Targets, Touches and TDs: Week 6

Predicting what is to come for the best and worst rookies.

Rookies command the TTT spotlight this week as we put a bow on Week 5 and look ahead to Week 6, which upon completion will put us a third of the way through the expanded 2021 season.

We’re ranking the top five fantasy rookies so far and forecasting their rest-of-season staying power at their current level of production on a 1-10 scale, going from least to most likely. Then we’re doing the same with our top three rookie fantasy disappointments, and rating each player’s respective chances to improve upon their current level of production on the same 1-10 scale.

It’s all to help fantasy general managers make better lineup and roster decisions with the typically volatile first-year players as the stakes grow increasingly larger moving deeper into the season.

A couple quick notes on our rookie ranks:

  • Injured players — such as Baltimore Ravens WR Rashod Bateman and Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne — who are either out for the season or have yet to play more than a game, have been removed from consideration.
  • Also, more weight is given to the more valuable fantasy positions as scarcity helps elevate a running back over a similarly performing wide receiver for instance. A rookie’s average draft position is factored in as well, with later-round standouts given precedence over a similarly performing high draft pick.

That said, here are your top fantasy rookies to date, with rankings and statistics through Week 5 …

Best fantasy rookies (so far)

5. RB Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers

Current position rank (total point-per-reception fantasy points): 52 (31.9 in 3 games)

Positional ADP: 82

Most impressive achievement: The unheralded sixth-round pick (we’re talking actual NFL Draft here) out of Louisiana has snared the lead-back role in the Niners offense following veteran Raheem Mostert’s early season-ending injury. Mitchell has dealt with his own health issues, missing Weeks 3 and 4 with a shoulder injury, but returned Sunday to handle 11 of the team’s 16 running back/fullback touches and gain 62 yards in a 17-10 loss to the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.

Staying power: 6. It’s always a week-to-week RB situation with coach Kyle Shanahan, but Mitchell has, so far, leapfrogged more ballyhooed third-round pick Trey Sermon (more on him below) on the depth chart, outtouching (49-33) and out-performing (4.5-4.2 yards per touch) the fellow first-year back despite playing in one fewer game. The Niners’ zone-running attack might not be as potent as it used to be as the team is struggling at 2-3 with yet more quarterback and offensive injuries so far this season, but serving as the lead back in San Francisco is still a coveted fantasy role. Also keep in mind that veteran RB Jeff Wilson Jr. is due to come off the PUP list if he’s recovered from offseason knee surgery, but for now, the 49ers’ RB1 job is Mitchell’s to lose.

4. TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

Current position rank (fantasy points): 6 (60.8 in 5 games)

Positional ADP: 4

Most impressive achievement: It took a trip to London and a matchup against the New York Jets, but the fourth-overall pick came through his awaited breakout performance Sunday morning, catching nine of his team-high 10 targets for 119 yards and his first NFL TD. Pitts had been off to a slow start, grabbing 15 of 25 targets for 189 yards in his first four games and had only topped 50 yards receiving yards once with no scores. With WR Calvin Ridley missing the London trip due to undisclosed personal reasons, Pitts now leads the Falcons and ranks third among all tight ends with 308 receiving yards.

Staying power: 7. It’s been notoriously tough for rookie tight ends to make a fantasy impact, but Pitts is considered a once-in-a-couple-decades prospect as the highest-drafted tight end ever, and he’s off to a fine start. Matt Ryan and the Falcons are in need of a reliable target outside of Ridley, and the gifted 6-foot-6, 245-pound Pitts certainly fills the bill. He’s already a rare locked-in TE1 at a position of continued fantasy scarcity.

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3. WR Kadarius Toney, New York Giants

Current position rank (fantasy points): 47 (48.9 in 5 games)

Positional ADP: 83

Most impressive achievement: The first-round draft pick out of Florida — a collegiate teammate of Pitts — now leads the Giants in receptions (20) and trails only Kenny Golladay (282) with 281 receiving yards, but it’s really more about quality than quantity for the electric first-year wideout. There was certainly some of both Sunday afternoon in Dallas as Toney reeled in 10-of-13 targets for 189 yards — all before being ejected for throwing a punch — in a 44-20 loss to the Cowboys. The rest of the non-ejected Giants combined caught 11 of 24 targets for 105 yards in the contest.

Staying power: 8. Through his first three games and coming off a hamstring injury that scuttled his preseason, Toney had only four receptions for 14 yards on five targets. But with fellow wideouts Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton missing the last two games with injuries and Golladay leaving early Sunday with a hyperextended knee, Toney has impactfully stepped into the void with 16 catches for 267 yards on 22 targets the last two weeks. And anyone who has seen Toney juking, slashing and jumping over and through opposing secondaries in those two contests can quickly see that he has the goods to finish as the Giants’ best offensive weapon this season. That’s as long as he, too, doesn’t succumb to the team’s injury bug.

1b. RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

Current position rank (fantasy points): 4 (96.5 points in 5 games)

Positional ADP: 11

Most impressive achievement: What’s not to like? The rookie from Alabama has stepped right in and dominated backfield touches for the Steelers, playing on 87 percent of the team’s offensive snaps through four games. As a result, Harris ranks third in the league in total touches so far with 106, including 28 receptions on 39 targets, which rank second and first, respectively, among running backs. In terms of total PPR points, Harris trails only Derrick Henry (132.5), Austin Ekeler (119.3) and the surprising Cordarrelle Patterson (101.8) with 96.5 at the position.

Staying power: 10. Harris has logged 78 of the Steelers’ 90 running back/fullback rushing attempts and 28 of the 29 RB/FB receptions, making him one of the league’s few true bell-cow backs. And with a declining Ben Roethlisberger now throwing less and less downfield, Harris has proved to be a valuable underneath target, and that role only figures to grow with the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by WR JuJu Smith-Schuster on Sunday. Barring injury, Harris is a locked-in RB1.

1a. WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Current position rank (fantasy points): 8 (98.4 points in 5 games)

Positional ADP: 23

Most impressive achievement: Chase has completely dunked on the “disappointment” narrative that surfaced following several glaring dropped passes in the preseason and caused him to slip a round or two in late-August fantasy drafts. The LSU rookie leads a talented WR corps with 35 targets and has caught 23 of them for 456 yards, ranking third in the league with a whopping 19.8 yards per reception. He’s also tied for second among pass-catchers with five TD grabs, trailing only the Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike Williams (6).

Staying power: 8. It’s going to be tough to keep racking up 30-yard-plus TD grabs — accounting for four of Chase’s five scoring receptions so far — but it’s also reasonable to expect the rookie to continue to expand and improve on his short and intermediate route tree as well. As it is, he’s had at least 13.4 PPR points in every outing so far, and he figures to finish the year as a high-end fantasy WR2 at worst.

Most disappointing fantasy rookies (to date)

3. QB Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Current position rank (total PPR fantasy points): 34 (38.8 in 5 games)

Positional ADP: 19

Statistical shortfall: It took an Andy Dalton injury — and possibly a mandate from the team’s front office — to speed along the process, but Fields has finally been named the Bears’ starter going forward. After a disastrous nine-sack starting debut in Cleveland, Fields and the Bears have notched back-to-back wins, but from a fantasy perspective, Fields’ stunningly low volume has been a massive drawback. In his three starts, the Ohio State rookie has attempted only 57 passes for 388 yards and one TD while rushing nine times for 25 yards and no scores. So, yeah, 25.9 total fantasy points in three starts? Not usable — even in 12-team two-QB leagues.

Chances to improve: 10. With the Packers (twice), Buccaneers, Ravens and Cardinals serving as five of the Bears’ next eight opponents, Fields will be counted on for much more in an attempt to keep pace. Fields’ efficiency should steadily improve as well — even though the Bears’ subpar offensive line isn’t likely to help in the process. Particularly if he incorporates more of a rushing element to his game, he should emerge as a low-end QB2 in the second half of the season.

2. WR Elijah Moore, New York Jets

Current position rank (fantasy points): 114 (14.6 in 4 games)

Positional ADP: 59

Statistical shortfall: The second-round pick out of Mississippi is third on the team in targets with 20, but he has snared only eight of those for 66 yards — an average of only 8.3 yards per catch and 3.3 per target. In the meantime, fellow N.Y. wide receivers Corey Davis (36 targets-20 receptions-302 yards-3 TDs), Braxton Berrios (23-16-156-0), Jamison Crowder (15-11-85-1), Keelan Cole 9-7-160-0) and even Denzel Mims (4-3-73-0) have all been more efficient and productive.

Chances to improve: 9. The Jets’ wide receiver room is fairly well stocked for a bottom-feeder team, but things can only get better for Moore — who was on more than a few preseason late-round sleeper lists — and rookie QB Zach Wilson, who has completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and has thrown five more interceptions (9) than TD passes (4) to date. Moore certainly can be dropped in the meantime, though, if you need the roster space.

1. RB Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers

Current position rank (fantasy points): 62 (21.8 in 4 games)

Positional ADP: 35

Statistical shortfall: Sermon, the third-rounder out of Ohio State and a coveted midround summer fantasy draft target, clearly hasn’t progressed as fast as the coaching staff would’ve liked, and as aforementioned, he’s been overtaken on the depth chart by Mitchell. While the latter rookie was out in Weeks 3 and 4, Sermon did log 31 touches for 123 yards and a TD in two starts, but evidently failed to impress the coaching staff as he was quickly pushed to the back burner upon Mitchell’s return Sunday, playing only two snaps and getting one rushing attempt.

Chances to improve: 5. You have to figure that the playing time snub has lit a fire for Sermon, and he’ll use that as motivation for any opportunities he gets. Still, those opportunities might prove to be few and far between, unless Mitchell is re-injured or is plagued a rash of rookie miscues and/or Wilson takes longer than expected to return.

Najee Harris ready to be the top rookie

Harris steps into a workhorse role in Pittsburgh.

The first running back selected in the NFL draft is always the biggest source for fantasy optimism and this year is no different when the Steelers tabbed Najee Harris with the 1.24 pick. No matter that five quarterbacks, four wide receivers and even a tight end were selected first, Harris attracts the highest rookie draft picks and auction dollars. And for good reason.

No position cranks out immediate rookie fantasy points as running backs. No position has a shorter life span than the American Professional Running Back. Bottom line – they have the most touches of any position and offer the best potential. And the recent “first running back drafted” include  Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Todd Gurley.

The most attractive element with Harris and those players is that they went to teams that did not use a backfield committee. Most NFL teams split up the load between short yardage, first and second downs, third down, receiving, goal line, and such depending on the talent and their need.

Alabama University

Harris  was the workhorse for Alabama, rushing 209 times in 2019 while the next best Brian Robinson only carried 96. Last season in their National Championship run, Harris handled 251 rushes to only 91 for Robinson.

He also caught 43 passes as the busiest receiver on the team other than Heisman Winner DeVonta Smith. Though a four-year player, he only started the final two seasons so he’s not worn down as many elite backs leaving college. Alabama loves to ride their top back – just ask Derrick Henry.

He offers yet another big back from Alabama that is poised to wreck NFL defenses. Harris is 6-2, 230 pounds and runs around a 4.5 40-time. He’s a deadly combination of size, speed and power with the ability to catch like a third-down back. He is very quick, patient, and has great vision. He’s even a solid pass blocker with plenty of size to protect the quarterback when needed.

He can be a violent runner and may end up shortening his eventual career with his willingness to take on tacklers and get the extra yards. But that spells success as a rookie back and hence, the first one chosen last April.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The rookie shows up in Pittsburgh as the new starting running back. James Conner left for Arizona. Benny Snell is the likely No. 2 back again this year but there is talk about him not making the final cut. Kalen Ballage was also signed but he only managed 3.3 yards on his career-high 91 carries for the Chargers and only that because he was asked to replace Austin Ekeler for three games. Anthony McFarland was a fourth-round rookie but only ran for 113 yards on 33 carries (3.4 yards per carry).

Harris is the only Steelers’ back with any pedigree or expectations.

The Steelers’ offense bogged down last year with James Conner and Benny Snell unable to run the ball. The backfield combined for just 1,183 rushing yards (No. 29) and 350 receiving yards (No. 30). This from a backfield that relied on Le’Veon Bell to great success just a couple of seasons prior.

The Steelers offensive line is no longer an elite unit and is not an advantage. But the passing offense hopes to improve with a healthier Ben Roethlisberger throwing farther down the field this year. That helps spread out the defense and yields plenty of opportunities to dump the ball off to the running back.

The Steelers also enjoy the No. 5 strength of schedule for rushing. This is, by far, the best situation that any rookie running back will encounter this season. There are no other first-year backs that are locks to lead their backfields in touches.

Great situation, great rushing schedule, tremendous success in college against top-flight opponents, all the measurables of an elite workhorse, and minimal competition for touches. He’s going as the No. 12 running back in fantasy drafts, around the middle of the second round.

You’ll never see him that cheap again.

Michael Carter poised to lead the Jets backfield?

Carter is the best bet to lead the Jets new backfield for 2021

Under head coach Tim Gase, the Jets could not have been worse when they tried to run. The backfield combined for the No. 32 (2019) and No. 31 (2020) fantasy points. Last year, despite running the ball 356 times (No. 14), they only gained 1,383 yards (No. 27). That was using six different running backs, with octogenarian Frank Gore as the lead back with 187 carries for 653 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and a team-high two rushing touchdowns. And that was  twice as good as any of the other five.

Enter the new coaching regime of head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Saleh was the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, and will rely on LaFleur who worked on the 49ers’ offense for the last four years. That suggests that the committee approach to the backfield is a given. After all, that approach produced the No, 4 (2019), and No. 3 (2020) total of running back fantasy points the last two years. And that’s a level of success that the Jets may not even be able to comprehend.

The 49ers involved seven running backs last year, and five in 2019. The difference was that their committee approach worked with anyone they plugged in, while the Jets found no success regardless of who ran the ball.

The old backfield is gone – Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, and Le’Veon Bell moved on. The only holdovers are Ty Johnson (54 rushes for 254 yards),  La’Mical Perine (64 rushes for 232 yards), and Josh Adams (29 carries for 157 yards) remained. They already had the jerseys, and the Jets needed depth.

To help install the new offense, the Jets added Tevin Coleman and drafted Michael Carter with their 4.02 draft pick. He became the fifth back selected in April and was a tandem at North Carolina with Javonte Williams.

Coleman spent the last two seasons in San  Francisco, so the 28-year-old offers a veteran presence in the locker room and already knows the offensive scheme. What he doesn’t bring is much success within that offense. He only ran for 544 yards on 137 carries with six scores and catching 21 passes for 180 yards in 2019, and then sputtered through 2020 while missing eight games because of a knee injury and only recording 29 rushes.

Coleman signed a one-year deal worth up to $2 million, so the commitment and outlook for Coleman at the Jets is hardly strong. He does bring knowledge and presence to the backfield. But not likely notable production.

Enter Michael Carter.

This is a committee backfield, and the Jets have s smattering of moderately talented backs which all combined doesn’t look that much different than the one that ranked No. 31 and No. 32 over the last two seasons. Improved blocking, pass offense, field position, coaching and so on, will certainly make a positive difference.

But if any running back emerges from the group to offer a skillset and ability that can be a true advantage – it will be Carter. All the others have tried in the past. That’s not to say the offense must have a difference-maker – it hasn’t for the last couple of years.

Michael Carter, North Carolina Stats (2017-2020)

Despite sharing with Javonte Williams at North Carolina, Carter was very productive. A mature, four-year player at a school that loves to run the ball, Carter gained 1,245 yards and nine scores on 156 carries (8.0 yards per carry), plus added 25 receptions for 267 yards and two more scores in the 11 games played last year.

His drawback is that he is only 5-8, 200 pounds but runs a 4.5 40-time. That’s smaller for the NFL than it plays out in college. That’s roughly the same size as Devin Singletary or Nyheim Hines.

What Carter brings to the table is that he’s a versatile rusher, receiver and blocker. He provided the lightning to Javonte Williams thunder in college. He’s a been a dangerous runner that can get lost in traffic by the defenders, and he’s tough to cover by any linebacker. He’s no “run it outside” kind of back. He can pick up the tougher inside yards when needed.

He ends up with a much worse offensive line in New York than he enjoyed in college. But the strength of schedule for rushing is about average this year for the Jets. More than anything, he lands in the middle of marginal talent on a rebuilding team. He has a direct path to become the primary back, if only by the end of the season.

There are many changes going on with the Jets that all have to come together but the optimism is high that HC Saleh is on the right track and has improved pieces to fit together and create something far better than what HC Gase left behind. One of those can be – and should be – Michael Carter.

 

Fantasy football: Veterans most affected by the NFL draft

Exploring how rookies may negatively impact veterans.

While one could stretch out the meaning of which veterans are affected by the 2021 NFL Draft in a multitude of ways, the focus here will be directly to playing time and/or utilization potential among conventional fantasy football assets. Sam Darnold, for example, was quite impacted by the draft before it even occurred, although in a different fashion than what we’ll examine below.

Quarterbacks

Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville Jaguars: The very first pick in the draft was no secret for quite some time, and Minshew’s loss of the starting gig officially is upon him. He could stick around as the backup to Trevor Lawrence. Either way, his name can leave your brain for the time being (barring a trade), but his sick mustache shall live in our hearts forevermore.

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: Just how long will it take before we see Trey Lance on the field? If you listen to general manager John Lynch, the answer is up to two full seasons from now. Applying a little bit of common sense suggests that date will get accelerated to, oh, soon. A few reasons: 1) Does anyone believe Garoppolo will stay healthy for 16 games? 2) Lance hasn’t played since 2019, and having him sit out the entire 2021 season — let alone the preposterous idea of including the 2022 season — could irreparably stunt his development. 3) The draft haul traded for the rights to choose him amplify the urge to see what they have sooner than later. Conversely, the offense is ridiculously complicated, so if we see Lance in 2021, don’t bank on it happening in the first six weeks or so, provided Jimmy G. remains healthy.

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Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears: Much like with the Garoppolo-Lance situation in the Bay Area, Dalton’s veteran presence probably won’t be enough to keep him in the driver’s seat for long. First-round pick Justin Fields is closer to being NFL-ready than Lance at this given moment, and the Bears’ regime is in a win-now mode to remain employed. Perhaps debuting their prized rookie passer in the short term will extend a measure of leeway from ownership to give them a reasonable chance to develop him before getting the ax. Dalton also isn’t a stranger to injury, and for as serviceable as he may be, no one in the fan base is excited to see the Red Rifle on the field.

“What if” scenarios

Cam Newton, New England Patriots: “What if” Cam suffers another injury, even a relatively minor one, or simply struggles to get back some of his past magic early in the season? It could come down to a scenario in which current No. 2 quarterback Jarrett Stidham is leapfrogged by rookie Mac Jones, but only if Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels are comfortable with his development. In that situation, there’s likely no going back to Newton. Let’s face it, if Stidham had impressed Belichick in his time with the Pats, Jones wouldn’t have been selected….

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: Kellen Mond was chosen in Round 3, and there’s plenty to like about him being the future starter. He reminds quite a bit of Dak Prescott’s style of play, but what would it take for Cousins to lose his grasp on the job? This one is a stretch, for sure, and mostly because of money. Benching Cousins puts a $31 million cap hit on the bench, and because of the punitive nature of his contract in 2022, he’s the odds-on favorite to start for the next two seasons. Mond would need to set the practice field ablaze all summer and put crazy pressure on Zimmer to force his hand in the event Cousins were to slump during the season. It’s far more likely the veteran is traded after June 1 in 2022 or released with a post-June 1 designation — either scenario saves the team $35 million vs. the cap for that season.

Running backs

Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers: Drafting running back Najee Harris in Round 1 confirms Snell won’t get an opportunity to be the team’s bell cow. In fact, it relegates him to a reserve whose best chance of seeing the field for substantial work is via an unfortunate injury to his replacement. Snell is a handcuff option for Harris owners, but he is not a change-of-pace, and his receiving “skills” are not going to get him on the field.

Raheem Mostert/Jeff Wilson Jr., San Francisco 49ers: This has to be the muddiest backfield in football. Wilson was given a restricted tender offer, which he has signed, and Mostert is in the final year of his deal. He flashed RB1 potential over the last two seasons, but injuries derailed any chance of sustained production in 2020. Veteran backup Wayne Gallman was signed recently, too, and the Round 3 selection of rookie Trey Sermon turns the entire situation on its head. Sermon is an ideal fit for the system, and he has fresh legs. Gallman is merely insurance, and Wilson contributes on special teams. Mostert brings elite speed, and he’s not as good inside as Sermon. Wilson and Mostert are comparable receivers, so there’s a path to maintaining a role via third-down work. Any which way it likely plays out, Sermon’s addition to the stable is no good for Mostert and Wilson.

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James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars: This one made gamers let out a collective groan during the draft when the Jaguars chose Clemson’s star rusher Travis Etienne. Robinson set the all-time record by an undrafted player with his 1,414 offensive yards in 2020, and running back seemed to be one of the few positions the Jaguars wouldn’t address with a high selection after veteran Carlos Hyde was signed ahead of the draft. Now, it appears Etienne will — at a minimum — be a third-down back for Jacksonville. He’s a more talented player all around than the incumbent, but Robinson’s production from last year (albeit a different offense) has to count for something. After catching 49 passes a year ago, Robinson is poised for a major statistical regression if he loses out on the bulk of the third-down action.

“What if” scenarios

Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos: Gordon, 28, has long been overrated in fantasy football. He enters the final year of his contract and could find himself seeing the “1b” work behind rookie Javonte Williams in 2021 — but only if the highly impressive rookie continues his strong play from North Carolina to the pros. Denver still has Royce Freeman on the roster, and backup Mike Boone came to town from Minnesota in hopes of securing a larger role. They’re the biggest losers, since this backfield will be a time share of some sort regardless, and neither will get a legit shot as long as the rookie is competent in the offseason. There’s a real chance Williams wins the primary chores and Gordon is used more on third downs.

Sony Michel, New England Patriots: Rumors already are flying as to whether he will even make it through the summer without being cut. The constantly injured but still talented Michel may be shown the door if rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, a fourth-round choice, impresses during the offseason. Damien Harris likely has a leg up on Michel as the RB1 at this point anyway, and the offense will get back the services of the wrongfully unheralded Brandon Bolden. James White re-signed as the third-down back, and JJ Taylor flashed a hint of ability last season. That said, the more likely scenario seems to be Michel will stick around during 2021 and won’t be back next year following the Pats declining his fifth-year option. As the adage goes, a team never can have too many good running backs.

Wide receivers

Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals: Two years after drafting Andy Isabella’s speed in Round 2, the Cardinals opted for more juice in the 2021 second round with Rondale Moore. The diminuative receiver should be a more serious threat to veteran Kirk, mainly because Isabella really hasn’t been worked in enough to matter for fantasy. Kirk is in the final year of his rookie deal and has been inconsistent. There is one factor worth mentioning that could keep both players involved: A.J. Green is made of glass, and who knows how much action he’ll withstand. Such an injury recurrence would make both Kirk and Moore relevant in the upcoming season. For now, it’s safer to give Kirk the benefit of the doubt until we see something of substance from the rook. However, all it may take is a slim opportunity for Moore to overtake the vet.

Jakeem Grant, Miami Dolphins: Grant wasn’t exactly sought after from a fantasy perspective, so this will be short … Jaylen Waddle is infinitely more talented, and being a top-10 selection will lock him into the game plans. Factoring in his history with Tua Tagovailoa as his collegiate quarterback in 2019 only sweetens his chances of making Grant utterly irrelevant.

Keke Coutee, Houston Texans: Coutee has hung around just enough to be more than a dude with a memorable name for those in casual fantasy circles. He was poised to see only mild competition for the starting lineup following the loss of Will Fuller in free agency, or at least until the Texans opted for Michigan’s Nico Collins in Round 3. These players couldn’t be more different in playing style and stature. Collins is a huge target and offers a weapon in the red zone, whereas Coutee is a shifty, undersized slot receiver. Veteran Chris Conley will have a say in the matter, too. Coutee may see more playing time than Collins, though it’s the rookie whose unique offerings to this offense should win out before the year is up.

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Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers: Lazard signed his tender sheet and returns for an attempted rebound campaign after an early-season surgery destroyed his 2020 before it really had a chance. Once again healthy, he’ll face serious competition from rookie Amari Rodgers. Lazard operates at his best over the middle and in the intermediate range of the passing tree — exactly where gamers should expect to see Rodgers deployed. The veteran will need to step up his game this summer to fend off the newly added safety blanket.

Darius Slayton, New York Giants: The addition of former Detroit receiver Kenny Golladay naturally will cut into Slayton’s downfield targets, but he still had a role that would have landed him on rosters by way of a late-round choice. The drafting of Florida’s Kadarius Toney in Round 1 might be the nail in his coffin, though. The incoming rookie is plenty fast (4.39-second 40 time) and can operate on all three levels of the route tree. The sooner he gets up to speed with the offensive system, the quicker Slayton becomes irrelevant.

“What if” scenarios

Sterling Shepard, New York Giants: Shepard should have a consistent role in the offense, unlike Slayton, but his path to losing serious playing time to Toney is an injury. Shepard has suffered several concussions throughout his time in pads, and one more could spell the end of his professional career. This risk would be present regardless of Toney being on the roster, so chalk it up as another avenue for the rookie to see meaningful playing time at a veteran’s expense.

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets: New York is in great shape salary cap-wise, so there may not be any true need to dump Crowder. He counts for $11.352 million against the upcoming cap, which is rather lofty for an injury-prone slot receiver. His release (or trade) would save the team more than $10 million. Rookie second-rounder Elijah Moore profiles similarly and will be the future slot man, but just how soon does this transition happen if the impressive rookie’s maturation is ends up well ahead of schedule? Keep tabs on this one as the offseason heats up.

Sammy Watkins, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens currently harbor three first-round picks among its receiving corps. Watkins remains one of the softest receivers in the game, and his contributions shouldn’t be taken for granted any given week, because he just cannot remain on the field. In 2021’s draft, Rashod Bateman was chosen in the late first round, and he brings borderline WR1 traits that should upgrade the passing game from Day 1. Watkins’ injury history and lack of dynamic skills could help nudge Bateman into a prominent role, even in base sets.

Tight ends

Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons: Akin to the Jacksonville QB situation, this one is a no-brainer inclusion, too. Hurst played well enough during spurts last year to suggest he is a viable starting tight end in the NFL. He’s no Kyle Pitts, and that safely can be said without any hyperbole or NFL games needed to be played by the rookie. Hurst should move into a reserve gig and play a role as a blocker over receiver. Unless something dramatic happens between now and the heart of fantasy draft season, Hurst belongs on exactly zero fantasy rosters.

“What if” scenarios

Ian Thomas/Dan Arnold, Carolina Panthers: Neither tight end is worth much of anything in fantasy, and there are so many mouths to feed within this offense. With that established, we could see rookie Tommy Tremble work his way closer to or even into the starting lineup as the year progresses. He was hardly utilized at Notre Dame as a receiver, but that’s not to say he cannot catch. Nevertheless, the rookie isn’t worthy of a Year 1 selection in fake football drafts, even though his mere presence detracts from the viability of those ahead of Tremble.

Top 12 fantasy football rookies

Which rookies are most likely to offer fantasy value for 2020?

The 2021 NFL draft had plenty of hype with a rich set of quarterbacks and wide receivers. That held with five quarterbacks drafted over the first 15 picks and five wide receivers selected in the first round, including three over the first ten picks. Where the draft disappointed was with running backs. That was a function of the devaluing of the position by NFL offenses and a lack of confidence that the incoming rookies could provide more than a role in a committee backfield or as roster depth.

For dynasty purposes, this draft should deliver several long-term elite players and even a few running backs could emerge, if only eventually. For redraft leagues, this class has potential but less than most years. The best wideouts mostly went to average passing teams. The best running backs mostly ended up on teams that already have a primary back. Quarterbacks usually take a year or two before delivering fantasy-relevant stats but Trevor Lawrence may challenge that rule of thumb.

To follow are the Top-12 fantasy football rookies as of the day after the draft considering their outlook for 2021. Certainly, much will change in the coming months. James Robinson was an undrafted nobody one year ago.

Clyde-Edwards Helaire and D’Andre Swift were the top backs drafted last year, and neither delivered on their promise. Jonathan Taylor joined a crowded backfield, but one Marlon Mack injury later and Taylor produced a hot start to his career. Justin Jefferson was the fifth wideout selected and yet dominated the position. You just never know and that’s part of the fun.

1. RB Najee Harris – Alabama (PIT 1.24), 6’2″, 230 lbs., 4.45

The top fantasy rookie has to be Najee Harris out of the Alabama Machine. He was the rare four-year running back that started the last two with stellar results. He would have been highly drafted in 2020 but returned to post 1,486 rushing yards, 43 catches for 425 yards and a total of 30 touchdowns during the Crimson Tide’s latest National Championship run.

Harris has every opportunity to become the next Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh. He offers a well-rounded set of talents and never has to come off the field. More importantly, he has minimal competition for touches with only Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland below him. Harris is the only rookie back that is a slam dunk for a fulltime role.

2. WR Ja’Marr Chase – LSU (CIN 1.05), 6’0″, 208 lbs., 4.38

Ja’Marr Chase elected to sit out 2020 due to COVID concerns and as the first wideout selected, it certainly didn’t harm his perceived value. While he only started for one season at LSU, he blew up for 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns while the Tigers won the National Championship. All he did in that game was catch nine passes for 221 yards and two scores versus Clemson.

Oh yes, and his quarterback that season was Joe Burrow. The same one that becomes his quarterback in the NFL and who lobbied for the Bengals to select him over a much-needed upgrade to the offensive line. If you liked Chase’s ex-teammate, Justin Jefferson, last year, realize that Chase had a bigger 2019 than Jefferson and gets to continue to play with Burrow.

3. TE Kyle Pitts – Florida (ATL 1.04), 6’6″, 240 lbs., 4.44

Kyle Pitts fantasy value is already considered elite, and he has yet to catch an NFL pass. The ex-Gator just became the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. A three-year player, his junior season saw him catch 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, and that was only playing in eight games because of a facial injury and a concussion. To term him a “physical freak” may be an understatement. Pitts is a towering 6-6 and 240 pounds and yet runs a 4.45 40-time. That’s faster than most running backs.

Pitts joins the Falcons in the first year of HC Arthur Smith, and while he possesses all the attributes of an elite wideout, he will remain a tight end. Matt Ryan promises a powerful passing attack, and Pitts will have to share with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. But Jones is no lock to remain with the team and should he leave, Pitts could step up into significant fantasy play even as a rookie. He enters the NFL with arguably a higher upside than any other tight end in history and in the thinnest position in fantasy football. He shows up as the No. 1 pick in some fantasy football dynasty drafts.

4. RB Michael Carter – NC (NYJ 4.02), 5’8″, 199 lbs., 4.5

The “other back” at North Carolina wasn’t drafted until four others were  selected, but he has a lower bar to playing time than the rest. The four-year Tarheel finished with 1,512 total yards and eleven scores as a senior sharing the backfield with Javonte Williams. He’s a bit undersized but averaged 8.0 yards per carry last season. He may not have the physical specs of a prototypical NFL back, but he brings great rushing skills in vision and agility.

Carter was expected to go to a team looking for a dangerous third-down back that can offer as much as a receiver as a rusher. He has that. But he also joins a Jets team in the middle of yet another rebuilding. The depth chart only holds Tevin Coleman, La’Mical Perine and Josh Adams. Carter will be part of a Jets committee, but he already looks like the best of the bunch.

5. WR DeVonta Smith – Alabama (PHI 1.1), 6’0″, 166 lbs., 4.37

The upside with Smith is immense. All he did was win the Heisman as a wide receiver for the first time in about three decades. He set all-time receiving records at Alabama. And just won the National Championship where he was the MVP while posting 12 catches for 215 yards in the first half before injuring his finger (it’s fine). I mean, come on – what more could you want?

Ends up, a bigger frame would be nice since he was finally measured away from the Alabama PR department, and he was 6-0 and just 166 pounds. That’s lighter than any other elite NFL wideout in history, and on a lanky frame. But he reunites with Jalen Hurts who he played with for two seasons (2017-2018), and the Eagles are also in a rebuild with a shakeup to the depth charts. He has minimal competition to become the No. 1 wideout and should end up as the primary as early as Week 1. He has a golden chance to serve up a cup of shut-up juice to his critics yet again.

6. RB Javonte Williams – NC (DEN 2.03), 5’10″, 220 lbs., 4.58

Javonte Williams was the top running back on many draft boards and the Tarheel comes to the NFL as the prototypical back in every measurement. The junior comes off a season with 1,445 total yards while catching 25 passes and rushing for 7.3 yards per carry. Better yet, he’s smart and powerful with a violent style of running that translates very well into the NFL.

What goes against him are two factors. One – he is not the fastest back but his game is more running over than running away. Two – he lands on a Denver team that already has former first-round pick Melvin Gordon as their primary back. Gordon is in the final year of his contract, so 2022 may very well see Williams as the clear workhorse. And Gordon tends to get dinged up anyway, so this season still holds promise. But Williams has to get past Gordon in order to realize his full potential.

7. WR Jaylen Waddle – Alabama (MIA 1.06), 5’10″, 182 lbs., 4.37

Several teams thought Jaylen Waddle was the best wide receiver in the draft, and he could prove to be as much. He was limited as part of a highly-talented Crimson Tide depth chart but excelled when given the chance. His 2020 season was cut short with a broken ankle but he averaged 21.1 yards on his 28 catches to that point. Waddle is blazingly fast with a sub-4.4 40-time and over half of his touchdowns for Alabama were over 50 yards in length.

He reunites with Tua Tagovailoa that should lessen the learning curve and he’s  compared to Tyreek Hill who is almost the same size and speed. There’s a new install of an offense for the team to learn and Devante Parker and Will Fuller will also heavily figure into the game plan. But it is only a question of time before Waddle assumes the No. wideout role for the Fins.

8. RB Travis Etienne – Clemson (JAC 1.25), 5’10″, 205 lbs., 4.45

Most analysts were divided as to who was the top rookie running back – Travis Etienne or Najee Harris. The Clemson star was the all-time rushing leader in the ACC after four years with the Tigers. Twice he topped 1,600 rushing yards in a season and then caught 48 passes for 588 yards last season to show that he was just as effective as a receiver.  He’s a three-down back that is a game-breaker whenever he has the ball. Squint your eyes when you watch him on tape, and he’s Alvin Kamara shredding defenses in all kinds of ways.

When the Jaguars drafted him, there were groans from both Etienne fans and  James Robinson dynasty owners. This is an odd pairing of the best undrafted running back in NFL history with an elite back toting a suitcase full of every imaginable accolade for a college back. Robinson dominated the backfield with 240 rushes and 49 receptions in 2020. Now there’s a committee brewing in the new offense by HC Urban Meyer and OC Darrell Bevell. It smacks of D’Andre Smith in Detroit last year though Etienne is better. The potential is there for elite fantasy numbers. At least eventually.

9. WR Kadarius Toney – Florida (NYG 1.20), 6’0″, 193 lbs., 4.39

Kadarius Toney was a quarterback in high school and even played as a running back for one season for the Gators. His career stats showed marginal use until his senior year when he focused solely on being the No. 1 wideout for Florida. He caught 70 passes for 984 yards and ten scores while adding 19 rushes for 161 yards and another touchdown. He was also a returner for special teams.  Toney is only starting to tap into how good he can be and his electric ability with the ball gained him the name of “human joystick”.

He was drafted by a Giants team that revamped their receivers with the addition of Kenny Golladay as the clear No. 1 wideout. Sterling Shepard will also remain on the outside but Toney could fill a slot role that has the potential for fantasy relevance even as a rookie. If OC Jason Garrett gets inventive, Toney offers the ability to catch, run or even pass on the rare trick play. And play returner.

10. WR Rashod Bateman – Minnesota (BAL 1.27), 6’0″, 190 lbs., 4.39

The Golden Gophers relied on Rashod Bateman since he was a freshman and he broke out as a sophomore with 1,239 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He turned in a hefty 20.3 yards per catch that year and was looking forward to his junior season. The team originally planned to play in the spring due to COVID-19 but then opted to play in the fall. The season was still cut short after five games with positive test results so Bateman’s fine 2019 performance remains his measurement.

He’s a disciplined route runner that can make highlight clips. The Ravens spent their first-round pick on Bateman trying to upgrade what was the least productive set of wideouts in the NFL last year. Dead last in targets, catches and receiving yards as a group despite spending their first-round pick on Marquise Brown in 2019 as the first receiver selected that year. The Ravens also brought in Sammy Watkins so Bateman’s rookie year is likely to be less productive than desired, but he carries the potential that merits drafting for a fantasy bench.

11. RB Rhamondre Stevenson – Oklahoma (NE 4.15), 6’0″, 246 lbs., 4.64

The ex-Sooner never rushed for more than 665 yards on 101 carries in his two seasons as a starter, but he ran for 2,111 yards at Cerritos College before transferring. Stevenson is a throwback to the bruising days of the past and presents a big load to handle for defenders at 246 pounds. His downfall is his speed (4.64 40-time) and a lack of receiving experience.

Landing with the Patriots makes sense given their penchant for a backfield committee that divides up the different roles. Stevenson should figure into the rotation and there is a chance that either Damien Harris or Sony Michel doesn’t stay on the roster all summer. Stevenson joins that always confusing backfield but he has the opportunity to earn more work on a team that looks to run the ball more often.

12. QB Trevor Lawrence – Clemson (JAC 1.01), 6’6″, 220 lbs., 4.7

The man born to play quarterback finally made his ascension to destiny. Trevor Lawrence was one of the highest-rated quarterback prospects in years and checks every desirable box for the position both physically and mentally. He carries the “generational talent” tag and lands with a rebuilding Jaguars franchise headed up by HC Urban Meyers.

It is exceedingly rare for any rookie quarterback to merit a fantasy start since that says they are in the Top-10 for the position in their first year. And the reality is that the Jaguars have a new scheme to install with new players. Chances are that Lawrence won’t produce enough to consider as a fantasy start. But – his level of talent suggests he might be the first backup fantasy quarterback taken in most leagues.

2021 NFL Draft: Day 3 fantasy football recap

Day 3 of the NFL draft’s impact on fantasy football.

After an unconventional selection experience last year, the 2021 NFL Draft returns to a sense of normalcy.

Fantasy football draft season may not be close to hitting its crescendo, but hardcore gamers have been selecting players prior to the conclusion of bowl season.

Follow along for real-time analysis the NFL draft’s Day 3 impact on fantasy football plans for 2021.

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Round 4

Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

107) RB Michael Carter, New York Jets: The North Carolina back shared with Javonte Williams, a second-round pick by Denver, but has NFL-caliber skills in his own right. Only 5-foot-8, Carter is a solidly built 201 pounds, and brings a decisive nature to this rushing attack. He has a noticeable second gear and is a capable weapon from the backfield. There is some Clyde Edwards-Helaire in his game, and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah used Devonta Freeman as a comparison, which may be more apt. New York has bolstered its offensive line the past two drafts and invested a pair of early picks in the passing game. Carter should compete with Lamical Perine and fellow newcomer Tevin Coleman. There’s enough to like about Carter to give him the benefit of the doubt to eventually take over the primary chores as the season goes along. He’s an RB3 target in single-year drafts and could stand out as a rookie in this zone-blocking scheme.

Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

109) WR Dez Fitzpatrick, Tennessee Titans: This offense needed more receivers, so it was only a matter of time before the position was addressed in the draft. Fitzpatrick will compete right away for a top-three spot, and his biggest opponent for touches will be free-agent addition Josh Reynolds. A product of Tulane, Fitzpatrick is a midrange possession guy, and he has the size to compete in the red zone at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds. The offense remains focused on Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown as the primary weapons, as well as the tight ends getting theirs, so there’s not a great deal of upside, despite the opportunity. Fitzpatrick is a late-round flier in 2021 drafts.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

112) WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions: This fourth-rounder has a chance to immediately see the field and matter in fantasy leagues. Jared Goff loved throwing to the slot in LA, which is the spot where one can expect St. Brown to reside most of the time. The younger brother of Green Bay Packers WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Amon-Ra is highly competitive and plays larger than his 6-foot-0, 197-pound frame suggests. He’s not overly fast, and his fantasy game will be stronger in PPR leagues … there’s a real opportunity in this situation for St. Brown to thrive as a rookie. He has WR3 potential in Year 1 and could be even better.

2021 NFL Draft: Day 2 fantasy football recap

Making sense of all the fantasy-relevant picks from Day 2 of the NFL draft.

After an unconventional selection experience last year, the 2021 NFL Draft returns to a sense of normalcy.

Fantasy football draft season may not be close to hitting its crescendo, but hardcore gamers have been selecting players prior to the conclusion of bowl season.

The real thing is finally upon us! Follow along for real-time analysis the NFL draft’s Day 2 impact on fantasy football plans for 2021.

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Round 2

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

34) WR Elijah Moore, New York Jets: The Ole Miss product plays a lot like Seattle’s Tyler Lockett, a teammate of Moore’s former receiving mate in DK Metcalf. The 5-foot-9, 178-pound Moore is an explosive slot receiver who blazes a sub-4.40 40-yard dash and has excellent route-running skills. It’s unclear if he’ll see immediate playing time in 2021, since Jamison Crowder stands in his way at present time. The veteran could be released with just a $1 million penalty vs. the cap in 2021, and he’s in the final year of his deal. For now, expect Moore to effectively redshirt his rookie year, but keep tabs on Crowder’s situation. Should he be traded or cut, then Moore has a hint of appeal as a late-round flier. He’s an exciting pick for 2022 and beyond.

2021 NFL Draft: Day 1 fantasy football recap

Sorting through all of the newest additions to the 2021 fantasy football draft pool.

After an unconventional selection experience last year, the 2021 NFL Draft returns to a sense of normalcy.

Fantasy football draft season may not be close to hitting its crescendo, but hardcore gamers have been selecting players prior to the conclusion of bowl season.

The real thing is finally upon us! Follow along for real-time analysis the NFL draft’s opening round’s impact on fantasy football plans for 2021.

Round 1

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1) QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars: The worst-kept draft secret in recent memory, Lawrence is tasked with turning around a Jacksonville franchise that was one win away from a Super Bowl appearance just a few seasons ago, prior to as precipitous of a fall from grace.

He is as “pro ready” as we’ve seen in recent years, and Jacksonville has put enough talent around Lawrence to expect immediate contributions. The receiving corps boasts DJ Chark Jr., Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr., plus a competent rushing attack behind a respectable offensive line. A shaky defensive unit won’t hurt Lawrence’s counting stats, either.

Expect Lawrence to hit the ground at least jogging, but a full-on sprint is likely before season’s end. He is by far the best rookie quarterback in 2021 fantasy action, and there’s little doubt Lawrence will become a lineup fixture for years to come. Think midrange QB2 in ’21 with potential to be the top fake passer in as little as a season or two.

Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

2) QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets: While the Jets will immediately start Wilson, the talent around the gunslinger is suspect. Wideouts Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims bring three levels of attack points within the route tree, but few will argue this group is any better than average until we see more from the outside guys. Keelan Cole comes off a fine year in Jacksonville and offers slot depth behind the oft-injured Crowder.

The line still needs to show it is ready to consistently offer reliable protection, and there’s currently no rushing game to speak of behind it. Granted, this should be addressed early in the draft, but it makes for two rookie starters in key roles that are thoroughly dependent upon each other’s successes. Not ideal.

Wilson has oodles of talent, moxie, and upside for fantasy football purposes. It may not all come together in 2021 with a first-time head coach and a rookie offensive coordinator, especially with this system expected to be a replica of the notoriously complicated Kyle Shanahan design.

Wilson is a matchup-based reserve for the short term and has the tools to develop into a top-flight fantasy passer within the first two or three years of his career. But it comes with notable risk, so he may not be suitable for gamers unwilling to take even a modest leap of faith.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

3) QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers: Lance did not play in 2020, but he owns a 17-0 record at North Dakota State. More importantly, he fits the San Francisco offensive system extremely well, due to mobility and the requisite arm strength to sling it. He played in a pro-style system in college, and there’s a ton of RPO success on tape, too.

The 49ers run an unbelievably complex system under Kyle Shanahan, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if we don’t see Lance in 2021. Given the extensive injury history of Jimmy Garoppolo, in addition to the amount of capital spent on acquiring Lance, he’s closer to seeing the field than any other rookie quarterback entering behind an entrenched starter. There’s so much to mold and work with here that Shanahan will find creative ways to put Lance in smart situations to limit the potential for error.

Next up, keep an eye on whether Garoppolo is traded during the draft or shortly thereafter, but media reports suggest there is no immediate deal in the works. Should Lance start from Week 1, he’s a fringe starter in fantasy based on his wheels and the weapons around him. His long-range outlook is through the roof.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

4) TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons: The Hayden Hurst experiment effectively comes to an unceremonious end with the highest selection of a tight end in NFL history. Florida’s Pitts is an absolute freak of nature and immediately upgrades the weaponry for Matt Ryan.

The Falcons need help on defense, and one could argue Ryan’s successor was a viable choice, but Pitts is far too talented for a former tight ends coach in head coach Arthur Smith to miss out on. Count on creative ways to get him involved, and he’ll be a threat at each level of the route tree.

This system will emphasize the position, and while rookie tight ends rarely are fantasy weapons, Pitts should be the exception. He has low-end TE1 appeal, and his athleticism means even a low-volume week could turn in big-time stats.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5) WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals: The former LSU Tiger is reunited with his collegiate quarterback in Joe Burrow (knee), and fantasy gamers will enjoy the connection for years to come. However, protecting Burrow is now the top priority in this draft, and it is fortunately a deep class for this area of need.

Cincinnati has Chase entering the picture after sitting out the 2020 season (COVID opt-out). He will step in as the presumptive WR1 when looking at the entire season, but it could take some time to get things going. He will have second-year receiver Tee Higgins to rely on to help him get up to speed after finding success as a rookie in 2020, and Tyler Boyd is the elder statesman of this corps at 24.

Chase brings downfield prowess to help balance the passing game. Boyd is the intermediate and short-area guy, whereas Higgins is an asset in the red zone and as a chain-mover when tough yards are necessary. Chase has the flair to take over games and uncork a long one at any moment. Fantasy gamers should treat him as a WR3 in 2021 leagues, and his long-term valuation is as a rock-solid No. 1 weapon.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

6) WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins: Just as Chase was reunited with his former quarterback from the 2019 season, Waddle will be catching passes from Tua Tagovailoa, his collegiate ‘slinger.

DeVante Parker returns as the likely No. 1 target, and he’ll be joined by former Houston Texans first-rounder Will Fuller. The oft-injured Fuller will miss Week 1 via suspension, making him a double threat for unavailability. One off-field misstep and he’ll miss serious time. One physically wrong step and he’ll find himself on the mend. His one-year deal is reflective of these conditions. Parker is no stranger to injuries, either.

Promising third-year receiver Preston Williams has struggled to keep himself off of the trainers’ table. The Dolphins have veterans Jakeem Grant and Isaiah Ford in reserve, as well as Lynn Bowden Jr. as a possible receiver-slash-running back. None of those backup guys have the game-breaking ability of Waddle. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder is as explosive as any receiver in recent memory, and his game is so similar to that of Tyreek Hill’s that defensive coordinators will have their hands full.

In 2021 drafts, Waddle is a reserve pick. He’ll need time to get up to speed, and he’s “target buried” behind two receivers that are clearly the starters. That said, a strong offseason can put him into the starting slot role. Miami hardly utilized three-wide base sets in 2020, although the franchise didn’t have a real-life video game character on the roster. The dynasty outlook is much stronger for Waddle. He’s a player coaches scheme around and find ways to manufacture touches to go his way. While he has some room before we’ll suggest he can match Hill’s ridiculous contributions, consider that to be the potential ceiling for Waddle.

2021 NFL Draft: Day 1 fantasy football recap

Sorting through all of the newest additions to the 2021 fantasy football draft pool.

After an unconventional selection experience last year, the 2021 NFL Draft returns to a sense of normalcy.

Fantasy football draft season may not be close to hitting its crescendo, but hardcore gamers have been selecting players prior to the conclusion of bowl season.

The real thing is finally upon us! Follow along for real-time analysis the NFL draft’s opening round’s impact on fantasy football plans for 2021.

Round 1

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1) QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars: The worst-kept draft secret in recent memory, Lawrence is tasked with turning around a Jacksonville franchise that was one win away from a Super Bowl appearance just a few seasons ago, prior to as precipitous of a fall from grace.

He is as “pro ready” as we’ve seen in recent years, and Jacksonville has put enough talent around Lawrence to expect immediate contributions. The receiving corps boasts DJ Chark Jr., Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr., plus a competent rushing attack behind a respectable offensive line. A shaky defensive unit won’t hurt Lawrence’s counting stats, either.

Expect Lawrence to hit the ground at least jogging, but a full-on sprint is likely before season’s end. He is by far the best rookie quarterback in 2021 fantasy action, and there’s little doubt Lawrence will become a lineup fixture for years to come. Think midrange QB2 in ’21 with potential to be the top fake passer in as little as a season or two.

Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

2) QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets: While the Jets will immediately start Wilson, the talent around the gunslinger is suspect. Wideouts Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims bring three levels of attack points within the route tree, but few will argue this group is any better than average until we see more from the outside guys. Keelan Cole comes off a fine year in Jacksonville and offers slot depth behind the oft-injured Crowder.

The line still needs to show it is ready to consistently offer reliable protection, and there’s currently no rushing game to speak of behind it. Granted, this should be addressed early in the draft, but it makes for two rookie starters in key roles that are thoroughly dependent upon each other’s successes. Not ideal.

Wilson has oodles of talent, moxie, and upside for fantasy football purposes. It may not all come together in 2021 with a first-time head coach and a rookie offensive coordinator, especially with this system expected to be a replica of the notoriously complicated Kyle Shanahan design.

Wilson is a matchup-based reserve for the short term and has the tools to develop into a top-flight fantasy passer within the first two or three years of his career. But it comes with notable risk, so he may not be suitable for gamers unwilling to take even a modest leap of faith.

Rookie Rundown: WR Dyami Brown, North Carolina

Brown’s vertical game is a touchdown waiting to happen.

NFL teams in search of a deep threat will internally debate North Carolina wideout Dyami Brown during the middle portion of the upcoming draft. He may not be selected in the first two rounds, but Brown certainly will be considered as early as Round 3 by teams missing the piece of a field-stretcher on the outside.

Highly productive over the past two seasons, Brown saw action as a true freshman in 2018. While his production (17-173-1) didn’t exactly match his starts (six), he gained invaluable experience that set him up for success the next year.

Height: 6-foot-0 5/8
Weight: 189 pounds
40 time: 4.46 seconds

Brown exploded in his sophomore campaign, registering a dozen touchdowns (tied for UNC’s school record) in 13 starts. A four-star recruit coming out of a Charlotte, N.C., high school, his 2019 efforts were rewarded with recognition as a third-team All-ACC selection. Brown would go on to receive first-team All-ACC honors in 2020 and also was named to the Associated Press third-team All-American roster.

Table: Dyami Brown NCAA stats (2018-20)

Year
School
Class
Gm*
Receiving
Rushing
Rec
Yds
Avg
TD
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
2018
North Carolina
FR
9
17
173
10.2
1
0
0
0
2019
North Carolina
SO
12
51
1,034
20.3
12
1
2
2
0
2020
North Carolina
JR
11
55
1,099
20.0
8
0
0
0
Career
32
123
2,306
18.7
21
1
2
2
0

*includes postseason/bowl games

Brown doesn’t fit all offenses in the NFL. The old-fashioned “Air Coryell” playbook is an ideal fit for him, and it has its current derivatives — West Coast, spread, Air Raid, and Bruce Arians’ design. Teams that rely heavily on nuanced route trees may be turned off by Brown. In the right offense, he could develop into a three-down target, but as it stands, his limited exposure to complex designs will have him behind the learning curve for more than a few NFL systems.

Pros

  • Positive blend of size and speed as a deep threat — dangerous weapon against one-on-one coverage, scoring 38 percent of his touchdowns from 40 or more yards
  • Efficient productivity — averaged more than 20 yards per receptions the past two seasons and scored every 5.3 catches
  • Tremendous ball tracking over the shoulder in stride
  • Dangerous sell of double moves on go and post routes — impressive steps to the outside that can allow him to burn past a defender caught in transition or too eager to break on the ball
  • Unafraid to run drags and slants over the middle — his tape shows a few examples of successful deep in-routes, too
  • Competitive streak, especially in jump-ball situations — despite being a shade below 6-foot-1, Brown has a 38-inch vertical that allows him to compete when climbing the ladder
  • Will provide enough physical tools for a coaching staff to improve his route mechanics — could be an asset on timing routes, such as curls, digs, comebacks, back-shoulder throws, etc.
  • Varies his release timing to avoid being jammed

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Cons

  • Suspect hands — caught only 57 percent of his 121 targets through first two seasons, which is partially a product of his role as a deep threat — and allows too many passes into his body
  • Limited experience with a full route tree
  • Struggles with a lack of functional strength as a blocker
  • Average agility despite having plus-athleticism — isn’t a quick-twitch guy and needs extra steps to get up to top speed
  • Highly inconsistent footwork and too many rounded breaks on underneath routes
  • While he has experience from the slot, the vast majority of his success came from playing split end
  • No experience as a return man on special teams

Fantasy football outlook

Whether Brown goes in Round 3 or Round 6, fantasy footballers can expect his single-year utility to be practically zero. There will be a handful of plays called to see if he can exploit his opponents on simplistic, field-stretching routes. … Good luck guessing when to play him. It’s entirely possible he’s asked to redshirt as a rookie.

There’s a great deal of potential here for dynasty leagues, and Brown could find himself as a starting “X” receiver for an NFL club in a few years. His game is somewhat a blend of Nelson Agholor and Jeremy Maclin. Agholor is slightly bigger and faster, whereas Maclin displayed better lateral agility and was a special teams weapon.

Brown’s early career may look something like Agholor’s — significant high-tide, low-tide ebbs and flows, leaving a sea of maddened fantasy gamers in its wake. And much like with Agholor, it will be imperative for Brown’s future boss to properly utilize him more so than how it pertains to most wideouts. Las Vegas found success in deploying Agholor as a deep target on the outside, rather than trying to “square peg, round hole” him into a slot weapon as Philly previously erred. If properly utilized, Brown’s career trajectory suggests he’s a WR2 in standard leagues and a third in reception-rewarding designs.