The NFL offseason is nearly upon us. While others focus on free agency and how NFL teams might find ways to improve via deals big and small, I'm looking ahead to the NFL draft and what it has to offer in terms of dynasty fantasy football talent for 2021 and beyond.
Throughout draft szn, I'll be delivering top-five lists at every fantasy position in order to keep tabs on the top dynasty prospects on the horizon. For those looking to dig deeper, PFF's 2021 NFL Draft Guide is a crucial resource — the current iteration breaks down the top 150 college prospects. It will be updated throughout the offseason leading up to the NFL Draft in April.
For now, let's dig into the top five wide receivers for dynasty fantasy football leagues in 2021 — with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.
There’s no doubt that Ja’Marr Chase would have been the first receiver drafted last year had he declared. The LSU wide receiver took home the Biletnikoff Award as college’s top wideout in 2019.
At just 19 years old, Chase led the nation in receiving yards (1,780), touchdowns (20) and receptions on targets 20-plus yards downfield (24). He also was uber efficient, ranking seventh in average yards per route run (3.52) and sixth in PFF receiving grade (91.3).
What’s most impressive about Chase is the fact that he thrived versus the country’s top talent. He went for 221 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the National Championship victory over the Clemson Tigers.
The superstar receiver also showed that he will have no problem overcoming press coverage from defensive backs at the next level. He faced the third-most targets against press coverage looks and posted the No. 1 PFF receiving grade (92.2) against it.
And although Chase was unable to directly “increase” his draft stock after sitting out the 2020 season, his former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson indirectly inflated it for him. The Minnesota Vikings first-round selection just posted arguably the best season from a rookie wide receiver — and Chase was the more productive of the two when they played together in Baton Rouge.
Chase is going to be a no-brainer top-three pick in dynasty rookie drafts.
When it comes to Alabama's Jaylen Waddle, what’s most important to note about him is his explosiveness. His biggest strength in the PFF 2021 Draft Guide is twitch, and we have seen that type of attribute help receivers excel at the next level.
As a true freshman, Waddle hauled in 45 catches for 848 receiving yards and earned the league’s seventh-highest PFF grade (89.7). He ranked ninth overall in yards per route run (3.58).
It’s impressive that in Waddle’s first season he was able to finish second on the team in receiving yards despite competing for snaps with first-round NFL-caliber talent like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith.
But the competition for touches on such a talented roster resulted in a drop-off the following season. Waddle’s snaps dropped 39% and his yardage regressed to 560.
His efficiency did not falter, however, as the speedster continued to terrorize defenses, ranking first in the nation in yards after the catch per reception (12.2).
The 2020 season looked primed for Waddle to put together his best season yet with only him and Smith atop the target pecking order.
He was well on his way through the first four weeks of the season with 557 receiving yards — he nearly topped his yardage total from the previous year in eight fewer games. If you extrapolated his four games out to a full season, he'd have gone for 75 catches, 1,671 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged more than a full yard per route run than teammate Smith (4.68 versus 3.63) to start the season.
Waddle ranks second in yards after the catch per reception since 2018 (9.8), trailing only Brandon Aiyuk. He also ranks fourth in PFF receiving grade (91.9) and yards per route run (3.57) over that same time period. Upside is the name of the game when drafting Waddle this summer in rookie drafts.
Devonta Smith and Waddle entered the 2020 college football season as an imposing 1A-1B duo for the Crimson Tide. With Waddle sidelined early in the season, Smith stepped up and delivered a performance worthy of the first Heisman Trophy. to go to a wide receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991.
The Alabama product graded as PFF’s best wide receiver (95.6), catching 117 passes on 145 targets for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. His average yards per route run (4.39) also ranked first in the nation.
Smith was able to post such gaudy numbers because of his insane ball skills (just nine drops over four years on 306 targets in Alabama) and the fact that he gains separation on defensive backs with ease.
No college player since 2018 has more receiving yards than Smith when he has at least one step of separation. He also ranks second in receptions (146) and third in yards per route run (4.65) with at least one step of separation behind only Jerry Jeudy and former Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson.
These numbers remove screens from the conversation. And Smith was excellent on those as well, leading the country in screen catches (35) and screen yards (304) in 2020.
Ultimately, Smith's only true con is his small stature. He’s a skinny receiver who probably won’t be running a 4.3 40-yard dash, which could potentially limit him from becoming an alpha receiver at the next level.
He declined to weigh in at the Senior Bowl, suggesting that he’d rather have NFL teams scout his tape and not his measurables. His weight/size is going to be debated through the NFL draft process could cause him to fall in rookie drafts.
But the bottom line per the PFF NFL Draft Guide is that Smith’s size wasn’t an issue in college, so it may not matter as much as we’d all assume in the NFL.
PFF’s Eric Eager found Smith's statical projection comparable to the likes of Tyler Boyd and Golden Tate if he's used in the slot and more like Will Fuller, Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant and Marquise Brown if he’s used more downfield.
Smith's range of outcomes in fantasy may not show the ceiling of Chase or Waddle, but his high-end projected floor means he's unlikely to burn you in the long run.
Rashod Bateman enters the NFL as a receiver ready-made to win on the perimeter. As a true sophomore, he led the league in yards per route run from an out-wide alignment (3.6).
But the perimeter is not the only place that Bateman can find success. After Minnesota slot receiver Tyler Johnson left for the NFL, Bateman played a career-high 66.4% snap share from the slot.
He flashed his versatility after primarily operating as a boundary receiver, finishing 16th out of 190 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run from the slot in 2020.
Ideally, he will still remain an outside receiver because he can get off the line of scrimmage and beat press coverage due to his route running prowess and release. He ranks seventh in yards (1,144), 11th in yards per route run (3.68) and ninth in PFF receiving grade (89.6) versus press coverage since 2019.
Drops and athleticism are his two major weaknesses, but both can be overcome. Drops have been proven to be more fluky than predictive (Diontae Johnson 2021 WR1 szn) and Bateman has yet to be stopped due to his lack of athletic juice.
He led Minnesota in catches of 20-plus yards (14) and averaged over 20 yards per reception during his 1,200-yard 2019 campaign.
With an early breakout age and strong college target share/production, Bateman looks the part of an alpha receiver at the NFL level.
Rondale Moore burst onto the college football season as an 18-year-old true freshman in 2018, posting over 1,200 receiving yards and 114 catches — the most in the country.
The majority of his yardage can be attributed to his YAC-ability. In addition to leading the country in yards after catch, Moore also led the nation in broken tackles (37) at the wide receiver position.
Moore only played four games in 2019 due to a hamstring injury and then just three games in 2020 due to COVID-19. Still, Moore made the most of his limited action, hauling in 35 balls on 44 targets for 270 yards.
Despite the numerous missed games on his resume, Moore still ranked fourth in missed tackles (47), seventh in receptions (178) and 11th in PFF receiving grade (91.0) in 2020.
Moore will be knocked for his hight and the fact that he has played almost exclusively from the slot and hasn't been much of a downfield threat. He only caught two passes over 10 yards downfield in 2020. In his breakout freshman season, he only caught 11 passes at the intermediate level.
Even so, the electric playmaking ability Moore offers is going to translate to the league. At The Opening camp before he arrived at Purdue, Moore ran a 4.33 40-yard dash and recorded a 42-inch vertical.
Don’t be surprised when he gets drafted in the first round and takes PPR fantasy football leagues by storm. It’s just too bad we won’t see a Purdue “reunion” between him and Drew Brees in 2021. Brees’ noodle arm would fit lock-step with Moore.
Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a productive receiver at USC since his true freshman season when he caught 60 passes for 750 yards and three receiving touchdowns. He has no major glaring weaknesses in his game, thought he might be better suited for life in the slot at the next level.
St. Brown never posted a PFF grade higher than 76.0 (his freshman season), which suggests that his upside may be limited in the NFL because he lacks elite explosiveness.
Kadarius Toney broke out as a senior, having never registered a season with more than 260 receiving yards prior to 2020. That's at least partially because he had trouble seeing the field due to injuries in his first three years at Florida.
Finally healthy, Toney was able to flash his playmaking ability and acceleration, forcing 20 missed tackles (fifth) and churning out 477 yards after the catch.
He’s got a ways to go as a polished route-runner, but Toney has physical tools that generate jaw-dropping highlights.
Kadarius Toney is a human joystick
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 28, 2021
Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace has been one of the most productive college wide receivers over the past three years. He ranks third in catches (198), second in yards (3,306) and sixth in PFF receiving grade (91.3) over that time.
He broke out as a true sophomore with 1,489 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns and a league-high 20 receptions of 20-plus yards.
Wallace's major concerns are whether he can expand his route tree and overcome more physical cornerbacks in the NFL. He could struggle on the perimeter to start his NFL career, which is one reason why PFF’s Mike Renner recommends getting him into the slot more.
Eskridge has generated some buzz at the Senior Bowl, so there’s a chance the Western Michigan product could move up draft boards before April.
His numbers suggest that he is more than deserving of a Day 2 selection. Over the past three seasons, Eskridge leads college football in yards per reception (22.0). His blazing speed helped him put up the sixth-highest average yards per route run (3.52) and the highest rate of his plays going for at least 15 yards (57%).
There’s a ton of upside in his profile, but also a lot of question marks due to the competition level in the MAC, along with his ball skills and physicality.
Dude, D'Wayne Eskridge putting on a show against Cam Bynum pic.twitter.com/WodVZ2vKAj
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 27, 2021