There was once a time where a rookie that was drafted into the NFL automatically sentenced to a year or two (or even three for people like Aaron Rodgers) on the bench to “learn and understand the game.” But I’ve personally felt the opposite about that; Rookies are just as important to an NFL team as a 10-year veteran, a Superbowl MVP, or a genius head coach. That’s even more applicable to fantasy teams. My thoughts are: “Someone has to win rookie of the year, so I may as well look for the guy who has the best chance.”
Indeed some of the greatest seasons by a rookie have no doubt led to success for their managers that employed them for their teams that year; Think of Randy Moss in 1998, Odell Beckham in 2014, Anquan Boldin in 2003, (and for you old-timers that may have played in the ’80s, Eric Dickerson in 1983) Football fans want to see their prized draft pick in action as soon as possible and fantasy managers should plan their draft strategy accordingly. It’s time to fully invest in rookies, regardless of position, and feature them as a prominent part of their fantasy teams, especially as NFL teams look to take advantage of their youth and abilities.
Here are 25 rookies for the 2021 NFL season that could have a chance to become a prominent part of their squads as they begin their NFL careers.
25. Ian Book QB, Notre Dame (Round 4, #112 overall to NO)
Jameis Winston is the incumbent starter here but after being Drew Brees partner in crime for the better part of 15 years, Sean Payton will not tolerate a turnover-prone QB for too long, which Winston still is at this stage of his career until proven otherwise. For context, Drew Brees committed a total of 202 turnovers over 15 years for the Saints, which is an average of just above 13 per year; Winston has shown that he can match that total in three or four weeks. But, according to ESPN’s Mike Triplett, Taysom Hill is training exclusively at the Quarterback position this offseason. There may be a complete QB competition come training camp so we’ll have to see where everything shakes out at the end.
24. Larry Rountree III RB, Missouri (Round 6, #198 overall to LAC)
Rountree is not the most talented RB in the draft but this is more about the opportunity. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are injury-prone and Joshua Kelley is inconsistent and struggles with ball security issues. Justin Jackson especially may already be behind the eight-ball come training camp with Roundtree being added.
23. Demetric Felton WR, UCLA (Round 6 #211 overall to CLE)
Felton was a true dark horse in this draft. The spot is not ideal as Cleveland has an embarrassment of wealth at each skill position but Felton could perhaps still carve out a niche on special teams and work his way into the offense from there.
22. Amari Rodgers WR, Clemson (Round 3, #85 overall to GB)
Rodgers got lost in the fold behind Clemson’s more celebrated players but still could produce when his number was called. He is a tough catch-and-run specialist that will get a chance to start opposite Davante Adams. Of course, his fantasy value relies almost entirely on whether the Rodgers that is currently in Green Bay returns which becomes more unlikely by the second.
21. Michael Carter RB, North Carolina (Round 4, #107 overall to NYJ)
The first of three Jets on this list, Carter should be able to get a decent chunk of playtime right away for the Jets who have been a fantasy wasteland for the better part of the last decade.
20. Elijah Moore WR, Ole Miss (Round 2, #34 overall to NYJ)
Elijah Moore was the second-round pick of the Jets in the draft and he, like Carter, will get a shot to be an immediate contributor for the Jets. He may be inconsistent at times, but someone has to be a go-to receiver for the Jets so it may as well be him.
19. Tylan Wallace WR, Oklahoma State (Round 4, #131 overall to BAL)
The Ravens need to surround Lamar Jackson with weapons to help take him to the next level and the selection of Wallace will help in their efforts. He may not be their #1 but he’s more than capable of being a regular contributor.
18. Mac Jones QB, Alabama (Round 1, #15 overall to NE)
Mac’s fantasy value depends on how well Cam Newton plays. Cam should be better in year 2 under Josh McDaniels offense but the Patriots didn’t draft Mac to be a long-term backup. I look for Mac to be the starter by the middle of November in what will surely be a run-first system.
17. Kadarius Toney WR, Florida (Round 1, #20 overall)
Toney will join a revamped receiving core headlined by free-agent prize Kenny Golladay. With supporting cast members like Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, the talented but oft-injured Evan Engram, and Big Blue headliner Saquon Barkley returning, I don’t expect Toney to be a large contributor in his first year in the NFL.
16. Rashod Bateman WR, Minnesota (Round 1, #27 overall)
The Ravens had weapons for Lamar Jackson on the mind in this draft and they took Bateman as a possession-type player that can move the chains. Bateman will likely be the tough, move-the-chains player that will complement Marquise Brown’s speed.
15. Zach Wilson QB, BYU (Round 1, #2 overall to NYJ)
The Jets used their first three picks on the offensive side of the ball so it’s no surprise that they knew they needed glaring upgrades. Wilson figures to start from the day he walks into the Jets facility for the first time so he will have the keys to the offense right away. The Jets will lose a lot this year so Wilson will have plenty of leash to work as a starter but he will make tons of mistakes too. There are rookie QB’s in more favorable spots to select from this year.
14. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR USC (Round 4, #112 overall to DET)
With the departure of Kenny Golladay, the #1 spot is up for grabs in Motown. With a strong training camp, perhaps Brown can take that role and continue his emergence that began late in his career at USC.
The Best of the Rest (also part 1)
Nico Collins WR, Michigan (Round 3, Pick #89 to HOU)
As Houston essentially hits restart on their franchise, they will need a receiver to catch the ball. Collins will get the first crack at it and his size (6’4” 220 lbs.) should be a boost in helping him see regular playing time.
Tutu Atwell WR, Louisville (Round 2, Pick #57 overall to LAR)
This pick reminds me so much of Tavon Austin. He’s a small receiver who can do multiple things on the field and was drafted in the early rounds by the Rams. I think they could have gotten him later on in the draft but whatever. The target share will still be dominated by Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee.
Since the Rams used 11 personnel as much as anyone in 2020 (11 = one tight end, one running back with three receivers) at 65%, which was 13th in the league, perhaps Atwell can compete with Van Jefferson for the WR3 role once occupied by the now-departed Josh Reynolds.
Brevin Jordan TE, Miami (Round 5 #147 overall)
In addition to Nico Collins, the Texans looked to the “U” to help flesh out their bare talent cupboard. Jordan is an athletic tight end with good size (6’3” 245 lbs.) Miami also has a decent track record of tight ends having success in the NFL over the years. (Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, and Kellen Winslow) If Jordan can improve as a blocker, he could be counted quite a bit as a rookie and continue the school’s tradition of good play at the Tight End spot in the NFL.