Rookies That Could Lead to Fantasy Greatness in 2021
Published by TJ Scott (@tjscott11)
Every year the NFL draft brings many exciting players into the league, but which ones will hit and make a difference where it really matters… Fantasy Football.
What makes a rookie fantasy relevant in their inaugural season? Opportunity, talent (and lack of defense) around you*, and obviously pure skill. Sadly, they are in the above order when it comes to fantasy ☹
Here are my favourite rookies that could make a difference in your 2021 fantasy season. Remember that all this advice is relative to where these guys are being drafted. I am not telling you to draft Trey Sermon in round 4, but if (on your draft day) he is projected as a 15th round pick? Maybe look to grab him in round 13.
- Let us start with Najee Harris. He is about to get all the opportunity you can handle, and Mike Tomlin is notorious for giving his starting RB 18+ touches on a weekly basis (this already puts him in the top10 for opportunity at the most important position in fantasy). His o-line is definitely a question mark, but his size and high-end skill put him in a great spot for success. I am buying Najee Harris as a locked-in top15 back starting in 2021.
- Any of the Big5 (first-round QB’s) have a chance to be very productive if/when given the opportunity. But given that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson look to be starting from Day1, they must be the favourites for fantasy success. Though I believe Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones (in that order) could be PPG monsters whenever they get the opportunity to get under center for their respective teams. If you are in a 2QB or a Super-Flex league, do everything you can to make sure Justin Fields (CHI) is on your team for the 2nd half of the season (or T.Lawrence because he has nice matchups in weeks 15 & 16- playoff season).
- Opportunity is going to be tough especially early on but IF Trey Sermon can get a chance he could be special when it matters. Running behind one of the best o-lines and coached by one of the best offensive minds in the game. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are still in front of him on the depth chart, but if the opportunity can be found lookout. Get Trey Sermon (SF) off the wire or draft him late and hold because it could pay off huge.
- Opportunity! Michael Carter is in one good camp, one big run away from having his name atop of an NFL team’s depth chart. Yes, I understand that this team is the Jets… But seriously I actually (kinda) believe that that Jets could be good… haha, good in fantasy is what I meant. They have a bad defense, with a new coach, a first-time offensive coordinator and a rookie gunslinger at QB. This has all the makings of a lot of garbage time yards, TD’s and empty box rushing attempts. Enter Michael Carter who I believe is already the most talented RB on the team regardless of his 4th round draft capital. Carter (NYJ) is a steal in what could be a fun offense to watch
- What made Justin Jefferson so good? Opportunity, quality QB and a bad defense. Ja’Marr Chase (CIN) is sitting in the perfect storm! But keep an eye on Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET) and Nico Collins (HOU) who may both walk directly into a massive opportunity. The may not be on the same talent level as Mr. Chase but as I’ve said before opportunity outweighs talent when it comes to fantasy production.
- What if Christian McCaffrey got hurt again… I know it’s a terrible thought but what if??? My next article will talk about how much I like Mike Davis and the opportunity he has to be a major sleeper/fantasy asset this year. But let’s be honest, Mike Davis isn’t exactly oozing talent (the longest rush in his career is 37 yards, yikes!) and he was a really nice fantasy surprise last season when given the opportunity. Well, let me introduce Chuba Hubbard (and yes, I am definitely biased because he played high school football 18 minutes away from my house). This young man would have been a 2nd round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but decided to stay another year at Oklahoma St. (education is never a bad thing!). He played through ankle issues all season and watched his draft stock plummet. Now, this ultra-talented RB with elite speed slid to the Panthers in the 4th round (pick 126). So back to my original question, what if CMC got hurt again??? I am not telling you how to use your last bench spot… But I like having an RB with Fantasy Season Changing Upside on my team. CHUBA is literally a lottery ticket and an amazing last-round pick on draft day.
- Javian Hawkins – if you don’t know the name? Learn it. Does everyone want to know who this year’s James Robinson is? Well here is your answer. He is undrafted and has (an average at best) a group of RB’s in front of him… Seriously, the Falcons starting RB position is going to produce fantasy numbers which is why I will have parts on this backfield in every pool I am in and Javian can probably be had with the last pick in every draft. Questions, doesn’t buying more lottery tickets increase your chance of winning? Think about it.
- Josh Palmer (SD), Terrence Marshall (CAR), D’Wayne Eskridge (SEA) are three receivers that will be fun to follow in camp because if given the opportunity any of these three players could be fantasy relevant when the 2021 season is all said and done. All three look like they will be battling for the #3 job on their current rosters to start the season but I like the talent that these guys possess and like many young players just need the opportunity to showcase it.
- I started with a first round RB and I will end with another. Travis Etienne was hand picked by Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer to be a key part of this offense for years to come. I am not 100% sold that it will happen immediately as James Robinson should still see a fair amount of touches. But in dynasty pools and the back half of the season (Johnathan Taylor style) look out for Etienne because he has the talent and just needs the opportunity to explode.
Reminder that I am not telling you to draft Hubbard over Javonte Williams (who I also love in 2022 when the Broncos say goodbye to Melvin Gordon) or Eskridge over DeVonta Smith. But given the value, opportunity, and upside these players possess I would keep an eye on all of them as the off-season progresses. It is still May (mini camps haven’t even started yet) and lots can change between now and opening week but these are rookies that I will be watching closely all summer.
Sadly, there are always players to avoid when it come to fantasy. And as talented as these three guys are I will be avoiding them in 2021.
- Rashod Bateman – this ultra talented WR landed in the worst spot possible as he was drafted to the most run heavy team in the NFL. Even if he is the teams WR1 (which is doubtful as a rookie)? He maxes out at 50 (dreaming 60) catches. I think I will pass on as I fairly sure he will not be the breakout rookie receiver of 2021 (remember that most WR are quiet in year 1)
- DeVonta Smith – I actually like Jalen Hurts, but I like his legs and not his arm… DeVonta has a better chance to be the team’s #1 then Bateman, but what does that mean in fantasy? The upside just is not there with a QB throwing him the ball that completed 52% of his passes last year. I love DeVonta’s talent but just don’t see him worth the price in 2021.
- Kadarius Toney – seriously why did the Giants draft a WR? They sign Kenny Golladay (who’s awesome), while Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton are still on the team. Toney’s career is off to a rough start after barely practicing on day 1 of rookie camp because he didn’t have the right cleats.. Yikes! Do me a favour and DO NOT draft him (I smell a BUST)
Remember that these notes are all relative to the pool you are in and it is extremely important to understand your league. In writing my rookies to avoid in 2021 does not mean I don’t like/love some of these guys in dynasty. If Philly is as bad as Vegas thinks (4.5 wins) and they end up drafting a QB with a top 3 pick in 2022, then DeVonta Smith is a my WR2 dynasty wideout. If you are in a 1QB league you probably shouldn’t even worry about a rookie QB with so many other proven options, though I am a fan of the Big5 in the 2nd half of the 2021 season (just don’t reach to draft one). If you are interested in my dynasty rankings please check the site (I am a huge Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams fan in dynasty as their 2022 outlook could be ridiculous). Have fun and thanks for reading
*RB talent is dependant on a good o-line and a quality defense does not hurt. Whereas WR talent is related to a team with bad defense often causing them to play from behind and throw more which increases opportunity