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Predicting the Highest Scoring Rookies per Position in Redraft Leagues (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Matt Barbato | @realmattbarbato | Featured Writer
May 3, 2021

One of my favorite parts of the NFL Draft is making knee-jerk predictions. And that’s what I’m about to do here (with some research, of course).

Around this time last year, we all thought Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jonathan Taylor would be fantasy darlings as rookies. CEH never really got going, as he finished 22nd among RBs. And while Taylor finished the season strong, I know plenty of people who were beyond frustrated by his early-season usage.

My point? It’s hard becoming even harder to project rookies. Is there a crowded depth chart holding this player back? Is the team being conservative and letting him get his feet wet? Is the player even good? These are all questions we’re simply speculating on as we get ready for drafts.

That’s not going to stop me from giving it a try. Here are my picks for the highest-scoring rookies in 2021 at their respective positions.

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Highest Scoring Rookie QB: Zach Wilson (NYJ)

I’m going bold. Trevor Lawrence is very clearly the top prospect in this quarterback class. But with Gardner Minshew still around, it wouldn’t stun me if the Jaguars took a more conservative approach with their rookie signal-caller. It’s unlikely but possible that Lawrence doesn’t start the season, which is critical when making this prediction.

Meanwhile, Wilson has no resistance to the starting gig on the depth chart right now. Wasted 4th-round pick James Morgan and journeyman third-stringer Mike White are his only competitors. Granted, the Jets might add a veteran to the group, but there’s nobody out there who could challenge Wilson for starting duties.

An easy path to the starting job isn’t the only reason I’m taking Wilson. He’s a legitimately talented quarterback who makes difficult throws look effortless. He’s also very familiar with the West Coast offense, having run a similar offense at BYU. Learning the playbook is a critical hurdle that could be easier for Wilson.

New York’s offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will model what Kyle Shanahan runs in San Francisco. The passing game is conducive to quarterback success because it’s predicated on scheming receivers open, leading to quick throws into wide-open windows.

I also really like what the Jets have done around Wilson. Just this offseason, they added receivers Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, who will serve as New York’s version of Deebo Samuel. If Denzel Mims can take a step forward, New York could have a pretty good passing game.

I suspect this will be a tight race, and both Lawrence and Wilson will have their duds. But I’m willing to take a shot on Wilson’s potential coming to fruition with good weapons and what I expect to be an excellent coaching staff around him.

Highest Scoring Rookie RB: Najee Harris (PIT)

It’s hard to take anyone else but Harris, who ended up in Pittsburgh as everyone predicted. Harris joins a Pittsburgh offense that should put up plenty of points. Harris can be a three-down back at the next level, and he only has Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, and Kalen Ballage to compete with for carries.

Unless the Steelers muddy this up with a full-fledged committee, I’m not sure how Harris doesn’t finish as the top rookie tailback. He might already be the best tailback on the depth chart. However, that’ll likely mean Harris will get overdrafted this season, so buyer beware.

I considered Travis Etienne but fear James Robinson and Carlos Hyde will get too many touches to keep him viable for this race.

Want a sleeper? How about Trey Sermon. The former Ohio State Buckeye finished his final collegiate season with a bang, and we all know how Kyle Shanahan can turn random running backs like Raheem Mostert into fantasy darlings.

Highest Scoring Rookie WR: Ja’Marr Chase (CIN)

Interestingly, the top three receivers in this draft will all pair up with second-year quarterbacks. While I love, love, love DeVonta Smith as a prospect, I’m much more concerned about Jalen Hurts than I am Joe Burrow.

The Bengals’ offense could be pretty fun to watch this year! Seriously! And a healthy Burrow should be able to reestablish his connection with Chase from their magical 2019 run at LSU when Chase caught 20 touchdowns.

I also really like Jaylen Waddle, but I wonder how aggressive Miami’s passing game will be with Tua Tagovailoa. If Tua takes a big step forward, Waddle could be in store for a wonderful rookie season.

All of these players are worth late-round flyers in redraft leagues, especially with how deep receiver is overall. If you only have one upside shot to take, I’d take Chase.

Highest Scoring Rookie TE: Kyle Pitts (ATL)

This one’s pretty obvious. Pitts is a transcendent prospect in a pretty thin tight end class. But he’d be my pick in just about any tight end class.

Pitts is an athletic freak who is too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers to cover. He’ll also have an experienced veteran throwing him the ball in Matt Ryan. The only problem, if you can even call it that, is that he’ll have to compete for targets with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Hayden Hurst.

The biggest hurdle for Pitts will be the transition from college to the pros. That’s historically been a big hurdle for even the best rookie tight ends. But then again, Pitts isn’t your ordinary prospect. That’s why he’s currently ranked as the TE6 on our Experts’ Consensus Rankings.  

You might not ever find a better rookie tight end to target in redraft leagues than Pitts. If he struggles, you can find a replacement on the waiver wire.

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Matt Barbato is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Matt, check out his archive and follow him @RealMattBarbato

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