Fantasy Football Rankings 2021: Rookie wide receivers and dynasty

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 13: Wide Receiver Ja'Marr Chase #1 of the LSU Tigers makes a catch over Cornerback A.J. Terrell #8 of the Clemson Tigers for a touchdown during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. LSU defeated Clemson 42 to 25. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 13: Wide Receiver Ja'Marr Chase #1 of the LSU Tigers makes a catch over Cornerback A.J. Terrell #8 of the Clemson Tigers for a touchdown during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. LSU defeated Clemson 42 to 25. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /
1 of 10
2021 NFL Mock Draft
Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge is an under-the-radar talent, and someone that dynasty fantasy football fanatics should track during the 2021 NFL Draft. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Ranking the top rookie wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft from a fantasy football perspective

Earlier this offseason, we analyzed the top 2021 rookies at the running back and quarterback positions. While some fantasy football analysts have made major changes to their draft boards in reaction to second-hand media reports, we confidently remain steadfast: the only modification we’ve made over the last several weeks is sliding Davis Mills up to the number eight slot in our quarterback rankings.

Now, the hard part: wide receivers, arguably the most difficult of the skill positions to analyze, present an even greater challenge following a college football season that saw little to no interconference interaction. Many top prospects had their schedules shortened, thereby creating an incomplete, or at best, an incongruent sample size that has been thrust under the media microscope.

Sadly, with no “true” NFL Combine in 2021, Pro Days are playing an undesirably larger role than usual in the evaluation process; these player-friendly, overly-subjective settings tend to produce faster-than-actual 40 times while showcasing player strengths and hiding their weaknesses. As a result, analysts are armed with incomplete, semi-biased analytics and less film than usual to break down.

All of that said, with dynasty fantasy footballers in mind, we’ve expanded our rankings for rookie wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class, and we begin with a list of players who didn’t make the cut for our honorable mentions, yet deserve to be monitored nonetheless. In the right landing spots, these talented young players could create quite a buzz in fantasy football circles, and most are on the radar of NFL scouts and general managers as the NFL Draft approaches.

Fantasy Football Rookie Wide Receiver Rankings: Under the Radar Options

Some will argue that the 2021 wide receiver class is every bit as deep as last year’s impressive crop. We feel that the talent is more top-heavy in this class, but we also recognize that some lesser-known prospects excel in one or two areas, and could therefore see their draft stocks skyrocket in the right landing spot when paired up with NFL offenses that are a perfect match for their skill sets.

The Wide Receiver Class of 2021 boasts an abundance of small-statured, elusive wide receivers who could benefit from rule changes that have made it more difficult for opposing NFL defensive backs to shut down speed threats with physicality. One such player is South Carolina’s Shi Smith (5’9″, 186 pounds), who ran a 4.46 at his Pro Day, and was a focal point of the Gamecock’s offense.

Louisville’s Tutu Atwell (5-9, 155 pounds) is even twitchier and commanded an even greater share of his team’s targets (35.1 percent), but many scouts are concerned by his exceedingly diminutive stature, and wonder, with good reason, if he can hold up to the grind of an NFL season. We prefer two other 5-9 wide receivers at the moment: Jaelon Darden out of North Texas and Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge.

Like Smith, Darden ran a 4.46-second 40 at his Pro Day, but his agility measurements were even more impressive, and his College Dominator rating (percentage of his team’s total receiving yards and touchdowns), per, was a mind-blowing 61.1 percent. Opposing defenses knew that North Texas wanted to force-feed Darden, yet he remained unstoppable, racking up 31 touchdowns in his final two seasons (he logged 74 or more receptions in each).

At 190 pounds Eskridge, who has been compared favorably to Julian Edelman by a former NFL general manager, is perhaps the most solidly built of any of the above receivers, and he ran a blistering 4.4 at his Pro Day. The former Broncos standout put his big-play ability on full display in Kalamazoo last year, taking nearly a quarter of his receptions (8 of 33) to the house.

Colorado State’s Warren Jackson has one thing that the players above lack, along with most other wide receiver prospects in this class: impressive height. The 6-6, 219-pounder posted impressive productivity in 2019, yet he appears to be lead-footed by NFL standards. Unless an opposing defensive back trips and falls, Jackson’s not going to create separation from anyone at the next level with a 40-time just south of 4.8.

Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt (6-3, 215 pounds) is just a hair faster but gives up three inches to Jackson. Auburn’s Seth Williams (6-3, 211 pounds) is a much better dice roll for dynasty fantasy football enthusiasts in search of a large-framed wideout with NFL-caliber speed (4.49-second 40 at his Pro Day), yet several scouts note that he lacks shiftiness, and doesn’t play nearly as physically as someone his size should.

Some scouts and analysts like Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette and North Carolina’s Dazz Newsome, but we’re not particularly wowed by either. We prefer the upside of Josh Palmer, a 6-1, 210-pound product of the University of Tennessee who lacks an impressive production profile, yet possesses adequate speed and agility metrics; he’s being largely ignored due to his late breakout age (21.0), but performed well against top cornerbacks as the alpha in the Volunteers’ passing game last season, per Oliver Hodgskinson of Pro Football Network:

"“Last season’s best performance came against one of the best cornerback tandems in college football. Palmer secured 71 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns on just 4 receptions against Georgia. Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell have both received first-round NFL Draft buzz. However, Palmer showed that he could go toe-to-toe with them both. His over-the-shoulder touchdown catch against Campbell was a beautiful combination of hand skills, awareness, and body control to ensure he kept a foot in the field of play and complete the touchdown catch.”"

A few others we’re watching include Houston jitterbug Marquez Stevenson (5-10, 180 pounds), Clemson’s Cornell Powell (6-0, 204 pounds), and Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz (6-0, 186 pounds), who possesses near-Olympian straight-line speed (4.27-second 40 at his Pro Day). Powell, who has the build of an NFL wideout, impressed many during Senior Bowl workouts that followed a sound season in a high-powered, high-profile offense.

Florida State’s Tamorrion Terry has seen his dynasty fantasy football stock rise and fall like Bay of Fundy tides over the past two seasons; after deciding to return for another season of college football as a highly-coveted prospect, Terry (6-3, 207 pounds) sustained a knee injury and underwent surgery in October. Terry, who logged a 60-catch 1,188-yard, nine-touchdown season as a sophomore, could see his draft stock skyrocket if he goes earlier than expected and lands in a fantasy football-friendly offense.

While none are coveted prospects in dynasty circles at the moment, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if at least one of these last four prospects turned in a Pro Bowl season or two if given ample opportunities in the right offense. That said, there are a baker’s dozen at the wide receiver position who we like even more.