The era of rookies being eased into NFL roles is long gone. If you’ve got the talent to contribute, coaches around the NFL are expecting you to make an instant impact. Last year’s rookie class was as impactful as any in recent memory, and 2021’s group appears poised to keep that run going.
This edition of our Panini-powered fantasy football rookie stock watch is a special one—the first one that includes the 2021 NFL Draft class. Now that we finally know where these rookies will be playing professional football this year and beyond, there are three players that stand out from the pack in terms of landing spot, opportunity, and potential fantasy stock. Let’s explore that trio of playmakers who saw their fantasy stock rise over draft weekend.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
No pass-catcher saw their stock rise more during the 2020 college football season than Pitts, the tight end out of Florida. His eye-popping plays and stats captivated the football world and resulted in him being the highest-drafted tight end in the common era of NFL history. Pitts joins a high-powered Falcons offense with a head coach in Arthur Smith who’s not afraid to get tight ends on the field—and Pitts will surely be blocking less when out there than the Titans’ tight ends of the last two years. The Falcons had the fourth-most passing attempts in the NFL last year and should still be solidly in the top 10 in 2021 considering the defensive deficiencies that still remain on their roster. Also, Julio Jones may or may not play 17 games, period, or for the Falcons next season. Pitts’ skill set, opportunity for targets, and the thin middle class of players at the position allow him to be in the top-five tight end conversation as a rookie. He’s my current TE5.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Reunited and it feels so good…
While one can argue whether or not the Bengals made the right decision to pass on an offensive tackle in favor of Joe Burrow’s favorite target from LSU, no one can deny that this is the ideal landing spot for Chase. Let’s start with the obvious… the Burrow-Chase connection was a major part of LSU’s historic 2019 season. I expect that in and of itself to help alleviate any chemistry concerns we typically associate with rookie pass-catchers getting acclimated to the NFL. But chemistry isn’t the only positive. Volume matters and Chase should get plenty of it in Cincinnati. At the time of Burrow’s season-ending knee injury last season, the Bengals were averaging the second-most passing attempts per game in the NFL (41.5). Even with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins in the mix, Chase steps in as the Bengals’ WR1 and should be ranked as a top-30 receiver as a rookie heading into fantasy drafts.
Michael Carter, RB, New York Jets
One of the most underrated rookie running backs in fantasy circles heading into the draft, it’s hard to find a better landing spot for the former Tar Heel than in New York with the Jets. Carter has little in the way in terms of backfield competition—particularly on passing downs. He’ll serve an instant role as a check-down and screen option for fellow rookie Zach Wilson, along with the ability to carry the ball as an elusive runner with good footwork. Carter will be in the flex conversation right away with the potential to be one of the best values in fantasy drafts this summer/fall.