All questions regarding who would be this year’s WR1 in dynasty league rookie drafts were settled as soon as the Cincinnati Bengals made Ja’Marr Chase their pick at No. 5 overall.
Opportunity to post quality fantasy numbers from day one? Check. Familiarity with Joe Burrow? Check. Plus the talent and playmaking ability that made him LSU’s WR1 ahead of last year’s rookie standout Justin Jefferson? Check.
If someone in your league wants to select another receiver ahead of Chase in your rookie draft, cool, they’re likely picking this high in the draft for a reason. However, if your rookie draft plays out like it should, there’s a case to be made for a few different players to be this season’s WR2.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the nominees, in order of how I’d personally select them.
Option One: Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
I recently took part in a rookie draft where Waddle went 1.10 as the third wide receiver off the board, so I know first hand that he’s not the consensus WR2 in this year’s rookie drafts. Let’s start with the negative aspects surrounding Waddle and Miami in an attempt to ease your mind, because in actuality, they turn into reasons why you should feel confident making him the WR2.
There’s an anti-Tua Tagovailoa crowd, and honestly, it’s much bigger than it should be. This is the crowd saying “Tua’s arm is too weak”… “the only reason Miami won 10 games last season was because of its defense”… “anyone can complete a high percentage of passes when it’s all check downs”. I’ll quickly address these concerns so that we can get back to why Waddle is my WR2.
First, Tua does not possess elite arm strength; we knew this heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. However, it’s been taken to a pretty unsafe level because “twitter guy” says it and a bunch of people follow along without any real evidence. Take a look below at the second tweet in the thread (which was just one of NUMEROUS dropped passes in ’21 thanks in large part to playing with backups due to injuries).
When it comes to addressing the idea of Miami’s defense being the reason for Tua’s impressive win/loss record ask yourself this… what was he (and the coaching staff) supposed to do? Let teams get back into games so that Tua could attempt to post gaudy numbers and mount fourth-quarter comebacks? The coaching staff did limit the amount of chances Tua took in these games, but for obvious reasons as most coaches would opt to play it fairly safe with a rookie quarterback on a near-playoff team.
Lastly, in regards to the crowd that claims Tua is the king of check downs and safe throws, keep in mind that the play calls were being made by a 68-year-old Chan Gailey in 2020, which will not be the case in ’21 as Miami has publicly said they’re building an offense around Tua’s strengths with new co-offensive coordinators, Eric Studesville and George Godsey.
The second cause for concern is the amount of current depth when it comes to pass catchers on the team. DeVante Parker, Will Fuller and Mike Gesicki will all see a good share of the targets in ’21, but keep in mind that Fuller signed just a one-year deal this offseason and Gesicki is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Not only will Waddle see the biggest share of snaps from the slot this upcoming season, but it’s also likely just a matter of time before he becomes the team’s first or second most-targeted pass catcher.
Miami will manufacture ways to get Waddle the ball already in year one. RPO slants and screens will be Waddle’s initial calling card, but it shouldn’t take long for him to continue building onto his route tree, making him even more challenging to cover as time goes on.
He’s not your prototype possession receiver, so his fantasy production could be sporadic at times, but when you have the opportunity to select this type of playmaker in an offense that’s suited to play to his strengths, you take the occasional clunker in hopes of his “boom” weeks coming when you most need them.
Option Two: Terrace Marshall, Carolina Panthers
Based on landing spot alone Marshall would be my WR2 in this year’s class. Sure Carolina has D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, but Marshall should step into the team’s WR3 role already in his rookie year, and keep in mind that Anderson is scheduled to hit free agency following the 2021 season.
Commonly mocked as a first-round receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft, Marshall slid to the second round where the Panthers made him their selection at pick No. 59 overall. As we all know by now, the main reason for this slide was due to some injury history that was uncovered prior to the draft, however, the injuries must not have been a complete red flag as the Panthers took a chance on Marshall with some pretty legitimate draft capital, in turn, reuniting him with former LSU passing game coordinator, Joe Brady, who is now the Panthers’ offensive coordinator.
Brady was with Marshall and the Tigers’ record-setting offense just a couple years ago, so he knows both what Marshall is capable of on the football field, and how he may be able to grow into even more when given ample opportunities. Keep in mind that when he posted his 46-671-13 stat line in 2019 he was the team’s third receiver behind Chase and Jefferson. Additionally, even without Brady’s play calling and Chase/Jefferson eating away at his targets in ’20, Marshall totaled 731 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in just seven games (opt-out).
Marshall has the unique talent as a bit of a do-it-all type of receiver, but let’s address the position on the football field that makes wide receivers go… quarterback. You’re taking a bit of a gamble on Sam Darnold if you’re making Marshall this year’s WR2.
Has Darnold shown anything throughout his first three seasons in the NFL that make you think he’ll sustain a fantasy-relevant wide receiver? No, not really. The most games he’s ever started in a season is 13, he’s only topped 3,000 passing yards once, and his career high in touchdown passes is just 19. However, keep in mind that Darnold was never truly given the support on the offensive side of the ball that he deserved, and he was also a victim of the Adam Gase-effect. Darnold made plenty of head-scratching throws during his time with the Jets, but keep in mind that Ryan Tannehill also went down this road with Gase, and once he separated himself from the so called “QB whisperer”, his game was taken to another level – making Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis and A.J. Brown all fantasy relevant last year.
There’s no way to predict that Darnold will automatically make this Tannehill-like leap in ’21 with Carolina, but having the opportunity to work with Brady and being surrounded by legitimate playmakers will finally allow us to see what Darnold is capable of in an NFL offense.
Marshall is also a bit of a different mold of receiver compared to the likes of Waddle and DeVonta Smith. Marshall is bigger, 6’3″, 200 lbs, and seemingly more comfortable playing at one of the outside “X” or “Z” positions rather than the slot. Playing in this role will help maximize his value as a receiver that can go up and make plays on the outside. Not saying that Smith and Waddle don’t have that ability, but at 6’3″, Marshall is going to be a size mismatch for most defensive backs he faces.
If you have a good feel for how your rookie draft is going to play out, you may be able to trade back from the 1.06-1.08 slot and still land Marshall in the 1.10-1.12 range, but at the end of the day no one is going to care where you took Marshall if he ends up being a top receiver in this draft class.
Option Three: DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
I don’t want to be Mr. Doom & Gloom and write off Smith as a formidable receiver at the next level, but his well-documented lack of size mixed with the landing spot of Philadelphia leaves a lot to be desired. I personally couldn’t care less about Smith’s stature (6’0″, 165-lbs) as I’ve seen plenty from him while watching Alabama tape over the last four years to know that he can flat out play football at a high level in the NFL. However, I simply wish there were less obstacles to overcome in his path to being a highly-productive fantasy receiver.
Landing spot can’t be the end all be all when it comes to making selections in rookie drafts, but you do need to factor it into your equation. Unfortunately, I’m so low on Philadelphia as a landing spot that I likely would have made whichever of the top wide receivers that landed there (outside of Chase) as my pre-rookie draft WR4.
Smith did everything and more than was expected during his time at Alabama. He was an absolute force in both 2018 and ’19 despite being overshadowed in the media by Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, and when Waddle went down in 2020, Smith elevated his play to the level of winning the Heisman Trophy in a 117-1,856-23 senior season.
You’re going to run into the crowd that says NFL corners will be too physical for Smith and he’ll struggle to get off the line and into his routes. To that I’d say show me the tape. Playing at Alabama he went up against some of the best CB’s in the game. Cornerbacks that either are currently, or will soon be, the next wave of top defenders in the league. Not only did Smith not have much difficulty with his releases at the line of scrimmage, but there were often times corners didn’t even try to jam him because of his ability to run such a precise route if he got the early advantage against his defender. Additionally, NFL offenses are becoming more and more creative, finding ways to get playmakers the ball. There are a few different ways that Philadelphia can stack receivers and use motion to help Smith from constantly facing press coverage – in the event the feel they need to do this.
I apologize if this comes off as a “hot take”, I don’t mean to be nor want to be that guy, but I honestly think the best thing for Smith’s future fantasy success is for Jalen Hurts to struggle this year and have the Eagles pull the plug on him rather than letting him attempt to figure it out over the span of multiple years. The quicker the Eagles can move on and (hopefully) land their franchise quarterback, the better for Smith owners everywhere.
The state of the Eagles’ quarterback room is my main gripe with any receiver that would have landed in Philly. Prior to the 2020 NFL Draft I considered Hurts more of a luxury at the position that you could use creatively with trick/gadget plays. I didn’t personally view him as a second-round talent that would be taking starter snaps already in his rookie season, so naturally I’m a bit biased when it comes to selecting WR’s for fantasy football that’ll be receiving passes from him. It may play out where I’m 100% wrong on Hurts and the Eagles’ receivers you have on your fantasy team perform perfectly fine in ’21 and beyond with him at QB; but for the time being, and when it comes to ’21 rookie drafts, I’m going to stick to my rankings and keep Smith as my WR4 with Hurts as his quarterback.
Also, be sure to check out the latest episode of the Loaded Box Podcast as we discuss our favorite over/under win total bets for those in the AFC!