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Rookie Wide Receivers: 4, 5 and 6

In an earlier piece, I did some analysis on who I currently view as the top 3 rookie wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. That piece can be read here for those interested Rookie Wide Receivers: Three for the Money

In this piece, we’ll take a look at receivers ranked 4, 5 and 6 in the 2021 rookie class. When reading these profiles and considering the rankings, I can assure you that they’re subject to change and in all likelihood will change as new information becomes privy to us. Things like measurables, draft capital and landing spot all play a significant role in the rankings process. Without further preamble, let’s examine these rookie receivers further.

#4 – Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU, Junior (6’3”, 200 lbs)

Terrence Marshall Jr. played high school football at Parkway High School in his hometown of Bossier City, Louisiana. Marshall’s most productive season came as a junior when he turned 55 receptions into 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns. Universities took note as Marshall was named the #1 overall recruit in the state of Louisiana and a top 3 wide receiver nationally. The highly sought after Marshall committed to playing his college football for the LSU Tigers after receiving offers from all of the most prestigious universities.

As a true freshman and sophomore, Marshall spent time behind the talented duo of Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. Even so, we saw Marshall take a step forward during his sophomore season. When presented with a featured role this year, we witnessed just how much of a playmaker Marshall can be. Below are his receiving totals at LSU.

YearGPTGTRecYDSTD
2018919121920
201912664667113
20207704873110

Evidently, Marshall was on pace for a monster season in 2020 before opting out. Prior to his opt out, he was averaging 6.9 receptions, 104.4 yards and 1.4 touchdowns per game. Impressively, those totals were posted against SEC opponents while catching passes from three different quarterbacks, two of whom were freshman.

Strengths

When discussing Marshall as a prospect, size, speed and athleticism are at the forefront of the conversation. At 6’3”, 200 lbs, Marshall is a big, strong receiver with impressive long speed and exceptional acceleration. This impressive size-speed combination is likely to endear him to scouts and executives following the NFL Combine. Marshall also has good vertical leaping ability that enhances his already big catch radius.

He’s a natural hands catcher on tape with the strength to pluck the ball out of the air. Ball skills and body control look good. Marshall has also displayed enough versatility for teams to be comfortable lining him up out wide and in the slot. His route running is solid and he possesses the skill set to win at all three levels of the field. After the catch, Marshall showcases the toughness and explosiveness you want to see in a receiver of his size. There’s also some elusiveness to his game as a runner.

Weaknesses

While Marshall is a solid route runner, there is certainly room for improvement in that area of his game. If he’s able to shore up his consistency and add some more nuance to his routes, it will make him a more versatile weapon. Additionally, there isn’t a huge sample size on Marshall, and some will view that as a negative. 

Fantasy Outlook

In terms of upside, it’s hard to find prospects with more of it than Marshall. His blend of size, speed and versatility will present him with the opportunity to thrive in whatever offense he winds up in. How he performs at the NFL Combine will play a significant role in just how high he gets selected. As it stands right now, Marshall looks to be a late Day 1 selection which should enable him to begin his NFL career in a solid offense. When it comes to fantasy, Marshall has plenty of WR 1/2 upside and won’t need a perfect landing spot to realize that kind of production. Conversely, Marshall’s floor is a little lower and if his development begins to stagnate he could fall into the WR 4 ranks. He should be selected between 1.08 – 1.12 in the majority of 1 QB rookie drafts. Continue to monitor him closely through the combine and into the NFL Draft.

#5 – DeVonta Smith, Alabama, Senior (6’1”, 175 lbs)

DeVonta Smith played high school football at Amite High Magnet School, Louisiana. At Amite, Smith racked up countless awards on his path to becoming the #2 ranked recruit out of Louisiana and a consensus top 10 WR nationally. Following in the footsteps of so many great receivers, Smith committed to playing his college football at the University of Alabama. 

Since joining the Crimson Tide, Smith has steadily increased his receiving production each year with it culminating in his historic Heisman winning campaign in 2020. As you can see below, Smith will have no questions regarding his production as he looks to the NFL Draft.

YearGPTGTRecYDSTD
201771471563
20181359426936
2019139168125614
202013147117185623

Though it’s relatively well known at this point, it’s worth noting that Smith outproduced both Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy during the 2019 season, officially marking his breakout campaign. His 142.8 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game this year helped illustrate just how sensational Smith was during 2020. Those who dig deeper into the numbers will correctly point out that Smith’s production entered another stratosphere following Jaylen Waddle’s ankle injury as he became the focal point of the Alabama air raid.

Strengths

Versatility and attention detail are at the forefront of what’s made DeVonta Smith so special over the past two years at Alabama. Starting with versatility, Smith has displayed the ability to effectively lineup all over the formation and find success. He has shown himself to be effective attacking all three levels of the field while also chipping on special teams as a returner. When analyzing attention to detail, look no further than Smith’s exceptional route running ability. Whether deploying any one of a number of different fakes or taking advantage of his twitch to throw defenders off, Smith has been able to consistently separate from opposing DBs. Simply put, his football IQ is very, very high.

Smith has showcased extremely reliable hands over the years at Alabama. His ball skills and body control are well-developed, and we’ve seen him make a habit of delivering spectacular catches on a weekly basis. An uncanny ability to maintain concentration has also helped him make catches in traffic. After the catch, Smith has been downright lethal. It’s rare to see him make a catch and not pick up additional yardage. His production against stout competition is also important to highlight. 

Weaknesses

First and foremost, there are legitimate concerns about Smith’s size as he transitions to the NFL. At 6’1”, 175 lbs, Smith does not have the robust frame you’d like to see in an NFL receiver. At that listing, Smith would sport a BMI of just 23.1. For context, a majority (>65%) of WR 1’s in fantasy over the past decade have registered a BMI above 27. This alone is not a death sentence for Smith, but it’s hard to argue it doesn’t matter. How he weighs in and tests at the combine will also be of the utmost importance. 

Another issue resulting from his size is that Smith lacks ideal NFL strength. To be sure, he will struggle when given blocking assignments and fighting through stronger defenders.

Fantasy Outlook

For all the incredible things Smith has done at Alabama, he’s a surprisingly difficult prospect to assess. No one can deny he’s an exceptionally good football player however, the chances of him enjoying the same consistency and level of success in the NFL and in turn fantasy, are much less certain. Looking forward to the NFL Draft, Smith has likely played his way into a top 15 selection with a real shot at cracking the top 10. For fantasy purposes, I see more high-end WR 2 than WR 1 in Smith’s game as he transitions to the NFL. Having said that, as long as he remains healthy, Smith looks like the kind of player who will be a better floor than ceiling option. A floor in the mid-WR 3 range seems reasonable right now. If so, he would still have a very useful place on fantasy rosters. Right now, he projects to go in the 1.03 – 1.06 range of 1 QB rookie drafts. It will be essential to monitoring Smith throughout the combine and NFL Draft as things can change very quickly.

#6 – Rondale Moore, Purdue, Junior (5’9”, 180 lbs)

Moore grew up in New Albany, Indiana, where he began the first portion of his high school football career. Prior to his junior season, Moore transferred to the prestigious Trinity High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Moore helped lead Trinity to consecutive state championships as a member of the program and received numerous awards along the way.

Moore was ranked as a top 50 receiver nationally and a consensus top 2 recruit overall from the state of Kentucky. Initially, Moore had committed to playing his college football for the University of Texas however, he reneged on that commitment and shifted his sights to playing for Purdue University. Since joining the Boilermakers, Moore has posted the following totals:

YearGPTGTRecYDSTD
201813160114125812
2019443293872
2020344352700

As you can observe, Moore broke out in what was truly a monster freshman season. Keep in mind, Moore is used in creative ways and the above totals solely capture his receiving production. He’s a versatile weapon who’s manufactured rushing opportunities as well and that trend will continue as he transitions into the NFL. Injuries have played a large part in subduing Moore’s sophomore and junior stat lines. 

Strengths

Moore consistently puts outstanding athleticism and toughness together on tape. His acceleration is phenomenal and he changes direction effortlessly while maintaining speed. Suddenness is rivalled by few and allows him to be a weapon whenever he has the ball. Although small in stature, Moore has tremendous balance and embraces physicality. Per pound strength is very impressive as Moore is exceedingly difficult to bring down.

As a route runner, Moore’s speed enables him to set up DBs and blow by them. His breaks are superb, and he has a natural ability to find space and get open. Moore is possibly at his best after the catch, utilizing his blazing speed and contact balance to frequently break off big plays and move the chains. Moves with exceptional fluidity.

Weaknesses

Health will be among Moore’s biggest concerns as he enters the NFL Draft. His inability to stay healthy at the collegiate level will negatively impact his draft stock and will be thoroughly evaluated by NFL teams. Furthermore, Moore’s size hurts his ability to thrive in contested catch situations and his hands overall could stand to improve some.

Fantasy Outlook

When examining Moore, it feels as if he’s a prospect where landing spot will be of heightened importance. His skill set is incredible but if not utilized properly, it’s quite likely he’ll struggle to reach his full potential. On the other hand, Moore’s ability to make plays from all three levels of the field (and as a runner) will allow him to thrive with a host of different quarterbacks. Looking toward the NFL Draft, Moore is currently trending towards becoming a late first round selection and the possibility of him on the Saints, while wishful thinking, is mouthwatering. With regard to fantasy, Moore’s electric playmaking ability gives him the kind of ceiling fantasy players love. With the right fit and good health, he could be a high-volume weapon with plenty of home run hitting ability. In contrast, Moore’s red flags, and there are multiple, make him a risk/reward pick for NFL teams and fantasy GMs. There is no floor for those who don’t suit up. For now, expect Moore to be selected in the later stages of the first round in the majority of rookie drafts. 

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