When analyzing the 2021 rookie class, it’s impossible not to mention the outstanding crop of wide receivers on the precipice of entering the NFL. There will unquestionably be numerous WR 1 seasons produced by this group and having a sound understanding of the prospects at hand can only increase the odds of hitting. Moreover, avoiding the catastrophic losers or “busts” if you will, is essential to sustained dynasty success. Without further preamble, let’s take a look at the top 3 rookie wide receivers.
#1 – Ja’Marr Chase, LSU, Junior (6’0”, 208 lbs)
Chase played high school football in his home state of Louisiana at the prestigious Archbishop Rummel High School. His career was highly productive, finishing with 115 receptions for 2,152 yards and 30 scores. Following a senior season in which he amassed 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, Chase committed to playing college football for Louisiana State University. 247Sports ranked Chase as the 15th wide receiver overall in the 2018 recruiting class.
Chase took a major step forward during his sophomore season with the Tigers, en route to winning the Biletnikoff award as the best receiver in college football. He also helped the Tigers to a national championship and was named a consensus All-American. Below are his receiving totals with the Tigers.
A “major step forward” could certainly be classified as an understatement when comparing the two seasons. In 2019, Chase paced a talented Tigers receiving core that featured the likes of Terrace Marshall Jr. (671 yards) and Justin Jefferson (1540 yards). In the national championship game against Clemson, Chase exploded for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’ll enter the NFL Draft with a robust average of 19.6 yards per reception.
This could take a while. For starters, Chase is an extremely talented receiver with strong, reliable hands. He’s consistently shown a natural ability to make catches in traffic, contested situations and on inaccurate passes. Quite possibly has the best hands in the class. His track and field background also shows up in jump ball situations. After the catch, he’s just as impressive and a nightmare for defensive backs to bring down, breaking 31% of tackles in 2019. Physicality, tenacity and strength are evident in his game.
Chase is a very proficient route runner who was able to separate from virtually any coverage he faced. Understands the nuances of different routes and effectively utilizes his hands to gain an edge. Hesitations and fakes were nothing short of exceptional. It’s also worth noting that Chase dropped monster games against quality defensive backs like C.J. Henderson, Trevon Diggs and AJ Terrell.
Chase doesn’t possess the elite speed that many early Day 1 receivers do. In addition to that, questions have been raised regarding the sustainability of his success due to his sole great season coming alongside Joe Burrow in a historically good offense. Not playing in 2020 could also be viewed as a knock by some.
Chase was one of the first wide receivers to opt out of the 2020 NCAA season and begin draft preparations. When the 2021 NFL Draft rolls around he’ll undoubtedly be a first round selection with a good chance of landing in the top 5. When it comes to fantasy, Chase has the potential to be a consistent WR 1 and one of the top receivers in the NFL. Statistically, Chase out produced his older teammate Justin Jefferson during 2019 at LSU. Jefferson, a phenomenal receiver in his own respect, just set the rookie record for receiving yards in a season and cemented his place among elite dynasty WRs. If we take a somewhat conservative approach and assume that Chase is nearly as good as Jefferson, he would immediately become a high-end WR 2 with room for more. It would be surprising to see Chase last beyond 1.03 in the majority of 1 QB drafts and 1.07 feels like the absolute latest he would be around in SF leagues.
#2 – Jaylen Waddle, Alabama, Junior (5’10”, 182 lbs)
Waddle was born in Texas and played high school ball at Espicopal High School in Bellaire. Following his decorated career there, Waddle was one of the most highly sought after recruits in the nation. He was ranked as the 5th best receiver nationally and received offers to all major programs. Following a lengthy recruiting process, Waddle made the decision to join Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Since joining the Tide, Waddle has been a reliable contributor in what has been an excellent wide receiver room. His receiving totals are as follows:
Evidently, Waddle was off to a roaring start in 2020 prior to suffering an ankle injury in late October against Tennessee. When we consider that Waddle suffered the injury in the early stages of that game, his numbers look even more impressive. To elaborate, Waddle was averaging 7.3 targets, 6.3 receptions, 139.3 receiving yards and 1 touchdown per game through his first four appearances this season. He’s also maintained a catch rate above 73% during his college career while averaging over 19 yards per reception.
Waddle is a truly electric playmaker who showcases the type of unique speed and acceleration that few players are blessed with. Rest assured, he’s a legitimate threat to score whenever he has the ball in his hands. A career average of 19.1 yards per reception accentuates that point. Not just a burner, Waddle is a very underrated route runner who deploys a host of different techniques to freeze and subsequently roast defenders. He’s more than capable of attacking defenses at all three levels. Furthermore, Waddle possesses unique after the catch ability as he blends his mind-bending speed with excellent footwork and fluidity.
For a smaller receiver, Waddle has shown no deficiencies in contested catch situations. His body control is magnificent as he leaps above defenders to high point the ball. Strong hands and a willingness to embrace physicality also aid him in those situations. As an added bonus, Waddle is a gifted returner who will provide his team with another playmaker in that department.
Some scouts have surmised that Waddle will be limited to a slot/return role in the NFL due to his size. Another concern stemming from his size is that Waddle will struggle against press coverage in the NFL. It’s possible, but his quickness off the line is next level and he’s had no issues thus far. Outside of size, there is still room to improve his route running and diversify his route tree further.
Waddle’s natural ability to create and finish explosive plays will translate very well to the next level. Though he’s been overshadowed some by Heisman winning teammate Devonta Smith, Waddle out produced him prior to injury. It’s not unreasonable to assume that trend may have continued, and we’d instead be having similar conversations about Waddle. Regardless, it’s likely that Waddle remains a top 15 pick in this year’s draft and it’s hard to envision him falling outside the top 20. With respect to fantasy, Waddle has the chance to be a perennial WR 1. Even with an imperfect fit, Waddle’s game changing speed should at worst render him a volatile WR 2.
#3 – Rashod Bateman, Minnesota, Junior (6’2”, 210 lbs)
Bateman had an exceptional high school football career at Tift County High School in his home state of Georgia. Following an impressive junior season in which he turned 56 receptions into 825 yards and 5 scores, Bateman committed to playing his college football at the University of Minnesota. However, as a senior, Bateman broke the single-season school record for receiving yards, catching 83 passes for 1,539 yards and an astounding 21 touchdowns. That performance led to All-State recognition and a host of offers from major programs. Ultimately, Bateman maintained his commitment to play for the Golden Gophers.
Upon joining the Gophers, Bateman started every game as a true freshman and immediately contributed on offense. This is illustrated by his receiving totals below.
For those who may be unaware, the vast majority of Bateman’s freshman production came as an 18 year old due to his late November birthday. Consequently, the majority of his outstanding sophomore season in which he averaged 20.3 yards per reception came at the age of 19. Bateman received the Richter-Howard award as the Big Ten’s top receiver and was a Biletnikoff finalist that season.
Bateman is a well-rounded receiver who’s very strong in a number of different areas. First, he’s a meticulous route runner who displays a concrete understanding of how to set up defensive backs and use leverage to his advantage. Breaks are crisp and footwork is nuanced. Furthermore, he’s shown an ability to identify and situate himself in the soft spots vs zone coverage. After the catch, Batement is decisive and has the ability to make opponents miss or drag defenders with him for extra yardage. Possesses the versatility and IQ to line up all over the field.
When it comes to ball skills, Bateman has plenty. He’s a natural receiver with a big catch radius and very strong hands. A willingness to embrace physicality allows him to thrive in contested catch situations and fend off defenders. Adept at high pointing the football. While he’s not a true burner, Bateman has good long speed and should be able to run a sub 4.5 at the combine.
Bateman is not yet a stellar blocker and will need to continue to improve in that area as he works towards becoming a more complete play. Additionally, Bateman would stand to benefit from enhancing his agility and quickness. Outside of that, there just aren’t many holes in Bateman’s game.
With the right landing spot, Bateman can be a contributor in the NFL from Week 1. With a game as refined as his, he’ll have every opportunity to see the field as a rookie and opportunity is integral to success. When it comes to the NFL Draft, Bateman’s likely to wind up a top 25 selection with an outside shot at slipping to the early stages of the second round. With respect to fantasy, Bateman has all the requisite traits to be a team’s alpha for a long time. Typically, that role will translate into WR 2 production with lots of upside for more in the right situation. On the other hand, Bateman’s floor should be among the safest in the draft due to his well-rounded skill set and polish. It would be surprising to not see him post WR 3 or better seasons for a large portion of his career.
If you enjoyed this article on three of 2021’s finest rookie wide receivers, take a look at my previous article which details my current 2021 Rookie Running Back Rankings.
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