2021 NFL Draft
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie Wide Receivers 2021: A Fantasy Football Outlook

Fantasy football players have long dismissed the power of rookie wide receivers, but the show put on by last year’s rookie class should ensure everyone understands the monumental impact that the wide receiver class of 2021 can and will have in fantasy football. Let us take a look at the class of rookie wide receivers in 2021 and their fantasy values.

Ja’Marr Chase

Chase seems like the obvious starting point, being the first wide receiver off the board in the 2021 NFL draft, and his swagger makes him the alpha-dog wherever he goes. However, take whatever you may have heard about him being the number one receiver in Cinncinati and throw it out the window. The Bengals already have two extremely talented wide receivers in Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, so Chase will by no means be an automatic fantasy football stud. That being said, his connection with fellow LSU alum and teammate Joe Burrow as well as his raw talent and physicality still ensures that Chase will be fantasy-relevant. The hype train on Chase needs to slow down because he is still only the third most talented receiver on his team, and I envision him as a high-end WR3 or a low-end WR2 ranking around the 20-30 range. He is by no means a league-winner, as he likely will not outperform his average draft position or his average cost in (more realistic) auction drafts.

DeVonta Smith

“He’s too small.” “He’s a stick.” “He won’t be able to handle the physicality of NFL corners.” “He” is also the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in the last 29 years, so take the criticisms of DeVonta Smith’s stature and throw them out the window. As I have written before, fantasy football is all about talent and opportunity. Smith’s talent is obvious – he is by far the silkiest route runner in this rookie class and has tremendous hands paired with an insane catch radius. The opportunity is even more obvious than his talent, as he has paired up with Jalen Hurts, his former Alabama teammate, and was drafted by the Eagles, a team lacking in wide receiver talent. Smith will get targeted a ton this year and he joins the Philadelphia Eagles organization as the best wide receiver on the team. The best part about all this? His draft value is low – he is ranked as the WR 39 on Fantasy Pros. Getting him that late could honestly be considered a crime, considering how big of a steal he would be at that spot. I am not leaving any of my drafts without DeVonta Smith, and neither should you.

Rashod Bateman

If DeVonta Smith is a steal this year, Rashod Bateman will be considered a complete bank robbery. The Ravens’ first-round pick will be a late fantasy draft pick or will go undrafted entirely. Every other receiver in this draft has some sort of weakness, but Bateman legitimately does not have any glaring weaknesses. Couple that with the fact that the Ravens’ WR core is truly horrendous and you have a fantasy football gem. I understand the concern that the Ravens are a run-heavy team, but Bateman’s talent should get him open, and the Ravens will still have to throw the ball throughout the season. I believe Lamar Jackson will have success getting the ball to Bateman, and the only concern to an extent is the Ravens’ ground and pound, run-heavy playstyle. The best part about drafting Bateman is that he is a low-risk pick. Why not take a chance on arguably the most talented WR in the class paired with a top-10 quarterback? He may not work out, but he has the potential to finish as a WR2 and inside the top 24.

Jaylen Waddle

Jaylen Waddle is unquestionably talented – he is fast, has great hands, and is a solid route-runner. He is a little undersized, but that is not a crippling issue. I just hate his situation in relation to fantasy football. Waddle’s best quality is his ability to stretch the field as a deep threat, but Tua Tagovailoa, his quarterback, has struggled to throw the ball downfield in the NFL. It seems like even all of Tagovalioa’s “highlights” consisted of ten-yard crossing patterns or quick curl routes. I understand that Waddle and Tagovailoa played at Alabama together, but this is the NFL, not the SEC. On top of that, Waddle will have some serious competition for targets, as the Dolphins signed Will Fuller and also have DeVante Parker and Mile Gesicki on the roster. Fuller is literally Jaylen Waddle but better in terms of size, speed, strength, route running, and essentially everything else. Is it a horrible pick to take a stab on Waddle at the end of your draft? Of course not, but do not have high expectations. His situation in Miami gives me zero reason to believe Waddle will be fantasy-relevant this year.

Notable Rookie WRs

Those first four receivers had the most hype around them for fantasy football, but there are a few other guys to keep on your radar. The way Elijah Moore from the New York Jets is being talked about at training camp, one would think he is the next Jerry Rice. Kadarius Toney from the Giants has also received praise, but it will be difficult for him to score fantasy points in an offense led by the turnover-prone Daniel Jones. Not to mention the fact that Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and a newly-healthy Saquon Barkley are all still on that Giants offense. A few other names to look out for, especially for dynasty leagues, would be Amon-Ra St. Brown on the Detroit Lions, Amari Rodgers on the Green Bay Packers, Terrace Marshall Jr. on the Carolina Panthers (he gets paired up with his former LSU coach, Joe Brady), Nico Collins on the Houston Texans, Rondale Moore from the Arizona Cardinals, and Dyami Brown of the Washington Football Team. In conclusion, the rookie wide receivers are ready to make their mark in the NFL and their readiness will be reflected in 2021 fantasy football.

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