With the college football season past the midway point in most conferences, get a head start on your 2021 rookie drafts with our updated 2021 dynasty rookie rankings. Running backs and wide receivers will obviously rise to the forefront of these rankings, but a top-heavy quarterback and tight end class set the 2021 NFL Draft class apart from recent years.
2021 Dynasty Rookie Rankings First Round
1) Travis Etienne (RB1 – Clemson)
Many pundits were left scratching their heads after Travis Etienne’s shocking decision to return for his senior season, but the Clemson running back has drastically increased his NFL Draft stock. That’s hard to imagine for a running back many (me included) had penciled in as RB1 in last year’s stacked running back group, but that’s just how much progress Etienne has shown this season.
Etienne began his career as a negative in the passing game, even going as far as to admit that he was nervous with the ball headed his way. While I still testify that there was a bit of an overreaction to Etienne’s honest and self-aware comments, Etienne has taken that weakness and turned it into his biggest strength this season. That’s not really a surprise to anyone that has followed Etienne throughout his career, but his improvement catching the ball really is incredible to see.
You started to see glimpses of Etienne’s pass-catching improvement last season when the running back saw a significant increase in passing-game volume. Etienne had 17 receptions for 135 yards in his first two seasons at Clemson, but his junior season numbers jumped up to 37 receptions, 432 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns through the air. Etienne has carried that momentum over to 2020, where he has a 37-491-2 TD receiving line through eight games. Combine the improvement in the passing game with elite speed and the power to break through arm tackles, and it’s easy to see why Etienne is No. 1 in our 2021 dynasty rookie rankings.
2) Najee Harris (RB2 – Alabama)
With elite size, quick feet, and tremendous hands, I won’t argue with you too much if you have Alabama’s Najee Harris as RB1 in your 2021 dynasty rookie rankings. Harris is a truly elite running back prospect built to sustain the brutality of the National Football League.
While my personal football man-crush on Etienne won’t allow me to rank Harris above him, there’s no doubting that the top two stand above the rest of the running back group. Both Etienne and Harris should come off the board by the middle of round two, giving both running backs the draft capital often needed to receive the volume needed in fantasy football.
3) Ja’Marr Chase (WR1 – LSU)
After being one of the first college football players to opt-out of the 2020 college football season, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase is getting a head start on training for the 2021 NFL Draft. While sitting out gives Chase plenty of time to work on his physique and improve his athletic traits, you have to wonder if NFL evaluators drop the wide receiver a bit.
That might sound silly when looking back at Chase’s last collegiate contest (nine receptions, 221 yards, two touchdowns in LSU’s National Championship victory), but with the majority of us being creatures of the moment, a year away with zero game film has to factor into the conversation. Chase isn’t viewed as an overly athletic player, so a good showing at the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine could go a long way towards cementing his status as WR1.
4) Rashod Bateman (WR2 – Minnesota)
Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, another player who initially opted out of the 2020 season, received a waiver to return to the college football gridiron. Bateman has prototypical size (6’2″, 210 pounds) for the wide receiver position, and his combination of hands, route-running, and YAC ability is among the best in this year’s class. Bad quarterack play has so far marred Minnesota’s season, but no one is letting it impact Bateman’s value. He’s a stud and locked into the early first round of 2021 rookie drafts.
5) Jaylen Waddle (WR3 – Alabama)
Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle, a personal favorite of mine, is a rising star in the devy and dynasty fantasy football community. After being overshadowed by wide receivers like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Devonta Smith for the majority of his career, Waddle finally showed why he’s so highly-regarded in NFL circles this season.
Known more for his elite return ability early in his career, Waddle took his game to another level this season with 557 receiving yards and four touchdowns in only four games. Waddle had over 100 receiving yards in all four games he played this season, but a fractured ankle on the opening kickoff against Tennessee has ended the wide receiver’s season prematurely. With plenty of time to recover, Waddle shouldn’t see his draft stock negatively impacted. The Alabama wide receiver has shown enough to solidify his status as a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
6) Devonta Smith (WR4 – Alabama)
Despite sharing time with 2020 first-round picks Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Alabama’s Devonta Smith led the Crimson Tide in 2019 with 1,256 receiving yards and 14 touchdown receptions. With Waddle out for the remainder of 2020, Smith is a near certainty to repeat that performance this season.
Smith is a smaller prospect (6’1″, 175 pounds) that translates as a slot wide receiver on the next level. Don’t let that fool you. Smith is an elite prospect likely to receive first-round draft capital, making the Alabama wide receiver one of the safest bets in our 2021 dynasty rookie rankings. If you’re biased against slot-only wide receivers, let me remind you that the most effective targets come over the middle of the field.
7) Rondale Moore (WR5 – Purdue)
Despite being cleared to return to the Boilermakers football team, we have yet to see Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore this season. It isn’t exactly clear what’s going on with Moore, but the wide receiver is considered a “game-time decision” once again this weekend.
When on the field, Moore is one of the most explosive prospects in all of college football. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the wide receiver on the field since the first month of the 2019 college football season. Even though Moore has slipped a bit due to being away from the game, the wide receiver is a healthy return to the football field away from rising back up our 2021 dynasty rookie rankings.
8) Chuba Hubbard (RB3 – Oklahoma State)
It’s been an up-and-down season for Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, but the running back gets pushed up after Journey Brown’s retirement. Hubbard struggles in pass protection and doesn’t add a lot in the passing game, putting the running back with blazing speed in danger of being typecast as a two-down runner on the next level.
9) Trevor Lawrence (QB1 – Clemson)
There aren’t many sure things in football, but Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is as close as it gets. After entering college as one of the most-hyped quarterback recruits in recent memory, Lawrence has somehow outplayed the lofty expectations. It’s hard to gauge quarterback values in 1QB leagues, but it isn’t easy to imagine Lawrence making it to the second round of many rookie drafts.
10) Kenneth Gainwell (RB4 – Memphis)
With an eye on the 2021 NFL Draft, Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell opted out of the 2020 college football season. After biding his time behind Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard in 2018, Gainwell burst onto the scene in 2019 with 1,459 rushing yards, 610 receiving yards, and 16 total touchdowns. As a running back that excels on the ground and in the air, Gainwell is a natural fit for the modern-day NFL.
11) Kyle Pitts (TE1 – Florida)
One of the best route runners in all of college football, Florida’s Kyle Pitts is an elite tight end prospect who can contribute immediately. While his struggles in the blocking game might not be a natural fit for all NFL franchises, whoever drafts Pitts will have a plan for the modern-day tight end prospect.
12) Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR6 – LSU)
Often seen as the Robin to Chase’s Batman, LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. is proving that he can be a leading man in an NFL offense. Marshall Jr. has ideal size (6’3″, 200 pounds) for the wide receiver position, and the former five-star high school prospect is steadily rising up NFL Draft boards by the week.
13) Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR7 – USC)
USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, a technician with excellent route-running skills, is often overlooked in a crowded 2021 wide receiver class. St. Brown’s ability to get open shouldn’t be understated, as NFL teams will undoubtedly have their eyes on the talented prospect with NFL bloodlines.
14) Seth Williams (WR8 – Auburn)
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, Auburn’s Seth Williams is one of the most physically imposing wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class. The most significant question mark about Williams’ game will be his ability to separate at the next level, but the Auburn wide receiver is excellent in jump-ball situations.
15) Tylan Wallace (WR9 – Oklahoma State)
At one point during the 2019 CFB regular season, Oklahoma State’s offense featured both the nation’s leading rusher and receiver. Running back Chuba Hubbard finished the job with a nation’s best 2,094 rushing yards, but Cowboys wide receiver Tylan Wallace suffered an unfortunate non-contact knee injury in late October that cut his season short.
So far this season, Wallace has looked healthy and just as dominant as ever. Wallace leads the Cowboys receivers (35 receptions, 588 yards, 4 TD) in every statistical category, including an 11-187-2 TD performance in Oklahoma State’s 41-34 defeat to Texas.
16) Justin Fields (QB2 – Ohio State)
Despite only playing three games this season, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is clearly one of the best players in all of college football. One season after finishing third in the 2019 Heisman Trophy race, Fields might be playing the best football of his college career. Fields is completing 86.7% of his passes this season and has an 11-0 TD/INT ratio. I’m not sure that anyone can catch Lawrence this season, but Fields is closer to QB1 than he is QB2.
17) Tamorrion Terry (WR10 – Florida State)
When wide receiver Tamorrion Terry postponed his NFL aspirations for one more season at Florida State, he never could have predicted it ending on such poor terms. After several run-ins with head coach Mike Norvell and the Seminoles coaching staff, Terry recently left the Florida State football team to focus on the 2021 NFL Draft. His senior season was a complete and utter disaster, but it won’t take long for NFL talent evaluators to fall in love with Terry’s unique combination of size and blazing speed.
18) Zamir White (RB5 – Georgia)
After two long years of working up the depth chart, Georgia redshirt sophomore Zamir White is finally the lead running back in Athens, Georgia. The former five-star running back hasn’t looked back, already producing more rushing yards this season than he did in 2019. White’s has seven rushing touchdowns this season, third in the SEC behind Alabama’s Najee Harris (14 TD) and South Carolina’s Kevin Harris (8 TD).
19) Chris Olave (WR11 – Ohio State)
Ohio State’s Chris Olave is talented enough to make this ranking look silly, but my biggest question mark is just how fantasy productive the wide receiver will be on the next level. I do not doubt that Olave will be a productive NFL player for whichever NFL franchise drafts him, but he hasn’t exactly been a fantasy stalwart so far in his career.
Olave did haul in an impressive 12 touchdown receptions in 2019, but the wide receiver has never cleared 850 receiving yards in a single season. As evidenced by former Buckeyes wide receiver Terry McLaurin, college production isn’t always a prerequisite for NFL production, but it certainly helps in the scouting process.
20) Pat Freiermuth (TE2 – Penn State)
With some NFL franchises preferring in-line tight ends, it wouldn’t be a massive shocker to see Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth as the first tight end off the board at the end of April. Florida’s Pitts style of play should lead to fantasy fortune, but that doesn’t mean that “Baby Gronk” can’t be just as productive over the long haul.
Freiermuth has far superior blocking skills, making him undoubtedly the more complete tight end of the two. No matter which prospect you have at TE1 in your personal 2021 dynasty rookie rankings, I think the vast majority of us would take either tight end over anyone drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2021 Dynasty Rookie Rankings Third Round
21) Sage Surratt (WR12 – Wake Forest)
22) Brevin Jordan (TE3 – Miami)
23) Trey Lance (QB3 – North Dakota State)
24) Zach Wilson (QB4 – BYU)
25) Damonte Coxie (WR13 – Memphis)
26) CJ Verdell (RB6 – Oregon)
27) Kylin Hill (RB7 – Mississippi State)
28) Master Teague (RB8 – Ohio State)
29) Javian Hawkins (RB9 – Louisville)
30) Trey Sermon (RB10 – Oklahoma)
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