Impact Rookie Wide Receivers in Redraft Leagues (2021 Fantasy Football)
It’s rookie hype season, and everybody wants shiny new toys. Rookie wideouts are starting to leave their marks in fantasy football earlier each season. In PPR leagues last year, Justin Jefferson finished as the WR6, while Chase Claypool and CeeDee Lamb landed inside the top 24. Tee Higgins and Brandon Aiyuk produced as WR3s with WR2 finishes some weeks. This year’s crop could yield a league-winner and/or breakout players as well. Here’s an early look at the rookie wide receivers set to have the most impact in 2021.
The Bengals drafted Ja’Marr Chase fifth overall, reuniting him with Joe Burrow, the quarterback he set records with at college. They connected for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns on 84 receptions (21.2 YPR) in 14 games in 2019. They reached that mark on a loaded roster that included Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Terrace Marshall.
The duo will strive to rekindle their magical rapport in Cincinnati. Aside from the fact that Chase is a bona fide stud, the existing similarities between the Bengals and LSU offenses will lend a hand in reigniting their success. Cincinnati implemented many concepts from LSU last year to help make Burrow’s life easier during his rookie season.
Chase will join a somewhat crowded receiver room that includes Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Despite Higgins being an ascending player, Chase should immediately serve as the team’s top target. There should be plenty of distribution in this offense regardless, as it will likely be pass-heavy with the defense still a couple of years away. The Bengals also made some improvements to their offensive line. All this makes Chase an easy bet to finish as a high WR2.
DeVonta Smith should immediately step into the WR1 role with the Eagles thin at the receiver position. While he lacks the prototypical size of an NFL wide-out, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner brings an advanced skill set and versatility to the table. Smith lined up at multiple positions at Alabama, including the “X” role. That will have its advantages as his former teammate, Jalen Hurts, can make the downfield throws that rack up fantasy points. Jalen Reagor and tight end Dallas Goedert are the only pass-catchers other than Smith guaranteed to start this season. Smith’s upside is massive as a player who could be walking into a 20% target share.
Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle are the third young quarterback and wide receiver pairing that share a college connection. Tagovailoa will likely lean on his former Alabama teammate as he struggled his rookie season. Waddle is the total package — he can create explosive plays at all three levels of the defense. He should line up in three-receiver sets alongside DeVante Parker and Will Fuller. Expect Miami to use him mainly in the slot, making it even more likely that he becomes Tagovailoa’s favorite target. The volume should be there for Waddle to serve as a WR2.
Elijah Moore’s fantasy relevance in his rookie season largely hinges upon Jamison Crowder’s fate. Crowder is under contract negotiations and is seemingly on his way out with the Jets. The team has already drafted Crowder’s eventual replacement in Moore, and they can save $10.4 million by releasing him. If the two sides cannot reach a deal, Moore would become the hot fantasy target in the slot receiver role for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The Jets’ newest pass-catcher is an all-around elite athlete who can run high-level routes from the slot but can also get deep. Moore would be looking at WR2 potential without Crowder on the team and can still perform as a WR3 if Crowder stays.
— Patrick Kerrane (@PatKerrane) June 8, 2021
Terrace Marshall should find the field early in his rookie campaign because he’ll fill the void created by Curtis Samuel’s departure. Marshall has a big catch radius which contributed to his success at LSU; he had to fill the void from Chase’s opt-out and the departure of Jefferson. Marshall snagged 82% of his contested targets last season, the highest rate in college football. Adding to his appeal is his reunion with coordinator Joe Brady, a bright and creative offensive mind. In his first NFL season, Brady devised schemes that supported three fantasy-relevant wide receivers in Samuel, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson.
The depth chart at receiver in Detroit is wide open with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola no longer with the team. Their departures leave Amon-Ra St. Brown and tight end T.J. Hockenson as the most likely candidates as the top targets in the offense. Brown is a top-tier route runner who has all the tools to be a successful slot receiver at the pro level. As Cooper Kupp can attest, quarterback Jared Goff has made his living by targeting the slot receiver. The Lions could also be frequently playing from behind, forcing them to throw more often. St. Brown is a low-risk, high-reward pick at the end of drafts, as the targets should be there.
Lamar Jackson could finally have a genuine No. 1 receiver in Rashod Bateman. He is a gifted route runner who can play all over the formation. Bateman projects to start in the slot alongside Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins. He could see a fantasy-relevant role if Baltimore shifts to a more balanced attack on offense. During the offseason, the team has pledged to throw the football more. Bateman’s fantasy stock is soaring right now, but I would temper expectations for 2021. Tight end Mark Andrews is still the top target in this offense — at least for now.
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