The 2021 NFL Draft is this week! After months and months of mock drafts, debates, rumors, pro days, character reports, 40 times, etc., we’ll finally be able to talk in absolutes instead of hypotheticals. Teams will be married to players and we can break down what it all means in real-life football and fantasy football. However, there’s still a bit more time to speculate.
What are the ideal landing spots for 10 of the top rookie wide receivers from a fantasy football perspective for the 2021 season? Powered by Underdog Fantasy, I took a look at the best-case-but-realistic scenarios for the top wide receivers in the 2021 class.
Scouting Report: “Everything that Chase does on the football field is done like an alpha. He is mostly unfazed by contact during his route stems, at the top of routes, during the release, and at the catch point.”
Underdog ADP: 64.7
Ideal Team: Bengals
The strike zone for Chase is quite small since he’s the overwhelming favorite to be the first wide receiver off the board. The most realistic landing spots for him on April 29 are the Bengals (No. 5), Dolphins (No. 6), and Lions (No. 7). Of those options, Cincinnati is the clear best option for his immediate and long-term fantasy value.
We can start with the obvious Joe Burrow-Chase connection from LSU’s historic 2019 season. While that should certainly help alleviate any chemistry concerns we typically associate with rookie pass-catchers getting acclimated to the NFL, quite frankly, this being the best fit is as simple as Burrow being the best quarterback option. Plus, at the time of Burrow’s catastrophic knee injury last season, the Bengals were averaging the second-most passing attempts per game in the NFL (41.5)—there will be plenty of targets to go around.
Tua Tagovailoa experienced serious growing pains as a rookie last season. And while it’s fair to assume he will progress in year two, projecting how much will be difficult. Plus, in the short term, the Dolphins don’t and won’t need to throw as much as the other two teams to be competitive. In Detroit, Jared Goff is the quarterback of right now, but what their passing situation looks like in 2022 or 2023 is very much up in the air. There is some appeal to being pretty much the only option in the passing game if you’re Chase, but that’s really about it.
Chase could be a top-30 fantasy receiver as a rookie if drafted No. 5 overall by the Bengals.
Scouting Report: Although he may never make defenders miss consistently in space, he has elongated strides that allow him to eat up operating room quickly. A polished route-runner, he has a well-developed understanding of how to create separation and he also contains a diverse release package when facing challenges at the line of scrimmage.
Underdog ADP: 96.7
Ideal Teams: Cardinals, Titans, Dolphins
Get used to hearing about Smith’s weight, because it’s going to be a constant topic of conversation on night one of the draft. His confirmed 166 pounds is slight, there’s no doubt about that. The question then becomes: Do you believe in his production? Some teams will and will have him slotted as their WR2 or WR3. Others won’t want to challenge historical trends and will withhold a round-one grade. As such, his potential draft range is massive. He could go as high as No. 6 overall to the Dolphins or as low as the 20s.
The Cardinals are a sneaky good spot for Smith. No team went four-wide more than Arizona in 2020 and, despite the A.J. Green signing, there’s plenty of room for a true No. 2 option for Kyler Murray. Smith can be a true do-it-all option for a team that threw the ball 36 times per game last season and might increase that number in 2021.
Tennessee is another fun spot as the floor for Smith. They need another piece alongside A.J. Brown (I like Josh Reynolds more as a third option), and Smith can take advantage of an efficient passing offense with plenty of one-on-one matchups for him with defenders focused on Brown. The Dolphins are a solid spot too, particularly because Smith can fill a style void in Miami’s receiving corps. There is some chemistry there with Tagovailoa too from Alabama, although he’s the third-best passer of the three potential options listed.
Scouting Report: “Jaylen Waddle is a dynamic wideout that’s spent time on the outside, in the slot, and periodically as a chess piece in the backfield. Possessing a unique skill set, he’s a smaller wideout that contains a diverse skill set. With notches of speed that most defenders are incapable of reaching, he plays the game with a jetpack.”
Underdog ADP: 103.2
Ideal Teams: Chargers, Cardinals, Dolphins
Waddle is TDN’s consensus WR1 in the class and he’s my WR2 among rookies coming in. I would not be surprised to see him go in the top seven on draft night, but if he falls out of the top 10, things get way more interesting from a fantasy perspective. The Giants (No. 11) and Eagles (No. 12) are prime landing spots for Waddle, but the quarterback situation is less than ideal. The same can be said for Miami.
I love the idea of Waddle joining the Chargers as Justin Herbert’s de facto No. 2 option behind Keenan Allen (and with Mike Williams being a big-play threat on a small handful of targets per game). The Chargers need to add a third quality wide receiver option to their team, as they threw the ball the fifth-most times in the NFL last year and lost their No. 2 target getter (Hunter Henry) this offseason. Arizona is a fit for many of the same reasons as listed above for Smith, but Waddle would be a more well-rounded long-term option if he were to fall to them.
Scouting Report: “Bateman offers an impressive blend of route running, ball skills, and competitive toughness into a frame that should alleviate any concerns about his projection to working on the boundary. Bateman's ability to track the football and win at the catch point flash just as much as his smooth breaks and easy acceleration off the line of scrimmage.”
Underdog ADP: 118.7
Ideal Teams: Chiefs, Titans, Packers
Bateman is widely considered to be the most likely choice for the fourth wide receiver off the board, which puts his real-life ADP somewhere in the back half of the first round. Tennessee is a popular mock draft spot, and he can certainly fill the void left by Corey Davis, who spent the majority of the 2020 season as a WR2 for fantasy purposes. If he gets past the Titans, the Packers are an equally fun landing spot as well. There’s been room for a true No. 2 alongside Davante Adams for a couple seasons now, and as long as Aaron Rodgers is playing at an MVP-caliber level, there is fantasy meat on the bone for another talented pass-catcher in that offense.
However, the ideal landing spot would be with the back-to-back AFC champion Chiefs, who need to fill the void left by Sammy Watkins. Bateman would be an upgrade from Watkins—who was a disappointment from a fantasy standpoint in Kansas City—and could feast on an offense with the NFL’s best quarterback that threw the ball nearly 40 times per game last season.
Scouting Report: “Marshall is a versatile receiver that has proven himself both from the slot and out wide while attacking all levels of the field with consistency. He offers terrific size, physicality, hands, ball skills, run after catch ability, route-running skills, and overall technical refinement.”
Underdog ADP: 134.4
Ideal Teams: Chiefs, Packers, Bengals, Titans
I’m a huge fan of Marshall. His size is a tremendous asset to him in this receiver class and he has plenty of speed and versatility to carve out a role on almost any team. He’s a dark horse candidate to be the most productive rookie fantasy receiver if he lands in the right spot (because he could join a more advantageous offense in year one). Let’s start with the Chiefs and Packers, two Super Bowl contenders with elite quarterbacks and a hole at WR2. Marshall can make an instant impact as a 90-95 target player over 17 games.
I love the Bengals as an option too in the second round if they go Penei Sewell at pick No. 5. Basically re-read the Chase section above, as it applies here as well. The Titans need a No. 2 wide receiver and would offer Marshall the opportunity to play a big role in their offense’s overall success.
Scouting Report: “Rondale Moore should be considered one of the 2021 NFL Draft’s most electric prospects, but he’s also one of the biggest wildcards in the process. When healthy, Moore is a multi-purpose weapon who can break open a football game with any touch of the football; he’s provided run after catch, special teams plays, rushing usage out of the backfield, and vertical receiving over the middle of the field.”
Underdog ADP: 151.2
Ideal Teams: Packers, Cardinals
If Moore stays healthy—and that’s a tremendously large if—he could be the steal of fantasy drafts. He’s only played a handful of games over the last two seasons due to various ailments, but the guy is a human highlight reel when he’s 100%. He’d be a star for Matt LaFleur in Green Bay or as a do-it-all piece for Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona. Targets, rushing attempts, etc. are all up for the taking in both of those spots. Moore should be a best-ball target for fantasy managers regardless of his destination.
Scouting Report: “Toney is an electric slot receiver who’s continued to improve every season in Gainesville. He is much more satisfying than his size indicates because he’s electric with or without the ball in his grasp. His ceiling as a route-runner is a bit limited, but he was highly effective with the package that he was asked to run.”
Underdog ADP: 178.7
Ideal Teams: Packers, Jaguars, Saints
There weren’t many college football players more fun to watch last season than Toney. The word “electric” was used in the scouting report above and it’s a more than appropriate adjective for the former Gator. Get the ball in his hands and watch him go. I’d love to see him as a multi-faceted offensive weapon for LaFleur in Green Bay, but I’m intrigued by the possibility of him joining Trevor Lawrence, D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, and Marvin Jones in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are going to be forced to throw a lot in the second half of games, which may allow them to have 3-4 fantasy-relevant wide receivers on a weekly basis. Toney can attack the underneath areas at a high volume in those situations against soft defenses. The Saints could be interesting as well, as they are in need of a No. 2 option after Michael Thomas. However, their quarterback situation is far from ideal.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Scouting Report: “His play embodies a blue-collar toughness and competitiveness rarely seen from a wide receiver. He is excellent in contested catch situations due to his competitiveness and big-play ability. He excels between the numbers and is a threat in the short, intermediate, and deep passing game. He has excellent hand-eye coordination, which makes him efficient at catching targets.”
Underdog ADP: 214.0
Ideal Teams: Ravens, Chiefs, Titans
Do you want a tough dude who will go over the middle, take a hit, and come down with the ball? Then St. Brown is your guy. He doesn’t possess the upside of the names we’ve discussed so far, but—a lot like former teammate Michael Pittman Jr.—offers plenty of skills that will be useful for an NFL team right away. The Ravens did recently add Watkins, but they still need more intermediate weapons—and they throw over the middle A TON. St. Brown could compete for the plurality of the target share in Baltimore as a rookie. The Chiefs can use St. Brown to replace Watkins in their offense, while the Titans need weapons to attack the middle of the field. He’d be behind more established pass-catching options at both of those destinations, but they would still be beneficial landing spots for fantasy.
Scouting Report: “Brown is a terrific athlete and vertical route-runner that excels at getting deep where his burst to the football and ball skills led to big plays down the field. Because he’s such a good vertical receiver, it opens up a world of possibilities for him to snap off routes and get open in the intermediate areas of the field.”
Underdog ADP: Undrafted
Ideal Teams: Chargers, Saints, Bengals
Brown is a favorite of a few of TDN’s scouts and it’s not hard to see why. Of the second or third tier of draft-eligible wide receivers (depending on where you draw the line), Brown has the big-play ability to be an instant vertical threat in the NFL. As another weapon for Herbert, Jameis Winston, or Burrow downfield? He could make a fantasy impact right away. Brown has an infectious on-field personality and will out-effort defenders to win up the field if need be. Count me in on the Brown fantasy sleeper bandwagon.
Scouting Report: “Moore is a dynamic athlete with excellent agility and quickness. In the passing game, he is still a little raw as a route-runner but is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. He demonstrates the toughness to catch the ball in traffic. He is always a big-play threat due to his excellent run after catch potential.”
Underdog ADP: Undrafted
Ideal Teams: Buccaneers, Cardinals, Packers
Moore is a bit of a wild card in terms of potential landing spots. Some see him sneaking into the end of the first round, some see him falling to early Round 3. For him to be a factor in year one, he needs to carve out a secondary role on a high-powered offense. The Buccaneers, if they don’t wind up bringing back Antonio Brown, have targets to distribute—plus, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have had their fair share of injuries recently. Moore would have to earn reps for the Cardinals and Packers too, but could make solid late-season contributions for both teams.
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