Our pre-draft rookie fantasy football rankings continue today with a look at wide receiver. This year’s crop is a fascinating bunch with some slam dunks at the top and a ton of potential long-term fantasy depth. Wide receiver can take a little time to develop in the NFL, but often we do see their best production come within roughly the first five years of their career. Keep that in mind and try to stay young at the position on your dynasty rosters.
Keep in mind that this is only an initial list to get us set for the combine. Things will of course change after the 2021 NFL Draft. However, it’s important we have a baseline of how these players stack up against each other before the draft.
A star among stars in 2019, Chase was a huge part of LSU’s historically good offensive production. He was transcendent, posting 20 scores and an average of 21.2 yards per catch, and he did so at just 19 years old. That sort of dominant play is rare enough at his age, much less in the SEC. While he did opt out of the 2020 season, we’ve seen more than enough out of Chase to peg him as the top fantasy wideout in this year’s class. He isn’t a massive player, but he brings elite athleticism along with impressive ball skills and run after catch ability. Chase has the look of a future fantasy WR1.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is coming off one of the most impressive wide receiver seasons in NCAA history. Smith was dominant on the field and essentially could only be stopped by injury in the national championship game. As complete a receiver as they come, Smith runs crisp routes, can catch nearly anything thrown at him, and has speed for days. If there’s any knock on him, it’s his weight. But that’s a minor concern, as Smith has the chops to hold his own at the NFL level. He’s going to be a fantasy factor both in the short- and long-term.
The most explosive receiver in this year’s class, Waddle is a big play waiting to happen any time he gets his hands on the football. He initially was outpacing teammate DeVonta Smith before being sidelined with a broken ankle last season. In those games, Waddle was outstanding, displaying an ability to play all over the formation and succeed at all three levels against the defense. While he’s certainly on the smaller side for the position, his speed will be tough for NFL defenses to defense. Waddle has a bit of a boom-or-bust fantasy profile, but we can’t rule out him being used as a higher-volume option like Tyreek Hill.
Bateman is a versatile receiver who is equally adept in the slot and outside the numbers and who wins with physicality and precision route running. Bateman ran a fast 40 time at his pro day, but the rest of his testing numbers reinforce that at-times-limited athleticism that he showed on the field. But what he lacks in that department, Bateman makes up for in his body control and ability to make things happen after the catch. He isn’t going to be a big-play dynamo at the pro level, but he has the chance to grow into a high-volume role that could be quite productive for fantasy purposes.
A stud athlete with elite-level speed and agility, Moore is one of the most intriguing wideouts in this year’s class. Following a massive freshman campaign in 2018, a hamstring injury held him to just four games in 2019. He then started three games in last year’s COVID-19-shortened season. Despite the somewhat abridged resume, Moore displayed play speed that will translate well to the NFL level. He’s undersized and may not be that well suited to playing on the outside. But he can still be a very productive fantasy option out of the slot.
The next man up in the Justin Jefferson role for LSU, Marshall flashed the ability to go up and get the football along with some solid chops after the catch. Like his teammate Ja’Marr Chase, Marshall tested out extremely well at his pro day with an impressive 4.40 40-yard dash time along with favorable numbers in the explosion drills. Marshall offers a big catch radius and has the ability to make big play after big play. His height is a plus, but he’ll need to fill out a little more in the weight department. But that’s a small concern. For fantasy purposes, Marshall is dripping with upside.
We got to know Moore because of his now-infamous Egg Bowl touchdown celebration in 2019, but we came to love him thanks to his outstanding 2020 performance. We almost have to throw the measurables out with Moore. Sure, he doesn’t possess prototype NFL size, but he has next-level speed and agility that will help him thrive against pro coverage. Moore also plays with a physicality that is reminiscent of former NFL wideout Steve Smith. While he was primarily a slot in college, don’t be surprised if we see plenty of him on the outside at the next level. He has the look of a future fantasy standout.
It’s hard not to have flashbacks of Percy Harvin when watching Toney play. He isn’t a traditional receiver, but Toney certainly showed last season that he can hold his own in the passing game. Perhaps one of the most entertaining players in the nation to watch with the ball in his hands, Toney can make things happen seemingly at will. While he does have the ability to be used as a gadget option, it’s likely NFL teams view him as much more. His game breaking speed and improving route running make him an extremely interesting fantasy prospect who offers a very high ceiling at the next level.
The brother of current NFL wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and son of a former Mr. Universe, St. Brown has the pedigree to be a professional athlete. While he’s far from the fastest receiver in this year’s class, St. Brown plays with a mean streak after the catch and has some similarities to his former teammate Michael Pittman. That lack of speed prevents him from gaining separation, but St. Brown knows how to use his routes to win. His overall athleticism is also a plus. While many will be hung up on his lack of speed, St. Brown is a baller who has the skills to produce in the NFL. He’s a good bet for fantasy success.
Wallace may not be the biggest receiver, but he consistently shows an ability to go up and get the ball above the rim. He was one of the most productive wideouts in the nation in 2018 but suffered a torn ACL in 2019. He doesn’t come with world beating speed, but his route running and body control more than make up for it. Wallace’s propensity for the spectacular also makes him a lot of fun to watch. His overall skillset has him poised to contribute quickly in the NFL. He doesn’t figure to be a No. 1 option, but he could certainly surface as a fantasy-relevant No. 2.
With a basketball player’s ability to play above the rim, Williams is one the most interesting big-bodied wideouts in this year’s class. He uses his size especially well in the red zone. Williams shed his baby fat in 2020, losing nearly 15 pounds. That helped him move quicker on the field and generate separation. It doesn’t show up in his numbers, but we can chalk that up to poor quarterback play. Williams can at times struggle to create separation, but his size and ball skills give him a good shot to contribute at the next level. He doesn’t have the look of a future fantasy standout, but there’s a good chance he surfaces on the radar.
One of the many North Carolina skill position prospects in this year’s class, Brown is a downfield dynamo who saw an average depth of target of over 17.5 yards in 2019 and over 18 yards in 2020. But don’t let the numbers fool you. He isn’t just a one-trick pony. Brown can also create separation in the short and intermediate areas of the field. Of course, he wasn’t asked to run a full route tree at UNC, so that’s a big question mark for him heading into the NFL. Still, his athleticism and speed check some important boxes. He profiles as a fantasy WR3-plus in the long term.
Rodgers took a major step forward in 2020, posting over 1,000 yards in the coronavirus-shortened season. A hybrid, Rodgers worked some at running back at his pro day and could end up as a positionless option along the lines of Ty Montgomery. That makes a lot of sense given his running back build. He could also end up as a slot-only type, where he’d no doubt have success given his short area quickness. Rodgers’ size is a limitation at the pro level, but his overall athleticism and ability to play good football give him a positive outlook in the NFL.
Atwell doesn’t have NFL size, but this kid is a special athlete who can flat-out fly on the football field. Get the ball in his hands and get your popcorn ready. Similar to Tavon Austin, Atwell could end up being viewed as a gadget player, and that’s fair. Even with elite agility and speed, it’s tough to compete as a wide receiver Sundays at his size. But the NFL is changing, so it’s worth at least fiving Atwell the benefit of the doubt early in his career. His big-play ability screams fantasy upside if everything comes together for him at the pro level.
With size you can’t teach and impressive speed, Collins certainly looks the part of an NFL wideout. He’s extremely physical and has the ball skills to win in contested situations. Collins doesn’t run the most precise routes and offers very little after the catch. Despite those deficiencies, his overall plus athleticism and size make him an interesting NFL prospect. He’s far from the best bet of this year’s class to surface on the fantasy radar, but Collins has enough appeal to be a draftable wideout in 2021 dynasty rookie drafts.
Following a breakout 2019 season, Surratt opted out of 2020. When we last saw him, Surratt exuded physicality and displayed nuanced route running. He possesses NFL size but doesn’t come with top-end spend. In fact, his pro day 40 time was one of the worst at the position this year. That lack of speed could relegate him to a role in the slot at the pro level. Surratt can certainly still be productive in that spot, but it certainly puts a cap on his overall outlook. He has the look of a low upside PPR producer.
Terry is certainly an impressive-looking wideout with the exact height and speed traits the NFL desires. However, Terry is far from the most polished prospect. He does have the ability to get downfield in a hurry and displayed impressive ball skills. But he also had issues with drops and ran a limited route tree at the college level. He’s also very lean for his height. But Terry’s speed and ball skills are enough to make him an appealing deeper name to take a look at in dynasty rookie drafts.
Newsome spent most of his time at North Carolina in the slot where he displayed the ability to move in a phone booth and quickly change direction. He also excelled with the ball in his hands and racked up yards after catch. Newsome displayed very little on the outside and lacks the size/speed to hold his own in that area of the field. He also has a tendency to body catch, which led to a sizeable amount of drops over his college career. Newsome has the look of a No. 3 receiver who could carve out a role in the slot at the next level. It’ll be tough for him to make much of a fantasy impact.
Darden is undersized, but don’t let that fool you. He plays much bigger than his measurables would suggest. The North Texas product also tested well at his pro day, especially in the agility drills. Over the last two seasons, he caught a healthy 148 balls and found the end zone a whopping 31 times. To be fair, that wasn’t against Power-5 competition, but Darden is still a baller. His size will likely me a role in the slot at the next level, but unlike some of the other slot prospects in this class, Darden has the speed to offer big play upside. He’s a deeper fantasy name to keep an eye on.
If you want world-class speed, Schwartz is your guy. He went sub-4.3 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and that speed shows up on the field. A threat to score any time he gets the ball in space, Schwartz makes everyone else look like they’re moving in slow motion. While the speed stands out, there really isn’t anything else appealing to Schwartz’s game. He lacks polish as a route runner and doesn’t look like natural when catching the football. His speed is going to be too tough for teams to pass up, but Schwartz has a lot of polishing up to do. He’s a poor man’s Mecole Hardman.
One of the fastest wideouts in this year’s class, Eskridge was a big-play dynamo with an average of over 20 yards per catch in each of the last three seasons. Big numbers aside, Eskridge ran a limited route tree and didn’t face high-level competition. He also lacks NFL size for an outside receiver. He wasn’t asked to play much in the slot at the college level, but that’s likely where he’ll go at the next level. His ability to get vertical is appealing, but Eskridge will need plenty of polishing up.
Coxie put up big numbers in 2018 and 2019 where he displayed impressive ball skills. But the numbers certainly don’t tell the whole story with Coxie. He ran one of the slowest 40-yard dash times of any wideout in the pre-draft process. He also is very thin for the position and ran a limited route tree at the college level. While he can create yards after the catch, there are a number of checks in the wrong boxes for Coxie. He isn’t a likely candidate for future fantasy success.
Athletic and raw, Darby’s play speed is much faster than the 4.61 40-yard dash time he ran at his pro day. A deep-ball dynamo, Darby found the end zone on 26% of his catches in 2019. However, unlike his former teammate Brandon Aiyuk, Darby lacks versatility. His athletic traits are very appealing and will likely have him in the mix for a roster spot, but he isn’t the best bet for future fantasy success.
A slot receiver who played all four years at South Carolina, Smith is undersized but physical. He has good speed and an ability to elevate, but he also struggled to win in contested spots. Smith is far from the top slot option in this year’s class, but he does have a shot at carving out a role in the NFL given his favorable athletic traits and plus speed.
Explosively fast, but undersized for the NFL level, Stevenson projects as a slot receiver. While he does have impressive speed, it doesn’t always show up on the field. He also has a lengthy injury history with missed time in 2016, 2017, and 2019.
26. Tre Nixon, UCF
Nixon start his college career out at Ole Miss and left after the school was sanctioned for recruiting violations. He’s a tad on the thin side but has good speed. Nixon also possesses the versatility necessary to carve out a role in the NFL.
27. Marlon Williams, UCF
Extremely productive in 2020, Williams is a well-built wideout who uses his physicality on the field. He lacks a top gear and did have an issue with drops at the college level. His lack of speed will likely have him in a big slot role at the next level.
28. Jhamon Ausbon, Texas A&M
Ausbon is built like a ninja turtle and can hold his own in contest situations. Unfortunately, his lack of speed led to a lot of contested targets at the college level. While he has NFL size, his lack of outside speed likely means a big slot role for Ausbon.
29. Warren Jackson, Colorado State
Yet another CSU wide receiver prospect in this year’s draft. Jackson is a one of the tallest wideouts in this year’s class, but he’s very lean and doesn’t have NFL speed. However, he does excel above the rim in contested situations.
30. Trevon Grimes, Florida
Grimes has NFL size and possesses good speed for a bigger wideout. Despite being a bigger-bodied target, he struggled in contested situations. But his overall long speed is a favorable trait that could help him surface at the next level.
31. Jonathan Adams Jr., Arkansas State
Capable of making spectacular catches, Adams is coming off a big 2020 season for Arkansas State. He possesses NFL size and physicality but wasn’t asked to run a full route tree in college. That could limit his chances at the pro level.
One of the many undersized slot options in this year’s class, Johnson didn’t get to play in the fall but showed well at the Senior Bowl. He has the speed to play in the NFL, but it will be a sizeable step up in competition from what he faced at South Dakota State.
Stuck in a log jam of receivers on the Clemson depth chart, Powell didn’t see significant action until his senior year. That’s understandable, but it’s also a knock. Late bloomers don’t tend to fare well at wide receiver in the NFL.
Despite his size, Philyor is physical and can rack up yardage after catch. He also has more speed on the field than his 40 time would indication. But Philyor is also a limited route runner who figures to be a slot-only option in the NFL.
35. Tyler Vaughns, USC
Vaughns is an above-the-rim specialist who knows how to make plays in the air. Unfortunately, that’s about all you get with him. He lacks polish as a route runner and does not possess NFL speed, strength, or weight.
36. Brennan Eagles, Texas
Eagles has the look of an NFL receiver from a height/weight/speed standpoint. However, he doesn’t pass the eye test on the field and offers a one-dimensional skill set as a deep threat. Eagles’ athleticism will get him in the door, but he has some developing still to do.