running backs here, and the wide receivers here. These guys are the future of Fantasy football, so make sure you know who they are before they get their name called.
Now that you know everything you need to know about our coverage of the draft, here are six of the biggest questions I've got heading into the first round.
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Six big questions for the first round
How many quarterbacks go in the first 10 picks?
Barring something absolutely stunning going down, we know the first three picks will be quarterbacks. The Falcons could certainly grab their QB of the future at No. 4 overall, though that player would almost certainly sit out at least one season behind Matt Ryan. Or, the Falcons could trade the pick, which seems increasingly likely given the number of teams desperate to get a shot at one of the five quarterbacks at the top of the draft. At this point, four QBs in a row to start the draft almost feels like the most likely outcome.
But it won't be five: The Bengals pick fifth, and we know they aren't taking one. Neither are the Dolphins at No. 6, and the Panthers at No. 8 seem unlikely to after trading for Sam Darnold and picking up his fifth-year option. And Dallas won't be doing it at No. 10, either. And Denver probably won't be either after trading for Teddy Bridgewater to compete with former second-rounder Drew Lock. It sure seems like they're going to give Lock one more year to prove himself.
If there isn't a trade then it comes down to Detroit, picking seventh. Jared Goff has a massive contract that still has four years left, and the amount of dead cap money tied to him is significant for at least the next two seasons. But the Lions don't seem like they're in a hurry to win after trading Matthew Stafford, and so that cap space may not mean all that much two them over the next two seasons. They could certainly take a QB, though that player would likely also redshirt for at least a little while.
So, I'd set the over/under at 4.5 QBs taken inside of the first 10 picks, and I might lean toward the over. This year's class of QBs has drawn a lot of hype, and if someone like Justin Fields falls to the back half of the top 10, you've gotta figure some enterprising team is going to trade up and stop the fall. Which would probably be a best-case scenario for Fantasy.
In what order do those quarterbacks go off the board?
It's going to be Lawrence at the top, followed by Wilson -- again, barring something absolutely stunning. The first pick of the draft that really matters, then, is San Francisco's. And, from a Fantasy perspective, who they pick really matters.
They have already said they are looking for their starting QB -- which raises questions about where Jimmy Garoppolo will be playing in 2021 -- and have long been rumored to prefer Mac Jones. Reports have come out in recent days indicating that they are less sure about that than they once were, but Jones seems like the likeliest pick.
San Francisco is definitely the best landing spot for any rookie QB for 2021. They're ready to compete right now, with Kyle Shanahan's offense routinely putting players in good position to make plays and a plethora of playmakers surrounding whoever that QB is. George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel make up one of the best trios of pass catchers anyone has in the league, and all three are excellent playmakers after the catch. Any QB who lands here could be Fantasy relevant from the get-go, though Jones would probably be the least interesting of the Jones/Fields/Trey Lance group, given his lack of rushing ability.
After that 49ers pick, it's hard to get too excited about any of the teams who may pick a QB for a while. Denver would be exciting, but it's hard to see them making that move with Lock and Bridgewater in house. So, you have to go down to New England at No. 15 to find another possible landing spot, and they're not particularly exciting either. Even after an offseason of rebuilding the receiving corps, this looks like a bottom-third group.
Who makes a surprise move up for a QB?
This is how we would get excited. New England, Las Vegas, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh and New Orleans would all be candidates to move up for a QB of the future, seemingly. The Patriots, Raiders, and Bears wouldn't be particularly interesting, and the Saints seem like they're going to let the Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill battle play out. But Washington and Pittsburgh would be mighty interesting, at least from a longer-term perspective.
A rookie could certainly see the field for Washington this season -- Ryan Fitzpatrick is no stranger to playing placeholder to a rookie, after all. And the Football Team have some young talent on offense, with Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Antonio Gibson, and Logan Thomas around. That's an offense that is ready to explode.
The Steelers probably wouldn't bench Ben Roethlisberger mid-season, but if they did move up for a QB -- Fields, please -- that would be very exciting for 2022 and beyond, given their trio of talented young wide receivers. That rookie -- again, Fields, please -- wouldn't have much re-draft value, but he'd be a tremendous Dynasty value, and could play league winner if something were to happen to the 39-year-old Big Ben.
Where does Kyle Pitts land?
Pitts is a once-in-a-generation kind of talent at the tight end position. He had 770 catches and 12 touchdowns in just eight games last season and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds. He's a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and many view him as a rare rookie who could make an impact in Fantasy from Day 1.
Of course, that'll depend where he ends up getting drafted. Atlanta wouldn't be a bad spot at No. 4, but it wouldn't necessarily be an amazing spot either -- we know Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are going to soak up targets, and with Arthur Smith in as head coach, we could see a less pass-heavy version of that offense. However, he would also face little defensive attention while playing with a proven QB, so Pitts might end up a top-six tight end in the rankings if he ended up there.
The same is likely true if Pitts ended up in Cincinnati or Carolina, who have pretty clear spots for him in their offense. It's less true for a team like Miami, heavily rumored to be into Pitts. The Dolphins are an up-and-coming offense who could take a big leap forward, but Pitts would be competing with DeVante Parker, Will Fuller and Mike Gesicki for targets. He might just be the best player of that group anyway, but with Gesicki playing almost exclusively in the slot, Pitts would have to play in-line or the Dolphins would have to go very unorthodox and use both as slot options. It could create matchup problems for defenses, but it could also lead to Pitts not getting quite as many targets as we'd hope.
Pitts would probably still be worth drafting as a top-10 tight end no matter where he lands, but given the history of rookie tight ends, he may end up disappointing if he doesn't end up with the right team. Especially since the hype could very well push him into the top five at the position come August and September.
Where do the elite receivers land?
This rookie class at receiver is an interesting one. There are few questions about the talent of the collective group, but there are a lot of undersized guys near the top of draft boards at the position. At 6-foot, 170 pounds, 2020 Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith is the poster boy for that, but his teammate Jaylen Waddle is only 180 pounds himself and only three of the top 10 in CBSSports.com's rankings for the position are over 200 pounds. At 201 pounds, Ja'Marr Chase is practically Goliathan in this class.
And yet, those rankings feature seven receivers in the top 32 players overall, with another in the top 40 and 13 in the top 90. There is absolutely no shortage of playmakers available, and there are plenty of teams looking for wide receiver help. As I see it, these are the best landing spots for the rookie wide receivers, in order of where they pick:
- Dolphins (No. 6/18)
- Lions (7)
- Giants (11)
- Eagles (12)
- Patriots (15)
- Bears (20)
- Titans (22)
- Ravens (27/31)
- Saints (28)
- Packers (29)
The Titans, Saints and Packers would probably be the best landing spots given their needs and QB situations, though Miami, Philadelphia and Chicago could all be pretty good spots for a rookie receiver to end up. Philadelphia and Chicago both have huge needs at receiver, while Miami has been linked so consistently to the top receiver that it's clear they would have a plan for whoever they might take.
Do any running backs go in the first round?
The best candidates are Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, but it doesn't seem particularly likely to happen. It would be truly shocking if either went inside the top 15 picks, and by the time you get to the second half of the draft order there aren't that many teams with a need at running back. The Jets (23) and Steelers (24) could certainly use more playmaking from that spot, and Miami (18), Jacksonville (25), and Buffalo (30) could choose to bring in a feature back if they don't view their incumbents as those kind of players.
This highlights how well-stocked the running back position is right now. It feels like there are more reliable Fantasy running backs than I can ever remember going into the 2021 season, and the fear at this point is that the most talented backs in this class might end up landing in spots where they won't be featured backs and they'll cut into someone else's playing time. Like, say, Cincinnati or Philadelphia early in the second round.
If it were up to me, Harris and Etienne would go to the Jets and Steelers and be the main guys there, but if they don't end up getting drafted in the first round, that does open up the potential for one of them to end up with the Jets, Falcons, or 49ers early in the second, and any of those would be excellent landing spots. Which means, you should probably be hoping we don't hear a running back's name tonight.