2021 NFL Draft Rookie WR Landing Spots: Rounds 1-2 (Fantasy Football)
With a very talented wide receiver class entering the NFL, the fantasy landscape is bound to shift. While dynasty managers expect rookies to produce immediately, unfortunately, landing spots and draft capital can prevent that from happening. However, the highest hit rates can be found in the first and second round, with about 14.4% of wide receivers producing at least top-24 numbers to start their career (more on that in my recent draft capital research article). With that in mind, we dive into the 10 wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds of the 2021 draft, analyzing their landing spots and how that could affect their fantasy potential.
Editor’s Note: For more on the 2021 rookie class, check out all of our NFL Draft content and listen to the Fantasy Footballers podcast for the week’s AFC & NFC Winners and Losers show where the Footballers break down each position after the draft.
Ja’Marr Chase – Cincinnati Bengals
Round 1, Pick 5
To no surprise, Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU was the first wide receiver taken off the board and will be reunited with his former QB Joe Burrow. What might seem like a crowded wide receiver room with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins could actually be an intriguing landing spot for Chase. With A.J. Green, Alex Erickson, and John Ross leaving in free agency, there are 126 vacated WR targets available in this offense. In addition, when Joe Burrow was healthy, Cincinnati averaged the 6th highest passing rate at 63%. Burrow also averaged about 41.1 pass attempts per game in that timespan. So despite the competition at WR, there should be plenty of volume to sustain at least two, maybe three, fantasy-relevant options in this offense. The potentially bigger concern is that the Bengals did not bolster their 24th ranked offensive line (7.6% adjusted sack rate) with both Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater still available at 5th overall. They did, however, add two Offensive Linemen with their 2nd and 6th picks, which will hopefully provide Burrow with more time to throw. For a deeper dive into the state of their offensive line, check out this informative article by our content manager, Kyle Borgognoni.
Fantasy Outlook: Ja’Marr Chase should absolutely be considered a top-four pick in your 1QB dynasty rookie drafts. The presence of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd does cap his immediate upside, but I would not be surprised to see Chase lead this group in targets starting this season.
Jaylen Waddle – Miami Dolphins
Round 1, Pick 6
Once again we see a wide receiver reunited with his former quarterback as Jaylen Waddle joins Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. And considering the Dolphins averaged the 7th lowest yards-after-catch per completion (3.9) and 6th lowest third-down conversion rate (38.6%), it should not come as a surprise that they decided to add another dynamic playmaker to the team. The slight concern I have with this landing spot is the lack of opportunity available. Jaylen Waddle now joins Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and Preston Williams in a very crowded receiving corps. As a result, the upside of this passing attack will depend solely on Tua and whether he can take the next step in his development. Last season, he averaged 29 pass attempts per game and only the 29th highest adjusted yards per attempt with 6.2. If his volume and efficiency remain that low, Waddle may struggle to find consistent targets. Regardless, he is one of the most electric playmakers in this class, so it would highly benefit the Dolphins if they found ways to get him involved.
Fantasy Outlook: Jaylen Waddle remains in the conversation as a top-six rookie pick in 1QB dynasty leagues. And while he does not have the clearest path to opportunity in 2021, both Fuller and Williams are set to be free agents in 2022. In addition, Parker’s dead cap drops significantly after this season, which could lead to more opportunities for Waddle if the Dolphins decided to move on. Be patient with Waddle since his upside could eventually lead to WR1 production.
DeVonta Smith – Philadelphia Eagles
Round 1, Pick 10
From weeks 14 to 17, the highest targeted wide receivers for Jalen Hurts were Jalen Reagor (20), Greg Ward Jr. (17), and Quez Watkins (13). He now gets a much-needed upgrade with the addition of DeVonta Smith out of Alabama. And considering the competition in front of him, Smith should be an immediate contributor for the Eagles. In fact, I would not be shocked if Smith was one of the highest targeted receivers in this offense alongside Dallas Goedert and Jalen Reagor. Interestingly, the Eagles had the highest pace of play when Hurts was the starter, averaging 74 plays per 60 minutes and a 56% passing rate. However, if Hurts is unable to improve on his below-average catchable pass rate (57.4%) and adjusted yards per attempt (6.2), this passing offense could continue to struggle. The addition of Smith should, however, help improve the efficiency of this offense as he presents a threat to the defense no matter where he lines up on the field.
Fantasy Outlook: DeVonta Smith remains a top-three wide receiver in this class, with the potential to lead this team in targets. He could be an intriguing later-round flex WR in redraft leagues with upside if Hurts can improve on his accuracy and efficiency.
Kadarius Toney – New York Giants
Round 1, Pick 20
Over the last few months, the Giants have slowly built around Daniel Jones, giving him the necessary tools to succeed in this offense. In free agency, they added Kenny Golladay, John Ross, and Kyle Rudolph. And last Thursday, they drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round to further improve their receiving corps. Of all the landing spots for this year’s first-round receiving class, this might be my least favorite. Not only was Daniel Jones one of the most inefficient passers in the league, there will also be very few targets available with Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley vying for opportunity. The Giants also only ranked 17th in passing rate at 59% and 29th in pace of play in 2020. Regardless, we cannot discount the draft capital that was invested in Toney. He should eventually receive the opportunity to be one of the primary targets for this offense. But until we see improvement in their quarterback play, I will remain apprehensive about Toney’s immediate upside with so many mouths to feed in New York.
Fantasy Outlook: His first-round draft capital cannot be ignored, which means he should be taken within the first 16 picks in dynasty drafts. But because of the lack of opportunity this upcoming season, Toney is unlikely to return immediate fantasy production for dynasty managers.
Rashod Bateman – Baltimore Ravens
Round 1, Pick 27
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens were in desperate need of a wide receiver upgrade, which they addressed by drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round. This smooth and savvy receiver out of Minnesota should be an immediate upgrade over Miles Boykin and Willie Sneed, which could lead to immediate opportunity. However, the primary concern is the Ravens’ league-low passing rate of 45% since 2019, which severely limits the volume that will be shared between Bateman, Marquise Brown, and Mark Andrews. To put their passing offense into perspective, Marquise Brown was the WR13 in target share (25%) last season, yet he only finished as the WR48 with 11.4 PPR points per game. Bateman, however, is a slightly different receiver than Brown. He profiles much more as an X-receiver with the ability and size to beat defenders in the short and intermediate passing game. If Bateman can assume a similar target share but operate more as a possession receiver, he could provide dynasty managers with several productive games even in his rookie year.
Fantasy Outlook: Yes, the landing spot is far from ideal. In this case, I am hoping that talent, draft capital, and Bateman’s impressive production profile translate into opportunity with the Ravens. Bateman remains a top-five receiver in this class and should be drafted within the first 10 picks in your dynasty rookie drafts.
Elijah Moore – New York Jets
Round 2, Pick 2 (34th overall)
The New York Jets revamped their offense by drafting Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Michael Carter this past weekend. And despite drafting Denzel Mims in 2020 and signing Corey Davis to a three-year deal just a few months ago, the Jets decided to further improve their receiving corps by taking Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss in the second round. With the addition of Moore, this likely means that Jamison Crowder will no longer be the primary slot receiver for this offense. And considering he has a minimal dead cap for 2021, the Jets could opt to save $10.4 million by releasing Crowder in the near future. If that were to happen, Moore would step into a featured slot role in this offense with Davis and Mims operating on the outside. Until then, we may need to temper our expectations as there are plenty of viable targets for the Jets.
Fantasy Outlook: There remains some uncertainty since we have yet to see Zach Wilson play a single snap in the NFL. If he struggles to start his career, that will severely hamper Elijah Moore’s upside. Regardless, I am more than willing to take Moore in the first round of dynasty drafts simply because of draft capital and his complete and versatile skill set.
Rondale Moore – Arizona Cardinals
Round 2, Pick 17 (49th overall)
Among all the wide receivers drafted in the second round, Rondale Moore has one of the more intriguing landing spots for fantasy. Not only is he tied to a young, improving quarterback in Kyler Murray, but the Cardinals could also have plenty of available opportunity for Moore to carve out a meaningful role in his rookie year. As of right now, Moore could operate as the primary slot receiver with DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and Christian Kirk (11.4% slot rate in 2020) lining up out wide. This assumes that Larry Fitzgerald does truly retire, ending an illustrious career with the Cardinals. Even if the targets do not immediately go his way, Moore could still be utilized in various ways in this offense with his ability to line up in the backfield, handling a couple of carries each game. Because of his versatility and ability to succeed both inside and outside, expect Kingsbury to get creative with Moore on the field, which should result in fantasy production as soon as this season.
Fantasy Outlook: Rondale Moore remains a top 12 fantasy pick in this class; however, it is possible he slips into the early second round of dynasty drafts. If Larry Fitzgerald returns, it would slightly cap his opportunity in his rookie year. However, starting in 2022, Moore will more than likely operate as the WR2 in this offense as Christian Kirk could leave in free agency after this season.
D’Wayne Eskridge – Seattle Seahawks
Round 2, Pick 24 (56th overall)
This was one of the more surprising picks in the first two rounds of the draft as D’Wayne Eskridge, five-year receiver out of Western Michigan is set to join the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately, Eskridge is unlikely to produce in his rookie year as he will play behind D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and potentially Gerald Everett. The Seahawks currently have 47 vacated targets at the WR position, so he could struggle to find consistent opportunity this season. But similar to David Moore, who operated as the WR3 for Wilson over the last two seasons, Eskridge could have a few flex-worthy games depending on the matchup. And with his 4.40 speed, do not be surprised if he takes a few of those deep targets in for an occasional touchdown.
Fantasy Outlook: I was not the biggest fan of Eskridge’s production profile, though his draft capital will likely move him up my draft board. I do believe that he belongs within the top-30 picks of dynasty rookie drafts, though there are a handful of receivers and running backs drafted after him that I would much rather have in dynasty – Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Carter to name a few. He likely has a low ceiling to start out his career as he will remain behind Metcalf and Lockett for the foreseeable future.
Tutu Atwell – Los Angeles Rams
Round 2, Pick 25 (57th overall)
Tutu Atwell was the 9th wide receiver taken off the board, becoming one of the smallest players (at 155 lbs) to be drafted in the NFL. Regardless of his size, Atwell boasts one of the more impressive production profiles in this class, averaging about 30% of the receiving production in his three seasons at Louisville. Similar to Eskridge, he will likely play behind a couple of veteran receivers in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. However, there are plenty of targets up for grabs as both Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett (143 targets combined) are no longer with the team. And with the addition of Matthew Stafford, I expect this offense to be even more efficient and explosive this upcoming season. Atwell profiles as a versatile weapon in the McVay offense as he was used in a variety of ways in college. I would not be surprised to see him utilized as an occasional deep threat, on jet sweeps, and in the screen game, allowing him to use his 4.44 speed to create big plays.
Fantasy Outlook: Tutu Atwell should be drafted within the top 36 picks in dynasty leagues because of his second-round draft capital. However, his size does limit his potential in the NFL, as he likely will never assume the lead-WR role for any offense.
Terrace Marshall Jr. – Carolina Panthers
Round 2, Pick 27 (59th overall)
I fully expected Terrace Marshall Jr. to be the fifth or sixth receiver to go off the board, yet he fell all the way to pick 59 to the Carolina Panthers, reuniting with his former LSU OC: Joe Brady. At face value, this might not seem like an ideal landing spot due to the presence of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson. However, Curtis Samuel left behind a significant void in targets that could go Marshall’s way. I initially assumed that most of those opportunities would raise the fantasy floors of Moore and Anderson, yet it is entirely possible that Marshall takes on an immediate role for this offense instead. In fact, last season, the Panthers were one of only two teams to have three receivers finish within the top-30 in PPR points per game, which means that all three receivers could theoretically coexist and produce for fantasy. I am not ready to assume Marshall will be a flex-worthy receiver this season, as I expect there to be a learning curve heading into the NFL. But starting in 2022, if the Panthers do not re-sign Anderson, Marshall could be the de-facto WR2 for this young Panthers offense.
Fantasy Outlook: Terrace Marshall has plenty of upside in redraft leagues due to the available opportunity in this Panthers offense. However, I still expect him to firmly play behind Moore and Anderson, which will limit his upside in his rookie year. Regardless, do not hesitate to draft him in the early second round of your dynasty rookie drafts. Just be patient as his role could expand in his Sophomore year.