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NFL Draft

How Have 2021 1st Round WRs Fared So Far?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 21, 2021
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Through six weeks, we are now exactly one-third of the way through this first-ever 18-week NFL season. As such, this feels like an appropriate time to check in on some of the rookies and their progress/production thus far. Today, we’re going to look at the performances of the five rookie wide receivers taken in the first round of this year’s draft: Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Kadarius Toney, and Rashod Bateman.

Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals, Pick No. 5

Ahead of the draft, there were a lot of questions and debates about who the Bengals should/would select with the fifth overall pick. Shouldn’t they upgrade the offensive line after poor play up front led to their franchise quarterback suffering a severe knee injury? Or would they instead reunite Joe Burrow with his former college receiver? The Bengals opted for the latter, and to Cincinnati’s credit, it looks like they made a wise choice. They’re 4-2, and after a preseason full of dropped passes and questions about Chase’s ability to catch an NFL football, he has quickly silenced all doubters. He scored four touchdowns in his first three games while also putting up 50 or more yards each game over that span. Through Week 6, Chase has 553 receiving yards on 27 receptions (20.5 yards per catch) and is tied for fourth in the NFL with his five touchdown receptions. Given the struggles of the rookie quarterbacks so far this season, it’s no surprise that Chase’s numbers have made him the odds-on favorite to win this season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins, Pick No. 6

Like the Chase pick, the Dolphins’ selection of Waddle reunited a college pair of an elite wide receiver from the SEC and the quarterback who used to throw to him. So far, that Tagovailoa-Waddle connection hasn’t quite paid off for the Dolphins the way it has for Burrow and Chase in Cincinnati. Waddle had a breakout game on Sunday against the Jaguars in London, but he still had only 70 yards on 10 catches, though his two touchdowns helped boost his stat sheet. A lot of that has to do with the lack of verticality in Miami’s passing game. Through six games, Waddle is averaging just over eight yards per reception, making him the only first-round rookie receiver besides Bateman with a mark under 10 yards per catch. It’s clear that Waddle’s talent is there—he’s made some great catches in contested situations when he does get targets—but the Dolphins haven’t yet figured out the recipe for the tandem of Tagovailoa and Waddle that made them so successful in college.

DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles, Pick No. 10

At this point of the season, we can say that the investment to trade up for Smith has worked well for the Eagles. He’s second in yardage of all first-round rookie receivers with 345, behind only Chase. He’s second in targets as well with 44, just behind Waddle’s 49. Smith has proven himself to be an elite route-runner at the NFL level with an incredible ability to both shake off defenders and find holes in defensive coverage anywhere on the field. The Eagles aren’t really in any position to contend for a playoff spot, but Smith has been a real bright spot for Philadelphia this season. His route-winning ability on short, medium, and deep routes alike have made him a hard man to defend, and as Philly continues their rebuild, his ceiling will only continue to rise. The skills he’s shown through six weeks give me confidence he’ll become a critical member of the Eagles’ passing attack for years.

Kadarius Toney, New York Giants, Pick No. 20

For the first three weeks of the season, Toney was barely involved in the Giants’ offense. But after starting receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton went down with injuries in Week 3, Toney got more offensive snaps but only three targets in the game. When he got his first start the following week, New York finally started to ramp up his involvement and production and he finished with six catches for 78 yards. The week after that, Toney broke the Giants’ rookie record for receiving yards in a game with 189. With the floodgates open, Toney began to look like a perfect addition to the Giants’ offense around Jones. His route-running was putting top cornerbacks on skates, and he’s shown off elite quickness and YAC-creating ability too. Then he got injured. The Giants are currently hoping that they won’t have to place him on IR, but it was unfortunate timing on an injury right as he began to break out.

Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens, Pick No. 27

Of all first-round rookie receivers, we have seen by far the least of Bateman. He underwent groin surgery before the regular season began, so he was only activated from the IR this past week. What we have gotten to see has been pretty impressive. Bateman caught four passes on six targets with one drop. All four of his receptions were first downs, and he even showed off some good YAC-creating ability. It’s too early to draw any conclusions about Bateman through just one game, but considering he was on the field for 65% of offensive snaps in Week 6, we’ll see plenty more of him as the season continues.

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