Fanelli’s 2021 NFL Rookie Rankingsby Mike Fanelli May 5, 2021 0 comments
The 2021 NFL Draft wrapped up a few days ago. While some will turn their attention to the 2022 draft, dynasty fantasy players are focused on their rookie drafts. Whether you have plenty of rookie picks or traded most of them away for veterans, the best fantasy players make the most out of every pick. Unlike the 2020 draft class, the 2021 class lacks depth. However, nailing as many rookie picks as possible translates into winning championships.
Below are my dynasty rookie draft position rankings based on six points per passing touchdowns and PPR scoring leagues. I have also broken down the top five at each position. Feel free to reach out for advice specific to your league’s size and scoring.
Be sure to check out all of my fantasy football rankings here.
1) Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Many view Lawrence as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck or even Peyton Manning. He had plenty of success at Clemson and should continue that success with the Jaguars. Unlike many rookie quarterbacks, Lawrence will start day one and have a strong supporting cast around him. In addition to holdovers from last year’s team in DJ Chark, James Robinson, and Laviska Shenault, the Jaguars added Marvin Jones in free agency then spent the 25th pick on Travis Etienne. The Jaguars have a young core that will grow with Lawrence. Anyone who doesn’t select Lawrence with the 1.01 rookie pick in a super-flex rookie draft should be kicked out of the league.
2) Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
After paying a massive price to move up, the 49ers are all in on Lance. While he likely won’t begin the season as the starting quarterback, it’s only a matter of time till he takes over for Jimmy Garoppolo. When he does, Lance will be set up for the next decade. The 49ers have a good offensive line, a receiving trio of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk, and Kyle Shanahan on the sidelines. His ability to run will only help his fantasy value. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if in two or three years, Lance becomes the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
3) Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Entering the draft, many loved Fields after his stellar career at Ohio State. Then, when the Bears traded up for Fields, his fantasy value got another boost. Not only did the Bears pay a heavy price to move up, but they also added an offensive tackle to protect him. With Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and David Montgomery around him, Fields has a good supporting cast. Even with Andy Dalton on the team, it shouldn’t be long before Fields takes over as the starter. The only concern with Fields is if the Bears struggle this season, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace will be fired, and their potential replacements may want to draft their guy.
4) Zach Wilson, New York Jets
If not for the super talented quarterback class, Wilson would be much higher on the list. However, he is in a position to succeed in New York. Unlike the previous regime in New York, the Jets have done a good job supporting Wilson. Alijah Vera-Tucker joins last year’s first-round pick Mekhi Becton on the offensive line. Meanwhile, Elijah Moore joins Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, and Jamison Crowder at wide receiver. Furthermore, the Jets have two first-round picks next year and are in prime position to add more around Wilson. He might struggle as a rookie, but the future is bright in New York, and Wilson could turn into a fantasy star in 2022.
5) Mac Jones, New England Patriots
While many expected Jones to end up with the 49ers, falling to the Patriots might be better for his fantasy career. The Patriots have an excellent young offensive line, added several weapons in free agency, including Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Unlike the 49ers, the Patriots have all of their first-round picks moving forward and are in a position to add weapons around Jones. However, unlike the other four first-round quarterbacks, Jones doesn’t have much upside due to a lack of rushing ability. The second Jones slides into the second round of super flex rookie drafts, he becomes a steal.
1) Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Many will be surprised not to see Najee Harris first on the list. However, dynasty fantasy football isn’t a sprint but a marathon. In redraft leagues, Harris is arguably a first-round pick. However, in dynasty, his future lacks the upside Etienne has. The Jaguars have a young up and coming offense centered around Lawrence. Etienne will have a young offensive line blocking for him, an elite quarterback next to him, and plenty of receivers to force safeties out of the box. While James Robinson limit’s his rushing upside, Etienne is by far the better pass catcher. Furthermore, if the Jaguars were in love with Robinson, they wouldn’t have used a first-round pick on Etienne. By 2022, Etienne is the featured back in Jacksonville.
2) Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
No, Harris isn’t even the RB2 in the rookie class despite being the first running back selected. The Broncos showed their love for Williams when they traded up ahead of Miami for him. Phillip Lindsay is now in Houston, while Melvin Gordon is 28 years old and entering the final year of his contract. While the Broncos still have questions at quarterback, the rest of their offensive is excellent. Their offensive line is one of the best young units in the league, while the Broncos have four talented wide receivers and a star tight end. Defenses won’t be able to stack the box against Williams. It might not happen till the start of next season, but Williams is in line for a featured role.
3) Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris will and should be the first rookie running back selected in redraft leagues because he has no competition for touches this season. Furthermore, the Steelers have a track history of featuring one running back when they are healthy. However, the future of the Steelers is very unclear. They lost 60 percent of their starting offensive line this offseason and didn’t invest either of their first two picks on it. Furthermore, Ben Roethlisberger likely won’t be back in 2022, and the receiving core could look very different by 2023. With Mason Rudolph signing a one-year extension, it suggests the Steelers believe he is Big Ben’s replacement after this season. If that is the case, Harris will see eight defenders in the box on almost every snap.
4) Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
This is where we have a tier break. Sermon was the fourth running back selected during the draft, and his landing spot has mixed opinions. The 49ers have a history of producing fantasy star running backs. However, on the other side of the coin, the 49ers’ backfield is crowded. Not only do they have Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson from last year’s team, but they signed Wayne Gallman before the draft and spent a sixth-round pick on Elijah Mitchell. If Sermon can earn the featured role, he will turn into a fantasy star. However, if he gets lost in a massive committee situation, he will never turn into a weekly starter.
5) Michael Carter, New York Jets
Surprisingly, the Jets waited till the third day of the draft to add a running despite having the worst running back room in the league. Carter joins a group including last year’s fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine and free agent addition Tevin Coleman. Even if he earns the lead role, Carter will play behind a questionable offensive line. More than likely, Carter will spend most of his rookie season as the third-down back and in a committee situation. Furthermore, the Jets will have plenty of cap space and draft capital again next season. They will likely use some of it on giving Wilson a featured running back. Carter’s long-term role is most likely as a change of pace back and not a featured one.
1) Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Whether you think the Bengals should have taken Penei Sewell instead of Chase, you can’t argue that he is far and away the top rookie receiver. Not only was he the top-ranked rookie in the draft class, but Chase now joins his former LSU teammate Joe Burrow. The Bengals’ have an awful defense, which will lead to plenty of shootouts. Defenses can’t double Chase all game long without watching Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd marching up and down the field. Furthermore, Joe Mixon will keep teams from emptying the box. The only downside with Chase is he won’t see 130 targets a season with Higgins and Boyd on the team. However, his upside and chemistry with Burrow put Chase square in the 1.01 pick discussion in one quarterback leagues.
2) DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
If you are worried about Smith’s weight, don’t take him; however, that would be a massive mistake. Smith stayed healthy during his time at Alabama, despite taking hits from future NFL stars. Meanwhile, when the Eagles jumped the New York Giants, it showed their love for Smith. Furthermore, the Eagles have very few weapons in the receiving game. Last year’s first-round pick Jalen Reagor had a disappointing rookie season, while Travis Fulgham was inconsistent. Jalen Hurts and Smith played together at Alabama and already have chemistry. Between his route running skills and expected target share, Smith could lead all rookies in catches and receiving yards this season.
3) Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins passed on Sewell for Waddle despite having a hole protecting Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside. While the Dolphins have several wide receivers on the roster, including DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Preston Williams, none are slot receivers. Furthermore, all three have struggled with injuries so far in their career. The best news for Waddle is all three could be playing elsewhere in 2022. Fuller is on a one-year contract, Williams heads toward restricted free agency, and the Dolphins can save $4.5 million in cap space by releasing Parker. Waddle is the most explosive playmaker in the draft class. Come next season, Waddle could lead the team in targets depending on what the Dolphins do with their receiver core.
4) Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
Many will get turned off to Bateman after landing with the Ravens. However, this might be what Lamar Jackson needs. Bateman has been compared to Justin Jefferson thanks to his route running and ability to get open. Other than Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, the Ravens lack proven playmakers. Sammy Watkins is under contract for only one year, while Miles Boykin has been a bust so far in his career. With defenses focused on stopping the running game and avoid giving up the big play downfield to Brown, Bateman could have an excellent fantasy season working the middle of the field. If Bateman slides into the middle part of the second round in super-flex rookie drafts, he becomes a steal.
5) Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
Usually, wide receivers selected on day three don’t end up in the top five of rookie rankings. However, St. Brown walks in as the Lions’ WR1 as a rookie. With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones playing elsewhere in 2021, the Lions signed Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Neither should stand in St. Brown’s way of leading the wide receivers in targets as a rookie. T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift will draw most of the defense’s attention, leaving St. Brown to take advantage in the middle of the field. Jared Goff’s favorite weapon in Los Angeles was Cooper Kupp. St. Brown has a similar game and expects to play the same slot role in Detroit. He will be a consistent, safe floor PPR starter in 2021.
1) Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
The obvious rookie TE1 is Pitts. Regardless of where he landed, Pitts would be the rookie TE1 and likely a top-five start-up draft tight end. However, landing in Atlanta, Pitts joins a high-powered passing attack and should put up massive fantasy numbers over the next several years. Matt Ryan is a fantasy-friendly quarterback. Furthermore, defenses can’t double team Pitts with Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones on the outside. Even if the Falcons trade Jones, it will open up more targets for Pitts. Either way, it’s a win-win situation for Pitts. Furthermore, the Falcons’ defense will struggle again in 2021 and probably 2022 as well. This situation will lead to more shootouts and more fantasy points for Pitts.
2) Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
When the Steelers selected Freiermuth, it was a surprise to many people. With needs on the offensive line and at cornerback, it’s odd that the Steelers used their second-round pick on a tight end. However, that suggests they plan to use him early and often. Eric Ebron could be released or traded as we get closer to the start of the season. Even if he isn’t, Freiermuth becomes the Steelers’ go-to target in the red zone. The problem with Freiermuth is, Pittsburgh has three talented wide receivers who will count for most of their targets in 2021. However, the wide receiver room could look very different next year and in 2023. It might take a year, but Freiermuth has the potential to turn into a top-12 tight end.
3) Brevin Jordan, Houston Texans
Surprisingly, Jordan fell to the fifth round after many scouts viewed him as the third-best tight end in the draft class. There are reports that teams got turned off to Jordan after sub-par athletic testing at his pro day. However, the landing spot helps Jordan’s value. While Deshaun Watson’s future with the Texans is in doubt, they will likely have a top-three pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. In the meanwhile, expect Davis Mills to start the second half of the season. Keep in mind, rookie quarterbacks love their tight ends. Furthermore, Brandin Cooks will lead the team in targets, but who finishes second is up for grabs. Don’t be surprised if Jordan finishes his rookie season second on the team in targets and touchdowns.
4) Tre’ McKitty, Los Angeles Chargers
After Henry signed with the Patriots, the Chargers signed Jared Cook to a one-year deal. At 34 years old, Cook isn’t the long-term replacement at tight end for Justin Herbert, and the Chargers know it. They spent their compensatory third-round pick on McKitty when they had other needs. Other than Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Cook, the Chargers lack proven pass-catchers. Like most rookie tight ends, expect McKitty to struggle in his first year. However, when Cook’s contract is up after the 2021 season, McKitty has the first crack at taking over the starting spot and turning into one of Herbert’s go-to weapons.
5) Kenny Yeboah, New York Jets
For some reason, Yeboah went undrafted. However, signing with the Jets gives him a real shot to be a diamond in the rough. The Jets spent their first four picks on offense, putting pieces around Wilson. However, they didn’t address the tight end position during the entire draft despite their tight ends totaling 40 catches for 373 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season. Furthermore, Chris Herndon is entering the final year of his contract and has been a bust so far in his career. Yeboah had a breakout season in his only season at Ole Miss and should be even better with Wilson in New York.