With three quarterbacks expected to be selected with the first three picks in the NFL Draft (and potentially five in the top 10), we could someday look back on this draft class as one of the most important of the era. Add in a handful of elite wide receivers and a tight end, Kyle Pitts, that some think could be the best of his generation, and the talent pool is looking stocked at skill positions.
To help us figure out what could happen in the draft and the impact it will have on the upcoming season, we hopped on a Zoom call with Sports Illustrated's Senior Fantasy Analyst Michael Fabiano. Watch the video below for Michael’s thoughts on what the Niners should do at No. 3 and the top WR and RB fantasy prospects, and read on for his thoughts about which teams are a good draft away from the playoffs, if Kyle Pitts will be a first-year fantasy stud, and more. To watch the 2021 NFL Draft on Sling with ESPN/ ESPN3 and NFL Network, sign up for Orange + Blue using the link at the bottom of this page.
Sling: You’ve covered a lot of NFL Drafts. Where does this one rank in terms of uncertainty and excitement?
Michael Fabiano: It’s up there. We’ve got the first two picks, we know it’s gonna be Trevor Lawrence, we know it’s gonna be Zach Wilson. After that, we don’t know who #3 is gonna be. Everyone is speculating Mac Jones, but it could be one of the other two quarterbacks as well, Trey Lance or Justin Fields. There’s gonna be a lot of trades, I feel like, teams are going to move up. I’ve got two trades in my mock, and maybe that’s conservative. I think there could be many more trades.
And let’s be honest: Every draft is unpredictable. I mean, the only thing predictable about the NFL is that it’s going to be unpredictable. No one saw Henry Ruggs being the first wide receiver drafted last season; no one saw Clyde Edwards-Helaire being the first running back drafted last season. We don’t know if there’s going to be any running back drafted in the first round, I would suggest one, maybe two tops. I’ve got [Najee] Harris going to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Teams always make head-scratching moves. I mean, we’ve heard that Kellen Mond could be a first-round pick or Davis Mills could be a first round pick. There could be six quarterbacks drafted…in the first round. So it’s no more unpredictable than any other drafts have been, I think it’s just going to be a lot more fun because there are going to be some trades that shake things up, in the first round especially.
What non-playoff team would you say is one good draft away from making the postseason this year?
Miami for sure. They were 10-6 last year and they’re close. They’re very close. I don’t know if they’re gonna get Jamar Chase, if they’re going to get, potentially, Kyle Pitts. Maybe they get neither and they go with an offensive lineman, maybe Penei Sewell if the Bengals decide to pass on Sewell and go with Chase or Pitts. The New England Patriots, they were busy in the offseason. If they can make some additional good moves in the draft, they’ll be back in playoff contention. Maybe not Super Bowl contention but playoff contention. And the L.A. Chargers with Justin Herbert under center. If they can add some help in the defensive backfield, maybe some protection for Herbert, I think they’re gonna be in good shape.
In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals were 8-8 last year. There’s been talk that they could potentially try and trade up to get a wide receiver in the first round. We’ll see if they do that, they also need help on the defensive side, cornerback is a big need. If they don’t trade up, they could potentially get Caleb Farley, who is considered to be one of the top three cornerbacks in this draft class. The San Francisco 49ers are an easy one too. They only went 6-10 last year but everybody got hurt. Everybody got hurt. So if they stay healthy, and depending on what they do at quarterback—I still think [Jimmy] Garoppolo probably is opening the season as the starter—that team could be in contention.
And then, I’m going to be a homer and say my Dallas Cowboys. The division stinks. The Washington Football Team won the division—“won” the division—last season. But you get Dak [Prescott] back, you get your three starting offensive linemen back who were hurt. Maybe you add an offensive lineman in the draft, maybe you add a couple of corners, that’s gonna end up being the big decision for Jerry Jones in the first round. I don’t think they’ll trade up to get Kyle Pitts. If they do, I’d be kind of excited from a fantasy perspective, but otherwise, they need defense. But the Cowboys, in a weak division with their quarterback back under center, should be a better team and the favorites to win the NFC East.
Barring injury, do you think Kyle Pitts will emerge as a Top 5 NFL tight end next season?
In fantasy, no. I hope so, but I don’t think so. Last season, the [fifth-ranked fantasy] tight end scored 175 points, that was T.J. Hockenson. Tight end’s a weak position in fantasy football. Just one tight end has scored more than 154 fantasy points as a rookie since 2010, and that was Evan Engram. And just two have done it since 2000, the other was Jeremy Shockey, another Giant. So that’s two tight ends who have scored more than 154 points as rookies since 2000.
If Pitts ends up in Atlanta, a lot of mouths to feed. If he ends up in Cincinnati, ok, I could see maybe 60 catches, 600 or 700 yards, five touchdowns, six touchdowns. I could see that. But to predict that he’ll be a top five tight end as a rookie when that trend has been absolutely the other way…I mean the best tight end in fantasy last year that was a rookie was Cole Kmet, I think he had 60 points, somewhere in that ballpark, it wasn’t very good. Pitts is 100x better and more talented than Cole Kmet, but rookie tight ends typically don’t make a huge impact. He could, because he’s that talented. I don’t see him being top five, though.