2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft
With the NFL Draft now complete, we have draft capital and landing spots for the 2021 rookie draft class. As a result, it is time to update my rankings. Draft capital is king for me when determining my rankings, and to a lesser extent, I consider the landing spot. This is the first version of these rankings, and I expect that they will be updated several times throughout the offseason program.
12. Terrace Marshall – WR Carolina Panthers
Pre-Draft Ranking: 11th
LSU WR Terrace Marshal comes in at 12 in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft. Prior to the draft I had Marshall ranked 11th, and I was considering moving him up even higher.
Terrace Marshall played in 28 games for LSU from 2018-2020. In those 28 games he had 106 receptions for 1594 yards, and he scored 23 touchdowns. His performance in 2020 in a terrible offense with poor QB play was especially impressive.
I have slid Marshall back for a few reasons. The first of which is I expected him to be drafted earlier than he was when he went to the Carolina Panthers with pick 59 in the second round. The second concern is the medical issues said to be impacting him that caused him to fall out of first round consideration.
I have no issues with the landing spot. In fact I like it. The Panthers have been adding players they know since Matt Rhule took over the coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady was the passing-game coordinator for LSU in 2019. Moore will enter camp in a battle with former Seahawks WR Davis Moore for the WR3 spot. That is a battle I expect Marshall to win.
11. Trey Sermon – RB San Francisco 49ers
Pre-Draft Ranking: 24th
Trey Sermon is the biggest riser in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft moving all the way up to 11 from 24.
Trey Sermon split carries in 2020 with Master Teague. He took over that backfield in the college playoffs until suffering an injury in the National Championship Game. Sermon displays good vision that enables him to find the hole and frequently shows a burst when doing so. I expected Sermon to be selected in the middle rounds of the draft, and coming off the board as the 4th running back in the third round was somewhat surprising.
I have concerns that Sermon struggled to shake Teague for the majority of the 2020 season, as well as I am mildly concerned with his upright running style. With that said, he enters a great situation in San Francisco. On the surface it appears he is behind both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, which may be true. We have seen Kyle Shanahan use multiple backs in the past and Mostert and Wilson are both free agents at the end of the season. This is not a deep RB draft class, and if you can get Sermon in the second round of your drafts, it’s a bargain worth taking.
10. Michael Carter – RB New York Jets
Pre-Draft Ranking: 16th
Another mover up my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft is New York Jets running back Michael Carter
Michael Carter was part of the potent backfield combination for the North Carolina in 2020 with Javonte Williams. Carter is a quick back, and he uses his quickness to extend plays. His size (5’7″ 202 lbs.) is a slight concern at the next level, but landing where he did is too intriguing for me to pass up.
The New York Jets has an exceptional draft. They started by adding Zach Wilson and continued to improve their roster with each passing selection. The addition of Alijah Vera-Tucker should be a huge upgrade in New York’s wide-zone blocking scheme, benefitting the Jets backfield. Look for Carter to win the majority of the touches over Tevin Coleman and Lamical Perine. An added bonus is Carter’s abilty to pass block as well as catch passes.
9. Elijah Moore – WR New York Jets
Pre-Draft Ranking: 12th
Did I mention I liked the New York Jets’ draft class? Add to that list Elijah Moore, as he moves from 12th to 9th on my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft.
Elijah Moore appeared in 31 games at Ole Miss in his three-year college career. He totaled 189 catches for 2,441 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He pitched in 21 carries for an additional 71 yards. Moore finished with the second-most receiving yards in all of college football in 2020 despite matching up against tough SEC defenses on a weekly basis.
Moore spent a lot of time in the slot in college, but he insists he can do it all in the NFL. He should be a fun toy for Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur to move all around his offense. Moore should challenge Jameson Crowder and Denzel Mims for snaps, and should be a player that is tough to take off the field.
Moore is an explosive home-run-hitting skill player who consistently turns in big plays whenever the ball is in his hands. When all is said and done on the 2021 season, I expect Moore to be one of the biggest surprises of this draft class.
8. Rashod Bateman – WR Baltimore Ravens
Pre-Draft Ranking: 5th
Rashod Bateman fell in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft, but make no mistake, this is a WR that I remain extremely high on. I understand that the fantasy community collectively groaned when the Baltimore Ravens called his name.
Landing spot matters, but draft capital reigns supreme. The Ravens added Bateman with the 27th pick of the draft, and they will get him involved in what could be a new look offense.
In 31 games at the University of Minnesota, Rashod Bateman caught 147 passes for 2,395 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. Bateman appeared in 13 games in both 2018 and 2019, with his best season coming as a 20-year-old in 2019 – 60 grabs, 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bateman opted out, in, and out again in 2020, battling Covid-19 in a season that limited him to just 5 games.
There is a lot to like about Bateman. Starting with his size, as he is 6’2” and 210 lbs. In addition, he has smooth and fluid routes and is the type of WR that can line up anywhere on the field and be productive. He looks best, however, when coming across the middle of the field and making difficult catch after difficult catch with his big, strong hands.
Lamar Jackson has only attempted 947 passes in his 37 starts (25.32/game), but has completed 64% of them. In fairness to Lamar and Ravens OC Greg Roman, they haven’t exactly had a murders row of pass catchers. The addition of Bateman, and to a lesser extent Tylan Wallace, should help change that.
7. Javonte Williams – RB Denver Broncos
Pre-Draft Ranking: 4th
Another member of my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft to see a slight slide is Denver Broncos RB, Javonte Williams. Williams isn’t sliding here because I don’t like him or his landing spot, he is simply victim to the risers on this list.
Javonte Williams appeared in 34 games for North Carolina from 2018-2020. Williams totaled 2,297 rushing yards and 539 receiving yards with 33 touchdowns. His big season was his 2020 junior season, a year in which he ran for 1,140 yards on 157 carries (7.3 YPC). He added in 20 receptions for 205 yards, and he scored a total of 19 rushing and 3 receiving touchdowns in 11 games. What impressed me the most in Williams’ game is his yards after contact.
Williams’ 4.59 yards after contact per attempt ranked 11th in the nation, ahead of Travis Etienne (3.84) and Najee Harris (3.26). He lands in Denver, which should be a landing spot to celebrate. Broncos RBs Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, and Royce Freeman combined for 419 touches in Denver a season ago. Gordon is entering the final year of a two-year deal, Lindsay is off to Houston, and Freeman likely finds himself behind both Williams and free agent Mike Boone on the depth chart.
Williams offers a rather safe floor of RB3 in his rookie season with legit RB2 upside. Entering 2022 is where the return on your investment during your 2021 rookie drafts is likely to be found.
6. Travis Etienne – RB Jacksonville Jaguars
Pre-Draft Ranking: 8th
Coming in at No.6 in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft, and up two spots, is Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne. Jacksonville somewhat surprisingly grabbed the former Clemson star in the first round with pick 25.
Many anticipated that Etienne would enter the 2020 NFL Draft class, but he elected to return to Clemson. I won’t argue with those that have Etienne ranked as their No. 1 or 2 RB, as he has the skillset to become be a three-down back. He has the speed and the ability to provide his offense with big plays. In addition, he has good hands in the receiving game and the ability to turn short passes into big gains.
My concern with Etienne is his vision between the tackles, as it is, in a word, average. Where this man did a lot of damage at Clemson was off the edge where he could utilize his world class speed to run away from defenders. I don’t see Etienne being able to get to the edge as easily in the NFL, and the defenders in this league are bigger, faster, and stronger. You will not see the home runs at this level with the regularity we did in college, and that will have a negative impact on his fantasy value.
Pairing him with his college QB, Trevor Lawrence, is a huge win for Etienne and the Jags. He would be even higher in my rankings except I do not believe that James Robinson is finished in the Jacksonville offense. I like Etienne to be a mid-RB2 in his rookie season, and he has the potential to deliver a top-12 season in this career.
5. DeVonta Smith – WR Philadelphia Eagles
Pre-Draft Ranking: 7th
Next up at No. 5 in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft is Philadelphia Eagles WR Devonta Smith. Smith was originally my WR1 in this class only to fall to WR4 pre-draft. After the Eagles traded up to grab Smith at pick 10, Smith moves back up to WR3.
DeVonta Smith completed 4 years at Alabama, appearing in 47 games. He compiled a total of 235 receptions for 3,965 yards and scored 46 touchdowns. His 2020 season was extra special — 117 catches 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. Smith won the Heisman Trophy in 2020, as he the first wide receiver to win the award in 29 seasons.
When studying Devonta Smith’s tape, there really isn’t anything that jumps out to me that I don’t like other than his size (6’1″/175 Lbs.). His thin frame, however, is not enough of a deterrent to me pass on this talent in my rookie drafts. Simply put, Smith is a fantastic WR and an exceptional route runner. Personally, I can not get enough of elite route runners, and Smith is the best in this class and one of the best in recent memory.
Smith is a polished, productive wide receiver who was an unstoppable force for the Alabama offense. He displays outstanding football instincts and awareness. My concern when it comes to Smith, isn’t Smith, it’s his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles and their current QB Jalen Hurts. That said things change fast in this league, and Smith, if Hurts falters, will still be the alpha in the Eagles’ offense. That is good enough for me, and I will look to add DeVonta as often as I can.
4. Jaylen Waddle – WR Miami Dolphins
Pre-Draft Ranking: 6th
Coming in at No.4 in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft is Miami’s top pick, WR Jaylen Waddle. Waddle is in the same tier as DeVonta Smith, and narrowly finds himself ahead of his former teammate.
Jaylen Waddle appeared in 34 games for Alabama from 2018-2020. In those 34 games, he hauled in 106 passes for 1,999 yards, and he scored 17 touchdowns. In his true freshman season, he caught 45 passes for 848 yards and scored 7 times. He accomplished this while sharing the field with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith, Irv Smith Jr., Josh Jacobs, and Damien Harris.
His production dipped a little as a sophomore, and in his 2020 junior season he came out of the gates on fire. In Waddle’s first four contests in 2020 he posted 25 receptions for 557 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was injured in Week 5 against Tennessee on the opening kick-off and didn’t return until the National Championship game.
Waddle is an explosive skill player and a lethal force any time the ball is in his hands. The lack of size may be a limiting factor, but the speed and pass-catching skill he has displayed indicate that Waddle offers big-time potential at the next level. I like that Miami added Waddle to pair with Tua Tagovailoa, his former Alabama QB. The move should benefit both players.
3. Najee Harris – RB Pittsburgh Steelers
Pre-Draft Ranking: 2nd
My 3rd ranked player in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft is Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris. Harris, yet another former member of the National Champion Crimson Tide, lands in likely the only bell-cow RB role available in the draft.
Najee Harris appeared in 51 games for the Alabama Crimson Tide from 2017-2020. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Harris totaled 188 touches. The main reason for the small sample size was he shared a backfield with Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, and Bo Scarborough as a freshman, and Harris and Jacobs as a sophomore.
Harris planted his flag as a legit prospect in his junior season with 209 carries for 1,224 yards with 13 scores. He added in 27 grabs for 304 more yards and another 7 touchdowns. There were thoughts that Harris would declare for the 2020 draft, but he elected to return to Alabama.
Harris is my top RB in this class by a fairly wide margin. Harris’s blend of size and speed, I believe, gives him the ability to be a lethal every-down back at the next level. He is a back that has above average vision that he combines with good instincts and balance. What Harris does that separates him from other big power backs is his work as a receiver. Harris has demonstrated excellent pass catching ability throughout his career, and he projects as a player you can feature on every play regardless of down and distance.
The only concern I have here, and the reason he fell back one spot to three, is the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. The Steelers ranked 32nd in the league on the ground in 2020, and the weak line had a lot to do with it. Pittsburgh did add G Kenneth Green in round three and OT Dan Moore a round later. Green is a good add in the 3rd, but I am not sold on Moore. Regardless of the offensive lines ability, Harris will see plenty of touches, and his talent makes him worthy of third in these rankings.
2. Ja’Marr Chase – WR Cincinnati Bengals
Pre-Draft Ranking: 3rd
Cincinnati Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase moves up one spot to No.2 in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft. I don’t agree with this pick for the Bengals, but that has nothing to do with my opinion of Chase.
Ja’Marr Chase spent three years at LSU playing in two seasons (2018 & 2019). Chase decided to opt out of the 2020 season in order to focus on preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft. In two seasons with the Tigers, Ja’Marr Chase played in 24 games. He had 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. His 2019 season was especially good, a year in which he caught 84 of Joe Burrow’s passes for 1,780 yards and scored 20 times.
Chase is a dominant WR who projects well to the next level. He is an excellent route runner with good speed that enables him to gain separation. While the ball is in the air he tracks it as well or better than any other WR in this class.
It’s difficult to not fall in love with these prospects solely because of the stats they put in. With that said, it’s quite hard to ignore Ja’Marr Chase’s stats. He was absolutely dominant in 2019, and from an analytics standpoint, he’s close to a sure thing as there is. His breakout age speaks to natural talent that will be translatable at the NFL level, and his efficiency will undoubtedly interest the majority, if not all, NFL scouts.
When watching the Chase footage, you can see just how Chase’s skill set translates to the NFL. Name a metric and this man excels at it. Chase was the first WR off the board for a reason.
1. Kyle Pitts – Atlanta Falcons
Pre-Draft Ranking: 1st
Kyle Pitts entered the NFL draft as my top ranked player, and he leaves the draft as my No.1 in my 2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft. Clearly I am high on Pitts, and his draft capital and landing spot solidify it for me.
Kyle Pitts, in his 24 games as a member of the Florida Gators, posted a total stat line of 46 receptions for 1,492 yards and he scored 18 touchdowns. In his sophomore season as a 19-year-old, Pitts caught 54 passes for 649 yards and scored 5 times. He followed that up in 2020 with 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 8 games played.
In the NFL, a tight end rarely has the value of a wide receiver or an offensive lineman from a pure positional standpoint, but certain tight ends that can create mismatches at the NFL level are precious. That’s the kind of tight end that Kyle Pitts is. Pitts is a rare prototype who will create opportunities for the Falcons’ offense in 2021, and one very lucky fantasy manager in your league. I am not sure how many will rank Kyle Pitts first overall in their rankings like I have, but I am comfortable ranking him here due to his immense talent and his ability to give his fantasy manager an incredible positional advantage for years to come.
Kyle Pitts is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. He runs great routes and is a natural pass catcher. He does need to improve his blocking, but I would wager that the Falcons didn’t call his name due to his blocking capabilities. He is quick off the line and into passing routes, he extends to make the reception away from his frame, and is exceptional after the catch. Pitts tracks the ball in the air well and displays outstanding timing, often coming down with the difficult grab. He high-points exceptionally well and routinely adjusts and climbs over defensive backs to come away with the contested catch.
Pitts fits best in an offense that often targets the TE and moves the TE around to leverage mismatch opportunities. Landing is Atlanta is about as good as it gets here. Falcons new Head Coach Arthur Smith ran the most snaps in two TE sets in the NFL a season ago in Tennessee. In addition to that, Falcons QB Matt Ryan has targeted the TE position 311 times in the past three seasons which amounts to 17% of his 1,850 attempts. Pitts has the upside to be a top 5-8 TE in his rookie season, and he should be the top TE for years to come.
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