Mike Tagliere’s Top 50 Rookie Rankings (2021 Fantasy Football)
I’ve never been a fan of doing rookie rankings before we find out their landing spots. I say that because the talent gap at the NFL level is so small, and opportunity means more than most realize. Whether you like it or not, a player’s opportunity is almost always tied to his draft position, especially right out of the gate. Click here to read the research I’ve done on that exact topic.
Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about projecting players without knowing their landing spots anymore. We know the players. We know the teams. We know the draft capital used to acquire them. It’s time to work through it all and break down the top-50 prospects in dynasty rookie drafts.
When going into your rookie draft, there are a few things to take into consideration. Are you built to win now? You may want to lean running back. Are you still a year or two away from contending for a title? Maybe you lean wide receiver. Your team needs should be factored in, too. If torn between two players, you should lean towards the one who fills a need on your roster.
1. Najee Harris (RB – PIT)
2. Ja’Marr Chase (WR – CIN)
3. Travis Etienne (RB – JAX)
4. Kyle Pitts (TE – ATL)
5. DeVonta Smith (WR – PHI)
6. Jaylen Waddle (WR – MIA)
7. Javonte Williams (RB – DEN)
8. Rashod Bateman (WR – BAL)
9. Trevor Lawrence (QB – JAX)
10. Rondale Moore (WR – ARI)
This is the top-tier talent that should make an impact almost immediately, though this class isn’t as deep as some may think. The top seven players should be locked into immediate production, but after them, it’s up for debate. Lawrence might wind up at No. 8 in my rankings because of that, though it’s tough to pass on Bateman for him in 1QB leagues. He is safer than Bateman, though.
Harris landing with the Steelers locks him into 18-plus touches per game from day one, and by drafting him in the first round, they’ll have the fifth-year option on his contract. He’s going to be drafted as a borderline RB1 in redraft his rookie season. Etienne also received first-round draft capital, though James Robinson is still on the roster, so it will be somewhat of a timeshare. Still, I’m not worried about Urban Meyer saying that Robinson and Carlos Hyde are the 1-2 down backs and Etienne is the third-down back. Why? You don’t draft a third-down back in the first round. Williams is going to be in a timeshare with Melvin Gordon this year, but Gordon will be gone in 2022.
Chase reunites with Joe Burrow and will likely be the No. 1 receiver in Cincinnati, though Tee Higgins will limit his target ceiling just a tad. The Eagles traded up to select Smith, highlighting their plans for him as their No. 1 receiver. Undersized? Sure. Does it matter as much in today’s NFL? Not really. Waddle can be in the same conversation, but with Will Fuller and DeVante Parker in place, he’ll have a bit tougher time producing consistent numbers right out of the gate. Bateman is a pro-ready receiver, but he’s going to have a tough time producing consistent numbers in an offense that’s targeted their receivers just 393 times over the last two years combined. Four teams topped that number in 2020 alone. Moore landed in the right offense, but there are a lot of mouths to feed, and he’s not going to be a 100-plus target guy if everyone is healthy.
11. Michael Carter (RB – NYJ)
12. Terrace Marshall (WR – CAR)
13. Trey Lance (QB – SF)
14. Kadarius Toney (WR – NYG)
15. Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR – DET)
16. Trey Sermon (RB – SF)
17. Justin Fields (QB – CHI)
18. Amari Rodgers (WR – GB)
19. Kenneth Gainwell (RB – PHI)
20. D’Wayne Eskridge (WR – SEA)
I debated placing Carter at No. 10 over Moore, which tells you how much I’ve moved Carter up my rankings by landing in New York, as I believe he’s the best running back on the depth chart. Worst-case scenario, he gets 10-12 touches per game. Sermon landed in a great offense that’s churned out fantasy-relevant running backs, but there’s a lot of uncertainty week-to-week with them. They did trade up for him, so maybe he’ll be an exception? Gainwell fell a lot further than most expected he would, which is the reason he’s down here at No. 19. With Miles Sanders in place as a competent receiver himself, you have to wonder how much work Gainwell gets. He was the best pass-catching back in the draft, but opportunity might be hard to come by.
Some expected Marshall to receive first-round draft capital, but after some injury concerns arose, he fell to the Panthers in the second round. I’m not worried about the draft capital. Them drafting him there may make Robby Anderson expendable after the 2021 season. Toney received first-round draft capital, which tells me the Giants are going to send one of Sterling Shepard or Darius Slayton to the bench. Still, it’s a crowded pass-catching corps. St. Brown might be a candidate to lead his team in targets, though they may not be extremely valuable targets. He’s not good enough to the point where they’ll avoid drafting a top-tier receiver in next year’s draft, though. I’d move Rodgers even higher in my rankings if I knew Aaron Rodgers would remain the Packers quarterback for the next couple years, but that seems unlikely at this point. Eskridge was a favorite of mine through the draft process, so to see him get second-round draft equity and get to go play with Russell Wilson is massive for his stock.
When the 49ers gave up three first-round picks to get Lance, you have to wonder about the plans they have for him. This will not be a vanilla offense with him at the helm. There’s top-three upside with him. Fields to the Bears is interesting because while I’ve lost faith in Matt Nagy as a play-caller, if he fails in 2021, they’ll have a new coach in 2022. His mobility makes him worthy of a second-round pick in rookie drafts.
21. Elijah Moore (WR – NYJ)
22. Zach Wilson (QB – NYJ)
23. Cornell Powell (WR – KC)
24. Josh Palmer (WR – LAC)
25. Tylan Wallace (WR – BAL)
26. Pat Freiermuth (TE – PIT)
27. Cade Johnson (WR – SEA)
28. Dyami Brown (WR – WAS)
29. Tutu Atwell (WR – LAR)
30. Dez Fitzpatrick (WR – TEN)
This is the area where you start to take chances on “your guys” because there’s no such thing as a surefire third-round rookie pick. Moore is actually a late second-round pick but could move up depending on what the Jets do with Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole, as both were slot-heavy receivers in 2020. I worry the Jets won’t throw enough to justify a higher pick, though he’s talented. Powell was someone I liked during the pre-draft process and he’s now tied to Patrick Mahomes and a weak wide receiver depth chart. Palmer was drafted higher than most expected, but I loved what I saw, and he’s now tied to Justin Herbert. If Mike Williams is gone after 2021, he could shoot up draft boards. Freiermuth to the Steelers was a big surprise, and by the time he’s fantasy relevant, he won’t have Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback, which presents a level of uncertainty.
I like Wallace as a player quite a bit, but he fell into the fourth round and went to a team that throws the ball less than 450 times per season. He’s arguably the No. 4 target in that offense, which dramatically lowered his stock. Johnson is someone I really liked while scouting players, though him going to a small school obviously hurt his stock. I loved that he went to Seattle because my closest comp for him was Tyler Lockett, so he might be one injury away from fantasy relevance. Brown will be battling for the No. 3 receiver spot behind Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, so the ceiling is limited. Atwell fell into a highly-productive offense, but is never going to be someone you can rely on in fantasy week-in and week-out. Fitzpatrick was a surprise pick in the fourth round, but the Titans are a WR-needy team, so he may walk into more targets than expected.
31. Mac Jones (QB – NE)
32. Chuba Hubbard (RB – CAR)
33. Larry Rountree (RB – LAC)
34. Javian Hawkins (RB – ATL)
35. Kylin Hill (RB – GB)
36. Marquez Stevenson (WR – BUF)
37. Jaelon Darden (WR – TB)
38. Nico Collins (WR – HOU)
39. Seth Williams (WR – DEN)
40. Dazz Newsome (WR – North Carolina)
Jones should fall into the starting job sooner rather than later and if there’s a coordinator that can make him work, it’s Josh McDaniels. Unfortunately, there’s just no upside for him in fantasy as strictly a pocket passer. If Hubbard had entered the draft in 2020, he would’ve likely gone in the second round, but his return to school negatively impacted his stock. The landing spot wasn’t bad though, as there’s no one else behind Christian McCaffrey. Rountree might wind-up being a better pick than Joshua Kelley as Austin Ekeler‘s timeshare back. Hawkins went undrafted but went to the Falcons almost immediately after, and there is opportunity there alongside Mike Davis. I was interested to see where Hill landed, but once we found out it was the Packers, he needs multiple injuries to become fantasy relevant.
Stevenson is a burner that can stretch the field for Josh Allen, and knowing the Bills use a lot of 4WR sets, he might flash at times. Darden was someone I liked more than Tutu Atwell, but he fell a lot further and wound-up on a crowded Bucs depth chart. Collins was a favorite sleeper of many but we have zero clue about who his quarterback will be in 2021 and beyond. Williams was one of the big-bodied receivers in this draft class, but went to a wide-receiver-rich Broncos depth chart and won’t see the field without injury ahead of him. Newsome is likely to get the nod over Anthony Miller considering the Bears have continually tried to trade him, but it’s also possible they cancel each other out right now. He is someone who I can see moving up depending on how the Bears plan to deploy him and what they do with Miller.
41. Tamorrion Terry (WR – SEA)
42. Jermar Jefferson (RB – DET)
43. Anthony Schwartz (WR – CLE)
44. Brevin Jordan (TE – HOU)
45. Rhamondre Stevenson (RB – NE)
46. Simi Fehoko (WR – DAL)
47. Kyle Trask (QB – TB)
48. Davis Mills (QB – HOU)
49. Damon Hazelton (WR – HOU)
50. Tommy Tremble (TE – CAR)
We’re now in territory where the picks are extremely unlikely to pan out, so you might as well aim for the ceiling. Terry was a favorite size/speed specimen among many analysts, and though he went undrafted, he wound-up with the WR-needy Seahawks. He would be D.K. Metcalf‘s backup in an ideal world. Schwartz got third-round draft equity, which is a lot more than anyone expected. Still, he’s a track star that has a long way to go before he will contribute in fantasy. Fehoko is a project player, but someone I believe has plenty of potential down the road. Trask reminded me of Ryan Fitzpatrick while scouting him, though he’s going to be behind Tom Brady as long as Brady wants him to be.