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2021 NFL Draft: Fantasy football losers

Which players saw their Fantasy value drop the most during the 2021 NFL Draft?
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The first six picks of the 2021 NFL Draft were all offensive skill position players, and in total, 13 quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends were selected in the first round on Thursday. As a result, the ever-changing Fantasy landscape has shifted once again.

Days 2 and 3 of the NFL Draft brought us clarity on the Fantasy outlook for the rest of our favorite rookie prospects; but to me, the biggest Fantasy story of this draft is really found in the teams that did not use their draft picks to address needs at the RB or WR position. Most of the biggest Fantasy winners from the draft are players who were penciled in as tentative starters for their team and can breathe a sigh of relief now that the draft has come and gone and their position on the depth chart remains unchanged.

It isn't as fun to discuss the losers as the winners, but there were several players whose Fantasy outlook took a turn for the worse and needs to be re-evaluated following the draft. 

Losers:

Will Fuller, WR, Miami Dolphins

I'm sure that Fuller's average draft position will fall as we get closer to Fantasy draft season, but the fact that he is currently being drafted in the same range as in 2020 is hard to wrap my head around. He'll be suspended for the first game of the season, and after that, he'll find himself in a significantly worse situation than the one in which he thrived last year.

A player of Fuller's caliber really couldn't have asked for a dreamier setup than what he had in 2020. He was the clear top target on a pass-heavy Texans team -- one which also frequently had to aggressively attack downfield in an attempt to erase deficits on the scoreboard.

The setup was perfectly suited to his skill set, and Fuller delivered strong results. Let's not forget who Will Fuller is, though. Over the past four years, Fuller has finished the season with 11, 11, 7, and 10 games played. And even when on the field, Fuller has never shown an ability to command targets at a rate that was even above average. In the time I have the data available (since 2017), Fuller has been targeted on just 19 percent of his routes -- for reference, the league average was 19.5 percent in 2020. Even in 2020, with Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb as his top competition for targets, Fuller was targeted on just 19.7 percent of his routes.

Now he heads to Miami, where DeVante Parker has already established himself as a target hog when healthy. Parker ranked 20th among 92 qualifiers with a 22 percent target per route run rate in 2020 -- ahead of the likes of Adam Thielen, Terry McLaurin, Amari Cooper, and Tyler Lockett. And, for what it's worth, Parker's TPRR rate was actually higher (22.5 percent) with Tua Tagovailoa at QB than Ryan Fitzpatrick, so the narrative that Fitz's gunslinger mentality is what has driven Parker's volume doesn't seem to hold much weight. Parker isn't Fuller's only competition for targets, either. Miami used the sixth overall pick on Jaylen Waddle, who will likely start in the slot from day one. Waddle has question marks of his own, but he definitely has the talent to ball out with Fuller sidelined in Week 1 and never look back.

Fuller's problems don't stop at competition for targets -- there also will simply be fewer total targets to go around than in Houston. The Texans ranked third in the NFL in pass-to-run rate in 2020, while Miami ranked 18th. The Dolphins have a ton of young talent on the defensive side of the ball too, so it's unlikely they'll find themselves needing to attack downfield nearly as often as Fuller's Texans did in 2020.

On that note, it's time we talk about the drastic change in going from Deshaun Watson to Tua Tagovailoa. Watson was the only QB in the NFL to complete over 50 percent of his attempts on passes that traveled at least 20 air yards in 2020. He's been among the league's absolute best deep passers in recent memory. We haven't seen enough of Tua at the NFL level to say that he can't throw the deep ball, but we have seen enough to say that he can't throw it like Deshaun Watson. For a deep-ball specialist like Fuller, transitioning from Watson to Tua is like trading in a Ferrari for a used Honda Civic.

Among 113 qualified players, Fuller ranks 15th in average route depth (9.5 yards) and ninth in depth of target (13.98 yards) since the start of 2017. 27.2 percent of his targets have come at least 20 air yards downfield, which is the highest mark of qualified receivers. Fuller has been the single most deep-ball dependent wide receiver in the NFL since entering the league, and Tua ranked just 21st in deep ball rate (10.8 percent) in 2020. 

I don't see very many paths to Fuller justifying his ADP with his setup in Miami, and the selection of Waddle with pick six felt like the nail in the coffin.

Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins

Between unique athleticism and tons of opportunity, Mike Gesicki was an easy player to get excited about for Fantasy purposes in 2020. I don't feel nearly as enthused heading into 2021. In addition to adding Fuller and Waddle, the Dolphins used a third-round pick on a pass-catching tight end, Hunter Long. I have a tough time projecting Gesicki for much more than 75 targets in this offense, and unless he gets lucky on finding the end zone, that isn't going to be enough to make him viable in Fantasy.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans

This offseason, Tannehill lost two of the most efficient players at their respective positions in Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, and Tennessee really hasn't done much to address the situation. Of course, the efficiency numbers for Davis and Smith were boosted by playing in one of the most efficient passing offenses in the NFL, but the impressiveness of their 2020 efficiency metrics still should be understated.

The only receivers who averaged more yards per route run than Corey Davis in 2020 were Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and A.J. Brown. Smith's yards per route numbers don't jump off the page, but he did rank top-five among tight ends in yards after the catch per reception for the second straight season. Smith ranked third at his position in Fantasy points per target, while Davis ranked sixth.

These are not insignificant losses. But with Tennessee possessing four top-100 picks heading into the draft, I assumed they would add a playmaker in an attempt to make life easier on their quarterback. Instead, the Titans waited until Round 4 to select receiver Dez Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick profiles as the type of big-bodied downfield threat that Tennessee likes, but it is unlikely that he'll even play ahead of free agent acquisition Josh Reynolds as a rookie.

With other mid-to-late-round Fantasy QBs such as Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Matt Ryan, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Sam Darnold all receiving improved weaponry in the draft, Tannehill's lack of proven support may be enough to slide him a few spots down the positional rankings. I still believe this offense will remain above average in terms of efficiency, but there's no way around the fact that Tannehill's Fantasy outlook appears notably worse than it did heading into 2020.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Denver Broncos

Barring Denver trading for Aaron Rodgers, it seemed unlikely that Melvin Gordon was going to be anything more than a low-end RB2 in Fantasy in 2021 as we entered the draft. And when Denver traded up to select explosive rookie Javonte Williams with the 35th pick, it all but ensured that Gordon will be on zero of my Fantasy teams this season.

This offense is simply not one that is likely to produce many Fantasy-relevant players. Only the Jets ran fewer red zone plays than Denver in 2020. Only the Giants, Jets, Patriots, and Bengals scored fewer offensive touchdowns. There's very little upside with Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater running the show, and now that Gordon has clear competition for touches, there is significant downside risk added to the equation. Let someone else use a pick on Gordon's name -- he's not someone I would select unless 35-40 running backs were already off the board.

James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

James RB1szn was fun while it lasted. I'm sure we will still hear plenty of coach speak talking Robinson up this offseason, but actions speak louder than words, and Jacksonville used the 25th overall selection to add multi-talented RB Travis Etienne to Urban Meyer's new-look offense.

I don't mean to take away from Robinson's awesome rookie campaign with this statement -- what made James Robinson so great for Fantasy in 2021 was his unique lack of competition. Only four backs had a higher snap rate in 2020, and we saw Robinson push all the way up to an 80-plus percent snap rate in individual games on multiple occurrences when fully healthy. He didn't begin the year playing on obvious passing downs, but once Chris Thompson was injured, Robinson was allowed the opportunity to operate as an every-down player.

The chances of him playing anywhere near the type of role he played in 2020 are quite slim. It's possible that he will continue to defy expectations and we'll have a Chris Carson-Rashaad Penny situation on our hands, but the more likely scenario is that Robinson is an early-down grinder on a team that is likely to be in obvious passing downs while playing from behind rather often.

Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Jets

Everything has gone downhill for Jamison Crowder's Fantasy outlook this offseason, and the Jets drafting slot receiver Elijah Moore 34th overall was the nail in the coffin. The quarterback and coaching regime that loved targeting Crowder from the slot are both gone, and the new regime immediately brought in Corey Davis in free agency and Crowder's replacement in the second round of the NFL Draft. There's a chance that he is cut or traded and lands in a more advantageous spot, but as of now, Crowder's already limited Fantasy value appears to have evaporated entirely.

Jaelon Darden, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Darden is an exciting prospect who I believed to have an outside chance of Fantasy relevancy in 2021 if he landed in the right spot. Tampa Bay is about as far from the right spot as possible, as Darden will presumably begin the season behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, and Tyler Johnson on the depth chart.

Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons

The opportunity was there for Hurst in 2020, but not much came from it. He regularly played 80 percent of the snaps prior to a midseason injury, and he was among the leaders in routes run at his position during that time. But with rookie phenom Kyle Pitts added to the offense, Hurst's days of Fantasy relevancy seem to almost certainly be over.

Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants

This landing spot really hurt me as a big fan of Toney's game. He is so fun with the ball in his hands, and I was really hoping he would land somewhere like Tennessee, Baltimore, or Green Bay -- where he could make noise from the slot and have a chance at regular playing time.

Instead, he landed in New York, where Sterling Shepard occupies the slot and Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton stretch the field from the perimeter. There's a possibility that Toney could earn run from the slot as the year goes on and bump Shepard to the perimeter in favor of Slayton. It's also possible that one of Shepard or Golladay will miss time with an injury, as both have struggled to stay on the field with consistency. If either were to happen, Toney has the talent to shine in a larger role. Those don't seem like the most likely scenarios, though. With Golladay, Shepard, Slayton, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram all presenting competition for targets, it is going to be difficult to project Toney for a Fantasy-relevant role as a rookie.

Jacob Gibbs
Jacob GibbsDFS Guru