2021 Dynasty Rookie Rankings: The Top 50 Fantasy Prospects
Getty Images. Pictured: Travis Etienne, Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts
With the 2021 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time to update my rookie dynasty fantasy football rankings.
In this piece, I provide rankings for one-quarterback (1QB), superflex and two-quarterback (SF/2QB), and tight end premium (TEP) leagues.
Here are the previous versions my rankings.
In creating these rankings, I’ve focused on draft capital, college production, physical profile, recruitment grade, projected opportunity and team fit.
A word on my player-by-player analysis: For guys higher in my rankings, I’ve written extensive notes. For prospects further down the board, I’m less verbose but still thorough: Most of them won’t be relevant in three years anyway.
In analyzing players below — and in the first expandable table — I order them according to their rankings in 1QB leagues.
Before we dig into the rankings, let’s run through my overall process.
2021 Dynasty Rookie Rankings
CLICK THE DROPDOWN TO PREVIEW THE FULL RANKINGS
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Pre- vs. Post-Draft Rookie Dynasty Rankings
You’ll find some significant changes between the pre- and post-draft rankings but overall, I’ve made few massive updates (especially in the top 20 or so) because most of my draft position projections were relatively accurate. As a result, most of the factors that go into my model were already set.
You might ask: “What about landing spot?”
The tetrad of college production, physical profile, recruitment grade and draft capital mean more than our initial perceptions of a guy’s early-career circumstances.
It’s not hard for us to know — to quantify — a player’s college production, physical profile, recruitment grade and draft position. We can put exact numbers to each category and once those numbers are in place, they never change.
But we’re not very good — especially shortly after the draft — at evaluating a guy’s landing spot and projecting the usage he’s likely to have with his team. That’s something we just can’t know.
And yet that seems to be what many people focus on immediately after the draft. That’s misguided.
We’re not great at evaluating circumstances anyway — and circumstances can (and often do) change.
So you’ll find some notable — perhaps very notable — changes since I last released my rookie rankings. Because I was fairly accurate with my draft capital projections, though, I see a lot of similarity between my pre- and post-draft rankings.
Dynasty Rankings Methodology
Here are some general notes on my ranking process and perspective.
- Age: I place a premium on youth, which correlates with longevity and degree of future production. As a result, I tend to have younger players ranked ahead of older players. The younger players have more long-term upside.
- Production window: In creating the rankings, I’ve focused most on the production we can reasonably expect from players within the next three years. After that time frame, projections are highly uncertain, although I still value the unknown long-tailed potential younger players possess.
- Positional scarcity: I tend to devalue players at positions of fantasy depth. As a result, quarterbacks are usually low in my 1QB rankings leagues because there are so many viable options at the position.
- Longevity: Everything else equal, I usually rank wide receivers ahead of running backs because receivers as a group last longer in the league and maintain value deeper into their careers.
- Draft position: In general, the higher a player is selected in the draft, the more productive he’s likely to be in the NFL. I don’t let draft position dictate my entire process but if I rank contrary to draft position, I need to have a good reason for doing so.
Positional Value in Rookie Dynasty Rankings
In dynasty, it’s hard to build a consistent contender if you aren’t strong at wide receiver and tight end. Patching together production is much easier to do at running back and quarterback — at least in 1QB leagues — and that knowledge informs the way I rank players, draft rookies and build teams.
I place a high priority on finding receivers and tight ends with difference-making potential. Players at these positions take longer to develop than running backs, which is unfortunate, but sharp dynasty investors can use that fact to their advantage.
In search of immediate alphas, too many people take running backs early in rookie drafts. In doing so, they not only buy into volatile short-lived assets, but also allow value-seeking, patient investors to acquire stable long-term production at a notable discount.
Each year, there are dynasty players who crave the sugar rush of running backs taken on Day 2, so they forego the protein of wide receivers selected in Rounds 1-2.
In the long run, such dynasty players lose.
But each year is different, and each draft is its own unique market. This year’s class has notable features for each position. Let’s run through each.
Each year, we get two to three quarterbacks who are likely to start in the NFL as either rookies or second-year players. This year, we are getting five. This is a very quarterback-heavy class, which is great for SF/2QB leagues.
On top of that, this class has three additional quarterbacks — Davis Mills, Kellen Mond and Kyle Trask, all selected on Day 2 — who all could have varying degrees of fantasy relevance over the next couple seasons.
With the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson in Houston, Mills could earn starts for the Texans in 2021. Mond has the upside to be this year’s Jalen Hurts in Minnesota. And Trask could be the successor to Tom Brady in Tampa Bay in a couple years.
Normally, I think long-term quarterback stashes make little sense in dynasty, but these three players all have top-100 draft capital and the potential for playing time on the horizon.
In Mills, Mond and Trask, this class might actually have some late-round quarterback stashes who are investable.
The top-three backs in this class stack up well against the top three from any other class, but after them … it gets nasty very quickly.
Last night, just 2 RBs were drafted in Rounds 2-3.
That tied an NFL-record low set in 1960, when each round was only 12 picks.
Either 2021 has literally the worst middle-class RB talent the league has ever seen …
… or RBs don't matter.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
I thought the 2020 class was thin at running back, but the 2021 class has shown us what true positional emaciation looks like.
If you want a guy with a decent chance of being a long-term lead back, you’ll likely need to draft him in Round 1.
Some analysts compare this year’s receiver class to last year’s, and some similarities exist. Last year, 15 wide receivers were selected in Rounds 1-3. This year, 15.
But quantity and quality aren’t the same thing. I’d argue that the Day 2 receivers this year aren’t as good as they were last year. The 2020 wide receiver class was a special group. To me, the classes don’t compare.
Even so, receiver is a relative strength in this class: The position has quantity. In Round 3 of rookie drafts, sharp dynasty investors have a shot at getting talented receivers … maybe. I don’t know. Outside of quarterback, this class in general is not good.
Tight ends are notoriously hard to project to the NFL and slow to develop anyway, and outside of the two guys at the top of the cohort, this year’s position group is average at best.
Three tight ends were drafted in Round 3 — Hunter Long, Tommy Tremble and Tre’ McKitty — and they each warrant consideration and possible investment because of their draft capital, but none is likely to break out in the NFL. And after them, I see no one (other than maybe the ghost of Brevin Jordan’s fantasy relevance?) who I’d want to invest a pick in.
Positional Priorities by Round
Given the particulars of this class, I think dynasty investors should prioritize positions in the following fashion (subject to team needs, league format, etc.):
- Round 1: Even though I value receivers, backs should be prioritized early in Round 1 in 1QB leagues because quality receivers will be available with subsequent picks. After the backs, investors should shift to wide receivers. In SF/2QB leagues, quarterbacks should be aggressively pursued at the top of the board.
- Round 2: I believe quarterbacks and receivers will offer the most value of all position groups in Round 2.
- Round 3: Despair … and take whatever of value you can find.
Rookie Rankings Resources
Here are some of the resources I’ve used in researching the 2021 rookie class.
- NBC Sports Edge NFL Draft Rankings by Thor Nystrom (Nystrom)
- Prospect Profiles from NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein (Zierlein)
- 2021 Sports Info Solutions Football Rookie Handbook (SIS)
- Pro Football Focus 2021 NFL Draft Guide (PFF)
- RotoViz Prospect Workout Explorer (RV)
- RotoViz Prospect Box Score Scout (RV)
- RotoViz Freak Score Calculator (RV)
- MockDraftable (MD)
- PlayerProfiler (PP)
2021 Dynasty Rookie Rankings
Provided below are two tables. In the first table are my rookie ranks and tiers for 1QB, SF/2QB and TEP leagues. Note that my TEP rankings assume a 1QB setting. Overall, I usually assume point-per-reception (PPR) scoring, but these rankings are still applicable for standard leagues.
In the second table are key information points for each player ranked in my top 50, for your convenience.
2021 Rankings & Tiers
Sort by any column by clicking the first row in it.
2021 Top 50 Data Table
- 1. Najee Harris: RB, Steelers
- 2. Travis Etienne: RB, Jaguars
- 3. Kyle Pitts: TE, Falcons
- 4. Ja’Marr Chase: WR, Bengals
I don’t think much needs to be said about these guys in this section. They are clearly the top of the class.
1. Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
Najee Harris Fantasy Analysis
In earlier versions of my rankings, I had Travis Etienne as my No. 1 running back and overall pick in rookie drafts, but with Harris now in Pittsburgh — a move that was predicted by almost every mock draft in the universe — he is the top player on my fantasy board.
It’s debatable whether Harris or Etienne is the better player. Before the draft, I favored Etienne because he’s younger and the superior pass-catching back.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is something of a backfield monogamist, and Harris is built like a lead back and was drafted with the intention of being used as such.
With the usage he should see even as a rookie, Harris will likely be a Round 1 selection in redraft and best ball leagues sooner rather than later.
Etienne, though, will have a more obstructed path to 2021 playing time, and that makes Harris the No. 1 rookie pick. With more projectable volume and opportunity earlier in his career, Harris is the more valuable player.
I almost never think it’s sharp for a team to draft a running back with a pick in Round 1 — and that’s the case — but now that Harris is in Pittsburgh, we might as well try to enjoy ourselves.
The Najee experience could be intoxicating.
Dreams of in-his-prime Le’Veon Bell are currently coursing through my veins. That’s right: Dreams — in my veins.
Harris’ fit with the Steelers just makes so much sense.
The former Alabama star feels like a latter-day Franco Harris, and the team has almost no backfield depth. The Steelers have lots of bodies — Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels and Kalen Ballage — but not one has the talent to steal serious snaps away from Harris.
He should be an immediate Week 1 starter with RB1-caliber usage.
Of course, that was always going to be Harris’ fate.
Ever since arriving in Tuscaloosa and recruiting “his guys,” Nick Saban has had an eye for backs destined to be top-100 picks in the NFL Draft.
- Mark Ingram: 1.28 (2011)
- Trent Richardson: 1.03 (2012)
- Eddie Lacy: 2.61 (2013)
- T.J. Yeldon: 2.36 (2015)
- Derrick Henry: 2.45 (2016)
- Kenyan Drake: 3.73 (2016)
- Josh Jacobs: 1.24 (2019)
- Damien Harris: 3.87 (2019)
Make fun of Richardson and even Lacy if you want, but all of these former Alabama backs have had at least some degree of fantasy relevance in the NFL.
It would be hard to find a better prospect comp group for Harris, who entered college as a five-star recruit and certainly lived up to the hype at Alabama.
After backing up Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough as a freshman, he as a sophomore split backfield work with upperclassmen Damien Harris and Jacobs and looked pretty good doing it.
Najee Harris did almost nothing as a receiver in 2018, but as a runner he might have been the best of the Tuscaloosa trio, easily surpassing the other backs in yards per carry (YPC).
- Damien Harris (15 games): 150-876-9 rushing (5.8 YPC) | 22-204-0 receiving
- Josh Jacobs (15 games): 120-640-11 rushing (5.3 YPC) | 20-247-3 receiving
- Najee Harris (15 games): 117-783-4 rushing (6.7 YPC) | 4-7-0 receiving
As a junior and senior, he thrived in a post-Damien Harris/Jacobs backfield, breaking out as a true lead back.
- 2019 (13 games): 209-1,224-13 rushing | 27-304-7 receiving
- 2020 (12 games): 251-1,466-26 rushing | 43-425-4 receiving
Harris’ 22-79-2 rushing and 7-79-1 receiving performance in the College Football Championship was especially dominant, and in 2020 he was a unanimous All-American selection and the Doak Walker Award winner as the top back in college football.
While his production is nice, what Harris really has going for him is his size, receiving ability and likely draft position. With his grown-man measurements, Harris is a tough tackle for any defender, and his pass-catching skills are rare for a big-bodied back.
With his draft capital and size, Harris has a world of potential as one of the few Round 1 backs to enter the NFL over the past decade at more than 220 pounds.
- Najee Harris (2021): 1.24 | 230 pounds
- Saquon Barkley (2018): 1.02 | 233 pounds
- Leonard Fournette (2017): 1.04 | 240 pounds
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016): 1.04 | 225 pounds
- Todd Gurley (2015): 1.10 | 222 pounds
- Trent Richardson (2012): 1.03 | 228 pounds
But Harris is not a prospect without potential drawbacks, the biggest of which is his age: He’s already 23 years old.
I wish Harris had entered the draft last year when he was first eligible because he truly had nothing left to prove in college, and in dynasty value, there’s a big difference between a rookie back who is 22 and one who is 23. That’s one year of his prime just … gone.
Even so, that’s a relatively small complaint. Harris is unlikely to have an especially long career, but he could still have multiple seasons of top-end production.
The other concerns with Harris are his athleticism and running style. It’s not as if Harris is unathletic, because he regularly hurdles defenders as if they’re trash cans …
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2021
… but he is slow. Powerful, but slow. Even with all the attempts he had in four years at Alabama and the elite offensive line he had blocking for him, Harris had just 25 carries of 20-plus yards in his college career (per PFF). Harris rarely loses yards, but he also almost never breaks long runs.
Maybe Harris’ lack of big plays is due in part to his playing style: Because he’s so tall, he runs with a high pad level — at least that’s what some film grinders say.
I don’t know, maybe he actually does run high. But I’m of the anecdotal opinion that his playing style probably doesn’t matter.
You know who else ran high in college? Adrian Peterson. DeMarco Murray. David Johnson. Derrick Henry. And in the NFL they continued to run high — for thousands and thousands of yards.
Of course, Harris almost certainly lacks the elite athleticism that set Peterson, Murray, Johnson and Henry apart as prospects. For a back unable to separate from defenders, running high might actually be a problem, but I’m skeptical.
With his recruitment grade, college production, draft capital, size, receiving ability and projected workload, Harris almost has everything anyone could want in a running back. He’s my No. 1 overall pick.
NFL Prospect Comp: Leonard Fournette with superior receiving skills but also less size, speed and draft capital
2. Travis Etienne, RB, Jaguars
Travis Etienne Fantasy Analysis
Shortly after drafting Etienne, Jags head coach Urban Meyer said he plans to use Etienne as a supplementary receiving back to veterans Carlos Hyde and James Robinson.
I’m not buying it. At all. Maybe as a former college coach, Meyer has something of a Night’s Watch mentality: “Here, a man gets what he earns, when he earns it” (per Benjen Stark).
Cool, great, make the rookie earn that starting job. But make no mistake about it: eEtienne will eventually be the lead back for the Jaguars.
If you believe this Urban Meyer quote suggesting that Travis Etienne is “only a third-down back” — I have some news for you. No.
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) April 30, 2021
A team does not draft a player like Etienne in Round 1 — and a coaching staff does not look at a running back room consisting of Etienne, Hyde and Robinson — and then decide to use the rookie as just a receiving specialist.
Overall, I think the situation is a positive one for Etienne in Jacksonville, even with the presence of Hyde and Robinson.
Travis Etienne gets R1 draft capital
lands on a team with a run-happy coach + his college QB who threw him the ball
the primary competition in the RB room is a UDFA drafted by the previous regime + 30-year-old Carlos Hyde
& some people think this is not optimal for Etienne?
— Curtis Patrick 🥇 (@CPatrickNFL) April 30, 2021
Meyer has history with and respect for Hyde because of their time together at Ohio State, but 2013 feels like it was more than eight years ago: Hyde is old.
And Robinson is another man’s treasure that Meyer is likely to treat like trash. He was a league-winning fantasy back in 2020, but the team invested zero draft capital in him last year, the Jags didn’t offer him a better contract after his historic rookie campaign, only to select their new quarterback’s college running back with a Round 1 pick.
Clearly, the new coaching staff arrived in Jacksonville, took a look at Robinson and decided it wanted to upgrade the backfield and then used a pick in Round 1 to do it.
Every good run must end.
Given his talent and performance last year, some fantasy analysts and players are not yet waiving the white flag on Robinson. Rather, they are arguing that Etienne will suffer because of Robinson’s presence in the offense and that the undrafted player will hold off the superstar rookie.
If only wishing could make it so.
Does anyone that isn't heavily invested in James Robinson actually hate the Etienne pick? I love Etienne to the Jags and get the feeling there is only a small % of people (like 1/12 say) that do not like Etienne to the Jags
— 𝙹𝚘𝚑𝚗 𝙱𝚘𝚜𝚌𝚑 (@JohnBoschFF) April 30, 2021
To be sure, Hyde and Robinson will be annoyances to Etienne and his investors, especially in his rookie season. They will steal more snaps from him than they should, and that will limit his opportunities and production and cap his value.
Robinson and Hyde are why Etienne should not be the No. 1 pick. Just look at how Jags offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell used running back D’Andre Swift in Detroit last year. Swift flashed as a rookie, but Bevell obstinately forced Swift into a committee and gifted 208 carries to the veteran duo of Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson.
Hyde and Robinson will be to Etienne this year what Peterson and Johnson were to Swift in 2020. Swift still led the backfield in per-game opportunities and total production with 878 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage in 13 games.
Swift was still the lead back, but his upside was diminished by Bevell.
That’s likely what awaits Etienne this year: A limited lead back role, even with his three-down skill set. Because of his receiving ability, Etienne should have an elevated fantasy floor relative to his usage — but his usage will be unremarkable.
In 2022, however, he should dominate with a full three-down role. By that point, Robinson will likely be just a competent backup, albeit one with elite handcuff potential.
Success might come slowly for Etienne in Jacksonville, but it will eventually come.
While Harris is built more like a lead back, Etienne showed at the Clemson pro day that he has the size to stand up to the grind of the NFL.
And even though Etienne bulked up from 205 to 215 pounds, the extra muscle didn’t seem to impact his athletic testing, as he still managed to blaze a 4.41-second 40-yard dash (or thereabouts).
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) March 11, 2021
With his combination of size and speed, Etienne almost certainly has the best athletic profile of any back in this class.
And Etienne isn’t just an athlete: The guy can play football.
As an 18-year-old true freshman, he led Clemson’s backfield committee with 107 carries, 766 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing while chipping in five receptions for 57 yards in 13 games. And in the three following seasons, he proved himself to be one of the most consistently productive players in college football.
- 2018 (15 games): 204-1,658-24 rushing | 12-78-2 receiving
- 2019 (15 games): 207-1,614-19 rushing | 37-432-4 receiving
- 2020 (12 games): 168-914-14 rushing | 48-588-2 receiving
Even though he played at under 210 pounds at Clemson, no player in college football history has had more games with a touchdown than Etienne.
The main attraction amongst players taking part in Clemson's Pro Day today will be RB Travis Etienne.
He scored a TD in 46 games in his college career, the most in NCAA history.
This dude can absolutely fly too 💨💨 pic.twitter.com/JIi3Q0ClX8
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 11, 2021
Where Etienne really distinguishes himself is in the receiving game. He’s a fine runner, although he is more of a sprinter than a pile mover, and in the NFL his relative lack of power might limit him. But as a receiving back, he is unrivaled in this class.
Etienne impressively improved as a receiver each year of college so that by his senior year, he was one of the best pass-catching backs in the nation.
On the SIS running back leaderboards, Etienne stands out as a receiver.
Yards Per Route Run
- Travis Etienne: 1.6
- Michael Carter: 1.2
Receptions Per Game
- Travis Etienne: 4.0
- Demetric Felton: 3.7
Receiving Yards Per Game
- Travis Etienne: 49.0
- Najee Harris: 32.7
As a senior, Etienne led all FBS backs with 588 yards receiving and was the No. 1 pass-catching back in the nation with a 90.9 PFF receiving grade.
With his size and receiving ability (as well as his durability), Etienne looks like a three-down NFL back, at least according to Clemson HC Dabo Swinney.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) March 11, 2021
Since 2019, Etienne is the only back in college football with 2,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. As Swinney mentioned, that kind of production puts him in rare company.
Over the past two decades, only two backs from a major conference have hit those thresholds over a two-year span.
- Travis Etienne (2019-20, 27 games): 2,528 rushing | 1,020 receiving
- Saquon Barkley (2016-17, 27 games): 2,767 rushing | 1,034 receiving
Etienne isn’t Barkley as a prospect. He’s smaller, slower and older — but his college production is elite.
And Etienne isn’t as old as he could be. If he had entered the NFL last season as a 21-year-old early declarant, I would have absolutely loved him, but he’s still a year younger than Harris and is likelier to have the longer career.
In dynasty, running backs are extremely short-lived assets, and every year they could play matters. When choosing between Harris and Etienne — two backs with comparable draft position and sufficient size, athleticism and college production to indicate NFL success — you could do a lot worse than using Occam’s razor and simply going with the younger guy, especially since he’s also the better receiver.
If you have Etienne as your No. 1 back in rookie drafts, I think that’s fine. He could easily have the better career. I have him at No. 2.
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Travis Etienne.
After Harris, what about Etienne vs. a non-running back (such as tight end Kyle Pitts or wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase) for the No. 2 pick?
A real case can be made for Pitts over Etienne, even in traditional leagues. Pitts is truly a one-of-a-kind prospect, and it’s hard to win in dynasty without an elite tight end. Taking Pitts over Etienne is an aggressive and risk-seeking “I’m getting my guy” kind of move. It’s boldly contrarian.
But if you have the No. 2 pick, you probably have a team that isn’t good. You definitely don’t want to screw up the selection, and you probably want a relatively fast return on your investment.
Etienne is the safer pick since tight ends often take years to break out. Etienne make sense over Pitts.
As for Chase, I see the appeal. And if you’re going to draft a receiver at No. 2, it should definitely be Chase.
If you want to go with a receiver, I won’t try to stop you. Wide receivers are longer-lived assets compared to running backs. And in many leagues, starting lineups call for more receivers than backs, so it’s usually sharp to prioritize them in rookie drafts.
But a strong structural case can be made for Etienne over Chase. This year’s running back class is bad. Very bad.
After Etienne, Harris and Javonte Williams, it’s a wasteland. Trey Sermon and Michael Carter might emerge as lead backs and fantasy starters, but they were drafted in Rounds 3-4 … and they’re pretty much it when it comes to intriguing non-Big Three backs.
In this class, viable running backs are scarce, so if you want one you’ll likely need to take him with a pick near the top of the board.
But this class is sufficiently deep at receiver, which means that you can take Etienne instead of Chase in Round 1 and still get an upside receiver you like in Round 2, whereas if you take Chase early you might have no real options at running back whenever you’re back on the clock.
If you’re deep at running back and you want to take Pitts or Chase near the top of the draft, go for it. But if you have the No. 2 pick and you need a running back, you better take one while you can — and that’s Etienne.
I doubt he’ll disappoint in the long run.
NFL Prospect Comp: Cam Akers with better draft position and receiving skills but also older
3. Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons
Kyle Pitts Fantasy Analysis
I’m conflicted about Pitts in Atlanta. He has so much draft capital that’s it hard to imagine he won’t be able to carve out a role within a couple of years, perhaps as early as 2021.
But aside from draft capital, Pitts doesn’t have a lot immediately going for him in Atlanta: Eventually, wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end Hayden Hurst will move on, but until then Pitts will face a lot of veteran competition for targets.
New head coach Arthur Smith makes liberal use of two-tight end sets, so Pitts should earn plenty of playing time right away. In that offense, he should have some peak performances even as a rookie.
But my expectations will be tempered for Pitts in 2021. With his circumstances and the positional learning curve that tight ends have, we should not expect him to be an imposing top-six producer right away.
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps he could be a top tight end right away.
Pitts certainly has the talent to contribute right away. For months, draftniks talked about how great of a prospect he was, and at no point in the evaluation process did I think to myself, “This is just too much.” If anything, I felt as if Pitts was somehow still not receiving all the hype he deserved.
Kyle Pitts is now No. 4 in many sharp mock drafts.
No tight end has ever gone in the top four of the NFL draft.
We're talking about Pitts as if he's the greatest tight end prospect of all time, as if he will make history.
And I'm 100% fine with that.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 2, 2021
So maybe Pitts will come in as a rookie and dominate right away. Maybe he won’t. Either way, I don’t care.
What I’m most interested in with Pitts is what he can do in 2022 and beyond. His career ceiling is the stratosphere.
– only 5 TEs saw 100 or more targets last season
– only 2 TEs eclipsed 800 receiving yards last season
Delanie Walker hit both marks in 4 straight seasons (2014-2017) with Arthur Smith as his TE coach
Great landing spot for a very special player pic.twitter.com/i9FRNoSqxJ
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 30, 2021
Before the draft, Pitts was probably the prospect dynasty investors inquired about the most in my daily “ask me anything” sessions on Twitter.
Specifically, they wanted to know how high was too high to take him in rookie drafts.
In the SF/2QB format, where quarterbacks have outsized valuations, it would be unwise to take Pitts at the top of the board. But in TEP scoring, where tight ends get 1.5 points per reception (PPR), a very real case exists for Pitts at No. 1 overall.
One of the underappreciated secrets of dynasty leagues is that it’s incredibly hard to compete consistently if you do not have a top-tier tight end — and Pitts is a generational talent.
Analysts throw around the phrase “generational talent” way too often, but with Pitts, it is accurate.
Other than Pitts, only five tight ends in NFL history have been drafted in the top six.
- Mike Ditka (1960, 1.05): Hall of Famer, had the first 1,000-yard receiving season ever for a tight end.
- Riley Odoms (1972, 1.05): Two-time All-Pro in third and fourth seasons.
- Charlie Young (1973, 1.06): All-Pro as a rookie, top-four tight end in each of first three seasons.
- Kellen Winslow II (2004, 1.06): Missed most of first two seasons with multiple leg injuries, still had a 1,000-yard season in fourth season.
- Vernon Davis (2006, 1.06): Had a long career and three seasons as a top-three fantasy tight end before turning 30 years old.
Based on his draft capital alone, Pitts looks like a prospect whose career will range anywhere from very good to Hall-of-Fame great.
And his production is incredibly elite.
Pitts did little as an 18-year-old true freshman. In his sophomore season, though, he was No. 1 on Florida with 54 catches, No. 2 with 649 yards receiving and No. 3 with five touchdown receptions.
And then in 2020, in just eight games, Pitts balled out with a 43-770-12 receiving campaign. That’s unbelievable production — at just 20 years of age.
On the strength of his junior season, Pitts was easily named a unanimous All-American, and he finished No. 10 in Heisman voting, the first tight end to rank in the top 10 in 43 years.
On top of that, Pitts was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as one of the top receivers in the country, becoming the first tight end in history to be a Biletnikoff finalist. When people talk about him as a possible NFL wide receiver or as an all-around pass-catcher instead of a tight end, this is why.
Never too early! 💰 💰 💰
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 1, 2021
Pitts truly has the skills and ability to be a receiver at the highest level. But he’s still a tight end — with tight end eligibility in fantasy leagues — and should be viewed that way, especially since he won the 2020 Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football.
A word on the Mackey Award: While other collegiate awards have marginal predictive value, the Mackey actually means something for how a guy will do in the NFL.
Lots of great college quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers respectively win the Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker and Biletnikoff Awards and then do little in the NFL.
The Mackey is different. It’s more than a feather in the cap. It’s just one data point, but when combined with other factors, it has predictive worth.
For instance, here are the winners of the Mackey Award who have been selected with top-100 picks over the past 10 years.
- Dwayne Allen (2012, 3.64): More of a blocker, but No. 13 TE in 2014
- Tyler Eifert (2013, 1.21): Top-six season in 2015
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2014, 2.38): Career derailed by substance abuse
- Hunter Henry (2016, 2.35): Three top-12 seasons
- Mark Andrews (2018, 3.86): Two top-four seasons
- T.J. Hockenson (2019, 1.08): Top-five season in 2020
Everything else equal, Mackey Award winners tend to outperform their peers — and Pitts is peerless.
A quick glance at the SIS tight end leaderboard shows the extent to which Pitts dominated as a receiver relative to other tight end in the class, at least based on his 2020 production.
Receiving Total Points Per Game
- Kyle Pitts: 4.1
- Brevin Jordan: 2.8
Yards Per Route Run
- Kyle Pitts: 2.5
- Brevin Jordan: 1.8
Receptions Per Game
- Kyle Pitts: 5.4
- Hunter Long: 5.2
Receiving Yards Per Game
- Kyle Pitts: 96.3
- Brevin Jordan: 72.0
Total Touchdowns Per Game
- Kyle Pitts: 1.5
- Brevin Jordan: 0.9
Total Expected Points Added Per Game
- Kyle Pitts: 6.2
- Kenny Yeboah: 4.3
Before the draft, Pitts ranked No. 5 on the PFF Big Board and I had him at No. 2 in my top 100.
He dropped zero passes in 2020 and even though he played in just eight games, he was still No. 1 in deep receiving production (on throws with a depth of 20-plus yards) with 10 receptions and 331 yards. And he did all of that while lining up inline on 261-of-409 snaps (per PFF).
The guy is just an all-around destroyer of defenses.
The extent of his NFL upside was easily evident at the Florida pro day, where he more than lived up to the hype.
— NFL (@NFL) April 1, 2021
Even if all he had done at his pro day was show up and weigh in at 245 pounds with a wingspan of almost 83.5 inches, that would have been enough.
With his long arms, Pitts has an unholy catch radius. Even as a rookie, he should be able to bail his quarterback out on contested catches.
But Pitts is more than just a big body: The guy is a world-class athlete. His 40-yard dash was a SportsCenter-worthy performance.
Kyle Pitts' 40-yard dash clocked in at 4.44u.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 31, 2021
And he looked great in all the other drills too: The jumps, the shuttles, the routes, etc. He didn’t do one single thing at his pro day that would make anyone think, “You know, I didn’t like what I saw.”
Kyle Pitts Pro Day:
✅ 4.44 40-yard dash
✅ 10'9" broad jump
✅ "Matchup Nightmare"
— NFL Podcasts (@NFL_Podcasts) April 2, 2021
Granted, pro day numbers are usually inflated. This year especially — without the NFL combine — we saw perhaps the most ridiculous athletic measurement inflation of the past 20 years.
So Pitts’ 4.44-second 40 time should be treated with a smidgen of skepticism, but even if you aggressively adjust it to 4.50 seconds (a standard adjustment is between 0.03 and 0.05 seconds), his 40 time is still elite for a tight end, particularly one with his height and weight.
And Florida is one of the rare schools that actually has not seen pro day inflation in the recent past.
Dating back to 2011, Florida players run 0.5% SLOWER at their pro day than the combine.
Typically schools have faster surfaces for pro days than Indy, but not Florida. So it's fair game to compare Kyle Pitts' incredible time to the best 40s at past combines https://t.co/Mhazg6XyMg
— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) March 31, 2021
There’s a very real chance that Pitts’ pro day 40 time is representative of who he is as an athlete.
When you put all of that together — Pitts’ draft position, college production and pro day performance — it makes him incomparable.
And I really do mean that.
If you screen for players in the RotoViz Box Score Scout, normally you’ll find multiple previous prospects who have similarity scores of at least 90. But with Pitts, not one player has a similarity score of even 25.
Only three guys have similarity scores of even 20.
- Noah Fant: 24
- Eric Ebron: 21
- T.J. Hockenson: 21
There has never been another tight end prospect like Pitts.
If you choose to take him No. 1 in non-TEP rookie drafts, that’s why. He is elite — he is generational — in a way few prospects ever are.
It’s safer to go with a running back or wide receiver at No. 1: Harris, Etienne and Chase are all strong candidates.
But as special as they are, they aren’t generational talents. It’s not hard to come up with comps for each guy.
Pitts, however, is a unicorn.
In the next five years, there will be other guys similar to Harris, Etienne and Chase to enter the NFL. That is certain. But it’s not likely that another Pitts will come along. He’s a one-shot prospect — and the time to shoot is now.
If you have the No. 1 pick, it might seem wasteful to use it on a tight end, but you will probably never have the opportunity to draft a prospect like Pitts again. If you’re not going to use the No. 1 pick on a one-of-a-kind guy, what’s the point of even having the No. 1 pick?
Yes, I’m playing a little bit of devil’s advocate, because I clearly don’t have him ranked No. 1, but I’m not so sure that it really is unwise to take a tight end at the top of the draft, assuming he is a great prospect. Drafters tend to avoid “onesie” positions with their premium picks, but tight end markedly differs from quarterback in that multiple tight ends can play in a fantasy lineup via the flex, and the dropoff from high-end tight ends to average tight ends is much more significant than that from high-end quarterbacks to average quarterbacks.
From a structural perspective, it’s actually justifiable to take a tight end No. 1 overall, as long as he is a top prospect.
But really if you draft Pitts at No. 1, you’re not doing it for structural reasons. You’re doing it because you simply don’t want to live with yourself if you pass on him and he turns into a Hall-of-Famer. You’re paying a premium for his potential, and you’re determined to pay whatever you must to have him.
If you have the No. 1 pick and want Pitts, I suggest you try to trade down to Nos. 2-4. In doing so, you’ll get extra picks or players, and you’ll likely still get Pitts. And if someone ahead of you takes him, at least you will still get Harris, Etienne or Chase on top of the trade compensation.
At least you will have a good process and a livable outcome.
But if you stay at No. 1 and take Pitts, I won’t blame you. If you want something — if your heart yearns for it — you’ll do whatever is required to obtain it.
As a dynasty player who has been searching for a top-tier tight end in my primary league ever since Jimmy Graham’s decline, I can tell you that I am strongly considering doing whatever I can to get Pitts.
At the same time, if you have a top-four pick and don’t have a pressing need at tight end, I can see why you would bypass Pitts, take Chase at receiver or maybe Williams at running back and then maybe go after an upside tight end in a later round. That’s a rational, value-seeking approach.
Yet I can’t be sensible when it comes to Pitts. To me, he’s the top overall player in this class in terms of skill and ability. The only question is whether he’s the top fantasy prospect when one considers positional scarcity and impact.
NFL Prospect Comp: Jimmy Graham but smaller, younger, more productive and with much more draft capital
4. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase Fantasy Analysis
In theory, Chase lands in a good spot in Cincinnati. After all, he’s with his college quarterback Joe Burrow, and we know how good they are together.
But I think some short-term skepticism is warranted. Let’s remember that the Bengals are actually — how should I put this? — not a good football team. Plus, wide receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are established. They will continue to be involved in the offense.
This isn’t a situation in which Chase will come in and automatically start putting up 2019 LSU numbers.
Just want to make sure I'm not the only person alive who is thinking, "Cool, now La'Marr Chase gets to play in a bad offense and compete with two target hogs for opportunities."
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 30, 2021
This offense has potential — but it could still disappoint in 2021.
Even so, I still have Chase as my No. 4 fantasy rookie.
For the past 37 years, Bob McGinn of The Athletic has written an NFL draft series for which he interviews numerous NFL evaluators.
This year, they unanimously agreed that Chase is the No. 1 receiver in the class. The last receiver all McGinn’s scouts agreed on was Calvin Johnson, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Chase is a special prospect.
Just plugged Ja'Marr Chase's draft capital into my model, which goes back to 2006. He's a 99th percentile wide receiver, joining Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins (sigh), Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, and Demaryius Thomas.
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) April 30, 2021
If you want to go with a receiver at No. 1, he’s easily the choice, and I think he should go no later than No. 4 in most instances.
Chase wasn’t a perfect prospect: He didn’t break out as an 18-year-old freshman, for instance. And he did literally nothing in his nonexistent 2020 season because he opted out, which means that he has a smaller sample of college games to analyze.
In general, you would rather see a guy have two strong years of production instead of one strong year and then one year off, because that second season serves to confirm and strengthen your conviction in what you saw in the first season.
But those are relatively small complaints considering the big factors Chase has in his favor, namely his draft capital and youth.
Chase is an early declarant who will be 21 for the entirety of his rookie campaign. The guys who tend to dominate and have long-lived careers are those who enter the league early at a young age.
His combination of draft capital and relative juvenility makes him highly likely to have NFL success. Over the past two decades, four 21-year-old rookie receivers have been selected with picks in the top eight.
- Larry Fitzgerald (2004): 1.03 – Nine 1,000-yard seasons
- Sammy Watkins (2014): 1.04 – One 1,000-yard season
- Mike Evans (2014): 1.07 – Seven 1,000-yard seasons
- Amari Cooper (2015): 1.04 – Five 1,000-yard seasons
In this small cohort we have one surefire Hall-of-Famer, two additional receivers on Hall-of-Fame trajectories and then Watkins, who was the first receiver selected in what might be the greatest receiver draft class of all time.
Using the simplest but most important factors, one can see that Chase looks like a receiver likely to have NFL success.
And his production speaks for itself. In 2018, Chase had a modest freshman campaign with just 23-313-3 receiving, but even with those numbers he was the No. 2 wide receiver on the team and the primary starter opposite No. 1 option Justin Jefferson.
And then as a 19-year-old sophomore, Chase exploded with a nation-best 84-1,780-20 for the title-winning Tigers on his way to winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football. His 2019 campaign was one of the best receiving seasons in FBS history.
To put this in context: Jefferson in 2020 accumulated the most receiving yards in history for a rookie — and it’s not as if these were cheap yards padded with tons of targets. His debut campaign is right up there with what we saw out of Randy Moss as a rookie.
- Justin Jefferson (2020, 16 games): 1,400 yards, 125 targets
- Randy Moss (1998, 16 games): 1,313 yards, 124 targets
And in 2019 it was Chase — not Jefferson — who led LSU in receiving yards and touchdowns, even though Jefferson was the more established player.
Given his youngish breakout profile and the magnitude of his breakout, Chase can be excused for opting out of the 2020 season.
Very few receivers have won the Biletnikoff at such a young age and so early in their college careers. Since the award was founded in 1994, here are the five most comparable Biletnikoff winners in age and experience:
- Antonio Bryant (2000): 19-year-old sophomore
- Larry Fitzgerald (2003): 20-year-old redshirt sophomore
- Michael Crabtree (2007): 20-year-old redshirt freshman
- Justin Blackmon (2010): 20-year-old redshirt sophomore
- Jerry Jeudy (2018): 19-year-old sophomore
That’s another impressive cohort. Fitzgerald is one of the best receivers ever, Bryant and Crabtree had multiple 1,000-yard seasons, Blackmon had more than 100 yards per game in his suspension-shortened second and final campaign, and Jeudy already looked like an expert route runner as a rookie.
Based on what Chase accomplished in college, he projects to be an above-average NFL receiver at worst.
Chase doesn’t have great size, but he’s big enough with his Jerry Rice-esque dimensions, and at his pro day he displayed elite explosiveness.
With his pro day performance, Chase proved himself to be one of the most athletic receivers in the 2021.
And his athleticism translated to the field, where he played with excellent game speed (per the NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund):
In 2019, he was the most open receiver in college football (that is, when viewing the percentage of targets where he had at least 3 yards to work with) on passes intended to travel more than 10 air yards. His speed on yards after the catch featured the least erosion (which is a measurement of fatigue) between game start and game end in the SEC.
What’s notable about Chase is his ability to dominate downfield despite his elite size. An assertive perimeter receiver, Chase has shown the capacity to win deep with a combination of catch-point aggressiveness and separation. With a nation-high 24 receptions of 20-plus yards in 2019, Chase is a bona fide playmaker.
He’s also an after-the-catch producer. As a sophomore, Chase had 22 broken tackles and 8.1 yards after catch per reception (per PFF). He’s a downfield receiver, but that’s not all Chase is.
With his size, there’s a chance that his physical style of play won’t translate to the NFL, but he had success beating press coverage at the line of scrimmage and fighting for the ball at the catch point against future NFL cornerbacks in the SEC, such as Trevon Diggs and A.J. Terrell.
I’m not worried about Chase’s size or playing style. His draft capital, age, production and overall physical profile augur professional preeminence.
Scarcity at running back will likely push Harris and Etienne ahead of Chase in most rookie drafts, but fantasy players with top-four picks and long-term investment horizons will be happy to add Chase to their dynasty rosters.
NFL Prospect Comp: Sammy Watkins but smaller and without the extra season of elite production
- 5. Javonte Williams: RB, Broncos
- 6. Jaylen Waddle: WR, Dolphins
- 7. DeVonta Smith: WR, Eagles
- 8. Elijah Moore: WR, Jets
At running back, Williams is in a tier of his own as literally the only back drafted in Round 2. Joining him in Tier 2 are the two remaining receivers with top-10 draft capital and a third wide receiver selected near the top of Round 2.
Even though Kadarius Toney and Rashod Batemen were drafted in Round 1, Moore has comparable draft capital, and I give him the edge over them because of his favorable circumstances.
5. Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
Javonte Williams Fantasy Analysis
Williams in Denver intrigues me. Before selecting him, the Broncos already had Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone and Royce Freeman at running back, so it’s not as if they obviously needed him.
Even so, they traded up to select him, and I think that means the following.
- The Broncos really wanted Williams and decided to indulge that craving with a luxury pick.
- The Broncos viewed Williams as a value at No. 35, as someone who fell so far below where he should have been drafted that they couldn’t help but trade up for him even though they didn’t need him.
If they drafted him because they just felt they had to have him, that probably means they will use him. And if they selected him because they thought he should’ve been drafted much higher — in Round 1 — then they might give him the usage befitting a Day 1 back.
At worst, Williams will be in a timeshare with Gordon in 2021 — and if that’s the case, he could eventually beat out the veteran, because he’s essentially a younger version of Gordon — and at best he could be given the lead back job right away.
However it works out, Williams is likely to be the backfield leader by 2022 at the latest.
With his three-down skill set and draft capital — as well as the overwhelming dearth of backfield options in the class — Williams should be a top-six pick in rookie drafts and the No. 3 back off the board.
For some, Williams — and not Harris or Etienne — is the best back in the class. NFL evaluators seemed to be obsessed with him in the lead-up to the draft.
I have conflicting thoughts on Williams. He’ll be just 21 years old as a rookie and he went in Round 2: Those two facts alone put him in a historical cohort with some very strong NFL players.
21yo RBs in Round 2 since 2000:
– D'Andre Swift
– Jonathan Taylor
– Cam Akers
– Ronald Jones II
– Kerryon Johnson
– Derrius Guice (inj.)
– Joe Mixon
– Le'Veon Bell
– Ryan Williams (inj.)
– LeSean McCoy
– Ray Rice
– Maurice Jones-Drew
– Clinton Portis
This is a Javonte tweet.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 6, 2021
Aside from Ryan Williams and Derrius Guice — both of whom missed their rookie seasons and had their careers derailed by knee injuries — the only backs on that list not to have multiple seasons of 1,000-plus scrimmage yards are Johnson (who missed 14 games over his first two seasons) and last year’s trio of rookies: Swift, Taylor and Akers.
If a young back is invested with Round 2 draft capital and escapes injury early in his career, he will likely produce in the NFL.
Given that the 2021 class is incredibly thin at running back, I can easily see why Williams should be pushed up the board to the No. 5 pick. That’s where I have him ranked, after all.
If a dynasty drafter absolutely needs a running back and Harris and Etienne are already off the board, it will be hard to pass on Williams regardless of who else is available at other positions.
But using a pick on Williams instead of a Day 1 wide receiver selected just feels so wrong to me from a value-seeking perspective.
This is where I am conflicted.
In a vacuum, I like Williams. He’s a tier beneath Harris and Etienne, but I can see how he might manage to outperform one or both of them in the NFL, and he’s a couple of tiers ahead of almost every other back in the class.
I expect him to have multiple years of fantasy utility, especially since he’s so young. It’s hard to find backs capable of handling a full three-down workload in the NFL, and Williams might be one of those guys.
But I’m a long-term investor. Running backs tend not to last as long as wide receivers, and the top of this receiver class is fairly strong, with six pass catchers going off the board ahead of Williams in the draft (seven, if we include Pitts at tight end).
If the NFL itself values these six wide receivers ahead of Williams, and if wide receivers maintain their value and utility longer than running backs, and if receivers are roughly as impactful as backs in fantasy … then why would I take Williams ahead of any of these receivers?
Positional scarcity. That’s the reason. I’m not sure if it’s reason enough — but it probably is. Again, I have him at No. 5. I get that lots of dynasty teams need running backs and few are to be found in this class.
I tend to think that athleticism at running back is overrated: We have seen some sluggish backs have success over the past 20 years. So Williams’ pro day doesn’t matter much to me. Even so, the Williams stans will be happy to know that he was sufficiently athletic at his pro day.
Javonte Williams clocks a 4.55 40 💨 pic.twitter.com/1Y56YUoFV5
— Carolina Football (@UNCFootball) March 29, 2021
There’s nothing exceptional about a 4.55-second pro-day 40 time at 212 pounds, but it’s by no means egregious, and Williams displayed above-average size-adjusted explosiveness and quickness with his jumps and agility drills.
Williams isn’t an elite athlete, but he has the requisite physical ability to be a productive NFL back — especially given what he accomplished in college.
As a freshman, Williams didn’t do much as a bench back with 43-224-5 rushing and 8-58-0 receiving, but in his second season, he broke out as the big-bodied punisher in a two-man partnership with Michael Carter.
Although Carter outproduced Williams in 2019 …
- Williams (13 games): 166-933-5 rushing | 17-176-1 receiving
- Carter (13 games): 177-1,003-3 rushing | 21-154-2 receiving
… Williams was the one who entered 2020 with the elevated draft stock, and he didn’t do anything to diminish the hype.
In his final college season, Williams once again split the backfield work with Carter in 2020 …
- Williams (11 games): 157-1,140-19 rushing | 25-305-3 receiving
- Carter (11 games): 156-1,245-9 rushing | 25-267-2 receiving
… but on a per-game and per-touch basis, Williams still enjoyed significant year-over-year improvement, thereby cementing his place at the top of the non-Harris/Etienne cohort.
Williams rightfully stands out on the SIS running back leaderboard. He’s the only back in the class with a 99 Total Points Rating based on his 2020 production, and he’s the top Power Five back with 5.3 expected points added per game and 4.6 yards after contact per attempt.
His ability to play through contact is especially notable: “After putting on 15 pounds in two years, Williams added an explosive element to his game we hadn’t seen in the past. He broke the PFF record for broken tackles per attempt (0.48), and his 75 broken tackles led the country” (per PFF).
Thanks in large part to his tackle-breaking strength, Williams finished 2020 with a 95.9 PFF rushing grade — the highest such grade ever assigned by the company.
That PFF is so high on Williams is illustrative: He is the type of player people enjoy watching. He runs with power and balance. He has good vision and is quick to find the hole and explode through it. He can make defenders miss with his agility, but he also never shies away from contact. When he hits defenders, he does so with excellent pad level and force. And at the end of runs, he almost always falls forward.
He runs with intelligence but also violence.
He is a coach’s dream. He is very much a professional ball carrier.
It’s not a surprise that he is often compared to Nick Chubb, one of the NFL’s purest runners.
Javonte Williams is the next version of Nick Chubb. Take note. pic.twitter.com/mnrwkke5hB
— Sam Wagman (@swagman95) April 1, 2021
If Mina Kimes is saying that Williams is the No. 3 back in the class at worst, that’s a pretty strong indication of the zeitgeist.
And it’s not as if Kimes is wrong: Williams is a strong runner. Compared to the other backs of recent draft classes, he more than holds his own.
Nystrom has Williams as the No. 1 back in the class. I can’t go that far — especially since draft capital is so important to a projection of any running back’s NFL future — but I can see how Nystrom got there, and he tends to be sharp.
And it’s not as Harris and Etienne have a massive edge over Williams in draft capital. They were drafted in the 20s; he, in the 30s. They’re comparable enough.
All of this is to say that more than a few smart people view Williams as not the third-wheel to the two-man Harris-Etienne party, but rather a coequal-at-worst member of a top-tier triumvirate.
And Williams has more going for him than just his rushing ability: He’s also an above-average receiver. He’s not the kind of pass catcher a team will motion out of the backfield and line up in the slot or out wide. He’s not a route-running savant with option-route usage. But he’s solid.
He gets the job done with flares and screens and is No. 3 on the SIS leaderboard with 1.1 yards per route, trailing only Etienne (1.6) and Carter (1.2). And maybe most importantly — at least as far as NFL coaches might be concerned — Williams is a stonewall pass protector, which means that as a rookie he has a chance to see three-down usage.
Williams looks like the complete package.
There’s just one problem: He was never a true lead back in college. As a sophomore, he averaged 12.8 carries per game. As a junior, 14.3 carries.
With his size and skill set, Williams probably has the ability to handle 15-plus carries and three-plus targets per game — but from a modeling and predictive standpoint, it’s a red flag that Williams never dominated his backfield at North Carolina.
On the one hand, he can’t help it that he had another NFL-caliber back in Carter as his teammate.
On the other hand, if Williams were a better player — if he were a lead back — then maybe Carter never would have gotten the opportunity to show his true ability.
For the most part, the workload concerns are minimal: Williams looks like a lead back, and with his Round 2 draft capital he will likely be treated like a lead back soon. But the concerns can’t be dismissed entirely.
On the basis of draft capital as well as his college production and athletic measurables, the three backs to whom he’s most comparable in the RV Box Score Scout — with similarity scores of 100! — are the aforementioned Johnson and Shane Vereen, who could never escape committee roles, and Mark Ingram.
Williams could be another Kerryon, but he could also be a decade-long grinder with receiving skills.
Williams will will likely have NFL success, but he has a downside that many market participants don’t seem to appreciate.
NFL Prospect Comp: Marshawn Lynch with less draft capital, production and athleticism
6. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins
Jaylen Waddle Fantasy Analysis
If you ask the average person who follows me on Twitter — but let’s be honest, my average Twitter follower is anything but average — but I digress …
If you ask the average person who follows me on Twitter, that football fan will likely say that Burrow and Chase will outperform Tua Tagovailoa and Waddle in 2021.
Which college/NFL QB/WR combo will do better in 2021?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 30, 2021
I’m not so sure about that.
It’s hard to know what we should expect out of the Dolphins offense this year: It will be the third season in a row that the Dolphins have a new playcaller under head coach Brian Flores — and this year he chose to split the baby by naming two co-coordinators: Eric Studesville and George Godsey.
This situation could be bad.
Plus, Waddle will be sharing targets with veteran wide receivers DeVante Parker and Will Fuller and tight end Mike Gesicki.
But Fuller has difficulty staying healthy. Parker underwhelmed last year. And Gesicki can disappear for games at a time.
Waddle might find his way into volume pretty quickly, and he has the game-breaking speed to maximize his opportunities if things break right.
And beyond 2022 looks promising: Fuller is on a one-year contract, Parker could be cut after 2021 and Gesicki is in the final season of his rookie deal.
Reunited with his onetime college quarterback, Waddle could thrive in Miami.
He absolutely fascinates me. He might be the best all-around receiver in the class. In the SIS Handbook, he’s graded as the No. 1 receiver, ahead of Chase and Smith.
- Jaylen Waddle: 7.1
- Ja’Marr Chase: 7.0
- DeVonta Smith: 6.9
He is not without his issues. Like Smith, Waddle is 23 years old, which makes him a rather aged prospect.
But unlike Smith, Waddle is entering the NFL as an early declarant after just three years in college, and that makes a massive difference to his NFL projection.
Age and college experience are clearly correlated, and years ago when numbers-based evaluators started looking at prospects through a more analytical lens, they did so with an eye on age.
That makes sense: Age is often relatively easy to find, whereas you have to dig more if you want to know whether a guy took a redshirt season — and the possibility of a redshirt can cause extra considerations that might mess up the analysis. Put simply, age is a less bothersome starting point.
The early age-focused work on prospects, especially wide receivers, was revolutionary. Example: Jon Moore’s Phenom Index.
But even in those early days I suggested that experience is just as important as (and maybe more important than) age in evaluating prospects. And in the time since then, evidence has come along to indicate that experience indeed is the more important factor.
In particular, Anthony Amico has done great work in analyzing the experience vs. age dichotomy.
Quick look at why looking at WR experience > WR age for prospects
When modeling on hits (and max PPR within 3 seasons) experience trumps age in every test pic.twitter.com/Fb2B5Em8iN
— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) January 16, 2021
And what this means for Waddle is that, even though he is as old as Smith — and even though Waddle was old as a true junior in 2020 — he has a massive edge over Smith entering the league, at least in the age/experience category.
If we continue to evaluate Waddle next to Smith, it’s tempting to dismiss the former because of the latter’s unbelievable production, especially in their two final years at Alabama.
- Smith (2019-20, 26 games): 185-3,112-37 receiving
- Waddle (2019-20, 19 games): 61-1,151-10 receiving
But these numbers perhaps mislead.
Smith easily outproduced Waddle in 2019, when he was the No. 4 receiver in the Alabama offense behind Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, but Waddle in 2020 actually outproduced Smith before a fractured ankle sidelined him for the rest of the regular season.
- Waddle (Weeks 1-4): 25-557-4 receiving | 3-12-0 rushing
- Smith (Weeks 1-4): 38-483-4 receiving | 2-2-1 rushing
And in 2018, as a true freshman, Waddle markedly outproduced Smith.
- Waddle (20-year-old freshman): 45-848-7 receiving
- Smith (20-year-old sophomore): 42-693-6 receiving
So Waddle outproduced Smith in their first season together, and when healthy, Waddle outplayed Smith in their final year.
On top of that, Waddle has the career special teams production that distinguishes him as a true get-the-ball-in-his-hands-however-we-can playmaker.
- Punt Returns: 38-733-2 | 19.3 yards per return
- Kick Returns: 9-214-1 | 23.8 yards per return
Waddle never had a true breakout season …
- 2018 (15 games): 45-848-7 receiving
- 2019 (13 games): 33-560-6 receiving | 1-5-0 rushing
- 2020 (6 games): 28-591-4 receiving | 3-12-0 rushing
… but when placed in context, his production isn’t a massive red flag.
When we dive more into the SIS data to compare Waddle to Smith and even Chase, at no point does Waddle seem insufficient.
Granted, he had nowhere near their career target share.
- Waddle: 11%
- Smith: 20%
- Chase: 18%
But over the past three years, Waddle leads the trio in yards per route run.
- Waddle: 3.3
- Smith: 2.8
- Chase: 3.0
And for their entire college careers, Waddle was the leader in yards per target (YPT), yards after catch per reception (YAC), expected points added per target (EPA) and positive play rate vs. both man and zone coverage.
- Waddle: 15.2 YPT | 9.9 YAC | 0.96 EPA | 70% Man | 79% Zone
- Smith: 12.8 YPT | 7.1 YAC | 0.58 EPA | 58% Man | 65% Zone
- Chase: 12.6 YPT | 9.0 YAC | 0.75 EPA | 59% Man | 73% Zone
One potential flaw in Waddle’s game is that he has been a slot-reliant receiver for most of his career, especially relative to Smith and Chase (since 2018).
- Waddle: 68% slot rate
- Smith: 30% slot rate
- Chase: 30% slot rate
It feels potentially problematic that such a high percentage of his 2020 receiving yards were produced out of the slot.
% of receiving yards from the slot for notable WR prospects
Amari Rodgers – 89.9%
Rondale Moore – 85.2%
Jaylen Waddle – 83.8%
Kadarius Toney – 79.7%
Elijah Moore – 74.4%
Terrace Marshall – 67.2%
Rashod Bateman – 55.7%
Devonta Smith – 46.5%
Amon Ra St Brown – 33.7%
— Matt Gajewski (@Matt_Gajewski) April 4, 2021
But concerns about where Waddle lines up might be overblown. In his final season, he lined up on the outside more than the slot.
- 2018: 72% slot rate
- 2019: 80% slot rate
- 2020: 48% slot rate
And in today’s NFL, plenty of slot receivers have success.
As a receiver, Waddle is definitely on the smaller end of the spectrum. He didn’t weigh in at either of the Alabama pro days, but his listed size is generally thought to be accurate. And with those numbers, he seems unlikely ever to be a true No. 1 receiver, although we have seen small playmakers emerge (Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton, for example).
I, for one, am not worried about his size — especially because of his athleticism. Usually I never assume that a player is athletic if we don’t have any pre-draft testing numbers, and Waddle didn’t work out before the draft ostensibly because of the ankle injury he suffered in October.
But in Waddle’s case, it’s fair to make an exception.
When Ruggs was still at Alabama, he and Waddle once raced each other. Ruggs won, but just barely.
The 2019 race between Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs was a TIGHT finish 😳🔥🔥
(via IG/jaylenwaddle) pic.twitter.com/vTMzKNw4EY
— 247Sports (@247Sports) March 3, 2021
And then Ruggs ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Any guy who can challenge Ruggs in a race has legitimate speed.
And if you watch him play, his ability to pull away from defenders once he has the ball is undeniable.
And Waddle is not just a speedster. He’s an above-average route runner with a developed route tree, and he has the body control and aggressiveness to make contested catches downfield.
You know what? I realize that I could’ve just posted this video from Danny Kelly at the top of this section and then said, “I agree with everything Danny said.”
— #RingerNFL (@ringernfl) March 24, 2021
Based on the limited sample we have of Waddle, he looks like a well-rounded player. He can win in the screen game because he has the return man-like ability to let blocks set up in front of him. He can win in the intermediate part of the field with his route running and after-the-catch acceleration. And he can win deep with his speed and willingness to fight for the ball.
To former NFL receiver and current NFL Network analyst James Jones, Waddle is the top wide receiver in the draft.
Like Smith, Waddle feels like a divisive prospect. Waddle is old and was never the real No. 1 receiver on his team. But he is also an athletic former four-star recruit who was on his way to a highly productive season before entering the NFL early in Round 1.
It’s not hard to see how he could turn into a bust or a superstar. I lean toward something more in the middle. He’s not someone I’m chasing and also not someone I’m fading.
NFL Prospect Comp: Henry Ruggs with more route-running skills and per-game final-season production but also less speed
7. DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles
DeVonta Smith Fantasy Analysis
Smith is in a great spot in Philadelphia. He reunites with former college quarterback Jalen Hurts — who was underappreciated as a passer last year — and joins a team bereft of established pass catchers.
I expect Smith to do better this year with Hurts than his former teammate Waddle will do with Tagovailoa.
Which Alabama QB/WR combo will do better in 2021?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 30, 2021
This offseason, the Eagles parted ways with veteran wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, and tight end Zach Ertz could still be traded before the season starts, so Smith has a real chance to see 100-plus targets as the No. 1 receiver in the offense in 2021.
I have some reservations about Smith: He might be more of a high-floor receiver than a high-ceiling playmaker. And in the post-Andy Reid era, the Eagles have underwhelmed in drafting receivers. But with the target volume he could see as a rookie, he could be a viable fantasy option right away, especially in PPR leagues, and his long-term potential is apparent.
Smith is one of the most polarizing prospects of the 2021 class.
On the one hand, he is awesome at football. This past season, he outright dominated with a nation-best 117 receptions, 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games as a unanimous All-American and the winner of the Heisman Trophy and Biletnikoff Award.
And it’s not as if Smith’s 2020 production came out of nowhere. Despite playing with three Round 1 receivers in Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Waddle in 2019, Smith was still the top pass catcher for Alabama.
- DeVonta Smith (13 games): 68-1,256-14 receiving
- Jerry Jeudy (13 games): 77-1,163-10 receiving
- Henry Ruggs (12 games): 40-746-7 receiving
- Jaylen Waddle (13 games): 33-560-6 receiving
For two years, Smith was the No. 1 receiver in one of college football’s best offenses.
On the other hand, Smith looks entirely unlike any other receiving prospect who has gone on to have NFL success — and not in a good way. It’s not as if he’s a unicorn because he’s so young, big and fast. His uniqueness derives from the fact that he’s old, small and relatively unathletic.
Let’s start with the age concerns.
The issue isn’t just that he’s on the older side, although that’s not great. The bigger issue is his breakout age and year. When a wide receiver breaks out, how old he is and what year he is matters a lot for his NFL projection. All else equal, a player who breaks out as an 18-year-old freshman is much likelier to have NFL success than one who emerges as a 21-year-old junior or senior.
And so it’s problematic for Smith that in 2018 he was the No. 4 wide receiver after Jeudy, Ruggs and Waddle.
- Jeudy (19-year-old sophomore): 68-1,315-14 receiving
- Ruggs (19-year-old sophomore): 46-741-11 receiving
- Waddle (20-year-old freshman): 45-848-7 receiving
- Smith (20-year-old sophomore): 42-693-6 receiving
Waddle wasn’t on the team in 2017, and No. 1 receiver Calvin Ridley relegated Jeudy, Ruggs and Smith to a forgotten rotational committee as freshmen. But the following year — with Ridley gone to the NFL — Smith had the opportunity to emerge within the offense, and everyone outplayed him even though they were either younger or had fewer years in college.
That’s not good. In fact, that’s bad. That’s a massive crimson-colored flag.
And correlated with his older age is his advanced experience. At receiver, the players who enter the league early markedly outperform those who spend four-plus years in college (including redshirt seasons).
Here are the Round 1 receivers with four-plus years in college to enter the NFL over the past decade.
- Brandon Aiyuk (2020, 1.25): Promising so far, but let’s wait and see.
- Corey Davis (2017, 1.05): Are you excited yet?
- Mike Williams (2017, 1.07): You can stop reading if you want.
- John Ross (2017, 1.09): Seriously, for the sake of your eyeballs, stop reading.
- Corey Coleman (2016, 1.15): Are you a masochist?
- Josh Doctson (2016, 1.22): At this point, you’re just punishing yourself.
- Kevin White (2015, 1.07): Why? WHY???
- DeVante Parker (2015, 1.14): It took only five years.
- Phillip Dorsett (2015, 1.29): Hahahahaha, LOLz.
- Tavon Austin (2013, 1.08): #JeffFisher, amirite?
- Justin Blackmon (2012, 1.05): What could have been …
- Michael Floyd (2012, 1.13): How much longer do I have to go?
- Kendall Wright (2012, 1.20): How? HOW???
- A.J. Jenkins (2012, 1.30): My fingers and brain are numb.
This might be the most disgusting list of Round 1 receivers I have ever typed — and Smith is squarely on this list. That’s another massive flag.
2011-20: Round 1 WRs w/ 4+ years in college …
🪦 RIP DeVonta Smith?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 4, 2021
And let’s talk about his size: He’s small, and he’s small in a very particular way. It’s not as if he’s a short-and-small speedster. If he were, that wouldn’t be much of a problem: We’ve seen guys like that have success — Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, Santonio Holmes, Steve Smith, et al.
The issue with Smith is that he’s a tall-and-lean long strider, and there aren’t many of those guys who have had success. Of course, there aren’t many of those types of guys in general. Perhaps the preeminent “tall drink of water” receiver in the league right now is Robby Anderson, who was 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds at his 2016 pro day.
That Anderson is the guy who comes to mind suggests how rare this kind of receiver is, and that means that we’ve seen very few examples of such a receiver selected early in the draft.
If we stretch the criteria for “tall-and-lean receiver” to include all prospects at least 6 feet and no more than 190 pounds, and then we look at guys selected with top-40 picks since 1990, this is the list we get.
- Calvin Ridley (2018, 1.26): 6’1″ and 189 pounds
- Will Fuller (2016, 1.21): 6’0″ and 186 pounds
- Todd Pinkston (2000, 2.36): 6’2″ and 169 pounds
- Jerome Pathon (1998, 2.32): 6’0″ and 182 pounds
- Marvin Harrison (1996, 1.19): 6’0″ and 185 pounds
- Johnnie Morton (1994, 1.21): 6’0″ and 190 pounds
- Isaac Bruce (1994, 2.33): 6’0″ and 188 pounds
This list is intriguing, especially since Chad Johnson — 2001, 2.36; 6’1″ and 192 pounds — almost was included, but this cohort collectively highlights the extent to which Smith is unlike other prospects, at least in the modern NFL.
This list is largely made up of guys who played in college in the 1990s. That should be revelatory, because it puts Smith in the proper perspective: He is basically a mid-90s receiver who has been transported to the 2020s.
His build and style of play are straight out of another era. He’s a technician, not a specimen. He’s a route runner, not a sprinter.
Smith is still significantly smaller than almost all the receivers on this list — and it’s notable that his expected 40 time (4.45-4.55 seconds) is much slower than their assorted times (more on that later) — but this group … it’s actually pretty good.
Harrison and Bruce were Hall-of-Famers. Morton had four 1,000-yard seasons. Pinkston and Pathon weren’t stars, but they were steady — especially as second-rounders. And Ridley and Fuller are two of the most exciting receivers in the NFL today.
If these are Smith’s true predecessors based on build and draft position, his future looks pretty good.
But, remember, all of these guys except for Pinkston are markedly heavier than the 166 pounds Smith weighed at his medical combine checkup.
And they are markedly faster.
- Calvin Ridley: 4.43 seconds
- Will Fuller: 4.32 seconds
- Todd Pinkston: 4.45 seconds (unverified)
- Jerome Pathon: No 40 time, but NFL deep threat
- Marvin Harrison: 4.38 seconds (unverified)
- Johnnie Morton: No 40 time, but NFL deep threat
- Isaac Bruce: 4.53 seconds
Given how much bigger and more athletic Ridley and Fuller are, it’s ultimately wrong to think of them as representative latter-day comps for Smith. The same goes for Anderson, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash in his pre-draft workout. I also don’t think Smith is all that comparable to Pinkston, Pathon, Harrison or Morton.
But Bruce and the aforementioned Johnson (4.57 seconds) warrant more consideration. Both were bigger than Smith, but neither won on the field because of their size. In build, they are more like Smith than other receivers in today’s NFL.
Like Smith, they were unexceptional athletes — or at least they had uninspiring speed. They created separation on the field with their technique, and that’s what Smith does: He already has a full command of the route tree and is probably the best, most nuanced route runner in the class.
Bruce and Johnson also had four-plus years in college, and neither had a Division I breakout until his final season, as both enrolled at smaller colleges (including junior college) before respectively transferring to Memphis and Oregon State.
As weird as this sounds, the prospects to whom Smith is most comparable are two guys who entered the league 20-plus years ago.
And they just happen to be two of the best receivers of their generation.
It seems wrong to compare Smith to two NFL players as heralded as Bruce and Johnson — but maybe it’s not, because we are talking about the first receiver to win the Heisman since 1991.
Regardless of his frame and relative lack of athleticism, Smith is a productive receiver who was drafted No. 10 overall, and that alone makes him remarkable.
Despite everything negative I’ve written about Smith in this piece, it’s not up for debate that he’s good. The task we have as analysts and decision makers is to contextualize his production and ability so we have a better sense of whether his game will translate to the NFL.
But there’s no doubt that Smith is a great player.
Using his Reception Perception methodology, Matt Harmon graded Smith as the best receiver in the class at beating zone and press coverage.
In specifically noting Smith’s ability to beat the press despite his size, Harmon says this.
Size doesn’t matter when it comes to beating press coverage. DeVonta Smith isn’t the only proof but he’s just part of the case.
If you’re 6-3, 220 pounds and your technique sucks, you won’t get off press coverage. If you’re 6-0, 166 pounds and you have flawless technique combined with foot quickness, defenders won’t be able to get their hands on you to press you successfully.
That’s how it works.
Smith faced press on 26.6 percent of his sampled routes, an above-average amount for a college prospect, and posted a 78.9 percent success rate. That was the best in this class and falls at the 89th percentile among prospects sampled for Reception Perception all-time. That’s the best score for any SEC receiver in the database.
Over the past two decades, only five college receivers have had 3,000-plus yards receiving over a two-year span and were then drafted in Rounds 1-2.
- DeVonta Smith (2019-20, 26 games): 3,112 yards
- Davante Adams (2012-13, 26 games): 3,031 yards
- Justin Blackmon (2010-11, 25 games): 3,304 yards
- Michael Crabtree (2007-08, 26 games): 3,127 yards
- Rashaun Woods (2002-03, 26 games): 3,062 yards
Woods was a bust, but Blackmon flashed a world of potential before his career was derailed by substance abuse, Crabtree had a solid 10-year stretch in the NFL and Adams is the best receiver in the league.
When combined with his draft position, what Smith accomplished in college puts him in an elite cohort of prospects.
And no one should seek to diminish just how strong Smith was in 2020. He dominates the SIS receiver leaderboard, ranking No. 1 with 2.8 yards per route run, a 36% target share and 9.4 total expected points added per game.
He’s not big or fast, but Smith is complete. He lines up at all the receiver positions — even with Jeudy, Ruggs and Waddle in 2019, Smith most often played as the alpha X receiver — and he produces at all levels of the field.
Last year, he was No. 1 in the nation with 35 receptions and 304 yards on screens, but he was also No. 1 with 15 receptions and 589 yards on targets 20-plus yards downfield (per PFF).
He can do it all — and he did it in the SEC against cornerbacks who will start in the NFL.
His slight build, average-at-best athleticism, delayed breakout, advanced age and extended time in college are all real issues that ought not to be ignored.
But on the basis of his draft position and elite production over the past two years, Smith ultimately looks like a prospect with a rather high ceiling/floor combination. A versatile and productive receiver selected with a premium pick: That sounds like a guy who will have NFL success.
In my pre-draft top 40, I had Smith at No. 10. Now he’s No. 7. Why the change?
I previously had Terrace Marshall, Rondale Moore and Rashod Bateman ahead of Smith, but he now has the edge over all of them. Marshall and Moore slid down to the bottom half of Round 2, and Bateman has an incredibly suboptimal situation in Baltimore.
But Smith has flags, so I don’t feel I can put him above Waddle.
I think the No. 3 receiver spot feels right. It’s appropriately respectful yet cautious. I’m not going out of my way to get Smith in rookie drafts, but if I take him I won’t be disappointed.
NFL Prospect Comp: Isaac Bruce with more draft capital and production but also much less weight
8. Elijah Moore, WR, Jets
Elijah Moore Fantasy Analysis
Moore had a strong chance to go on Day 1, so it made sense to see him come off the board early on Day 2, where the Jets got great value in selecting him.
Although the depth chart in New York is ostensibly crowded, the path in front of Moore is relatively clear, as the wide receivers already on the team are relatively unimposing.
The Jets just signed Corey Davis this offseason, and they drafted Denzel Mims in Round 2 last year, but as long as Moore is able to replace veteran Jamison Crowder in the slot, he has a real chance to lead the team in targets as a rookie.
And it seems as if the Jets are desirous to move on from Crowder, since he was the subject of trade and cut rumors during free agency and especially since the team just drafted a younger, more dynamic version of him.
The Jets offense under new OC Mike LaFleur might be hard to project for 2021, especially with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson under center. But Moore has potential as a rookie and especially beyond.
I must admit that I’ve been a fan of Moore for a while, for a couple of reasons.
First, he’s a good player.
2018: WR3 as 18yo true freshman. Went 36-398-2 alongside DK Metcalf and AJ Brown (2.4-2.9 years older)
2019: 37% YMS at age 19.4 vs. Rashod Bateman's 37% YMS at age 19.8. Had 4.4X receiving yards of next-closest receiver
2020: Most YFS/G by any P5 WR maybe ever pic.twitter.com/4XnwjKEciR
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 15, 2021
Second, he’s the guy who lifted his leg.
It wasn’t his best moment … but it was still a great moment.
Moore is small, but he has elite athleticism and crushed his pro day.
Moore was a four-star recruit with a strong athletic reputation: It was generally assumed that he would do well in his workout, but he didn’t just meet expectations: He easily exceeded them.
In both his 40-yard dash and his agility drills, Moore exhibited elite athleticism.
Moore is small: There’s no getting around that. But with his athleticism, his size is not a problem. Moore’s physical profile is sufficient for NFL success.
And he has the production. As a true freshman, he was the No. 4 option behind future NFL receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge with a modest 36-398-2 receiving, but as a sophomore he was far and away the No. 1 pass catcher with 67-850-6 receiving. No one else on the team managed even 200 yards or two touchdowns.
And then in new head coach Lane Kiffin’s explosive offense last year, Moore looked like one of the best players in the country with 86-1,193-8 receiving in just eight games. (He opted out of the final two contests.)
With his junior production, Moore easily stands out on the SIS wide receiver leaderboard.
Receiving Total Points Per Game
- Elijah Moore: 5.4
- DeVonta Smith: 4.4
Receiving Total Points Per Game – Slot
- Elijah Moore: 4.5
- Marlon Williams: 3.5
Catchable Catch Percentage
- Elijah Moore: 98%
- Tutu Atwell: 98%
A consensus All-American with the surest hands in college football, Moore dominated in his final season.
If one wanted to do so, one could nitpick Moore’s production profile. For instance, he didn’t break out as a freshman, and historically first-year breakouts do better in the NFL than prospects who break out later.
I’m not worried about Moore’s lack of freshman production. He broke out at 19 years old, which is still young, and he had multiple future NFL receivers playing ahead of him as upperclassmen.
If Devonta Smith had difficult obstacles to achieving an early breakout in Ruggs and Jeudy.
Terrace Marshall had even harder ones with Chase and Jefferson
Elijah Moore's were simply impossible with AJ Brown and DK Metcalf
— Chris M-Bite Size Fantasy Football Stats (@force_fantasy) April 6, 2021
With smaller prospects, it’s nice to see multi-faceted production. If a guy is small but he contributes as a runner and returner as well as receiver, that speaks to his overall skill set and playmaking ability.
Moore’s overall profile as a runner and receiver markedly underwhelms.
- Rushing: 21-71-0
- Punt Returning: 27-133-0
- Kick Returning: 12-222-0
Wherever you look, Moore is comped to Lockett.
In many ways, they are comparable. But in a very underappreciated way, they could not be more dissimilar.
Every analyst is comparing Elijah Moore to Tyler Lockett.
I like Moore, but …
– Rush: 22-192-0
– Kck Rtn: 77-2,196-4
– Pnt Rtn: 32-488-2
– Rush: 21-71-0
– Kck Rtn: 12-222-0
– Pnt Rtn: 27-133-0
… Moore is not even close to Lockett in ancillary production.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 10, 2021
It’s a knock against Moore that he doesn’t have supplemental production, especially as a returner. The smaller receivers who turn into fantasy-relevant NFL players …
- Tyreek Hill (4 years): 8 return touchdowns
- Stefon Diggs (3 years): 2 return touchdowns
- Diontae Johnson (3 years): 2 return touchdowns
- Tyler Lockett (4 years): 6 return touchdowns
- Tyler Boyd (3 years): 1 return touchdown
- Antonio Brown (3 years): 5 return touchdowns
… they tend to flash as return men in college.
And Moore is a rather slot-bound receiver, having spent the supermajority of his snaps there in each of his three collegiate campaigns.
- 2018: 94% slot rate
- 2019: 94% slot rate
- 2020: 78% slot rate
In the SEC, Moore struggled with handsy cornerbacks and could be pushed off his routes against press coverage, so he might be unable to play on the outside in the NFL, even with his speed and agility.
Despite his young sophomore breakout and dominant junior production, Moore comes with some concerns.
In the big picture, though, these concerns seem small. Moore is so good at football that he literally makes A.J. Brown cry with pride.
"I couldn't do none of the shit you do. I never told you this but you way better than me bro. The shit you do I'm still trying to do. The sky's not the limit for you, you can go as far as you want. Not worried about you. You're special. You going to be the best. I believe that." https://t.co/aL93E8L5dF
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) May 1, 2021
Last year, Moore outperformed the Heisman-winning Smith against both man and zone coverage with a higher average depth of target despite playing a much higher percentage of his snaps in the slot (per SIS).
Positive Play Rate vs. Man Coverage
- Elijah Moore: 78%
- DeVonta Smith:73%
Positive Play Rate vs. Zone Coverage
- Elijah Moore: 75%
- DeVonta Smith: 74%
Average Depth of Target
- Elijah Moore: 10.1 yards
- DeVonta Smith: 9.9 yards
If Smith can have success in the NFL, Moore probably can as well.
Despite not going in Round 1, Moore shouldn’t suffer too much from his Day 2 draft capital.
All NFL History: Rds. 2-3 WRs – 21yo early declarants w/ 100 yds/g in a college season:
– Curtis Samuel
– JuJu Smith-Schuster
– Allen Robinson
– Keenan Allen
– Robert Woods
– Sidney Rice
– Antonio Bryant
Even if Elijah Moore isn't drafted in Round 1, he'll be OK.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 10, 2021
My top comp for him isn’t as sexy as Lockett, but I nevertheless project multiple 1,000-yard NFL seasons for Moore.
NFL Prospect Comp: K.J. Hamler with more draft capital and much more receiving production but less ancillary production.
- 9. Trey Sermon: RB, 49ers
- 10. Rashod Bateman: WR, Ravens
- 11. Terrace Marshall: WR, Panthers
- 12. Rondale Moore: WR, Cardinals
- 13. Kadarius Toney: WR, Giants
For me, this is a “choose who you want/what you need” tier. I’m going against a personal guideline of mine by ranking Sermon — a Round 3 running back — ahead of a couple receivers drafted in Round 1.
But I understand the situation: Sermon is in his own tier at the position as the only back selected in his round, and backfield-deficient fantasy teams will likely (need to?) reach for Sermon because he’s the last back in this class who has decent draft capital and a chance to be an NFL lead back.
As it is, there’s a chance that I will still be lower than many dynasty analysts on Sermon at No. 9.
And if you can avoid the shortsightedness of going with a running back, I do prefer the four wide receivers in Tier 3.
I have Bateman at the top of the position in this tier because he has the best combination of draft capital and talent.
Marshall and Moore were my pre-draft Nos. 2-3 receivers, but they have fallen a little down the board because of slightly less draft capital than expected and short-term circumstantial concerns.
As for Toney, I respect that he was selected in Round 1: He actually has the most draft capital of anyone in this tier. But I can’t put him above the other receivers, who were all more productive in college and superior as prospects.
Ultimately, take whoever you need or want. If you need a running back, take Sermon. If you don’t, take a receiver — and take whichever one you like the best. If you happen to like Toney, feel free to draft him first in Tier 3.
9. Trey Sermon, RB, 49ers
Trey Sermon Fantasy Analysis
It’s easy to be excited about Sermon. The 49ers traded up to acquire him, and he has the build to be an NFL back.
Of course …
Joe Williams: The last running back the 49ers traded up to draft …
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
… he’s far from a guarantee to become a reliable fantasy contributor. He’s not the first running back general manager John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan have traded up to acquire.
And he’s also not the first running back to underwhelm at one school, transfer to another school, break out, hear his name called in Round 3 and then receive an immediate influx of circumstance-based dynasty enthusiasm.
Is Trey Sermon the Ke'Shawn Vaughn of 2021 rookie dynasty drafts?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 2, 2021
That a slight majority of respondents think that Sermon isn’t this year’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn might be the greatest possible indicator that he is.
Unlike Vaughn, Sermon seems likely to get consistent playing time — but he will probably be selected too high in the majority of rookie dynast drafts.
Sermon benefits from the fact that Day 2 was a relative disappointment this year.
He looks great in comparison to all the other nonexistent backs who didn’t get drafted in Round 3. But he carries risk that fantasy investors right now seem all too happy to ignore.
I acknowledge that the fit for Sermon is good. He gets going quickly once he has the ball, and he is familiar with the zone running scheme.
Sermon was productive last year at Ohio State, and veterans Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are both significantly smaller.
I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that Mostert was excluded from this image.
In theory, Sermon should be able to beat out Mostert, and realistically he is likely to carve out a role in the backfield, perhaps as the big-bodied supplemental grinder, but maybe as the high-volume early-down and short-yardage lead back.
But the road to dynasty mediocrity is paved with the corpses of should-have-been-great Round 3 running backs. I don’t think especially highly of Mostert and Wilson, but they have produced in the past, so they might hold off Sermon.
And when has it ever made sense to invest premium rookie draft capital in a Shanahan backfield, where roles tend to be frustratingly fluid?
In my rookie drafts, I will likely take a structured contrarian approach. If the market is high on him, I will likely fade because of the uncertainty that accompanies the running back position in general and a 49ers back in particular. If the market is low on him, I will probably invest — because he does have a very real chance to be a league-winning asset as the No. 1 backfield option in San Francisco.
Sermon really is a Rorschach player. One film watcher I respect describes him as running with indecision and poor vision, while another one asserts that he runs with conviction and good eyes.
Sermon is widely compared to Damien Harris. But Nystrom compares him to Marshawn Lynch.
I’m not sure what to think.
To my untrained eye, Sermon definitely runs upright. But when it comes time to bang bodies, he demonstrates good balance through contact — and yet I wouldn’t describe him as an overly powerful runner. He’s just a runner who has good size.
I didn’t notice a big difference for him in 2020 when running in zone vs. gap schemes, and the SIS numbers back that up.
Positive Play Rate
- Zone Scheme: 52%
- Gap Scheme: 50%
But, his PFF grades for zone vs. man suggest that he could be a highly scheme-dependent runner in the NFL.
- Zone Grade: 88.9 (top quartile)
- Man Grade: 69.4 (bottom quartile)
Fortunately for him he landed with the zone-leaning 49ers, but his potential scheme limitations raise questions about his NFL viability.
Here’s what I do know: Based on his performance at the Ohio State pro day, Sermon has excellent size-adjusted agility and explosiveness.
And I think you see that agility and explosiveness in his game. He has a little bit of wiggle to make would-be tacklers miss, and when he puts his foot in the ground and heads upfield, he shoots through the hole quickly.
Beautiful rep of Duo by Trey Sermon. Pay attention to how deep he presses to the line of scrimmage while reading/moving the LB (17). Once LB bites, nice fluid hips get him smoothly to the hole without wasted steps or a jump cut. pic.twitter.com/TBf5HscEcF
— J Moyer (@JMoyerFB) February 24, 2021
But he has limited long speed, which will cap his big-play ability in the NFL. Sermon is a guy who can grind out multiple chunk plays each game and wear defenses down as the game progresses. Nonetheless, he won’t have many 20-yard runs as a professional. That’s not everything, but it does give him a rather Carlos Hyde-like quality.
Even so, Sermon intrigues me, given that he’s one of the few backs in this class with decent draft capital, lead-back size and a three-down skill set.
As a four-star recruit, Sermon received offers from many major football programs, including running back factories Alabama and Georgia. Sermon committed to Oklahoma and immediately played as the No. 2 back behind Rodney Anderson, putting up 121-744-5 rushing and 16-139-2 receiving in 14 games.
As a sophomore, Sermon was elevated to the No. 1 job following Anderson’s season-ending knee injury in Week 2, but his success was peppered with frustration. Despite finishing the season with 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage in 14 games, he lost 140 attempts to run-friendly quarterback Kyler Murray (1,001-12 rushing, including sacks). Second-string running back Kennedy Brooks also earned 129 touches, which he leveraged into 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage.
At the end of the season, there was nothing wrong with Sermon’s stats.
- Rushing: 164-947-13
- Receiving: 12-181-0
But he barely outproduced the team’s No. 2 back — and even though he easily led the team in carries, he wasn’t one of the two 1,000-yard rushers the Sooners produced in 2018.
Despite his sophomore breakout, Sermon clearly saw the extent to which his upside was capped at Oklahoma.
Then everything went sideways in Sermon’s junior year. After the first five games of the season, he lost his starting role to Brooks. From then on he had to compete with Rhamondre Stevenson for the No. 2 job until a season-ending knee injury in November ended his disappointing campaign.
On the whole, Sermon was just 54-385-4 rushing and 8-71-1 receiving in nine games as a junior.
Aware that he would never be a high-volume back at Oklahoma, Sermon transferred to Ohio State as a graduate senior for his final season, and he found his stride. Despite splitting work with No. 2 back Master Teague (104-514-8 rushing, 5-46-0 receiving) and losing attempts to quarterback Justin Fields (81-383-5 rushing, including sacks), Sermon was an impressive 116-870-4 rushing and 12-95-0 receiving in eight games.
His postseason run was especially incredible even though he missed almost all of the College Football Playoff National Championship due to an early in-game shoulder injury.
- Big Ten Championship (vs. Northwestern): 29-331-2 rushing | 3-4-0 receiving
- Sugar Bowl (vs. Clemson): 31-193-1 rushing | 4-61-0 receiving
- Title Game (vs. Alabama): 1-2-0 rushing | 0-0-0 receiving
Before his injury, Sermon was enjoying one of the best postseason runs we’ve ever seen from a college running back. On his 60 carries in the two complete postseason games, Sermon broke an unconscionable 24 tackles (per PFF).
Moreover, for a bigger back, he’s a good receiver. Well … a sufficient receiver. He doesn’t drop the ball, and he’s functional on screens and dump-offs. He’s also an above-average pass blocker with his size, which will grant him the opportunity to earn a three-down role in the NFL.
Here’s what I wrote about Sermon in my National Championship prospect preview:
“Sermon lacks notable speed, so he’s not likely to impress in his pre-draft workouts, which could cause him to go in the middle rounds. But as a prospect, he likely has the floor of a committee contributor and the ceiling of a multi-year starter.”
That’s still the opinion I have.
NFL Prospect Comp: Mike Davis with less receiving production but more peak production and agility
10. Rashod Bateman, WR, Ravens
Rashod Bateman Fantasy Analysis
As I write this, I’m listening to some Marshall Tucker Band. I gotta get myself in the right headspace. There’s nothing like a flute-laced country rock classic to help me tap into my inner pain.
This one hurts.
Bateman is a talented receiver with a well-rounded skill set, but I fear he will be wasted in Baltimore. He eventually should challenge wide receivers Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins for targets, but they will at least open the season ahead of him, and tight end Mark Andrews will likely dominate as the No. 1 receiver in the offense.
On top of that, the Ravens are a run-committed team, so Bateman will likely see limited volume in a competitive target environment.
If you ignore the offense that Bateman is in, he looks great. And it’s probably wise to underweight his circumstances, because they could change.
But I don’t think we should ignore his situation entirely, as it’s likely to impact the production he has and the value he retains early in his career — and the landing spot is bad from a fantasy perspective. Very bad.
Bateman is too talented not to have some splash performances, but playing Baltimore is likely to be a negative, at least in the short term. It’s hard to see him ever enjoying the target volume of a true No. 1 receiver with the Ravens.
On top of that, Bateman does nothing exceptionally well. He doesn’t have a full route tree, and he’s not a notably crisp route runner. He doesn’t play with great speed, and doesn’t play especially big, probably because he’s not actually a big receiver.
But Bateman is an above-average receiver across the board, and that makes him a greater-than-the-sum-of-his-parts producer. With his limitations, he seems unlikely to be a true No. 1 option in the NFL, but he could be a very good No. 2 receiver with upside while playing multiple roles in a variety of schemes.
Bateman has many factors in his favor.
First of all, he is entering the NFL as an early declarant with just three seasons in college. That provides him with a massive edge, given all the work done in the past couple years to establish the supremacy of early-declaring receivers by analysts throughout the industry.
- Anthony Amico: Two Easy Tricks to Find Better WR Prospects
- Rich Hribar: Should You Avoid Non-Early Declare Wide Receivers?
- Blair Andrews: One Weird Trick for Finding Top WR Prospects: Early Declaration and Draft Age
On top of that, Bateman produced right away as a true freshman.
While No. 1 receiver Tyler Johnson soaked up high-percentage targets in the slot, Bateman served as the top outside receiver for the Gophers, finishing No. 2 on the team with 51 receptions, 704 yards and six touchdowns receiving in 13 games.
And then as a sophomore, Bateman exploded with an undeniably great campaign. Although he still played behind Johnson, Bateman was one of the most impressive receivers in the nation.
- Johnson (2019, 13 games): 86-1,318-13 receiving
- Bateman (2019, 13 games): 60-1,219-11 receiving
With an early freshman breakout and a dominant sophomore season, Bateman (like Chase) probably could have sat out his junior year before declaring for the draft. But after the Big Ten decided to play football in 2020, Bateman returned for an abbreviated season.
At a glance, Bateman’s junior numbers don’t look great: 36-472-2 receiving.
But they should be placed in context: He played just five games, which means that his per-game yardage production was almost identical.
- 2019 (13 games): 93.8 yards per game
- 2020 (5 games): 94.4 yards per game
Granted, his per-game touchdown production markedly declined in 2020, but that had more to do with the offense than with him: The team passed for only four touchdowns in his five games, which means that he had an elite market share of receiving touchdowns (MSTDs).
- 2019 (13 games): 0.85 TDs per game | 35.5% MSTDs
- 2020 (5 games): 0.4 TDs per game | 50% MSTDs
And SIS grades his 2019-20 campaigns similarly (and excellently) using the proprietary Total Points Rating (TPR, scaled 50-99).
- 2019: 99 TPR per route | 99 TPR per play
- 2020: 99 TPR per route | 99 TPR per play
It’s worth noting that in every efficiency statistic, Bateman did regress in 2020 as the No. 1 receiver in the offense. Without Johnson to pull coverage, Bateman fell short of his strong 2019 numbers (per SIS).
Average Depth of Target
- 2019: 15.8 yards
- 2020: 9.8 yards
Yards per Target
- 2019: 12.4
- 2020: 8.4
Reception Rate on Catchable Targets
- 2019: 91%
- 2020: 82%
Yards After Catch per Reception
- 2019: 6.0
- 2020: 5.6
- 2019: 121.1
- 2020: 80.4
Yards per Route Run
- 2019: 2.6
- 2020: 1.6
But these numbers warrant some consideration.
First, Bateman had the exact same positive play rate vs. man coverage (53%), so it’s not as if he was incompetent as a receiver.
Second, Bateman in 2020 was No. 1 in the nation with 15.1 targets above expectation per 100 routes (SIS). Based on contextual factors — where he lined up, how the defense played him, etc. — Bateman was targeted at an obscene rate (because the offense had no one else to throw to), and with the ball being forced to him, his efficiency was destined to drop.
Third, the coaching staff pushed Bateman into the “Johnson role” in 2020. Whereas Bateman lined up primarily on the perimeter in 2018-19, as a junior he replaced Johnson in the slot, where Bateman played the supermajority of his snaps.
- 2018: 9% slot rate
- 2019: 15% slot rate
- 2020: 67% slot rate
With his move to the middle of the field, Bateman was bound to experience a decline in efficiency.
So I don’t hold his third-year underperformance against him, especially since he had to deal with the aftereffects of COVID-19, including weight loss (more on that later).
If anything, Bateman’s junior season serves to highlight his versatility and functionality: We know now that he can line up on the perimeter and also in the slot, and regardless of where he is in the formation, he can win at a similar rate against man coverage. All of that made him a worthy pick in Round 1.
But the hype for Bateman in the buildup to the draft got a little out of control. He has some great highlights.
Rashod Bateman is an advanced route-runner with strong hands in open and contested situations.
He can create separation at and away from the LOS, very smart and likely a top-50 pick.
(also lost 10 pounds battling COVID in 2020, the 2019 tape is stellar)pic.twitter.com/lInR8uwWhp
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) April 1, 2021
When he scores touchdowns, Bateman looks like the best receiver in college football.
Here is every single Rashod Bateman touchdown for Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/PvI7htjCPg
— James Simpson (@JS_Football) March 30, 2021
But he’s not a walking highlight reel. His average is not him at his best.
PFF graded Bateman as the top perimeter receiver in the Big Ten for the 2019-20 seasons.
That’s kind of convenient, considering that he played most of his snaps last year in the slot, no?
I like Mina Kimes, so please don’t take this as Mina slander, but when someone with her large audience and big influence turns stan for a player, that’s probably a sign that his market is inflated.
It was definitely inflated after his pro day. The big headline from the event was that he ran an unofficial 4.39-second 40-yard dash.
My friends, I have some stuff to say.
- I have watched way too many videos of pro day 40-yard dashes in my life. To me, that’s not what a 4.39-second 40 looks like. Maybe I’m wrong.
- While some scouts had Bateman’s best time at 4.39 seconds, multiple scouts had him in the 4.4s.
- A hand-timed pro day 40 time is about 0.03 seconds faster than the gold-standard combine 40, so within the context of most historical receiver prospects, Bateman is not a true 4.39-second 40 guy.
- Even if we give Bateman the credit of his unofficial time — I’m personally going with 4.41 seconds — he doesn’t play with that kind of athleticism on the field. He’s more of a technician and physical imposer than a silky speedster, and that might be a problem for him in the NFL, because …
- Bateman is much smaller than we expected him to be.
That should have been the headline from his pro day: SMALL.
In the big picture, it’s not as if Bateman is egregiously small. He’s much bigger than Smith, for instance. But Bateman entered evaluation season widely regarded as one of the few sizable receivers in the class, and his pro day measurements put the lie to that idea.
It’s not that he can’t be successful at his size in the NFL, but he has fewer outs.
Phrased differently: If a big receiver runs fast, he’s special. If a smaller receiver runs fast, he’s merely checking a box. At his size, Bateman is officially a smaller receiver, so what he did at his pro day was nothing special, but people are talking about his performance as if he proved himself to be some sort of athletic marvel. He didn’t.
In the RV Freak Score Calculator, which judges a player’s “athletic freakiness” based on his height, weight, 40 time and position, Bateman earns a Freak Score of just 54 (scaled 0-100). And if we adjust his 40 time to the more modest 4.43 seconds that some scouts had for him, his Freak Score drops to 50, which makes him utterly average.
The 40 time is nice: Bateman’s timed athleticism is better than I thought it would be. But I’d rather he were big and a little slower than small and supposedly fast — because, again, speed is not his game. He is not Stefon Diggs.
If your response is, "Bateman's the same size as Stefon Diggs, and that's who he'll be in the NFL," then just maybe …
1. You are a fan of Minnesota sports teams.
2. You need to get get over Stefon Diggs.
3. You are not objective.
I look forward to hearing about how I'm wrong. https://t.co/733BZGlNbR
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 5, 2021
Bateman does not run away from defenders on the football field. He outmaneuvers them. He outfights them. He outcompetes them. But he doesn’t often outrun them.
Without his listed size and absent truly game-changing speed, Bateman is likely to be less of a specialist and more of a generalist in the NFL.
With his college production, early declaration and expected draft capital, I still project Bateman for multiple 1,000-yard seasons, even with his present circumstances. But I strongly doubt he will ever be one of the league’s best receivers.
NFL Prospect Comp: Robert Woods but older, smaller, and faster
11. Terrace Marshall, WR, Panthers
Terrace Marshall Fantasy Analysis
I wish Marshall had gone higher in the draft, but he fell because of injury concerns.
Even so, I like his long-term fit in Carolina, where reunites with OC Joe Brady, who was the passing game coordinator for the 2019 title-winning LSU team.
That Brady worked with Marshall in college and wanted to work with him again in the NFL — even though he didn’t even have his best collegiate campaign under Brady — speaks to how highly the coordinator must think of his player.
Panthers HC Matt Rhule has explicitly stated that the organization values elite athletic measurables, and there may be no more physically gifted receiver in the class than Marshall, given his size/speed combination.
It’s not hard to imagine the Panthers wanting to leverage Marshall’s athleticism immediately.
As a rookie, he will likely play behind wide receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, and veteran free agent signee David Moore could relegate him to the No. 4 receiver role — but Marshall has the talent and draft capital to break into three-wide sets sooner rather than later, and the Panthers have no established tight end in the offense, so opportunities for receivers could abound.
And by 2022 Marshall could be the No. 2 receiver in the offense — maybe even a co-No. 1 with Moore. With his size and speed and collegiate experience out wide and in the slot, Marshall is versatile enough to line up all over the formation, which should enable him to contributor quickly.
As a rookie, Marshall will likely be a volatile-though-playmaking receiver who sees inconsistent target volume, but as he moves into his career he could become a reliable producer. Long term, he has top-10 positional upside.
I should say this: It’s hard for me to be objective about Marshall. He has so many characteristics I crave in wide receivers.
I have Bateman rated higher — but I very much want to put Marshall ahead of him.
As we saw at his pro day, he is big and fast — bigger than his teammate Chase and almost as fast.
Here’s what’s especially impressive to me: Not only did Marshall blaze his 40-yard dash, looking like a small D.K. Metcalf in the process …
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) March 31, 2021
… but he did it on just one attempt because he entered his pro day with a hamstring tweak and wanted to avoid an aggravation.
Think about that: A guy of his size with a 40 time that fast … on a hamstring that isn’t 100%.
But it’s not a surprise that Marshall is a true athletic marvel: He was a five-star recruit entering college. In fact, he was widely considered the No. 1 receiver prospect in the nation even though he suffered significant ankle and leg injuries his senior year of high school — the very injuries that hampered him as a freshman and dropped him down the draft board.
On top of that, he’s an early declarant who will be 21 years old as a rookie.
The one big analytical knock on him is production: He did not break out in his first collegiate year, and at no point did he outproduce Jefferson or Chase.
It’s true: Marshall did nothing as a true freshman with just 12-192-0 receiving in 13 games as a rotational receiver behind Jefferson and Chase.
But Marshall did break out as a 19-year-old true sophomore in 2019 with 46-671-13 receiving in 12 games for the national championship-winning Tigers, and then in 2020 he emerged as the No. 1 receiver for LSU with 48-731-10 receiving in seven games (he missed the final three games of the season because he opted out).
Granted, Marshall dominated within the LSU offense only once Jefferson (NFL) and Chase (COVID-19 opt-out) were no longer on the team, but I don’t hold that against Marshall. Jefferson just had the greatest rookie wide receiver season of all time, and Chase won the Biletnikoff Award in 2019 as the best receiver in college football — and, even so, Marshall was able to carve out a significant role for himself within the offense as a sophomore. That’s still impressive.
On top of that, Marshall was better in 2019 than his final numbers suggest. In the first four games of the season, he had production that was comparable to Chase and Jefferson.
In his fourth game, however, he suffered a fractured toe, and he missed the next three games.
- There is a massive statistical difference between what he did before and after the injury. It’s possible that he wasn’t truly healthy when he returned to action and that he played the remainder of the season at far less than full capacity.
- At the time of his injury, Marshall led the nation with six touchdowns receiving.
If not for his injury, Marshall might have joined Chase and Jefferson as a 1,000-10 receiver in 2019.
And now Marshall has Round 2 draft capital.
Even if we don’t take his strong athletic profile into account, all of this puts him in an elite historical cohort of receiver prospects: Early declarants who are 21 years old as rookies and selected in Rounds 1-2 and who have 100-plus scrimmage yards in a college season.
2011-20: Rds. 1-2 WRs – 21yo early declarants w/ 100 yds/g in a season:
– Justin Jefferson
– CeeDee Lamb
– Curtis Samuel
– JuJu Smith-Schuster
– Amari Cooper
– Brandin Cooks
– Mike Evans
– Allen Robinson
– Sammy Watkins
– DeAndre Hopkins
– Robert Woods
🚀 Terrace Marshall?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 6, 2021
With his draft capital, junior-year production, age and abbreviated college tenure, Marshall has a real chance to be a star.
From an on-field perspective, what I like about Marshall is that he can play on the perimeter and in the interior. As a freshman, he played almost exclusively on the outside. As a sophomore, he still saw the majority of his snaps on the perimeter, but he also rotated into the slot on 41% of his reps. And then as a junior he took over the full-time “Jefferson slot role,” seeing 72% of his snaps in the middle (per SIS).
So he has the flexibility to line up all over the field, and he can do so with comparable efficacy.
As a junior, his average depth of target massively dropped because of his move to the slot.
- 2019: 14.2 yards
- 2020: 8.9 yards
Even so, Marshall’s efficiency was about the same — on significantly more target volume (per SIS).
Targets Per Game
- 2019: 5.6
- 2020: 10.3
Yards per Target
- 2019: 10.0
- 2020: 10.2
- 2019: 140.6
- 2020: 133.7
Positive Play Rate vs. Man
- 2019: 69%
- 2020: 64%
Yards per Route Run
- 2019: 1.6
- 2020: 1.9
With his size, Marshall is one of the few big-bodied receivers in the class. And with his ability to line up all across the formation, he can be an every-down contributor early in his NFL career.
Marshall was a top-quintile receiver in 2020 with his 81.1 PFF receiving grade, 82% contested catch rate and 81.8 grade vs. man coverage. The numbers suggest Marshall can produce.
Love the Marshall hype.
Here's the thing… we're pretty damn sure Justin Jefferson's market share was suppressed in 2019 playing alongside Ja'Marr Chase. How do you think it affected true sophomore Marshall to be behind Chase *and* Jefferson in 2019? The ceiling here is huge. https://t.co/TOxJKCiqU4
— Patrick Kerrane (@PatKerrane) April 6, 2021
Aesthetically, however, Marshall has problems. To many film-grinding aficionados, he is an incredibly raw receiver who reeks of incompleteness.
In 2020, he had seven drops on 55 catchable targets (per PFF). Much of his production and volume was schemed. He’s a stiff and awkward route runner with a limited tree. He lacks explosion off the line of scrimmage and can be pushed off his routes by physical press corners.
Essentially, the eye test indicates that he’s more of an athlete than a football player.
The tape watchers are probably right: When I look at Marshall’s film, I don’t see a guy who is incredibly smooth … and that’s part of what intrigues me. Even with mediocre football skills, Marshall found a way to dominate in 2020.
What happens if he actually learns to play football in the NFL?
And, besides, many dominant NFL receivers have success more through their physicality than their football nuance. When was the last time people praised Julio Jones for his routes?
I don’t want to discount what the film watchers are saying, but I’m also not going to put much weight into it. It’s hard to quantify “limited route runner,” and I’m not even sure if that matters anyway.
What matters — at least to me — is that I like Marshall. Even at No. 11, he feels a little low to me, and when push comes to shove in my personal drafts, I might reach for him.
NFL Prospect Comp: DeVante Parker with more youth and less time in college but also less draft capital
12. Rondale Moore, WR, Cardinals
Rondale Moore Fantasy Fit with Cardinals
This is an exciting landing spot for Moore … sort of.
He’s basically the new Andy Isabella, and I like Isabella, so I’m saddened to see one of my former draft darlings die — but death comes for us all eventually. I expect Moore jump ahead of Isabella on the depth chart rather quickly, and even veteran Christian Kirk is vulnerable, given that he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal and has failed to break out.
DeAndre Hopkins is locked in as the No. 1 receiver, but Moore could be the No. 2 option by the middle of the season: A.J. Green and Kirk will likely open the year as starters in three-wide sets — but they can be overtaken.
Although he’ll have a limited ceiling because of Hopkins’ target dominance, Moore could still produce as a complementary Will Fuller-esque playmaker.
Say what you want about Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury, but he might have a sense about how to use Moore within the offense.
Moore is a player I will be very happy to select in rookie drafts.
The numbers — the attributes — that tend to translate into NFL success Moore possesses in abundance.
He broke out at 18 years old, and he broke out as a true freshman with 114-1,258-12 receiving in 13 games.
What Moore did against Ohio State in 2018 was unholy: 12-170-2 receiving & 2-24-0 rushing.
The guy is as explosive as any player in the game. (8/15)https://t.co/R5qtN5RNgO
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) February 27, 2021
Breakout age and experience are incredibly predictive for receivers. That Moore produced at a high level in such a precocious and immediate fashion is a boon to his NFL projection.
He also exhibited a multidimensional skill set in college. In his 2018 breakout season, he did more than enough as a receiver to warrant sustained excitement, but what he did as a runner and returner really distinguishes him.
- Rushing: 21-213-2 | 10.1 yards per carry
- Kick Returning: 33-662-0 | 20.1 yards per return
- Punt Returning: 12-82-0 | 6.8 yards per return
College receivers who regularly contribute as runners and returners have historically had outsized odds of NFL success relative to their draft position. As demonstrated by his rushing and returning prowess, Moore has the type of get-the-ball-in-his-hands-in-whatever-way-possible playmaking ability that translates to the next level.
As an early declarant who will be 21 years old as a rookie, Moore could have 10-plus years ahead of him in the NFL. And with his Round 2 draft capital, he should get opportunities early in his career.
Moore is short. There’s no getting around it. But he’s also incredibly stout and very athletic.
Rondale Moore isn't a frail speedster. The dude is jacked.
He's basically a miniature WR version of Saquon Barkley. (4/15)https://t.co/C5WHJCOrJe
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) February 27, 2021
To me, his physical profile is not an issue, especially since we’ve seen small-ish speedsters have NFL success. At 180 pounds, Moore is big enough to produce in the NFL — just as he was big enough to dominate in the Big Ten. All the conversations to do with Moore’s size: I think they’re useless.
Moore doesn’t win with his size: He wins with speed. So as long as his size is sufficient and his speed is legitimate, he’s good to go.
As he showed at the Purdue pro day, he has the speed.
— StaceyDales (@StaceyDales) March 23, 2021
Across the board, Moore’s athletic test was immaculate (per RV Workout Explorer).
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.30 seconds (adjusted), 99th percentile
- Short Shuttle: 4.06 seconds, 93rd percentile
- Three Cone: 6.65 seconds, 94th percentile
- Vertical Jump: 42.5 inches, 98th percentile
Even with his diminutive stature, he has one of the best physical profiles in the receiver cohort. That shouldn’t be a surprise: In the 2018 recruitment class, he was the No. 1 SPARQ athlete.
Because of various but fluky-ish injuries, Moore played just seven games in 2019-20. Even so, he put up 98.9 scrimmage yards per game in his two final seasons. The guy produced.
It’s fair to question his style of play: In his two final seasons of college, Moore was rarely targeted downfield.
In the NFL, few guys can survive only on targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. If all Moore can do is catch screens and slants, he will likely be a limited professional player, as we’ve seen with the somewhat comparable Tavon Austin.
Unlike Austin, though, Moore I suspect actually has the ability to catch the ball downfield. In his two final seasons, Moore was victimized by circumstances beyond his control, as Purdue HC Jeff Brohm oversaw an uninspiring offense quarterbacked by the tolerable-at-best trio of Jack Plummer, Aidan O’Connell and Elijah Sindelar.
That Moore wasn’t targeted beyond 10 yards in 2019-20 almost certainly says more about the offense and the quarterbacks than about him.
To my untrained eye, Moore has the elite short-area quickness and burst to run good routes. And when he actually was asked to run routes downfield in college, he did that with subtlety and success. Even with his size, I rarely saw him struggle to get off the line of scrimmage: He has the strength and more importantly the speed to be a well-rounded NFL receiver.
With his age, draft capital and breakout and physical profiles, Moore is easily one of the most complete and exciting receiver prospects to enter the league in the past five years.
NFL Prospect Comp: Curtis Samuel with more receiving production and a better breakout history
13. Kadarius Toney, WR, Giants
Kadarius Toney Fantasy Fit with Giants
Sharp mockers faded Toney down the stretch, but he landed in Round 1. Even so, meh.
The landing spot leaves much to be desired. Toney is more of a speedster than a receiver, so it will be hard for him to draw targets via talent: Many of his opportunities will likely need to be schemed for him.
And that’s not a given to happen. The Giants should theoretically be incentivized to target Toney since they just used a premium pick to acquire him — but wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard will likely play ahead of him in New York, and even tight end Evan Engram and running back Saquon Barkley could see more targets.
In an offense quarterbacked by Daniel Jones and coordinated by Jason Garrett, Toney is a less-than-desirable fantasy option for 2021 — and maybe beyond.
The main problem with Toney — and I say this with all respect — is that he might not be good at football.
When both #ReceptionPerception and the Fantasy Z-Score both tell you to avoid a first round pick… it might be a good idea to listen:https://t.co/bqAD38kGc7 https://t.co/8TvgZlLOdE pic.twitter.com/YRE83xBMjQ
— David Zäch (@DavidZach16) April 30, 2021
The downside Toney has is significant. Yes, he has upside with his draft capital and athleticism — but let’s focus on his downside first.
Toney looks exactly like the wide receivers teams draft on Day 1 and then cut unceremoniously two years later. That sounds cruel, but it’s true.
ICYMI: This is also a Kadarius Toney tweet … https://t.co/4fpXImNkJ1
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 11, 2021
Sharp dynasty investors prioritize rookie receivers who break out early in college and then leave early for the NFL. Toney didn’t break out until his senior season. LOLz.
So Toney isn’t beloved in the analytics community, and yet he’s also not esteemed by the film hive because he’s an incredibly inconsistent and un-nuanced route runner who plays to his smallish size, especially against physical and bigger cornerbacks.
As a receiver, Toney is limited. In his two final seasons he played the supermajority of snaps in the slot, and when he ventured to the outside, he was literally a negative in the passing game (per SIS).
Slot Route Rate
- 2019: 69%
- 2020: 70%
- 2019: 0
- 2020: -1
With his speed and agility, Toney is incredibly strong against the softness of zone coverage, but he is much less capable against man defense (per SIS).
Positive Play Rate
- Zone Coverage: 85%
- Man Coverage: 58%
But aside from all of that, HE’S THE PERFECT PROSPECT.
I’m joking. He has more flaws.
In college, Toney regularly dealt with availability issues. As a freshman, he missed three games and struggled to play through others because of injuries. As a sophomore, he was suspended for the season opener because he pulled an airsoft rifle in an on-campus altercation and then a couple of months later was discovered to have an assault rifle in his car during a traffic stop.
And then as a junior he missed six games because of a shoulder injury.
Basically, he’s Percy Harvin with some off-the-field issues and without 70% of the factors that made Harvin a special prospect.
And I mean that sincerely.
With his strong pro day performance, Toney exhibited some Harvin-esque athleticism.
And you see on the field that Toney is not a technician, but he’s an explosive and agile playmaker capable of turning any touch into a touchdown against the most staggering of odds.
Thinking about submitting a piece to my editor that is just screen grabs of Kadarius Toney highlights with the caption "Kadarius Toney really scored on this play" pic.twitter.com/ppHLycD0zc
— Luke Johnson (@ByLukeJohnson) April 5, 2021
Every week of the 2020 season, Toney seemed to accomplish some athletic feat that made TV announcers verbally ooze themselves with the utmost of superlatives.
Kadarius Toney adds to the highlight reel every week. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/FPyRz12R1Q
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 13, 2020
And he did it as a receiver, runner, and returner. Like Harvin, Toney gets his touches in a variety of ways. He is unapologetically versatile — for better and worse.
For the first three years of his college career, Toney was a general utility player who contributed in a part-time hybrid role as a wide receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback and return man.
- 2017 (8 games): 15-152-0 receiving | 14-120-1 rushing
- 2018 (12 games): 25-260-1 receiving | 21-240-0 rushing
- 2019 (7 games): 10-194-1 receiving | 12-59-0 rushing
In the worst of ways, he was a jack-of-some-trades offensive weapon, a gadget player. I say this without hyperbole: As a receiver, he was more valuable running the ball out of the backfield and on end-arounds than catching it.
For his first three seasons, Toney was an absurdist caricature of Antonio Callaway. A dual-threat high-school quarterback, Toney was always likely to have a steep learning curve as he transitioned to receiver in college. Unfortunately, he took almost the entirety of his undergraduate tenure to trek the hill of competence.
Finally, though, Toney reached the summit and transformed himself into a full-time all-around producer in his 11-game final season.
- Receiving: 70-984-10
- Rushing: 19-161-1
- Punt Returning: 11-139-1
- Kick Returning: 7-155-0
That Toney is athletic and versatile are undeniable factors in his favor. If you look at him only at his best, he can warrant some all-time comps.
Kadarius Toney's NFL comp is Dante Hall for a reason.
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) January 27, 2021
But do not forget: Toney is a final-year breakout entering the NFL only after his collegiate eligibility has expired. That is a massive mark against him, even with his draft capital.
You add on top of that the fact that Toney is less of a football player and more of an athlete, and his most realistic comp all of a sudden seems much less enticing.
NFL Prospect Comp: Dante Pettis with more rushing production but a later college breakout and less returning production
- 14. Michael Carter: RB, Jets
- 15. Trey Lance: QB, 49ers
- 16. Trevor Lawrence: QB, Jaguars
- 17. Amari Rodgers: WR, Packers
- 18. D’Wayne Eskridge: WR, Seahawks
- 19. Dyami Brown: WR, Football Team
- 20. Pat Freiermuth: TE, Steelers
Carter is the last of the true lead back candidates in this class. Bleh.
Last year, in my top 36 fantasy rookie rankings I didn't have one RB drafted outside the top 100.
This year, an uncomfortable number of Day 3 & UDFA RBs will need to be included if the top 36 is to have more than 4 RBs.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
I doubt he will actually make it to No. 14 in most rookie drafts, but I couldn’t rank a Round 4 back ahead of wide receivers who went in Rounds 1-2. I just couldn’t. If that means I miss out on Carter 100% of the time, so be it.
As for the quarterbacks: Yes … I have Lance ahead of Lawrence. I will probably regret this ranking for years to come. Lance is younger, he has more rushing ability and he is in the Shanahan offense. I respect Lawrence, but I’m taking a shot on Lance’s fantasy upside vs. Lawrence’s real-life superiority.
At wide receiver, Rodgers, Eskridge and Brown all produced in college and have a chance to be NFL starters as rookies.
Freiermuth is the clear No. 2 tight end in rookie drafts, and given the overall lack of talent in this class I’d rather take him ahead of most Round 3 receivers and Round 4 running backs.
14. Michael Carter, RB, Jets
Michael Carter Fantasy Analysis
Given that the Jets entered the draft with La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman and Josh Adams at running back, Carter looks like he has a real chance to emerge as the Week 1 starter. His competition is incredibly weak.
Michael Carter: No. 1 RB for the Jets, Savior of Day 3.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
With his draft capital, size and college production, Carter looks a lot like Devonta Freeman (PP’s top comp for him), and that’s intriguing given that new Jets OC Mike LaFleur was with the Falcons as an offensive assistant for the 2015-16 seasons, when Freeman broke out with his two best NFL campaigns.
A longtime Shanahan disciple, LaFleur is expected to use a zone running scheme in New York, and that fits Carter well.
Michael Carter is the best zone runner in this class. Seamless fit with the Jets, who’ll be implementing a wide zone scheme with LaFleur. https://t.co/uva1SV2026
— J Moyer (@JMoyerFB) May 1, 2021
The Jets offense could be horrible, and Carter is a small back with mediocre speed and modest draft capital — but he has some potential to be a fantasy contributor in 2021.
But I should say that I think a Freeman-like career is his best-case scenario, and I’m not an optimist.
I expect Carter to be a competent, yet unremarkable, NFL back for maybe a half decade. I think he fits best as a change-of-pace committee back, but with the Jets he could get the opportunity to start right away, and maybe he’ll impress.
Carter is a good player. I just doubt that he can be a long-term high-volume back.
An immediate contributor as a true freshman, Carter had 97-559-8 rushing and 11-100-1 receiving in 11 games as the No. 2 back in the offense, and although his touchdown production declined the following year, Carter played well enough as a sophomore with 84-597-2 rushing and 25-135-1 receiving in nine games to force a three-way committee with upperclassmen Antonio Williams and Jordon Brown.
As a junior, Carter finally broke out. He had to split the backfield with the heralded and productive Williams, but Carter played slightly ahead of him as the No. 1 back and actually outproduced him in scrimmage yards (1,157 vs. 1,109).
- Michael Carter (13 games): 177-1,003-3 rushing | 21-154-2 receiving
- Javonte Williams (13 games): 166-933-5 rushing | 17-176-1 receiving
On top of that, Carter served as the team’s top kick returner in 2019, putting up a 19-466-0 stat line on kickoffs.
As a senior, Carter continued to deal with and manage the presence of Williams, who massively outproduced him as a touchdown scorer, but once again Carter was the more prolific back in scrimmage yards (1,512 vs. 1,445).
- Michael Carter (11 games): 156-1,245-9 rushing | 25-267-2 receiving
- Javonte Williams (11 games): 157-1,140-19 rushing | 25-305-3 receiving
Despite consistently playing the lightning role to the thunder function of other, bigger backs, Carter was one tough cookie in college. He runs the way Dewey Cox walks: Hard.
Also, there’s a 100% chance that’s the first time I’ve ever used the phrase “one tough cookie.” Cash that ticket.
With his low center of gravity and stout trunk, Carter plays through contact on every play, and he does an excellent job of transforming patience into power as he explodes through the holes his blockers create. He has the body of a scat back but the heart of a grinder.
If I were the type of person who studies film, I might say that Carter is a “meat-and-potatoes runner.” I don’t know what that means, and yet it feels accurate. As a runner, he provides a healthy serving of protein and carbohydrates. You know, power.
But Carter’s best attribute is not power: It’s his agility, and you see that in his workout numbers. Although Carter exhibited underwhelming speed and explosiveness at the UNC pro day, he was elite in his agility drills, especially his short shuttle (per RV Workout Explorer).
If you look at the SIS running back leaderboard, you see that Carter was one of the most dynamic rushers and receivers in the nation last year, despite his smallish size and mediocre speed and explosiveness.
Yards per Carry
- Michael Carter: 8.0
- Khalil Herbert: 7.7
Yards per Route Run
- Travis Etienne: 1.6
- Michael Carter: 1.2
How was Carter able to put up such elite efficiency numbers? Agility.
The dude is like a Madden juke. He stacks moves on moves.
Definitely not sleeping on Michael Carter. Vision, wicked cuts, can catch, breaks tackles… pic.twitter.com/FNQ0NOyHh8
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) February 26, 2021
And his agility also shows up in the receiving game: Carter is one of the best pass-catching backs in the class, and he runs crisp routes, routinely shaking defenders with his stop-start twitchiness. I like how the PFF Draft Guide puts it: “Accomplished receiver who can pants linebackers in coverage.” That’s exactly what he is.
Carter, though, has some obvious flags.
First: His size. He’s not built like a lead back, which makes sense, because …
Second: His workload. At no point in college was Carter a true lead back. Not in one season did he have even 200 touches from scrimmage.
Third: His athleticism. Agility is nice, but speed is nicer. Without breakaway celerity, Carter is unlikely to be an explosively efficient NFL producer — and that makes him a rather unexciting candidate for lead back usage.
His top two comps in the RV Box Score Scout are telling, especially given how comparable they really are.
- Bilal Powell: 100 similarity score
- Kendall Hunter: 100 similarity score
Powell and Hunter both enjoyed some lead back hype early in their careers, and while he never had even 200 carries in an NFL season, Powell did manage to cobble together some respectable production. In 2016-17, he averaged 1,026 yards from scrimmage per season. But for most of his tenure, he was a change-of-pace back.
I expect Carter to have moderate NFL success, because he’s actually good at football. I don’t, however, imagine he will be a long-term backfield leader.
A short-yet-sturdy, slow-yet-slippery running back with plus receiving skills out of North Carolina: Stop me if you’ve heard this joke before …
NFL Prospect Comp: Giovani Bernard with a later breakout and less draft capital, receiving production and returning production
15. Trey Lance, QB, 49ers
Trey Lance Fantasy Analysis
Even before the draft, Lance was my favorite quarterback in this class. I knew he wasn’t the best prospect among the Big Five, but I thought he had a shot to be the best professional. I wasn’t ranking him No. 1 at the position, but I was committed to acquiring him aggressively.
In my pre-draft Lance Profile, I ended with these words.
With his relative inexperience, passing issues and production vs. low-level competition, Lance might be a bust. But if he booms, the explosion will be magnificent to witness.
I want him everywhere. Acquiring him in dynasty leagues is one of my top priorities.
And that’s especially the case now that he’s with Shanahan in San Francisco, a clear “stock up” location.
I love everything about the landing spot.
Since 2018, Russell Wilson averages 7.84 yards per pass attempt
Over the same span, Nick Mullens averages 7.9 and Jimmy Garoppolo averages 8.2 (behind only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes)
With the elite weapons SF has, Trey Lance can average a 7.5 YPA average on a 2.3 aDOT https://t.co/hYL7spTdec
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 30, 2021
Lance has the rushing production to make him viable in fantasy even if he’s subpar in reality, and in the Shanahan offense he should have many opportunities schemed open for him as a passer.
For much of the process leading up to the draft, it looked like Mac Jones would be the pick — but I’m thrilled it’s Lance. As a fantasy analyst and football fan, thrilled. I could not be happier.
Whenever Lance becomes the starter — whether that’s Week 1, in the middle of the season or in 2022 — he should be a viable fantasy starter with immense upside right away.
Lance going to the 49ers is a dream: That’s why he’s now my No. 1 quarterback in rookie drafts.
If you think that’s aggressive, I understand. No worries. Feel free to take Lawrence No. 1. He’s a great option. Or trade down, pick up some more assets, let someone else take Lawrence first — and then draft Lance, just so you feel that you’re not reaching.
But if I’m on the clock, and I want to take a quarterback, and I can’t trade down — I’m probably taking Lance. I’m not 100% sure yet, and every team and league is different … but I’m leaning strongly toward Lance.
In SF/2QB leagues, he’s my No. 1 overall pick.
The breadth of his comps speaks to his wide range of NFL outcomes.
- Lance Zierlein: Josh Allen
- Thor Nystrom: Steve McNair
- Player Profiler: Matthew Stafford
- Pro Football Focus: Taysom Hill (with arm talent)
Like Allen, Lance is raw. Like McNair, he is a strong, tough-to-tackle runner. Like Stafford, he is young — he will be 21 years old as a rookie. And like Hill, he will likely need time to develop.
Lightly recruited out of high school, Lance had the opportunity to play in the Ivy League for Cornell, in the MAC for Northern Illinois, in the FCS for powerhouse North Dakota State — or in the Big Ten at Minnesota (his local school and desired location) … but as a safety, not a quarterback.
Lance chose to stay at quarterback, and he signed with the Bison. He chose well.
In 2018 he dressed every game of the title season, but he technically redshirted as the No. 3 quarterback and saw limited action in just two contests, completing his one attempt for 12 yards while flashing his wheels with 8-82-2 rushing.
In 2019, though, he broke out as a redshirt freshman with one of the most dominant FCS campaigns in recent history.
40 yard tear drop in rhythm of a three-step drop. Hold all my calls. pic.twitter.com/j8MhJ2o7tG
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) February 16, 2021
Starting all 16 games, he led the Bison to a record-setting 16-0 season and national championship with 2,786-28-0 passing on a 66.9% completion rate and 156-1,159-14 rushing (excluding sacks, per SIS).
I want to be sure you appreciate those numbers: zero interceptions and well over 1,000 yards rushing. The rushing production in particular was something to behold.
Trey Lance is big and uses his size in the run game. He lowers the shoulder here on a poor DB. pic.twitter.com/mdsHPFGkTq
— Inside The Draft (@Jacobkeppen) February 23, 2021
For his remarkable season, Lance won the Walter Payton Award as the most outstanding offensive FCS player in the nation.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Dakota State’s 2020 season was postponed to the spring of 2021, but the team did play one game — essentially an exhibition against Central Arkansas — in October.
Under these abnormal circumstances with little time to prepare, Lance had perhaps the worst game of his undergraduate career: He completed just 50% of his passes and threw his first (and only) interception of college. Oh my — how embarrassing!
Before the draft, some evaluators talked about this one game as if it was somehow representative of anything and as if Lance actually played poorly. Given the circumstances, the game was meaningless, and Lance didn’t have a bad game. He had 148 yards and two touchdowns passing and was 13-164-2 rushing. Overall, that’s a dominant performance.
Shortly after the game, Lance opted out of the rest of the season and declared for the NFL draft. So here we are, looking at an incredibly accomplished but developmental quarterback … who now has premium draft capital and a passing game guru as his play caller and coach.
In some regards, Lance was similar to Jones as a prospect: Both started just 17 games in college, but what they accomplished as individuals and team leaders in limited action was remarkable. But, unlike Jones, Lance didn’t play at the highest level of college football, and he hardly threw the ball: As a starter, he attempted just 18.6 passes per game.
But I’m not too worried about Lance as a passer. He’s far from a finished product. He doesn’t throw with great anticipation or accuracy. He tends to leave the pocket early when pressured. He doesn’t drive with his legs when throwing deep. He can be tentative in attacking the defense. But he also doesn’t have bad mechanical habits that need to be unlearned. He’s a workable prospect.
He’s intelligent and driven. In college, he played in a pro-style system. He can produce inside and outside of the pocket. He can throw with touch to the sidelines. He pushes the ball downfield with his career average depth of target of 11.5 yards (per PFF). And he has a strong arm, as evidenced by some of the throws we saw at the North Dakota State pro day.
Trey Lance was throwing MISSILES all over the field at his Pro Day 👀🎯
— 247Sports (@247Sports) March 12, 2021
Lance certainly has the talent to be a functional-at-worst NFL passer.
But, really, who cares about his passing? Even if he never becomes an average passer, he could still be a league-winning fantasy quarterback because of his rushing ability.
With his size, Lance as a runner looks like a move tight end after the catch. He shreds arm tackles and stiff arms defensive backs.
Trey Lance needs to develop more as a passer… DOESN’T NEED TO DEVELOP MORE AS A RUNNER THOUGH. Wow runs all over his tape! pic.twitter.com/24pc0wdOEQ
— Inside The Draft (@Jacobkeppen) February 23, 2021
Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson: They’re all better than Lance right now. Even the immobile Jones is probably better.
But none of them has Lance’s divinely unholy combination of youth and rushing ability. None of them has his immense fantasy upside.
A complete list of 21-year-old dual-threat rookie quarterbacks selected in Round 1 in all of NFL history.
2001: Michael Vick
2018: Lamar Jackson
2021: Trey Lance
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 23, 2021
I still want him everywhere. Acquiring him in dynasty leagues is still one of my top priorities.
NFL Prospect Comp: Jalen Hurts with a quarterback-friendly coach and much more draft capital and size but much less experience
16. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence Fantasy Analysis
Months ago, I boldly predicted Lawrence would go to the Jags. I even bet it. I am known for my contrarian actionability.
Tweet from the Future: Trevor Lawrence No. 1 to the Jaguars.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 30, 2021
Although they were bad enough last year to earn the No. 1 pick, the Jags might be better than expected this year. They have an average-at-worst wide receiver trio with D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones and two good pass-catching backs in Etienne and James Robinson.
Lawrence’s first-year situation could be worse.
On top of that, the Doug Marrone coaching staff that underwhelmed in Jacksonville for much of the past five years is gone, replaced by shiny new HC Urban Meyer and veteran OC Darrell Bevell. The 2021 Jags might not be good, but they at least won’t be the boringly bad version of the team we’ve endured for the past half decade.
And maybe the Jags offense actually will be good.
Given the extent to which quarterbacks have had success with Meyer in college and Bevell in the NFL …
- Urban Meyer QBs: Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Dwayne Haskins
- Darrell Bevell QBs: Brett Favre, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford
… there’s a reasonable chance that Lawrence will be a semi-reliable fantasy option in even 1QB leagues as early as 2021.
And in future seasons — with his arm talent, scheme recognition, pocket presence and underappreciated rushing ability — Lawrence could be a reliable fantasy starter for years.
He looks like a future star. If you think he’s the No. 1 quarterback in rookie drafts, I don’t have a problem with it.
He was the No. 1 pocket passer among the 2018 recruits, he started almost right away at Clemson, and as a 19-year-old true freshman he led the Tigers to a 15-0 national championship season that featured an emphatic 44-16 win over then-undefeated Alabama in the title game.
In completion rate and adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A), Lawrence improved as a passer each year.
- 2018 (15 games): 65.2% completion rate | 9.3 AY/A
- 2019 (15 games): 65.8% completion rate | 9.9 AY/A
- 2020 (10 games): 69.2% completion rate | 10.2 AY/A
And he wasn’t a bad runner. His career mark of 6.8 yards per carry was very respectable (excluding sacks, per SIS). For context, dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond — drafted near the top of Round 3 — averaged 6.3 yards per carry in college. As a rusher, Lawrence can hold his own. At the worst, he’s not a negative.
In his entire college career, Lawrence lost only two games: #Winner.
It’s theoretically easy to knock Lawrence because he’s benefitted from playing with NFL-caliber players at Clemson — namely Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers. But in reality the high quality of his teammates is probably irrelevant as it pertains to a prediction of his NFL future.
While at Clemson and playing for HC Dabo Swinney, quarterback and predecessor Deshaun Watson was similarly blessed — perhaps even more than Lawrence was — with talented skill-position contributors.
- WRs: Mike Williams, Adam Humphries, Artavis Scott, Charone Peake, Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud
- TE: Jordan Leggett
- RB: Wayne Gallman
Watson’s teammate-aided production at Clemson was perhaps a little inflated, but the talent he flashed in college certainly presaged his NFL greatness, and that’s a great sign for Lawrence’s professional potential: We know Clemson and Swinney can produce a high-end NFL quarterback.
Although Lawrence was not nearly the runner that Watson was in college, Lawrence’s passing numbers more than stack up with Watson’s aerial production.
- Trevor Lawrence (40 games): 10,098-90-17 | 9.8 AY/A
- Deshaun Watson (38 games): 10,168-90-32 | 8.7 AY/A
Lawrence entered college as the top passer in his recruitment class, and he left Clemson as a national champion and one of the most anticipated draft prospects in NFL history.
And it’s not as if this matters, but his pro day performance was strong.
— NFL (@NFL) February 12, 2021
I think Lance has the higher fantasy ceiling because of his rushing ability and youth, but Lawrence certainly has the highest floor/ceiling combination at the position.
NFL Prospect Comp: Justin Herbert with more draft capital and recruitment pedigree but less college experience
17. Amari Rodgers, WR, Packers
Amari Rodgers Fantasy Analysis
Over the past 15 years, the Packers have crushed their wide receiver selections in Rounds 2-3.
Packers WRs Selected in Rounds 2-3 for the Past 15 Years:
– Greg Jennings (2006): 2.52
– James Jones (2007): 3.78
– Jordy Nelson (2008): 2.36
– Randall Cobb (2011): 2.64
– Davante Adams (2014): 2.53
– Ty Montgomery (2015): 3.94
And now Amari Rodgers at 3.85.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 2, 2021
Say whatever you want about Jones and Montgomery, but even they had sustained stretches of fantasy relevance. It would be hard to come up with a better list of receivers in Rounds 2-3 for any franchise.
It’s a positive indicator for Rodgers that he’s now on this list.
In theory, it’s a massive positive for Rodgers to be in Green Bay, where he can benefit from playing with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Of course …
Amari Rodgers feels like the nut fit with Aaron Rodgers. Unless…
— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) May 2, 2021
… the veteran quarterback might not be with the Packers much longer, given his desire to be traded. But GM Brian Gutekunst has said that the team will not trade the aging passer, and inertia is a strong force: If I had to bet, I’d bet on Aaron Rodgers playing for the Packers in 2021.
Assuming that’s the case, Amari Rodgers could flash as a rookie. After Davante Adams, the Packers are relatively thin at wide receiver: Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling currently hold the Nos. 2-3 spots.
With his draft position and talent, Rodgers should earn a spot in three-wide sets as a rookie — most likely in the slot, where he can be a Randall Cobb-esque short-yardage option — and with that kind of role, Rodgers could be a fantasy contributor right away, especially in PPR scoring.
Because Adams is such a target hog, Rodgers won’t break out in a big way in 2021, and he may never develop into more than a solid No. 2 receiver in the league, but his landing spot gives him notable long-term upside.
I should say that if Rodgers hadn’t been selected by the Packers I’d be less interested in him: Before the draft, I thought he was a relatively meh-tacular prospect. He has no special attributes as a receiver, and in the evaluation process there was talk that a team could draft him and move him to running back — as the Packers did with Montgomery.
And although I doubt the Packers will actually transition him to the backfield, it’s not hard to imagine Rodgers as a receiving back: He’d be phenomenal in that role.
Maybe he can transform his “back in the slot” potential into NFL production.
A coveted four-star recruit who received offers from Alabama, LSU and USC (among others), Rodgers ultimately enrolled at Clemson, a wise choice given how well the program has done at preparing receivers for the NFL.
Clemson HC Dabo Swinney played receiver in college and started out at Clemson as the wide receivers coach. His eye for talent at the position is unparalleled. If a guy has the official Swinney imprimatur, he’s likely to exceed expectations in the NFL.
Of all the Clemson receivers Swinney has had a hand in recruiting, here are the six to enter the NFL no later than Round 4.
- 1.04 (2014): Sammy Watkins – 1,048 yards, nine touchdowns in second season
- 1.07 (2017): Mike Williams – 11 touchdowns in second season, 1,003 yards in third season
- 1.27 (2013): DeAndre Hopkins – six 1,000-yard campaigns and three All-Pro selections
- 2.33 (2020): Tee Higgins – 908 yards, dix touchdowns as a rookie
- 4.108 (2010): Jacoby Ford – 625 yards, seven touchdowns as a rookie with limited playing time
- 4.118 (2014): Martavis Bryant – 1,102 yards, 14 touchdowns in first 16 NFL games
I defy you to name another college program that has so reliably produced NFL-ready receivers over the past decade.
As a freshman, Rodgers was a rotational receiver behind future NFL players Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud, finishing the season with a forgettable 19-123-0 receiving in 14 games.
As a sophomore, though, Rodgers took a significant step forward as a 15-game starter for the undefeated, championship-winning Tigers. While Rodgers had just 575 yards and four touchdowns receiving because of his underneath perimeter role, he was still No. 2 on the team with 55 receptions, trailing Higgins by just four catches for the team lead.
With the departure of Renfrow to the NFL, Rodgers seemed positioned for increased volume as a junior, especially with his move to the slot, but he suffered a torn ACL in spring practices. Amazingly, he missed just one game of the 2019 campaign and served as the No. 3 wide receiver on the team, but with his injury he played far behind Higgins and Justyn Ross and was even outproduced by Etienne on his way to a forgettable 30-426-4 receiving.
Finally, Rodgers broke out as a senior. More than a year removed from his knee injury — and with Higgins in the NFL and Ross out for the season because of a serious neck surgery — Rodgers dominated the aerial game for the Tigers with a team-best 77-1,020-7 receiving.
While Rodgers is a little bit of an analytical anathema — he didn’t break out early or leave for the NFL early — he has some factors in his favor. Although he stayed in the slot for his final season, he hit career-high efficiency marks in 2020 with a 7.0-yard average depth of target (aDOT) and 0.35 expected points added per target (per SIS).
And he also played well against man and zone coverages alike.
Positive Play Rates
- Man Coverage: 62%
- Zone Coverage: 57%
As a senior, Rodgers put his full after-the-catch ability on display with 17 broken tackles, often looking like a running back in the open field (per PFF). And his well-rounded skill set suggests that he could have success in the NFL even though he had relatively little ancillary production in college.
- Rushing: 6-46-1
- Punt Returning: 68-529-1
But Rodgers has drawbacks that can’t be ignored. In the NFL, he will likely be restricted to the slot, which will limit his opportunities, especially since he’s a short-yardage receiver. Last year, he was No. 1 in college football with 68 slot receptions, No. 2 with 30 screen receptions and No. 3 with 917 slot and 237 screen yards.
He’s a low-aDOT slot-bound player — and that’s not sexy.
And Rodgers is an average-at-best technician. He has a limited route tree, he struggles to separate when he’s not schemed open, he can be disrupted by physical cornerbacks and he rounds off way too many of his routes. He will need to improve his craft in the NFL.
On top of that, Rodgers had six drops in 2020 and just five contested catches across his entire college career (per PFF). Sometimes he gets ahead of himself when gathering the ball on receptions, and when he fights for the ball in traffic he often comes up smaller than his size.
If everything works out perfectly for Rodgers, he could be a Deebo Samuel-esque playmaker in the NFL, taking handoffs and short catch-and-run targets for big gains thanks to a perfect combination of scheme and talent — just as Cobb used to do for the Packers.
And that’s within his range of outcomes in Green Bay.
But Rodgers is not Samuel: He lacks his bellwether ancillary production from college (25-154-7 rushing, 42-1,219-4 kick returning) as well as his draft capital (No. 36 in 2019).
Here’s one of the last sentences from my pre-draft Rodgers profile: “If Rodgers goes on Day 2, maybe he’ll develop into the best-case version of Ty Montgomery.”
I stand by that. In Rodgers, I think we’ll see a version of Montgomery who stays at receiver.
NFL Prospect Comp: Lynn Bowden Jr. with less ancillary production
18. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Seahawks
D’Wayne Eskridge Fantasy Analysis
It often pays to be skeptical, and a pessimist could easily dismiss Eskridge’s odds of becoming a fantasy contributor in Seattle.
With the Seahawks, Eskridge will play behind established wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who will continue to dominate targets in the offense. New tight end Gerald Everett will also demand his fair share of opportunities.
In Seattle, Eskridge will likely be no better than the No. 4 pass catcher, and that could be the case for years. Plus, the Seahawks have been a run-focused team for much of the past decade, and that could limit Eskridge’s target ceiling even more.
But the good news is that Eskridge — especially with his Round 2 draft capital — is likely to start right away as a rookie, and with Metcalf and Lockett occupying the defense, he should face remarkably soft coverage, which his speed should enable him to exploit, at least occasionally.
And his selection might augur a change in offensive philosophy. Even with Metcalf and Lockett, and even though the Seahawks are seemingly committed to running the ball, they still opted to take Eskridge in Round 2 — and that might mean that they are preparing — truly preparing — to let quarterback Russell Wilson cook in 2021.
D'Wayne Eskridge to Seattle at No. 56: Are the Seahawks going to let Russ cook?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
Keep in mind that because of the Jamal Adams trade last year, the Seahawks entered 2021 with drastically reduced draft capital — and they still elected to take a receiver instead of trading down or addressing an actual need on the roster.
Eskridge should be a Week 1 starter, he has elite deep speed and one of the league’s best deep-ball passers as his quarterback and the Seahawks might throw more than expected.
Eskridge will likely be volatile — and he may never be a real fantasy contributor — but he has upside.
Before the draft, I was very skeptical of Eskridge. In truth, I’m still wary. I look at him and see a small-and-old receiver who didn’t dominate in his offense until his redshirt senior season, and I wonder why some people are excited about him.
But he has some factors in his favor.
First is draft capital.
Secondly, he has a good athletic profile. He flashed near-elite speed at his pro day …
Official results @WMU_Football pro-day. Dee Eskridge 40 time! 🔥
WR Dee Eskridge
Hand 8 5/8
Arm 30 4/8
Wing 73 2/8
40-yd 4.38/4.39 (NFL scout ⏱)👀
OL Jaylon Moore
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 25, 2021
… and some of his closest physical comps are strong (or at least adequate) players or prospects (per MD & RV).
- Jaylen Waddle: No. 2, MockDraftable
- Kenny Stills: No. 3, MockDraftable
- Mecole Hardman: No. 4, MockDraftable
- Jamison Crowder: No. 1, RotoViz
- Elijah Moore: No. 2, RotoViz
- Andy Isabella: No. 4, RotoViz
Even though he was a three-star recruit who landed at a non-major football program, Eskridge has the athleticism to play in the NFL. In high school, he won a state title in the 100-meter dash and two titles in the 200-meter dash. The dude has track star speed.
Third, Eskridge has enough ancillary college production to suggest that his skill set is transferrable to the professional ranks. Many of the small receivers who have NFL success manage to contribute as runners and returners (as well as receivers) in college, and although Eskridge didn’t have overwhelming ancillary production with the Broncos, he had enough.
- Rushing (2016-20): 12-116-0
- Kick Returning (2020): 17-467-1
On top of that, in his injury-shortened redshirt junior season, Eskridge opened the year as a starting cornerback before switching back to receiver after a couple games. In his short stint at defensive back, he racked up 12 tackles and four pass breakups.
Eskridge is a football player.
Fourth, he might be more than just a slot receiver. Because of his size, the Seahawks might view him as a slot-only player, but last year he saw 70% of his snaps on the perimeter while expanding his route tree to include 13 unique routes (per SIS).
He might not be as limited on the field as evaluators think: On the SIS wide receiver leaderboard, Eskridge is No. 1 with 3.1 receiving total points per game when split out wide.
Fifth, his production profile is perhaps better than it first appears. As a freshman he was just a depth receiver with 17-121-1 receiving in 12 games, but as a sophomore he was No. 1 on the team in receiving yards. Granted, his 40-506-3 receiving line in 12 games is nothing special, and he was No. 3 in reception and touchdowns, but it’s impressive that he leveraged his limited opportunities into a team-high mark.
As a junior he was the No. 2 receiver with a respectable 38-776-3 receiving, and then — after his 2019 medical redshirt junior season (he broke his clavicle in the fourth game) — Eskridge exploded as a senior. Although he played just six games because of Western Michigan’s truncated schedule, Eskridge was 33-768-8 receiving and 2-43-0 rushing, regularly dusting defenders whenever he touched the ball.
D'Wayne Eskridge is so much fun! pic.twitter.com/pAUFaj2GBO
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 25, 2021
Throughout his career — and last year in particular — Eskridge was an after-the-catch assassin. In 2020, Eskridge had an outrageous 14.4 yards after catch (YAC) per reception. For context, the playmaking Jaylen Waddle had 10.3 YAC per catch — and even Waddle’s YAC production was elite (per SIS).
Eskridge’s career YAC is right up there with Waddle’s.
Career Yards After Catch per Reception
- Jaylen Waddle: 9.9
- D’Wayne Eskridge: 9.6
And his 2020 production puts him near the top of many categories on the SIS wide receiver leaderboard:
- Yards After Catch per Reception: 14.4 (No. 1)
- Yards per Target: 14.8 (No. 1)
- Target Share: 35% (No. 2)
- Yards per Route: 2.3 (No. 3)
As a redshirt senior, Eskridge really was one of the most dominant players in college football.
His production came in the MAC, so his level of competition wasn’t great: That’s definitely a knock against him. But his performance at the Senior Bowl suggested that he has the skills to beat NFL-caliber cornerbacks.
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 27, 2021
The concerns with Eskridge are predictable. He’s small, so evaluators believe he might be limited in the NFL. He has a limited route tree — because in the MAC he basically just ran by defenders. And as a route runner, he’s less of a technician and more of a track star running in a particular direction.
The concerns with him are valid.
But his athletic profile, peak receiving production, adequate ancillary production, draft capital and location make him an upside option in rookie drafts.
Like most fast-and-small receivers selected in the middle rounds, he’ll probably do little in the NFL.
But maybe he’ll be the exception.
NFL Prospect Comp: Markus Wheaton with more draft capital and speed but less college production and prestige
19. Dyami Brown, WR, Football Team
Dyami Brown Fantasy Analysis
With his Round 3 draft capital, Brown will have a shot to play right away in Washington, but he’s far from guaranteed a starting spot. Wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel are locked in at the top of the depth chart, and Brown will need to compete with veteran slot man Adam Humphries and 2021 fourth-rounder Antonio Gandy-Golden for playing time.
And even if Brown earns the No. 3 wide receiver role, that doesn’t mean he’ll actually see much target volume. As a starter, he could still conceivably be the No. 6 pass-catching option on the team behind McLaurin, Samuel, target-dominant tight end Logan Thomas and running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic, both of whom are strong in the receiving game.
Thanks to his big-play skill set and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s YOLO deep-ball willingness, Brown could have some splash weeks in 2021, but he likely won’t see enough targets to be a reliable producer.
In 2022 and beyond, he figures to be a regular in three-wide sets for Washington. I’m skeptical that he will ever play ahead of McLaurin or Samuel — but at least he will be on the field.
Ultimately, I look at Brown, and I just wish there were a little more. Of everything.
At his size, I wish he were a little faster. With his speed, I wish he were a little bigger. His pro day performance wasn’t bad, but in his jumps and agility drills I wish Brown were a little more explosive and a little quicker.
Given that Brown played at a non-elite football school, I wish he had been a little more productive. He broke out as a 20-year-old true sophomore — and I wish he had broken out at a younger age and as a freshman. Brown was a good receiver in college, but I wish he had been more versatile — that he had done at least something as a rusher and return man — but, no, nothing.
He enters the NFL after just three years in college, and it’s great that he’s an early declarant, but I wish he would turn 21 years old as a rookie — not 22.
If Brown had just a little bit more to his profile, he would be an intriguing player. But as everything stands now, he’s not.
He’s not a bad prospect by any means, but he’s not special.
That doesn’t mean he won’t have NFL success. It simply means the odds are stacked against him.
The receiver prospects to whom he’s physically comparable have accomplished almost nothing in the NFL (per RV Workout Explorer).
The one guy in the cohort who did luck his way into one 1,000-yard NFL season (Steve Breaston) was a fifth-round pick who had the benefit of playing with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Kurt Warner while facing inordinately soft coverage as the No. 3 receiver next to playmakers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
That’s not Brown in Washington.
On top of that, many of the prospects to whom Brown is most comparable as an athlete and receiver (when taking draft position into account) are not true comps for him because they vastly outproduced him as runners and returners.
For instance, here are his three closest comps in the RV Box Score Scout, all of whom have similarity scores of over 95.
- Dyami Brown (3 years): 1-2-0 rushing | no returning production
- Randall Cobb (3 years): 228-1,313-22 rushing | 2 return touchdowns
- Carlos Henderson (3 years): 32-259-2 rushing | 3 return touchdowns
- Brandon Tate (4 years): 26-294-2 rushing | 6 return touchdowns
Most of Brown’s ostensible comps aren’t all that enticing anyway — and he’s not even that comparable to them because he lacks a versatile skill set.
What Brown has going for him is his playing style: He is a smooth and precise route runner who is quick off the line of scrimmage thanks to his feisty hands and nuanced footwork, and he tracks the ball deep with the eye of a Golden Glove centerfielder.
And you see that in his receiving numbers: Even though he played just 11 games this past year (vs. 13 for DeVonta Smith), Brown was No. 2 in the nation with 543 deep yards on passes 20-plus yards downfield, trailing only the 2020 Heisman winner (589, per PFF).
When targeted, Brown proved himself to be more of a playmaking deep threat in 2020 than even Smith (per SIS.
Average Depth of Target
- Brown: 17.6 yards
- Smith: 9.9 yards
Yards per Target
- Brown: 13.1
- Smith: 12.5
Of course, Brown in 2020 didn’t see nearly the target volume that Smith did.
- Brown: 7.6 targets per game | 24% target share
- Smith: 11.4 targets per game | 36% target share
And that makes sense: Compared to Smith, Brown is a rather limited receiver. This past year, he ran only 5% of his routes out of the slot. It’s good that he doesn’t need to be in the slot to produce, but if the NFL sees him as a perimeter-only receiver that will cap his ceiling.
Additionally, he’s a limited route runner. He is skilled at the ones he runs, but he ran only four routes (curls, verticals, slants and outs) almost 80% of the time (per SIS). And Brown can struggle against physical corners, who can disrupt him in his routes with their superior size and strength.
Brown has the trappings of a player who should be able to contribute in the NFL. A four-star recruit, he received an offer to play at Alabama — and lots of other schools — but he chose to suit up for his hometown Tar Heels, and after a forgettable freshman campaign with 17-173-1 receiving in 10 games, he broke out as a sophomore and then proved it wasn’t a fluke as a junior.
- 2019 (12 games): 51-1,034-12 receiving
- 2020 (11 games): 55-1,099-12 receiving
For two consecutive years, Brown had 1,000-plus yards receiving and 20.0 yards per reception, and many playmaking college receivers to hit those benchmarks have gone in Round 1 — most recently CeeDee Lamb, Will Fuller, Breshad Perriman, Mike Evans and Demaryius Thomas.
But Brown didn’t go in Round 1 — and the explosively productive receivers to go in Rounds 2-3 form an inconsistent cohort.
Rds 2-3 WRs w/ 1,000 ReYds & 20.0 yd/rec in a college season since 2000:
– James Washington
– T.Y. Hilton
– Jason Hill
– Chris Henry
– Snoop Minnis
What does this mean for Dyami Brown?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 11, 2021
Hilton is the class of this group, but he was 69-498-7 rushing in college with six return touchdowns. Brown is not truly comparable to Hilton.
Henry flashed real potential in the NFL, but his physical profile was markedly better than Brown’s is.
- Brown (Pro Day): 6’1″ | 189 pounds | 4.46-second 40
- Henry (Pro Day): 6’4″ | 197 pounds | 4.45-second 40
Washington has underwhelmed through three NFL seasons, and Hill and Minnis have long since been forgotten.
Brown strikes me as unlikely ever to be a difference maker in reality or fantasy.
But his draft capital, college production, downfield ability and expected playing time could make him an eventual reliable NFL contributor.
NFL Prospect Comp: Justin Hunter but smaller and with much less draft capital
20. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers
Pat Freiermuth Fantasy Analysis
We should never expect much from rookie tight ends, but Freiermuth has a well-rounded skill set that gives him the opportunity for significant playing time right away in Pittsburgh. He should be an immediate contributor in two-tight end sets, and at times he might even play ahead of the incumbent Eric Ebron thanks to his ability to contribute as a run blocker as well as receiver.
And Ebron is entering the final year of his contract, so Freiermuth has a potential path to the starting role in 2022.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nearing the end of his career, the future of the Steelers offense is unclear. But even if Roethlisberger retires after the 2021 season and the offense experiences significant tumult, Freiermuth could emerge as a fantasy contributor thanks to his talent.
Freiermuth is your favorite football player’s favorite football player. He’s an old-school tight end who seems to relish the opportunity to drive defenders to the ground as a blocker, and as a receiver he has enough route-running moxie and yards-after-catch grittiness to overcome his #DadRunner speed.
If George Kittle suddenly aged 10 years but still tried to play like a young guy — that would be Freiermuth. And I say that with all respect.
"I'm not going to try to hurdle a guy", "I'm gonna try to run someone over"
Pat Freiermuth is going to be electric in the NFL pic.twitter.com/bX4DjL11ME
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) April 8, 2021
Freiermuth was an older four-star recruit when he enrolled at Penn State, but he broke out right away as a true freshman, ranking No. 2 on the team with 26 receptions and 368 yards receiving and No. 1 with eight touchdowns receiving in 13 games.
As a sophomore, he was again the No. 2 pass catcher on the team, easily outperforming every Nittany Lion except wide receiver K.J. Hamler with 43-507-7 receiving in 13 games.
And then as a junior — with Hamler in the NFL — Freiermuth dominated aerial usage in the Penn State offense with 23-310-1 receiving in four games. Granted, his season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but in the four games he played Freiermuth had a 27.8% target share (per PFF).
On top of that, as a junior Freiermuth displayed the ability to be more than just a traditional inline tight end, lining up in the slot or out wide on the majority of his snaps for the first time in his career (per SIS).
Split Out Rate
- 2018: 34%
- 2019: 34%
- 2020: 54%
It’s wrong to compare Freiermuth to Pitts, who is unlike any tight end prospect we’ve seen over the past two decades, but in their two final seasons Freiermuth was comparable as a receiver to Cole Kmet, the No. 1 tight end in last year’s class (per SIS).
Yards per Route
- Pat Freiermuth (2019-20): 1.7 & 1.4
- Cole Kmet (2018-19): 1.6 & 1.8
Yards per Target
- Pat Freiermuth (2019-20): 8.3 & 8.2
- Cole Kmet (2018-19): 8.5 & 8.4
As a prospect, Kmet has the receiving edge over Freiermuth — but just barely.
While he’s not the dynamic move tight end the NFL has grown accustomed to over the past decade, Freiermuth still has the look of a future contributor thanks to his two-way ability to run block and catch passes inline and out of the slot.
With his all-around skill set, Freiermuth is likely the most well-rounded tight end in the class.
That won’t necessarily translate to fantasy success, but it gives him a good shot to be an eventual longtime starter — and a guy can’t score fantasy points if he’s not on the field.
NFL Prospect Comp: Hunter Henry with more blocking ability but less draft capital and probably less athleticism
- 21. Justin Fields: QB, Bears
- 22. Amon-Ra St. Brown: WR, Lions
- 23. Nico Collins: WR, Texans
- 24. Josh Palmer: WR, Chargers
- 25. Anthony Schwartz: WR, Browns
- 26. Chatarius (Tutu) Atwell: WR, Rams
This is the tier where some players I really don’t care about start to sneak in: #Sad.
I like Fields, but now that he’s with the Bears I believe there’s a gap between him and the two quarterbacks ranked above him.
After Fields, we have the remaining Day 2 pass catchers plus St. Brown, whom I’m moved to the top of the tier’s receiver cohort. Although he was the last one drafted, of the five receivers he has the best combination of draft capital, college production and projected playing time as a rookie.
21. Justin Fields, QB, Bears
Justin Fields Fantasy Analysis
Fields could have gone to the 49ers, Panthers or Broncos. Maybe even the Patriots or Football Team.
Instead, he went to the Bears.
Justin Fields in Chicago: Exciting for @chadmillman and all Bears fans.
Kind of meh for everyone else.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 30, 2021
Fields is special enough on his own to be a fantasy producer regardless of the team he’s on: His dual-threat ability is unrivaled in the 2021 quarterback class.
But I doubt the coaching staff and supporting players in Chicago will elevate him. The Bears have remarkably little after wide receiver Allen Robinson — have you seen tight end Jimmy Graham run? — and HC Matt Nagy failed to get the most out of jettisoned former starter Mitchell Trubisky.
If 2021 goes poorly, Nagy and GM Ryan Pace could lose their jobs, and the regime change could slow down Fields’ development.
In Chicago, Fields will likely start the majority of games as a rookie, which is good — but his long-term future is already uncertain because of the organizational incompetence that will surround him. The Bears are a franchise in trouble …
… and it’s just as likely that the team will eventually sabotage him as it is that he will save the team.
To be clear: My pessimism for Fields is based solely on circumstances. Chicago was a “stock down” landing sport for his long-term prospects. Of course, perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. Circumstances can change — and it’s hard to see how the situation in Chicago could be much worse than it has been — but changes are generally not ideal for quarterbacks early in their careers.
If I look at Fields without paying attention to his environment — just as a guy who went No. 11 overall, who did what he did in college and is now likely to start at least some games as a rookie — I’m enthusiastic.
After all, he’s a better runner than Lawrence and a better passer than Lance: Of the three, he could develop into the best NFL and fantasy quarterback.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was optimistic enough about Fields to say this.
So this morning I woke up, thought about doing some pushups, researched NFL prospects instead, got up from my desk, walked into the bathroom, looked myself in the mirror and said:
"Justin Fields is the QB1 in rookie fantasy drafts, and Trevor Lawrence isn't."
Then I logged off.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 17, 2021
Of course, when I sent that tweet I didn’t imagine that he’d end up in Chicago.
But I still like Fields and would be happy to take him as the No. 3 quarterback in rookie drafts.
A five-star recruit, Fields was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 recruitment class, and some scouting services had him ranked No. 1 overall, just ahead of Lawrence. Even as a recruit, Fields had NFL size and athleticism, and he received offers from many major programs, including Alabama, LSU and USC. Ultimately, he decided to stay in his home state, enrolling at Georgia as perhaps the most anticipated signee in program history.
And Fields lived up to the hype in college — but not at Georgia. As a freshman, Fields backed up Jake Fromm. He looked good in mop-up action with a 69.2% completion rate for 328-4-0 passing and 37-295-4 rushing (excluding sacks, per SIS, but he saw very little playing time.
Frustrated to be sitting behind Fromm — and desirous to leave the school after a Georgia baseball player made “racially derogatory comments” to him during a football game — Fields transferred to Ohio State after the 2018 season.
Ordinarily, transfer students are required to redshirt for a year per NCAA rules, but Fields was granted an eligibility waiver (because of the racial incident at Georgia), so he was able to play immediately as a sophomore — and what a second season he had.
In 14 starts, Fields had a 67.2% completion rate for 3,273-41-3 passing and 106-689-10 rushing (excluding sacks) for the 13-1 Buckeyes on his way to a No. 3 finish in Heisman voting as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year before losing in the College Football Playoff semifinals to Clemson and Lawrence.
As a sophomore, Fields trailed only Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts in the Power Five with his adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A).
- Joe Burrow (LSU): 12.5
- Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma): 12.2
- Justin Fields (Ohio State): 11.2
Fields’ 2019 season was one of the best dual-threat campaigns of the past decade — and it was just his first year as a starter.
Since 2000 —
Power-5 Quarterbacks with 40+ passing TD and 10+ rushing TD in a single season
2014 • Marcus Mariota (JR) 42/15
2016 • Patrick Mahomes (JR) 41/12
2018 • Kyler Murray (JR) 42/12
2019 • Justin Fields (SO) 41/10
— Curtis Patrick 🥇 (@CPatrickNFL) April 6, 2021
After his second season, Fields looked like the clear No. 2 quarterback in the class. There’s a chance that if he had opted out of 2020, he — and not Zach Wilson — would be with the Jets in New York.
If Justin Fields opts out and/or doesn't fight to have a season, he's a lock for #2 but instead the dumb idiot tanked his draft stock by winning the Big Ten, dominating Clemson, and scoring 27 TDs in 8 games with 70% completion
— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) April 30, 2021
In retrospect, maybe Chicago isn’t the worst place Fields could have gone.
But he did play in 2020, and the year didn’t go as planned: As a junior, he was 2,100-22-6 passing and 60-516-5 rushing in eight games, struggling at times with his ball security — but aside from that he arguably progressed as a passer (per SIS).
- 2019: 67.2%
- 2020: 70.2%
- 2019: 73%
- 2020: 75%
- 2019: 84%
- 2020: 87%
Yards per Attempt
- 2019: 9.2
- 2020: 9.3
Even with his interceptions, Fields was still No. 12 in the nation with a 10.1 AY/A, and he was once again the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
In the College Football Playoff semifinals, Fields played through a notable rib injury to drive the Buckeyes to an emphatic 49-28 win over Clemson, avenging the previous year’s loss with 385-6-1 passing on a 78.6% completion rate.
In the national championship, the hampered Fields underwhelmed against Alabama in a 52-24 loss, but with his overall performance in the playoffs, he looked like a future top-10 pick.
And then he fell down the draft board. I still don’t get it.
It’s worth noting that Fields had an incredibly tough strength of schedule at Ohio State.
For those wondering:
Player A is Justin Fields and Player B is Trevor Lawrence. In 5 more games played from 2019-2020, Lawrence only leads Fields statistically with 1,445 more yards thrown — or 289 yards per game over 5 games. His strength of schedule is also much weaker.
— Bird Bouchard (@bird_bouchard) March 30, 2021
In fact, Fields in 2020 might have had the toughest schedule of any quarterback of the past decade.
Even so, Fields was able to put up an elite 10.8 AY/A across his two years at Ohio State, where he suffered just two losses in 22 starts.
Despite his dual-threat ability, Fields is more of a passer than a runner, and he’s totally comfortable in the pocket. At times, he’s too comfortable. In 2020, he was tied for No. 3 in average time to throw with 3.11 seconds (per PFF). Fields invites pressure and takes needless sacks because his first instinct isn’t to scramble — and that will need to be coached — but his pocket commitment is more of a virtue than a vice.
Justin Fields will stand as long as needed in the pocket to get deeper throws off but these clips you can see his great feel to move away from pressure, even from the backside.
The 1st clip he's truly creating a throw on a covered PA shot play (look at the WR's fake stalk block) pic.twitter.com/G94vV4sMY4
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) February 16, 2021
Although Fields isn’t often spoken of as a passer with the likes of Lawrence, Wilson and Jones, Fields was one of the most accurate passers in college last year, ranking No. 2 with an 80.8% adjusted completion rate.
As a passer, Fields lacks elite singular attributes: He doesn’t throw with great anticipation. He doesn’t have overwhelming arm strength or nuanced touch. He doesn’t progress quickly through his reads. He doesn’t read defenses particularly well, especially when it comes to blitzes. He doesn’t lead his receivers with his deep passes. He doesn’t look off defenders with his eyes.
But all of that misses the point of who Fields is: As a passer, he’s elite at nothing, but strong at almost everything. He has a full skill set and can produce in and out of the pocket as a thrower.
And none of this takes into account his rushing ability. Fields isn’t Lamar Jackson by any means, but he can produce with his legs. Designed runs. Scrambles. Read options. Quarterback draws. Whatever. Fields can run.
As a recruit, he led all quarterbacks in his class with an über-elite 4.51-second 40-yard dash at 221 pounds, and at the Ohio State pro day he was even faster and bigger, looking very much like … you know what? It feels wrong even to say it. I’ll let a tweet speak for me.
🏈 6'3", 227 lbs
🏈 40-yard dash: 4.44
Robert Griffin III:
🏈 6'2", 223 lbs
🏈 40-yard: 4.41
Only first-round QB to run a faster 40 time than Justin Fields since 2006 pic.twitter.com/oZBH7uaJGM
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) March 30, 2021
What was perhaps most impressive about his 40 time is that he ran only once — usually prospects run twice and get the benefit of their best time — and he also stumbled a little coming out of his stance.
QB Justin Fields with an impressive 40 time at his pro day 👀
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 30, 2021
Think about that: Fields ran only once — and he had a highly imperfect dash — and he still finished with a 99th-percentile 40 time for the position (per RV Workout Explorer).
With his athleticism, he might have the highest rushing upside of any quarterback in this class (including Lance) — and running quarterbacks can win fantasy championships.
If you want to take Fields as the No. 2 quarterback in a rookie draft, I don’t blame you.
I'm in the Justin Fields is QB2 camp, and I think he's closer to Lawrence than he is to Wilson/Lance/Jones.
Here are a few clips of him as a rusher — some power and some speed — followed by two huge hustle plays that show off his athleticism: pic.twitter.com/7gdB6QpXzh
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) February 21, 2021
In 2020, Fields was No. 1 on the SIS quarterback leaderboard with 2.8 rushing points per game, and in his college career he markedly outperformed all quarterbacks in this class with his rushing efficiency (excluding sacks, excluding the FCS-competing Lance).
Yards per Attempt
- Justin Fields (2018-20): 7.4
- Trevor Lawrence (2018-20): 6.8
- Zach Wilson (2018-20): 6.6
- Mac Jones (2018-20): 3.7
Lance and Lawrence are great, but Fields has the best combined passing and rushing ability in the 2021 quarterback class.
As long as the Bears don’t destroy him, he should have fantasy utility with league-winning upside for multiple seasons.
NFL Prospect Comp: Robert Griffin III with less speed and draft capital but more recruitment status and passing ability and an earlier breakout
22. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions
Amon-Ra St. Brown Fantasy Analysis
I thought St. Brown would be drafted on Day 2.
Amon-Ra St. Brown produced as a true FR, is 3 years out of HS & will go in Rds 2-3.
Such WRs since 2010:
– C. Kirk
– J. Smith-Schuster
– T. Boyd
– M. Lee
– D. Moncrief
– J. Hunter
– R. Woods
– K. Allen
– A. Jeffery
– M. Sanu
– R. Cobb
Great list of non-Rd 1 receivers.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 11, 2021
I was wrong. But even with his Round 4 draft capital, I expect St. Brown to start early as a rookie for the Lions, who entered the draft with Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams and Quintez Cephus as their top wide receivers.
Cephus is a 2020 fifth-rounder who was drafted by previous GM Bob Quinn. The new regime has no loyalty to Cephus, and I expect St. Brown to beat him out for the No. 3 receiver role.
And Perriman and Williams are new to the organization and on one-year deals. They have no rapport with quarterback Jared Goff. Neither one has been a No. 1 receiver for a sustained period. And one or both of them could be gone after this season.
In 2022, there’s a real chance that St. Brown could be the top receiver on the Lions — and maybe sooner. With Perriman and Williams on the outside, St. Brown will likely play in the slot, where he could emerge as a Cooper Kupp-esque high-volume go-to option for the downfield-challenged Goff.
I never thought I’d say this — because I find his name more memorable than his game — but St. Brown could have some underappreciated upside, especially in PPR leagues.
On the field, St. Brown excels in no particular area, but he does everything well.
He’s not a speedster. He’s not a possession receiver. He’s not a sudden separator. He’s not a contested catch artist. He’s not an after-the-catch bruiser. He’s not a slot man or a flanker or a split end. He’s not a deep threat or an intermediate maven or a screen machine.
St. Brown is simply an all-around NFL-ready complementary receiver with a full route tree and mature route-running ability.
He never had a blow-your-mind collegiate campaign, and for that reason the widespread comparison to USC forefather Robert Woods is overblown: Woods was one of the most productive players in the nation his sophomore season with 111-1,292-15 receiving. But like Woods, St. Brown has two important factors in his favor:
- He contributed significantly right away at USC.
- He is entering the NFL as an early declarant.
Those factors alone should have all but guaranteed him inclusion in Day 2. But for some reason he fell to Round 4.
Over the past 10 years, only one receiver selected in Round 4 has contributed significantly as a true freshman and then entered the NFL just three years removed from high school. That was Antonio Callaway, who likely could have been a top-50 pick — maybe a first-rounder — if not for off-field issues.
Although he has Round 4 draft capital, St. Brown had a Day 2 prospect profile. He has a good chance to outproduce his draft position.
That St. Brown — like Woods — produced right away in college and entered the NFL early is significant for his NFL potential.
Also like Woods, St. Brown is a middling athlete. At the USC pro day, St. Brown did well with his jumps and three-cone drill (per RV Workout Explorer) …
… but he underwhelmed with his straight-line speed, especially considering that his unofficial (but widely distributed) 40-yard time of 4.51 seconds was adjusted to an official time of 4.59 seconds.
Official pro day results from USC's pro day:
Amon-Ra St. Brown
5114, 197, 30 3/8 arm, 9 1/8 hand
6044, 308, 32 1/8 arm, 9 5/8 hand
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 25, 2021
Even if we assume that St. Brown’s true 40 time is halfway between the two measurements and we adjust it to 4.55 seconds, that still gives him a Freak Score of just 44.
Translation: St. Brown is a subpar athlete.
But it’s worth exploring the idea of how much athleticism will even matter for St. Brown. Think about the previously mentioned precociously productive early declarants drafted in Rounds 2-3 (a group I believe Woods belongs to in spirit): Almost all of the guys in that cohort to have NFL success were no better than average in their pre-draft workouts.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (Combine): 6’1″ | 215 pounds | 4.54-second 40
- Tyler Boyd (Combine): 6’2″ | 197 pounds | 4.58-second 40
- Robert Woods (Combine): 6′ | 201 pounds | 4.51-second 40
- Keenan Allen (Pro Day): 6’2″ | 206 pounds | 4.71-second 40 (injury)
- Alshon Jeffery (Pro Day): 6’3″ | 213 pounds | 4.51-second 40
- Mohamed Sanu (Combine): 6’2″ | 211 pounds | 4.67-second 40
- Randall Cobb (Combine): 5’10” | 191 pounds | 4.46-second 40
It’s by no means a positive for St. Brown that he’s on the sluggish side of the spectrum, but it’s also probably not a massive negative, especially since he’s likely to play in the slot, where his agility will be more important than his speed. With his early freshman breakout and early college exit, St. Brown has some margin for error when it comes to his athleticism.
It’s worth looking at St. Brown’s college career in detail.
Entering USC as a heralded recruit with 4-5 stars, St. Brown was expected to produce quickly, and he did. As a true freshman, St. Brown split his time between the perimeter and slot as he ranked No. 1 on the team with 60 catches, No. 2 with 750 yards receiving — trailing top receiver Michael Pittman Jr. by just eight yards — and No. 3 with three touchdown receptions.
As a sophomore, St. Brown shifted into the slot and played as the team’s full-time middle-of-the-field option. But even though he still served as the No. 2 receiver behind Pittman, St. Brown nevertheless managed to break out with 77-1,042-6 receiving while chipping in with 7-60-1 rushing.
And then as a junior — in an abbreviated six-game season — St. Brown shifted from the slot to the perimeter, where he ran 69% of his routes, and he put up a respectable-but-unremarkable 41-478-7 receiving as the team’s No. 1 option.
Thor Nystrom has noted that St. Brown underperformed as a junior with his shift to the perimeter. Indeed, in moving from the slot to the outside, St. Brown saw his year-over-year production drop in several key metrics (per SIS).
Yards per Target
- 2019 (Slot): 9.9
- 2020 (Perimeter): 8.2
Yards per Route
- 2019 (Slot): 2.0
- 2020 (Perimeter): 1.4
- 2019 (Slot): 16
- 2020 (Perimeter): 11
But with his junior-year perimeter play, St. Brown at least demonstrated that he can line up all over the field, and his 2020 decline might be overstated. In a few metrics, his play actually seemed to improve.
- 2019 (Slot): 114.6
- 2020 (Perimeter): 120.5
Expected Points Added per Target
- 2019 (Slot): 0.40
- 2020 (Perimeter): 0.45
Positive Play Rate vs. Man Coverage
- 2019 (Slot): 55%
- 2020 (Perimeter): 75%
St. Brown never had an emphatically great season at USC, and it would have been nice if he had been a more productive runner and returner.
- Rushing: 9-69-1
- Punt Returning: 19-107-0
- Kick Returning: 2-43-0
But St. Brown was consistently steady in college and demonstrated the ability to win in a variety of ways all over the field as a receiver.
With the slot-friendly Goff at quarterback and inconsistent and unproven players ahead of him on the depth chart, St. Brown might already be the best receiver on the Lions.
He probably won’t be a star, but he might be a reliable fantasy contributor for several seasons.
NFL Prospect Comp: Brian Hartline with less return production but an earlier college breakout
23. Nico Collins, WR, Texans
Nico Collins Fantasy Analysis
After Brandin Cooks and I guess Randall Cobb, the Texans have little at the receiver position, so Collins could enter the 2021 season as the No. 3 wide receiver in Houston, a role that could have underappreciated value, as the Texans lack a proven tight end and Cooks and Cobbs (seemingly) lack the ability to stay healthy.
nico collins is the BEST size+skill need fit of day 2.
— the podfather↗️ (@Fantasy_Mansion) May 1, 2021
But so much of the value that any receiver has in Houston is tied up with quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose future with the Texans is uncertain at best.
Because of Collins’ talent, draft capital and likely role in three-wide sets, he has upside for 2021 and beyond — but the uncertainty of the quarterback situation in Houston makes me cautious.
Collins is essentially this year’s Donovan Peoples-Jones: A guy who went to Michigan as a hyped prospect and then got entirely Harbaughed. If everything had gone well for Collins in college, he could have been a Round 1 selection. Instead, he was somewhat lucky to go in Round 3.
Collins has the athleticism of a premier prospect.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) March 26, 2021
He has elite speed, explosiveness and agility for his size. I love his top five physical comps (per MD).
- Tee Higgins: 84.3%
- DeVante Parker: 84.2%
- Denzel Mims: 81.2%
- Travis Fulgham: 81.0%
- Marques Colston: 80.9%
Of all the receivers in this class, especially the big ones, Collins probably has the freakiest physical profile.
His athleticism translates to the field, where Collins is a big-play contested-catch artist.
Nico Collins can go up and get it! pic.twitter.com/obaGuOVxMs
— Kyle Yates (@KyleYNFL) March 4, 2021
The problem with Collins is that he failed to develop as a receiver in college. He has little nuance to his game. His routes are stiff and simple, and his tree is limited. When he can bully a cornerback, Collins looks unstoppable, but against better defenders he lacks the well-rounded skill set to succeed.
And his college production was mediocre. As a freshman, he was a benchwarmer. As a sophomore, he played behind Peoples-Jones. And then as a junior he overtook Peoples-Jones but himself was overtaken by sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell. At no point in college was Collins a No. 1 receiver or a big-time producer.
- 2017 (4 games): 2-27-0 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 38-632-6 receiving
- 2019 (12 games): 37-729-7 receiving
And then he opted out of the 2020 season, for obvious reasons: 1) Head coach Jim Harbaugh, and I suppose 2) COVID.
For all his athleticism and physicality at the catch point, Collins is notably unproductive once he has the ball. On 78 receptions he had just eight broken tackles in college (per PFF). His 4.8 yards after catch per reception is a decidedly below-average mark (per SIS).
But this class is light on big-bodied receivers with elite athleticism, and Peoples-Jones flashed enough last year as an NFL rookie to suggest that the production problems for Michigan wide receivers over the past several years have more to do with the system and less to do with them.
NFL Prospect Comp: Miles Boykin with less draft capital and college production
24. Josh Palmer, WR, Chargers
Josh Palmer Fantasy Analysis
Congratulations, we finally made it to the first “Freedman doesn’t care about this guy at all” rookie writeup. Job well done, everyone.
It took as a while to get here — but we did it. Arrival accomplished.
And now is the point where I start singling out specific world-class athletes and talking about how they’re worthless.
It’s something to behold.
I don’t have anything against Palmer personally … but I don’t think he’s good at football.
Josh Palmer sounds like the name of a guy I knew in college who used to get drunk every weekend and now is an accountant.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 3, 2021
The Volunteers had poor quarterback play for the entirety of his college career, so his lack of production isn’t entirely his fault, but Palmer was just 99-1,514-7 receiving and 8-37-1 rushing in 42 games at Tennessee over four seasons, catching just 51% of his targets (per SIS).
That’s very bad. And he has little playmaking ability as evidenced by his career mark of 2.9 yards after catch per reception.
He plays with physicality and does everything with 100% effort. He has the athletic profile of a bruiser: His closest physical comp — with a 91.8% similarity score — is Justin Blackmon.
Film watchers absolutely love him.
Solid draft capital, nice landing spot, catching passes from Justin Herbert with Mike Williams about to hit FA https://t.co/bGeUqkhL1X
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) May 1, 2021
But he’s not actually Blackmon: He didn’t dominate at all in college. Palmer was the leading receiver for Tennessee in his senior season, but even then he was 33-475-4 receiving in just 10 games.
And he’s not a good route runner. At all. He has a limited route tree, he’s stiff in his breaks, and he can’t separate. Everything with him is a contested catch.
Still, he has potential with the Chargers: Quarterback Justin Herbert looks like he has the talent to elevate his pass catchers, No. 2 receiver Mike Williams is in the final year of his rookie contract and No. 3 receiver Jalen Guyton is remarkably replaceable.
Palmer is likelier than not to see playing time in three-wide sets as a rookie, and if he plays well he could be the No. 2 receiver as early as 2022.
NFL Prospect Comp: Mohamed Massaquoi with less draft capital and production
25. Anthony Schwartz, WR, Browns
Anthony Schwartz Fantasy Analysis
Schwartz is unquestionably intriguing because of his blazing speed and draft capital. Some of his numbers-based comps catch the eye.
Anthony Schwartz gets that day 2 draft capital
When you burn a sub-4.3 40, it’s hard to fall too far https://t.co/0H4mVCVlRt
— Curtis Patrick 🥇 (@CPatrickNFL) May 1, 2021
Right now, though, he’s likely to play behind wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins. And Schwartz will also trail tight end Austin Hooper in target priority. For 2021, he will be a rotational player at best.
But in 2022 he could have a more significant role: Beckham has disappointed in his first two seasons in Cleveland. If he underwhelms for a third year, he could be cut. People-Jones flashed last season, but he’s a second-year sixth-rounder: Schwartz could overtake him on the depth chart. And Higgins is on a one-year deal.
Schwartz could be an eventual starter for the Browns.
He isn’t really my kind of receiver, but the dude is fast. Legitimately fast.
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) March 18, 2021
In 2017, Schwartz set a youth world record with a 10.15-second 100-meter dash in high school. At Auburn, he was a literal track star.
And you see that in how he plays: He’s a sprinter, not a route runner. He’s not a technician. He doesn’t have a developed route tree or strong hands. And with his track-and-field frame, he doesn’t have the body to be a physical receiver.
His speed is unrivaled, and when he gets by a defensive back, he’s gone.
How fast is Anthony Schwartz? On this play, the track star hits a top speed of 21.79 MPH. That would be good for the 2nd-fastest ball carrier in the NFL this season, only behind Tyreek Hill. #AuburnFootball pic.twitter.com/vUIC5XB8wI
— Logic Sports (@LogicSports3) October 13, 2018
But Schwartz is more of a field-stretching threat than an actual downfield producer.
Basically, he’s a gadget player. He’s arguably better as a runner on reverses and jet sweeps than as an actual receiver.
Anthony Schwartz is FAST! 🔥
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 21, 2019
Schwartz contributed immediately as a freshman at Auburn, but as a sophomore he failed to take a significant step forward.
- 2018 (13 games): 22-357-2 receiving | 27-211-5 rushing
- 2017 (13 games): 41-440-1 receiving | 11-118-2 rushing
As a junior, he led the team with 54 receptions, but he was still just No. 2 for the Tigers with 636 yards and three touchdowns receiving, and he disappointingly did (less than) nothing as a runner, rushing for -6 yards on four carries.
And, amazingly, despite his speed and strong rushing production, Schwartz never returned kicks in college.
Overall, he’s incredibly limited — and he never had a real breakout at Auburn.
But Schwartz has real factors in his favor.
- He will turn 21 years old right as the season starts.
- He is entering the NFL after just three years in college.
- He has Round 3 draft capital.
If everything works out for Schwartz, in the NFL he will be Will Fuller with less draft capital and no hamstring issues.
But when does anything ever work out?
NFL Prospect Comp: Jacoby Ford with less receiving and returning production but more draft capital and youth
26. Tutu Atwell, WR, Rams
Tutu Atwell Fantasy Analysis
If I actually liked Atwell as a prospect, then maybe I could get excited about his landing spot — especially with his Round 2 draft capital — but who am I kidding? Even then, I wouldn’t care.
Tutu Atwell getting ready to do his best Tavon Austin impersonation.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
That Atwell managed to land on Day 2 speaks to the current state of scouting in the NFL. I’ll believe almost anything about the NFL … but this is almost unbelievable.
In Los Angeles, Atwell will be behind wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in target priority, probably tight end Tyler Higbee and maybe even wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Van Jefferson.
I mean, I guess this team just loves spending Round 2 picks on receivers who are highly unlikely to do anything notable in the NFL. That’s cool. Everyone has their thing.
Can you imagine if a team drafted Tutu Atwell and Van Jefferson in the second round of consecutive years? Yeah. Me neither.
— Chase Vernon (@ff_intervention) May 1, 2021
In a perfect world, Atwell would play a Jacksonian role as a seam-stretching deep threat who opens up the field for everyone else while also creating big-play opportunities for himself — but there are a few problems with that idea.
- Atwell lacks Jackson’s actual speed.
- He might not see enough playing time to make a consistent impact.
- The Rams already have someone else to play the D-Jax role: D-Jax.
(After the Tutu pick)
“If I’m Rocket Mortgage, I’m heated”
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) May 1, 2021
Even if Atwell overtakes Jackson and Jefferson and becomes a regular in three-wide sets, he could still struggle to earn targets alongside Woods, Kupp and Higbee.
I’m incredibly skeptical about Atwell for 2021 and beyond. Come on.
COM’ON. This is ridiculous.
If I leave a rookie draft with Atwell on my team, I will be 100% displeased with how everything went down.
But as a gesture of humility, I absolutely cannot put him any lower in my rankings. His college production and Round 2 (ugh) draft capital demand at least this minimal amount of respect.
And some people actually like Atwell.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’ll be great.
(I’m not wrong.)
Atwell is pocket small, slow for his size, limited to the slot, unable to break tackles, unproductive as a runner and returner, underdeveloped as a route runner and in possession of a branchless route tree.
Other than that, he’s flawless.
By the way, did I mention he’s small? He’s so small that just days before the draft he released a video on social media of him weighing himself so that he could show that he has gotten up to 160 pounds.
Decided to do a lil weight in today to see where I’m at and its coming along very well🍽 pic.twitter.com/TRMMgRrdSI
— Tutu Atwell Jr (@c5_atwell) April 28, 2021
THIS IS THE KIND OF STUFF I LIVE FOR. As far as I’m concerned, every draft prospect should do stuff like this on social media every day.
A four-year starter as a dual-threat quarterback in high school, Atwell was the Miami-Dade County Player of the Year as a senior and a three-star recruit entering college, where he quickly transitioned to receiver and became an immediate contributor for a Louisville team lacking a true No. 1 pass catcher. With 24-406-2 receiving in 12 games, Atwell finished 2018 as a top-three receiver for the Cardinals.
Following up his successful freshman campaign, Atwell exploded in 2019, leading Louisville with an impressive 69-1,272-11 receiving in 13 games before closing out his college career with 46-625-7 receiving in nine games in 2020.
What Atwell has going for him — in addition to his disgustingly rich Round 2 draft capital — is that he broke out early and is entering the NFL early.
Only on occasion did Atwell venture out of the slot in college (per SIS).
Slot Snap Rate
- 2018: 98%
- 2019: 83%
- 2020: 88%
In his sophomore season, in particular, Atwell was one of the best slot receivers on a per-route basis we’ve seen in the Power Five over the past decade.
Highest single-season yards per route run averages from the slot among Power 5 WRs since 2016:
1. DeVonta Smith, 2020 (5.6)
2. Jaylen Waddle, 2018 (4.5)
3. Tutu Atwell, 2019 (4.4)
4. Greg Dortch, 2017 (3.6)
5. Jerry Jeudy, 2018 (3.6)
6. Elijah Moore, 2020 (3.6)
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) April 10, 2021
In fact, his per-route efficiency as a sophomore is unrivaled in the 2021 draft class, even when we compare it to the most efficient seasons of the top receiving prospects (per SIS).
Highest Yards per Route in a Season
- Tutu Atwell (2019): 4.4
- Jaylen Waddle (2018): 4.0
- Kadarius Toney (2019): 3.7
- DeVonta Smith (2019): 3.5
- Ja’Marr Chase (2019): 3.3
- Rondale Moore (2019): 2.9
- Rashod Bateman (2019): 2.6
- Elijah Moore (2020): 2.1
- Terrace Marshall (2020): 1.9
At his best Atwell is a playmaker, and there is indeed a little bit of D-Jax to his game.
Desean Jackson. pic.twitter.com/MPcGdKOO2F
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) April 14, 2021
But Atwell lacks Jackson’s speed and even Jackson’s size. At the Louisville pro day, Atwell weighed in 10 pounds lighter than his listed playing weight, and he was significantly slower in his 40-yard dash than his previously reported home-cooked times of 4.27 to 4.38 seconds.
Official results from @UofLFootball pro-day. Dez Fitzpatrick continuing momentum off a strong Reese's Senior Bowl game:
40 4.43/4.45👀 (NFL scouts ⏱️)
WR Tutu Atwell
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 30, 2021
If a guy is small, he better be a burner, but Atwell isn’t — and he’s incredibly small. Atwell is no Jackson.
The small receivers who have NFL success tend to do more than just catch the ball in college: They also stand out as runners and returners. Jackson did. Atwell did not.
- DeSean Jackson (36 games): 24-199-1 rushing | 38-633-6 punt returning
- Tutu Atwell (34 games): 12-26-1 rushing | 4-84-0 punt returning
Atwell’s lack of ancillary production is concerning, and it might indicate that he is not truly the playmaker he seems to be.
Atwell’s subpar pro day should not have surprised us. As a recruit, he flashed near-elite agility and explosiveness, but even then he was slow for his size. If Atwell had been a speedster in high school, he would have had more than three stars.
- Size: 5-foot-9 and 141 pounds
- 40 time: 4.50 seconds
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.01 seconds
- Vertical jump: 39.3 inches
I think we can see Atwell’s agility and explosiveness on the field. On screen passes, Atwell is a slippery after-the-catch runner, and it’s probably not a coincidence that he saw 40 of his 140 receptions in college on screens (per PFF).
And in the slot, where he can avoid the press from physical corners, he shows great burst getting into his routes.
But Atwell has little versatility to his game. He doesn’t go across the middle of the field. He doesn’t line up on the perimeter. He doesn’t challenge defenders on contested catches. He doesn’t separate from cornerbacks with sharp routes. It’s pretty much screens and go routes — and that might work in college — but I doubt it will work in the NFL, especially with Atwell’s lack of truly special speed.
It’s easier to hit home runs against weaker pitchers in smaller ballparks, right? Atwell probably won’t be a reliable big-play slugger in the NFL.
He’s basically Tavon Austin 2.0 — except smaller and slower. Obviously.
NFL Prospect Comp: Taylor Gabriel with draft capital and fewer college seasons but far less ancillary production and no proven perimeter ability
- 27. Zach Wilson: QB, Jets
- 28. Mac Jones: QB, Patriots
- 29. Rhamondre Stevenson: RB, Patriots
- 30. Chuba Hubbard: RB, Panthers
- 31. Kenneth Gainwell: RB, Eagles
Wilson and Jones are fairly typical quarterbacks, and guys like that belong near the top of Round 3 as a matter of procedure.
Stevenson, Hubbard and Gainwell are the Day 3 backs I think have a decent chance of owning some sort of fantasy relevance this year or next.
27. Zach Wilson, QB, Jets
Zach Wilson Fantasy Analysis
Take a look at this young man. Seriously. Take a good long look at him taking a good long look at himself.
My son getting ready for senior prom tonight pic.twitter.com/nUF8r3Xb6j
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) April 29, 2021
That’s the look of a guy who’s about to become the next Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold.
Hell, he probably follows Chris Randone on Twitter.
Draft day will be the best day of Wilson’s life for at least the next couple of years. It’s all fun and games until it comes time to strap on the helmet and throw the ball to … checks notes … No. 1 wide receiver Corey Davis.
At least the Jets bothered to draft Elijah Moore in Round 2.
OC Mike LaFleur is respected in the league, but he’s a first-time NFL play caller working for defense-focused first-time head coach. The offense could underwhelm, especially given the state of the roster.
Even though he’s slated to start the full season, I’m expecting almost nothing from Wilson as a rookie. Maybe we’ll get some utility out of him in 2022 … but I’m dubious.
The Jets might just be too bad of a team to make Wilson a real fantasy option.
And it’s not as if this matters, but he totally looks like the guy you don’t want dating your daughter. In an ’80s teen movie, he would be the hot guy AND the smarmy villain.
Also, now seems like a good time to make a confession.
I know nothing about evaluating quarterbacks, and I'm about to start writing my Zach Wilson prospect profile.
I'm sorry, and you're welcome.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 20, 2021
A three-star recruit, Wilson hoped to sign with Utah, where his father, Mike Wilson, played as a defensive tackle — but the team didn’t have a need at quarterback, so he instead went to instate rival BYU.
Opening his freshman year as the backup behind Tanner Mangum, Wilson overtook the 25-year-old senior in the middle of the season and started the final seven games to become the youngest starting quarterback in BYU history.
Overall, Wilson had a 65.9% completion rate for 1,578-12-3 passing with 50-372-2 rushing (excluding sacks, per SIS).
After his promising freshman season, Wilson regressed as a sophomore, putting up a 62.4% completion rate for 2,382-11-9 passing with 48-303-3 rushing (excluding sacks) in nine games, missing a month in the middle of the season with a broken right thumb.
His year-over-year freshman-to-sophomore efficiency numbers are telling (per SIS).
Expected Points Added per Drop Back
- 2018: 0.10
- 2019: -0.09
Adjusted Yards per Attempt
- 2018: 9.2
- 2019: 6.9
After his sophomore campaign, Wilson wasn’t even thought of as an NFL prospect.
But his 2020 season clearly changed the way he is now perceived. His junior campaign was nothing short of extraordinary. Starting all 12 games, he led BYU to an 11-1 record with a 73.5% completion rate for 3,692-33-3 passing while adding 58-362-10 rushing (excluding sacks).
As great as Mac Jones was last year throwing the football, Wilson was right there with him as one of the purest passers in college.
SIS Independent Quarterback Rating Without Pressure
- Zach Wilson: 136.7
- Mac Jones: 136.1
Adjusted Yards per Attempt (More Than 6 Games)
- Mac Jones: 11.2
- Zach Wilson: 11.0
In every passing category on the SIS quarterback leaderboard, Wilson was a top-three player last year.
If you read any scouting report on Wilson, it will indubitably highlight his passing ability: The dude has a cannon. If I took a shot of tequila every time I read “arm talent” in a Wilson writeup, then I’d be way drunker than I currently am.
In the pocket, he is accurate to all levels of the field. He moves through his progressions with steadiness. He stands tall and delivers the ball quickly. He avoids pressure while keeping his eyes up.
When the pocket breaks down, he improvises like a veteran and regularly looks to attack deep. In fact, he’s more dynamic as an off-script playmaker than an on-script pocket passer, and you see that in his numbers: When plays break down, he airs the ball out, and the farther he throws it, the better the outcome (per PFF).
PFF Passing Grades by Depth of Target
- 1-9 Yards: 82.9
- 10-19 Yards: 93.9
- 20-Plus Yards: 99.9
Wilson is a swashbuckling gunslinger. With some of the plays he makes, he looks like Patrick Mahomes.
Watching tape on #BYU QB Zach Wilson…
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 23, 2021
Of course, sometimes he gets into trouble — because he’s not Mahomes. We didn’t see it much last year, but as a sophomore he routinely demonstrated a dangerous overabundance of faith in his arm strength and an underabundance of measured decision-making.
Wilson has uncoachable talent — but that might mean part of him will always be uncoachable.
Despite the uncontrollable hype that Wilson got in the buildup to the draft …
🎙 NBC analyst @CSimmsQB explains why he would pick Zach Wilson over Trevor Lawrence in this year's NFL Draft.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 13, 2021
… he is far from a perfect prospect.
He started at BYU for 2.5 seasons, but he had just one year of truly special production, and that came against an extremely soft schedule in a COVID-impacted season. Not one of his opponents last year was from the Power Five.
Granted, he was impacted as a freshman and sophomore by injuries. After his first year, Wilson had surgery on his throwing shoulder to repair an injury he suffered in high school, and then as a sophomore he had surgery on his throwing thumb. That might explain why he didn’t break out until his junior season.
At the same time, it’s not ideal that he has already had surgeries on his throwing shoulder and hand.
And his injury history raises potential concerns about his size. Wilson isn’t prohibitively small, but he’s certainly not built like a prototypical quarterback. He’s not tall, and he has a slight frame.
Wilson bossed out at the BYU pro day, impressing No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence in the process.
But without the pads — in just shorts and a shirt — he physically looked more like a high-school recruit than an NFL draft prospect.
And the guy has some questionable off-the-field judgment. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
— Zachary Wilson (@ZachWilson) April 16, 2021
That order is basic. B-A-S-I-C. Someone needs to say it.
Also, who wears a ring on his pointer finger? Does he think he’s Frodo?
None of these concerns are cataclysmic. Wilson has the tools to be a franchise quarterback. It helps that he’s a net-positive runner.
I’ve said for a while, the most underrated aspect of Zach Wilson’s game is his ability to scramble. This should be a safety. Instead, it’s a massive gain. pic.twitter.com/3jWwBP2pt0
— Jarrett Bailey (@JBaileyNFL) February 17, 2021
With his scrambling ability, Wilson has an elevated floor for both fantasy and reality.
But he’s not Lawrence as a passer, and he’s not Justin Fields or Trey Lance as a runner — and that means I can’t rank him as a top-three quarterback.
Wilson has virtues, but he might not have enough of the right ones.
NFL Prospect Comp: Johnny Manziel with less rushing ability but more draft capital, accuracy and prudence
28. Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Mac Jones Fantasy Analysis
At long last, the boy has come to claim his starting job.
Someone tweeted that this kid grew up to be Mac Jones and Ive been crying laughin for an hour 😭😭😭😂😂😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/kFNEDRnUtB
— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) April 30, 2021
When the odds shifted at sportsbooks and it became clear on draft day that Jones would not go No. 3 to the 49ers, I immediately slotted him to the Patriots at No. 15 in my final mock. The pairing of Jones with HC Bill Belichick makes too much sense.
"San Francisco came asking. Denver came asking. Chicago came asking. I told them all I thought Tua was better. (laughs) We both know that's not true — this kid is Tom Brady 2.0. But I'm telling you, I convinced them all, I made sure this kids going to be there for you at 15." pic.twitter.com/OYb6irpLT9
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 30, 2021
The Patriots just predictably used a first-round pick on a guy who has mid-round attributes in the hope that he might be the second coming of the late-round pick who gifted the team Hall-of-Fame production.
The Shakespearean in me loves this. And so does Belichick.
For fantasy, of course, this situation could be a disaster in 2021. Jones probably won’t start right away, and the Patriots offense with incumbent Cam Newton does not suit Jones, which might give Newton a stronger hold on the job.
And even if Jones does see playing time as a rookie, the Patriots are still likely to rely on the running game. The Pats might have the best tight end duo in football with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but at wide receiver they have perhaps the worst trio in the league with Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry and Kendrick Bourne.
But the situation isn’t all bad.
I can't think of a better quarterback than Cam Newton to mentor Mac Jones.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 30, 2021
See what I mean?
Under Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels, Jones could one day develop into an effective-if-uninspiring quick-strike pocket passer who methodically moves his team down the field, but that almost certainly won’t happen in 2021 — and probably not even 2022 — and even at his best Jones will offer nothing as a runner, so his fantasy ceiling will inherently be capped.
He has long-term potential with the Patriots as the No. 5 quarterback in the class, but he’s not an exciting player to draft.
Just watching the guy walk tells you almost all you need to know about how he plays football.
Niche tweet, but man is this accurate https://t.co/qz1Y4ZXqnS
— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) May 1, 2021
Jones has the brain of Bill Walsh, but he also has the body of a dad, the ruddy face of a prepubescent boy and perhaps the off-the-field judgement of Johnny Manziel.
I’m not joking about that last part.
In his redshirt season, Jones was involved in a drunk-driving accident with another vehicle. No one was injured, but after failing a field sobriety test, he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and having a fake identification card.
Now, everyone makes mistakes — especially college freshmen — but most of them aren’t also praised for their leadership and intelligence and paid millions of dollars to represent multi-billion dollar organizations just a few years after the commission of their notable transgressions.
The people around Jones have done a remarkable job of talking about the DUI as a “transitional event” — and it probably was — but most players with DUIs … they don’t go in Round 1. Of course, most of them also don’t resemble the cherub-faced Jones.
But let’s assume that Jones is indeed intelligent and has matured since his redshirt season, both of which are likely. Even then, Jones has issues.
First, he’s a net negative as a runner. Of all the quarterbacks profiled in the SIS Handbook, Jones is easily last with his career mark of 3.7 yards per carry (excluding sacks).
Despite what he says, Jones is a smidgeon statuesque.
I've seen Mac Jones throw on the move in practice & he did it well today's 2nd Pro Day. Listen carefully to what @MacJones_10 says "In the game I play in the framework of the offense.I'll have to move but you don't want to ruin the structure of the play" #NFLDraft #RollTide pic.twitter.com/pzuNaQckNE
— Scott Pioli (@scottpioli51) March 30, 2021
That’s not a surprise. Jones has decent pocket maneuverability — and his agility is evidenced by his respectable 7.04-second three-cone time — but as a recruit he ran a 4.91-second 40-yard dash at just 180 pounds. Yikes.
With that as the starting point, there’s only so much improvement an athlete can make, even with four years at Alabama. Yes, Jones can lift a lot of weight with his legs, and that’s impressive.
But despite all his physical work with perhaps the best strength-and-conditioning coaches in college football, Jones is the unabashed owner of a Rubenesque voluptuousness usually glimpsed only in Renaissance paintings.
Mac jones' shirtless does have a "my uncle" feel to him. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/CHwx3r2MKY
— Amanda_Mke (@Knina_WI) April 9, 2021
Jones is more athletic than he looks — but he’s not an athlete. He will almost certainly never be an asset as a runner.
And as a passer, he lacks an above-average arm. He led the nation in 2020 with 1,355 yards on passes 20-plus yards downfield (per PFF), but he also played in more games than any other quarterback and had the benefit of playing in an offense with NFL-caliber talent at every position.
Arm strength is literally at the top of his list of cons in the PFF Draft Guide: “Middling arm. Underthrew a number of deep balls but got away with it because of his WRs.”
A number of quarterbacks in this class can fling it: Jones is not one of them. Even at his pro day, he notably underthrew receivers deep.
Watch Mac Jones throw a couple deep passes at Alabama's pro day.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 23, 2021
Those deep throws — those were highlights. HIGHLIGHTS. Those might be the worst pro day highlights I’ve ever seen. In the NFL, Jones would be lucky if both of those throws were not intercepted.
I’ll be the first to say that ball velocity isn’t massively important, especially if a quarterback is cerebral and anticipatory with his throws — and Jones is, to his credit. But his lack of arm strength will limit him in the NFL. It means that he will need to be better than most quarterbacks at everything else that goes into completing passes, and he’ll need to do it without the benefit of playing in an elite Alabama offense vs. overmatched defenses.
On top of that, it’s analytically troublesome that Jones has just 17 starts on his college record.
He can’t help it that he redshirted in 2017, played behind both Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in 2018 and then served as the No. 2 quarterback for most of 2019. But Jones’ lack of early-career playing time means that he had fewer opportunities in college to develop, and his relatively small sample of starts increases the possibility that his production was fluky — especially in an unrepresentative 2020 college season impacted by COVID-19.
With just one year as a starter, Jones finds himself in a cohort of such Round 1 busts as Mark Sanchez and Mitchell Trubisky.
But the small sample isn’t a death knell: Kyler Murray also started only 17 games in college, and after two years in the league, he’s already one of the most coveted dynasty quarterbacks.
And what Jones did as a passer — after Tagovailoa’s hip injury thrust him into the full-time starting role — was extraordinary.
In his four 2019 starts, Jones looked great throwing the ball.
- Arkansas: 18-of-22 passing, 235 yards, three touchdowns
- Western Carolina: 7-of-11 passing, 275 yards, three touchdowns
- Auburn: 26-of-39 passing, 335 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions
- Michigan: 16-of-25 passing, 327 yards, three touchdowns
And then in 2020, he looked like the best quarterback in the nation, leading the Power Five with 12.8 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) as he has completed 77.4% of his passes for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions in 13 games.
It’s worth noting that what Jones did in 2020 stands up to what Joe Burrow, Hurts and Fields did in 2019 (their best seasons) and what Murray did in 2018 (his best season).
Peak Adjusted Yards per Attempt
- Kyler Murray (2018): 13.0
- Mac Jones (2020): 12.8
- Joe Burrow (2019): 12.5
- Jalen Hurts (2019): 12.2
- Justin Fields (2019): 11.2
For his career at Alabama, Jones had a 12.5 AY/A; Tagovailoa, 12.7.
What Jones accomplished in college, especially in 2020, places him among the best passing prospects of the past three years.
He predictably dominates the SIS quarterback leaderboard with his 2020 statistics, ranking No. 1 with 14.9 total points per game, a 145.2 Independent Quarterback Rating, 91% catchable ball rate and 0.49 expected points added per drop back.
It’s that last number that really intrigues me. When we look at what the most productive quarterbacks have done in their best starting seasons over the past few years, Jones is at the top of the list in expected points added efficiency.
Peak Expected Points Added per Drop Back
- Mac Jones (2020): 0.49
- Tua Tagovailoa (2019): 0.49
- Kyler Murray (2018): 0.47
- Joe Burrow (2019): 0.39
- Jalen Hurts (2019): 0.38
Yes, Jones benefited from the NFL-level talent around him at Alabama — but so did Tagovailoa. So did Burrow at LSU and Murray and Hurts at Oklahoma.
What does it matter if Jones isn’t a great runner? The NFL is a passing league, and Jones just had one of the most productive seasons in college history on a per-drop back basis.
What does it matter if Jones doesn’t have a strong arm? Lots of past-their-prime #DadRunner passers have average arms, and Jones might have the intelligence and anticipatory throwing to play like a veteran right away.
With his college production, he definitely deserved to go in Round 1.
But I still think he’s clearly the No. 5 quarterback in this class, and that’s where PFF, SIS and The Draft Network all had him ranked before the draft. Of the Big Five, he’s clearly last in rushing ability and arm strength. And if you compared him to the recent quarterbacks to go in the top 10, he would also be last in that cohort in rushing and arm talent.
But I doubt that matters.
I’m known for my hard-earned pessimism. Even so, Jones has the overall passing skill set to succeed in the NFL.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 21, 2021
A quarterback doesn’t need to throw the ball hard as long as he throws it accurately, and Jones is one of the most accurate passers we’ve seen as a prospect in years.
I can’t get over this kid’s pocket awareness or his release.
Call me a Mac Jones TRUTHER. pic.twitter.com/HCsmQdcfwK
— Elvin Ryan (@ElvinRyan_FF) February 16, 2021
Rushing is incredibly important for quarterbacks in fantasy, and Jones will struggle to produce on the ground in the NFL. Even picking up just a few yards in college was an epic task for the guy.
I see a lot of Lamar in Mac's game 😤 pic.twitter.com/ClIeFN7s8s
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) April 23, 2021
Without the ability to run, he will have a capped NFL ceiling, and at a onesie position it makes much more sense to focus on ceiling than floor.
But I expect that Jones will have some level of NFL success with stretches of fantasy relevance. Maybe he won’t be this generation’s Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but he has a good chance to become the next Derek Carr or Andy Dalton.
For a guy named “Michael McCorkle,” that’s a good fate.
NFL Prospect Comp: Tua Tagovailoa with less overall production, less rushing ability and a later breakout but more passing capacity
29. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Patriots
Rhamondre Stevenson Fantasy Analysis
Color me curious.
The Patriots didn’t need to draft Stevenson: They already have Damien Harris and Sony Michel to run between the tackles. But the still selected him.
Maybe Belichick and McDaniels looked at Stevenson and thought he could be the LaGarrette Blount to Mac Jones’ Tom Brady. Plus, he’s an exceptional special teams contributor and big enough to play some fullback. You know the Patriots must love that versatility.
With his Round 4 draft capital, Stevenson probably won’t do much in the NFL, especially in 2021. Just look back to the nothingness that Harris accomplished as a rookie in 2019 — and then he led the team in rushing in 2020.
Michel is probably in his final year with the team, and Harris is still an unproven player. Stevenson has potential as a future NFL lead back in New England.
Who knows? The Patriots might even cut Michel before the season starts, clearing a spot for Stevenson in the backfield.
He has had a long, winding road to this point. As a high-school junior in 2014, he was 179-1,457-17 rushing and 12-238-0 receiving in 11 games as the Las Vegas Sun High School Player of the Year, but he broke his foot as a senior and consequently drew no college interest as a zero-star recruit.
After graduating, Stevenson took a year off and then in 2017 he enrolled at Cerritos Community College, where as a freshman he was the No. 2 back in a timeshare with 68-501-3 rushing and 5-38-2 receiving in 10 games for an uninspiring 3-7 team.
As a sophomore, though, Stevenson dominated, ranking No. 1 in the California Community College Athletic Association in both yards and touchdowns rushing.
This is what game-to-game junior college rushing domination looks like, in case you’re wondering. pic.twitter.com/wbwpkHCdR2
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 19, 2021
In every game of the 2018 season, Stevenson rushed for 100-plus yards on his way to 222-2,111-16 rushing with 13-175-0 receiving.
In case you’re not aware …
Look, if you're not even willing to dig into Rhamondre Stevenson's junior college data …
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 19, 2021
… that kind of junior college production is elite.
When adjusting for offense, it’s comparable to what Damien Williams did at Arizona Western College in 2011 as the No. 1 JUCO back in the nation (259-1,931-26 rushing and 20-317-4 receiving in 12 games).
It’s comparable to what Blount did at East Mississippi Community College.
- 2006 (8 games): 189-1,250-12 rushing | 11-139-1 receiving
- 2007 (9 games): 178-1,042-6 rushing | 8-144-1 receiving
When Blount left the JUCO ranks, he was the No. 1 two-year running back recruit in the country, and the same was true for Stevenson, who had 3-4 stars and scholarship offers from multiple schools.
Opting for Oklahoma, Stevenson opened the 2019 season behind Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks — and quarterback Jalen Hurts dominated carries with his dual-threat capability — but with Sermon’s eventual benching and season-ending injury, Stevenson carved out a supplementary role as the big-bodied No. 2 back with 64-515-6 rushing and 10-87-0 receiving.
Although he saw limited usage, Stevenson regularly flashed his playmaking ability with 8.0 yards per carry and 8.7 yards per target, and by the end of the season he was regarded as a regular contributor who could provide fresh legs off the bench.
But before the College Football Playoffs, Stevenson failed a drug test and was suspended for six games, forced to miss Oklahoma’s Peach Bowl matchup with LSU as well as the first five games of the 2020 campaign.
Without Stevenson — as well as Brooks and Sermon, who respectively opted out and transferred in 2020 — the Sooners split the work between their remaining backs to open the year, but once Stevenson returned he owned the backfield.
In each of his six games as a senior, Stevenson either went over 100 yards from scrimmage or scored a touchdown. In total, he was 101-665-7 rushing and 18-211-0 receiving. Across a truncated season, those numbers definitely suffice.
Stylistically, Stevenson is very much the kind of runner you’d expect him to be given his size: He runs as if he hates humanity. He’s a bully. A punisher. When he has a clean lane, he quickly becomes a north-south runner and seeks to destroy any would-be tackler who gets in his way.
This is a Rhamondre Stevenson stan account
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) March 1, 2021
He slimmed down for the Senior Bowl and his pro day, but last year he was listed at 246 pounds and regularly played in the 240s. With that size, he scoffs off arm tackles and unsurprisingly leads the class in FBS production after contact (per SIS).
Yards After Contact per Attempt
- Rhamondre Stevenson (2019-20): 4.8
- Travis Etienne (2017-20): 4.3
- Javonte Williams (2018-20): 4.1
- Trey Sermon (2017-20): 3.8
- Kenneth Gainwell (2018-19): 3.6
- Michael Carter (2017-20): 3.5
- Najee Harris (2017-20): 3.3
- Kylin Hill (2017-20): 3.2
- Chuba Hubbard (2018-20): 3.2
Although Stevenson can sometimes be slow to change direction — like a semitruck — at the Oklahoma pro day he flashed exceptional sized-adjusted agility with his 7.09-second short shuttle, which puts him in the 85th percentile of historical performers at the position (per RV Workout Explorer).
Stevenson’s agility translates to on-field performance. As noted of Stevenson in the PFF Draft Guide: “Loves to hit ’em with the big-fella spin move.” Haha, oh my. There’s a 100% chance that Mike Renner wrote that sentence.
Although Stevenson has the look of a two-down back, his receiving numbers suggest otherwise. In 2020, he averaged three receptions per game, and at Oklahoma he caught 28-of-34 targets. On a per-target and -route basis, Stevenson was comparable to — in fact, somewhat better than — Najee Harris throughout the 2019-20 seasons (per SIS).
Yards per Target
- Rhamondre Stevenson (2019-20): 8.7 & 8.8
- Najee Harris (2019-20): 8.7 & 8.0
Yards per Route
- Rhamondre Stevenson (2019-20): 2.9 & 1.2
- Najee Harris (2019-20): 2.1 & 0.9
Stevenson doesn’t have Harris’ soft hands and smooth routes, but he’s capable as a receiver with the size and strength to hold his own in pass protection, which means he could actually be a three-down player if he’s able to find the field.
On top of that, Stevenson proved himself at Oklahoma to be a willing and quite strong special teams contributor: He’s not above doing the dirty work, and that will help him stick on an NFL roster.
Come for Rhamondre Stevenson's 4th quarter touchdown, stay for his tackle on the ensuing kickoff. pic.twitter.com/MglIUJnV5L
— Eddie Radosevich (@Eddie_Rado) October 5, 2019
Nystrom compares Stevenson to Eddie Lacy — and I can see it, although I think it’s on the optimistic side of the spectrum.
In truth, it’s hard to come up with satisfying comps for Stevenson. Here are two that are close but not quite right.
- LaGarrette Blount with a diet, more receiving production and draft capital
- Matt Asiata with more total production, athleticism and draft capital but also less receiving production
In the end, I settled on the one that isn’t promising but is perhaps telling.
NFL Prospect Comp: Daniel Thomas with less draft capital but more receiving ability and agility
30. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Panthers
Chuba Hubbard Fantasy Analysis
With an unproven depth chart behind starter Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers seem likely to make Hubbard the backup — so he will have value. Last year, Mike Davis showed how productive a non-CMC back can be in that system.
Taken on Day 3, Hubbard has more potential and talent than implied by his draft capital.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
By not entering the NFL in 2020 — and then by not opting out of the 2020 college season — Hubbard certainly cost himself millions of dollars.
Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Hubbard entered the recruitment process with 3-4 stars to his name and a world-class sprinting background on his résumé as a three-time 100-meter national champion. In 2015, Hubbard competed in the IAAF World Youth Championships and finished No. 4 in the 100-meter sprint with a personal best of 10.55 seconds in the semifinals. He has legitimate and verified speed.
With his manifest talent, Hubbard received scholarship offers from many of the top football programs in the United States — including Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Oklahoma — and he chose Oklahoma State.
In 2017 Hubbard redshirted so he could transition from Canadian to American football, and then the following year he stepped into the offense and immediately played as the bigger-bodied supplement to upperclassman Justice Hill while also returning kicks.
- Rushing: 124-740-7
- Receiving: 22-229-2
- Kick Returning: 23-510-0
And in the final four of his 13 games — when Hill was out with injury — Hubbard was exceptional as the lead back with a robust 79-425-5 rushing and 13-110-1 receiving.
He carried his impressive surge to close the 2018 season into 2019, when he dominated the Cowboys offense as a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year with an FBS-best 328-2,094-21 rushing as well as 23-198-0 receiving.
If Hubbard had chosen to enter the NFL after the 2019 season — as a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore — I think he would have been a lock to go on Day 2. In my way-too-early 2020 dynasty rookie rankings, I had Hubbard slated for Round 1 of rookie drafts before he announced his intent to return to college.
But maybe I’m wrong: After Hubbard’s sophomore campaign and decision not to declare for the draft, Cowboys HC Mike Gundy explained the decision by noting that “people really didn’t know where he would go — middle second round all the way to fourth round, a dramatic difference financially up front and those rounds in the draft” (per Garrett Stepien).
So, Hubbard returned to college to solidify and perhaps improve his draft stock … and that didn’t happen.
Battling an ankle injury in the second half of the 2020 season, Hubbard was a modest 133-625-5 rushing and 8-52-1 receiving in seven games. Those numbers aren’t awful, but Hubbard certainly underperformed expectations, and his year-over-year production notably declined in every efficiency category (per SIS).
Yards per Attempt
- 2019: 6.4
- 2020: 4.7
Yards After Contact per Attempt
- 2019: 3.7
- 2020: 2.2
Yards per Target
- 2019: 6.6
- 2020: 5.2
Yards per Route
- 2019: 1.9
- 2020: 0.3
Positive Play Rate – Inside
- 2019: 53%
- 2020: 38%
Positive Play Rate – Outside
- 2019: 51%
- 2020: 20%
Positive Play Rate – Zone
- 2019: 50%
- 2020: 40%
Positive Play Rate – Gap
- 2019: 51%
- 2020: 47%
Expected Points Added per Attempt
- 2019: 0.13
- 2020: -0.03
Expected Points Added per Target
- 2019: -0.02
- 2020: -0.11
To put all of this in perspective: Hubbard was one of the best players in college football in 2019, and even then he was a Day 2 pick at best. Now, coming off a remarkably subpar season, Hubbard was destined for Day 3.
As he demonstrated in his sophomore campaign, Hubbard is clearly an upside player, but his draft position highlights his downside.
Hubbard is far from a perfect prospect.
To start, he has ball security issues. In his two final seasons, he had seven fumbles (per PFF). He’s not careless with the ball in traffic, but he’s not as mindful of it as he should be — and as meaningless as fumbles are, they will be held against him in the NFL.
Hubbard is a smooth and purposeful runner who gets upfield in a hurry instead of looking to break plays outside, but he’s not a powerful runner. He doesn’t break tackles. He doesn’t fall forward. He doesn’t run behind his pads.
He showed in 2019 that he can handle a big workload, but he also seems to lack the rugged playing style coaches want in a lead back, which might limit the carries he gets in the NFL, if he ever even has the opportunity to compete for a lead role.
Additionally, he played in a friendly college offense, especially in 2019, and he might not have the benefit of a run/pass option-heavy zone-blocking scheme in the NFL. When Hubbard gets a crease, he can explode through it and outrun everyone.
Chuba Hubbard is faster than….well everyone.
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 29, 2019
But he won’t see as many advantageous running lanes in the NFL, and he might be a scheme-dependent back.
Hubbard’s biggest flaw is his work in the passing game. As evidenced by his per-target and -route efficiency since 2019, Hubbard is net negative as a receiver. He has a limited route tree and isn’t a crisp route runner. Additionally, he’s poor in pass protection (as noted by Nystrom).
With his receiving deficiency, Hubbard will likely see limited if any three-down usage in the NFL.
His disappointing pro day was just the rotten cherry on the fecal sundae. If you look at highlights, he wasn’t awful.
— NFL (@NFL) April 9, 2021
But people were expecting to see world-class athleticism — because Hubbard is a world-class sprinter.
I, however, am not worried about his pro day. We know that Hubbard is fast based on his tape and background, and a 4.48-second 40 time at 210 pounds is plenty fast anyway. His Freak Score of 72 is very comparable to Travis Etienne’s score of 73, but people aren’t freaking out (#NailedIt) about Etienne’s “lack” of athleticism (per RV).
And it’s not improbable that what we saw out of Hubbard at his pro day — similar to what we saw out of him in 2020 — was him near his worst.
If Hubbard wins the No. 2 job behind McCaffrey, he will have significant latent value.
NFL Prospect Comp: Jeremy Langford with a subpar final season
31. Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Eagles
Kenneth Gainwell Fantasy Analysis
Starter Miles Sanders failed to progress in his second season, diminutive backup Boston Scott is a restricted free agent after the year and neither player has ties to the new coaching staff.
Gainwell could supplant Boston as the change-of-pace back this year … and then from there … who knows? He’s unlikely ever to be a lead back — but I think he actually has that within his range of outcomes.
Every running back and all-purpose offensive weapon with a 1,000-yard season under former Memphis HC Mike Norvell has made his way into the NFL.
- Darrell Henderson (2017): 130-1,154-9 rushing | 24-226-2 receiving
- Patrick Taylor (2017): 157-866-13 rushing | 19-148-1 receiving
- Darrell Henderson (2018): 214-1,909-22 rushing | 19-295-3 receiving
- Patrick Taylor (2018): 208-1,122-16 rushing | 17-197-2 receiving
- Tony Pollard (2018): 78-552-6 rushing | 39-458-3 receiving
- Antonio Gibson (2019): 33-369-4 rushing | 38-735-8 receiving
Henderson and Gibson were drafted in Round 3, while Pollard was selected in Round 4. All three of them have flashed in the league.
Taylor was an undrafted free agent in 2020, and he spent most of his rookie year on the non-football injury list because of a foot injury suffered in college, but he was at least on the Packers roster for the entire season.
Recent Memphis backs have proven themselves to be NFL-caliber players.
Add Gainwell’s name to the list.
A dual-threat quarterback in high school, Gainwell played as a reserve offensive weapon behind Henderson, Taylor and Pollard for the first four games of his true freshman season. He flashed in limited action with 4-49-1 rushing and 6-52-0 receiving, but he decided to redshirt the rest of the season as he transitioned fully to running back.
And then in 2019 — with Henderson and Pollard in the NFL — Gainwell broke out. In Week 1 he played a supplementary-but-productive role behind Taylor with 100-plus scrimmage yards against SEC opponent Mississippi, and when Taylor missed the next eight games to injury, Gainwell seized control of the backfield.
Taylor returned for the final month of action as well as the bowl game, but Gainwell was the clear lead back by then, and he finished his redshirt freshman campaign with a dominant 231-1,459-13 rushing and 51-610-3 receiving.
In 2020, Gainwell lost four family members to COVID-19 before the start of the football season, so he decided to opt out of the campaign, and then he declared for the draft after the season. With just one year of collegiate playing time, Gainwell is an unconventional prospect — but that one year was undeniably special.
Stylistically, Gainwell runs bigger than his size and is unafraid to fight for tough interior yards. The extent of his strength was seen at the Memphis pro day, where Gainwell had 21 bench press reps. And in space Gainwell is dangerous with sufficient speed, agility and vision to break long runs, make defenders miss and take advantageous angles on would-be tacklers.
But Gainwell’s NFL bread will not be buttered with his rushing. His dough will be made thanks to his receiving.
Memphis recruited him as a receiver. In his shortened true freshman season he lined up in the slot or out wide on 67% of his snaps, and he brings a receiver’s skill set to the running back position. If a team wanted to move Gainwell to the slot as a full-time receiver, he could probably make it work: On his 60 catchable targets, he had just three drops in college (per PFF).
His hands are exceptional.
This is an absurd adjustment by RB Kenneth Gainwell.
— Adam Pfeifer (@APfeifer24) March 1, 2021
Gainwell’s routes are also smooth. In 2019, he usually stuck to shorter routes typical of a running back, but he also flashed the ability to challenge defenses deep on wheel and seam routes.
With apologies to Travis Etienne, Gainwell has a case to be made as the best receiving back in this class (per SIS).
Yards per Route
- Kenneth Gainwell (2018-19): 3.7 & 3.2
- Travis Etienne (2019-20): 3.4 & 1.6
- Najee Harris (2019-20): 2.1 & 0.9
- Javonte Williams (2019-20): 2.6 & 1.1
- Kylin Hill (2019-20): 1.6 & 2.2
- Michael Carter (2019-20): 1.7 & 1.2
- Chuba Hubbard (2019-20): 1.9 & 0.3
- Demetric Felton (2019-20): 2.5 & 0.6
I could continue to list other backs, but I’ll stop.
As a receiver, especially out of the backfield, Gainwell is dominant. At Memphis, he was even more efficient as a pass catcher than the playmaking Gibson.
Yards per Route
- Kenneth Gainwell (2018-19): 3.7 & 3.2
- Antonio Gibson (2019-20): 2.1 & 2.5
Think of the good receiving backs in last year’s class, especially Clyde Edwards-Helaire and D’Andre Swift: Gainwell might be better than them as a pass catcher.
Yards per Route
- Kenneth Gainwell (2018-19): 3.7 & 3.2
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire (2018-19): 3.3 & 1.2
- D’Andre Swift (2018-19): 2.2 & 1.3
Whenever he went out on a route in college, regardless of where he lined up, he produced.
Of course, Gainwell is not without his problems. Even though he runs big, he’s still small: He might not be able to withstand the grind of regularly running between the tackles in the NFL. If he can’t do that, he almost certainly can’t be a lead back.
Additionally, even though he’s willing to run in the interior, Gainwell is something of a Bartleby in that he would prefer not to. He constantly looks to break his runs to the outside. He’s too improvisational, and that won’t endear him to NFL coaches.
Essentially, he’s a scat back who can get tough yards when necessary but would rather try for the big play when possible.
I’m not dissuaded by the negatives.
Even if Gainwell is only a change-of-pace receiving back, he can still have success à la Darren Sproles and Nyheim Hines. In truth, they are two of his closest comps.
- Darren Sproles with more size and fewer college seasons but no return production and less agility
- Nyheim Hines with less speed and return production but an earlier breakout and more peak production
But perhaps Gainwell could develop into an NFL lead back. We have seen smaller prospects enter the league at a size comparable to Gainwell’s and bulk up. LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice, for instance.
And there’s some evidence that Gainwell has bulk-up potential: As a recruit, he was 185 pounds. In his redshirt freshman year, he played at 191. And then at his pro day he was 201.
Even if all he does is add four more pounds of muscle, at 205 he would be a viable candidate to head a committee backfield.
Gainwell will probably never be anything more than a good receiving back in the NFL — but I think he has underappreciated upside.
NFL Prospect Comp: Dion Lewis but bigger and better at receiving
- 32. Hunter Long: TE, Dolphins
- 33. Davis Mills: QB, Texans
- 34. Kellen Mond: QB, Vikings
- 35. Jaelon Darden: WR, Buccaneers
- 36. Tylan Wallace: WR, Ravens
Long is the No. 3 tight end in the class and a reasonable investment with his Round draft capital.
Mills and Mond are speculative quarterback selections with Day 2 credit and the possibility of playing in 2021-22.
Darden and Wallace are the remaining Round 4 receivers I like the most.
32. Hunter Long, TE, Dolphins
Hunter Long Fantasy Analysis
Long will open the year behind starter Mike Gesicki, but the veteran is in the final year of his contract. If Gesicki and the team part ways in 2022, Long could find himself with a starting job.
A well-rounded player with functionality as a blocker and receiver, Long will see playing time right away in two-tight end sets. And at times he might play ahead of Gesicki because of his ability to contribute in all situations.
We should never expect much from rookie tight ends. Long will likely be a fantasy nonentity in 2021. But in the seasons beyond he has potential.
After Pat Freiermuth, Long might be the best two-way tight end in the class. He’s big enough to play inline, where he lined up for the supermajority of his college snaps, and he’s strong enough to contribute as a run blocker, but he’s also much more than just a conventional No. 2 tight end.
He can catch the ball.
— Dante Collinelli (@DanteCollinelli) September 19, 2020
He’s not an exceptional route runner, but he’s good at NFL-style routes, and last year he trailed only Kyle Pitts among the top prospects with his strong combination of volume (5.2 reception per game, No. 2) and average depth of target (9.4 yards per target, No. 2 per SIS).
Long’s path to this point has not been straightforward.
Coming out of Exeter High School, he was an undersized blocker in a run-heavy offense, so he drew zero college interest. As a result, he took a post-graduate season in 2016 at Deerfield Academy, where he significantly bulked up and worked on his pass catching.
At Deerfield, Long flashed a 30-504-2 receiving line in eight games, which was sufficient to earn him a scholarship offer from Boston College.
He did little for the first two years of his college career, redshirting in 2017 and playing as a blocking tight end in 2018 with just 4-103-2 receiving in 12 games. In 2019, though, Long broke out with a 28-509-2 receiving performance in 13 games, ranking No. 1 on the team in yards receiving and No. 2 in receptions and doing fine work as a blocker for A.J. Dillon in an incredibly run-heavy offense.
In 2020, under new head coach Jeff Hafley, the Eagles shifted to more of a balanced attack. But even with a new system, Long remained an offensive focal point with 57-685-5 receiving in 11 games, ranking No. 1 in receptions and No. 2 in yards and touchdowns receiving. Across the nation, he was No. 3 at the position with 11 contested catches (per PFF).
With his college production and overall skill set, Long projects as a potential NFL starter who could develop into a fantasy contributor. In the best of worlds, he becomes Jason Witten. In the worst of worlds, he’s Jace Sternberger.
NFL Prospect Comp: Josh Oliver with less draft capital and athleticism but more size and blocking ability
33. Davis Mills, QB, Texans
Davis Mills Fantasy Analysis
Mills: More like “Meh-lls,” amirite?
I’m much more interested in Mills than I thought I would be before the draft, and it’s due mostly to landing spot.
With his early Round 3 draft capital, Mills is inherently likely at some point to get the chance to start — and with the Texans that opportunity might come as early as 2021 because of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s uncertain status.
If Lance says it’s official it’s official https://t.co/ql2nFNd02F
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) May 1, 2021
Under normal circumstances, I’d think of Mills as a long-term developmental prospect with little-to-no chance of seeing playing time for two-plus years. But in the present situation, Mills has very real odds to play significant snaps soon.
Whether Watson is suspended or traded, he might not be the Week 1 starter. And although the Texans have Tyrod Taylor on the roster, he has proven himself especially adept at moving aside for younger quarterbacks over the past few years.
If Watson is out, Mills probably won’t beat out Taylor to open the year, but he could overtake Taylor by the middle of the season.
Mills has little rushing ability, so even if he pans out in reality he might disappoint in fantasy — but he has potential.
Mills was the No. 1 pocket-passing recruit in the 2017 class: He has talent. His arm strength is sufficient, and his size is prototypical. He looks like an NFL quarterback when he’s in the pocket and has time to throw to a receiver who breaks open.
Just when I was getting frustrated and ready to turn off the tape, Davis Mills goes and does something like this and totally redeems himself!
Cover 2 hole shot to the field (ish)… LFG pic.twitter.com/LsPSUB3sAW
— Tim Jenkins (@TJenkinsElite) February 18, 2021
But he has no speed and little rushing instinct. He has decent pocket maneuverability thanks to his excellent size-adjusted agility (6.95-second three cone), but he has poor overall pocket awareness.
He stares down receivers and is careless with the ball: Over the past two years, he had 17 turnover-worthy plays (per PFF), which resulted in eight interceptions in 13 games … just 13 games.
And that’s the big problem with Mills: He hasn’t progressed as a quarterback because he has gotten almost no playing time.
He redshirted his first year at Stanford and then attempted just two passes as a reserve in his second year. As a redshirt sophomore, he started six games in place of injured starter K.J. Costello, who transferred after the season, so Mills in 2020 was slated for a full allotment of playing time — but then Stanford played only six games because of the pandemic, and Mills missed the season opener in the COVID-19 protocol.
In total, Mills has played just 14 college games (11 starts) and passed for only 3,468 yards and 18 touchdowns (with eight interceptions). Those numbers are far too low for a guy who is four years removed from high school and turning 23 as a rookie.
He’s a developmental prospect, and with his lack of rushing ability he will have a capped fantasy ceiling. But he also has a shot to become a starting NFL quarterback in 2021, and that imbues him with extra value.
NFL Prospect Comp: Jarrett Stidham with less college experience
34. Kellen Mond, QB, Vikings
Kellen Mond Fantasy Analysis
OK, Mr. Mond. You have my attention.
Kellen Mond is officially 2021 Jalen Hurts.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
With his early Round 3 draft capital, Mond is a threat to starter Kirk Cousins.
Mond won’t challenge Cousins for the starting job in the offseason: He will open the year as the backup. But if — when (cough) — Cousins underperforms, there will be those in the organization and fan base who start to petition for Mond to get playing time.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 1, 2021
Cousins is under contract for two more years, so it’s easy to write off the idea that he could eventually lose out to the rookie. But people said the same thing last year about Carson Wentz with Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia.
People resist the idea that Mond is comparable to Hurts by suggesting that the now-starting Eagles quarterback is clearly the better player. I’m not sure about that: They were both drafted on the borderline of Rounds 2-3, and when Hurts was drafted in 2020 many dynasty players weren’t into him.
Yes … but not that many people actually bothered to say that last year after he was drafted.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
I think a comparison between Hurts last year and Mond now is fair, both because of their team-based circumstances and because of their similar skill sets and talent levels.
Jalen Hurts: No. 1 dual-threat QB recruit in 2016
Kellen Mond: No. 1 dual-threat QB recruit in 2017
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
It’s easy to look at what Hurts did in his final season at Oklahoma and say that he was obviously better as a prospect than Mond — but that perspective lacks imagination.
It's as if people have forgotten that they used to think Jalen Hurts was bad when he was at Alabama.
If Kellen Mond had transferred to Oklahoma for his senior year, you don't think he would have balled out — just like every other transfer QB has done at OU?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) May 1, 2021
Maybe I’m wrong: Maybe Cousins will keep his job for the entirety of 2021. But 2022 is Cousins’ last year under contract, and the Vikings just drafted a quarterback at the top of Round 3. I’m doing some math.
With his draft capital, Mond will likely get a chance to prove himself at some point — and whenever that happens he could be a big-time run-game contributor.
Note: I don’t think Mond is actually all that good, in general. If he ever starts, I doubt he will keep the job long. Fortunately, reality and fantasy are sufficiently different. Mond could be bad in reality and good in fantasy — because he can run.
Mond’s 349-2,192-22 career rushing line at Texas A&M speaks to his overall Konami Code competence.
It’s also in his favor that Mond was a four-year producer in college and saw action as a true freshman.
But his passing stats in college were modest: In only one season (2020) did he have even 8.5 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A).
- 2017 (10 games): 51.5% completion rate | 227-1,375-8 passing | 5.1 AY/A
- 2018 (13 games): 57.3% completion rate | 415-3,107-24 passing | 7.7 AY/A
- 2019 (13 games): 61.6% completion rate | 419-2,897-20 passing | 6.9 AY/A
- 2020 (10 games): 63.3% completion rate | 297-2,282-19 passing | 8.5 AY/A
Mond had just 27 interceptions in 46 games, so he’s not careless with the ball. He played in a pro-style offense, and he generally improved throughout his college career. As a senior, he took just eight sacks after allowing 19, 33 and 32 in the previous seasons (per SIS).
But he never took a significant step forward in any season, and he’s average at almost everything to do with passing: He has average accuracy, anticipation and arm strength.
He’s good at navigating the pocket and has the athleticism and awareness to extend plays, sometimes in dramatic fashion.
Kellen Mond. Christian Kirk.
THAT. WAS. RIDICULOUS.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 8, 2017
Of all the quarterbacks in this class, he’s my favorite outside of the Big Five.
I have Mond ranked behind Mills because the latter is much likelier to see playing time this year in Houston.
But I like Mond more. I doubt he ever becomes a regular NFL starter, and even if that happens, he will likely be more of a game manager with a built-in rushing floor and less of a playmaker with a coveted rushing ceiling. That still has value, though, and is more than I expect we’ll get out Mills.
NFL Prospect Comp: Kevin Hogan but younger and not as accurate
35. Jaelon Darden, WR, Buccaneers
Jaelon Darden Fantasy Analysis
The Bucs didn’t need to draft another pass catcher. They have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown locked in as Nos. 1-3 receivers. Plus, they have Scotty Miller, Justin Watson and Tyler Johnson, who collectively provide outstanding depth
But Darden looks like the kind of T.Y. Hilton/John Brown-esque receiver HC Bruce Arians likes, and the Bucs traded up to get him, so they presumably have plans for him.
I imagine that he’ll stick on the roster as a return man, but Darden could develop into more than that for the Bucs, especially if Brown doesn’t return.
The arbitrage version of Tutu Atwell, Darden is an undersized slot receiver with questionable speed yet scintillating tape.
There was nothing sexy about Darden’s production early in college: As a freshman, he was a rotational receiver in a large committee, and as a sophomore he was the distant No. 3 option behind Rico Bussey Jr. and Jalen Guyton.
As a junior, though, Darden emerged as the No. 1 receiver, and as a senior he was one of the most productive players in college football.
- 2017 (14 games): 32-281-3 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 48-575-4 receiving
- 2019 (12 games): 76-736-12 receiving
- 2020 (9 games): 74-1,190-19 receiving
Smaller receivers with big-play ability usually get extra college production via the running game, but Darden did little on the ground at North Texas with just 7-27-0 rushing across his career.
He did, however, contribute as a return man.
- Punt Returning: 35-510-1
- Kick Returning: 17-299-0
As his receiving and returning production indicates, Darden is a playmaker.
He specifically is dynamic once the ball is in his hands. Last year, he had 23 broken tackles on 74 catches (per PFF) and 7.8 yards after catch per reception (per SIS). Darden is slithery and tough to bring down.
But for his size he’s not at all fast. He’s fast-ish for the NFL, yet for a small receiver he has modest straight-line speed, as indicated by his 27 Freak Score.
Darden’s calling card — to the extent that anyone in the year 2021 actually has a calling card — is his agility. With his 6.66- and 3.98-second three cone and short shuttle, Darden exhibited top-decile agility at his pro day (per RV Workout Explorer).
And you can see the more-quick-than-fast athleticism in his play. Although he sometimes runs away from guys, more often he shakes them out of their cleats.
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) October 21, 2018
It’s incredibly fun watching the 2020 highlights of Darden shredding overmatched Conference USA defenders. I’m fully rooting for him to succeed in the NFL.
Skepticism, however, is warranted. He dominated as a senior, and he has incredibly smooth routes: He could be a quality NFL slot receiver and return man. But that’s probably his ceiling.
And that’s not bad for a guy drafted in Round 4.
This class is so loaded with good slot WRs that Jaelon Darden is probably sliding to Day 3, which is kinda crazy. He can contribute immediately. https://t.co/5dGfuBzUfe
— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) April 4, 2021
Relative to other Day 3 picks, Darden has potential — but he’s still just a Day 3 pick. As such, he’s likely to be a collegiate overperformer-turned-professional underwhelmer.
NFL Prospect Comp: Rashad Greene with a later breakout and less college prestige.
36. Tylan Wallace, WR, Ravens
Tylan Wallace Fantasy Analysis
This offseason, the Ravens committed themselves to upgrading quarterback Lamar Jackson’s wide receiver unit.
First, they signed Sammy Watkins via free agency. Then, they drafted Rashod Bateman in Round 1. And then they took Wallace in Round 4 for depth.
Turning Miles Boykin and Willie Snead into Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace 🔥🔥🔥
— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) May 1, 2021
That’s not bad. Wallace will likely open the year as a rotational receiver, but Watkins has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, and Boykin has disappointed through his first two seasons.
If Watkins misses time this year, Wallace might fill his spot alongside Marquise Brown and Bateman in three-wide sets.
Wallace has the game of a perimeter receiver and the mentality of a physical imposer — but he also has the body of a slot receiver and the athleticism of a third stringer.
That’s tough for me to say because I have loved Wallace for years.
As a freshman, Wallace played as a reserve behind 1,000-yard receivers James Washington and Marcell Ateman, barely seeing the field as he crawled his way to 7-118-0 receiving. But following Washington and Ateman’s departure to the NFL, Wallace immediately broke out as a sophomore, easily leading the Cowboys with 86-1,491-12 receiving and adding 1-6-1 rushing in 13 games.
And it’s not just that Wallace put up great numbers. He also played big. He seemingly channeled the spirit of Dez Bryant on every contested catch.
Tylan Wallace sees Dez Bryant in his game 👀 pic.twitter.com/EkeTWuWf5S
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) March 22, 2021
Wallace didn’t play dirty, but he played nasty. He treated every target as if it would be the last he’d ever see — as if the outcome of not just the game but also the universe depended on him securing the ball and then fighting for every yard he could get.
He wasn’t especially sharp with his routes, and he didn’t show much route variety, but he exuded such intensity in everything he did that one couldn’t help but root for him.
As a junior, he continued to dominate in his bully-ball fashion. But with one month to go in the campaign, he suffered a season-ending ACL tear, which I suspect impacted him as a senior.
- 2019 (9 games): 53-903-8 receiving | 1-0-0 rushing
- 2020 (10 games): 59-922-6 receiving | 1-7-0 rushing
At a glance, his production dropped off only a little from his junior to senior year. In fact, his numbers over the past three years are nearly unrivaled.
In 31 games over the past 3 seasons, Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace has handled an absurd 34% of the team's targets and 46% of the air yards.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) March 4, 2021
Since 2018, Wallace leads the FBS with 43 contested catches (per PFF).
In his final season, Wallace still played big, especially at the catch point, and he made plays downfield.
Oklahoma State wideout Tylan Wallace (@OfficialTylan2) has insanely strong hands. He’s a huge jump ball threat and makes defenders look like small children on a regular basis. He isn’t afraid to take a big hit either. pic.twitter.com/Hgop5SYE6i
— Jared Barsness (@JaredBarsNFL) March 8, 2021
But to my eye, he wasn’t the same player: He wasn’t bad, but he was slower getting off the line and into his routes, less sharp in making his cuts and less explosive in going up to fight for the ball and running after the catch.
And that lack of playmaking in 2020 is evident in perhaps the metric that matters most (per SIS).
Yards per Route
- 2018: 3.2
- 2019: 3.4
- 2020: 1.7
His lack of athleticism was also sadly evident at the Oklahoma State pro day, where his slow 40-yard dash was the least of his worries.
With below-average size, Wallace displayed subpar agility for the slot and horrendous explosiveness for the perimeter (per RV Workout Explorer).
When I first saw his 40 time, I thought, “Well, not great, but speed isn’t really his game anyway.”
And then I saw his short shuttle and three-cone times, and I said to myself, “Not good, but he’s more of a perimeter receiver than a shifty slot guy.”
But then I saw his broad and vertical jumps, and I just had to leave my house and go for a walk while muttering to myself underneath my breath: “Athleticism doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”
Maybe Wallace is still working his way back from the knee injury and will be more explosive in the NFL, but that’s not something we can count on.
And his athleticism isn’t the only factor against him: Wallace broke out early in college as a sophomore, but his NFL projection is hurt by the fact that he’s not an early declarant.
On top of that, Wallace did almost nothing as a runner or returner in college. Bigger receivers can often find NFL success without a history of ancillary undergraduate production, but smaller receivers rarely do.
And as strong as Wallace is at the catch point, he can be pushed around by cornerbacks in the middle of his routes. I’m not even talking about big corners. Small perimeter defenders can disrupt him too. (Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown is 185 pounds.)
Happy Tre Brown day. Here's him bullying Tylan Wallace all throughout his route pic.twitter.com/H154CDy2Fq
— Jumpcut to the Left (@BrownsAlchemy) March 12, 2021
And given that the slot might be his best spot in the NFL, it’s moderately concerning that Wallace spent almost no time there in college (per SIS).
Route Rate in Slot
- 2018: 6%
- 2019: 13%
- 2020: 11%
With his strong college production, Wallace might enjoy a few seasons of relevance, but he is unlikely to be anything more than a circumstantial contributor.
NFL Prospect Comp: Ryan Broyles with more attitude and athleticism, but less draft capital and far less ancillary production
- 37. Tommy Tremble: TE, Panthers
- 38. Brevin Jordan: TE, Texans
- 39. Tre’ McKitty: TE, Chargers
- 40. Kyle Trask: QB, Buccaneers
Tremble, Jordan and McKitty are the remaining tight ends I believe have decent potential for fantasy viability.
Trask is the last fantasy-feasible quarterback on the board but is likely only a long-term stash.
37. Tommy Tremble, TE, Panthers
Tommy Tremble Fantasy Analysis
Tremble, indeed. Even though I have him ranked outside the first three rounds, this guy gets me exited.
Ahead of Tremble on the Panthers depth chart are Ian Thomas and Dan Arnold, neither of whom has impressed through three and four NFL seasons. Opportunity abides in Carolina, and Tremble is a 21-year-old Notre Dame tight end with Round 2 draft capital. That’s notable.
Notre Dame has been something of a tight end factory over the past 15 years, sending a multitude of players at the position to the NFL in the top 100.
- Anthony Fasano (2006): 2.53
- John Carlson (2008): 2.38
- Kyle Rudolph (2011): 2.43
- Tyler Eifert (2013): 1.21
- Troy Niklas (2014): 2.52
- Cole Kmet (2020): 2.43
In Tremble, the Fighting Irish have yet another high-end draft pick at the position.
Tremble is a toolsy player with unreal physicality: He’s easily the best run-blocking tight end in the class, whether he lines up inline, in the slot or in the backfield as a fullback — and that positional versatility will help him find the field quickly as a rookie.
He saw zero action his first year on campus as he recovered from a dislocated ankle he suffered as a high-school senior, and in the two seasons he actually played he was the No. 2 tight end behind Kmet and Michael Mayer, accumulating little production.
- 2019 (13 games): 16-183-4 receiving
- 2020 (10 games): 19-218-0 receiving | 1-4-0 rushing
But even with his paltry statistics he still looked like an NFL player and drew the attention of scouts because of what he did as a blocker.
Tommy Tremble put more guys on their ass/blocked them into their position coach on the sideline than any TE I’ve watched coming in since Hockenson
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) March 16, 2021
In his two years of action, Tremble earned top-tier PFF run blocking grades of 84.8 and 83.7.
Really, it’s impossible to watch too many highlights of Tremble driving defenseless defenders into the ground.
Tommy Tremble is a ferocious blocker. Dude takes souls WEEKLY. Top 5 TE in this class and should be a Day 2 pick.
Tremble is gonna be a good TE for a while in the league. pic.twitter.com/zccZS1mv2R
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) January 31, 2021
As a blocker, he’s already the best tight end on the Panthers roster.
As a receiver, he could use some work: He’s not bad, but he’s extremely unproven — and he dropped 5-of-40 catchable career targets (per PFF).
But he has the physical ability to be a great receiver, as he showed at his pro day.
Official Pro Day numbers for Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble:
6033, 241 pounds
4.65 40-yard dash
122" broad jump pic.twitter.com/ZgOJI9xH9u
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 3, 2021
He’s smaller for a tight end, but at his size he has the positional flexibility to line up all over the field in the NFL, and with his athleticism he could develop into a strong after-the-catch producer. His 4.65-second 40 time and 36.5- and 122-inch vertical and broad jumps put him in the upper quintile at the position and make him very comparable to Jonnu Smith (per RV Workout Explorer).
Heavily recruited by the Ivy Leagues, Tremble is a cerebral player who fulfilled a lot of functions in a pro-style offense.
And he’s young, turning 21 years old in June. That’s incredibly important. Here are the receiving tight ends over the past 25 years to be drafted with a top-100 pick and to play their first season at age 21:
- Tony Gonzalez (1997, 1.13): 16 top-10 seasons
- Todd Heap (2001, 1.31): Four top-10 seasons
- Jason Witten (2003, 3.69): 11 top-10 seasons
- Kellen Winslow (2004, 1.06): Four top-10 seasons
- Martellus Bennett (2008, 2.61): Three top-10 seasons
- Jermichael Finley (2008, 3.91): One top-10 season
- Rob Gronkowski (2010, 2.42): Six top-10 seasons
- Eric Ebron (2014, 1.10): One top-10 season
- Maxx Williams (2015, 2.55): Career derailed by injuries
- David Njoku (2017, 1.29): One top-10 season
- Irv Smith Jr. (2019, 2.50): Waiting — but it’s about to happen
- Cole Kmet (2020, 2.43): Waiting
With Tremble, the fear is that he will be relegated to H-back or actually moved to fullback and that he will never have a real opportunity to develop as a multi-faceted tight end.
But he has an intelligent coaching staff in Carolina and the draft capital to ensure that one way or another he’s likely to get playing time.
He has a chance to become the next Jonnu Smith.
NFL Prospect Comp: Kyle Juszczyk with much less production but more draft capital, college prestige and precociousness
38. Brevin Jordan, TE, Texans
Brevin Jordan Fantasy Analysis
Like Tremble, Jordan is young: He turns 21 in July.
Unlike Tremble, he was productive in college but fell down the draft board, landing hard in the middle of Day 3.
With his paltry draft capital, Jordan is unlikely to have NFL success.
But the Texans have no proven producer at the tight end position, where Ryan Izzo, Jordan Akins and Kahale Warring sit atop the depth chart, so Jordan could see playing time as a rookie and might already be the best pass catcher of the group.
Jordan is not a strong inline blocker, crisp route runner or dominant contested-catch receiver. But he’s a marvelous yards-after-catch accumulator, the best in the class (per SIS).
Yards After Catch per Game
- Brevin Jordan (2020): 45.6
- Kyle Pitts (2020): 34.6
Pitts is easily better than Jordan overall, but in several key categories he has held his own and even outplayed Pitts over the past two years (per SIS).
Yards per Route
- Brevin Jordan (2019-20): 2.4 & 1.8
- Kyle Pitts (2019-20): 2.3 & 2.5
Yards per Route
- Brevin Jordan (2019-20): 2.4 & 1.8
- Kyle Pitts (2019-20): 2.3 & 2.5
Expected Points Added per Target
- Brevin Jordan (2019-20): 0.39 & 0.65
- Kyle Pitts (2019-20): 0.19 & 0.75
Yards After Catch per Target
- Brevin Jordan (2019-20): 8.7 & 9.6
- Kyle Pitts (2019-20): 4.2 & 6.4
Pitts is the superior athlete, but Jordan is fast enough to beat linebackers in coverage, and he’s markedly better at finding the soft spots in zone coverage (per SIS).
Positive Play Rate vs. Zone
- Brevin Jordan (2019-20): 66% & 58%
- Kyle Pitts (2019-20): 47% & 53%
Pitts is an incomparable prospect — but after him Jordan is probably the position’s top receiver … and yet he fell to Round 5.
The No. 1 tight end recruit in his high school class, Jordan enrolled at Miami with great expectations, and while he didn’t fully live up to them he also didn’t massively disappoint. He immediately contributed as a freshman with a top-three 32-287-4 receiving line in 12 games, and he continued to produce in the subsequent seasons.
Although Jordan missed three games in each of his two final seasons with injuries to his ankle (2019) and shoulder (2020), he was still a top-two receiver for the Hurricanes.
- 2019 (10 games): 35-495-2 receiving
- 2020 (8 games): 38-576-7 receiving
That production is notable.
But there are a few areas of concern.
First, Jordan will likely be a slot-only move tight end in the NFL because of his size: He’s fine as a second-level blocker against linebackers, but he lacks the strength to hold up against edge defenders inline at the point of attack. As a result, he might never become a full-time three-down player.
It’s true that Jordan played primarily inline in his first two seasons, but he rarely did any serious blocking, and in his final year he lined up in the slot or out wide on 61% of his snaps (per SIS).
He’s simply not an inline option, and that will limit his opportunities.
Second, he’s not much of a downfield threat. Compared to Pitts, Freiermuth and even Tremble, the playmaking Jordan looks more like a fullback than a slot receiver with his low 2020 average depth of target (per SIS).
Average Depth of Target
- Kyle Pitts: 12.8 yards
- Pat Freiermuth: 9.0 yards
- Tommy Tremble: 8.2 yards
- Brevin Jordan: 7.6 yards
The problem isn’t so much that Jordan lacks the athleticism to stretch a defense down the seam. Rather, the problem — the third area of concern — is that he lacks the ball skills to outfight defenders down the field. Of his 33 contested targets in college, Jordan managed just 11 receptions (per PFF).
As bad as this sounds, I’ll say it: In college, Jordan displayed a talent for turning 50/50 balls into 33/67 losers.
Part of the problem is that he is not a smooth hands catcher, so he often captures the ball with his body, which allows nearby defenders to make a play on the ball.
Essentially, he has the hands of a mediocre pass-catching running back.
The saving grace for Jordan is that he also has the after-the-catch skills of a running back. Once the ball is in his hands, Jordan turns into a legit playmaker with his combination of vision, speed and strength: On his 105 college receptions, Jordan broke 21 tackles (per PFF).
At the Miami pro day, Jordan didn’t blow evaluators away with his athleticism. In fact, his agility numbers and bench press were incredibly poor (per MD).
- Three Cone: 7.57 seconds, 4th percentile
- Short Shuttle: 4.50 seconds, 23rd percentile
- Bench Press: 17 reps, 22nd percentile
But he was fast and explosive enough to suggest he can produce in the NFL.
For Jordan, there are two primary paths to playing time.
- He becomes good enough at blocking to earn a three-down role.
- He is so dynamic as a receiver that the Texans can’t help but have him on the field even though he’s a below-average blocker.
I don’t think he will sufficiently improve as a blocker, so Jordan investors must hope for the latter, and it could happen.
As a movable mismatch chess piece with rare after-the-catch talent — and incredible youth — Jordan is comparable (to a degree) to another smaller-yet-dynamic Day 3 prospect who found success years ago and briefly looked like one of the best tight ends in the league.
NFL Prospect Comp: Aaron Hernandez with less agility, college production and draft capital
39. Tre’ McKitty, TE, Chargers
Tre’ McKitty Fantasy Analysis
Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.
How was Tre McKitty picked ahead of Brevin Jordan?? pic.twitter.com/6ifRPlA3SF
— Canes Access (@CanesAccess) May 1, 2021
In no world should McKitty have ever been picked ahead of Jordan.
For his first three seasons of college, McKitty was essentially a pass-catching specialist who offered little as a run blocker, but he was just 50-520-2 receiving at Florida State.
That’s basically one year’s worth of production for Jordan. And yet …
Never forget..this guy got drafted before Brevin Jordan. pic.twitter.com/MV5ub1WT4F
— JB. (@TriggaCityNole) May 1, 2021
For his final year, McKitty transferred as a graduate senior to Georgia, where he “balled out” in seven games with … reading the fine print, I mean these numbers are so small … 6-108-1 receiving.
At Georgia, McKitty improved as an inline blocker, so there’s hope that he can develop into a complete tight end in the NFL. Evidently, the league is in love with his massive man hands.
Tre Mckitty (@T_mckitty) has 11 inch hands wow! To put it in perspective,
Gronk: 10.75 in
Dhop: 10 in
M Thomas: 10.62 in
Underutilized through his college career, but there’s untapped potential in this young man. Nice week of practice in Mobile.
— Damian Parson 🏈 (@DP_NFL) January 29, 2021
In a vacuum, we have little reason to be excited about McKitty — but Justin Herbert is his quarterback, he has top-100 draft capital and the Chargers have little stability at the tight end position.
- Jared Cook: On a one-year deal
- Donald Parham: Unproven and an exclusive rights free agent next year
- Virgil Green: Old and still unsigned
McKitty could be the No. 2 tight end for the Chargers in 2021 and the starter in 2022.
What Josh Palmer, accountant, is to this year’s wide receivers, that’s what McKitty is to the tight ends.
NFL Prospect Comp: Jordan Akins with less production
40. Kyle Trask, QB, Buccaneers
Kyle Trask Fantasy Analysis
Like many quarterbacks drafted on Day 2 to sit behind Tom Brady over the past 15 years …
- Kevin O’Connell (2008): 3.94
- Ryan Mallett (2011): 3.74
- Jimmy Garoppolo (2014): 2.62
- Jacoby Brissett (2016): 3.91
… Trask might end up doing little for the team that has actually drafted him. He might never start a game for the Buccaneers.
And if he sticks in Tampa Bay, he could find himself sitting on the bench for multiple seasons.
But with his draft capital, Trask at some point is likely to earn some starts somewhere, and with that opportunity he could earn a long-term job as a starter. Of course, if that chance ever comes, it likely won’t arrive for years.
Trask is a nonentity for fantasy this season and nothing but a speculative long-term stash in dynasty.
Let’s start with what Trask isn’t: He isn’t a runner. At all. Everyday people with the cares of the world weighing them down walk faster than he runs.
To call him a statue in the pocket is to insult sculptures and sculptors everywhere.
He has zero rushing ability, as evidenced by his career average of 4.0 yards per attempt (excluding sacks, per SIS). And he takes a lot of sacks (41 in 24 games over the past two years) because of his inability to avoid pressure.
In the PFF Draft Guide, no punches are pulled in Trask’s profile: “No scrambling or playmaking at all.” It wasn’t necessary for PFF to add the emphatic “at all” — but it’s a nice touch.
But if you can get over the fact that Trask is a rushing zed, then he might be intriguing because he’s a good passer.
In fact, he looks so good throwing the ball that even though he was a backup in high school he was able to earn a three-star recruitment grade and get a scholarship offer from Florida.
Trask did almost nothing his first three years in college.
- 2016: Redshirt
- 2017: Literally no playing time with a foot injury
- 2018 (4 games): Backup with 22-162-1 passing
But as a redshirt junior he filled in for injured starter Feleipe Franks, and the starting job has been his ever since.
With his opportunity, Trask has flashed. For his career, he has a 67.9% completion rate and 10.0 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) — and that’s despite playing in the SEC. And as great as Trask was as a junior, he was markedly better as a senior, taking a big Joe Burrow-esque developmental step forward in his second season as a starter and finishing No. 4 in 2020 Heisman voting.
- 2019 (12 games): 66.9% completion rate | 354-2,941-25 passing | 8.8 AY/A
- 2020 (12 games): 68.9% completion rate | 437-4,283-43 passing | 10.9 AY/A
Last year, Trask ranked No. 1 with 43 touchdowns passing and No. 2 with 356.9 yards passing per game. He was unquestionably aided by head coach Dan Mullen’s scheme and the presence of first-round pass catchers Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney. Even so, it’s undeniable that Trask can throw the ball.
Best thing about @GatorsFB QB Kyle Trask is courage making tight window NFL throws. Has confidence in his own ability to put ball where he wants and faith in skill guys to make contested plays. Some QB have one or the other but few have both. Similar to Joe Burrow in that regard. pic.twitter.com/ZsBVqUtm5m
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 8, 2020
Trask hangs tough in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield in the face of onrushing defenders. He’s willing to push the ball deep and attack defenses, as evidenced by his 9.4-yard average depth of target in 2020 (per SIS).
Per Zierlein: “Trask clearly has the arm strength, touch and placement to wear out one-on-one coverage if he has good protection and above-average players around him.” In 2020, Trask ranked No. 3 on the SIS quarterback leaderboard with a 132.5 Independent Quarterback Rating Without Pressure.
Trask is far from a finished product, but he has potential, especially considering that the 2019-20 seasons were the first in years — at least a half decade — in which he got regular playing time.
And now he has the opportunity to sit behind Brady — probably for multiple years — and learn the game as a professional.
With his lack of rushing ability, Trask is highly unlikely ever to be a high-end fantasy starter, but if he earns a starting job he might develop into a reliable fantasy contributor.
That’s not sexy for dynasty, but it does make Trask a long-term stash candidate.
NFL Prospect Comp: Matt Schaub with less college experience
- 41. Dez Fitzpatrick: WR, Titans
- 42. Simi Fehooko: WR, Cowboys
- 43. Cornell Powell: WR, Chiefs
- 44. Elijah Mitchell: RB, 49ers
- 45. Chris Evans: RB, Bengals
This is the tier I’m officially dubbing the “Who Cares?” tier — unofficially, obviously.
Entering the evaluation process, I thought this class had promise. But after the draft, this class looks bad. In this tier are three receivers and two backs I don’t totally hate.
41. Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Titans
Dez Fitzpatrick Fantasy Analysis
Fitzpatrick has a good physical profile and is a sufficient route runner. In each of his four playing seasons he was a top-two receiver for the Cardinals.
- 2017 (13 games): 45-699-9 receiving
- 2018 (12 games): 31-422-3 receiving
- 2019 (13 games): 58-727-5 receiving
- 2020 (11 games): 43-833-3 receiving
But he never had a true banger of a campaign, and he’s old for a rookie. The Titans traded up to get him near the top of Day 3, so he could see significant playing time in three-wide sets as a rookie, especially since the Titans have little depth behind A.J. Brown and Josh Reynolds at receiver.
But Brown will dominate targets in the Titans run-first offense, and Fitzpatrick might not see much real action because of how frequently the team uses two-tight end sets.
NFL Prospect Comp: Amara Darboh but older and from a smaller program
42. Simi Fehoko, WR, Cowboys
Simi Fehoko Fantasy Analysis
Fehoko enters the NFL as essentially an extra super redshirt sophomore because he served a two-year LDS mission right out of high school and then sat for most of his first year at Stanford.
In his first season of action, Fehoko contributed as the No. 2 wide receiver on the team, and then in his sophomore season he broke out as the No. 1 receiver in Stanford’s COVID-impacted six-game campaign.
- 2019 (12 games): 24-566-6 receiving
- 2020 (6 games): 37-574-3 receiving
His final-season market share numbers were particularly impressive, as he had 34% of the team’s receiving yards and 43% of the receiving touchdowns.
A big-play producer, Fehoko’s career efficiency numbers stand up with those of some of the most hyped receivers in the class (per SIS).
Career Yards per Route
- Simi Fehoko (2018-20): 2.1
- Rashod Bateman (2018-20): 2.1
- Terrace Marshall (2018-20): 1.7
Career Yards per Target
- Simi Fehoko (2018-20): 9.9
- Terrace Marshall (2018-20): 9.8
- Rashod Bateman (2018-20): 9.4
Fehoko has a near-elite physical profile: His 4.45-second 40 time and 6.78-second three cone are excellent for a receiver of his size. Four of his five closest physical comps are Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas, Kenny Golladay and Alshon Jeffery (per MD).
And Fehoko’s athleticism is evident in his play.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) December 23, 2020
There’s little subtlety to his game. He’s not much of a route runner. He’s just an all-imposing dominator who can line up all over the formation.
He doesn’t have much draft capital, and he’s old — but Fehoko has talent and is still an early declarant.
I doubt he’ll see much playing time as a rookie, but he might earn the No. 4 role as a rotational receiver behind Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, and he could opportunities beyond 2021: Gallup is in the final year of his rookie deal, and Cooper could be a cap casualty after the season.
Fehoko has multiple avenues to earn an eventual starting job in Dallas.
NFL Prospect Comp: Tommy Streeter but older and with an extra season of college production
43. Cornell Powell, WR, Chiefs
Cornell Powell Fantasy Analysis
He’s a Clemson wide receiver who will be playing for HC Andy Reid and with quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
I’m not proud of the simplicity of my thought process, but we do what we must to survive.
Powell was a forgotten depth receiver in his first two years at Clemson, and in his third year he decided to take a redshirt because of the competition at the position. When he returned for his fourth year — surprise! — the depth chart was still just as loaded, and Powell once again did little.
In his first four years of college, Powell was just 40-329-3 receiving.
But in 2020 Powell broke out as a redshirt senior. With wide receivers Tee Higgins and Jystin Ross respectively in the NFL and out for the season, Powell played as the No. 2 receiver in the offense, putting up a 53-882-7 receiving stat line in his final season.
There’s nothing special about Powell’s physical profile, but he has sufficient size and athleticism to play in the NFL, and he’s an incredibly smooth route runner with a full tree. He does a lot of little things well.
After Tyreek Hill, the wide receiver depth chart is unsettled: Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle are both on one-year deals, and Mecole Hardman has looked like a rotational receiver to this point in his career.
Powell might be able to earn a small contributing role in 2021 and then compete for a starting job in 2022.
NFL Prospect Comp: Charone Peake with more draft capital but smaller and slower
44. Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers
Elijah Mitchell Fantasy Analysis
A few thoughts.
- If I’m not writing at least one blurb on a guy from the Sun Belt, I’m not digging as deep as I should be.
- If HC Kyle Shanahan bothers to draft a running back, we should pay attention to that guy regardless of draft capital — especially if he’s a strong athlete.
- Whatever you think the relative odds are of Trey Sermon vs. Mitchell eventually becoming the 49ers lead back, you are probably giving Sermon too much credit.
Mitchell was a lightly recruited prospect out of high school, but after playing five games in his freshman season (he missed most of the season to a Lisfranc injury) he broke out as a sophomore and was a strong producer for the rest of his college career despite always playing in a committee.
- 2017 (5 games): 42-257-4 rushing | 3-25-1 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 146-985-13 rushing | 20-349-3 receiving
- 2019 (14 games): 198-1,147-16 rushing | 10-70-1 receiving
- 2020 (10 games): 141-878-8 rushing | 16-153-0 receiving
In San Francisco, Mitchell could play a variety of roles if he finds favor with Shanahan. He has the toughness to be a lead back in a committee. He has the explosiveness to be a change-of-pace back. And he has the receiving skills to be a third-down back.
Despite his smaller size, Mitchell runs tough.
Q: How many defenders does it take to bring down Elijah Mitchell?
A: Too many 💪pic.twitter.com/eM06EZBb4z
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 26, 2020
And he has a strong athletic profile: His closest physical MockDraftable comp is actually Travis Etienne … which seems like a mark in Mitchell’s favor.
Sermon will likely enter the preseason ahead of Mitchell — but Shanahan has been known to favor overlooked guys before (Alfred Morris, for example) — and Mitchell might actually have the skills to overtake Sermon.
Veterans Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are both free agents after this year.
Mitchell has a shot to be a backfield contributor in 2021 and maybe the lead back in 2022 for the 49ers.
NFL Prospect Comp: Bernard Scott with less college production but much younger and significantly faster
45. Chris Evans, RB, Bengals
Chris Evans Fantasy Analysis
Evans entered college as a hyped prospect and contributed immediately as a freshman, but he plateaued as a sophomore, tailed off as a junior, missed 2019 because of academic eligibility issues and then faded away as a redshirt senior.
- 2016 (13 games): 88-614-4 rushing | 6-87-0 receiving
- 2017 (13 games): 135-685-6 rushing | 16-157-1 receiving
- 2018 (10 games): 81-423-4 rushing | 18-148-1 receiving
- 2020 (6 games): 16-73-1 rushing | 9-87-0 receiving
He got Harbaughed.
Evans is a natural player with a smooth running style and good hands. Although he was never a high-volume back, he has a three-down skill set.
And he has a strong athletic profile: His No. 1 comp in the RV Workout Explorer is Miles Sanders.
After starter Joe Mixon, the Bengals have only Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams.
Evans has a shot to open the 2021 season as the No. 2 back in Cincinnati.
NFL Prospect Comp: Dexter Williams with an earlier breakout but without the good final season of production
- 46. Dez Fitzpatrick: WR, Titans
- 47. Dazz Newsome: WR, Bears
- 48. Mike Strachan: WR, Colts
- 49. Demetric Felton: WR/RB, Browns
- 50. Kylen Granson: TE, Colts
This is the “Screw It” tier. Unofficially. The Final Five.
46. Seth Williams, WR, Broncos
Seth Williams Fantasy Analysis
Williams went in Round 6, but I think his talent should have put him on the borderline of Rounds 3-4. He has potential.
He’s buried on the Broncos wide receiver depth chart now, but veterans Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton all entering the final year of their contracts.
There’s an outside chance Williams could be the big-bodied receiver in three-wide sets alongside Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in 2022.
A four-star high-school receiver and safety, Williams was recruited as an all-around athlete by several schools in the SEC — including hometown Alabama — but he settled on Auburn, where he immediately contributed as a true freshman with 26-534-5 receiving and started alongside upperclassmen Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis.
As a sophomore, Williams emerged as the No. 1 pass catcher for the Tigers with 59-830-8 receiving in 12 games, and then he essentially ran it back (albeit with less production) in 2020 with 47-760-4 receiving in 11 games.
Those numbers don’t stand out, but some context is warranted. In his two final seasons, he had a dominant share of the team’s targets (per SIS).
- 2019: 30% target share
- 2020: 29% target share
And he had to deal with absolutely horrible quarterback play at Auburn.
Seth Williams’ interest in playing football correlated with the quality of play he received from the QB position. https://t.co/G3utvNYfhS
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) April 25, 2021
Under the circumstances, Williams’ numbers aren’t as bad as they look.
But Williams is far from a finished product. He lets cornerbacks push him around, and he often loses in 50/50 situations. Last year, he had just nine receptions on 30 contested targets (per PFF).
With all the contested targets, this statement might not need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: He’s a half-hearted route runner. He doesn’t sell his routes. He doesn’t separate. And that’s a big reason for the high number of contested targets.
And the problems for Williams go beyond contested catch rate and route technique. The dude has the hands of a defensive lineman. In way too many uncontested situations, he simply dropped the ball. Last year, he had 10 drops on 101 targets (per SIS). That is beyond bad.
In general, I think drops don’t matter, but that’s once a guy is on the field in the NFL and regularly running routes. Drops absolutely matter if a guy can’t get playing time because of them. And that might be the case for Williams.
But his talent is undeniable. At times — especially in the red zone — he looks dominant.
Seth Williams is a highlight machine 🔥
Who is your 2021 draft sleeper? 👀pic.twitter.com/0aeAVeN7eb
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) April 25, 2021
And his positive attributes are numerous. Williams is big and fast. He contributed right away in college. He is entering the NFL early and just 21 years old.
Can someone telling me what I'm missing with Seth Williams?
-19 year old breakout
-Ideal weight at 211 lbs
-Great hand size
He's going in the 3rd round of SF drafts right now.
I don't get it.
— Dalton Kates (@DaltonGuruFF) April 7, 2021
All of those factors make him highly attractive: Receivers who produce early in college and declare early for the draft tend to have success — and his marked youth and strong physical profile give him long-term upside.
NFL Prospect Comp: Sammie Coates with an earlier breakout but far less draft capital
47. Dazz Newsome, WR, Bears
Dazz Newsome Fantasy Analysis
Newsome has an atrocious physical profile: His performance at the UNC pro day gave him one of the saddest MockDraftable spider graphs I’ve ever seen.
But lots of productive receivers have poor measured athleticism: Jarvis Landry and Diontae Johnson come immediately to mind. Wes Welker. There are many.
What many of them have in common as prospects is ancillary production via the ground and return games.
And Newsome has that from his time at North Carolina.
- Rushing (44 games): 20-178-2
- Punt Returning (44 games): 48-535-1
- Kick Returning (44 games): 7-144-0
On top of that, Newsome was an above-average receiver in college, especially in his junior year, when he — and not Dyami Brown — was the No. 1 receiver for the Tar Heels.
- 2017 (9 games): 18-227-0 receiving
- 2018 (11 games): 44-506-2 receiving
- 2019 (12 games): 72-1,018-10 receiving
- 2020 (12 games): 54-684-6 receiving
In his three years with Brown at UNC, Newsome was almost as efficient as his more heralded teammate on a per-route basis (per SIS).
Yards per Route (2018-20)
- Dyami Brown: 1.8
- Dazz Newsome: 1.7
Newsome had a 94% slot rate in his three years as a starter, and in the NFL he will almost certainly be stationed inside, which will limit his opportunities — but a slot man might be just what the Bears are looking for. Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney are locked in as the Nos. 1-2 pass catchers, but slot receiver Anthony Miller is in the final year of his contract and has been a mediocre producer through three seasons.
Newsome figures to stick on the roster with his return skills, and he might get a chance either this year or next to supplant Miller in the slot.
NFL Prospect Comp: Jeremy Kerley with more receiving production but less draft capital and ancillary production
48. Mike Strachan, WR, Colts
Mike Strachan Fantasy Analysis
Many years, there is one small-school prospect who delights #DraftTwitter throughout the evaluation process and then gets drafted near the end of Day 3.
This year, that player is Mike Strachan.
*Movie trailer voice*
From the team that brought you Ashton Dulin…
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) May 1, 2021
Strachan sat out his first year at Charleston and had literally just one reception for six yards in his second year, but as a redshirt sophomore and junior he dominated, especially in his market shares of the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns (MSYds & MSTDs).
- 2018 (11 games): 48-1,007-8 receiving | 42.7% MSYds | 53.3% MSTDs
- 2019 (11 games): 78- 1,319-19 receiving | 41.5% MDYds | 67.9% MDTDs
Because of the COVID pandemic, Charleston cancelled its 2020 season, so Strachan declared for the NFL draft.
On top of Strachan’s production is his physical profile. Strachan is almost as large as a small tight end, and at his pro day he exhibited excellent size-adjusted speed, explosiveness, agility and strength with his 4.54-second 40 time, 127-inch broad jump, 6.96-second three cone and 20 bench press reps.
Late-round small-school guys like Strachan rarely pan out. R.I.P. Jeff Janis.
Strachan is likely to do little in the NFL.
But he has the raw tools for success, and he could eventually get an opportunity to produce in Indianapolis. He probably won’t play much as a rookie, but he could break in as a rotational receiver, and additional snaps and targets could flow his way in 2022, as veterans T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal are on one-year deals.
NFL Prospect Comp: Justin Watson with less draft capital and speed but significantly bigger
49. Demetric Felton, WR/RB, Browns
Demetric Felton Fantasy Analysis
Felton — like his new teammate Anthony Schwartz — figures to be an occasional gadget player as a rookie, although he might see some snaps as either a slot receiver or traditional running back.
Drafted as a receiver but a running back by trade, Felton has widespread potential utility for the Browns offense and might be able to earn a regular role over the next couple years, as key contributors at both positions are slated to enter free agency.
- 2022 Free Agents: RB Nick Chubb, WR Rashard Higgins
- 2023 Free Agents: RB Kareem Hunt, WR Jarvis Landry
For a guy who doesn’t like small, unathletic hybrid players, I probably like Felton more than I should.
A four-star wide receiver as a recruit, Felton redshirted his first year on campus. Then, in his second season with head coach Jim Mora and his underwhelming Bruins team, Felton earned a role as a reserve offensive weapon, logging -2 yards on two receptions but adding an intriguing 10-75-1 rushing line.
As a redshirt sophomore, he was just 20-207-1 receiving and 5-27-0 rushing in 12 games for new HC Chip Kelly, but even with those paltry pass-catching numbers he was still the team’s primary slot man and the No. 3 producer in receiving yards.
In 2019 — his second year in Kelly’s offense — Felton significantly progressed as a junior. While he still occasionally lined up in the slot, he played primarily as a running back, serving as the change-of-pace option behind starter and future NFL player Joshua Kelley. In his new role, Felton was a pedestrian 86-331-1 rushing but an electric 55-594-4 receiving, ranking second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards.
Given his playmaking ability, Felton also returned kicks for the Bruins and put up a strong 13-338-1 stat line in the process.
And then in 2020, with Kelley in the NFL, Felton assumed the lead back role for UCLA and utterly dominated usage within the offense. Despite his Austin Ekeler-esque size — and despite his relative inexperience at the position — Felton proved himself as a backfield dynamo.
He played only six games last season due to the Pac-12’s truncated conference-only schedule, but he made the most of those limited opportunities: Felton put up 827 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage on 132-668-5 rushing and 22-159-3 receiving.
Say what you want about Felton’s size, but the guy put in the work last year as a runner — racking up 20-plus carries in 4-of-6 games — and he amassed 36 broken tackles on 132 attempts (per PFF). Plus as a receiver out of the backfield, he has always been a total mismatch for linebackers in coverage.
Just your daily, “I need Demetric Felton in a Rams uniform” tweet. https://t.co/G4QaYs4KID
— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakDTR) February 1, 2021
The problem with Felton is that he’s entering the league as something of a positionless hybrid tweener. He may have finished his college career as a lead back, but at the Senior Bowl he worked out with the receivers.
WFT rookie star @AntonioGibson14 repped exclusively at RB in Senior Bowl after playing mostly WR at Memphis & his draft stock 📈 multiple rounds. This year @UCLAFootball RB Demetric Felton worked at WR and was electric. @demetricfelton7 will be an immediate contributor in NFL.💰 pic.twitter.com/VsYIdRDUM1
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 11, 2021
Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy can try all he wants to spin Felton’s versatility as a virtue, and it will likely help him earn and keep a roster spot. Nonetheless, it’s also a sign that the Browns might not be sure how to use him once they get him in the offense.
And Felton’s pro day performance left a lot to be desired.
UCLA RB Demetric Felton ran a 4.58 for his 40-yard dash at his pro day.
— James H. Williams on UCLA football (@JHWreporter) March 23, 2021
If Felton opts for a career as a full-time slot receiver, then he will likely be too slow and too unpolished as a route-runner to beat NFL cornerbacks. But as a full-time running back, he is likely too small and too inexperienced to earn meaningful NFL carries.
That puts Felton in a tough spot.
In order to be successful at the NFL level, Felton will likely need to be a multi-dimensional change-of-pace pass-catching back who works as a receiver out of the backfield so he can exploit linebackers in coverage and make big plays with his run-after-catch dynamism.
But that alone might not be enough. He will also need to supplement his backfield receiving work with a few carries, a handful of slot targets and maybe even a couple kick returns per game.
And I just don’t know if the Browns plan to use him in that way: It seems they intend to make a true slot receiver out of him.
Bet Felton is talented, and at No. 49 in my rankings I’m willing to bet on raw ability, even if it is positionless.
NFL Prospect Comp: Theo Riddick but smaller, faster and better as a runner and return specialist
50. Kylen Granson, TE, Colts
Kylen Granson Fantasy Analysis
Although he’s a Day 3 pick, Granson could see more action than we anticipate. He’s a tight end/H-back hybrid who could allow the team to employ multiple personnel groupings when he’s on the field, as he can line up inline, in the slot and at fullback.
With Trey Burton gone, Granson could serve as the team’s No. 3 tight end behind Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox as a rookie, and since the Colts frequently use two-tight end sets and have rotated at the position in the past, Granson could see playing time.
Plus, Alie-Cox and Doyle are respectively scheduled for free agency in 2022 and 2023. If Granson sticks with the team, he could be the No. 2 tight end next year and the starter in his third NFL season.
Accepting the one scholarship offer he received out of high school, Granson went to Rice as a wide receiver intending to redshirt his first year, but he was forced into action midseason. Even so, he finished the year as the team’s No. 2 pass catcher with just eight games played, and the next season he also finished No. 2 in receiving despite missing two games.
- 2016 (8 games): 33-381-2 receiving | 4-41-0 rushing
- 2017 (10 games): 18-241-0 receiving | 6-51-0 rushing
After his sophomore season, Granson left Rice in the wake of HC David Bailiff’s dismissal, transferred to SMU as a walk-on and transitioned to tight end.
After sitting out a year per NCAA rules, Granson received a scholarship and became the starting tight end for the Mustangs, ranking top-three in receiving production in each of his two final seasons.
- 2019 (13 games): 43-721-9 receiving | 2-11-0 rushing
- 2020 (10 games): 35-536-6 receiving | 1-0-0 rushing
At SMU, Granson played inline and in the slot almost equally, but he will never a pure traditional attached tight end in the NFL: He lacks the size and strength to block in the running game at the point of attack.
But as a move tight end he could have success. Granson has a Julius Thomas-esque physical profile, and his athleticism is apparent in how he plays: Granson was exceptionally dynamic with the ball in his hands at SMU, racking up 6.9 and 7.7 yards after catch per reception (SIS).
For a tight end, he has a good route tree and runs sufficient routes. He’s never likely to be much of a run blocker on the line of scrimmage — but rare is the strong fantasy tight end who is.
NFL Prospect Comp: Gerald Everett with less draft capital and just a little less athleticism
Matthew Freedman is 1,018-828-37 (55.1%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.