Fantasy Players With the Most to Lose on Draft Day
We’re back, and it feels great. By ‘we’, I basically mean me – and those of us that didn’t pump out too much content over the offseason. I spent some much-needed time with my family and my brand new niece, and there was a lot of moving pieces in the world that took up real estate in my mind. Thankfully football season unofficially kicks off this week, and we can finally evaluate fantasy landing spots and situations with actual rosters in mind. Mock drafts are important to develop a process and monitor how player values rise and fall, but the real analysis begins once depth charts come into focus.
All of the rookie running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks have a whole lot to gain in the fantasy community this week, but lots of guys also have plenty to lose. The obvious martyrs are going to be Jimmy G, any running back currently third on the depth chart, and receivers that land in Baltimore. Since those are too obvious, I wanted to cover a few specific fates that will hang in the balance for the next 72 hours. The stock of the guys in this group could swing in either direction depending on what their teams decide to do, and I specifically prioritized high-value draft picks since those rookies tend to see the field very quickly. These are primarily first-round discussions, but running backs within the first three rounds can have massive impacts on any currently usable fantasy asset at the same position. If you have a ball carrier in a dynasty league that you are counting on for the 2021 season, cross your fingers now that the first 96 picks come and go without another running back joining their backfield.
Editor’s Note: For more of the 2021 NFL Draft, check out our entire Rookie Profile series. Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles are found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.
The Cinderella story of the 2020 fantasy season was also one of the most valuable waiver adds in recent memory. James Robinson came out of nowhere and stepped into a workhorse role for a team that lacked playmakers elsewhere on the field. If you were one of the lucky ones to snag Robinson early from your league’s waiver wire, you likely walked into the playoffs at the very least and potentially carried home a title. Robinson finished as a top-10 back in all formats and saw some of the highest usage of any player in the league. During a time where workhorse running backs are fading into the abyss, Robinson embodied the term in every way.
2021 may paint a different picture. The pride of Illinois State may have performed strongly when given the chance, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to get that same shot this season. Jacksonville is very slim in the RB room, and Robinson doesn’t have any significant investment from the front office to warrant a guaranteed role. Even though he didn’t do anything to lose the job, he’s very likely to share it next season. If by some miracle the Jaguars punt the running back position in the first three rounds, his stock and ADP will start to settle in with confidence. I’m expecting the Jags to take a ball carrier earlier than some people project, and Robinson’s stock will take a massive hit in the process. If you roster him in dynasty leagues, I’d be looking to move him if someone will deliver on an RB2 price tag.
One of the most intriguing picks in the top ten on Thursday is the one held by the Miami Dolphins. Chris Grier and Brian Flores have done an excellent job in their short time in South Beach and this draft could be a turning point for their win/loss column. There are a lot of lingering questions about Tua Tagovailoa which are warranted, but he’s still a young player who will be entering his first season where he will truly be healthy.
The reason Parker enters Thursday on the hot seat from a fantasy perspective is because of the overwhelming insight that seems to point towards the Dolphins taking a receiver with their first pick. It doesn’t matter if it’s Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, or Ja’Marr Chase that ends up opposite of Parker, because any of them would demand a significant target share. When you combine top ten draft capital at the receiver position with a quarterback who won’t take as many shots down the field, it spells disaster for Parker. If the Dolphins do spend their pick on one of the big three receivers on Thursday night, then Parker will move into WR4 territory in dynasty leagues and shouldn’t be prioritized in redraft leagues.
Most of the offseason this would’ve just said “Chase Edmonds”. Now that Conner has joined the backfield in Arizona, the entire situation is murky. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Keep in mind that Kenyan Drake finished as a top 15 running back in 2020, despite sharing a large chunk of the work with Edmonds. Drake was the primary ball carrier between the tackles and nearly tripled Edmonds’ workload on the ground, but Chase was a staple in the passing attack. Both Conner and Edmonds have a shot to fill the Kenyan Drake role in 2021 as long as no one else comes to town.
The Cardinals have a lot more needs than the running back position, but given Kingsbury’s love for his own scheme and the lack of draft capital invested in third-stringer Eno Benjamin – I wouldn’t rule out a pick that surprises, and frustrates dynasty owners. Edmonds doesn’t fit the mold of a workhorse back and Conner was let go in Pittsburgh, even though he still has a lot of leg left to give. This situation doesn’t scare me as much as the one in Jacksonville, because I think the Cardinals are comfortable with their current backfield. As of today, Conner projects to be the early-down back and I assume the coaching staff will deploy the two of them similar to the Drake/Edmonds duo last season. If I roster either of these guys in dynasty, I’m holding for now because you’re unlikely to return a lot of upside until the draft is completed.
Side note: both of these guys have two first names. Four first names in one backfield? You don’t see that every day.
At times during this offseason, I felt like Bart Simpson on the chalkboard during the intro music for TV’s longest-running show, except I was just writing “I will not talk about Kyle Pitts” over and over. Pitts has been discussed more than any player I can remember, and the expectations for him in the fantasy community have gotten outrageous. If he’s not the next Travis Kelce, there will be people saying he stinks. I hope it works out for the sake of all of us, but we need to pump the breaks a bit.
With that being said, if the Falcons do snag the demi-prospect at number four overall, then Hayden Hurst becomes an instant afterthought in every format. Hurst is a decent player who flew under the radar last year in fantasy leagues, but Kyle Pitts is a different breed. If the Falcons do invest that much capital at the tight end position, Hurst can be dropped in fantasy leagues with confidence.
This may come as a surprise to a lot of people since he’s the obvious starter, but Joe Burrow’s future in this league will be impacted significantly by the Bengals’ first pick. There are rumblings that Ja’Marr Chase could be paired up with Joe Smooth for their second stint as Tiger pals, but their offensive line is a much more immediate need. Chase would be a great weapon for Burrow immediately, but the impact he could have will be minimized if Burrow doesn’t have time in the pocket.
As much as I would love to see the two of them together in Cincy, the Bengals would be wise to prioritize someone like Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater. They can still snag a receiver in the second round since this class is uniquely deep, and another former teammate of his may even be available. Starting off with Sewell followed by Terrace Marshall, Jr or another pass catcher with upside would be a better long-term strategy than taking Chase in the top five. I don’t think Burrow will struggle either way, but his fantasy upside at the quarterback position will require more than a single receiver, even if he’s potentially a generational one.