In many ways, the NFL season flew by. Tom Brady won yet another Super Bowl, which means it’s already time to start digging into our 2021 NFL Draft prospects. Last week we asked our writers who should be pick 1.01 in Dynasty Rookie Drafts? This week we’re asking who the top rookie wide receiver is? Of course, landing spot is going to play a critical role in the valuation of these players, but it’s never too early to start getting a feel for who’s who.
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Q: Who is the top rookie wide receiver of 2021?
Ja’Marr Chase (WR – LSU)
During LSU’s historic 2019 season, Justin Jefferson earned an 85.4 grade from PFF with 1,540 yards and 18 TDs. As a sophomore on the same team, Ja’Marr Chase outperformed Jefferson (91.1 PFF grade, 1,780 yards, 20 TDs), leading the FBS in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns while winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the country’s best receiver. Chase isn’t a burner, but he’s fast enough. A powerful, physical playmaker who fits the mold of a WR1, Chase posted a 33% dominator rating as a teenager on a team that also featured Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr. (who will get drafted this year as well). Chase’s 3.36 adjusted yards per team pass attempt (80th percentile among drafted NFL WRs) is absurd when you consider Jefferson was on the same team. He’s a special prospect.
-Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyEvolves)
I’ve gone back and forth between Smith and Chase because they should both be outstanding NFL receivers. I give Chase a slight nod for a number of reasons, but most notably because his combination of size and speed give him more upside. Paul did well outlining the numbers above so I won’t rehash the analytical side of things but when you watch Chase on tape, he gives me every reason to believe he will have the same impact as Justin Jefferson had. The fact we are having to decide between Chase and Smith probably says more about how good Chase is considering he opted out of the 2020 season. Had he played, we might be asking who is the second receiver drafted after Chase.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)
In the 2020 NFL season, we had a rookie wide receiver breaking records, and his name was Justin Jefferson. Well, Jefferson played second fiddle to Chase at LSU. That alone should tell you just how good Chase can be. After opting out of the 2020 season, Chase doesn’t have quite the hype that Devonta Smith has after his record-breaking National Championship game following his Heisman Trophy-winning season but make no mistake, Chase is the clear-cut WR1 in this class.
– Geoff Lambert (@geofflambert77)
As I outlined last week, Chase might’ve been the first receiver taken in last year’s historic wideout class. The definition of an alpha receiver, Chase’s scouting report notes that he runs “angry” while also mentioning his savvy route-running skills and short-area quickness. This makes him the special type of wideout who can win at the catch-point or simply shed would-be tacklers before, during, and after making a reception. Paul mentioned all the stats above. Chase’s tape confirms the dominance.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)
Devonta Smith (WR – Alabama)
There are two compelling choices for the top wide receiver this year, Ja’Marr Chase and Smith. Both have put up stellar seasons and dominated the SEC. Smith posted 117 receptions for 1,856 and 23 touchdowns in his 2020 Heisman campaign. Chase was also fantastic with 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, but that was in the 2019 season. He skipped the 2020 season to concentrate on the 2021 NFL Draft. Right now, I like Smith more because he played this year and I have not seen Chase for a year. That opinion could change after their Pro Days, but Smith’s combination of stellar route running, great hands, and playmaking ability with his dismantling of Ohio State’s secondary in the National Championship fresh in my mind make him my top choice between two fantastic prospects.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Jaylen Waddle (WR – Alabama)
There are three wide receivers at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft class that are being labeled as the best. In all likelihood, you can’t go wrong with Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle. Recency bias could cause some to pick Smith over the others, while Chase — despite opting out of the 2020 season — compiled a more productive season than Justin Jefferson when they were together at LSU. But it’s Waddle who stands out amongst the group due to his Tyreek Hill-like mold. Many forget that it was Waddle who was on track for a Heisman-worthy season like Smith had before he got injured in Week 4 of the 2020 campaign. In the first four games of the 2020 season for Alabama, Waddle had 25 receptions, 557 yards, and four touchdowns compared to Smith’s 38 receptions, 483 yards, and four touchdowns. While Waddle isn’t the biggest wideout, his speed and ability to change direction is more than enough to make him a lethal threat in the NFL. Besides his explosiveness at wide receiver, Waddle has also shown that he can be a dangerous returner if he’s given an opportunity at the next level.
– Skyler Carlin (@skyler_carlin)
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