With just a couple days until the 2021 NFL Draft, football analyst Liz Loza offers a snapshot of the top prospects at each position, including their pro comparison and best fantasy fit. Here, you have the top wide receivers in the class: LSU's Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., Alabama's DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, Florida's Kadarius Toney, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore from Ole Miss.
1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU Tigers
Pros: Ace ball-tracker, polished route-runner, savvy ball-carrier after the catch.
Cons: Questions about sample size/ability to perform without the same level of surrounding talent; average height for an X-receiver.
NFL Comp: Michael Thomas
Fantasy Fit: Who doesn’t like a reunion?
Buzz around Chase to the Bengals at No. 5 would make for some spicy springtime (into summer) click-bait. But is it wise for a franchise to pass on protecting the overall No. 1 pick from just a year ago? That same pick that was sacked 32 times and is currently rehabbing his left knee (ACL + MCL) somewhere in SoCal?
Reports that Joe Burrow is urging his team to add Chase, in combination with the team’s activity over free agency, suggest that the QB and his former go-to target could run it back on the big stage. Were that the case, Chase could easily draw upwards of 100 looks as a rookie (A.J. Green recorded 104 in 2020), providing the youngster (and fantasy managers) with immediate top-30 potential.
2. DeVonta Smith, Alabama Crimson Tide
Pros: Incredible ball skills, consistent producer, versatile talent.
Cons: Slight build that is likely to be maxed out.
NFL Comp: Calvin Ridley
Fantasy Fit: Yahoo NFL Draft expert, Eric Edholm, strongly suggested on the Rookie Snapshot Pod that Smith could fall to the Bears. As much as I hope he’s right, I just don’t see the smoothest route-runner in this year’s class staying on the board that long. Dave Gettleman has made some fantastic draft day blunders but passing on Smith would be peak foolishness, even by New York’s standards.
Speaking of draft day lunacy, Gettleman needs Daniel Jones to progress. The addition of Kenny Golladay is evidence of the organization’s commitment to its QB. Adding another pro-ready weapon like Smith would help Jones (and erase any potential excuses) while also satisfying the fan base.
With COVID-19 still likely to affect mini-camps and OTAs the opportunity to build chemistry might be delayed. I do think Smith could be fantasy relevant in his first year but his impact would likely come in the back half of the season once rhythm and rapport are firmly established.
Assuming he stays healthy, however, Smith could conservatively clear 60 catches as a member of the G-men.
3. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama Crimson Tide
Pros: Speed for days (check out this video of Waddle and former Bama teammate Henry Ruggs facing off), explosive and elusive YAC monster, bonafide deep threat
Cons: Routes lack polish; slight build, durability concerns.
NFL Comp: Tyreek Hill
In a division that’s competing with speedsters like Tyreek Hill and Henry Ruggs, Waddle could give the Chargers some legit burst. With 90 looks vacated by Hunter Henry’s departure and (the oft-injured) Mike Williams entering the last year of his deal, the Alabama product would give Justin Herbert a much-needed (and fresh-legged) lid-lifter. Were he to land in Los Angeles, a 70-target effort in his first pro season would be entirely likely.
4. Kadarius Toney, Florida Gators
Pros: Athletic instincts and maneuverability that can’t be taught, elite ability after the catch (broke a tackle on over 35 percent of his college career touches); versatile offensive weapon.
Cons: Unpolished route-runner; limited experience in contested situations; durability concerns.
NFL Comp: Deebo Samuel is the modern comp, but there’s a lot of Percy Harvin in his game as well.
Fantasy Fit: Given the above comp, Toney feels like he could be Kyle Shanahan’s “type.” That likely means he’s also Mike LaFleur’s type. Therefore, if we are to assume that Zach Wilson will soon don Gotham Green for the Jets, it’s likely the team might surround their presumptive starting QB with electric playmakers who have shined in the scheme expected to be utilized by their new offensive coordinator.
All of this is to say, I think he could land in New York. And if he does, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach on him from a fantasy POV.
The upside is obvious, but evolution takes time … especially in East Rutherford.
5. Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU Tigers
Pros: Ideal size/speed for the position; enviable catch radius; consistent red-zone weapon.
Cons: Concentration drops (12.7 percent drop rate in 2020); limited sample size as No. 1 WR; potentially benefited from single-coverage in 2019.
NFL Comp: Robby Anderson
Fantasy Fit: Marshall seems like a solid fit for the Packers. We all know (and have discussed ad nauseam) the lack of dynamic pass catchers in Green Bay. Interestingly, Eric Edholm compared the LSU product to Marquez Valdes-Scantling — and noted the team’s affection for prospects with similar skill sets — on a recent episode of the Rookie Snapshot Podcast.
Ideally, Marshall would land on a squad where he could work opposite an alpha while evolving his craft. Were that the case, I could see him notching 5-7 scores in his premier effort. I’m just not sure we’re going to see him pop soon enough to command an early season roster spot in redraft formats.
6. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Pros: Nuanced route-runner; elite hands; ace ball-tracker.
Cons: Lacks top-end speed; average strength.
NFL Comp: Keenan Allen
Fantasy Fit: Baked into Bateman’s upside is his potential versatility. It’s likely that he’ll be successfully deployed via the slot while additionally winning on the outside. At the beginning of his career, however, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll offer more inside utility.
Could he be this year’s Justin Jefferson? Sure. Would I draft him with that expectation? Nope.
7. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss Rebels
Pros: Dominates after the catch; 98th percentile agility (10.67); only two drops in 2020; fearless playmaker.
Cons: Lacks prototypical NFL size for the position; likely relegated to the slot; potential struggles versus press coverage at the next level.
NFL Comp: Tyler Lockett
Fantasy Fit: The main knock against Moore is that he doesn’t have the size to win on the outside. In fantasy, however, we’ve seen plenty of YAC monsters post gaudy numbers via the slot. Moore is a mini-monster over the middle. That fearlessness might get him hurt, but it could also inspire the right offensive mind to test his mettle on the perimeter.
Landing spot is, obviously, going to be key for Moore’s FF outlook. But with a skill set that Coach Kiffin compared to Steve Smith’s, I’d bet on the 21-year-old skimming his ceiling … even if it takes a minute.
Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF