With free agency under way, we are starting to see teams take shape and have a better sense of what their needs will be heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. As we get an idea of what a team needs, we can then start to speculate where a player would be a good fit. And, it is particularly useful to know about a player's strengths and weaknesses after they've been drafted and are on a team. Why? Because that is when you will be drafting your fantasy teams!
A great way to get to know these prospects is to simply watch them. You do not have to be a scout or a film grinder, but just watching a player and getting a sense about their game will go great lengths. There is also a lot of college stats; both the ones you hear so often like yards and touchdowns, and then the deeper metrics that can help paint a picture about a player. That is what my goal here is: to help you know useful stats that provide valuable information about a player. And the best part is, it's all in one place broken down by position, because trying to learn an entire rookie class can be daunting. Previously, we covered the QBs and RBs, which you can familiarize yourself with here. Now, let's dive into the wide receivers and tight ends!
Stats to Know about 2021 WR Class
Devonta Smith is the first wide receiver to win the Heisman in nearly 30 years. So, you can already guess that he had a very special season. He posted 1,878 yards in 2020, which seems impressive, but it's even more so when you put it in perspective. Last season, only seven draft-eligible players topped 1,000 receiving yards, and Smith was the only to top 1,220 yards. He was head and shoulders better than the rest of the class. He also led the class in yards after the catch with 962; no one else even had 660. He also led them with 301 receiving yards after contact. Smith led the class with 23 receiving TDs, 84 first downs and with 44 explosive plays (15+ yards). And he finished third in yards per route ran with 4.20 and in contested catches with 12. Still not sold? Smith caught 95 percent of the catchable passes thrown his way and his 11 missed tackles forced ranked 10th in this class. Smith has put up huge numbers in the past two seasons, topping 1,250 yards and scoring at least 14 TDs in each. He did this while in a very crowded WR room with eventual first-round picks Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III and potential 2021 first-round pick Jaylen Waddle all playing there in 2019 . The biggest knock about Smith is his size. He is listed at 6'1, 175 pounds, although he has recently said he weighs 170 pounds. That raises concern, but he makes up for it with a freakish wingspan and speed. Plus, he is great at winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. You will hear people knocking him, but he is a first-round lock and can make a Year 1 impact in fantasy football. Smith ran 278 slot routes and 523 out wide, with 413 of those coming on the left side and 110 coming on the right. He really could do it all at the college level.
Ja'Marr Chase sat out the 2020 season, but he is still in the running to be the first receiver off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase is listed as 6'0, 208 pounds and one was of the key weapons of that magical 2019 LSU season with last year's first overall pick, Joe Burrow. In that season, Chase recorded 84 catches for 1,780 yards and a whopping 20 TDs. He did all that playing with last year's rookie sensation Justin Jefferson, who had more targets than Chase. Despite that, Chase still put up more yards and TDs that season. Chase recorded 46 explosive receiving plays (15+ yards) in 2019, the most among all college receivers. No other player even had 40. He averaged 21 yards per catch, forced 22 missed tackles and had 16 catches on 33 contested targets. He put up 3.42 yards per route ran in 2019, while reeling in 90 percent of his catchable targets and 49 percent of his contested ones. That season, he ran 108 routes in the slot and 705 out wide, with 379 coming on the left side and 326 on the right. He can be utilized all over the field, which only makes him more dangerous. There really is not a whole lot to dislike when it comes to Chase, and the numbers show that, despite playing on a team with so many other offensive pieces. Chase has a great shot to be a very useful fantasy piece in his first season. I would even go as far to say there is a good chance, he follows in his former teammate Jefferson's footsteps and is the best rookie WR.
Jaylen Waddle is a speedster who played opposite of Devonta Smith in limited action in 2020. Waddle only played six games in '20 but he made an impact, putting up 591 yards and four TDs. He also showcased his deep-threat abilities averaging 21.1 yards per catch. That is nothing new as he averaged at least 17 yards per catch in all three of his college seasons. Waddle picked up 282 yards after the catch, picked up 22 first downs, and had 15 explosive plays (15+ yards) in his limited six games of action. His 10.1 YAC per catch ranked third among wideouts in this class. Waddle also averaged 4.19 yards per route ran, which ranked fourth in this class, just one spot behind Smith. He caught 90 percent of his catchable passes and an eye-opening 80 percent of his contested targets. Waddle draws player comps to Tyreek Hill, but to me that is setting the bar very highly. But he has that kind of speed and can make a Year 1 impact. Waddle ran 152 routes in the slot and 92 out wide, with the majority of those (62) coming on the right side.
Terrace Marshall Jr. put up a career high 731 receiving yards in just seven games in 2020. He also scored 10 TDs, a year after scoring 13 as a sophomore. He is listed at 6'3, 200 pounds out of LSU. He used that size to win contested targets at an 82 percent clip this past season. That was the highest percent of any player that had at least seven percent of their targets contested. He showed his downfield abilities with 15.2 yards per catch and had 15 catches of at least 15 yards. His 2.83 yards per route ran ranked 12th among all draft-eligible players in '20. Lastly, he showed off his hands, catching 86 percent of his targets that were deemed catchable. Marshall ran 313 slot routes and 98 out wide, with the majority (54) coming on the left side.
Rashod Bateman is a big-bodied wide receiver (6'2, 210 pounds) out of Minnesota. He played just five games in 2020 but caught 36 balls for 472 yards and two TDs. His best college season was in 2019 when he posted 1,219 yards and 11 TDs on 60 catches as a sophomore. He averaged a ridiculous 20.3 yards per catch that season. He still managed over 13 yards per catch in each of his other two college seasons. His 3.3 yards per route ran was seventh among draft-eligible players. He had 11 explosive pass plays (15+ yards), which may not seem like much compared to the others, but remember he played just five games and had 36 catches. That means 11 of those 36 catches, or nearly a third, went for over 15 yards. He caught 86 percent of his catchable targets and 40 percent of his targets that were contested. He ran 195 routes in the slot and 118 out wide, with 65 coming on the left and 53 on the right. He was a pretty balanced route runner. His landing spot will greatly impact his Year 1 fantasy value, but he could be a worthy flyer.
Kadarius Toney is a 6'0, 193-pound receiver coming out of Florida. He had a career season in 2020, posting 984 yards and 10 TDs on 70 catches. In his first three seasons combined, he posted 50 catches, 606 yards and two TDs. He is also utilized in the running game, rushing for 580 yards in his college career. His 477 yards after the catch in 2020 ranked eighth among all draft-eligible players. He picked up 45 first downs and had just two dropped passes last year. He picked up 27 explosive plays (15+ yards) and forced 20 missed tackles, both of which ranked in the top-five in this class. He caught 96 percent of his catchable targets and 33 percent of his contested targets. His 2.47 yards per route ran ranked 20th in the class. He ran 513 routes in the slot in 2020 and just 82 out wide. He is one-dimensional in that sense and his landing spot will matter, but slot receivers are becoming more and more valuable in fantasy football.
Rondale Moore exploded as a freshman, catching 114 balls for 1,258 yards and 12 TDs, while adding in 213 yards and two TDs on the ground. But he has been in limited action since. Listed at 5'9, 180 pounds, Moore missed time in 2019 due to a hamstring injury and then had the COVID-shortened 2020 season. In the past two years, he has just 64 catches, 657 yards and two TDs in seven games. In 2020, he averaged 2.32 yards per route ran, caught 95 percent of his catchable targets and 25 percent of his contested ones. He ran 141 routes from the slot and 27 out wide in 2020. In his big 2018 season he ran 694 routes in the slot and just 52 out wide. Landing spot will matter, but a speedy slot receiver can make a big impact in the NFL.
Amon-Ra St. Brown will be heading from USC to the NFL this year. The 6'1, 195-pound receiver is the younger brother of Equanimeous St. Brown. In a shortened 2020 season, he posted 478 yards and a career-high seven TDs in just six games. His best season came as a sophomore in 2019, when he caught 77 calls for 1,042 yards and six scores. He averaged 1.78 yards per route ran, caught 88 percent of catchable targets and a very strong 53 percent of contested ones. He ran 119 routes from the slot and 300 out wide, with all but two coming on the left side.
Stats to Know about 2021 TE Class
Kyle Pitts is a generational talent. He is listed at 6'6, 240 pounds and has (unofficial) 4.5 40 speed. He has the size and speed combo like Darren Waller and has the opportunity to make an impact like a Waller or Travis Kelce does at the pro level. In just eight games in 2020, he posted a career-high 770 yards and an eye-opening 12 TDs. His previous career highs were 649 yards and five TDs in 13 games in 2019. Pitts recorded 24 catches of 15+ yards, the eighth most of draft-eligible players, on 71 targets; the seven players ahead of him all had at least 88, with many having over 100. He averaged 17.9 yards per catch, something no tight end did at the NFL level. He averaged 3.04 yards per route ran, caught 86 percent of catchable targets and 50 percent of his contested ones. Pitts led all draft-eligible TEs in yards (770), TDs (12), first downs (39), explosive plays (24), aDOT (13.8) and yards per route ran (3.04). He was second in YAC (260), yards after contact (118), contested catches (11) and third in missed tackles forced (5). Oh, and he was one of just two TEs without a drop, doing so on more than double the targets as the other. Pitts ran 266 routes inline, which is where tight ends traditionally lineup, with 79 coming from the slot and 70 coming out wide as a receiver. Of those 70, he was balanced with 32 coming on the left and 38 on the right. His versatility only adds to his value.
Pat Freiermuth is valued as the number two tight end in this class by many, but do not make the mistake of thinking he could make an immediate year one impact. The truth is, there have been very few tight ends that produce enough to be fantasy viable in their rookie season. It just shows how good Kyle Pitts is, that we are anticipating him to be the exception to the rule. But, Freiermuth did put up 310 yards and a TD in just four games in a shortened 2020. His best season came in 2019, when he caught 43 balls for 507 yards and seven scores. Freiermuth is a big-bodied TE, listed at 6'5, 258 pounds. He ranked third among draft-eligible tight ends with eight contested catches and fourth in yards per route ran (2.17). He also caught 92 percent of his catchable targets and an eye-opening 62 percent of his contested targets. He did just force three missed tackles and make seven explosive plays (15+ yards).
Brevin Jordan showed off his receiving chops, having his best season in 2020. The Penn State tight end caught 38 balls for 576 yards and seven TDs, all of which were career highs. In 2019, he put up 495 yards and two TDs on 35 catches, showing he was consistent in the receiving game. He averaged over 14 yards per catch in each of those seasons as well. He is listed at 6'3, 245 pounds. He ranked first among draft-eligible tight ends in missed tackles forced (10), second in yards per route ran (2.57), sixth in yards per catch (14.8), and fourth in explosive plays (14). He showed off his reliable hands, too, catching 93 percent of catchable targets and 25 percent of his contested ones.
Jake Ferguson is listed at 6'5, 246 pounds out of Wisconsin. In seven games in 2020, he put up 30 catches for 305 yards (both career lows) and four TDs. In his previous two seasons, he has sat between 33 and 36 catches and 407 and 456 yards. His best statistical season was his freshman year.
Hopefully this helps give you some useful statistical insight into each of these players! Be sure to bookmark this page so you can return and get any stats you need on a rookie come fantasy draft season!
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