Early Top 10 Rookie Wide Receivers (2021 Fantasy Football)
The 2020 wide receiver class was one of the deepest ever, with 13 pass catchers taken in the first two rounds. Here’s a list of the receivers, where they were drafted, and how they finished in fantasy in half-PPR leagues:
- Henry Ruggs, drafted 12th, 89th in fantasy
- Jerry Jeudy, drafted 15th, 44th in fantasy
- CeeDee Lamb, drafted 17th, 20th in fantasy
- Jalen Reagor, drafted 21st, 88th in fantasy
- Justin Jefferson, drafted 22nd, 6th in fantasy
- Brandon Aiyuk, drafted 25th, 33rd in fantasy
- Tee Higgins, drafted 33rd, 30th in fantasy
- Michael Pittman, drafted 34th, 88th in fantasy
- Laviska Shenault, drafted 42nd, 47th in fantasy
- K.J. Hamler, drafted 46th, 86th in fantasy
- Chase Claypool, drafted 49th, 19th in fantasy
- Van Jefferson, drafted 57th, 122nd in fantasy
- Denzel Mims, drafted 59th, 109th in fantasy
Six of these wideouts finished among the top 50 receivers as rookies and some of the ones who didn’t flash potential. But it’s important to note that the success of the 2020 class is a rarity. Normally, receiver is one of the toughest transitions to make between college and the pros.
While the 2021 draft class features the Heisman Trophy winner, it isn’t quite as deep as its predecessor. However, there are plenty of prospects worth considering for your dynasty and redraft leagues.
- 2020 stats: 117 receptions, 1,856 yards, 23 touchdowns
Smith has been someone I’ve had my eye on since last season. When reviewing Jeudy and Ruggs’ film for the 2020 draft, Smith stood out, and I went on record to say he would be a better prospect than Jeudy and Ruggs.
What happened next was remarkable. Smith became the first receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman. And while he has a slight frame for the NFL, I’m confident he’ll be a stud at the next level.
Smith knows how to get open and create separation with his route running. Throw the ball anywhere near him, and chances are he’s hauling it in. He’s explosive and can play the Z, X, and slot receiver spots.
Where Smith ends up will be very interesting. If he goes somewhere with a reliable quarterback, he instantly vaults into early-round consideration in redraft leagues. He’ll likely go in the top half of the first round in dynasty drafts.
Ja’Marr Chase (LSU)
Chase was the consensus top receiver in the class entering the season, but he’s ceded that honor to Smith after opting out of the 2020 season.
Chase might not have needed another season to showcase his talent, and given how awful LSU was, he probably made the right decision. Chase actually put up better numbers than Jefferson during LSU’s 2019 title run.
Chase isn’t a phenomenal athlete, but he’s a polished prospect who does everything very well. He’s a strong route runner, has strong hands, and is dynamic after the catch. Like Smith, Chase will likely be taken in the top 10 of the NFL Draft if he takes care of business during the combine. He’s likely a mid-round pick in redrafts, and mid-first round pick in dynasty leagues.
- 2020 season stats: 28 receptions, 591 yards, four touchdowns
Waddle’s season is a bit incomplete after he suffered an ankle injury on October 19th. He ultimately returned to play limited reps in the national championship game.
When healthy, Waddle is a dynamic receiver with blazing speed. He has reliable hands and a wide catch radius, which will be critical when stretching downfield at the next level. His speed could be especially lethal out of the slot.
Assuming he enters the draft healthy, I have a feeling someone will take a stab on Waddle inside the top 15 of the draft. Depending on his landing spot, he should be an early second-round choice in dynasty leagues and will be worth adding late in redrafts.
- 2020 season stats: 36 receptions, 472 yards, two touchdowns
Bateman isn’t quite as dynamic as the receivers listed above him, but he certainly has Pro Bowl potential. Bateman’s best traits are his smooth route running and excellent ball skills. What’s exciting about Bateman is his skills should translate quickly to the next level. He has a chance to be this year’s Jefferson, a guy who gets on the field right away and performs. He should be a nice value in the second round of dynasty drafts and will be worth a late flier in redraft leagues if he lands on a friendly depth chart.
Terrance Marshall (LSU)
- 2020 season stats: 48 receptions, 731 yards, 10 touchdowns
Marshall took advantage of his opportunity to be the focal point in LSU’s passing game. He has exceptional size and gets open with physicality, cracking double digits in the touchdown department. He experienced drop issues periodically throughout the 2020 season. Marshall could be a Michael Pittman type of possession receiver with upside after the catch. It might be a stretch to call him a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, but he’ll be a high Day 2 pick at least.
Marshall will need to land in a favorable spot to really warrant consideration in redraft leagues. In dynasty leagues, he’ll likely go in the middle of the second round.
- 2020 season stats: 70 receptions, 984 yards, 10 touchdowns
Toney best profiles as a nightmare weapon out of the slot. He has similar traits to Henry Ruggs or K.J. Hamler in that his speed must be accounted for at all times. Toney has made improvements each year at Florida and provided an excellent vertical threat in a Gators offense that also featured tight end, Kyle Pitts.
I expect Toney to have a similar rookie season as Hamler. It might take him some time to hone his craft and see the field as a rookie. But once he’s on the field, lookout. Probably not worth taking in redraft leagues, Toney will garner consideration late Round 2 or early Round 3 in dynasty drafts.
- 2020 season stats: 35 receptions, 270 yards, one rushing touchdown
It was a weird year for Moore, who went from opting out to playing three games before opting out again to prep for the draft. Moore is the definition of an electric playmaker. He has shades of Tavon Austin or Percy Harvin. I’m not really sure if he has a defined position or would be more classified as just a weapon at the next level.
Moore’s biggest issue is durability, as he’s played just seven games the last two seasons. When healthy, Moore is a game-breaker. However, where he lands will be critical, as he needs to be on a team that can get creative with his talents.
Moore probably won’t get a ton of touches on a per-game basis in the NFL, but he has the potential to make the most of those touches. Moore will be an interesting add at the end of the third round of dynasty drafts.
- 2020 season stats: 50 receptions, 729 yards, seven touchdowns
Olave is a technician who relies on his route running to get open. He’ll most likely work the field vertically at the next level. He doesn’t possess much physicality and could get beaten up by bigger cornerbacks. However, he’s a polished prospect who could see the field right away and make an impact as a rookie. Olave doesn’t possess Moore’s explosive upside, but he should be drafted in the same area in dynasty leagues.
Nico Collins (Michigan)
The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Collins could be flying under the radar after opting out of the 2020 campaign. Size isn’t everything, but Collins’ stature certainly gives him an advantage. It helps that he used it well during the 2019 season. He has the vertical speed to challenge defensive backs and the ball skills to haul in deep shots. His size also allows him to be an asset in the red zone at the next level.
Collins has some room to grow, but his size will entice many NFL teams. He might not present a ton of value in 2021 as he hones his craft, but he should be an early fourth-rounder in dynasty leagues.
- 2020 season stats: 59 receptions, 922 yards, six touchdowns
I think Wallace has a ton of upside as a prolific, big-play threat. He needs polish, as Oklahoma State’s Air Raid offense doesn’t require its receivers to run complex routes. But the raw tools are there. Wallace will be one of my deep rookie sleepers if he lands in the right spot. I like him in the middle of the fourth round in dynasty leagues.
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