2021 Fantasy Rookie Grades: How Worried To Be About Drafting Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Other Key Players

2021 Fantasy Rookie Grades: How Worried To Be About Drafting Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Other Key Players article feature image
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Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. Pictured: Eagles rookie DeVonta Smith runs with the ball after a catch against Patriots’ Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Snafus and injuries are expected during training camp from rookies and veterans alike. As we hit Week 2 of the 2021 NFL preseason, I reviewed observations and reports about some members of this year’s rookie class around the league and rated any concerns on a very non-scientific “worry-o-meter,” indicating on a scale of zero to 10 just how worried I am about that player’s fantasy football outlook.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

• College: LSU

• Draft Position: Round 1, No. 5 overall

• Current ADP: WR26

Chase has reportedly struggled to adjust to NFL coverage during Cincinnati’s training camp. The former LSU wideout opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns and has not played since he and quarterback Joe Burrow led the Tigers to a CFP National Championship. 

Chase was a major gamble for the Bengals at pick No. 5 after the team notably passed on offensive lineman Penei Sewell. His extended absence from the field coupled with the standard rookie learning curve may hinder his early-season production. Burrow is also returning from an injury and Chase will have to compete for targets with veteran Tyler Boyd and 2020 second-round pick Tee Higgins.

Temper — but don’t outright quell — Week 1 expectations for Chase while he and Burrow find their groove again.

Worry-o-meter: 2 out of 10. 

DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

• College: Alabama

• Draft Position: Round 1, No. 10 overall

• Current ADP: WR32

Smith was sidelined for a couple weeks of training camp after suffering a MCL sprain on July 31. This was particularly concerning given Smith’s main criticism coming out of college was his diminutive stature and durability. The former Heisman Trophy winner stands at 6-feet, 166 pounds.

Smith — who is expected to be the Eagles’ No. 1 wideout — has already made significant progress rehabbing. He returned to practice on Aug. 16 and told the media he is taking the injury “day-by-day.” His preseason debut against the Patriots on Thursday should temper some anxiety around his injury, though he caught just two passes for 19 yards after quarterback Jalen Hurts was a late scratch and Joe Flacco took charge in New England’s 35-0 whomp of Philly.

Worry-o-meter: 2 out of 10.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins

• College: Alabama

• Draft Position: Round 1, No. 6 overall

• Current ADP: WR44

Waddle played just six game for Alabama last season after suffering a dislocated ankle which required surgery. Early training camp reports noted that Waddle had taped his ankle, walked with a visible limp and lacked some of his pre-injury explosiveness.

Recent reports have been much more positive on Waddle’s outlook, noting his deftness in creating separation from defensive backs and chemistry with Dolphins signal-caller and fellow Crimson Tide alum, Tua Tagovailoa. He should be an asset to the Miami offense and could potentially become flex-viable for fantasy down the road.

Worry-o-meter: 1 out of 10.

Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets

• College: Ole Miss

• Draft Position: Round 2, No. 34 overall

• Current ADP: WR56

Moore suffered a quad injury last week and will not play in the Jets’ second preseason game against the Packers. It appears New York is exercising an abundance of caution with Moore, who may return for Week 3 of the preseason against the Eagles.

Worry-o-meter: 2 out of 10.

Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens

• College: Minnesota

• Draft Position: Round 1, No. 27 overall

• Current ADP: WR59

Bateman suffered a groin injury during training camp on Aug. 10 that required surgery. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told the media shortly after that their first-round pick is expected back, “sometime in September,” according to ESPN.

Bateman also tweeted, “Be back soon!”

The first-round pick was a major offseason addition to Baltimore’s lean receiving corps. In addition to Bateman’s injury, both Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin are dealing with hamstring injuries.

Harbaugh’s timeline is rather vague and puts Bateman’s Week 1 rookie debut in jeopardy. The bevy of injuries could mean a small boost for 2020 third-rounder Devin Duvernay, who is the team’s only healthy receiver after veteran Sammy Watkins left practice early with a minor injury on Aug. 16.

Worry-o-meter: 5 out of 10.

Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants

• College: Florida

• Draft Position: Round 1, No. 20 overall

• Current ADP: WR78

Toney rejoined the Giants after missing the start of training camp while on the COVID-19/reserve list, only to be quickly sidelined for an undisclosed injury, the New York Post reported on Aug. 17. He sat out the team’s preseason opener against the Jets for what the Giants have been opaquely referring to as a “situation.”

Toney is presumably unvaccinated, having tested positive for COVID-19 in July and having expressed previous support for Bills receiver Cole Beasley’s anti-vaccination statements. He could have the opportunity to step up in this underwhelming Giants offense, especially with star wideout Kenny Golladay’s lingering hamstring injury, but this whole “situation” seems a bit fishy and warrants moderate concern.

Worry-o-meter: 4 out of 10.

Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets

• College: BYU

• Draft Position: Round 1, No. 2 overall

• Current ADP: QB30

Wilson has reportedly underperformed in multiple practices for the Jets. On Wednesday, the BYU product completed just 12 of 23 attempts and was sacked seven times in the team’s joint practice with the Packers, per Connor Hughes of The Athletic.

The Jets had the No. 2 overall pick after finishing second-to-last (ahead of the Jaguars) in the “tankathon” for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Wilson was the Jets’ consolation prize after the team was just three years removed from drafting Sam Darnold No. 3 overall. Darnold was dealt to the Panthers this offseason, removing any uncertainty as to whether Wilson would start immediately given Gang Green’s lack of QB depth. New York’s backups are currently 2018 fifth-rounder Mike White, 2020 fourth-rounder James Morgan and journeyman backup Josh Johnson, who has played for 13 different NFL teams.

Independent of training camp reports, the Jets’ lack of weapons and struggling offensive line hurt Wilson’s fantasy outlook significantly. He is only worth a look in two-quarterback leagues as a bench player. While this one isn’t an injury concern, my worry-o-meter is definitely on high alert for Wilson.

Worry-o-meter: 6 out of 10.

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