Welcome to the next in the series of positional deep dives into the top talents entering the 2021 NFL Draft. Today, Rich (@DynastyIsland) looks at the wide receiver position, one of the most exciting positions on an NFL team. From a fantasy football perspective, some of these players can transform your roster immediately and could be mainstays of your dynasty rosters for years to come.
Let’s see which wide receivers NFL franchises may target in the First Round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Whilst 2020 may well go down as one of the best Wide Receiver drafts in history given the unprecedented level of production from the class in year 1 the 2021 class boasts its own elite talents that could rival it.
If you’re preparing for your rookie draft, we’ve got you, too. This article will give an early look into their fantasy football value.
Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Production: (2019) 84 receptions, 1780 yards and 20 TDs
Ja’Marr Chase set a single-season SEC record for receiving yards and TDs in an incredible 2019 season, winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award in the process.
Despite not being the biggest or fastest receiver in the draft, Chase ticks almost every box you could wish for. He is an elite route runner with the ability to both win at the line of scrimmage but also late in the route. Chase is a natural hands catcher who is not fazed by contested catches and shows an ability to go up and get the ball in traffic. He has shown an awareness to beat both man and zone coverage something that will transition very well to the next level. Chase will come in and be the teams #1 receiver from day one. This is the guy that pushed Justin Jefferson to the slot after all!
Having chosen to forgo his 2020 season due to COVID-19 it could be a question mark for Chase who will not have played football for over 19 months come the start of the 2021 NFL season. However, if 2020 showed us anything, it’s that elite rookie receivers can hit the ground running despite a challenging pre-season.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Production: 83 receptions, 1327 yards and 15 TDs
DeVonta Smith is a production monster. He has hauled in over 1250 yards and 14 TDs in both his Junior and Senior season. This past season, he has been the focal point of the Alabama offence. Smith is a fantastic route runner who gains separation with ease, a result of his natural agility and ease and which he moves in and out of breaks. He wins at the line of scrimmage, a trait that will transfer well to the next level.
The question marks around Smith are mainly physical. He does not possess elite speed instead relying on the scheme and his route running ability to get open. He is a willing blocker, but can sometimes be bullied in the run game. For somebody his size, he doesn’t have a natural comparison in the NFL. Other receivers less than 180 lbs are either elite speed deep threats or undersized slot receivers. A receiver standing at 6’1” who is less than 180lbs doesn’t have a pro comparison to date.
Smith is an elite talent but will have a question mark about whether he can be an outside receiver at the next level. If a team is taking him in the 1st Round, they’ll be expecting a lot more than a slot receiver.
Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Weight: 210 lbs
Production: 36 receptions, 472 yards and 2 TDs (just 5 games)
Rashod Bateman may be my favourite receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft class. He is not the elite level prospect of Chase, but he does possess a fascinating skill set that could allow him to be a true X receiver in the pros.
Bateman is above average at almost everything with a good release and ability to win late in the route. He uses his body well to create separation and has shown an ability to settle into soft spots of zones. Whilst Bateman is not a true deep flyer, he does stretch down the field due to his size and catch radius as highlighted by his 20.3 yards per reception his sophomore year.
Bateman does lack a bit of explosiveness and is a build-up speed runner than a pure fast-twitch burner. He is somewhat of a boom bust prospect, as he may struggle to carve out a role if he is not entrenched as a starting outside receiver.
Bateman did opt out of his Junior year after a COVID-19 outbreak derailed the Golden Gophers season. This should have allowed him some more time to prep for the Combine. If Bateman can clock a 40 time in the low 4.4’s he will likely solidify himself as a 1st Round pick in April.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Production: 25 receptions, 557 yards and 4 TDs (just 5 games)
Jaylen Waddle is somewhat of an enigma heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. He is as explosive of a playmaker as there is. He is lightning fast, and has home run potential every time he touches the ball, whether that be in the receiving or return game.
However, at Alabama, he was restricted in the role he fulfilled. He played primarily out of the slot, protected from press coverage and was exposed to a limited route tree, focusing on underneath crossing routes.
In the NFL, he could be an explosive slot receiver utilised on crossing routes who has the elite speed to wreak havoc both downfield and in the screen game whilst also contributing on special teams. But that is not what teams traditionally want when drafting a receiver in the first round. The NFL will have to project how they see Waddle coping with press coverage and playing outside. This is without mentioning the broken ankle Waddle suffered in October that could affect his pre-draft preparation progress.
Rondale Moore, Purdue
Production: 35 receptions, 270 yards and 0 TDs (just 3 games)
Rondale Moore exploded onto the scene in a big way during his true freshman year, becoming the first-ever true freshman consensus all American in Big Ten history.
The term gadget player is thrown around too often when discussing undersized receivers, but it could not be more apt regarding Moore. He is a natural playmaker with the ball in his hands and will be a fantastic weapon in the hands of a forward-thinking play-caller that can use him inventively.
To call Moore a pure gadget player is harsh, because he is an accomplished receiver to boot with some solid route running ability and strong tracking skills on the deep ball, Moore can be used in traditional ways. However, he faces the same question marks as several of the other receivers in this class. Can he be utilised outside of the slot? And can he beat press coverage?
Terrace Marshall Jr, LSU
Production: 48 receptions, 731 yards and 10 TDs (in 7 games)
Despite sharing the field with Jefferson, Chase and Edwards-Helaire, Marshall still managed to produce in his sophomore season. He then came into his Junior season as the true number 1 receiver and still produced, despite drawing increased attention from opposing defences.
Marshall is a prototypical receiver possessing a fantastic combination of size, speed and ball skills. At times his route running ability leaves a bit to be desired. He is fantastic off the line of scrimmage, but lacks the flexibility and agility to gain separation immediately out of his cuts. This is countered with his catch radius and contested catch ability.
Marshall is the kind of player that coaches will fall in love with. They will project him as the traditional alpha receiver that you can build a passing game around.
Other names to look out for:
Chris Olave, Ohio State
Marques Stevenson, Houston
Amon-Ra St Brown, USC
The @5yardcollege team hopes to have more positional breakdowns with you in the coming weeks. By the time April comes around, you’ll have a clear idea of who you want your team to get on Day One of the 2021 NFL Draft. As a fantasy team owner, your big board will be set for those rookie drafts as well.
Saturdays are for rushing, too!