2021 NFL Draft First Round Review

A look at the first round with fantasy winners and losers

Happy Football New Year! Father Time caught up with teams and players last season, but new destinies and careers were birthed on Thursday night. We will be analyzing, watching, and enjoying the ripple effects of this seismic first round into the 2030s. What did we learn about the direction of the franchises that turned formless capital into players who could become some of the best in team history?

AFC East

Buffalo grabbed Gregory Rousseau (Miami-Florida) in a move that fits with our Jordan McNamara’s take that if you’re in the AFC you better have the players to cover Patrick Mahomes II receivers or sack Mahomes. They hope the long and ultra-productive end becomes part of a long-term sack crew with fellow inside/outside rusher and 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa and 2019 first-round defensive tackle and Tasmanian Devil Ed Oliver.

Miami stayed home at No. 6 and took Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), to the surprise of few who have been paying attention to the draft beat. Kyle Pitts and Ja'Marr Chase went fourth and fifth, leaving the Dolphins the choice of their favorite of the two Alabama receivers to reunite with Tua Tagovailoa and give him no excuses for not playing to his draft stock this year. Waddle has elite speed and great catch at the catch point for a small receiver and will give Tagovailoa a twin speed threat to Will Fuller V on the outside. They also added Jaelen Phillips (Miami, FL) at No. 18. He was the best edge rusher in this class (a huge need for Miami opposite Emmanuel Ogbah), but his injury history and brief retirement from football added a lot of risk to his profile - risk that a team with four picks in the Top 50 can comfortably take on. Phillips can help take advantage of the Dolphins elite outside corner duo by giving already challenged quarterbacks less time to throw. Remember, they also netted San Francisco’s 2023 first in their trade-down-then-up maneuver.

Fantasy Winner: Tua Tagovailoa
Fantasy Loser: Will Fuller V

Bill Belichick sat in the weeds and watched Mac Jones (Alabama) fall into his lap. Jones is an excellent fit in Josh McDaniels offense and he should start by midseason unless Cam Newton has a renaissance. The whole pass offense has a brighter outlook and the possible winter coming at quarterback looks a lot sunnier.

Fantasy Winners: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor
Fantasy Loser: Cam Newton

The New York Jets took Zach Wilson (BYU) at No. 2 which was an open secret for months. He should be a good fit in the Shanahan system Mike LaFleur will implement, assuming they get a solid offensive line in front of him. Giving up their two third-round picks (and recouping a late fourth) to move up for Alijah Vera-Tucker, (USC) an instant starter at guard, will advance that cause, but this year could still be a bumpy transition to a much higher level of competition for Wilson. He should still go down swinging and help revitalize the fantasy value of the passing game. The Jets have a chance to turn this around, but they have major holes at corner and linebacker.

Fantasy Winners: Denzel Mims, Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Chris Herndon

AFC South

Houston will wait until the 67th pick after they dealt their first- and second-round picks in the Laremy Tunsil trade.

Indianapolis took a high floor edge rusher in Kwity Paye (Michigan) - who was born in a refugee camp in Guinea. 2018 second-round pick Kemoko Turay had another ankle surgery this offseason and 2019 second-rounder Ben Banogu hasn’t impressed, so the team is going back to the well - and they could still bring back Justin Houston, who remains a free agent. Christian Darrisaw, a left tackle that could have replaced Anthony Castonzo, was there, but one report said the team likes the depth at the position in this draft.

Jacksonville got their slam dunk franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and then brought along his running back Travis Etienne (Clemson) at 25. Etienne may start as more of a third-down back, but it’s very troubling for James Robinson that the new regime spent a first at his position. The decision was questionable from a team-building perspective with so many positions on the roster that don’t have a player as good as Robinson manning it. The pick makes me question the vision on the offense because Etienne won’t get the tough yards that Robinson got routinely in an offense that wasn’t aided by Lawrence’s quarterback play. Etienne would not have looked like a first-round pick on the 2020 Jaguars.

Fantasy Winners: D.J. Chark Jr, Laviska Shenault Jr, Marvin Jones Jr
Fantasy Losers: James Robinson, Travis Etienne

Tennessee made a good boom/bust pick at 22. Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) may be the best corner in this draft if his back issue gets better, but as Eric Stoner says, "Nobody used to have back problems." The Titans squandered a first-round pick on Isaiah Wilson last year, but the payoff on Farley will be much higher at a position of need if Farley can stay healthy.

AFC North

Baltimore turned 27 in Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, a receiver who will be a dependable technician and help the offense but will also suffer in fantasy football from limited opportunity. Lamar Jackson will benefit from the addition. Jayson Oweh (Penn State) was the most physically gifted and least productive edge rusher in the first round this year. The 31st pick was the main haul from the Orlando Brown trade, Oweh will have to play a big role right away in a defense that lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency.

Cincinnati reunited Ja'Marr Chase (LSU) with Joe Burrow. He’ll be a clear No. 1 outside receiver, but don’t discount Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins in an offense that runs a lot of three-wide sets. They pass on offensive tackle Penei Sewell in a move that will be revisited, pending the outcome of whatever offensive lineman (linemen?) the Bengals take on Day 2 and Joe Burrow’s health behind an offensive line that is still a work in progress.

Fantasy Winners: Ja'Marr Chase, Joe Burrow
NOT Fantasy Losers: Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd

Cleveland acted like a playoff team took a good player at a position that you can never have enough of. Greg Newsome II II (Northwestern) adds to a secondary that gained Troy Hill and John Johnson III from the Rams secondary in free agency this offseason. If Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett stay healthy, this defense could take a big step forward.

Pittsburgh turned No. 24 into Najee Harris (Alabama), a three-down running back who was the Plan A all long. When Miami passed on him and the Jets had already traded up from No. 23 to take a guard, Harris falling to Pittsburgh was all but done. He’ll get a massive opportunity, but behind an offensive line with multiple holes, and not the good kind for a running back. The Steelers just extended Mason Rudolph’s contract in 2022, so they might see him as a possible starter in 2022, and that’s not good for Harris’s long-term outlook. Let’s see who they can land for the line on Day 2.

Fantasy Winner (Short Term): Najee Harris
Possible Fantasy Loser (Long Term): Najee Harris

AFC West

Denver passed on Justin Fields (at least in part because they got Teddy Bridgewater according to Mike Klis) and spurned trade down offers from Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans and instead took Patrick Surtain II (Alabama). He could help turn around a new look secondary that added Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. The Broncos did win a Super Bowl Peyton Manning as the clock struck midnight on his career because of their defense and they should have the best Chubb/Miller season yet coming up, so it could work out, but if Fields hits this decision will be skewered.

Fantasy Winners: Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater

Kansas City traded down from 31 to 58 to get new starting left tackle Orlando Brown from Baltimore.

The Los Angeles Chargers sat tight and hit a home run with Rashawn Slater (Northwestern). He can be a day one starter at left tackle and help Justin Herbert have a decent-to-good offensive line. Who knows what he could do with that? Slater can play any position on the line and was the ideal pick for them at No. 13.

Fantasy Winners: Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler

Raiders are gonna Raider, and Gruden’s gonna Gruden, so of course, they were the team that took the one first-round pick that most people had in the second. Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) will be expected to be the answer at right tackle on a line that is also breaking in a brand new center, Andre James and relying on Richie Incognito, who played two games last year, at guard. We’ll compare Leatherwood’s career to Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech), a tackle who the Vikings got at 23 after he easily could have been their pick at 14 before they traded down with the Jets.

NFC East

Dallas made the most out of tough pair of picks right before they were on the clock at No. 10. The two corners linked to them for months leading up to the draft went at 8 and 9, but they added a third third-round pick while only moving down two spots and still getting seek-and-destroy linebacker Micah Parsons (Penn State). 2018 first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch has struggle with neck issues after a strong start to his career and he’s likely to see his fifth-year option declined in the wake of this pick.

The New York Giants traded down from 11 to 20, Dave Gettleman’s first-ever trade down, and got Chicago’s first- and fourth-round picks next year and a fifth this year (good!) and took undefined offensive weapon Kadarius Toney (Florida). Jason Garrett isn’t the most creative offensive coordinator to use a “just get the ball in his hands” route runner under construction receiver like Toney and the team already has a somewhat crowded and inefficient passing game.

Fantasy Losers: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton

Philadelphia traded up two spots to get De’Vonta Smith (Alabama), who is reunited with Jalen Hurts, which made it three out of three for the receivers who went in the Top 10 landing with one of their college quarterbacks. Smith will give the Eagles a reliable target in the middle of the field as the team went back to the well for a wide receiver pick in the first round for the second straight year. They also passed on Justin Fields, so like the Panthers and Broncos, if Fields hits big for the Bears, the Eagles will have to answer for that unless Hurts or a quarterback they take with a wallet that includes three firsts next year if Carson Wentz stays healthy this year.

Fantasy Winner: Jalen Hurts

The Football Team got a terrific combination of upside, fit, and need when they took Jamin Davis (Kentucky) a dynamic linebacker who play in multiple spots at a very weak position behind the strength of the defense, the offensive line. He will move up multiple spots in the Bloom 100.

NFC North

The Bears made a huge splash by trading next year’s first and fourth and a fifth this year to move up for Justin Fields (Ohio State). It was a quarterback inflation price for the move up, but one that was justified by Fields' level of accomplishment and demonstrated talent. Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy just might have bought themselves a stay of execution. Andy Dalton might have been better for Allen Robinson, but Fields will start in short order. And he won’t be as high volume a passer as Dalton, although he’ll be much better suited to bring Darnell Mooney’s deep speed into play and will help open up running lanes for David Montgomery.

Fantasy Winners: Darnell Mooney, David Montgomery
Fantasy Loser: Andy Dalton

The Lions didn’t trade down. Instead, they landed Penei Sewell (Oregon), who will give the team the kind tackle duo with Taylor Decker that most teams envy. Jared Goff didn’t get a top pass-catcher to help the worst wide receiver depth chart in the league (let’s see who they take on the second day), but the whole offense should benefit from the addition of Sewell. If free-agent bust Halapoulivaati Vaitai works out at guard, the line will be a strength. The Lions may be another team questioned for passing on Justin Fields, but Sewell was a blue-chip prospect who would have gone in the Top 5 in many drafts.

Fantasy Winners: Jared Goff, D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson

The Packers are in the midst of turmoil with Aaron Rodgers and they addressed that by taking… a replacement for Kevin King? It’s not that the Packers shouldn’t seek that -- and Stokes' speed and frame make him an obvious potential upgrade at a sore spot -- but this isn’t exactly a grand romantic gesture.

Rick Spielman loves to play the draft and got rewarded for his flexibility when Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) made it back-to-back Hokies in the first (Caleb Farley Tennessee cornerback at 22 being the other). Darrisaw would have been a fine pick at 14, but he recently had groin surgery that might have scared some teams off. He should be an instant starter at tackle and help the Vikings running game.

Fantasy Winners: Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook

NFC South

Atlanta didn’t get a trade down offer they liked enough to pass on Kyle Pitts (Florida), The tight end is clearly a foundational player as the first non-quarterback off of the board and highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. We will see if Julio Jones is traded, but even if Jones is a Falcon this year, Pitts should get enough opportunity to be a top-five fantasy tight end, which is actually a low bar. Matt Ryan isn’t an ideal quarterback for Pitts and he’ll obviously share with Calvin Ridley, but look at the draft stock over the situation when valuing Pitts for dynasty.

Carolina passed on Justin Fields, giving Sam Darnold a runway for takeoff which should include a guaranteed fifth-year option. Instead, they took Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) a shutdown corner who does skirt the line on penalties. He’s needed in a division with very talented receivers and Tom Brady, but Darnold and Fields' performances may define the success of this pick as much as Horn’s.

Fantasy Winner: Sam Darnold

The Saints made lukewarm attempts to trade up into the Top 10 (for a corner or Mac Jones according to some reports) but ended up staying home and taking Payton Turner, a hard-nosed end who can also slide inside on passing downs. He fits the Saints type and many had him trending into the first round in the hours leading up to the draft.

Tampa Bay was able to go best-player-available to land Joe Tryon (Washington), an edge rusher with a lot of room to grow in his game while he learns behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.

NFC West

Arizona sat tight at No. 16 and got Zaven Collins (Tulsa), who can play inside or outside, or even defensive end, giving Vance Joseph another versatile piece to a defense that already has Budda Baker, Isaiah Simmons, and Chandler Jones.

The Rams dealt their first-round pick to the Jaguars in the Jalen Ramsey deal and could trade down from No. 57, their first pick on Friday.

Seattle dealt their first-round pick to the Jets in the trade for Jamal Adams last year.

Finally, in the most triumphant moment of the first round, the 49ers took Trey Lance, who can unlock the Shanahan offense, which Lance is well-prepared to run thanks to its similarity to the offense he ran at North Dakota State. Lance has a terrific scheme, offensive line, and skill players around him. The only question now is whether the 49ers can find a taker for Jimmy Garoppolo since the Patriots landed Mac Jones. Kyle Shanahan laughed off suggestions that Jones was in play to be the pick, saying they didn't want to dispel that notion once it got out there "at all". Lance said he didn't know he was going to be the pick until the 49ers were on the clock.

Fantasy Winners: Trey Lance, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson


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