It’s almost a year since I introduced the 2020 first round recap with pithy words about a global pandemic, then quite new news but which at the time felt already old. There was doubt that a season would even be able to start in 2020, let alone finish with limited incident apart from crowning a well-deserved UKD champion (why, thank you! - Ed).

But here we are again, with rookie fever. To think, we could have waited another two weeks to kick this off. A rule change this off-season saw the UKD rookie draft moved forward, mostly due to impatience and annual memories of spending most of May twiddling our thumbs watching everybody else draft while we stare sadly out of the window at an ever-less exciting outside world. Anyway…

Round 1 in brief

1.01: Najee Harris, PIT RB - Oxford Pythons
1.02: Ja’Marr Chase, CIN WR - Oxford Seahawks
1.03: Javonte Williams DEN RB - Chippenham Packers
1.04: Travis Etienne JAX RB, - Andover Sandlashers
1.05: Kyle Pitts, ATL TE - Derby Otters
1.06: Devonta Smith PHI WR, - Hereford Chargers
1.07: Trevor Lawrence JAX QB, - Hereford Chargers
1.08: Jaylen Waddle MIA WR, - Lurgan Leopards
1.09: Rashod Bateman BAL WR, - Andover Sandslashers
1.10: Justin Fields CHI QB, - Derby Otters
1.11: Kadarius Toney NYG WR, - Andover Sandslashers
1.12: Elijah Moore NYJ WR, - Oxford Seahawks

Pick 1 - Oxford Pythons, Najee Harris RB

A self-confessed lover of the ‘Bama back’, it only took Pythons chief Olly Conway 11 minutes to stamp the first ticket of the 2021 UKD draft with the name of Najee Harris.

Drafted by the Steelers as the first running back off the board with the 24th pick of the NFL draft proper, Harris is a mouthwatering fantasy prospect. A power back who also caught the ball 70 times in his final two years at Alabama, Harris is about as close as they come to a surefire ‘bellcow’ in today’s NFL, and the situation he lands in at the Steelers doesn’t do that projection any harm. The Steelers’ line isn’t what it used to be, but their history of how they use the running back atop of their tree points to Harris rarely coming off the field.

“The opportunity to add another beast in the backfield was too good to turn down” said Conway. “We firmly believe that Najee will be a success from day one and can’t wait to reap the rewards. I love my ‘Bama backs!”

Harris joins his fellow ‘Bama alumni Derrick Henry in the Pythons’ virtual backfield, which Conway will hope can elevate the Oxford outfit to a higher plain.

Pick 2 - Oxford Seahawks, Ja’Marr Chase WR

The Oxford Seahawks haven’t made a pick in the top two since 2017, when they opted for then-Titans wideout Corey Davis over Joe Mixon and, cough, Christian McCaffrey. They will be hoping that this decision is kinder to them, again taking a wide receiver, this time LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase.

Chase has been touted as an elite prospect for a number of years, and his drafting by the Bengals to reunite with his college quarterback Joe Burrow has only cemented his position in the upper echelons of this draft class.

“We’re very happy to add Ja’Marr to the receiver room here,” said Seahawks chief Dan Abrey. “Although we are big fans of Najee Harris, with last year’s additions of Jonathan Taylor and De’Andre Swift, Najee would have been a luxury pick, and we’re glad to add some weight to our WR room instead”.

Chase joins a WR corps that could go one way or the other in 2021 - DeAndre Hopkins is set-and-forget at WR1, but behind him Corey Davis and Kenny Golladay have both changed teams this off-season, and behind them there are only potentials and question marks. The Seahawks will hope that Chase can bring some extra reliability to the position.

Pick 3 - Chippenham Beavers, Javonte Williams RB

TRADE: Wombats traded 1.03 and 3.04 for Aaron Jones and 2.02.

Denver draftee Javonte Williams became the third overall pick for the Chippenham Beavers, who moved on from Aaron Jones as part of the trade to acquire the pick. The Beavers had a middling year in 2020, finishing 6-7 to make the playoffs but didn’t make it past wildcard weekend. They’ll be hoping that Williams can partner with Dalvin Cook to push them forward in 2021.

There were some “wow”s in the chat immediately following the pick, so it obviously took some by surprise that the Beavers would move up to the lofty draft spot to take Williams, but owner Tom Butler was pleased to get his man.

“A lot went into my thoughts with this pick and trade,” said Butler. “First, the asking price from Jon, which was centred around Aaron Jones. I can see the Packers offence being very underwhelming for the next few years as I believe Rodgers will no longer be with the team, so I tried to get maximum value from what I perceived to be a declining asset.”

“The second part was deciding between him or Travis Etienne,” he continued. “For me, the fact the Broncos traded up early in the 2nd round (and Gordon is almost certainly a goner next season) but also seem content to run a committee meant I had more faith in them giving him more touches than Etienne, who the coach had already labelled ‘a 3rd down back’. Not to mention I think the Broncos offence will be better than the Jags, and could be because Rodgers is the QB,” he concluded, wiping a tear from his eye.

On the trade, Wombats owner Jonathan Moffatt said: “We considered a couple of different offers for this pick, but the chance to acquire Aaron Jones was too good to pass up. The Wombats have added some much-needed RB depth in order to compete for next season’s championship.”

Pick 4 - Andover Sandslashers, Travis Etienne RB

Could there have been a more perfect UKD landing spot for Clemson’s Travis Etienne? Long-suffering Jaguar and Sandslashers’ owner Scott Westwood was ecstatic to scoop up the Georgia product with the fourth overall pick.

“I mean what can I say? Strange things happen on draft day. We did try trading up for him. I’m just glad our guy fell to us. We feel like we’re winning the draft at this point”.

An all-round talent at running back, one has to think that were it not for a certain undrafted back called James Robinson, Etienne would be in the conversation at the very top of this draft class. His touchdown scores in 46 out of 55 career games at the college level broke the record for the most in FBS history, a record previously held by the famous Donnel Pumphrey.

Pick 5 - Derby Otters, Kyle Pitts TE

Most years, it’s not surprising to see the tight end position mostly ignored in dynasty rookie drafts until the early second round, apart from the odd late first rounder. But not every year has a tight end with the potential of Kyle Pitts, who went fourth overall in the NFL draft to the Atlanta Falcons.

Pitts is a matchup nightmare and has huge big-play ability. An athletic freak, his 2020 season elevated him to the draft board stratosphere, as he hauled in 43 receptions - 39 of which, ridiculously, ended in either a first down or a touchdown.

“Taking Pitts with the 5th was rational as he had the most upside”, said Otters’ co-owner Jordan.

However, Pitts only lasted moments on the Otters’ roster (see below) and Kyle hopped off the train to Derby and onto the night bus down to Chippenham, where Beavers owner Tom Butler was ecstatic to add the behemoth to his tight end room.

“A quick look at my team before the draft would tell you there was one glaring weakness: tight end,” said Butler. “I contemplated using my 1.03 pick on Pitts, but was alerted to the fact Jordan said he wanted a RB, which made me believe the odds were greater on Pitts making it back to me at 1.06 than Williams or Etienne - I was sure Scott was also taking one of the RBs. As luck would have it, Pitts went one pick before me, which meant after a quick negotiation, I was able to get the guy I wanted at 1.03 originally, plus some later capital and an extra pick next year.

Pick 6 - Hereford Chargers, Devonta Smith WR

TRADE: Has a pick ever been traded twice while on the clock? I don’t think so. But this one was, with the Beavers giving way to the Derby Otters, who promptly traded the pick to the Hereford Chargers.

Kyle Pitts only lasted about 15 minutes with the Otters, making up a deal that sent 2.05 and a 2022 2nd to the Beavers in return for 1.06, Chase Edmonds and new-Patriot Hunter Henry. The Otters then immediately traded back four spots from 1.06 to 1.10, giving up a later pick on top for 1.10 and Falcons WR Russell Gage.

“Trading him for pick 6 made sense as it gave me a good TE, and the next pick, plus the other guy looked like his cat shit on his Christmas present when I took him.” said Otters’ boss Jordan. “I needed a skill position so thought with Julio leaving the Falcons that Gage could be a great pick-up and I can still get a good QB out of the draft. Hopefully he is this year’s Ridley even with Pitts on the team”.

The Chargers were quite happy to be the ultimate recipient of the sixth overall pick, and were quick to make their pick of Eagles’ WR Devonta Smith. An elite route runner who can line up anywhere outside or inside, if Smith takes his Alabama performances into the NFL he could be a legitimate star in the big league.

“You can’t pass up a guy like this,” said Chargers owner Jason Reese. “People seem to but worried about his size, but I have a feeling he will fit right in, like Robbie when he went back to Take That.”

Pick 7 - Hereford Chargers, Trevor Lawrence QB

The world before Trevor Lawrence being known as the de facto 2021 first overall NFL Draft pick feels almost as long ago as the world where it was possible to go down the pub on a Thursday for darts practice. In fact, it’s longer ago - Lawrence has been written at 1.01 in permanent marker for the past three years, and the only question was which team would be given the chance to draft him. It was going to be the Jets, until the Jaguars lost each and every of their games after week 1 and won the “Tank For Trevor” stakes.

The Chargers would have been the owner of the 1.01, but the Pythons acquired that back in July last year in a trade involving Bears RB David Montgomery, and in UKD world, Lawrence wasn’t expected to go anywhere near 1.01, of course, due to the single QB settings. But the Hereford Chargers felt strongly enough about Trev to make the move at 7th overall.

The Chargers do have Joe Burrow returning at QB, so Lawrence will be battling for starts on a weekly basis for the Hereford outfit who struggled to 2-11 last year. “I was a bit too slow to get who I wanted at the start of the draft.” he said. “So after numerous arguments of whether we should trade down, pick someone else or go with TJ. In the end we told Jackie Weaver she had no authority in the draft room, we went for future hall of famer, Trevor Lawrence.”

Pick 8 - Lurgan Leopards, Jaylen Waddle WR

Not up a mountain this year, the Leopards plumped for Dolphins draftee Jaylen Waddle with the eighth overall pick.

Alabama’s Waddle is reunited with his 2018 and 2019 college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who threw 78 catches his way over those two seasons for 1400 yards and 13 touchdowns, on a Dolphins roster that is starting to look like it could mean business on offense.

Lurgan owner Dermy McAlinden would be the first to admit that the Leopards were disappointing in 2020, a rare below-form 4-9 season saw them finish second-worst in the league, and Dermy will be hoping that Waddle can join Mike Evans and Cooper Kupp and inject some points into their 2021 campaign. Waddle can play all over the field - in the slot and on the outside - and looks like he could be a dynamic playmaker in the NFL.

“Jaylen Waddle is our guy,” said McAlinden. “He was always gonna be our guy. Our war room was going nuts when the pick was made.”

Video has since emerged from the leopards draft room showing the disappointment on all their faces when Trevor Lawrence was take just before them.

Pick 9 - Andover Sandslashers, Rashod Bateman WR

Having added to the running back room earlier in the draft with Travis Etienne, the Sandslashers pivoted to wide receiver for their second pick of three in the 1st round, opting for University of Minnesota draftee Rashod Bateman.

Bateman was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 27th pick in the first round in April, and was in a lofty position on many dynasty owners’ boards prior to draft season, second only to LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase in many’s estimations. The Ravens haven’t been kind to fantasy wide receivers in recent years, a low-volume passing game making it very hard for guys like Marquise Brown to show their full potential, but there have been positive words out of the Ravens’ management that they intend to change that in 2021, at least somewhat.

“Rashod Bateman and I go way back to my playing days in Minnesota. I was CB1, so we got paired up a lot in practice. You’ve never seen so much drive come from one man.” said owner Scott Westwood, with a wild look in his eyes. “So when I took over as owner of the Sandslashers back in 2016, Bateman was penned in is my WR from day one.”

Pick 10 - Derby Otters, Justin Fields QB

With the pick that came the other way when the Otters moved down from 1.06, they plugged a positional need with Ohio State QB Justin Fields.

For the past few years it’s been Lawrence-Fields atop the tree of QBs for this draft class, but Fields was leapfrogged by both Zach Wilson and Trey Lance in the NFL draft and fell to the double digit picks. The Chicago Bears traded up to 11 to get their new QB, and it will be intriguing to see how Fields takes to the NFL. Dak Prescott is a fair NFL comp for Fields; he is an adept pocket passer who is not afraid to use his legs when necessary, and if he settles in the professional game he could reach heady heights where fantasy scoring is involved.

“Trading down to the 10th pick worked as I wanted a QB and Fields was my first choice as he runs a lot”, said Otters co-owner Jordan.

Pick 11 - Andover Sandslashers, Kadarius Toney WR

Another wide receiver for the Sandslashers with their third pick in the draft. Kadarius Toney has split opinion in draft circles, with analytics types finding multiple causes for concern but more traditional scouts pushing him up boards. At this stage of the draft, though, there are no sure things and Toney’s profile gives him the potential to be a difference maker at the NFL level.

“Toney was the highest rated WR on our board. Some may say he’s a bit undersized, but he’s big where it counts… his heart.” said Sandslashers supremo Scott Westwood. “The passion to be the best. The guy lives everyday like he’s in an 80s rock montage striving to get better. Bateman and Toney are great compliments to each other. One will score me points, and the other will score me points too.”

Toney, who played high school quarterback before his Florida college career, joins a now-exciting young WR corps at Andover, where Calvin Ridley is the old head amongst upstarts Brandon Aiyuk, Laviska Shenault, and fellow draftee Rashod Bateman.

Pick 12 - Oxford Seahawks, Elijah Moore WR

An alumnus of the St Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida (the alma mater of the Bosa brothers, Gio Bernard and Michael Irvin among others), Elijah Moore became the second pick on Day 2 of the NFL Draft when he was selected by the New York Jets out of Ole Miss.

The Jets are a reformed prospect on defense with Robert Saleh as new head coach, and the hope will be that they can give their second overall pick Zach Wilson enough weapons so that the offfense improves too and he doesn’t end up like… a Jets QB. They’ve taken on Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder this off-season, alongside last year’s draft pick Denzel Mims, so Moore will have some competition for targets, but he’s a dynamic athlete who broke the Ole Miss receptions record set by AJ Brown in 2020, with 86 receptions, and averaged nearly 150 yards per game.

“Our WR room is a bit thin on the ground after Deandre Hopkins, hence our pick of Ja’Marr Chase earlier today, so we’re happy to take another playmaker in Elijah Moore,” said Seahawks owner Dan Abrey. “We hope to see him being used in multiple ways by the Jets in his rookie year. Roll on the sweeps.”