Fantasy football rookies who will make an impact in the 2021 rankings
The 2021 NFL Draft Class featured many high profile rookies who should have an immediate impact.
We’ve seen a number of talented offensive playmakers start early, including five quarterbacks, three wide receivers and a tight end in the top 15. But if the big names stand out, other players who have gone later can have an equally big impact in their freshman year as the stars.
Just look at last year when undrafted backer James Robinson finished in the top 10 in his position. Or when second round catcher Chase Claypool finished as the 14th player with the highest score in his position.
Below, we’ll go position by position and take a look at a few rookies who could make an impact in their first year.
Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
The Jaguars took Lawrence to the top spot in the overall standings, and he’s their scheduled Week 1 starter. Lawrence has some solid returning talent around him, including RB James Robinson, WR DJ Chark and WR Laviska Shenault. Jacksonville also added WR Marvin Jones in free agency and RB Travis Etienne in the draft. It’s a beautiful place for Lawrence, but not amazing. He’s not necessarily someone you want as a QB1 in the overhaul leagues this year, but he can provide an edge as a QB2. His average draft position (ADP), per Fantasy football calculator, in the past month, he’s the 21st quarterback on the board. It’s probably a safe place for him, unless something dramatic changes between now and the draft season.
Jets: Zach Wilson
Wilson is also expected to start right away, but he’s a difficult player to trust to fantastic ends in his freshman year. He doesn’t have a lot of talent around him, as he will be looking to Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder and rookie Elijah Moore. Between the lack of talent and the fact that Wilson is a rookie, there really isn’t much to like here. There are so many other quarterbacks with promising situations that it feels like a waste to draft Wilson.
Bear: Justin Fields
Fields offers perhaps the best edge among rookie quarterbacks in their freshman year; however, the big blow on him is that Chicago sees Andy Dalton as the starter. We expected Fields to get some playing time in his first year, but it’s unclear how long he should wait, and that impacts his value when he thinks about drafting it. But when he does play, Fields shows promise due to his ability to run the ball. He can also play with elite talent in WR Allen Robinson, which other rookie quarterbacks in this class don’t have. When Fields plays, it will be a viable streaming option.
The rest of the rookie quarters
Trey Lance (49ers) is another intriguing option for fantastic ends as a rookie, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play at all. If Lance plays, he’ll likely be a better option than Lawrence, but slightly below Fields. From now on, we would probably leave Lance unedited in rephrasing formats. If it is revealed that he will start as a rookie, then he will be of value as a later option. Mac Jones (Patriots) was the other quarterback in the first round of that draft, but it’s hard to see him playing against Cam Newton as a rookie. We don’t expect any other rookie quarterback to make an impact in 2021.
Steelers: Najee Harris
The Steelers lost James Conner in free agency and added Harris with their first-round pick. Harris has an immediate impact as he joins a favorable situation without too much competition. Harris is a unique talent with his power and speed, as well as his ability to catch the ball – his 43 receptions last season were fourth among all running backs. The situation is perhaps more important than the talent. Harris should see a lot of volume because of this receiving ability. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see him get more than 300 touches, a number only four running backs hit last season. He could easily finish in the top 10 for running backs, but he should be screened more as a top 15 to top 20 option.
Jaguars: Travis Etienne
The Jaguars made Etienne a first-round pick, but don’t get too excited about him. He’s heading for a Jacksonville team that already has a stud in James Robinson and a solid handcuff in Carlos Hyde. Coach Urban Meyer mentioned Robinson and Hyde after drafting Etienne, adding that the rookie will be used more like a “third down”. Etienne was third among all college running backs in receptions last year with 48, so it’s a role he knows. Etienne should offer some value as an RB3 / flex player in the PPR and half-PPR leagues as a rookie.
Broncos: Javonte Williams
The Broncos lost Phillip Lindsay in free agency and added Williams early in the second round. The Broncos also have Melvin Gordon, Royce Freeman and Michael Boone on the roster. Given that, we would probably expect Williams to be timeshare with Gordon. It’s too early to say whether Williams or Gordon will be the RB1s, but the rookie certainly has a chance for the role. He’ll be a good end-of-round pick with an advantage in the reformulation leagues.
The rest of the beginner running backs
The 49ers wrote Trey Sermon in the third round, and we expect him to get some playing time as a rookie; however, it will be difficult for him to have too much contact with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson and Wayne Gallman also on the roster. Michael carter landed in an interesting situation with the Jets. He joins a mess from a backfield that includes Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine and Tevin Coleman. Depending on how Carter performed in training camp, he could earn a high place on the depth card. His fourth round selection lowered our expectations, but he landed in a good position.
Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase
The Bengals opted to pair Joe Burrow with his LSU teammate rather than improve the offensive line. Chase immediately becomes a wide start in this attack, taking over the role left vacant by AJ Green. Green saw 104 targets last year, and we’d expect Chase to see at least that, if not more. It will be a happy attack with Burrow in the lead. Chase should be seen as a strong WR2 with a chance of ending up as a low-end WR1 as a rookie. He landed in a great situation, and he’s an amazing talent.
Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle
Waddle is certainly a great talent, which is why he finished sixth overall, but it’s hard to see him being too much productive as a recruit. He joins a Dolphins attack led by Tua Tagovailoa, who finished below 200 passing yards in five of his nine starts. There is also a large reception hall crowded with DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Will Fuller all on the list. Waddle has a nice skill set and is compared to Tyreek Hill, but that’s a noble comparison considering Hill’s production. Waddle will certainly see the peloton as a rookie, but the lack of opportunities will limit his production.
Eagles: DeVonta Smith
Smith’s height (6-0, 170 pounds) is obviously a concern and many experts have pointed this out, although his height hasn’t slowed his production in college. But playing at the professional level is very different, so we’ll see what kind of impact his small frame will have. Smith lands in a solid situation in Philadelphia as he should be playing as a starter right away. We would expect him to play mostly off the slot machine. The big thing that will hurt Smith is that he will star in what will likely be a top notch attack. The Eagles main receiver last year had 79 targets. Smith will need more than that to make a huge impact as a rookie.
The rest of the rookie wide receivers
There are a lot of receivers to be excited about this draft class. Kadarius toney (Giants) and Consumption Bateman (Ravens) also participated in the first round. Toney might be having a little trouble seeing the field behind a crowded receiving body in New York City. Bateman joins Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins on a heavy attack. Bateman should have playing time, but the targets are limited to Baltimore. Elijah moore should see some playing time with the Jets, although he has three veterans ahead of him on the depths board. Rondale Moore should see some slot machine action behind DeAndre Hopkins and AJ Green in Arizona. He’s an exciting player who will likely make a few big plays as a rookie, but consistent production could be a problem in his first year. D’wayne Eskridge lands in an interesting spot in Seattle as it could be the WR3 behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Amari Rodgers has a chance to play a bit in a happy passing Packers offense, though its value hinges entirely on how Aaron Rodgers’ situation plays out.
Falcons: Kyle Pitts
Rookie tight ends are almost always a bust. Since 2010, only Rob Gronkowski and Evan Engram have finished among PPR’s top 12 scorers on the tight end as rookies. Gronk has benefited greatly from a 10 TD season and Engram has benefited from injuries among the Giants wide receivers. In tight end history, only 11 rookies have finished with over 600 receiving yards and only three have come since 2000. That said, Pitts is not your typical tight end. He’s a real generational talent and he has a chance to finish in the top 12 in his rookie position. He joins a strong Falcons squad that includes Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, who can each take Pitts’ cover to allow him to shine with star quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons finished with the fourth most passing attempts last season, so there should be plenty of targets headed in Pitts’ direction. Rookie tight ends rarely work in fancy, but Pitts can be the exception.
The rest of the rookie ends up tight
As we mentioned, it’s rare for Rookie’s tight ends to work, but a notable selection this year was Pat Freiermuth, which the Steelers took in the second round; however, he joins a team that already has great tight-toed talent at Eric Ebron. Nine more tight ends have been drafted this year, but none are in a position where we would expect them to have a big impact as rookies.