Now that we know the landing spots of the 2021 NFL rookies, it is a great time to identify which ones will be relevant in redraft fantasy football formats. Here are the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends you should target this summer.
Top NFL rookie quarterback to target
The No. 1 overall pick is the safest rookie QB to target in redraft fantasy football leagues.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence is a mid-range QB2 in new head coach Urban Meyer’s offense. He finished his collegiate career completing 66.6% of his passes for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. His career passing yardage ranks third all-time at Clemson behind Tajh Boyd (11,904) and Deshaun Watson (10,163). Lawrence also finished fourth in completions (758) and second in passing touchdowns (90).
He was the most pro-ready quarterback prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. Many expect Meyer’s offense to be up-tempo and quarterback-friendly. As such, we project Lawrence to have around 580 pass attempts, 4,200 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 2021. Furthermore, he could finish with around 300 rushing yards and another 3 scores on the ground. In redraft leagues, Lawrence is readily available in the 10th round of fantasy drafts.
Top NFL rookie running backs to target
It should come as no surprise that the top three running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft are expected to instantly produce.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris had a masterful conclusion to his career at Alabama. He finished with 305 opportunities and 1,889 total yards last season. Harris excelled at creating yards after contact and making defenders miss. He totaled 3,843 career rushing yards, which ranks first in Crimson Tide history. Harris accumulated 4,624 all-purpose yards in his Alabama career, which also ranks second.
He’s in a great situation in Pittsburgh, where he’ll be on the field for all three downs. You may be concerned about the Steelers’ offensive line, but Harris is one of the few running backs in this draft class athletically gifted enough to transcend average or below-average offensive line play. We have him projected to see 300+ opportunities (rushing attempts and targets), around 1,400 total yards, and 10 touchdowns in 2021.
Harris is someone to prioritize at his second-round ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator in 12-team PPR formats — he is an RB1.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Travis Etienne is a true three-down back with big-play potential. Etienne amassed 1,511 total yards on 224 opportunities last season. He excelled at yards after contact and was productive as a receiver out of the backfield. And now, he’s reunited with Lawrence in Jacksonville.
The rookie RB recorded one of the most prolific collegiate careers at Clemson from 2017 to 2020. Etienne rushed 686 times for 4,952 yards with 70 rushing touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 102 passes for 1,155 receiving yards and 8 more scores across 1,852 career snaps in 55 games.
Etienne’s ADP, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, is in the fifth round. He will be part of a committee with James Robinson. We project the opportunity share to be split evenly between the two backs. Nevertheless, Etienne can be viewed as a low-end RB2 in PPR formats.
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
He and Michael Carter were the top running back duo in the FBS last year. Williams finished the season with 157 rushing attempts, 1,140 rushing yards, and 19 rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards total was the 13th-most in North Carolina history, sixth-most in the country, and third-best in the ACC.
The training camp battle between him and Melvin Gordon will be an interesting one to watch. Both have a similar skill set, so Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur should be able to use them interchangeably.
Williams provides you with a floor of around 240 opportunities according to our projections, but his ceiling is much higher. The rookie can be viewed as a low-end RB2 with significant upside.
Top NFL rookie wide receivers to target
When you take a WR top 10 overall, they’re expected to make an immediate impact.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ wide receivers have struggled over the last two seasons, but DeVonta Smith should remedy that issue in 2021. His skill set will translate well to the Eagles. He became one of three Heisman Trophy winners in Alabama history, joining Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015). Moreover, Smith holds the SEC and Crimson Tide record for career receiving yards (3,965) and touchdowns (46).
Smith was also magnificent on screens. He ranked first in screen receptions (35) and screen yards (304), with the fifth-most receiving yards (863) from the slot.
The Eagles have a versatile chess piece in Smith that can prosper from anywhere on the football field. We project the rookie could see around 120 targets and exceed 1,000 receiving yards in 2021. Smith can be drafted as a mid-range WR3 with upside.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase joins a Bengals team with 195 available targets. We have him projected for around 130 targets, 75 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns.
The reunion of Chase and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow will be exciting to watch. The rookie receiver opted out of the 2020 season to concentrate on his NFL career. Chase set SEC records during the 2019 campaign with 84 receptions and 1,780 receiving yards at LSU. Even more impressively, he generated 24 receptions of 20+ yards.
Chase can be viewed as a low-end WR2 and is readily available in the sixth round of fantasy drafts.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
Jaylen Waddle only played 242 snaps in six games last year. He caught 28 of 32 targets for 591 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. Waddle averaged 19 yards per reception for his collegiate career, ranking second on Alabama’s all-time list (minimum 100 receptions).
He’ll be paired with his college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. Waddle’s size and health may be a concern, but I believe he’s equipped to handle a large workload. The opportunity is there for the taking, with the Dolphins playing alongside Will Fuller and DeVante Parker.
We have Waddle projected to see around 100 targets, 58 receptions, 900 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns. He can be viewed as an upside WR4 and is available in the 10th round of fantasy drafts.
Top NFL rookie tight end to target
Kyle Pitts could set records as a rookie at the tight end position.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have 195 available targets, and the trade of wide receiver Julio Jones to the Titans opens the door for Pitts to be fantasy relevant in Year 1. His fourth-round ADP reflects that.
Pitts played in eight games for Florida last season. He produced 43 receptions for 770 yards and set the school single-season touchdown record by a tight end with 12. Additionally, Pitts led all tight ends in deep receptions and receiving yards.
We have the rookie tight end projected for 100+ targets, around 800 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. Pitts has the potential to finish as a top-five fantasy tight end. He is someone to prioritize if you miss out on Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle in drafts. Pitts is firmly on the TE1 radar.
Other NFL rookies to have on your radar in deeper redraft formats
Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets – can be the second-most targeted receiver behind Corey Davis.
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Carolina Panthers – would inherit Christian McCaffrey’s opportunity share if he missed significant time.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens – could see around 80 targets in 2021, but that number could be substantially higher if he immediately clicks with quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers – Jimmy Garoppolo will be on a short leash to start the season. If Lance gets the nod to start, his dual-threat ability in the 49ers’ offense could potentially be a league winner.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears – is in a very similar situation to Lance playing behind Andy Dalton in Chicago. The opportunity is there for the taking.
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