NON-ROOKIE DRAFT WEEK WINNERS
With the 2021 NFL Draft officially in the books, the time for reflection and reckless speculation is upon us. Take artists will find their way to Twitter to fire off hot takes and wild theories about the upcoming season. However, I find the best method is to examine the obvious and transparent moves that teams made in the offseason and build thoughts from there. With that in mind, today I’ll be discussing the winners of the draft but from the perspective of players already in the league and how the draft has altered the way the fantasy community will discuss them in 2021.
Incumbent Running Backs
All the glitz and glamour that comes with rookie running backs, especially those selected in the 1st round, tends to be overhyped. That’s not to say that rookie running backs don’t produce or they aren’t worth the investment, but rather that teams should invest draft capital in higher priority places. Often a team’s priority should be its offensive line (Steelers), but the thinking is that running back is the issue. Najee Harris will be good but can only be so productive with the offensive line that’s in front of him.
The Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills all have perceived holes at the running back spot, but there are bigger needs on those rosters.
For the Falcons, Mike Davis is a serviceable running back who won't catch your eye on the stat sheet but will be a viable fantasy option. He finished the 2020 season at RB 15, despite starting only 12 games. The Panthers also don’t have an offense nearly as capable as this Falcons offense will be, which should lead to better production and efficiency from Davis. The Dolphins used their high draft capital on other positions of need, which I'll talk about more later, so they also didn’t address the perceived lack of running back talent. Myles Gaskin, in an albeit limited sample, has produced for fantasy purposes. He finished the year as RB 26 in 10 games, but the real numbers are in his per game stats. He was RB 12 in points per game, while also only receiving 69% of the team’s offensive snaps while he was active. Yes, the investment in a 7th round pick won't last long, but for the time being, Gaskin is one of my fantasy sleepers. Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills surprised everyone last year with the huge leap they took in production and quite honestly, just how effective they looked. After having invested 3rd round picks in consecutive drafts, the Bills addressed the issues on both sides of the line. This leaves the workload squarely on the shoulders of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss as the timeshare will continue to be a two-man operation. As a team, the Bills finished 19th in the league in yards per attempt, which is a sign that it’s more than just the running backs. They added offensive line help on day two and three of the draft, but with another year under the same offensive system, the Bills should produce better rushing numbers. The only question, then, is who produces more?
The theme of the draft, other than just improving as a team overall, was adding pieces in place to improve the play of 2nd year quarterbacks. I've already discussed the 1st round impacts in my article last week, but I'll briefly cover those moves for the four-2nd year starting quarterbacks. The Cincinnati Bengals added Ja’Marr Chase at wide receiver in the 1st, and then added OL Jackson Carman in the 2nd to strengthen the protection around Joe Burrow. The Dolphins selected Jaylen Waddle first and then Liam Eichenberg in the 2nd round, who could slot in anywhere on the offensive line for them. The LA Chargers drafted Rashawn Slater, the #2 OL prospect according to PFF, at 13th overall and then added wide receiver depth in the 3rd round with Josh Palmer. Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to get DeVonta Smith first and then added center Landon Dickerson in the 2nd. The common theme here: weapons and protection. All these quarterbacks are talented enough to produce in the NFL, but they can't be scrambling for their lives like Joe Burrow or playing behind the worst offensive line for overall protection like Justin Herbert. In order to sustain long term success, the pieces around these quarterbacks need to provide help with either getting open or keeping them upright. With Burrow and Herbert, we saw the flashes in Year 1 and look forward to seeing what the added talent will do in Year 2. For Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, the jump needs to be made on a more fundamental level. Both struggled in their rookie campaigns but have the talent around them to not leave any excuses in their sophomore years.
Post draft is when the real fun in fantasy football begins. Dynasty managers either are starting or are often continuing the research for their rookie drafts. Redraft managers are starting to take notice of the roster additions, and an eccentric group are already doing mock drafts. Just remember to stay focused on the moves that are to follow this offseason, and always be paying attention to the news released from teams. Draft season for the NFL may be over, but draft season for fantasy is upon us. As always, enjoy this time of year and stay dreamin!