Fantasy Football Rookie WRs to Draft and Avoid
The NFL’s preseason schedule is officially underway, which means fantasy draft season is about to reach a fever pitch. It’s the most thrilling time of year as everyone is in contention and everyone is seeking out nuggets of information to gain some sort of advantage over their leaguemates ahead of the most exciting day of the year: draft day.
One particular group of players that always has a ton of buzz each season are the incoming rookies. These stars dazzled in college and now enter the NFL with a whole host of possibilities ahead of them. Sometimes the hype is warranted, sometimes it’s not. How do you know what’s reasonable and what’s a trap? It starts with the price you have to pay to roster them.
Let’s take a look at rookie wide receivers that I would absolutely draft and avoid at their current ADP. Note: ADP and TDN Rank are reflective of PPR scoring.
Terrace Marshall Jr.
TDN Rank: WR70
Marshall Jr. was one of my favorite wide receiver prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. His size is a tremendous asset and he has plenty of speed and versatility to carve out a role right away in Carolina. While he is clearly a different style of player than Curtis Samuel, the latter’s departure opens up plenty of targets for the former in 2021.
With D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey healthy, Marshall can only go as high as fourth on the team in target volume. However, even with about 80% of the volume Samuel got last season, Marshall can find his way into 85-90 targets. Touchdowns may be hard to come by, but 50-60 catches and about 700 receiving yards is doable and worthy of bench consideration.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
TDN Rank: WR60
Someone other than T.J. Hockenson has to catch passes for the Detroit Lions, right? The island of misfit toys that is the Lions’ receiving room consists of Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Geronimo Allison, Chad Hansen, Victor Bolden Jr., Damion Ratley, Tom Kennedy, and a trio of rookies including St. Brown (the only receiver Detroit drafted this year). I believe St. Brown should be the first Lions wide receiver off the board in fantasy drafts.
St. Brown’s fiery, physical nature has already caught the eye of new Detroit offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who said: "I like him. He's tough, man. He gets in there and mixes it up. He's route savvy. He's doing a good job." St. Brown is also going to play in the slot, a position new Lions quarterback Jared Goff isn’t afraid to target (see: Cooper Kupp).
I can absolutely see St. Brown getting enough volume to be a WR5 in fantasy, and I project he’ll threaten the 100-target mark if he plays all 17 games. Put me down for something close to a 60/800/3 line from him as a rookie.
TDN Rank: WR20
Look, this is a break in character for me. I’m usually overly pessimistic about rookie wide receivers making a major fantasy impact in year one—especially for a player as ballyhooed as Chase. However, it’s hard to envision a better scenario for the former LSU star entering his rookie season—and I’m not panicking about the reports of Joe Burrow’s early struggles, it’s the first week of August.
The Bengals throw a lot… because they have to. At the time of Burrow’s catastrophic knee injury last season, Cincinnati was averaging 41.5 pass attempts per game (only behind Dallas’ 42.2). While the Bengals are likely to be closer to 38 attempts per game this season, that’s still a lot of volume to go around.
Despite the presence of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, there are plenty of targets for Chase to gobble up. Last year, Burrow targeted A.J. Green on 19.06% of his pass attempts. Green was woefully inefficient with his targets, but opportunities were not the issue. Green is gone and Chase steps in as a better overall player right now and someone with built-in chemistry with Burrow. A 20% target share is a reasonable projection, and Chase can put up WR2-caliber numbers if he just meets the five-year averages for catch percentage, touchdown percentage, and yards per target among all rookies who received at least 100 targets.
Don’t expect Justin Jefferson numbers, but a monster season is on the way for Chase.
TDN Rank: WR71
I want to preface this section by saying that I freakin’ love Rashod Bateman the football player. What I do not love is Rashod Bateman the fantasy football player in 2021. Conversely to the Chase section above, volume is what’s going to hold Bateman back as a rookie performer.
Over the last two seasons, Lamar Jackson has averaged 25.9 pass attempts per game. Not too many pass-catchers can be weekly fantasy starters with that amount of work. As good as Bateman is, he’s the No. 3 pass-catching option in Baltimore behind Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. Andrews has a two-year target share average of 24.5% that isn’t likely to reduce. Brown earned a 24.6% target share last season, but he’ll likely fall a percentage point or two shy of that mark with the addition of Bateman, Sammy Watkins, and others this offseason. So what’s left for Bateman?
Last year, the WR2 for Baltimore received about a 14.54% target share. If that’s Bateman in 2021, he can expect roughly 64 targets this season. That feels too low, so let’s boost him to a 17% target share. That’s still just 75 targets. He can only be so productive at that volume.
Bateman is absolutely worth a spot on your bench, but as his ADP continues to rise throughout August, be very careful not to get swept up in the hype and overdraft him.
TDN Rank: WR44
Aside from his quarterback situation, there’s nothing I really dislike about Smith. This just feels like the classic case of name-value overinflating someone’s stock. Here is my projection for Smith’s rookie season:
- Targets: 105.40
- Catches: 64.64
- Receiving Yards: 904.17
- Receiving TDs: 6.06
That’s a pretty solid rookie campaign, especially on a bad team. But given what we have (and haven’t) seen from Jalen Hurts and Smith’s in-camp knee injury, he can’t come off the board in the same range as players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tee Higgins, and Chase Claypool and in front of guys like Tyler Boyd, Antonio Brown, and Robby Anderson. The floor for Smith is just too low to take with confidence as a WR3, but if you value him around where I have him projected, you’ll likely be happy and have room for upside.
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