Over the past two weeks I’ve looked at quarterbacks
and running backs so it’s
time for the third and final analysis of our series – rookie
As in the past two studies, I researched rookies from 2011-20
to see what it took to be a viable fantasy-worthy wideout in the
NFL. My analysis of the top-36 receivers over the past 10 seasons
in full PPR leagues showed that you must produce an average of
12.02 FPts/G to be of value to an owner.
With this knowledge I evaluated the 122 receivers drafted over
that span to see how they stacked up.
Of the 122 rookies, 22 or 18% produced more than 12 fantasy points
per game (see chart below). They averaged 107.3 targets, 67.8
receptions, 982.8 receiving yards and 7.3 touchdowns.
Looking deeper, however, reveals that fantasy owners should probably
stick to the first two rounds of draftees because the odds are
extremely small that you can find a third-rounder who will be
of value. The numbers say that just 2-of-36 third-round selections
produced enough points to be fantasy-worthy; Terry McLaurin and
T.Y. Hilton. Both saw unusually high targets as a “freshman”
which likely explains their success.
The pair of McLaurin and Hilton finished second and third among
third-rounders in targets and No.1, Cooper Kupp, with 94, just
missed our list with 11.9 FPts/G. It appears that 90 targets is
a likely good measure for fantasy success. Of the 30 receivers
who reached that mark, 19 produced fantasy-worthy numbers.
Second-round selections made the grade 16.3% of the time (8-of-49)
and first-round selections had the best chance of rookie success
at 32.4% (12-of-37). The chart below has more interesting numbers
concerning rookie wide receivers.
Rookie WRs 2011-2020
Avg Rec Yards
Avg Rec TDs
With these statistics in mind, let’s look at the 2021 rookie
wide receiver options.
Chase, Cincinnati – Chase will reunite
with his college quarterback Joe
Burrow after sitting out his final year at LSU due to the
pandemic. However, when we last saw him he was producing huge
numbers (84-1780-20). Under Burrow’s direction, the Bengals were
a throw-first team, with the rookie QB passing an average of 40
times a game. Three receivers saw 100+ targets (Tyler
Higgins and A.J.
Green). Green is no longer in Cincinnati which very reasonably
opens up triple-digit targets for the rookie. He’s almost certain
to crack the 12 FPts/G mark.
Waddle, Miami – Another wide receiver
who joins his college QB (Tua
Tagovailoa). However, Waddle may have a tougher time seeing
triple-digit or even 90 targets as Chase should. DeVante
Parker led the team in targets last season with 103 and the
team signed talented speedster Will
Fuller (53-879-8). Where the Dolphins differ significantly
from the Bengals is the presence of a pass-catching tight end
in Mike Gesicki
who saw 85 targets and has emerged as a serious threat (53-703-6).
Compare him to the Bengal’s Drew
Sample (40-349-1). That makes four mouths to feed and a tougher
road for the Alabama alum. I do not think Waddle will be fantasy
worthy in 2021 barring an injury to Parker or Fuller.
Smith, Philadelphia – Smith also
played a bit with new Eagles starter Jalen
Hurts, though not to the extent of Chase and Burrow as Hurts
transferred to Oklahoma for his senior season. Smith is the second
consecutive first-round pick Philadelphia has used on a wideout.
was a disappointment in 2020 (31-396-1) as his third-round-like
statistics suggest. Of course, Carson
Wentz didn’t play well last season, so it’s possible to lay
some of the blame at QB, but I’m expecting a better performance
from Smith, the Heisman trophy winner, who produced monster totals
(117-1856-23) in the tough SEC. Smith should end up as the leading
receiver for the Eagles. However, there are too many questions
with the Eagles offense to “guarantee” fantasy-worthy production
from any of the pass-catchers. Start with a barely tested QB,
a completely new coaching staff and unknown quantities at receivers,
but Smith should have the best chance between himself, Reagor,
Greg Ward, John
Watkins and JJ
Arcega-Whiteside. I believe he will be a low-end fantasy value
with huge upside.
Toney, New York Giants – Toney joins
an interesting group in New York. In addition to returning wideouts
Shepard and Darius
Slayton, the Giants signed a big-money free agent - Kenny
Golladay and also added 2017 Bengals first-round selection
John Ross. Golladay,
Shepard and Slayton figure to get the bulk of the work with Toney
as No.4. Toney was a little-used receiver for Florida until his
senior season (70-984-10) and will likely take time to move up
the depth chart. He should only be chosen in dynasty leagues in
Bateman, Baltimore – Bateman has
talent, but landed in a situation where there is no way he sees
enough targets to be fantasy-worthy. The Ravens threw the ball
just 406 times last season and 440 times the previous season …
both league lows. That isn’t likely to change much in 2021. Given
100+ targets and another 90-100 for tight end Mark
Andrews, the opportunities are already shrinking. Add in the
signing of Sammy
Watkins and Bateman’s chances to produce 12 points-a-game
Moore, New York Jets – Like the
Giants and Baltimore, the Jets brought in free agent talent in
the form of Corey
Davis (65-984-5 with Tennessee) to lead the receiving corps.
He joins veteran Jamison
Crowder and 2020 second-round selection Denzel
Mims. The Jets threw the ball 499 times last season and now
have a rookie quarterback (Zach
Wilson) to go along with a rookie head coach (Robert Saleh)
and staff. Saleh is a former defensive coordinator and they rarely
like wide-open offenses. Moore was good as Mississippi (86-1193-8),
a school which has been producing pass catchers of late (A.J.
Brown, DK Metcalf,
Despite that history, Moore doesn’t figure to help you in 2021.
Moore, Arizona – A second-round
pick, Moore is stuck behind three big names; DeAndre
Kirk and A.J. Green. Coach Cliff Kingsbury spoke about Moore’s
talent and seemed excited to draw up stuff for him, but that usually
means trick plays or jet sweeps and not consistent targets. If
you choose him, your best opportunity will likely be the oft-injured
Green hitting the injured list again.
Eskridge, Seattle – Eskridge was
a combine “giant” with 4.33 speed, 350 bench, 505 squat and 37.5
vertical, but his domination of the MAC may not translate to the
NFL. DK Metcalf and Tyler
Lockett should continue to dominate the Seahawks targets,
but with so much attention to those two, Eskridge could have occasional
big games as he should be the guy in three-receiver sets replacing
(Carolina). Eskridge could be a nice late-round pick to handcuff
for either Metcalf or Lockett.
Atwell, Los Angeles Rams – I see
no scenario where Atwell produces double-digit fantasy points.
Kupp, Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler
Higbee will soak up most of the opportunities. The Rams also
Jackson, though he should be injured by Week 4 … if not earlier.
Marshall Jr., Carolina – Marshall had a couple of
nice seasons for LSU, but never cracked 50 receptions in a season.
He was, however, a touchdown maker, producing 23 scores in two
seasons. He should slot in as the Panthers’ third receiver and
fourth options behind D.J.
Anderson and RB Christian
McCaffrey. The big question is; how much will Matt Ruhle allow
to throw? In New York he never threw more than 441 passes in a
season which probably won’t leave much for Marshall this season,
but Anderson will be a free agent after this year and 2022 could
be when Marshall shines.
Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers – Considering
the poor quarterback play he dealt with at the University of Tennessee,
joining the Chargers and rookie sensation Justin
Herbert should help get the most out of Palmer, but he’ll
have to fight for targets. Keenan
Williams, TE Jared
Cook and RB Austin
Ekeler should see most of the work with Palmer fighting Jalen
Guyton for the scraps. Barring injury, he probably has few
scenarios to be fantasy-worthy in his first year.
Brown, Washington – Brown was the
deep threat at North Carolina averaging more than 20-yards-per
catch over the past two seasons. He figures to do that for Washington,
but few players can make a fantasy living doing only that unless
they are elite. The good news is that gunslinger Ryan
Fitzpatrick has never been afraid to let it fly. McLaurin,
free-agent signee Curtis
Samuel, running back J.D.
McKissic and tight end Logan
Thomas figure to be the first four options leaving little
for Brown, but he’ll likely have a couple big games because of
his explosiveness. Predicting when that happens will be the hard
Rodgers, Green Bay – Rodgers had
a nice senior season at Clemson (77-1020-7) catching balls from
but he’s not particularly fast or big. The Packers have been looking
for someone to play opposite Davante
Adams for a while now, so if he proves himself early on he
could become a viable option for the Packers starting QB. That
would be great news if it’s Aaron
Rodgers, but not so good if it’s Jordan
Love. More likely he’ll be a punt returner and sit behind
Valdes-Scantling and Allen
Collins, Houston – Mediocre numbers
at Michigan and the question marks at quarterback for the Texans
likely makes it moot whether he can earn Will Fullers’ target
share. This is an offense that you should probably avoid.