The Patriots sat at #15 and landed Alabama QB Mac Jones. A 1-year starter following the departure of Tua Tagovailoa, Jones went off for 4,500-41-4 last fall. His 84.2% adjusted completion rate led the nation. While Jones played with top-tier talent (Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris), his accuracy was on point at all levels of the field. Per Pro Football Focus, Jones even led the nation in deep yards (1,355). The 6’3, 217-pounder brings below average athleticism, so don’t expect much rushing production in the pros. But his profile might have him as the 2nd most pro-ready passer in this draft, behind only Trevor Lawrence. Jones will battle QB Cam Newton for the starting job this summer. Our early money is on Jones being under center come Week 1.
The Cowboys selected Penn State LB Micah Parsons 12th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, after a trade down with the Eagles. Before opting out of 2020, Parsons delivered cross-category production for the Nittany Lions. His 2019 stat line included 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 5 pass breakups and 4 forced fumbles. He backed up that college production and tape with stellar athletic testing, including a class-leading 129.6 speed score (on a 4.41-second 40). That’s an even better speed score than Isaiah Simmons or Devin White, who led the past 2 LB classes. Parsons could be an option at any LB spot for the Cowboys. Sean Lee recently retired. Leighton Vander Esch has had neck issues. Even Jaylon Smith has been up and down. We'll see about the specific plan for Parsons, but he looks like a good bet for stat production.
The Bears traded up from #20 to #11 to snag Ohio State QB Justin Fields. Fields’ career has run parallel with that of Trevor Lawrence since high school. He entered college essentially tied with Lawrence as the nation’s top recruit. After a year at Georgia, Fields starred across 2 Ohio State seasons. He delivered 63 TD passes vs. just 9 INTs while completing 68.4% of his throws at 9.3 yards per attempt. Fields ranked 2nd only to Alabama’s Mac Jones in Pro Football Focus adjusted completion rate among draft-eligible QBs in 2020 (80.8%). Fields adds dynamic running ability, tallying 1,133 yards and 19 TDs on the ground for his college career. Fields hits the NFL with at least as much fantasy upside as Lawrence and the potential to deliver QB1-level numbers right away. It shouldn’t take him long to beat out Andy Dalton for the starting job in Chicago.
The Eagles traded up from #12 to #10 to select Alabama WR DeVonta Smith. You know the concern with Smith: He weighed in at 170 pounds at Alabama’s Pro Day and 166 at the medical recheck in Indianapolis. That puts him in a bucket that hasn’t produced many high-end fantasy assets. DeSean Jackson is the only WR 175 pounds or lighter to top 1,000 yards over the past 10 seasons. But Smith is also 6’0 with a 78.5-inch wingspan that lands him in the 72nd percentile among NFL WRs. So he’s skinny, but not small. And he puts big check marks in the production and tape boxes. Smith is coming off a Heisman-winning 2020 campaign that saw him post a silly 117-1856-23 line. Those yardage and TD totals both rank top 6 in NCAA history. Smith’s 2019 junior season was just as impressive. The raw numbers weren’t as big: 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 TDs. But they came alongside a pair of 2020 1st-round picks in Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, plus a healthy Jaylen Waddle. Smith led that stacked squad in yards and TDs, ranking 2nd to Jeudy in catches. The tape shows a combination of ankle-breaking releases, silky smooth routes and uncanny ball skills. Smith wins at all levels of the field and is much better in contested situations than you’d expect from a man of his size. While the weight adds risk to his NFL projection, Smith is a guy we’re not gonna bet against. He’s simply good at football. The Eagles have now gone WR in the 1st round in 2 straight drafts after going with Jalen Reagor at #21 last year. Those guys should be the team’s top 2 WRs going forward.
The Broncos have selected Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II with the 9th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. A top-10 recruit nationally in the 2018 class, Surtain started 12 of 15 games as a true freshman -- plus 25 more over the next 2 seasons. He compiled 24 passes defensed, 4 INTs and 4 forced fumbles for the Tide. Surtain might have to open as the 3rd corner in Denver, after the Broncos signed Ronald Darby and traded for Kyle Fuller this offseason.
CB Jaycee Horn went to the Panthers with the 8th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. The son of former NFL WR Joe Horn, Jaycee started 10 of 11 games as a true freshman in 2018. He finished his college career with just 2 INTs across 30 games but defensed 25 total passes -- including 8+ in each season. Horn’s 8 PDs in 2020 came in just 7 games, before he opted out for the final 7. Horn still landed a 2nd-team All-SEC bid for the year. He should quickly grab a starting job in Carolina.
The Dolphins selected Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle with the 6th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Waddle turned in a super impressive true freshman season back in 2018, hauling in 45 balls for 848 yards and 7 scores on a loaded pass-catching corps. His 848 yards ranked 2nd to only sophomore Jerry Jeudy -- ahead of sophomore Henry Ruggs, sophomore DeVonta Smith and junior Irv Smith. Waddle took a step back as a sophomore, finishing with a 33-560-6 line. But he got off to a monster start this past year, racking up 25 catches for 557 yards and 4 scores over the first 4 games. Waddle actually led DeVonta Smith in yards and matched him in TDs during that span. He went down with a fractured right ankle in game #5, though, and was clearly limited when he returned for the National Championship vs. Ohio State. Waddle is reportedly recovering nicely from that injury and didn’t miss time with any other injuries across his 3 college seasons. The Fins are getting the most explosive WR in this class. Waddle has supersonic speed, routinely blowing by DBs on deep balls and crossers. He also flashes plus contested-catch ability, despite going just 5’9 and 180 pounds. There are shades of Tyreek Hill to his game. No excuses for QB Tua Tagovailoa, who now has former college teammate Waddle plus Will Fuller, DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki.
The Bengals added LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase with the 5th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns but had nothing left to prove after a massive 2019. He set single-season SEC records with 1,780 yards and 20 TDs. And he did it as a true sophomore battling for targets with Justin Jefferson, who just set the record for receiving yards by a rookie, and Terrace Marshall, who is expected to be a 1st- or 2nd-rounder this year. Chase goes 6’0, 201 pounds but plays bigger. He’s physical through his routes, at the catch point and after the catch. And he’s excellent going deep, leading the nation with 24 catches 20+ yards downfield in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. Chase blew up his Pro Day, blazing a 4.34-second 40-yard dash and registering a huge 41-inch vertical to earn a 98th percentile Relative Athletic Score. “Chase is one of the best wide receivers in the last 10 years,” a longtime scout told The Athletic’s Bob McGinn. “He can take an underneath ball and go 80 yards. He can just run right by you and catch it 60 yards downfield. He’s built like a fullback almost, but can run like a wide receiver. He’s as good as it gets.” Chase reunites with QB Joe Burrow in Cincinnati as part of a loaded WR corps alongside Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Any of those 3 could lead the team in targets this season.
The Falcons selected Florida TE Kyle Pitts with the 4th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s the highest a TE has ever been picked. Pitts stands nearly 6’6 and 245 pounds with a massive, 83 3/8” wingspan. As a junior in 2020, he tallied 43-770-12 across only 8 games. That sample included monster lines against Alabama (7-129-1), Tennessee (7-128) and Ole Miss (8-170-4). The 20-year-old has the movement skills and versatility of a future WR1, making him a bit of a cheat code at TE. For further confirmation of his dominance, Pitts tested very well with a 4.44 forty time (98th percentile) and a 129-inch broad jump (97th percentile). He joins Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to give the Falcons 1 of the best groups of pass-catchers in the league. We’ll probably see a lot of 2-TE sets in Atlanta this year with Pitts and Hayden Hurst under former Titans TEs coach and new Falcons HC Arthur Smith.
Trey Lance completed an improbable rise to the NFL by landing with the 49ers at Pick #3 in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance spent just 1 season as a starting QB in high school and then chose North Dakota State at the FCS level after being lightly recruited. He followed NFL backup Easton Stick there and balled out in his lone starting campaign. Lance completed 66.9% of his throws at 9.7 yards per attempt with 28 TDs and nary an INT. He led that Bison team to a 16-0 record and the FCS national title, adding 1,100 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. Lance boasts the size and willingness to be Josh Allen-like as a goal-line rusher. Also like Allen, he sports a big throwing arm. Lance started just 17 college games and might be asked to sit for a year before getting his starting shot in the pros. (Even Jimmy Kepouros, an NDSU WR, calls Lance “really raw.”) But the rushing ability alone gives Lance immediate fantasy upside whenever he does hit the field. This is a nice landing spot with a bright offensive mind in HC Kyle Shanahan and a nice group of pass-catchers in George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. We’ll see whether the Niners hang on to QB Jimmy Garoppolo -- and if he can hang on to the starting job for any or all of 2021. Bet on Lance hitting the field at some point this season.
The Jets selected BYU QB Zach Wilson with the 2nd overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson enjoyed a breakout 2020 with 3,692 yards, 33 TDs and 3 INTs across 12 games. He added a 73.5% completion rate while performing as one of the nation’s most accurate QBs. The low level of competition he faced wasn’t ideal, but Wilson (6’3, 212) truly stood out as a special passer. He also rebounded nicely from an injury-riddled 2019 that began with right labrum surgery in January. Now, he heads to a strong fit with the Jets and new OC Mike LaFleur, whose offense will take advantage of Wilson’s movement skills. He’s a heavy favorite to be under center come Week 1 and could provide some spot-start value this season.
The Jaguars selected Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with the 1st pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s tough to say how long we’ve known this would be the pick. Lawrence spent at least all of the 2020 season as the presumptive #1 selection. With 36 starts across 3 years at Clemson, Lawrence enters the NFL long on experience. He racked up 90 TD passes vs. just 17 INTs with the Tigers and earned passing grades of 90+ from Pro Football Focus in each of his 3 seasons. Lawrence brings accuracy in throwing to every level and adds rushing upside. He topped out at 563 yards on the ground as a 2019 sophomore and punched in 17 TD runs over the past 2 years. With Jacksonville, Lawrence inherits a talented WR corps led by D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault and free-agent addition Marvin Jones. Lawrence has the upside to crack the fantasy top 12 right away and should be a long-term factor for his fantasy teams.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is "disgruntled" with the organization and has told some that he doesn't want to return to the team, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. It seemed like this relationship had been mended, but Rodgers is reportedly still upset about Green Bay's decision to take QB Jordan Love in the 1st round of last year's draft. "As we've stated since the season ended, we are committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond," GM Brian Gutekunst told ESPN. "Aaron has been a vital part of our success and we look forward to competing for another championship with him leading our team." We'll see where this goes. The 49ers reportedly called the Packers on Wednesday night to inquire about Rodgers' availability but were turned away.
Update: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport adds that Rodgers' discontent stems from an inability for him and the Packers to agree on a new long-term contract. "No deal is done, and he’s not happy now," Rapoport adds.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports that the Panthers are trading QB Teddy Bridgewater to the Broncos for a 6th-round pick. That seems like a surprisingly small price, but Bridgewater is due nearly $23 million this year and would still carry $5 million in dead money on the 2022 cap if released after this season. His departure clears the way for Sam Darnold to take over the offense -- if Carolina doesn't go QB in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. In Denver, we'd bet on a competition between Bridgewater and Drew Lock for the starting gig. This trade might not necessarily take the Broncos out of the NFL Draft QB market. But it at least suggests they don't expect to land a 2021 starting candidate at the position. Bridgewater threw just 15 TD passes in his lone season with Carolina. If he earns the starting job in Denver, he'll find a talent-rich set of pass-catchers that includes Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant and K.J. Hamler.
Giants RB Saquon Barkley (knee) is "on track" to be ready for the start of the season, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. Barkley tore his right ACL on September 20, so he'll be nearly a year removed when the 2021 campaign kicks off. We'll keep a close eye on his progress this summer. Barkley's ADP is sitting at 1.03 in early best-ball drafts at FFPC, so don't expect to get a post-injury discount.
The Bucs and WR Antonio Brown have agreed to a 1-year contract with $3.1 million guaranteed and upside to $6.25 million, according to NFL Network. This deal took a bit longer than expected to get done, but Brown was always expected back in Tampa. He posted a 45-483-4 line in 8 games with the Bucs last season, ranking 21st among WRs in PPR points over that span. Volume is still a bit of a concern here, though, with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski also back for 2021.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport hears that teams have been calling the Falcons to inquire about the availability of WR Julio Jones. Talks like this happen all the time, so this certainly doesn't mean Jones is on his way out. But it's worth noting that Atlanta is up against the salary cap and would save about $15 million by dealing Jones after June 1. "A trade could not happen for cap reasons before June 1, but teams know Atlanta’s brutal cap situation and are calling," Rapoport said. "A deal won’t happen now, but later? Maybe." We'll continue to keep an eye on this. A Jones trade would be a blow to QB Matt Ryan's fantasy stock but leave a ton of targets available for Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst and potentially rookie Kyle Pitts.
The 49ers have signed RB Wayne Gallman to a 1-year deal. He joins a depth chart that also includes Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., JaMycal Hasty and Austin Walter. With the Giants in 2020, Gallman actually outperformed both Wilson and Mostert in Football Outsiders' rushing DYAR and DVOA, ranking top-12 in each category. Gallman also earned a higher rushing grade than Wilson from Pro Football Focus and narrowly trailed Mostert in that category (77.0 to 76.4). Mostert is going in the middle of Round 7 in FFPC best-ball ADP as RB28; Wilson sits late in Round 9 at RB37. Neither is going early enough that you need to remove them from your drafting plans. But Gallman's 2020 performance makes him worth considering in a backfield that likes to spread touches around. For now, consider sprinkling in some late Gallman shares into your best-ball drafting. We'll see how things settle out through the summer.
Browns WR Odell Beckham is on track in his recovery from October's torn ACL, according to HC Kevin Stefanski. "He's progressing very well," Stefanski told reporters Tuesday. "He's trending in the right direction." It's standard offseason rhetoric -- but better than hearing about a setback. Beckham will be nearly 11 months removed from the injury when the 2021 season kicks off, so it's fair to expect him to be at least close to 100%. We'll continue to monitor his progress.
TE Jordan Reed announced his retirement. A talented pass-catcher, Reed's career was unfortunately defined by injuries, most notably his 7 documented concussions. He finishes a 7-season career with 355 catches for 3,602 yards and 28 TDs.
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