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2020 vs 2021 Rookie NFL Draft Class (Dynasty Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
Jan 31, 2020

Travis Etienne is one of many RBs who could end up a day-one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Stop me if you have heard this one before, next year’s rookie draft class just may be more talented than this year’s rookie crop. While the wait for the 2020 rookie class proclamations from the dynasty community is still true in relation to the 2019 rookie class, the same can also be said regarding the 2020 and 2021 rookie classes. While there were indeed some incredible talents at every position in the 2019 rookie class, there were no truly elite prospects outside of tight end. The 2020 class has at least four. The 2021 class has at least seven. And that is not even including the QBs like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the running backs and the wide receivers. Let’s dig in.

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Running Backs

The 2020 class was set to be one of deepest in recent memory at the running back position, but with four backs with top five dynasty pick potential all deciding to return to school for their senior seasons, the 2021 class suddenly became just as intriguing, if not more intriguing than the 2020 class. The top two backs in this year’s class, D’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor would be in the mix as the top back of the board versus any of the 2021 prospects, but there are at least five running backs that would vie for top-five consideration at the position both in the NFL Draft itself, and rookie drafts. There are already over 12 running backs that could conceivably end up with day one or day two grades for the 2021 NFL Draft. Here are the candidates.

Travis Etienne (RB – Clemson)
Najee Harris (RB – Alabama)
Chubba Hubbard (RB – Oklahoma State)
Kylin Hill (RB – Mississippi State)
Zamir White (RB – Georgia)
Master Teague (RB – Ohio State)
Max Borghi (RB – Washington State)
Ricky Slade (RB – Penn State)
Keaontay Ingram (RB – Texas)
Kenny Gainwell (RB – Memphis)
Jermar Jefferson (RB – Oregon State)
Trey Sermon (RB – Oklahoma)
Javian Hawkins (RB – Louisville)

To illustrate the strength of the 2021 running back class, creating a hypothetical top 12 that includes 2019, 2020, and 2021 classes can help us visualize. It is important to note that this theoretical draft board could change after the 2020 college season, both due to new entrants and due to the play of the players already on the list. For this exercise, the rankings will hold true to where I had the 2019 prospects ranked prior to the draft and knowing where the players would land. 

Travis Etienne (RB – Clemson)
D’Andre Swift (RB – Georgia)
Jonathan Taylor (RB – Wisconsin)
Rodney Anderson (RB – Oklahoma)
Najee Harris (RB – Alabama)
J.K. Dobbins (RB – Ohio State)
Cam Akers (RB – Florida State)
Chuba Hubbard (RB – Oklahoma State)
Josh Jacobs (RB – Alabama)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB – LSU)
Darrell Henderson (RB – Memphis)
Kylin Hill (RB – Mississippi State)

Wide Receivers

As alluded to above, the wide receiver class is where the 2021 crop of rookies truly stands out. There are as many as nine receivers that could plausibly receive first-round grades. There are at least nine receivers with the talent to enter WR1 territory in dynasty. At least 10 receivers could step into number one receiver roles for their NFL teams, and will be perennial threats for WR2 numbers.

Ja’Marr Chase (WR – LSU)
Rondale Moore (WR – Purdue)
Justyn Ross (WR – Clemson)
Devonta Smith (WR – Alabama)
Rashod Bateman (WR – Minnesota)
Tylan Wallace (WR – Oklahoma State)
Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR – USC)
Jaylen Waddle (WR – Alabama)
Tamorrian Terry (WR – Florida State)
Seth Williams (WR – Auburn)
Sage Surrat (WR – Wake Forest)
Jhamon Ausbon (WR – Texas A&M)

To illustrate the true strength of the 2021 wide receiver class, we will utilize the same visualization exercise we did above for the running back position. Eight out of the top 15 names from the 2019, 2020, and 2021 classes are from next year’s crop of rookies. This is based on grades or rankings as a prospect. Adding Terry McLaurin or Preston Williams would be disingenuous as most, including myself, did not have either ranked higher than D.K. Metcalf or A.J. Brown.  

Ja’Marr Chase (WR – LSU)
Jerry Jeudy (WR – Alabama)
Rondale Moore (WR – Purdue)
CeeDee Lamb (WR – Oklahoma)
Justyn Ross (WR – Clemson)
Marquise Brown (WR – Oklahoma)
Devonta Smith (WR – Alabama)
Rashod Bateman (WR – Minnesota)
Tylan Wallace (WR – Oklahoma State)
A.J. Brown (WR – Ole Miss)
Amon Ra St. Brown (WR – USC)
Jaylen Waddle (WR – Alabama)
Tee Higgins (WR – Clemson)
Jalen Reagor (WR – TCU)
D.K. Metcalf (WR – Ole Miss)

If you play in a single QB league and do not have a top-five or six pick, if possible, you may want to consider trading your 2020 first-round pick for a 2021 pick and an upside veteran piece. There will still be enough high upside players left to entice a rival team to potentially give up a 2021 first. The chances of landing a 2021 first from one of the teams currently picking near the top of the draft may be significantly lower than if you target a pick from a team currently picking in the mid or end of the first. Team outlooks can change drastically if your league’s rookie draft occurs after the actual NFL Draft, so try to target teams whose rosters may stay relatively the same based on their current 2020 draft capital. 

If you play in a 12 team Superflex league, trading for 2021 picks gets more complicated. Trading out of the first for a 2021 pick is not as advisable if you own a top 10 pick, as due to a deep and talented QB class, there will be impact players all throughout the first round. Trading existing non-draft assets for 2021 picks may be the preferred path. If you play in a league with more than 12 teams, you may want to wait until the season begins before deciding which teams to target. If there are six top names deciding to return to school for their senior season once again in 2021, a pick lower than 12 may not net you the type of asset that you thought you were trading for initially.  

Trading for 2021 picks should be prioritized if your team is not currently in a position to compete even with the current 2020 draft capital you possess. As the 2021 season draws nearer, the price for 2021 picks is only going to rise, so buy relatively low while you can. If you go into the season with a plan to compete, but realize in the first half of the season that your campaign is not going to go as planned, consider selling veteran pieces, or players you believe are due for 2021 regression to contenders. 

Complete early mock drafts using our free draft simulator >>

Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his profile and follow him @FantasyContext.

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