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Words from NFL coaches are often empty and meaningless. What we really need to pay attention to is actions. When a team shows their faith in a player through personnel decisions, we can be sure it’s not mere coachspeak or trying to pump a player up in the media.
With that in mind, these are the biggest fantasy winners in the wake of the 2021 draft. Note that all our rankings, including Underdog Best Ball, are now updated.
1. AJ Brown, WR, Titans – Underdog Rank 13th overall
The Titans lost Corey Davis (6.6 targets per game), Jonnu Smith (4.3) and Adam Humphries (5.0) in free agency. They only added Josh Reynolds on a 1-year, $1.75M contract. And then in the draft, they only used a 4th– and 6th-round pick at the wideout position – on Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMarth, respectively. So Brown, who averaged just 7.6 targets per game last season and still finished as fantasy’s WR5, is set for the most volume he’s ever had in his age-24 season.
2. Mike Davis, RB, Falcons – Underdog Rank 68th overall
Everyone assumed the Falcons would address RB early in the draft. It turns out they didn’t address the position early, middle or late as they selected zero RBs with any of their nine picks. That leaves only gadgety Cordarrelle Patterson and borderline NFL player Qadree Ollison to compete with Mike Davis. We’ll see on UDFA addition Javian Hawkins. Davis, an underrated pass-catcher and tackle-breaker, is looking at a 13-touch floor weekly with upside for plenty more as long as there are no veteran additions. Note that Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and Duke Johnson are all unsigned.
3. Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles – Underdog Rank 101st overall
Since last season the Eagles have traded away Carson Wentz, used zero draft picks on QBs and traded up for Devonta Smith. On the offensive line, studs RT Lane Johnson and RG Brandon Brooks are expected back from season-ending injuries. It’s wheels up for Jalen Hurts, who averaged an eye-popping 29.5 DraftKings points per game in his three full ones last season. The rushing ability is going to keep the weekly floor sky-high and the addition of Smith adds upside to Hurts’ passing stats.
4. Najee Harris, RB, Steelers – Underdog Rank 25th overall
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers want to have a true bell cow RB. They’re on the record talking about it, have done it with Rashard Mendenhall, Le’Veon Bell, De’Angelo Williams and James Conner. But due to injuries and lack of talent last season, it turned into a committee. That won’t happen this year after the Steelers used the No. 24 overall pick on Najee Harris. A true three-down plus goal-line back, Harris’ volume projects as unique in today’s RBBC-mad NFL. We are projecting 15.5 carries and 2.5 targets per game right out of the gate.
5. Myles Gaskin, RB, Dolphins – Underdog Rank 57th overall
The Dolphins had a league-high five picks in the first three rounds, prompting rumors they’d add to their RB room. It didn’t happen, sending a vote of confidence to Myles Gaskin. In seven full games last season, Gaskin averaged 17.0 carries plus 4.4 targets per game. Now the offense is getting an upside injection through explosive Will Fuller and No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle. Gaskin’s competition is the likes of Malcolm Brown, Salvon Ahmed and Patrick Laird. We’re currently projecting 11.7 carries and 2.6 targets per game for Gaskin, with upside for plenty more in a really talented offense.
6. Sam Darnold – The Panthers passed on Justin Fields, picked up Darnold’s 5th-year option, added a steal in 2nd-round WR Terrance Marshall. I can’t recall a 23-year-old QB ever getting a bigger upgrade in teammates, coaches and scheme.
7. Chris Herndon – The Jets didn’t add a TE with any of their 10 picks. Plus Zach Wilson is in and talent minimizer Adam Gase is out.
8. Justin Herbert – The offensive line overhaul continued in a big way with Rashawn Slater 13th overall. Herbert also got an upgrade at WR3 in Josh Palmer and a more blocking help in TE Tre’ McKitty.