The 2021 NFL Draft boasts a remarkable crop of talented wide receivers, leaving the league in good hands (pun intended) for the future of pass catchers and fantasy teams alike.
Much like last year’s draft, the 2021 NFL Draft is full of receivers who are capable of making an instant impact regardless of which day they are drafted on. I actually believe this year’s draft has a more talented group a the top while managing to run deeper than the crop from 2020. With seven first round grades on my personal big board, this is the most talented class of wide receivers I have ever evaluated in the six years I have been grading prospects. Let’s dive in to my personal top ten wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Ja’Marr Chase is a true number one receiver in every sense of the term. Chase boasts inside/outside versatility and is dominant at the catch point. A national champion and Biletnikoff Winner in 2019, Ja’Marr Chase had one of the most dominant seasons by a wide receiver we’ve ever seen; totaling 84 receptions for 1,780 yards for an average of 21.2 yards per catch and 20 touchdowns. Unreal production.
In addition to his impressive production, Chase erased a lot of question marks around his game projecting to the NFL by putting up impressive athletic testing numbers as he ran a 4.34 40-Yard Dash while nearly jumping completely out of the gym with a 41” vertical. Chase projects as an elite, perennial pro bowl caliber wide receiver at the next level who opposing defensive backs will have nightmares about for the next ten years.
Joe Burrow is making a statement early against Bama.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 9, 2019
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
The fastest player I’ve ever seen play football. Do I need to say more? While Waddle is still relatively raw as a true receiver prospect, there are so many different ways this guy can kill opposing teams. Whether he is returning kicks/punts, taking jet sweeps or running a simple slant rout, Waddle is a threat to go 90+ yards to the house at any given moment.
As mentioned before, Waddle is raw and needs some refinement in a lot of his routes, meaning it will likely take some time for him to develop into a team’s true number one wide receiver. Waddle profiles best as a true gadget, “offensive weapon” type of player who forces defenses to key in on him every snap of the game regardless of down and distance. This is simply invaluable in itself as Waddle will open up so much for every other skill player on offense.
Jaylen Waddle moves at the speed of light ⚡️ @AlabamaFTBL
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 30, 2019
Rashod Bateman seems to be flying relatively under the radar in the draft community. I see Bateman as a ready made number one wide receiver in the NFL. Bateman possesses fantastic inside/outside versatility with impressive ability after the catch and a fearless mentality catching the ball through traffic.
Bateman is the best route runner in this draft class and I honesty don’t think second place is necessarily close. Okay, DeVonta Smith makes it close. While his 2020 season was fairly quiet due to sub optimal quarterback play and lack of a supporting cast, Bateman’s 2019 season was certainly something to write home about; Bateman put up 60 receptions, 1,219 yards on an average of 20.3 yards per reception. One of the very few knocks on Bateman was thought to be his true speed, however he tested well above expectation as he ran a 4.43 40 Yard Dash at his pro day workout.
🚨 ONE-HANDED CATCH ALERT 🚨
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) August 30, 2019
Speaking of flying under the radar, this may come as a surprise to many, but Dyami Brown has been one of “my guys” throughout the entire draft process. I believe Brown is a top 20 talent in the entire class. While he primarily lined up as an outside receiver, that had more to do with fellow draft prospect Dazz Newsome being an exclusive slot receiver for the Tarheels offense. I think Brown has all the ability to move inside and outside to create mismatches at the NFL Level.
Brown enjoyed a productive career, racking up over 100 catches for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns during his last 2 seasons at North Carolina. I believe Brown is a true number 2 wide receiver from day one in the NFL with the upside to become a team’s number one option down the road. I only found one player in this draft to have better body control combined with ball skills, and that was WR1 Ja’Marr Chase.
— Tar Heels on SR (@SRTarHeel) September 8, 2019
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
By statistical measurements, DeVonta Smith is one of the greatest collegiate wide receivers ever. Smith is the reigning Heisman Trophy and Biletnikoff Award winner and two time national champion; he is also the single season record holder for yards and touchdowns by an SEC receiver. And, for good measure, throw the FBS record for Receiving Touchdowns by a power 5 player on top of all of that. However, by physical measurements, DeVonta Smith has no business being as good at football as he is. While Smith is in most analysts’ top 3 receiver prospects, I simply cannot project him to the NFL as highly as most others for the fact we have never seen a receiver succeed at a high level weighing only 160 lbs.
For the negatives I mentioned above, Smith could very well find consistent success with his crisp route running and ultra-reliable hands. Smith enjoyed historical production at the most prestigious school in college football. So, while I remain lower than most on him, Smith could ultimately end up making me look like a fool.
WHAT. A. GAME.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 9, 2018
A player who enjoyed a remarkable start to the 2020 season before ultimately opting out with high stock, Terrace Marshall Jr. is one of the younger prospects of the bunch, with certainly one of the highest ceilings as a pro. Marshall possesses great size and is dynamic whether he lines up in the slot or on the boundary. What impresses me most is his ability in short areas, specifically in the middle of the field, at his impressive size of over 6’2”.
Marshall projects as an instant number two receiver in the NFL with potential to develop into a number one option with all-pro upside. A great athlete, especially for his size, Marshall ran a 4.38 40 yard dash that ultimately solidified his stock as a first round caliber receiver. Where Marshall will win most of his reps early, however, is on 50/50 balls where he is able to get physical with defensive backs and beat them at the catch point. Taking his age, measurables, and high level flashes on tape, the sky is the limit for Terrace Marshall Jr.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 26, 2020
My final first round receiver prospect, Rondale Moore is a polarizing prospect for most in that he is a true “Boom or Bust” prospect. Moore has had some incredible flashes an offensive weapon but has ultimately struggled to stay healhty during his time in college.
Much like Jaylen Waddle, Moore will have most of his success early on as a gadget/weapon player in a creative offensive scheme, where he is best creating in short areas near the line of scrimmage and creating space downfield with his gamebreaking 4.29 speed. This guy is a threat to score absolutely every time he touches the ball, possessing the best contact balance of any receiver in this class. He could get you through a stretch of games if your running back were to go down, he’s that dynamic.
— Alex Roux (@arouxBTN) August 7, 2020
Another fantastic YAC receiver, Elijah Moore just might be the most pro ready in the crop “smaller” receivers in this draft. A silky smooth route runner possessing natural hands, Moore is a day 1 starter in the slot for any team that drafts him. Moore is one of the best “pluck and run” prospects I’ve seen.
Elijah Moore is capable of gaining instant separation at any point in his rotes due to his ability to stop on a dime or simply kick into a gear opposing defenders just don’t have to burst and meet the ball in space. Moore also has no fear going across the middle of the field and does well to secure the catch through contact. My knock on Moore here is his inability to win consistently on the boundary. You’re just not going to ask him to do it, though.
— mitch davis (@mitchdavis_8) November 15, 2020
Okay, I think I have a YAC obsession. But being a Packers fan begging for a YAC threat since Randall Cobb was productive will do this to a person. Toney is another versatile gadget/weapon type of player for a smart offensive mind to destroy opposing defenses with. Toney’s ability with the ball in his hands is so much fun to watch, as he wins with more agility and vision than he does with pure speed. Am I saying Toney is slow? Not at all. Toney can break a game wide open at any moment.
While Toney’s knock as a receiver is his route running, I would like to remind people the improvement he made in this aspect of his game from 2019 to the 2020 season was astronomical. There is little doubt Toney could develop into one of the more dynamic players across the league, provided he stays out of trouble off the field.
KADARIUS. TONEY. WILL. NOT. BE. STOPPED! 😤 pic.twitter.com/ZIzSHPTMCh
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) August 24, 2019
Packers fans will appreciate having a pair of brothers on the squad, I know that much. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a much more exciting prospect than his big brother, however, as he as enjoyed an impressive career at USC. St. Brown has compiled over 1,500 yards with 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons, one of which was a season shortened to only five games.
St. Brown profiles as a number two wide receiver right out of the gate with potential to take over a number one role as he develops. I appreciate the inside/outside versatility he possesses and really like his ability to create after the catch. St. Brown is a true “jack of all trades” receiver, as he displays some exciting contested catch highlights, especially in short yardage and red zone situations. Amon-Ra St. Brown is going to make a team very happy on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
This Amon-Ra St. Brown TD 🔥
USC completes the come back vs. UCLA, 43-38
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) December 13, 2020
What a journey it has been, I have had great pleasure in putting these wide receivers under the microscope this draft season. I want to thank all of the readers for following and interacting with my content, as well as the entire crew at Game on Wisconsin for giving me the chance to cover the Green Bay Packers. GO PACK GO!