10 Rookie Draft Picks To Target & Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)
We’re continuing our coverage of dynasty league rookie drafts this week. Our writers were asked to highlight one player outside the top-12 who could become a superstar as well as one player inside the top-12 who we should avoid.
Rankings based on our Expert Consensus for rookies.
Q1. Which rookie draft pick outside the top-12 has the best shot at being a superstar?
Trey Sermon (RB – SF)
Kyle Shanahan has one of the best offenses for running backs in the NFL. He has had top-10 rushing offenses in Washington and Atlanta as an offensive coordinator and San Francisco as a head coach. The 49ers have a lot of RBs who have produced in his offense, but no superstar. Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert, and JaMycal Hasty were all undrafted free agents. The team signed Wayne Gallman in free agency, but only to a one-year deal. There is an opportunity for someone to claim this job and be a fantasy superstar and Sermon has a great chance to be that player. Sermon is not the fastest back — he ran his 40-yard dash in only 4.61 seconds. He was exceptional in many other important drills, including a 1.49-second 10-yard split, a 6.84 second 3-cone time, a 125″ broad jump, and a 37″ vertical jump. He also had a great collegiate career at Oklahoma and Ohio State, finishing with 455 career carries for 2,946 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. He needs to work on his receiving and blocking, and he probably won’t be a featured running back this year. I just love the offense he is going to be playing in and a running back selected 88th in the NFL Draft is going to be expected to log snaps immediately. Sermon is a player that in three years could be one of the best fantasy producers from this draft class.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Kenneth Gainwell (RB – PHI)
Arguably the most potent receiving back in the 2021 NFL draft class, Gainwell lands in the perfect situation for his skillset. The 22-year old out of Memphis did not suit up in 2020 due to COVID-19 but turned 231 carries into 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns during his 2019 campaign. Gainwell shined in the receiving game particularly, hauling in 51 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns during that season, showcasing elite hands with good lateral quickness to evade linebackers in tight spaces. The Eagles assuredly saw a need to upgrade their RB corps, using a fifth-round draft pick to add Gainwell in a crowded backfield comprised of free-agent signee Kerryon Johnson, the return of Jordan Howard, and an aging Boston Scott. Expect Gainwell to earn touches quickly in a fresh offense led by new head coach Nick Sirianni and OC Shane Steichen. Miles Sanders remains a very good RB1 in Philadelphia but his receiving skills were cause for major concern in 2020, as he caught 28 of 52 targets for 197 yards while being held without a receiving score. This issue gets addressed with the addition of Gainwell, who will have ample opportunity to play in a hyper-fast offense behind a healthy offensive line and gets a chance to establish continuity with former Alabama stars QB Jalen Hurts and WR DeVonta Smith. Gainwell could eventually blossom into a fifth-round gem for the Eagles and take over as the RB1 if Sanders continues to struggle with injuries and drops. In a new run-focused system with elite young skill position players, fantasy managers should take advantage of Gainwell’s ADP (20th overall, RB6) in 1QB rookie drafts based on his top-tier receiving ability that translates well into Sirianni’s system in 2021 and beyond.
– Matt MacKay (@Matt_MacKay_)
Rhamondre Stevenson (RB – NE)
As odd as it may seem, pretty much every rookie running back has the potential to be a standout in fantasy. It all depends on when and how they get the opportunity to do so. Most teams that draft running backs early have a huge need at the position so the player lands in a great spot with great draft capital. This isn’t technically the case for Stevenson, but he was drafted as the 7th running back off the board in the fourth round by the RB wasteland known as the New England Patriots. Currently, the Patriots have a depth chart about a mile long at the RB position, which includes Sony Michel, Damien Harris, and James White, among others. Stevenson is definitely not landing somewhere with a clear path to success. That being said, if he shows up in the preseason, and gets lucky in terms of injuries on the depth chart ahead of him, the stars could potentially align and force him into a wealth of opportunity. At his current rookie ADP in the third round, that would make him a steal for those lucky enough to have drafted him. Not saying it’s likely, but it’s possible, and given the way this RB class looks, I am willing to pay the price of admission to see how it goes with Stevenson this year.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)
Mac Jones (QB – NE)
I have been on the Mac Jones train since it the left the station and I am not jumping off now. Jones played for arguably the greatest coach in college football history and now he will get his chance to play for the best coach in the NFL. Tom Brady comparisons aside, Jones landed in a good spot with New England. Jones has elite accuracy and makes quick decisions, two things the Patriots covet. Josh McDaniels is one of the best coordinators in football and should be able to capitalize on Jones’ best traits to get the Patriots back to what they have traditionally done well on offense. While his raw physical tools lag behind the other first round quarterbacks, perhaps the thing that makes Jones stand out here is his attention to detail in his preparation. Jones was one of the best quarterbacks in the country last fall when it came to knowing where to go with the ball and what the in-game situation called for. He has an uncanny ability to understand when to take shots down the field, but he can also stand in the pocket and deliver the ball in the face of pressure. Those things will quickly endear him to the locker room and the coaching staff, which is why I believe this is a union that is going to produce in a big way. He can be had towards the latter parts of the second round or, in some drafts, the early third making him an easy target in 1QB leagues. Jones has the potential to be a an absolute steal by the 2022 season.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)
Trey Lance (QB – SF)
There is the unknown and small sample size that Trey Lance comes with that people don’t seem to like. Those concerns are all understandable, but I believe he is joining the perfect system that will cater to his strengths. It is not often that a team built to win a Super Bowl immediately is picking as high as San Francisco did this past year, but here we are as Lance joins a team with one of the best offensive lines in the league to go along with loads of weapons and solid depth at running back and wide receiver. Lance possesses the arm strength to where the 49ers can run so many different types of plays whether it is the short passes to let George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel create yards after the catch as they do so as well or let Lance air it out a bit to keep defenses honest. There is also the dual threat ability possessed by Lance that the 49ers haven’t had since the Colin Kaepernick days, and this as well opens up the playbook for Kyle Shanahan. It also means defense have to account for the quarterback taking off and running, unlike with Jimmy Garoppolo. I truly believe his dual threat ability will offer Lance a high floor once he gets in under center, while possessing the ceiling of Cam Newton during his prime years in Carolina or even Josh Allen as a more recent example.
– Ari Koslow (@Koslow_Ari)
Q2. Which rookie draft pick inside the top-12 are you avoiding the most?
Rashod Bateman (WR – BAL)
I loved Bateman coming out of Minnesota. I think the 2019 season was the best illustration of his big-play ability, when he posted 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. My issue is the passing offense of the Baltimore Ravens and Greg Roman’s refusal to throw the football. Roman was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco from 2011 to 2015, in Buffalo in 2016, and in Baltimore since 2019. His offenses have been ranked 31st or 32nd in passing attempts every season, other than 2014 when the 49ers were 29th in pass attempts. His best season in passing yards was back in 2012 when the 49ers were 23rd in passing yards gained. For five of his eight years, his offense has been ranked 20th or lower in passing touchdowns. Roman loves to utilize the quarterback like a running back, he loves targeting the tight end, and he forgets about wide receivers. No offense takes the air out of the football like a Greg Roman offense. That is not great for Bateman’s fantasy value. Just ask Marquise Brown managers. Brown was a first-round pick in 2019 and he has only 104 receptions for 1,353 yards receiving in his first two years in the league. If it was not for his 15 touchdowns, he would have little to no fantasy value. Bateman could end up being a good wide receiver, but he is currently ranked as the ninth-best rookie. This ground and pound offense seems like a recipe for suppressing his fantasy production and making him a player that fantasy owners will be disappointed in when he sees only 3-4 targets per game.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Rondale Moore (WR – ARI)
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury leans into the running game more than most fantasy managers tend to believe or are willing to admit. Looking at Arizona’s 2020 team tendencies, Kingsbury pounded the ball 72 percent of the time on short yardage situations on second down, while leaning into the elite rushing ability of Kyler Murray on third and fourth-down conversions to yield a 60 percent success rate. WR Rondale Moore is an incredibly gifted athlete and wideout. He hauled in over 100 receptions during his freshman year at Purdue, racking up 1,258 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Moore’s blazing speed was put on full display at his Pro-Day, where he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash and elevated 42.70″ on the vertical jump. Unfortunately, Moore has several speedy receivers to contend with on the Cardinals’ receiving corps. Christian Kirk saw 79 targets in 2020 and Andy Isabella is a burner in his own right. I expect Kingsbury to continue utilizing both players to stretch the field vertically. The departure of Larry Fitzgerald leaves 72 vacated targets to distribute among these speedy perimeter threats, which doesn’t factor in the free-agent signing of wideout A.J. Green nor Pro-Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Sure, Moore will get touches as a runner in certain packages and formations, as he totaled 213 yards rushing on just 21 carries during his breakout freshman campaign at Purdue. I just believe he will be competing for targets with an underrated receiving corps and could become a victim of Kingsbury’s run-centric offense, as an improved offensive line anchored by the free-agent signing of C Rodney Hudson could create a lot more success with opening running lanes for Edmonds and Conner to dominate in between the hash marks. Considering the scheme and personnel, I’m fading Moore at his current ADP (11th overall, WR5) during the first round of 1QB rookie drafts.
– Matt MacKay (@Matt_MacKay_)
DeVonta Smith (WR – PHI)
Say what you want about the BMI debate. I prefer my receivers to be big, mean, lengthy guys who can play every position and compete with every defender. To me, that’s just not how Smith wins matchups. He’s small, shifty, and very elusive. He can beat most defenders down the sideline. But in a contested catch situation, I just don’t know. I worry that his size is just going to be too much to overcome, even if he is able to bulk up some before the season. Historically, adding size comes at the cost of reducing speed, so it’s a fine line with Smith. He won the Heisman, so everyone knows the name, but I’m not sure I want to take that kind of risk in the middle of the first round of 1QB rookie drafts. For me, I’d much rather trade back and take Waddle, Bateman, or one of the remaining running back options like Williams or Carter. I’m not saying he’ll be a bust, I’m just fine missing out on him as an outlier. Fantasy is a numbers game, and I’m just not sure the numbers are on Smith’s side as a long term NFL and fantasy asset. Not until he eats more Wheaties, at least.
– Andrew Hall (@AndrewHallFF)
Elijah Moore (WR – NYJ)
I’m not high on Zach Wilson or the Jets in general, which makes Moore a tough sell for me. This isn’t necessarily a slight to Moore because he should be the starting slot receiver from Day 1 but I am pulling back the reigns on the idea he is a top-12 rookie pick. Even assuming a top-10% outcome for the Jets’ offense – which takes a leap of faith – Moore is going to be in competition for targets with Corey Davis and Denzel Mims. Projecting the Jets to improve on their passing volume from a year ago won’t take much (they only had 499 attempts as a team) but I don’t see them letting Wilson throw the ball 40+ times a game. The quality of those targets is another concern as I believe Wilson needs quite a bit of polish to be a starting quarterback in the NFL as well. Add all this up and I see Moore as a project more so than a contributor which, even for the back-end of the first round, isn’t what we’re looking for. I would much prefer to wait on Nico Collins, who can be had a full round after Moore.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)
Jaylen Waddle (WR – MIA)
I’m not ready to give up on Tua Tagovailoa yet from a real life standpoint, but I don’t view him as the type of quarterback who is going to lead a number of wide receivers to becoming extremely fantasy football relevant. This is a crowded Miami offense that will likely see Will Fuller and DeVante Parker on the outside. Mike Gesicki lined up in the slot at a near 50% rate last season, which is where Waddle profiles to line up a good amount of his time on the field. It’s possible that the Dolphins move Gesicki to line up as a typical tight end with Waddle commanding the slot, but either way this is a crowded offense that also involves the running backs in the passing game as well to where Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed will see a good amount of involvement in the passing game as well. I’m not going to predict Waddle to have a similar season to what we saw from Henry Ruggs last year, but I believe it is going to be similar in regards to the inconsistencies we saw on a week-to-week basis. The explosion Waddle possesses anytime he catches the ball is undeniable, but I am expecting him to be relatively big play dependent more than some might want to believe from a fantasy football standpoint.
– Ari Koslow (@Koslow_Ari)
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