By Jacob Bourgeois; Twitter: @FantasyBantasy
There are millions of places (probably literally) to find information on this year’s rookie class, and it’s probably most efficient to dig into it after the NFL draft once draft capital has taken its toll. This is meant to just introduce the popular names in their respective tiers with a little bit of info and background to make the draft watching process a little more enjoyable. Because there are a lot of names as usual, it will be broken out into four articles, Tier 1 – The Consensus: the top fantasy relevant rookie names (assuming non-Super Flex PPR scoring format), Tier 2 – The Next Best of the Rest: those players who with the right draft capital could enter the top tier or get bumped by a later name drafted earlier than expected, Tier 3 – Beta Positions and Risers: here we’ll review the non-elite QB, TE’s along with tier 3 RBs and WRs, and finally Tier 4 – Name Buzz: the rest of the incoming freshman who have been called out as ones to watch or sleeper picks.
All stats unless otherwise noted are from (or derived from) www.sports-reference.com.
Tier 1 – The Consensus
Below are the top names in this year’s incoming rookie class, assuming non-Super Flex.
Najee Harris – RB – Alabama
Age: 22, Senior
Weight: 230 lbs.
Guesstimate 40 time: 4.66
Summary: We first heard about Najee when he was splitting time with Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris, with whom he was considered on equal footing then just a sophomore. He was a top tier RB for last year’s draft following a productive junior season but ultimately decided to stay at Bama for one more year. It paid off as he maintained a career 6.0 YPC while tacking on 30 total touchdowns and really showing off his chops as a receiver with 43 receptions over 13 games. He’s big bodied with a bruising style, but with underrated athleticism (famous for his leap frogs) and great hands.
Comparison(s): Between David Montgomery and Kareem Hunt
Ideal Landing Spot: PIT
Travis Etienne – RB – Clemson
Age: 22, Senior
Weight: 215 lbs. (put on weight and lost a little speed for pro day)
Guesstimate 40 time: 4.41
Summary: Another top five RB prospect from a year ago who elected to finish out his college career (for those that want to knock him for this, don’t, I understand that it was a promise he made to his mom that no matter what he would get his degree). PFF’s top rated incoming rusher and the all-time ACC rushing record holder has great vision, burst, second gear, and balance, and decent hands (48 receptions in 2020). He finished the 2020 season with his lowest YPC (5.4 vs previous 7+ each season) and lowest TD total since his rookie season but still passed the eye test.
Comparison: Joe Mixon (in a good way)
Ideal Landing Spot: NYJ or ATL gimme all three downs
Ja’Marr Chase – WR – LSU
Age: 20, Junior / sat out 2020
Weight: 205 lbs.
Guesstimate 40: 4.4
Summary: This is the 19-year-old that made people say of Justin Jefferson last year: “top WR of the 2020 class? He’s not even the top WR on his own team.” After 84 catches for 1,780 and 20 tuddies in Joe Burrow’s record-breaking campaign, he decided to opt out of the 2020 season knowing there was really only one direction to go. He has great hands – really intentional at watching the ball all the way through the catch point. Catches away from his body and has underrated routes given his contested catch ability and physicality off the line. I saw him regularly getting at least a stride of separation against both man and zone coverage. Just checks all the boxes.
Comparison: Amari Cooper
Ideal Landing Spot: CIN … seems to enjoy receiving Joe Burrow passes. I also think Detroit would jump on it if he made it to 7; would optimize Jared Goff’s one-read-and-done system.
Javonte Williams – RB – UNC
Age: 20, Junior
Weight: 215 lbs.
Guesstimate 40 time: 4.51
Summary: A relative unknown up until this year, he and backfield running mate senior Michael Carter upped what was already a productive tandem to dominate opposing defenses to the tune of 7.3 YPC in 2020. From the tape you find a sturdy, quick enough, hungry RB who like Harris and Etienne found success in the end zone and through the air as well. He finished with 22 total TDs and 25 receptions while splitting carries pretty much down the middle with Carter. The antagonists will say “not special,” “system success,” and “one-year wonder” but I’m a believer – he just checks all the boxes and should get a chance to be a lead back in the right situation.
Comparison: Josh Jacobs
Ideal Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars (not from a fantasy perspective – but shares traits with James Robinson and has a similar sturdiness/stockiness to Maurice Jones Drew).
Jaylen Waddle – WR – Alabama
Age: 22, Junior
Weight: 183 lbs.
Guesstimated 40 time: 4.35
Summary: Was a high school all America, 4-star recruit who spent his collegiate career sharing snaps with Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and DaVonta Smith. He was injured for about half of 2020, but in the games that he was healthy, outpaced the Heisman trophy winner. NFL analysts make the Tyreek Hill comparison with a straight face and watching him play I can see it. He’s a smaller guy so will always carry the injury risk and his 2020 broken ankle doesn’t help his case. But when he’s moving it’s fluid. Even though he’s smaller, his tape reminded me a ton of CeeDee Lamb the way he makes his breaks and the catch point all look so natural (like a gazelle). Oh yeah, he also led the nation with 12+ yards after the catch.
Comparison: CeeDee Lamb
Ideal Landing Spot: TEN teamed up with AJ Brown
DeVonta Smith – WR – Alabama
Age: 22, Senior
Weight: 170 lbs.
Guesstimated 40 time: 4.5
Summary: He’s too old, too skinny, and had a perfect catch percentage as a sophomore (42/42). That earned him more targets as a junior nabbing a 21% share despite the talent around him. Speaking of skinny, if he catches 40 passes this year, he’ll be the skinniest WR in the NFL to do so, by a lot (check out this interesting article https://fantasyindex.com/2017/04/24/ian-allan/skinny-wide-receivers). Will Fuller, Robby Anderson, and DeSean Jackson are his nearest comps on the skinniness scale, but they’re thicker and days faster than DeVonta (A more recent comparison is Calvin Ridley who is thicker still and runs much better routes, but who is slower than Smith). Still, I watch the tape and look at the stats and see someone who didn’t miss a start in three years, tries on every play and fights for every step from catch to tackle (which he inevitably does not break). He’s too skinny and will likely get injured in the NFL but I’d bet on his heart and effort. Remember, it’s speed and not skinny that keeps Will Fuller and DJax on the injury report (hamstrings).
Comparison: None. He’s a theoretical average of CeeDee Lamb and Calvin Ridley (both are better prospects than Smith), where speed and routes are about halfway between these two.
Ideal Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers across from Davonte (think a poor man’s Ridley/Julio, Fuller/Hopkins).
Rashod Bateman – WR – Minnesota
Age: 21, Junior
Weight: 209 lbs.
Guesstimated 40 time: 4.4
Summary: As a 19-year-old true freshman he made 51 catches giving him that early “break-out-age (BOA)” that is a great indicator of future success. The following year he really broke out (hurting now TBB WR Tyler Johnson’s stock in the process) to the tune of 60/1,219/11. In 2020 he opted out, then opted in, then back out when the team had a Covid scare. Attracting number one coverage, in five games played, he went over 100 yards three times and grabbed two scores. Bateman has soft hands, incredible consistency running a diverse route tree, and excellent focus through the point of the catch.
Comparison: Michael Thomas (unfair to anyone but similar style, hands/consistency, size/speed traits)
Ideal Landing Spot: New England Patriots
Kyle Pitts – TE – Florida
Age: 20, Junior
Weight: 240 lbs.
Guesstimated 40 time: 4.46
Summary: Often compared to Calvin Johnson, Calvin Johns he is not. Calvin: 4.35 40time, 235 lbs., 42” vertical, 139” broad jump, 2927 receiving yards 800+ as a freshman. Pitts: 4.46 40time, 245 lbs., 32” vertical, 1492 receiving yards 73 as a freshman. I get it – he’s uber athletic for a person of his size, but just not quite as uber athletic as Calvin Johnson was. He’s more in the Evan Engram tier of athlete coming out – which is great, and he’s much taller and a much more polished receiver than Engram was. He’s a huge target in the red zone, has great hands and a “my-ball” mentality – for me he jumps into not over the TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant tier.
Comparison: Darren Waller: height, weight, speed, routes, hands, and fluidity.
Ideal Landing Spot: Washington Football Team, nothing against Logan Thomas, but if they could lineup Terry, Samuel, and Pitts, I think this team is truly a QB away.