A matter of days and we will be at the 2021 NFL Draft, here we look at the best opportunities. Teams across the NFL are finalising their boards and making last minute preparations for the premier event in talent acquisition. If free agency is an appetising hors d’oeuvre then the draft is the prime rib of the scouting calendar.
Whilst teams and fans patiently await the arrival of their future stars, fantasy owners are also deep into preparations for the tidal wave of rookie drafts that will follow next weekend. If you don’t have a least one kicking off on Sunday are you really a fantasy football fan at all?
Two of the most critical factors in the dynasty process are:
- weighing landing spots
- draft capital
while the latter will be unknown till the commissioner or, if they’re less lucky, Troy Vincent, reads the players names in Cleveland, there are already hints at some of the best landing spots for the skill position players selected next weekend.
Here are my top ten landing spots and positions to watch out for next weekend:
New England Patriots QB
When Tom Brady departed Boston for a final career sojourn in Tampa Bay many column inches were dedicated to whether he and Bill Belichik could succeed without the other. Brady comprehensively answered his side of the question with his 7th Superbowl win in February. Belichik on the other hand suffered through a miserable 7-9 season. It was his first losing season since 2000, the season before Brady took the reins as his starting Quarterback.
Should The Patriots spend a high pick on a QB he’ll will go into a QB room populated by a broken-down Cam Newton and the disappointing Jarrett Stidham. Newton is the presumptive starter but his disappointing 2020 campaign does nothing to suggest a new QB would struggle to win the job.
In New England a rookie QB would find a roster bolstered through free agency. A defense returning to full strength with Dont’a Hightower back after opting out of the 2020 season. Talented offensive co-ordinator in Josh McDaniels and a Head Coach determined to prove he can win without Brady.
Detroit Lions WR
In some regards landing on a team seemingly at the start of a long rebuild to relevance probably doesn’t seem particularly appealing. On the other hand, the Lions receiver group is wafer-thin. If they spend either the 7th or 39th pick on a wideout that guy would likely top the depth chart before he gets handed his jersey.
Whilst the expectation is that an Anthony Lynn led offense will lean heavily on the run, even the most ground based teams will throw 350 passes. A high draft pick would open a door to early production and relevance in Detroit.
There will be a question over whether Jared Goff can make enough of his opportunity. It’s a reasonable question but ultimately Goff will need to throw the ball to someone and Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and Quintez Cephas is no murderers row. A good player could have years as the undisputed number one receiver and that has value.
Denver Broncos RB
The Bronco’s handling of the running back position has been odd. They spent a 3rd round pick on Royce Freeman but barely use him, found a gem in UDFA Philip Lindsay but let him walk. They then invested heavily in Melvin Gordon and made adding Vikings pre-season sensation Mike Boone a priority this offseason.
With a crowded running back depth chart, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a poor landing spot. Look a little deeper and you see a prime opportunity. Both Gordon and Freeman are free agents after this season – it’s unlikely that either will be back. Boone is unlikely to seize the mantle as a lead back.
A late day 2, early day 3 running back would be in a prime position to grab the starting spot at a position that will see a good workload and has the added advantage of a Mike Munchak coached offensive line.
Seattle Seahawks RB
The Seahawks only have three picks in next weeks draft. A series of trades has depleted their draft capital. As a result, there is a perfectly reasonable school of thought that they are unlikely to add a running back. With Chris Carson back after testing free agency there is no immediate need. The contract, however, looks like he’ll be there for two years at most.
If Seattle do take a running back, take notice. Carson has been one of the most underrated backs in the league during his time in the pacific northwest. He has average 19 touches a game and scored 28 touchdowns in three seasons. No team outside of Baltimore is more committed to running the ball.
It might take a couple of seasons but any back added in Seattle is worth your attention.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR
It’s been a long time since Jacksonville has had a truly exciting outlook. With the arrival of Urban Meyer and the impending selection of Clemson Quarterback Trevor Lawrence things are looking up in Duval.
Whether you buy Lawrence as a “generational talent” is largely irrelevant. The entire Jaguars organisation is going to be built around the 21-year-old signal caller.
He joins an offense with some interesting receiving options in DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault. But neither projects as the kind of number 1 receiver that the team will want to pair with Lawrence. It would be no surprise at all if the team open day 2 of the draft by adding a wide receiver who can grow with Lawrence for at least the next four years.
With Lawrence and Meyer most likely entrenched for a few years at least, this would be a prime spot for an early day 2 receiver. Keep an eye on picks 33 and 65.
Dallas Cowboys TE
With Dak Prescott back from the gruesome leg injury suffered in week 5 of last season the Cowboys offense looks primed to be one of the best in the NFL. An exciting receiver group, Ezekiel Elliott looking to bounce back at running back and the intriguing Tony Pollard waiting in the wings you can expect Dallas to light up the scoreboard every week. The one spot that looks uncertain is tight end.
Blake Jarwin looked all set to grab the opportunity last year, but he was lost for the season in week 1. Dalton Schultz fulfilled the “next man up” duties and had an impressive 63 catch, 615-yard season. The Stanford man over delivered and could probably argue that he deserves to start the season as the starter but he’s really “just a guy”.
The Cowboys may well be the landing spot for Florida Tight End Kyle Pitts. If it happens expect Pitts to jump to the top of many rookie draft boards – if you don’t like Cowboys hype – then steer clear of NFL programming for a few months.
Even if they don’t snag Pitts, one of the second tier of tight ends (Brevin Jordan, Pat Freiermuth or Hunter Long) would be expected to secure the starting role sooner than later.
Miami Dolphins RB
The Dolphins were able to get impressive production out of some mediocre backs last year. Both Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed averaged over four yards a carry. No offense to either but we’re not talking about Walter Payton. Gailey clearly favoured faster, shiftier, perimeter backs but the running game lacked the variety that Head Coach Brian Flores seems to be after.
With new co-offensive co-ordinators, it’s tricky to figure just what the Dolphins offense will look like. George Godsey’s history in New England may point to a committee, match-up dependent approach but Eric Studesville was the running back coach last year. He’s shown an ability to maximise backs throughout his career, getting impressive production out of Marshawn Lynch, Willis McGahee and CJ Anderson. Any back landing in Miami is going to be well coached and likely see a decent workload from day 1.
Gaskin and Ahmed are similar in size to Clemson’s Travis Etienne, it would be no shock if he was top of the Dolphins running back board.
Atlanta Falcons RB
Despite the Falcons woes last season the offense continued to put up strong numbers and provide an array of fantasy contributors. Calvin Ridley broke out as a top tier fantasy receiver. Julio Jones continued to deliver, although his overall impact was limited by injury. Hayden Hurst had a nice first season in Atlanta with 56 catches, 571 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The one position that never settled was running back. Todd Gurley’s Georgia homecoming failed to deliver and neither Brian Hill nor Ito Smith were able to capitalise.
The offseason addition of Mike Davis muddies the waters somewhat. The former South Carolina back is coming off a career best year in relief of Christian McCaffrey and will be hoping to lock down the starting position. The Davis contract, however, is basically a one year deal and he can be easily cut at the end of the season.
New Head Coach Arthur Smith basically rode Derrick Henry all the way to his new job in Atlanta so it’s a pretty reasonable expectation that he’ll look to create a strong running game when he arrives. Davis is unlikely to be all they add. Look for the team to add a back in the first few rounds and, when they do, expect that guys value to explode.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB
The Steelers running game has largely disappointed since Le’Veon Bell walked. James Connor has filled the void as best he could, but the running game has become an increasing frustration in the Steel City.
With Ben Roethlisberger in the final act of his career the team desperately need a running game to take some of the load off their ageing QB. It would be a surprise if one of their top three picks isn’t spent on a running back. If that lands them Najee Harris, Travis Etienne or Javonte Williams you’ll most likely be looking the 1.01 in non-Superflex drafts.
There are o-line questions that keep this from being the very best landing spot in the league, but it’s not far off.
Green Bay Packers WR
Last year’s draft sprung two major Quarterback surprises. The Eagles stunned everyone taking Jalen Hurts in the second round and Green Bay left everyone scratching their heads when they traded up to grab Utah State’s Jordan Love. After a summer of speculation Aaron Rodgers put any torch passing discussions to bed with an MVP season and once again heads to the draft looking for additional weaponry to get the Packers over the top.
The Pack have churned through number 2 receivers ever since the departure of Jordy Nelson. With such luminaries as Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Geronimo Alison, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling all attempting to fill the void. If the team invests a top 100 pick on a receiver expect whoever he is to rocket up draft boards. There’s plenty of targets beyond Davante Adams and the likelihood of at least two more years of elite Quarterback play will makes this THE prime landing spot next weekend.
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Image Credit: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports