Home » NFL Rookies » Fantasy Football Today: Get to know the 2021 NFL Draft WR class: Fantasy fits, scouting breakdowns and more

Fantasy Football Today: Get to know the 2021 NFL Draft WR class: Fantasy fits, scouting breakdowns and more


There are draft classes throughout NFL history that fundamentally change the way we think about what rookies can do. For quarterbacks, the 2012 draft class, with Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III all emerging as viable Fantasy starters as rookies was that kind of class. At running back, the 2020 rookie class of Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Antonio Gibson, Cam Akers, D’Andre Swift and James Robinson is going to be talked about for years, too. At wide receiver, last year’s class was pretty awesome, too. Justin Jefferson set the rookie receiving yards record, and CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, Jerry Jeudy and Brandon Aiyuk all helped you win plenty of games as rookies.

But when we’re talking about rookie wide receivers, everyone knows the 2014 class is the gold standard. Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin all had 1,000-plus yards and nine touchdowns. Sammy Watkins and Jordan Matthews topped the 800-yard mark, too, while Jarvis Landry had 84 catches and Brandin Cooks had 550 yards in just 10 games. That class probably caused Fantasy players to overdraft rookie wide receivers for at least three years afterward, because nobody wanted to miss on the next big thing. 

Rookies are always some of the most exciting players for Fantasy managers to target in drafts for exactly that reason. Is it always logical? No, not necessarily. There’s a bit of the “mystery box vs. a boat” aspect to it — “Amari Cooper is Amari Cooper, but Jaylen Waddle could be anything. He could even be Amari Cooper; you know how much we’ve always wanted one of those!” 

But there’s good reason to chase the upside of rookies, because when they do hit, they’ll blow away their draft price. You couldn’t have possibly paid too much for Jefferson last season, for example, and rookie wide receivers especially rarely go so high that you’re going to really regret it.

We’ll have the rest of the offseason to figure out exactly where these rookies should end up being drafted, but you’ve only got a few more days to get to know the rookies before they wind up — and that could change their appeal quite a bit. And, of course, where those rookies land could change quite a bit about how their new teams look, too. But first you’ll want to get to know the top prospects at the position. Especially this year, because this class could be special. 

We’ll have all the draft coverage you need all week at CBSSports.com and CBS Sports HQ this week, including live Fantasy reactions throughout the draft, nightly podcasts plus each day’s biggest winners and losers right here in your inbox each night. Whether you’re prepping for a rookie draft or just looking to get an edge on your drafts this fall, we’ve got you covered. 

For now, here are our breakdowns of the top wide receivers from this year’s class, which could see three guys go off the board in the top 10 — and that’s not even including Kyle Pitts, who could be an historic tight end prospect. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the incoming rookie WRs:

Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

Chase is pretty much the ideal WR prospect, with good size, elite speed and proven production. How good is Chase? Well, he outperformed Justin Jefferson when they shared the field in 2019, with 240 more receiving yards and two more touchdowns on 27 fewer catches. He dominated several corners who project to be early round picks, and that was a sophomore. He opted out of the 2020 season, so it’s been a while since you might have seen him. Dan Schneier’s breakdown of Chase can get you up to speed:

Best Fantasy Fits

Bengals, Chargers, Cardinals — “It’s no surprise Bengals QB Joe Burrow has reportedly been lobbying for his team to draft Chase at No. 5 overall. The two connected for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns on 84 receptions (21.2 ypc) in 14 games in 2019 on a roster that included Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Terrace Marshall. With A.J. Green gone, and the Bengals defense still likely to lead to so many pass-heavy game scripts, there’s no better landing spot.”

Dynasty Outlook

“The Dynasty community is as excited about Chase as I am. He is currently coming off the board as high as No. 1 overall in 1-QB Dynasty leagues. In SuperFlex and 2-QB leagues, Chase will still typically be the first player off the board after Trevor Lawrence and potentially any combination of the other QBs in the big four. He is one of those rare prospects whose value shouldn’t change much based on the landing spot.”

Strengths 

“The best WR in the class when it comes to his footwork off the line of scrimmage … Elite upper body strength that plays a key role in Chase’s effectiveness … More straight-line and breakaway speed (4.38 40-yard dash) than most expected … Chase is the best deep ball receiver in this class despite lacking the height/length … Nuanced receiver who does an excellent job finding voids in zones … the best WR in the class at winning at all three levels: right off the line of scrimmage, in the intermediate range and deep … Put together one of the most dominant statistical seasons in CFB history at the age of 19.”

Weaknesses

“Doesn’t have the prototypical perfect build at just a hair over 6-0 and 202 pounds … Played with a lot of talent around him at LSU at the skill positions and had the luxury of catching passes from Burrow  … Opted out of the 2020 season so we haven’t seen him play since 2019.”

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Waddle wasn’t Alabama’s most productive receiver in 2020, but 591 yards and four touchdowns in six games is nothing to sneeze at. He averaged 18.9 yards per reception over three seasons, and might actually go off the board before his Heisman winning teammate. His explosiveness draws comparisons to Tyreek Hill, if you’re looking for a high-end comp. Here’s what Schneier sees in him:

Best Fantasy Fits

Chargers, Bengals, Giants — “The Chargers showed in 2020 that they are well aware of the kind of upside their offense possesses in the vertical passing game with Justin Herbert at QB. In his rookie season, Herbert made former undrafted rookies and late-round WR talent look like stars at times in the deep passing game. With Keenan Allen as a complementary WR, Waddle could hit the ground running (no pun intended) with Herbert and the Chargers in Year 1. This is his best fit.”

Dynasty Outlook

“Depending on who you are drafting with, Waddle is likely to come off the board in the first seven picks of any Dynasty rookie draft where you only need to start one quarterback. Typically, you’ll see RBs Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, plus WR Ja’Marr Chase and TE Kyle Pitts come off the board before Waddle. In some drafts, Devonta Smith, Rashod Bateman and Javonte Williams also go before Waddle. I’m very high on Waddle’s Dynasty outlook because he brings with him a unique trait that stands out above any WR in this class. His after-the-catch ability is unmatched and it makes him one of my favorite Dynasty targets prior to the draft.”

Strengths

“The most explosive player at any position in this draft class …  After the catch, Waddle eliminates angles that defensive backs have on him like no other player I’ve seen enter the league since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014 … Elusive in the open field. Waddle can consistently force collegiate defenders to miss in open space … Much better in contested-catch situations than his height and frame would suggest … 18.9 yards per reception in his career puts him No. 2 on Alabama’s all-time list.”

Weaknesses

“Injury concerns. Waddle played just four games in 2020 and suffered a broken ankle during the season … Size is a concern. He’s 5-10 at best and he has a slight frame … Still needs to improve as an outside receiver and add bulk to his frame if he wants to be more than just a slot receiver at the NFL level.”

NFL Draft week begins, and we’ve got the latest news and rumors plus what we’re excited to see unfold in Round 1 on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:

DeVonta Smith, Alabama

2020 was a strange year in college football, but it was no fluke that Smith won the Heisman — he dominated just about every game he played in, including 529 yards and eight touchdowns against Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State to close out the season. And he wasn’t just a one-year wonder; he finished his college career as Alabama’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Yeah, the Alabama. Here’s Dave Richard’s breakdown of the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner:

Best Fantasy Fits

Dolphins, Titans, Eagles — “Smith’s best Fantasy destinations involve teams that have plenty of opportunities available. Will Fuller’s arrival notwithstanding, the Dolphins could offer Smith the slot role as a rookie and have him evolve into their No. 1 option by 2022. Reuniting with Tua Tagovailoa won’t hurt — that was Smith’s quarterback for part of his breakout 2019 year.”

Dynasty Outlook

“Smith, Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle are considered the top triplets of elite rookie receivers in the 2021 class. They’re going to be popular, but where they play will ultimately be the tiebreaker for who ranks where in Fantasy. In Smith’s case, envisioning him turning into a weekly playmaker at the NFL level will be a tough hurdle for some Fantasy managers to clear. Others might re-live his highlights and bank on Smith continuing his dominance. Chase seems like a safer prospect, but where they wind up playing is a massive factor. Ultimately there will be someone who takes Smith between first and seventh in every rookie-only draft.”

Strengths

“Smith’s magnificent footwork bought him a step, his very good burst bought him another … a route-running technician, which was how he got open frequently. Ran just about every route including some wild stuff in pre-snap motion … Easy handed. Plucked most balls within his catch radius … Made some incredible contested catches in the back of the end zone … Went injury-free in 2020 until freak finger dislocation cost him the second half of the National Championship Game.” 

Weaknesses

“Upper-body frame and skinny legs reflect his lightweight status and put his durability into question … Claimed to weigh 170 pounds in March and refused to get weighed at January’s Senior Bowl … Struggled to get away from physical cornerbacks who got their hands on him in the first few steps of his route … only 10 missed tackles forced in 2020, 39th in the nation.”

Rondale Moore, Purdue

We didn’t get to see much of Moore over the past couple of seasons, as he played just seven games between 2019 and 2020. His 2018 numbers are pretty eye-opening, though: He had 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, and added 213 yards and another couple of scores on the ground as a freshman. He opted out of the 2020 season after a few games, but reminded us what he is capable of in a show-stopping Pro Day. Here’s Dan’s breakdown:

Best Fantasy Fits

Packers, Cardinals — “A talent like Moore would make for the perfect fit in Matt LaFleur’s offensive system because LaFleur would be able to use him in pre-snap motion and get him designed touches in space right away with the defense focusing on Davante Adams. Also, Aaron Rodgers‘ quick release and short-game passing velocity will leave no wasted time and allow Moore to do what he does best — create yardage after the catch. Moore’s 4.29 vertical speed will also fit perfectly with Rodgers’ deep-ball ability.”

Dynasty Outlook

“Moore is a hot commodity in rookie drafts that are taking place before the NFL Draft with the idea in mind that he can be an immediate asset regardless of what offensive system he lands in. This should be especially true in PPR leagues where he has massive upside if he jumps into an offense that will manufacture quick-hitting touches for him. In our recent full-point PPR rookie-only mock draft, Heath Cummings selected Moore at No. 7 overall. In our recent Superflex rookie-only mock draft, Moore came off the board at No. 12 overall.”

Strengths

“The ability to cut on a dime, stopping and restarting his momentum better than any WR in this class … Vertical leaping ability (42.5-inch vertical, 99th percentile among all WRs) that shows up on film … Elite straight-line speed that should immediately make him a threat on slot verts … Better ball skills in the air and in contested-catch situations than his size would suggest.” 

Weaknesses

“Size — Moore checked in at just 5-7 (1st percentile) and 180 pounds (9th percentile) which might suggest he’ll be limited to a slot-only role at the next level … Injuries are a concern; Moore has only played in seven games over the past two seasons … Moore’s dominant 2018 season did involve a heavy dosage of quick-hitting passes, screens and manufactured touches.”

Kadarius Toney, Florida

It took Toney a few years to get going, but he exploded as a senior, with 1,145 total yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games. He’s a former quarterback whose limited production early on stemmed in part due to his usage as a gadget player, but he broke out as a full-time receiver. He may be a bit more raw than some of his competitors, but Dan likes his upside. Here’s the breakdown: 

Best Fantasy Fits

Cardinals, Chiefs — “The best fit to get Toney rolling early in his career is with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray over in Arizona. The system fits his skill set well and the Cardinals will have an opportunity to get creative in how they utilize Toney. He could be moved into the backfield on occasion and find a home in the slot immediately in an offense that utilizes 11 personnel (featuring three wide receivers) early and often.”

Dynasty Outlook

“Toney is consistently coming off the board at the very beginning of Round 2 and occasionally sneaking his way into the back-end of Round 1 in rookie mock drafts before the actual draft. In our recent rookie-only PPR mock draft, CBS Sports Fantasy Managing Editor R.J. White grabbed Toney with the first pick overall in the second round. In our rookie-only Superflex mock draft, Toney came off the board at No. 17 overall — but as the 12th non-QB — after five quarterbacks were selected ahead of him.”

Strengths

“Can develop into an uncoverable slot receiver … Excellent contact balance through the catch point and after the catch … NFL-ready in the slot where he was one of the most productive receivers in the toughest conference to play WR in … Elite ability to force missed tackles and create YAC in open space … Elite-level leaper.”

Weaknesses

“Size — will Tony ever be able to line up on the boundary against NFL-sized CBs at 6-0 and 193 pounds … Inexperience as a route runner … Didn’t test well in the 3-one drill (agility) — in the 64th percentile … A completely unknown in contested-catch situations — only 10 contested-catch targets his entire career, per Pro Football Focus … Not an elite straight-line burner.”

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

Bateman produced from a young age at Minnesota, which makes his overall numbers look even better — he finished with 147 catches for 2,395 yards and 19 touchdowns in 31 games in college. Here’s Dan’s breakdown:

Best Fantasy Fits

Chargers, Ravens — “One of the most common NFL comparisons we’ve seen for Bateman is Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. Both receivers do an excellent job creating immediate separation off the line of scrimmage with football and lateral agility. We already saw in 2020 what this kind of receiver could do with Justin Herbert when Allen dominated on a per-game basis. Herbert might be the perfect QB fit for Bateman, and there is plenty of passing game volume to go around with Hunter Henry moving on to New England and given former first-round pick Mike Williams‘ inability to avoid the injury bug.”

Dynasty Outlook

“Bateman is no secret in Dynasty leagues and is consistently selected in the first round of one-QB rookie drafts. Regardless of Bateman’s landing spot, he’s likely to be a first-round rookie pick. However, if he lands with the right team, and any of the big-three receivers land on a crowded depth chart, Bateman could be a landing-spot-based riser in rookie drafts. In our recent rookie only-PPR mock draft, I grabbed Bateman with the 10th pick in the first round. In the rookie-only Superflex mock draft, Heath Cummings grabbed Bateman with the first pick in the second round (13th overall).”

Strengths

“Seamless ability to create separation with his footwork immediately off the line of scrimmage … Elusive after the catch, consistently forcing missed tackles in the open field … Nuanced route running … Better-than-expected straight-line speed (4.39 40-yard dash) … Dominated against top-25 competition in 2019.”

Weaknesses

“Smaller than advertised on the team’s official site and than expected at just 6-foot and 190 pounds … Not the most physical or tough receiver when asked to make plays that could often result in taking big hits … Struggles with concentration-based drops … Doesn’t possess a large catch radius.”

Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU

It can be hard to stand out when you’re playing next to two historically productive receivers, and even in a tough situation with a rebuilding LSU in 2020, Marshall was quite productive, finishing with 48 catches for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns in just seven games. Here’s what Dan sees:

Best Fantasy Fits

Packers, Saints, Bengals — “Although some expected the Packers to be aggressive on the free agent WR market, they passed despite rumors they were interested in trading for former impending free agent Will Fuller during last year’s trade deadline. This leaves them with an excellent opportunity to use major draft capital at the position. Landing in Green Bay would be the No. 1 destination for Marshall for a multitude of reasons. For starters, he would get to play with Aaron Rodgers. Also, Marshall would benefit from extra defensive attention focused on Davante Adams. From a schematic standpoint, Marshall’s production in the slot at LSU would allow him to play both outside and in for the Packers, leading to more targets. He’s also an excellent downfield receiver — a near-perfect match for Rodgers.”

Dynasty Outlook

“The Dynasty community views Marshall as more of a WR2-type prospect and he’s likely to be coming off the board in the middle of the second round of your standard rookie drafts. Having said that, it’s unlikely you’ll find a skill player with Marshall’s upside in that 15-20 pick range, and that makes him someone you’ll want to target.”

Strengths

“Explosive ability in and out of his breaks on 90-degree cuts for a 6-foot-3 guy … Great in contested-catch situations on 50/50 balls … Excellent ability to track the ball in the air on deep passes … Surprising elusiveness for a player of his size and nifty ability to create yardage after the catch … Immediate red-zone threat via his ability to high point the ball … Touchdown machine with 23 TDs over his final 19 games at LSU … Big-time production against top-25 opponents at the collegiate level.”

Weaknesses

“Concentration issues — dropped 7 of 55 catchable balls … At times, Marshall looked disinterested on run plays and pass plays not designed for him during LSU’s disappointing 2020 season … Wasn’t a productive receiver until his junior season … While his athletic profile is excellent, there is no defining athletic trait here: Marshall isn’t the fastest, most explosive, etc.”

Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

Moore is on the smaller size, but he was one of the most productive receivers in college football in 2020. In just eight games as a junior, he had 86 catches for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns, and was an asset in the running game as well. Here’s Dan’s breakdown: 

Best Fantasy Fits

Chargers, Packers, Cardinals — “With Joe Lombardi arriving as OC in Los Angeles, Justin Herbert and the Chargers pass game is primed to take a second-year leap — which is scary to think about — and it would be great for Moore to be a part of it. Wherever Moore goes, it will be important he pairs with a play-caller who will put him in pre-snap motion and help him avoid getting matched up in press-man coverage. Lombardi will do that. I’d love to see Moore in this offense with Herbert.”

Dynasty Outlook

“The Dynasty community isn’t exactly sleeping on Moore. They are well aware of his upside and I think they’re on to something. Moore would be a back-end top-15 overall player in rookie drafts that take place before the NFL Draft. I would be comfortable drafting him early in the second round of these drafts.”

Strengths

“Unique stop-and-start ability helps him project as a potentially elite route runner … Toughness at the catch point — arguably his best trait … Ability to force missed tackles and create YAC in open space … Excellent ability to track the ball in the air on deep passes … Sure hands (only 10 drops on 200 career catchable targets).

Weaknesses

“Size — you don’t see many 5-9 players as outside receivers, will he be limited to the slot … Inexperience against press-man coverage — just 38 snaps vs. press-man in 2020.”

Nico Collins, Michigan

Collins didn’t exactly put up eye-popping numbers at Michigan, but he was better than his overall numbers might indicate once you account for Michigan’s overall struggles passing the ball. He’s a prospect someone will have to dream on, but his skill set could play, according to Dan’s breakdown: 

Best Fantasy Fits

Packers, Buccaneers, Chargers — “When it comes to finding a fit for Collins, the key thing to look for is a vertically-attacking offense. Although schematically speaking, Matt LaFleur’s offense isn’t as vertically-oriented as say a Bruce Arians or Dirk Koetter attack, Aaron Rodgers does an excellent job taking advantage of one-on-one opportunities down the field. Playing on the opposite side of Davante Adams will afford Collins plenty of vertical opportunities. It’s also a nice bonus that Rodgers’ forte — ball placement on back-shoulder fades — fits perfectly with Collins’ forte — body control and hands in contested-catch situations.”

Dynasty Outlook

“The Dynasty community loves Collins’ upside with a 6-4 frame, and that love is growing after Collins showed up 15 pounds lighter at the Senior Bowl and had a strong week against some of the top corners. I recently participated in a mock rookie draft where Collins went off the board at the end of Round 3 — that’s the highest I’ve seen him go so far. His value is largely contingent on where he lands.”

Strengths

“Massive frame and he uses it well to box out defenders in contested-catch situations … One of the longest athletes at WR — a 7-foot-9 wingspan … Untapped potential due to poor QB play and an inefficient passing game at Michigan … Very strong hands at the catch point and a natural hands catcher … Projects as an immediate red zone threat.”

Weaknesses

“Lack of straight-line speed … Not an explosive athlete off the line of scrimmage or overall — doesn’t create separation with his athleticism … Opted out of the 2020 season.”



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