Following on from the landscape series we’re taking a look at which players have the most to lose in terms of opportunities and thus fantasy value during the 2021 NFL Draft. Free Agency could still deal out a few more hammer blows to players fantasy value, but for now we are going to review each position and see who has the most to lose.
Many are expecting Sam Darnold to be the biggest loser from the 2021 draft. From being a starting QB he may well end up as a backup or seen as “a potential successor” for a team with an aging QB with the Steelers or Falcons. He could also go to whichever team fails to get their guy in the draft and be a sort of “runners-up prize” but with the weight of whatever trade occurs also hanging over him like Mono after a freshers week…
It’s likely that the Jets grab a QB at #2 and it will leave Darnold in the cold. If they trade out of that spot and stick with Darnold then this turns on its head and he becomes the biggest winner from that trade. I still see him being traded to whichever of Denver and Carolina miss out on a QB which could end up as a small win, but still, his career so far has been a big L and his fantasy value is 0 until proven otherwise.
Another current starting QB who could be under threat after the draft. The Panthers have made no secret of wanting to grab their QB of the future and Bridgewater was only really a stop gap solution. This looks set to be a scenario similar to the Dolphins last year where the QB switch happens mid-season, with the new guy stepping in and Teddy B being kicked to the sidelines. He’s never truly recovered after his left leg injury in a 2016 practice and it would appear a career as a backup awaits.
To many, Drew Lock is already a big loser as he’s de-values the Denver offence (more on that later) and prevents them from being more competitive. Multiple analysts and commentators are calling for a QB change in Denver despite Lock being the 42nd overall pick in 2019. He just hasn’t developed and has cost his team games. Should the Broncos opt to try again with another QB then his time there is up and with the data available, would any team take him on and be able to build him back up? I don’t think so. Lock would become a backup and any key, barrel or other lock based puns would be thrown away.
Perhaps the most obvious Running Back conundrum is in Miami as they haven’t yet added to their stable which will be music to the ears of Myles Gaskin. He was a 7th round draft pick in 2019 and after multiple injuries for the Dolphins left him as the next man up, he excelled and staked a claim for a permanent role. With the Howard/Breida experiment thankfully out of the way, he could find himself as the teams RB1. However, Free agency isn’t over and there are names out there, none that would usurp him, only that would create a committee where he would be the younger and fitter of the two. The draft looks like the only way he gets truly usurped and has his value torpedoed. Should the Dolphins use their draft capital on a Harris, Etienne or Williams then Gaskin will be the backup and the Dolphins offence will take another step forwards. I expect this to happen at #18.
The Cardinals have been saying that they have faith in Chase Edmonds should they require him to be a 3 down back, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. They’d like to add another running back in there for sure but will it be a high capital draft pick which bumps Edmonds back down to a pass catching specialist, or will it be low enough such that Edmonds is the lead back of a committee? The veteran FA options are still there lingering and having a bruiser to replace Kenyan Drake is possible. But if James Conner, Todd Gurley or Lev Bell arrive in the desert Edmonds is probably still the better fantasy option, just not a bell cow. I expect the Cardinals will use the draft and create a committee. There’s no way Edmonds goes in without some kind of running mate beyond Eno Benjamin, although I could be doing Benjamin a disservice there. Still, if they draft nobody, Edmonds becomes a very interesting fantasy discussion point.
So the Jets running back depth chart currently stands at Lamical Perine, Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson. Perine was useful at the end of last season and if the Jets still feel they need another rebuild year they might just roll with him and rely more on air miles to get the ball downfield. That committee would be low cost but effective enough and frankly a free shot. However, if they want to compete fully they will need to find a true starter and with the Free Agent pool rather dry as mentioned earlier, the draft is the only real way to do it. I’m sort of expecting a veteran to end up there on a prove it deal which pleases nobody and then the whole committee ends up having next to no fantasy value. That being said, some dynasty owners of Perine will be watching avidly as there’s a chance he ends up a huge winner.
The Steelers running back room consists of recently signed Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell and that’s it. James Conner could return on some low cost, weird structured deal but that will only happen if the Steelers don’t get anyone better in the draft. The Harris/Etienne/Williams three would have instant value in Pittsburgh and would render the current backs valueless, but even if they wait a few rounds, that committee will start the season as a dart throw for deep leagues only. James Conner has a lot to lose as a Steelers pick could leave him waiting for injuries to get a call (which would be rather ironic really).
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Reagor was drafted 21st overall in 2020 and even in a team that was void of fit and capable wide receivers, he was outshone by Travis Fulgham… That’s not strictly fair or true. Fulgham was a short term wonder and Reagor spent a lot of time injured, but still, it wasn’t the best start. Now the Eagles have let go of a number of receivers and Reagor may find he has competition for the WR1 spot. Indeed his target share is likely to take a hit, it’s just a question of how much, which will be dependent on how high the Eagles draft a WR or even a TE (Kyle Pitts isn’t impossible). The Eagles have no cap space to grab a free agent (oh and there are none left as I pointed out in my WR Landscape article) so Jalen Hurts will be hoping they land a Chase/Waddle/Smith/Bateman so work with Reagor. Some would see it as a win as he will see less double teams with adequate support. That’s not as good as being the only highly regarded target though.
Will Fuller/DeVante Parker
The Dolphins appear here again which is partly due to the amount of draft capital they have. Talk all off season has been about them drafting JaMarr Chase at 3. After the recent trades with the 49ers and Eagles they find themselves at 6 and still potentially drafting the same player. Great business, but what does it mean for Parker and new signing Fuller? Fuller has a 1yr deal and his “run long” style of play doesn’t really match with Tua, but one or the other may be able to adapt. Should a new guy arrive with a 1st round pick then that time investment is less likely and he could just be a $10m distraction tactic. Parker has played with Tua and has some chemistry, but it’s not been the greatest experience so far and from being seen as finally breaking through, he may be regressing quickly back into a WR2 for his team and less than that for fantasy.
Michael Pittman/Parris Campbell
The Colts are another team who might draft a receiver. Signing TY Hilton suggests they are willing to develop Pittman for another year and keep Parris Campbell in reserve. Pittman was the 34th pick in 2020 and Campbell pick #59 in 2019. Neither excelled last season but it wasn’t an offence built for WR success as they were very run heavy. With the arrival of Carson Wentz both have a chance of stepping forwards and also learning some more from TY Hilton. That could all be thrown in the air if they bring in another head with a high pick. Hilton is only on a 1yr deal and if the team draft another WR then it would suggest they don’t have faith in one or both of the recent 2nd round picks. This is another situation where we will find out whether a guy has an opportunity to be the WR1 for their team, or whether it’ll always be a less favourable scenario for fantasy. If you want my advice, Pittman may never be as cheap to buy as he is now, post-draft, his hype train could pick up speed very quickly.
Courtland Sutton/Jerry Jeudy/Noah Fant
And finally, back to something I mentioned earlier. Drew Lock has somewhat dented all of these fantasy options and after maybe Myles Gaskin, these three have the most to lose in the draft is the Broncos do not get a QB. It’s harsh but if Lock is throwing to them then they will not be able to unlock their true potential. It’s key for their development that the Broncos make the right pick. If they go with Lock in 2021 then it’ll be another year of disappointment and we will be having this discussion again next year. It’ll very much be a case of locking the stable door after the Bronco has bolted. I think I’ve o-pun-ed enough Lock jokes there to avoid missing out, but the point stands, if Denver do get a new QB then Sutton, Jeudy and Fant will get an uptick in their value for sure!