NFL Draft 2021: Should we slow the fantasy football hype for Najee Harris?

Dalton Del Don
·7-min read

San Francisco, The Trey Area

The 49ers added two Treys to the Bay when they drafted Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick and traded up to grab Trey Sermon in Round 3, and both have the potential to make big fantasy impacts in 2021. 

Lance has the fewest pass attempts ever for someone drafted so high, and Jimmy Garoppolo is currently the team’s starter, so while patience may be initially required, Lance will immediately become a top-10 fantasy QB the moment he starts.

Lance totaled 42 touchdowns, set a college football record with the most pass attempts without an interception, and ran for 1,100+ yards (remember, college also counts sacks here) as a 19-year-old during his last full season. He’s raw but also possesses a high football IQ (even calling protections at the line of scrimmage) and will be stepping into an unconventionally favorable situation as a rookie, with the 49ers offering the game’s best play designer to go along with George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and an upgraded offensive line. It’s a system that allowed Nick Mullens to throw for the second-most yards over a quarterback's first 16 starts in NFL history.

There’s a real argument to take Lance with the first pick in a rookie Superflex dynasty draft.

Sermon, meanwhile, joins an SF backfield with the extremely injury-prone Raheem Mostert (282 career rushing attempts) and undrafted Jeff Wilson Jr. on the depth chart. Sermon has durability questions himself but is a favorite of some draftniks and can overcome a lack of long speed with a 1.49 10-yard split and a Burst Score in the 81st percentile. Sermon is 6'0", 215 lbs, and advanced in pass protection (albeit a work in progress as a receiver), and while Lance stealing goal-line scores wouldn’t be ideal (please watch this highlight), it would be otherwise as lucrative as any situation in football should the rookie running back find himself starting at some point.

PFF graded the 49ers No. 2 in run blocking last year, and they re-signed Trent Williams at LT, upgraded at center by reuniting Kyle Shanahan with Alex Mack, and drafted massive G Aaron Banks in Round 2.

Don’t be surprised if Sermon outproduces all rookie fantasy backs other than Najee Harris.

A.J. Brown THE WR1?

I wasn’t worried about a rookie taking targets from A.J. Brown, but it doesn’t hurt that the Titans didn’t select a wide receiver until Round 4. With a shaky Tennessee defense in place and Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith gone, Brown is a lock to see his targets skyrocket in 2021. He played through a knee injury all of last year that was originally feared to be a season-ender (he had surgeries on both knees during the offseason) yet caught 11 TDs over 14 games anyway. Brown has 19 touchdowns on just 190 targets over the first two years of his career.

The loss of play-caller Arthur Smith is going to make life tougher (few receivers have benefitted more from play action than Brown over the last two seasons), but the increased volume by far outweighs that concern. Brown had the fifth-most points per game among WRs in 0.5 PPR leagues last season — he ran just the 57th most routes in the league.

Tennessee’s No. 2 wideout right now is Josh Reynolds, and can you imagine if the heavily-worked Derrick Henry were to go down?

With the real possibility of Aaron Rodgers leaving Green Bay, Brown has a strong argument to be drafted as the No. 1 fantasy receiver in 2021.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown #11 of the Tennessee Titans
A.J. Brown stands alone among the Tennessee receiving corps. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Falcons, Cardinals, and Dolphins (mostly) ignore running back

Atlanta didn’t use any of their nine draft picks on an RB, leaving newcomer Mike Davis as the clear No. 1 (with just Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, and Tony Brooks-James behind him). Davis wore down some but proved capable while replacing Christian McCaffrey last year, totaling 903 yards with eight touchdowns (and 46 catches) over 12 starts. He’s not overly exciting, but Davis had the fourth-most catches among RBs last season and finished No. 3 in Juke Rate. He’s one of draft weekend’s biggest winners as the projected feature back on an absolutely loaded Falcons offense with Kyle Pitts joining Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Matt Ryan.

The Cardinals also didn’t draft a running back, which shoots Chase Edmonds’ fantasy value way up after Kenyan Drake signed with the Raiders. Arizona added James Conner in the offseason, but he has major durability concerns and isn’t nearly the threat an early drafted rookie would’ve been. Edmonds is unlikely to be a true workhorse, but he’s a major weapon as a receiver and clearly outplayed Drake last season. Edmonds should be treated as a borderline top-20 fantasy back.

The Dolphins ruined the theme here by drafting a back, but it wasn’t until Round 7, leaving Myles Gaskin as Miami’s clear starter. They signed Malcolm Brown during the offseason, but many still expected the Dolphins to spend one of their four picks in the first two rounds on an RB. Gaskin averaged 20 touches over seven starts last season, and the Dolphins added Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle to the offense. With Tua Tagovailoa in Year 2 (and further removed from hip surgery) joining DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and a second-round pick spent on a tackle, Miami’s situation sure looks favorable.

Treat Gaskin as a borderline top-20 fantasy RB as well.

The Najee Harris question

Harris is set to be Pittsburgh’s workhorse back after the team took him at No. 24 and immediately becomes a second-round fantasy pick. That makes plenty of sense with so few three-down backs in the league and Harris entering with fresh legs and an impressive college resume.

Just realize, however, that his situation has some concern, as Ben Roethlisberger got an ugly 5.8 YPA over the second half of last season. Big Ben looking totally washed had a cascading effect on the ground game, as defenses began aggressively crowding the line of scrimmage (PFF also graded Pittsburgh as the second-worst run-blocking unit last season).

I have Harris as a top-15 type fantasy RB, but it would have been better had Pittsburgh addressed its glaring QB problem.

Committees to frustrate in Denver & Jacksonville

While the Falcons may have appeared like a perfect fit for Javonte Williams, the Broncos grabbed him instead, crushing Melvin Gordon’s fantasy value. The Broncos have Mike Clay’s No. 1 ranked defense to go along with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Noah Fant, so this team would legitimately become the Super Bowl favorite if they traded for Aaron Rodgers. With Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater competing at QB and a committee in store, it would likely take an injury for either Williams or Gordon to be a top-20 fantasy back. Also, RIP to Mike Boone as a sleeper.

Despite James Robinson producing 1,414 yards with 10 touchdowns over 14 games last season as an undrafted free-agent rookie on a team that lost 15 straight games, Jacksonville spent a first-round pick on Travis Etienne. Urban Meyer reportedly sees Robinson and (OSU connection) Carlos Hyde as a 1-2 punch and Etienne as a third-down back. Regardless of how that truly shakes out, the landing spot is a major fantasy buzzkill for both Etienne and RB3son.

It sure seems like Meyer is going to be a complete disaster as an NFL head coach.

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