Projecting the Top 3 rookie players in AFC and NFC

Who will make an immediate impact?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Now that the NFL Draft has completed and teams are preparing for this upcoming season, it’s time to start looking at which rookies could have a major immediate impact on their new teams. It’s fair to explore which of these drafted players is going to contribute the most to the overall success of their team in this upcoming season.

A difference maker is defined as someone who brings their team to a new level. They have the ability to make their team noticeably better with them than without them. Their impact should clearly contribute to an increase in wins for this upcoming season.

That being said, this list is not necessarily the three most talented rookies from each conference, but rather the three who have the most potential to be immediate difference-makers. Let’s see who makes the cut.

AFC: QB Trevor Lawrence, Jags

In the case of Trevor Lawrence, he is both the most talented rookie as well as the one with the most potential to be an immediate difference-maker. He is one of the highest-graded prospects in the history of scouting and is widely accepted as a generational player. The sky is the limit for Lawrence, and if he can live up to the hype, he will truly be something special. He is perfectly built to play quarterback in the NFL with all of his physical attributes and skills.

Let’s be honest here, the Jags will still most likely be one of the worst teams in the NFL this upcoming season. Their roster has way too many holes to be taken seriously. The difference is that they should be much more competitive with Lawrence under center and will almost definitely improve from their abysmal one-win season last year. Lawrence provides the Jags with a great reason to be optimistic about their future.

AFC: RB Najee Harris, Steelers

Najee Harris is looking to be the next successful Alabama running back in the NFL. The Crimson Tide has a good track record at the position, and Harris is just as good as any of the other names on the list. He is big and strong but still has the burst of speed necessary to make big plays. As a bonus, he is a good receiver as well with the skillset to be a three-down back.

A solid running game was the one big thing that the Steelers were missing last season. They are hoping they solved that problem by drafting Harris with their first-round draft pick. He is in line for a huge workload this season, especially since they lost James Conner to free agency. He has all of the tools to be successful in this situation, and will likely have a big season. If he plays to his potential, the Steelers can be a true contender in the AFC Conference.

AFC: WR Rashod Bateman, Ravens

An explosive receiver with plenty of big-play ability, Rashod Bateman is a major piece that has been missing for the Ravens. He and Hollywood Brown as a tandem should really open things up for their offense. It will provide Lamar Jackson with more targets downfield that he’s been seriously lacking, as well as make it more difficult for opposing defenses to stack the box. This will allow for their dominant running game to do even more damage or leave the defense vulnerable to big plays downfield behind them. If all goes according to plan, Bateman makes the Ravens offense a new level of dynamic.

NFC: QB Trey Lance, 49ers

The 49ers clearly do not believe in Jimmy Garoppolo because they used their draft capital to move up and select Trey Lance with the third overall pick. Lance is an incredible athlete with a ton of potential, and could really blossom into something special under Kyle Shanahan. His dual-threat abilities add another dimension to an already dynamic style of offense. The 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, but a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness at the quarterback position last year resulted in a huge regression for the team. Lance will look to turn things back around for them when he gets his opportunity, and he’s in an ideal situation to thrive.

NFC: QB Justin Fields, Bears

The stock of Justin Fields mysteriously fell a bit leading up to the NFL Draft, but make no mistake about it, he is an extremely talented quarterback. In fact, he was projected to be the second overall pick for most of last season, and his game looked every bit the part. He will now get the opportunity to rescue the Bears from a disastrous quarterback situation and join a team that’s already built to win right now. They won 8 games last season with some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL, so it’s realistic to expect double-digit wins if that problem is solved. Fields is more than capable of being the one to do it, making the Bears a real sleeper contender in the NFC conference.

NFC: LB Micah Parsons, Cowboys

The Cowboys defense was one of the worst in the NFL season. It was a huge reason for their struggles as a team, so the organization decided to use this draft to improve the defensive unit. They started by using their first-round pick to select Micah Parsons, who is one of the most versatile players in this entire rookie class. He is a jack of all trades style of player who can line up at multiple positions and contribute in a wide variety of ways. The Cowboys offense is loaded with firepower and should be one of the best in the NFL, so if their defense can step up then they will be a real threat in the NFC. Parsons has a great chance to be a big reason for drastic improvement, and he’s even the current betting favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Landing Spots for All 5 of the Top QB Prospects

Who will Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, Lance and Jones play for in 2021?

by Michael Obermuller

The lead-up to the NFL Draft is a sports process like no other. The speculation, the intrigue, the misinformation and strategy used by different franchises and general managers. Considering the diverse crop of quarterback talent available in 2021, this offseason has been as wild as ever. I mean, just look at this curveball from Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer a few days before draft night.

Trevor Lawrence has been the consensus number one pick for what feels like years, and Jags owner Shad Khan has seemed pretty intent on marketing the rebirth of the franchise around the Clemson star, so why then is Meyer still choosing between three players at No. 1 overall?

It could just be due diligence from a first year NFL head coach, or maybe Lawrence to Jacksonville isn’t as much of a lock as most people thought. After all, there is certainly no reason to play mind-games with opposing GM’s when you’re the one picking first. Yet here we are left with this mysterious quote.

Don’t you worry though, I’ve seen through all the GM mumbo jumbo of the past few months and I’m confident in saying that I have figured out where each quarterback will end up — I think. Either way, I’ll give it a whirl, starting with the aforementioned Jaguars.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (No. 1)

I know, after all that in the introduction, I’m still predicting T-Law to DUVAL? That’s right, because if Meyer wants to pull off the most shocking move in recent draft memory, he can do it without my blessing. There are a couple important things to note here though. One, Meyer is not considering Mac Jones or Trey Lance in the top spot. Could this have an influence on other franchises behind him? Urban was a premier college recruiter for a long time after all. Or perhaps he has yet to gain the respect of his fellow NFL peers, and his opinion means very little to them. Two, the former Ohio State HC and program director is likely passing on his former QB, Justin Fields. Meyer actually ranked the quarterbacks in a preseason show in June of 2020, with Lawrence first in his ranks and Fields second. His reasoning at the time was this;

[Lawrence] played one more year. That was it. The one thing I’ll say about Justin Fields because I’m very close to the situation, any concerns about him being a throwing quarterback are gone now. He’s developed, he’s outstanding.

– Urban Meyer, FOX College Football

The Jags could certainly throw a wrench in the entire draft by taking either Zach Wilson or Fields, which would probably send Lawrence to New York at No. 2, but it’s highly unlikely and I’m not buying it. Size, accuracy, speed, raw ability, intelligence, drive — Lawrence is the consensus number one for a reason. I’m not saying that he’s guaranteed to be the most successful NFL product, he’s not, but he is the safe bet for Jacksonville. For the sake of all our sanities, let’s move on and assume this sticks.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson (No. 2)

GM Joe Douglas and the New York Jets have traded 2018 first round pick Sam Darnold, so yes they are 100 percent taking a quarterback at two (for those who haven’t been paying attention). They have been linked to the BYU Cougars signal-caller more and more since Week 17, and I personally don’t see this changing on Thursday night. Wilson checks all the boxes for the Jets. He is an accurate passer and a competitive winner (albeit against lesser competition), known for his on-the-fly decision-making and pocket presence as well as an arm that throws just as far on the move as it does standing upright. Wilson has drawn recent comparisons to Patrick Mahomes for some of these intangible traits, but there’s a contingent of fans that still have doubts that scouts and GM’s are once again sleeping on in-your-face talent.

If Fields can translate his OSU skillset to the pros, it wouldn’t be the first time that the best and brightest NFL minds in the game are totally wrong. I mean he did run a 4.44 forty with a 70.2 completion percentage in 2020. For the record, as you’ll see throughout this article, Fields is my personal QB1 in this class, but that doesn’t mean he appeals to the teams picking in the top three.

3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones (No. 3)

Is the infamous “smokescreen tactic” being utilized by Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers? It’s quite possible, in fact Joe Douglas and the Jets could be using it too for all we know. If Fields truly is the quarterback with the most upside potential, it would make sense that every GM behind the Jaguars is trying to keep Meyer off their trail by talking up Wilson, Jones and Lance. At the same time, it seems even more likely that the NFL brass are once again scared off by an Ohio State product who has been labeled as a runner that struggles with his progressional reads. If Lawrence and Wilson do indeed go one-two, Fields should be the pick at three in my opinion, but he may not be according to reports.

There’s something fishy about this developing story, because Jones and Lance couldn’t be more different as prospects. I can’t deny that Mac Jones makes sense as Shanahan’s favorite option. The Niners HC has highlighted his on-field and NFL-ready intelligence, citing that the Alabama product is the win-now choice for a team that was in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Jones is also the most similar to the quarterbacks that have flourished in Shanahan’s system in the past (Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo). Lance on the other hand makes me scratch my head. He’s from a small program that did not play against NFL-type talent, he’s not game-ready by most estimations, and he’s athletic rather than accurate or experienced. The fact that San Francisco is torn between these two, but not interested in the player that is pretty much the combination of both (Fields) is odd to say the least. For these reasons, I do think there’s a chance that the 49ers are under-selling Fields on purpose, but I’ll begrudgingly stick with Jones here anyway because of how well he fits the Shanahan mold.

4. TRADE — Denver Broncos: Trey Lance (No. 4)

Some have the Atlanta Falcons taking Lance at four, but in the end I think Arthur Smith’s new offense stands pat with the reliability of Matty Ice for a couple more seasons and trades down to reconstruct this roster from the inside out. That process may not start with an inexperienced QB, but it could begin with a haul of present and future draft picks. The next question is their trade partner, and although it has not been mentioned as much as a New England or Washington Football Team, the Denver Broncos are my under-the-radar candidate to make the jump from ninth to fourth. George Paton is taking over as GM for the Broncos, and he may try and make a splash in his first NFL Draft having the final say.

Everything about Paton’s thinking for his first draft screams Lance to me. It’s unexpected, out-of-the-box, and hopefully solves the problem that John Elway failed at for years in the same position — finding a franchise quarterback. Drew Lock has yet to display any qualities that separate him from the rest of the league, so I expect Paton to jump at the opportunity to bring in someone that can compete not only with Lock, but long-term with division rivals like Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Of course, the Broncos could also go with Fields here, but I’m sticking with my theme that this inexplicable stigma drops my QB1 down to QB5. I also like the fit for Lance in Denver. He played at North Dakota State, a similar climate, and his build and physicality as a runner bear some resemblance to Elway himself. Although I’m sure Broncos fans would also take his Josh Allen comp.

5. Detroit Lions: Justin Fields (No. 7)

So where oh where will Mr. Fields land? No he won’t fall out of the top 10, and I don’t expect the Cincinnati Bengals or Miami Dolphins to trade down either when they can grab the players they covet most (Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase by all reports) at five and six. That leaves the Detroit Lions, who could choose to trade down with the Patriots or the highest bidder, but honestly why would they? The Lions roster moves have signaled a total overhaul rebuild under the new regime of Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes, and they already have enough future draft capital from the Matthew Stafford trade where they don’t need more first round picks. They need a franchise quarterback. The wrinkle that you may point out is that they also received back Jared Goff and his contract in that same deal. Let’s be honest though, Goff is a placeholder in Detroit at best. At worst, he’s a cap casualty after 2022 (when cutting him would only cost $10 million). So why not accelerate the process if Justin Fields falls into your lap?

A player with as much potential as Fields could be a dream for Holmes at No. 7 in his first NFL Draft, and the young QB could even learn under Goff as a rookie before jumpining into the NFL head-first. He can truly do it all; whether it’s his accuracy as a passer or his agility as a runner, his escapability in the pocket or strong arm on the run, his competitiveness as an premier athlete or his confidence in primetime games. I’m not sure why every team is insistent on looking past Fields, and maybe it all is a smokescreen and he goes top three, but it just feels like the NFL scouts and decision-makers are talking themselves into passing on another superstar.

Three Quarterbacks to Benefit From a Rookie Wide Receiver

Lamar Jackson Tops The List

By Preston W (@FF_Engineer_)

Day by day, we are getting closer to the draft. Fantasy analysts (myself included) are constantly trying to predict landing spots for rookie skill players. We’re often looking at how the value of a rookie wide receiver will grow based on their landing spot, so I decided to mix things up and look at how the value of our current veteran quarterbacks can grow, based on the addition of a rookie wide receiver.

Just one year ago, Dak Prescott was greeted by the addition of rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, while fantasy managers were greeted with elite fantasy production from Prescott in his first five games, prior to his injury. Not only do we want these rookie wide receivers going to an offense that can support them volume wise for fantasy purposes, but we want our quarterbacks to benefit from these additions as well. So let’s take a look at three quarterbacks who could use another pass catcher.

Lamar Jackson

Alright, so maybe your initial reaction to one of the studs in this wide receiver class going to Baltimore isn’t that pleasant. I’ll admit, initially I wasn’t the biggest proponent for this idea either, but recently I’ve had a change of heart. This is due to the concept that Marquise Brown is not the ideal alpha wide receiver for Baltimore, and he’s better suited as the team’s WR2. Yes, Lamar Jackson and Hollywood Brown can both benefit from the addition of a dominant wide receiver in this draft. I think people all too often mistake Jackson’s elite rushing ability for a lack of passing ability, and while last year he wasn’t as dominant in the passing game, his 2019 numbers paint a different picture:

Lamar Jackson Season Stats

Passing Yards31272757
Passing TDs3626
Rushing Yards12061005
Rushing TDs77
Fantasy Points415.68332.78
Fantasy PPG27.722.2

It’s no secret that Jackson’s fantasy production took a dip last season – an 82.9 point dip to be exact. It was literally the difference between a historic QB1 season, and finishing as the QB10 overall. Jackson’s rushing was down as well, but not nearly as down as his passing numbers. In fact, only 24% of Jackson’s decrease in fantasy points scored was due to his rushing production. Jackson has elite mobility for a quarterback, but he still has an incredible arm. An arm that led the league in passing touchdowns in 2019. An arm that could benefit from the addition of another weapon.

So who could Lamar Jackson’s next receiving threat be? One rookie that could be available for Baltimore at 1.27 is Terrace Marshall Jr. out of LSU. Marshall is one of the few bigger-bodied receivers in this class, and he’s someone that profiles as an alpha receiver, which would be a great fit for Baltimore. However, if Baltimore goes a different direction in the first round, another player I’d be excited about Baltimore going after in the next round is Dyami Brown from UNC. Either Marshall or Brown could help revitalize Jackson’s passing game back to what it was in 2019. A solid addition to Baltimore’s receiving room would put Jackson back into the mix for finishing as the overall QB1 in 2021.

Jalen Hurts

We all know Philadelphia hasn’t made the best draft choices when it comes to the wide receiver position. Between drafting Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in 2020, and taking JJ Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf in 2019, there’s been some disappointing moments. Perhaps these receivers simply couldn’t live up to their values due to the poor quarterback play over the past two seasons. On the other hand, Philadelphia has always heavily relied upon their tight ends in the passing game with Carson Wentz at quarterback. But how does Jalen Hurts compare when targeting his wide receivers compared to his tight ends?

2020 Philadelphia Passing Offense Splits

Passing without HurtsPassing with Hurts
Target Ratio (WR:TE)1.141.50
Passing Yards/Game234.0282.3
Passing TDs/Game1.271.67

For starters, Hurts isn’t the same system quarterback as Wentz was. Hurts targets his wide receivers at a higher rate, so if Philadelphia wants to give Hurts a real shot, they should turn their focus towards growing their three and four wide receiver sets. It also shows that simply Hurts doing his thing and more frequently targeting his wide receivers results in a more efficient passing game for Philadelphia. If they want to make Hurts work, they should work on building the offense around him.

So what are some possibilities for Philadelphia? Based on their part in the block buster trade, in which they moved from 1.06 back to 1.12, I think their intentions are clear that they plan on taking one of the top receivers. It also shows that they aren’t interested in taking top tight end prospect Kyle Pitts. At pick 12, the best overall option that should be available for Philadelphia is Jaylen Waddle from Alabama. Philadelphia and Hurts could really benefit from Waddle’s explosiveness and deep threat ability. Of course, if Ja’Marr Chase happened to fall to Philadelphia at 12, that would be another excellent addition for their offense.

Jameis Winston

I know this one is of the nature of speculation since we don’t know who the starter will be next season. Since we are already exploring best cases for fantasy purposes, there’s no better team to address than one deciding between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. From what we’ve seen, Jameis Winston should provide a decent boost to New Orleans’ offense, compared to Hill. I touched on this in my last article regarding Alvin Kamara. Regardless, as of now Winston’s only solid receiver is Michael Thomas, so adding in another target for Winston could prove useful for his fantasy value. Looking back, there was a certain point in Winston’s career where gaining a wide receiver named Chris Godwin boosted Winston’s fantasy value. Let’s take a look:

Jameis Winston Season Stats

Season Average prior to GodwinSeason Average with Godwin*
Passing Yards/Game254.1300.0
Passing TDs/Game1.561.92
Fantasy PPG16.618.5
*Season average with Godwin based on full seasons only

Winston scoring an additional 1.9 points per game adds up over time. That seemingly small boost can propel someone like Winston from a mid-range QB2 to a QB1. It’s clear that every aspect of Winston’s passing game and fantasy value grew when he got a solid addition to his receiving corp in Tampa. The same can be true with New Orleans. Having more mouths to feed isn’t a bad thing for a quarterback like Winston, and it isn’t a bad thing for his current elite receiver either.

So who could be on New Orleans’ draft radar? For starters, if Baltimore passes on Terrace Marshall Jr. in the first round, New Orleans should scoop Marshall right up. Marshall can complement Michael Thomas and New Orleans’ system well, setting up Winston for added success. Another solid fit for this receiving corp is Rashod Bateman out of Minnesota. Both Marshall and Bateman can provide versatility by lining up both outside and in the slot, making them great fits for New Orleans and Winston.

2021 NFL Draft Sleepers

By: Courtney Burrows

The NFL Draft is less than 28 days away which is both exciting and anxiety-ridden as we wait to see where out favorite rookies will land and who our favorite team takes.  As a rookie off-season fan, I have studied and gone back and forth on the first two rounds meticulously.  There is a plethora of information out there on these first rounds, but what about the deep sleepers, the last ones on the board, and the guys not talked about much?  Remember James Robinson who went undrafted and had an incredible rookie year as the Jaguars starting RB, of course, you do and so do I. 

Let’s dive deep into those sleeper picks who might help you in a dynasty startup or a bench spot because they should be and will be drafted!

  1.  Dez Fitzpatrick WR, Louisville.  Fitzpatrick finished his 2020 season with 833 yards and four touchdowns which isn’t as impressive as the top tier rookie wideouts, but at Pro Day he ran a 4.43 40-yard and had a 35-inch vertical jump.  He is lean, strong, and can win the contested deep ball.  Fitzpatrick runs crisp routes and can beat the corners with his speed downfield.  He isn’t flashy, but he is consistent as he finished his collegiate career with 2,589 yards and 21 touchdowns.  He would be an excellent late 3rd to mid-4th round pick.  His potential to be a WR3 on a strong offensive-minded team is there. 

2. Jaret Patterson RB, Buffalo.  There are numerous high-end running backs in this year drafts, and quite possibly Patterson isn’t one of the names you have heard.  Well let me tell you, there isn’t much on the field this young man can’t do.  Patterson is versatile running inside the tackles, weaving in between defenders, and yearning for the endzone. He is patient, consistent, and sturdy.  In 2020, he ran for 1,072 yards on 141 attempts and 19 touchdowns as he averaged 7.6 yards per carry.  He can carry a full workload of a game, but he might work better in a RBBC, but he will be a steal for any team. 

3. Cade Johnson WR, South Dakota State.  Johnson is not your typical size threat of the long, lean WR in the NFL as he only stands 5’10” and 180lbs, but he is special.  He has exceptional speed and quickness off the line that leaves defensive backs shaking their heads.  He has superb hand-eye coordination and tracks the ball and is able to hold on seemingly in all situations, which is what stands out most to me…his hands.  They are solid and secure and in his 2018 and 2019 season he had zero fumbles!  His smaller stature might throw some scouts off his trail, but that would be a waste as Johnson can easily be a WR2 within a year or two.  He should go off the boards in the 3rd but it might not happen till the 4th round. 

4. Kenny Yeboah TE, Ole Miss.  I might be partial to my Ole Miss boys as I project Elijah Moore being a 2nd round pick, but Yeboah is a diamond in the rough.  Yeboah is a huge specimen of a TE at 6’3” and 247lbs., and he reminds me of Gronk.  He is raw and needs professional-level coaching to trim that size to have better route running, acceleration, and speed, but he is already an elite blocker and can separate himself from defenders with ease.  Under Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss in 2020, he averaged 20 yards per catch and over 70 yards a game.  With the big TE names like Pitts, Jordan, and Freiermuth, Yeboah might slip to the 4th round, but he is going to be a TE name that will be in the NFL for years to come.  I see him fitting best as a Steeler, Seahawk, or Panther. 

5. Davis Mills QB, Stanford.  With all the hype surrounding the Top 5 QB in this year’s draft, we are not hearing much about those 5th or 6th round picks that are not day one starters but QBs with the potential to learn and conquer.  Mills is one of those young men.  He is very smart with his decisions, timing, and game management but lacks mobility which is what the NFL craves these days in QBs.  Mills is a pocket passer who needs the room to set up and throw, but when he is given that time, his deep ball accuracy is on target.  He needs to be groomed by a veteran like Rodgers, Stafford, Wilson, Cousins, or Ryan.  Mills needs to work on his footwork out of the pocket, but he is a leader and can be a starter in this league within two years barring the right team.

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