With the 2021 NFL Draft officially behind us, Fantasy Football fans can finally do their favorite thing: wildly speculate. You’ve probably already daydreamed about that first 30-point Fantasy performance out of Trevor Lawrence, or imagined the perfect time to draft Elijah Moore in your keeper league.
We love to imagine how this new crop of rookies is going to perfectly mesh with our favorite NFL teams.
However, this isn’t about how we believe these rookies may potentially perform. Instead, our winners (and losers) are the veterans now working with these nascent newbies.
Sometimes, a rookie acquisition can perfectly synergize with a team and unlock another level of potential previously thought unattainable. In other situations, a fresh face on a low contract is writing on the wall for some vets.
Will your sleeper finally have his breakout because of a newly-drafted acquisition? We are just a few months away from finding out!
For 202o Fantasy scoring numbers, I will be referencing FantasyPros database using a Half PPR scoring system.
2021 Fantasy Football NFL Draft Winners
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Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
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It was made very apparent last year that former MVP Lamar Jackson needed a bit of help. The Baltimore Ravens offense ranked 19th in total yards per game, but sat in the basement of the league with just 171.2 yards per game (per ESPN).
Despite finishing the 2020 season as QB10 in Fantasy Football, he did so while ranking 22nd in total passing yards. It was evident very early on that if the Ravens were going to contend in the AFC, they needed to add to their receiving room.
They didn’t just add to it. Buddy, they loaded it.
Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman was touted as one of the top receivers entering the 2021 NFL Draft. Some analysts even flirted with placing Bateman in the same tier as Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith.
The former Golden Gopher has the ability to walk into M&T Bank Stadium and take the top spot at wide receiver. However, Bateman was talked about ad nauseam by draft pundits in the months leading up to the draft. I would instead like to introduce you to Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace.
Why He’s a Winner
Tylan Wallace since 2018:
— PFF (@PFF) May 1, 2021
Wallace is an extremely exciting pickup for the Ravens. A physical receiver who seems to win contested catches with ease, it is a blessing from some higher power that he fell to the Ravens. His freefall into the fourth round worked out perfectly for Baltimore, allowing the team to pick up the mauling Georgia guard Ben Cleveland along with SMU cornerback Brandon Stephens in the third round.
While I have tried my best to pick winners and losers without repeating any teams, I almost felt like cheating just to declare Ravens receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown a winner with these picks. Why? Despite investing high draft capital in Brown with their 2019 first-round pick, Brown has yet to pan out into a WR1. The acquisitions of Bateman and Wallace are perfect to accentuate Brown’s game.
Let Hollywood and free-agent acquisition Sammy Watkins take the top off of defenses while Bateman, Wallace, and tight end Mark Andrews all work underneath. There is a wealth of opportunity in this new Ravens receiving core. Everybody comes out of this a better version of themselves. The days of Lamar Jackson averaging below 200 yards per game are all but behind us.
Click here to read our 2021 NFL Draft Profile on Tylan Wallace via Jon Witt.
Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
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I just want Allen Robinson to love football again. Is that too much to ask?
This past year has seemed like hell for Robinson. Throughout the season, the Bears wide receiver fought for a contract extension to no avail. Once Robinson had mentally prepared himself to leave in the offseason, Chicago elected to franchise tag him. That move killed all hope of Robinson getting his choice of team (and quarterback) to play with.
Allen Robinson has never played with a good quarterback. He spent college catching ducks from Christian Hackenberg. His rookie contract in Jacksonville was mired by subpar quarterback play from Blake Bortles. Robinson was then supposed to be the piece that would unlock Mitchell Trubisky after signing in Chicago. Instead, it was more of the same.
In 2020, Bears quarterbacks Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky posted a -0.041 and 0.103 EPA/play, ranking 30th and 21st respectively per Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.
Allen Robsinson’s football career felt like some weird Sisyphian punishment, being blessed with the physical traits and talents of an elite wide receiver, only to have below-average quarterbacks at the helm week in and week out.
Then, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace did what none of us thought was possible – he traded up and drafted a good quarterback.
Enter Justin Fields.
— Laurence Holmes (@LaurenceWHolmes) April 30, 2021
The Chicago Bears trade with the New York Giants up to #11 overall was the talk of Thursday night and rightfully persisted into the rest of the weekend. The Bears had the consensus highest-graded draft class of the 2021 NFL Draft and the selection of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is probably the biggest reason behind that universal praise.
Fields is a prospect with an unparalleled football IQ, incredible mobility, and a flashy arm.
Not only can Fields sling it, but he can sling it with accuracy. PFF noted via Twitter that since 2018, Justin Fields is the second-most accurate quarterback in college football on throws 10+ yards downfield. That kind of field-stretching accuracy is exactly what Allen Robinson needs to gash secondaries.
While Bears head coach Matt Nagy – a former offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs – believes that Dalton and Fields will follow the same blueprint as Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes, I anticipate Fields usurping Dalton at some point midseason. He is simply too good not to.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
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2020 saw the advent of the “Let Russ Cook” movement in Seattle, and 2021 will birth the “Let Dalvin Cook” era in Minnesota. I’ll be here all week, folks.
FantasyPros had Cook finish as the RB3 of the 2020 season with 1,918 total yards from scrimmage and 17 total touchdowns. The most baffling thing about that stat? Those numbers can only go up!
ESPN Analytics had the Minnesota Vikings ranked 21st in Run Block Win Rate, winning their assignments at a rate of 70%. Cook handled the rock masterfully when handed the ball, averaging five yards per carry on 312 carries and 8.2 yards per catch on 44 receptions. He did that behind a relatively mediocre offensive line.
The Minnesota Vikings elected to trade back in the first round with the New York Jets, moving #14 and #143 overall to receive #23, #66, and #86 in this year’s draft. The Jets drafted USC tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker with that 14th pick, and more power to them. Vera-Tucker is a guy you select to fill a tackle spot, and you won’t have to worry about that spot for the next decade. They got an extremely competent starting tackle.
The only problem? Vera-Tucker was not nearly as good as some of the tackles left on the board at #14 overall.
By trading back, the Vikings were not only able to acquire additional assets, but they managed to still land the guy they happily would have drafted had they not moved.
Back-to-back Hokies taken in the #NFLDraft
Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw is headed to the Vikings at No. 23 👏 pic.twitter.com/3FrlcTxYJ9
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 30, 2021
Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw is a hogmolly by all definitions of the word. Measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 313 lbs., Darrisaw is truly a force to be reckoned with in the trenches. Just watch the first clip of the tweet I’ve posted above. That man Darrisaw launched into another stratosphere is 6-foot-3 260 lb. former UNC EDGE rusher Tomon Fox.
While the former Hokie didn’t bench at his pro day due to injury, you do not move grown men like that if you’re throwing up anything under 22 reps.
Darrisaw is extremely versatile as a blocker, able to handle his own on an island in the pass game and agile enough to make plays at the second level in the run game. This man is going to open holes in the offensive line that Dalvin Cook could drive a car through.
Want to know the added bonus of that Jets trade-down? That #86 pick resulted in yet another brick wall for Dalvin Cook to make cuts behind in Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis. While Davis is not as gifted as Darrisaw, the former captain boasts two First-Team All-Big Ten honors.
Not only did he excel at his position; he did so in a conference notorious for producing prodigious prospects in the front seven.
The two players who finished ahead of Dalvin Cook in RB Fantasy production last season were New Orleans Saints Alvin Kamara and Tennessee Titans Derrick Henry. While Henry is a physical outlier at the running back position by all definitions, he is overdue for some regression. A back who touches the ball over 700 times in two seasons is statistically destined for a drop-off of some kind.
As for Kamara, there is a colossal amount of weight placed on his shoulders heading into the 2021 season. Drew Brees is gone, his replacements are nowhere near as good, and the group of receivers in-house is not what it used to be.
Kamara is going to be putting the team on his back in 2021 whether he likes it or not. I am a big fan of Kamara, but conventional logic will tell you he is not destined to repeat as the best back in Fantasy.
If he can remain healthy, Dalvin Cook will most likely be headed into the season competing to be the top back in Fantasy behind a revamped offensive line. Considering that his competition will be an overworked Henry, a soon-to-be overworked Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey returning from nagging injuries, my money is on Cook.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons
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News broke in the days leading up to the draft that the Atlanta Falcons have officially made wide receiver Julio Jones available to the highest bidder. The Falcons cap situation is a nightmare. Jones’ deal is not only one of the biggest cap hamstrings on the Falcons’ books, but he is also the most coveted of Atlanta’s potentially moveable pieces.
For the sake of this article, I cannot speculate whether or not Jones will actually be moved. Because of the way his contract is constructed, the Falcons won’t save any money unless they move him sometime in mid-June. Jones is also a fixture in Atlanta; it would be almost unethical to move such a beloved franchise player who is still very much in his prime.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend we live in a world where Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts are all in the same offensive system.
If you’re a defensive coordinator, how on God’s green Earth do you even begin to cover that trio?
The highest-drafted TE all-time 👏
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 30, 2021
To quote a song whose title I will not utter on this family-friendly website, Kyle Pitts is (athletically) a “certified freak seven days a week.”
A hefty portion of big boards had Pitts as the second-best player in the 2021 NFL Draft behind Trevor Lawrence, and they are quite justified in doing so. Pitts has the physicality to overpower anyone covering him, the speed to potentially beat defenders, and the catch radius to weigh most 50-50 balls in his favor.
Too big to be covered by a cornerback and too fast to be covered by a linebacker, the former Gator is a skeleton key that unlocks the solution to beat most defensive schemes a defensive coordinator could draw up. Then you factor in Julio Jones, who I would argue is still the best receiver in the NFL. Defenses are forced to put their top cornerback on Jones purely off of pedigree alone.
Click here to read our 2021 NFL Draft Profile on Kyle Pitts, via Jon Witt.
This leaves Calvin Ridley, last year’s WR4 in Fantasy Football. He has inexplicably become the third-best pass catcher in this Atlanta offense.
Ridley benefitted immensely from Jones’ injuries, which limited him to just nine games in 2020. Julio’s absence allowed Ridley to generate more targets, but this also meant Ridley was drawing top-tier defenders as a result. If Julio is back in the fold, and Pitts just meets the floor of his NFL projection, then Ridley will have the chance to feast on lesser opponents.
It really becomes a matter of defenses picking their poison. Respect Pitts and cover him with a cornerback, then Ridley feasts on at-best the team’s third-strongest coverage option.
Roll a nickel down to cover Pitts, then Jones and Ridley can take turns decimating a single-high safety.
Even if teams cover Pitts with a linebacker, then Ridley is still drawing the second corner.
His reps against top talent last year should provide more than enough preparation to carve up defenses.
Arthur Smith should be licking his chops scheming up the new Falcons offense. This wealth of riches may lead to fewer targets for Atlanta’s top two receivers. However, the sheer level of production that could be achieved from this trio offsets that.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington Football Team
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In this article, I have referenced a dual-threat top-10 Fantasy quarterback, two top-tier receivers, and last year’s RB3. How about a bit of a sleeper?
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback you hope to see available when your quarterback is on a bye week. Not consistent enough to be a real team’s franchise quarterback. Not productive enough to be a consistent Fantasy starter. Fitzmagic is the ideal fill-in quarterback.
There is at least one eye-popping game out of Fitzpatrick every year that you wish you could have capitalized on. While the volatility is often tough to rely on, when it hits, it’s a home run.
The perennial journeyman has once again found a new home, this time with the Football Team down in Washington D.C. This team was just good enough to be the best team in 2020’s worst division in football. While the receiving core, led by Terry McLaurin, was respectable albeit shallow, they have just made a minor-yet-vital acquisition that could really make things crazy.
Dyami Brown was one of the best deep threats in all of college football.
Last year he had 12 catches of over 20 yards, an average depth of target of 18.7, and 3.11 yards per route run.
LOVE this pick and could be one of the steals of the draft pic.twitter.com/jWqDdUeldQ
— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) May 1, 2021
2021 was the year that the Washington Football Team front office broke out their best George Costanza impression. “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!”
North Carolina wide receiver Dyami Brown was the perfect addition to create the most beautifully chaotic Fitzmagic game to date. Brown is a jolt of energy into a deep-threat passing offense. The problem? Brown essentially slid down boards because of that trait. Deep passing routes are what Brown is best at. His route tree is almost entirely go-routes with some posts and corners mixed in.
While some see him as a piece that can capitalize on this pass-happy iteration of the modern NFL. Others see him as extremely one-dimensional. That’s the beauty of Brown falling to Washington at #82 overall. He won’t be asked to do much outside of deep routes.
Terry McLaurin and free-agent acquisition Curtis Samuel are undisputedly the top two receivers on this roster. No one is asking Dyami Brown to insert himself into that situation. In fact, Brown’s presence benefits them immensely.
McLaurin and Samuel will now be focused on doing what they excel at. They won’t be required to take the tops off of defenses. Brown’s athleticism will be utilized to take on that responsibility. He won’t be an every-down receiver by any means. However, this now gives Washington a lot of versatility in their passing attack.
As for Fitzpatrick, the addition of Brown will turn those miraculous 25-point performances into 30+ point spectacles. The consistency of McLaurin and Samuel gives Fitzpatrick the security he needs in reliable down-to-down receivers. Passing between those two opens up the chance for the occasional home-run ball to Brown.
Defenses will already have their hands full worrying about two high-tier receivers, then bam! Brown beats the third corner, hauls in a rainbow from Fitz, and takes it to the house for 60 yards and a score.
This may be the first year Ryan Fitzpatrick becomes a viable week-to-week starter in deeper Fantasy leagues. The floor for his performance has already been raised by the top two receivers on his roster. The added variable of Dyami Brown may lead to more of those high-scoring Fitzpatrick outings. This year may be Fitzmagic’s magnum opus.
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