News & Analysis

Jahnke: 2021 Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings

With the 2021 NFL Draft in the books, it is officially dynasty rookie draft season. The rookie class this year is full of talent that will help replenish dynasty fantasy football rosters. Ideally, we're drafting the best player available in rookie drafts rather than drafting by need, consistently taking the top player on the board.

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

As such, here are my top 60 dynasty rookies heading into 2021 fantasy football. Be sure to bookmark this page, as the rankings will be updated shortly after each day of the NFL Draft — landing spots will dramatically affect some players' rankings. Find my entire top-200 dynasty rankings hereFor more information on each of these rookies, check out PFF's 2021 Fantasy Football Rookie Scouting Report.

Last updated: May 1, 2021.

First Round
Rank Position Name Team Position Rank Draft Round Draft Pick
1 WR Ja'Marr Chase Bengals WR1 1 5
2 RB Najee Harris Steelers RB1 1 24
3 RB Travis Etienne Jaguars RB2 1 25
4 RB Javonte Williams Broncos RB3 2 35
5 WR DeVonta Smith Eagles WR2 1 10
6 WR Rashod Bateman Ravens WR3 1 27
7 TE Kyle Pitts Falcons TE1 1 4
8 RB Michael Carter Jets RB4 4 107
9 WR Jaylen Waddle Dolphins WR4 1 6
10 QB Trey Lance 49ers QB1 1 3
11 WR Rondale Moore Cardinals WR5 2 49
12 QB Trevor Lawrence Jaguars QB2 1 1

Ja’Marr Chase tops the list for 2021. The 21-year-old out of LSU is the top wide receiver on the  PFF Big Board and was the first wide receiver taken. One of the only negatives for Chase is that he had Joe Burrow throwing to him during his breakout sophomore season, but now that he’s reunited with Burrow there isn’t as much to worry about. He has the makings of an elite fantasy wide receiver with a high floor. The only concern is that the Bengals already have two wide receivers who both saw over 100 targets last season, which could limit Chase’s target share.

A trio of running backs follows. Najee Harris landed with the Steelers, as many expected. He should be the every-down back in Pittsburgh. There will be very few backs from this class that will see close to as many touches as Harris will as a rookie, and the position scarcity helps move Harris and other backs up the board.

Travis Etienne’s situation is a little less clear. He has much more competition for playing time, but running backs aren’t selected in the top-25 to stand on the sidelines. Etienne will be one of the few backs in this class that should see the majority of his team’s touches.

The next three wide receivers each offer something that stands out. Landing spots played a heavy role in where they ended up ranking. DeVonta Smith should immediately lead the Eagles in targets and be their best offensive weapon. Rashod Bateman has the opportunity to be the top receiver for his team but has more competition at the position and landed on a more run-first team. Jaylen Waddle was the second wide receiver off the board but goes to a team that already has two wide receivers who could be the top wide receivers on some teams. The wide receivers ahead of him at least have guaranteed high targets or a better quarterback situation, but Waddle doesn’t have either.

Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) during the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Pitts comes in sixth; he's the most difficult player to place on this list. Pitts is arguably the best receiver in the draft regardless of position. Roughly half the teams in any given dynasty league will be looking to upgrade at tight end. The problem is how unfamiliar this situation is — we have plenty of data to show how often top wide receivers or running backs turn into elite fantasy prospects, but it’s rare for a tight end to be a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft. Pitts landed in a solid situation with a good quarterback but has plenty of competition for targets.

Trey Lance ends up ahead of Trevor Lawrence among quarterbacks even though he might not start right away. George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are all 27 or younger, comprising one of the best receiving rooms in the league. Lance will have several years throwing to these three receivers; his second receiving option is notably better than Lawrence’s best receiving option. Lance will likely also put up more rushing production than Lawrence. 

Second Round
Rank Position Name Team Position Rank Draft Round Draft Pick
13 WR Elijah Moore Jets WR6 2 34
14 WR Terrace Marshall Jr. Panthers WR7 2 59
15 RB Trey Sermon 49ers RB5 3 88
16 RB Kenneth Gainwell Eagles RB6 5 150
17 RB Chuba Hubbard Panthers RB7 4 126
18 QB Justin Fields Bears QB3 1 11
19 WR Kadarius Toney Giants WR8 1 20
20 QB Zach Wilson Jets QB4 1 2
21 WR Dyami Brown Football Team WR9 3 82
22 WR Josh Palmer Chargers WR10 3 77
23 WR Nico Collins Texans WR11 3 89
24 WR Amon-Ra St. Brown Lions WR12 4 112

The second round of dynasty rookie drafts will largely consist of wide receivers, with some of the top quarterbacks mixed in along with the next best group of running backs.

Justin Fields and Zach Wilson end up here, but their value will vary greatly by league. The majority of dynasty teams already have a fine quarterback, and the ones that don’t will end up with one of the top two rookie QBs. This means few teams will be looking to add Fields and Wilson. If a some teams in a league are hogging all of the good quarterbacks, then these quarterbacks could be picked higher.

Oct 3, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys running back Chuba Hubbard (30) runs against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A few running backs will be selected in the second round of dynasty drafts in part because of positional scarcity. Only three running backs were picked in the first 85 selections of the draft. Of the other running backs picked in the top five rounds, only a few landed in favorable situations for their fantasy success.

Trey Sermon highlights the running backs in this tier. The 49ers are a run-first team, which helps Sermon’s value. Both backs in San Francisco have an injury history, so Sermon should be a starter in fantasy leagues at some point in the 2021 season. He would be drafted later most years, but he'll go higher this year with so many wide receiver options available.

Kenneth Gainwell should be the receiving back for the Eagles. He was the best receiving back in the draft, and Philadelphia didn’t find much success with receiving out of the backfield in 2020. Chuba Hubbard landed in Carolina where he should be the primary backup. Christian McCaffrey missed most of last season, and Hubbard would be an injury away from potentially having an every-down role.

Wide receivers, on the other hand, will be devalued by the number of talented players in the draft class at the position. Twenty-one wide receivers rank in the top 150 of our Big Board, compared to eight running backs. This led to 22 wide receivers being drafted in the first five rounds compared to nine backs. If a dynasty team has the flexibility to load up on wide receivers, then a WR is the right pick in the second round.

Third Round
Rank Position Name Team Position Rank Draft Round Draft Pick
25 WR Amari Rodgers Packers WR13 3 85
26 WR Tutu Atwell Rams WR14 2 57
27 QB Mac Jones Patriots QB5 1 15
28 WR Jaelon Darden Buccaneers WR15 4 129
29 RB Kene Nwangwu Vikings RB8 4 119
30 TE Pat Freiermuth Steelers TE2 2 55
31 TE Tommy Tremble Panthers TE3 3 83
32 WR Simi Fehoko Cowboys WR16 5 179
33 WR Cornell Powell Chiefs WR17 5 181
34 QB Davis Mills Texans QB6 3 67
35 WR Tylan Wallace Ravens WR18 4 131
36 WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette Vikings WR19 5 157

Mac Jones lands in this tier after being selected by the Patriots. He was the fifth quarterback off the board, which isn’t a great sign. All of the QBs picked before him have more rushing ability, which makes the gap between Jones and the other quarterbacks for fantasy purposes even higher.

Wide receivers will dominate this area of rookie drafts. Plenty of wide receivers drafted in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft will still be available here and offer the best value. Players like Gabriel Davis, Darnell Mooney, Quintez Cephus, Collin Johnson and Donovan Peoples-Jones fell to the fourth round or later of rookie drafts last season. All five should see more opportunities this year.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Dyami Brown (2) as Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback TaRiq Bracy (28) defends in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This class features plenty of similarly gifted wide receivers. The norm in the NFL is 11 personnel, with 10 personnel increasing across the league. This offers plenty of opportunity for rookie wide receivers to see the field (and less for running backs). 

Pat Freiermuth, aka “Baby Gronk,” should be the second tight end picked. He’s suited to play inline and also has the ability to separate and gain yards after the catch. The Penn State product is a red zone threat, which separates him from the other tight ends in the class. He landed in Pittsburgh where he won’t have much fantasy value in 2021. He'll likely start off behind Eric Ebron but should become the starter in 2022. From there, his value will depend on the quarterback situation.

Fourth Round
Rank Position Name Team Position Rank Draft Round Draft Pick
37 WR D'Wayne Eskridge Seahawks WR20 2 56
38 TE Tre' McKitty Chargers TE4 3 97
39 TE Jacob Harris Rams TE5 4 141
40 WR Seth Williams Broncos WR21 6 219
41 TE John Bates Football Team TE6 4 124
42 WR Anthony Schwartz Browns WR22 3 91
43 RB Khalil Herbert Bears RB9 6 217
44 RB Chris Evans Bengals RB10 6 202
45 RB Rhamondre Stevenson Patriots RB11 4 120
46 TE Brevin Jordan Texans TE7 5 147
47 RB Demetric Felton Browns RB12 6 211
48 TE Hunter Long Dolphins TE8 3 81

At this point of the draft, every team should have at least one if not two wide receivers and should be prepared to take someone at a different position. 

At running back, there were a number of sixth-round picks who should be among the top three on the depth chart. Some of them also ranked relatively high on the PFF Big Board, so they have a chance to become primary backups over time.

More tight ends than usual were picked in the top five rounds. None of them are expected to start in 2021, but some could take over as a starter over time.

Hunter Long is a particularly intriguing option here for a team that has already drafted a few wide receivers. The 22-year-old will pair with Mike Gesicki, who was a top-10 fantasy TE. Gesicki only plays on passing downs, while Long has the possibility to play every down. It was surprising to see Long land in Miami, but if he can take the passing snaps from Gesicki at some point, he could also be a top-10 fantasy tight end down the road.

Fifth Round
Rank Position Name Team Position Rank Draft Round Draft Pick
49 QB Kellen Mond Vikings QB7 3 66
50 QB Kyle Trask Buccaneers QB8 2 64
51 WR Frank Darby Falcons WR23 6 187
52 WR Dazz Newsome Bears WR24 6 221
53 RB Elijah Mitchell 49ers RB13 6 194
54 RB Gary Brightwell Giants RB14 6 196
55 RB Larry Rountree III Chargers RB15 6 198
56 TE Luke Farrell Jaguars TE9 5 145
57 WR Dez Fitzpatrick Titans WR25 4 110
58 WR Racey McMath Titans WR26 6 205
59 QB Ian Book Saints QB9 4 133
60 WR Jalen Camp Jaguars WR27 6 209

The fifth round of dynasty drafts will serve two purposes: 1) to take more shots at wide receivers who are picked in the last few rounds of the NFL Draft, and 2) to find the next James Robinson.

Kyle Trask highlights the list — he’s the sixth quarterback on our Big Board with a good distance between him and the rest of the quarterbacks. He’s in position to become the Buccaneers's future QB whenever Tom Brady decides to retire, with a lot of weapons around him who should still be on the roster. Still, most dynasty managers are set at quarterback, and those who aren’t will take one of the five rookies ranked ahead of him.

 


More of PFF's 2021 NFL Draft tools here: 
2021 NFL Draft Big Board | 2021 NFL Draft Guide | 2021 NFL Draft Stats Export | NFL Mock Drafts | NFL Mock Draft Simulator

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