With the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, now comes the time when the dust settles, and we start figuring out what these new NFL rosters look like and what that means for fantasy football. I mean, we just watched 259 new players enter the league, and that’s not including undrafted free agents. That’s a lot of change to process.
To help distill all this change and roster additions, I’ve already compiled a list of my favorite rookies for fantasy this year, and now its time to flip the coin and look at whose landing spots have me less than thrilled for their 2021 fantasy potential.
I want to stress that my worry does not stem from these players’ ability. All these players will likely make a great impact on their team from a real football perspective (especially you Rashod Bateman), but fantasy-wise, specifically in re-draft leagues, I don’t love it because of situation, or crowdedness at the position, etc. This isn’t a list of the worst rookies in the 2021 NFL draft. That’s just mean.
WR Kadarius Toney, New York Giants
The New York Giants are clearly setting 2021 up to be the make-or-break year for Daniel Jones given their offseason moves. They went out and spent big to bring in Kenny Golladay and drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round to pair with Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, and of course a hopefully healthy Saquon Barkley out of the backfield. No more excuses Daniel, it’s time to prove your worth.
While this investment in the team’s pass catchers is good news for anyone with the stones to roster Jones as their fantasy QB this year, it does not make a great landing spot for Toney. Golladay was clearly signed to be the team’s No. 1 receiver and while injures have bitten him in the past, if he can remain healthy, he’s a lock for at least 120 targets this year. The Giants have also heavily involved Barkley in the passing game when he’s on the field, averaging 6.5 targets in games he’s played in. That’s 110 targets across a 17 game season.
That leaves the rest of the team’s pass attempts to be shared among Toney, Shepard, Slayton, and Engram. And the bad news is there isn’t an abundance of pass attempts to be shared. The Giants last year had the seventh fewest pass attempts (517) and that was without Barkley in their backfield.
Toney is an electric athlete and has the ability to lineup all over the formation, including in the backfield. When the ball is in his hands, he has the speed and shiftiness to turn nothing into something, and something into six. However, Toney was a gadget player at Florida for most of his time there, only really consistently running routes his senior year. He has work to be done in that department which again puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to his fellow receivers.
Drafting Toney in dynasty leagues is a no-brainer since he has first round pedigree and clearly the Giants drafted him there for a reason. In re-draft leagues, I’ll let Toney sit on the waiver wire. While he may see some scripted touches in 2021, I don’t trust that he‘ll be seeing such reliable work as to be worthy of a roster spot.
WR Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
We’ve been begging the Baltimore Ravens to get Lamar Jackson a legit No. 1 wide receiver and I think they finally have done that drafting Rashod Bateman. Depending on who you asked, Bateman was ranked as high as the WR2 in this year’s draft class behind Ja’Marr Chase. The Ravens finally have themselves a potential star receiver.
This is great news for Lamar and his fantasy value. Unfortunately, this isn’t great news for Bateman and his fantasy value.
Since Lamar has taken over as the Ravens’ starting quarterback, Baltimore has finished dead last in the NFL in pass attempts each year—440 in 2019 and just 406 in 2020. While this offense has been one of the most dominate and creative rushing attacks in NFL history during that time, it hasn’t been putting up the highlight numbers through the air needed to sustain an elite fantasy receiver. Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown are the only players to see at least 50 targets in each of the last 2 seasons. This doesn’t instill a lot of confidence that Bateman is going to be stepping into an easy 80+ targets he might otherwise see on another roster.
To make matters worse, only the New York Jets (41), New England Patriots (41), Los Angeles Rams (56), and Carolina Panthers (58) threw the ball in the red zone less than the Ravens (59) last year. So not only is Bateman unlikely to see a high target volume between the 20’s, he’s also not likely to see a ton of red zone work.
Bateman particularly is why I wanted to stress that this list is not a “worst rookies” list. I think Bateman is one of the best receivers in this class—I had him ranked ahead of Jaylen Waddle and well ahead of Toney—and is going to have a huge impact on the Ravens’ passing attack. He will certainly have highlight plays throughout his rookie season and, much like what we’ve seen from Brown the last two years, he will have the occasional WR1 fantasy outing. However, I don’t think the consistency will be there to warrant spending a high draft pick on him this year in re-draft formats.
RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Leave it to the Jacksonville Jaguars to get arguably the best rookie running back last year as an undrafted player and then draft a first round running back the following year. Jags gonna Jags.
There’s a lot to like about Travis Etienne’s game and his explosiveness on the field. He averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and racked up 70 touchdowns on the ground in his 4 years at Clemson. He’s also a weapon in the pass game, finishing third in targets (60) and second in receptions (48) in college football last year among running backs. His 1,020 receiving yards over the last two years is the most in FBS over that time. Had Etienne gone to almost any other team, he almost certainly would have been on my best rookie landing spots column.
Instead Etienne finds himself in a now muddled backfield with James Robinson—the aforementioned undrafted rookie who finished with 1,414 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns last year—and free agent-signee Carlos Hyde. Oh, and no team in the NFL ran the ball less than the Jaguars last year, only amassing 337 attempts. Derrick Henry had 378 attempts.
Obviously the Jaguars offense will look a hell of a lot different in 2021 with Trevor Lawrence under center and Urban Meyer stalking the sidelines. However, it’s not wildly encouraging that Meyer has already come out and said that Etienne will the be Jaguars’ third-down running back, with Robinson and Hyde sharing the work on early downs. Hearing the head coach already limiting Etienne’s role in Jacksonville isn’t exactly encouraging for his fantasy potential.
Quick devil’s advocate on my own take: The NFL is a sucker for pedigree, and the fact that Robinson was an undrafted rookie and Etienne is a first round pick made by the new regime could mean that there’s actually a clearer path for Etienne to take over the Jaguars’ backfield than I’m giving credit. And if he does take over lead duties there, well, ignore this whole section because he’s going to be GOOD.
RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
Similarly to Etienne, Javonte Williams is a great running back who just landed on a team with already a clear RB1 on the roster.
In his first season with the team last year, Melvin Gordon handedly led the Denver Broncos in attempts (215), rushing yards (986), and rushing touchdowns (9), all while sharing a backfield with Phillip Lindsay. Rushing touchdowns is by far the most damning as Lindsay only recorded one rushing touchdown all of last year. Only eight running backs in the league saw a greater percentage of their team’s red zone carries than Gordon in 2020. That means when the Broncos got into the red zone, they were giving the ball to Gordon. And touchdowns are pretty dang valuable in fantasy football.
Gordon’s strangled hold on the red zone work might loosen now with Williams on the roster. Williams is a bigger and stronger back than Lindsay, who made his name at North Carolina breaking a ridiculous number of tackles (like seriously, a ridiculous number). Even if that’s the case, Gordon has shared a backfield for much of his career both in Denver and in Los Angeles/San Diego with Austin Ekeler, and he’s always been the dominate ball carrier, averaging over 15 carries in games he’s played in for his career.
This pick reminds me of what the Green Bay Packers did last year drafting A.J. Dillon in the second round with both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams set to become free agents at the end of 2020. Gordon’s contract is up at the end of 2021 and drafting Williams might have more to do with replacing Gordon in 2022 than Williams having a huge role in the offense this season (so buy Williams in dynasty leagues).
Part of me is also including Williams on this list just out of spite since the Broncos traded up to take Williams in order to prevent the Miami Dolphins taking him, which would have instantly given him a ton of fantasy value for this year. Damn you John Elway!