Clear a path! During the 2021 NFL Draft, these incumbents saw their opportunity decline and Michael Fabiano reviews their downgraded status
The 2021 NFL Draft is now in the books, and we now have a clearer picture of how all 32 rosters are going to look heading into the summer months. I’ve already examined the first, second/third rounds, and the rookie winners, but we also have to look at how the draft has impacted the fantasy value of veteran players in what is a virtual domino effect of sorts. I’ve broken down the veteran winners, so now it’s time to look at the players whose fantasy appeal has experienced a decline due to the NFL draft.
Carson Wentz, Colts
The Colts have a void on its offensive line after the retirement of Anthony Costanzo, but the team didn’t draft a lineman until Round 7 (Will Fries). The addition of Sam Tevi in free agency isn’t going to elicit much excitement, either. Indianapolis drafted a wideout (Mike Strachan, Round 7) and a tight end (Kylen Granson, Round 4), but neither was a high-end prospect. In short, the Colts didn’t do Wentz any favors in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Cam Newton, Patriots
Newton will open next season atop the Patriots’ depth chart, but whether or not he stays in that role remains to be seen after the addition of Mac Jones. The rookie and future franchise quarterback could see starts next season, especially if Newton struggles and the Patriots fall out of postseason contention. He’s a less-attractive No. 2 quarterback.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Garoppolo remains the favorite to open the season as the Niners No. 1 quarterback, but the presence of No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance will loom over him. In fact, Garoppolo will have a short leash if he’s not playing well or the Niners fall out of playoff contention. The veteran will be a QB2/QB3 in most fantasy drafts, but Lance is likely to see starts sooner rather than later.
Jared Goff, Lions
The Lions passing game is going to be among the worst in the league next season. The addition of OT Penei Sewell is, of course, a positive, but Detroit’s top three wideouts as of right now are journeymen Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. I don’t see Goff even being drafted in standard 10- and 12-team leagues.
Andy Dalton, Bears
The QB1 in Chicago isn’t going to be atop the depth chart long, as the team moved up in the draft to select Ohio State’s Justin Fields. So while Dalton might open next season as the starter, I’d project Fields to be under center sooner rather than later. The rookie will be picked ahead of Dalton across the board in terms of 2021 fantasy drafts.
James Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson was the RB7 this past season, posting more than 1,400 scrimmage yards and an average of nearly 18 fantasy points per game as a rookie. Unfortunately, the Jaguars took Travis Etienne in the first round to form a likely painful backfield committee. I wouldn’t be surprised if Etienne becomes the starter at some point. Regardless, a true featured workload won’t be in the cards for Robinson next season and beyond.
David Montgomery, RB, Bears
The Bears didn’t select a running back until the sixth round (Khalil Herbert), but the fact that the team has now added two backs (Damien Williams) is troublesome. Also, don’t forget the return of Tarik Cohen as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Montgomery, an absolute league winner last season, is now a risk-reward No. 2 fantasy running back who might be a flex option in some smaller fantasy leagues.
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
Gordon didn’t have a huge season in 2020, but he still finished as the RB14 with over 1,100 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns. However, that’s an unlikely scenario next season as the Broncos added the super talented Javonte Williams in Round 2 of the NFL draft. That means a backfield committee is likely next season, and I could even see Williams taking over the starting role in the second half. Gordon is also in the final year of his contract in Denver, so Williams will be their new feature back in 2022.
Miles Sanders, Eagles
Sanders is fully expected to be the Eagles starting running back next season, but you have to be concerned about his role in the passing game with the addition of Kenneth Gainwell. A versatile athlete who played both running back and wide receiver during his college days, Gainwell could become a Nyheim Hines type of weapon in the Eagles backfield. Sanders remains a No. 2 fantasy runner, but his ceiling has taken a hit.
Sony Michel, Patriots
Michel, a former first-round pick, has failed to meet expectations in three seasons in the NFL. This could be his final season in New England, too, as the team has a club option for 2022. The Pats also have Damien Harris in the mix, and the selection of Rhamondre Stevenson out of Oklahoma could be the writing on the wall for Michel. At best, he’ll be worth a late-round flier as a No. 5 fantasy running back in most 2021 fantasy drafts.
Tevin Coleman, Jets
Coleman was considered the favorite to start for the Jets next season, but that is now in jeopardy with the addition of Michael Carter out of North Carolina. While he lacks size at 5-foot-8, he still rushed for 1,245 yards while in a committee with Javonte Williams last season. He also totaled 82 catches in four seasons with the Tar Heels. Based on age, skill set, and upside, Carter is now the Jets running back to target in all fantasy drafts.
Jeff Wilson Jr., 49ers
Wilson showed flashes of brilliance at times last season and seemed poised to share the backfield work with Raheem Mostert in 2021. That might still be the case, but the running back room got more crowded when the Niners selected Trey Sermon out of Ohio State. What’s more, the rookie will no doubt be picked ahead of Wilson in most re-drafts. Mostert might lose some value too, but I still expect him to be the Week 1 starter.
Benny Snell Jr., Steelers
Snell looked like the favorite to start in the Steelers’ backfield going into the NFL draft, but that’s no longer a possible scenario with the addition of Najee Harris. Snell is now worth little more than a late-round flier or as a handcuff for those who draft Harris.
Tee Higgins, Bengals
Higgins had an impressive rookie season, finishing 28th in points among wideouts while posting 67 catches and over 900 yards. Unfortunately, the addition of Ja’Marr Chase all but smashes any chance for Higgins to take the next step to fantasy stardom. Chase has a built-in rapport with Joe Burrow from their time together at LSU, so he will be considered the favorite to lead all Cincinnati receivers in targets. With Tyler Boyd also in the passing game, Higgins is far less likely to become a breakout candidate in 2021.
Marquise Brown, Ravens
Brown has failed to meet expectations in his first two NFL seasons, and now his target share is in question for 2021. Not only did the Ravens add Sammy Watkins as a free agent, but the team also selected two wide receivers (Rashod Bateman, Tylan Wallace) in the NFL Draft. Brown is now a player to avoid in fantasy drafts in an offense that leans heavily on the run. At best, he’ll be a No. 4 or 5 wideout with a very low ceiling.
Sterling Shepard, Giants
Shepard’s stock had already taken a hit with the addition of Kenny Golladay as a free agent, but it decreased even further when the G-Men took Kadarius Toney in the first round of the NFL draft. The rookie runs most of his routes out of the slot, so Shepard could be moved to the outside more often in 2021. The target share pie will also be cut up into even more pieces, so Shepard’s fantasy value had seen a real decline.
Jamison Crowder, Jets
The Jets made a big splash on the offensive side of the football, adding a new franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson and a new running back in Michael Carter. The team also picked up Elijah Moore in the second round, making Crowder’s roster spot somewhat of a question mark. Moore was a slot man at Mississippi, so don’t be surprised if the Jets release Crowder before the start of training camp as the youth movement begins.
Mike Williams, Chargers
Williams hasn’t lived up to expectations during his time with the Chargers, and he’ll be a free agent at the end of next season. That could be part of why the Bolts decided to draft Josh Palmer out of Tennessee in the third round. He might end up being the replacement for Williams starting in 2022, and Palmer could etch out a role as a rookie with just Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton ahead of him on the Chargers depth chart.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals
Kirk is coming off another mediocre season in the stat sheets, and the Cardinals seem to be moving away from him as a prominent option in the offense. First, the team added veteran A.J. Green as a free agent. Next, Arizona took Rondale Moore in the second round of the NFL draft. Those two moves will no doubt impact Kirk’s target share next season. Green and Moore will both be selected ahead of Kirk in 2021 drafts.
Hayden Hurst, Falcons
Hurst was a top-10 fantasy tight end last season, but his time as a startable asset is over after the Falcons added Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick in the draft. A wide receiver in a tight end’s body, Pitts is considered a generational talent who could be the next elite fantasy tight end. That leaves Hurst on the backburner and in a position to lose a ton of targets next season. The Falcons have already declined Hurst’s fifth-year option, so he’ll no longer be with the team in 2022. He’s now undraftable at this point.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins
Gesicki finished ninth in fantasy points among tight ends a season ago, but that might end up being his high-water mark with the Dolphins. The team added Will Fuller as a free agent and grabbed both Jaylen Waddle and Hunter Long in the NFL draft. With DeVante Parker and Preston Williams also in the mix, the Dolphins suddenly have many mouths to feed. Gesicki remains draftable, but his ceiling isn’t as high.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the late breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!
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