The 2021 NFL draft is in the books, and we now have a clearer picture of how all 32 rosters are going to look heading into the summer months. That means it’s time for fantasy fans to dig deep into the depth charts and start getting their rankings ready for the upcoming best-ball league and redraft madness that is just around the corner.
Before we do that, let's look at which rookies were the biggest winners coming out of the draft. Whether it's based on talent, depth chart or a combination of both, here are the first-year players who should excite you in both redrafts and dynasty leagues.
Note: Players are listed in the order they were selected in the draft.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars
Everyone knew Lawrence was going to the Jaguars, and now he'll have a chance to be a hero in Duval County. Maybe the best quarterback prospect to come out of the collegiate ranks since Andrew Luck, Lawrence is an athletic player with an accurate arm who will be under center in Week 1. It'll be tough to expect a Justin Herbert–level of production, but Lawrence has top 15 potential. He'll also make all of the Jaguars' pass catchers, including DJ Chark and Marvin Jones, more attractive in fantasy drafts.
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Wilson was tremendous in his final collegiate season, throwing 33 touchdown passes with just three interceptions and rushing for 10 scores. The Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers, so he’ll take over as the No. 1 quarterback for Gang Green in 2021. New York did well to give him some protection in adding OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, and the selections of Elijah Moore and Michael Carter give Wilson additional weapons. Where or not he can break the Jets quarterback draft curse remains to be seen.
Trey Lance, QB, 49ers
The Niners moved up to third to grab a quarterback, and Lance was the pick after weeks of Mac Jones speculation. Despite playing against lesser competition, his numbers in his final full collegiate season (2019) were bananas good. He threw for 28 touchdowns without a single interception, and his 1,100 rushing yards were impressive. He might not have a ton of redraft value if the Niners ease him into a starting role behind veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, but his fantasy (dynasty) future is bright indeed.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons
The Falcons didn’t have a need at tight end, but Pitts is a generational talent. A wideout in a tight end’s body, he produced more than 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Florida. He might not have elite fantasy value as a rookie in a crowded Falcons pass attack, but Pitts should emerge into one of the five best tight ends in fantasy football once he’s in the prime of his career. He’ll be picked as a borderline No. 1 tight end in 2021 drafts, but I’d temper expectations in year one despite the talent.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals
The last time we saw Chase on the gridiron, he put up 84 catches, 1,780 yards, and 20 touchdowns at LSU. Oh, and he was on the receiving end of some accurate Joe Burrow passes. Guess who'll be throwing him the football at the next level. As the two already possess a tremendous rapport, that makes Chase the favorite to lead all Bengals wideouts in targets as a rookie. I'm not sure he'll be Justin Jefferson, but Chase is without question the top fantasy wideout in redrafts and dynasty formats.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins
Waddle reunites with Tua Tagovailoa, his former collegiate quarterback during his time at Alabama in South Beach. He was a dynamic playmaker with the Crimson Tide, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch while splitting targets with studs like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith. Waddle might not make a major impact as a rookie with DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Mike Gesicki all in the pass attack, but he will be worth a middle to late pick in redrafts and a first-rounder in most dynasty formats. Also, keep in mind that Fuller is a one-year deal, and Preston Williams is in a contract year.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles
The Eagles traded up with the Cowboys (of all teams) to land Smith, who might have gone to the Giants otherwise. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner doesn't have great size but could still produce big totals during his collegiate career. I think he'll come right in and start opposite Jalen Reagor, and I wouldn't be shocked if Smith is the first Eagles wideout picked in redrafts. He'll also be a first-round pick in dynasty drafts.
Justin Fields, QB, Bears
The Bears thrilled their fans by moving up the draft board to acquire Fields, who many saw as the second-best quarterback in this class. An accurate passer in college who could also find success on the ground, Fields has the tools to make a real fantasy impact at the next level. Even if he opens next season behind Andy Dalton, it shouldn't be long before Fields gets his shot to take the reins of the Bears' offense. My No. 2 rookie field general, his presence under center is good for Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney.
Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Jones had been linked to the 49ers and Patriots, but he fell into New England’s lap when San Francisco took Lance. It might be a good thing, as Jones will have a shot to be the franchise quarterback for coach Bill Belichick. An extremely accurate passer, he completed 77% of his attempts while throwing 44 touchdowns with just four picks last season. Cam Newton’s presence atop the depth chart could keep Jones from being picked in redrafts, but he’ll be a popular dynasty draft and stash under Belichick.
Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
From a fantasy perspective, this was the best pick of the first round. A three-down back, Harris averaged nearly six yards per attempt in his final collegiate season and put up a ridiculous 26 rushing touchdowns. That led the nation. He also proved he could handle a featured workload, seeing 251 carries and nearly 300 touches. The Steelers do have many questions on their offensive line, but Harris projects to start and could become the next great runner in the Steel City. He'll be worth a top 30 pick in redrafts and is very likely to be the first rookie running back off the board in all long-term fantasy formats.
Elijah Moore, WR, Jets
Moore was considered a first-round talent, but Gang Green landed him near the top of Round 2. He’s coming off an impressive 2020 campaign where he produced huge totals despite playing in just eight games before opting out to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. His 86 catches and 1,193 receiving yards ranked second in the nation among wide receivers, behind only DeVonta Smith (who played in five more games). A slot man at Ole Miss, his presence in the pass attack could mean the end of Jamison Crowder’s time in New York. Moore could be worth a late-round flier in 2021 redraft leagues.
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
The Broncos traded up to land Williams, who figures to be their featured back of the future. He’s coming off a monster final season with the Tar Heels, producing more than 1,100 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground while averaging more than seven yards per carry. He'll likely start the season behind Melvin Gordon and likely be in a committee as a rookie, but he could push for more work in the second half. I'd consider him a flex option with the potential to become a No. 2 running back. Also, keep in mind that Gordon is entering the final year of his contract, so Williams will be the main man in 2022.
Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, Panthers
Last season, Marshall averaged more than 100 yards per game and recorded double-digit touchdowns as the Tigers' top wideout before opting out. He was considered a viable first-rounder, and Marshall landed in a good spot with the Panthers. The offense has plenty of available targets with the loss of Curtis Samuel, but Marshall will be no better than third in the pecking order behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. He won't have his name called in most redrafts, but Marshall will be a locked-in dynasty selection.
Josh Palmer, WR, Chargers
Palmer didn't put up great numbers in a poor Tennessee pass attack, but he has good size, hands and a competitive receiver. The Chargers don't have any locks at wideout behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and catching passes from a good young quarterback like Justin Herbert makes Palmer a player to watch in camp. What’s more, Williams is entering the final year of his contract with the Chargers.
Dyami Brown, WR, Football Team
Brown recorded more than 1,000 yards in each of his final two seasons with the Tar Heels, during which time he scored 20 touchdowns. He'll compete for a secondary role in the Washington pass attack as a rookie; however, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Logan Thomas are all locked into prominent roles. Brown will be a 2021 dynasty stash.
Tommy Tremble, TE, Panthers
Tremble’s collegiate stats don’t pop off the page by any stretch, as he finished his two seasons with the Fighting Irish with just 35 catches in 19 games. He played behind Cole Kmet as a freshman and was used as a rotational player last year. Tremble is athletic, however, and his skills as a blocker are excellent. The Panthers lack a true No. 1 tight end, too, so Tremble is a player who is at least worth monitoring during training camp.
Trey Sermon, RB, 49ers
Sermon finished last season ranked tied for 10th in broken tackles among running backs, and he'll come to the NFL with fresh legs. Between three seasons with the Oklahoma Sooners and one with the Buckeyes, Sermon never had more than 164 carries. He’ll compete with Jeff Wilson and Wayne Gallman for touches behind Raheem Mostert as a rookie, but Sermon could earn a bigger role down the stretch. Playing in the offense of coach Kyle Shanahan is a huge advantage, so I’d expect Sermon to be worth a late redraft flier who could be a real asset in the long term.
Michael Carter, RB, Jets
Carter landed in a great spot from a fantasy perspective, as the Jets don't have a true featured back with Tevin Coleman, La'Mical Perine, and Ty Johnson on the roster. In fact, Carter projects to be the first New York runner to come off the board in redrafts. A versatile back who had 82 catches and just six dropped passes at North Carolina, he projects as a Giovani Bernard or Chase Edmonds type at the next level. If there's one big concern, Carter is 5' 8" and might not be capable of a workhorse role.
Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Titans
Fitzpatrick wasn't considered an elite prospect coming out of Louisville, as his best season saw him produce 833 yards and three touchdowns (he had nine scores as a freshman). However, he landed in a great spot as the Titans lost Corey Davis to the Jets and could push for the third spot on the depth chart behind A.J. Brown and Josh Reynolds. Fitzpatrick should be seen as a late-round dynasty league option who could also have some redraft or waiver-wire value during his rookie season.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions
The Lions lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones during free agency, and their top two wideouts going into the draft are journeymen Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. That will make St. Brown an interesting late-round flier in fantasy redrafts. He had a big 2019 season playing mostly out of the slot for USC, producing 77 catches, more than 1,000 yards, and six touchdowns. His numbers declined this past season while playing more on the outside, but St. Brown couldn't have landed in a better situation as a rookie.
Brevin Jordan, TE, Texans
Jordan is a pass-catching threat who did most of his collegiate damage out of the slot. The Texans have only Jordan Akins and Ryan Izzo at tight end after the release of Darren Fells, so things are wide open for Jordan to earn a big role in the passing game. Most tight ends don’t thrive as rookies, however, but Jordan does have dynasty appeal.
Dazz Newsome, WR, Bears
Newsome isn't going to make a fantasy impact as a rookie, but he's a worthwhile pick in dynasty leagues. Allen Robinson is playing on the franchise tag and no lock to be back with the Bears in 2022. Justin Fields's presence is good news for Chicago's wideouts.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst for Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!
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