The excitement of an upcoming fantasy football season comes with renewed enthusiasm after an NFL Draft that saw a slew of rookies who can provide immediate impacts officially land on their new teams.
Whether you play in redraft, dynasty, or keeper leagues, rookies represent the hope of finding fresh playmakers who can provide big statistical boost. The most-hyped rookies will cost you a high draft pick, but many come at a lower-tier discount and qualify as “deep sleepers” or “lottery tickets.” You have little to lose by drafting one.
Some fantasy football managers get obsessed with drafting and adding rookies because they love upside. Other fantasy football managers like to avoid rookie running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks because they represent unknown quantities, instead preferring to stack rosters with “tried and true” veterans.
There’s no right answer on how many rookies a manager should target because the depth of the rookie talent pool varies across offensive skill positions in a given year. However, there’s no doubt the 2021 class is loaded.
Based on their current post-draft situations but also factoring in short-term fantasy potential and long-term value, here’s ranking the top 30 rookies for half-point PPR formats.
Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings 2021: Draft ’em
1. Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
Mike Tomlin doesn’t like committees. Pittsburgh had seen enough of James Conner’s diminishing durability and patchwork backfields post Le’Veon Bell. Harris was worth Pittsburgh’s first-round pick because of his ability to carry the load. He has the strength to finish drives as a power runner and offers well-rounded skills for the passing game. He will start and see feature-like touches. Draft him as an RB2.
2. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals
Joe Burrow loves throwing to Chase. Chase comes from the same explosive LSU offense that produced 2020 rookie fantasy stud Justin Jefferson and is the better all-around receiver. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are good complementary targets, but Chase profiles like a dominant No. 1, a big reason why the Bengals took him early over pass protection for Burrow. There will be a ton of passing volume, shown by Higgins and Boyd being viable WR3s last year. That bodes well for Chase following Jefferson’s immediate production in Minnesota. Draft him as a WR2.
3. Travis Etienne, RB, Jaguars
Etienne enters a crowed backfield with last year’s undrafted rookie stud James Robinson and well-traveled backup Carlos Hyde. But with a big mind-set change for the Urban Meyer era, the team should lean toward giving Etienne expanded touches in a more limited Alvin Kamara-like change-of-pace receiving role. Etienne’s first-round selection and experience catching passes and getting handoffs from Trevor Lawrence can’t be forgotten. Given what Robinson did on a bad team, a 20-touch Etienne would have great appeal. Draft him as an RB3.
4. Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
The Broncos traded up to get Williams, which is a bad sign for Melvin Gordon holding down the primary role with Phillip Lindsay gone. Williams is more of a pure power back than Najee Harris and needs work to be trusted in the passing game, but he can get there in a hurry. Williams has a good chance to take over the early-down and red-zone work sooner rather than later. Draft him as an RB3.
5. Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons
Rookie tight ends are typically afterthoughts in fantasy football, as even the most talented need a year before breaking out. Pitts is a different beast. He also steps into a spectacular situation where he will be playing off wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Pitts will be a juicy third passing option for Matt Ryan, racking up intermediate catches with some Travis Kelce-like big-play burst. He also should continue to be a force in the red zone. Draft him as a TE1.
6. Justin Fields, QB, Bears
Andy Dalton might have been labeled QB1, but it would be surprising if Fields, who Chicago traded up to take No. 11 overall, isn’t starting in Week 1. Fields has the baseline of rushing production to like in a rookie fantasy QB. He also inherits an offense with strong skill support, including David Montgomery, Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. The Bears also invested to improve offensive line and slot receiver. Heck, if Mitchell Trubisky can bring some streaming value like he did in the second half of last season, Fields has the higher floor and much higher ceiling. Draft him as a QB2
7. Michael Carter, RB, Jets
The Jets were bound to draft a running back, and the explosive Carter has a great opportunity to see a big role for Mike LaFleur, given the other options are Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams and La’Mical Perine. Carter’s speed and burst are a great fit for the zone blocking scheme, so watch out if the battles to be a key part of the committee goes in his favor. Draft him as a RB4.
8. Trey Sermon, RB, 49ers
Sermon got into the Day 2 conversation with his strong finish to the season with Ohio State. Kyle Shanahan likes to have multiple styles of backs available for the zone-blocking scheme, from which LaFleur came. Anyone who gets the touches for the 49ers has proved to be productive. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. got their turns last year, but each had trouble staying healthy. If Sermon gets his chances to show he’s a better big-back fit in San Francisco than Coleman, he should be set up to become a massive steal in the middle rounds. Draft him as an RB4.
9. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Dolphins
Miami has shaken up its wide receiver corps well between DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, taking a flyer on Will Fuller and drafting Waddle, too. There’s no doubt, between Fuller’s outside speed when healthy (and not suspended) and Waddle’s Tyreek Hill-like quickness for the slot, the Dolphins did it to take the reins off Tua Tagovailoa and get a lot more big pass plays. Waddle should show plenty of flash, helped by his Alabama-based chemistry with Tagovailoa, and it’s difficult to rely on Fuller being available opposite Parker. The talent is there to emerge as the 1B option to Parker. Draft him as a WR4.
10. DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles
Smith steps into a diverse receiving crowd with 2020 first-rounder Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, Johh Hightower, Quez Watkins, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, while Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz remain the 1-2 punch at tight end. But like Chase with Burrow and Waddle with Tagovailoa, Smith has the unique early advantage of chemistry with Jalen Hurts. Plus, he’s an exceptional route-runner with great hands who toggles between elite possession man and home-run hitter. Don’t be surprised if, like Waddle, Smith emerges as a reliable WR3 with a bullet. Draft him as a WR4.
11. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars
Lawrence will take some lumps given Jacksonville’s transition with offensive scheming and overall coaching. That said, he can easily emerge as a blend of last season’s Burrow and Justin Herbert to have surprise starting relevance, at least as a viable two-QB league and streaming option. The arm talent and the athleticism add up to a natural bump from Gardner Minshew. Draft him as an QB2.
12. Trey Lance, QB, 49ers
Lance would have a shot to be the high-end QB2 Fields is projected to be as a rookie if there was a better indication of him starting over Jimmy Garoppolo right away. For now, let’s cool the jets on this smart passer with a massive ceiling and a high floor because of dynamic running. San Francisco would have the protection and weaponry to support Lance in a potential O-ROY campaign if Shanahan gave him a chance to be the man early in the season. Draft him as an QB2.
13. Rashod Bateman, WR, Ravens
The Ravens don’t really have the true to-go guy at wideout for Lamar Jackson despite Marquise “Hollywood” Brown’s big-play flair. That prompted them to use another first-rounder on Bateman, who profiles as a steadier route-runner with the strong frame and hands to be more consistent all over the field, including the red zone. The Ravens also dratted Tylan Wallace and signed Sammy Watkins to go along with a few more younger receivers for a limited-volume passing game under Greg Roman. That caps Bateman for now as a penultimate fantasy pick. Draft him as a WR6.
14. Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Eagles
The Eagles were intent on grabbing a plug-and-play backup for Miles Sanders and settled on the under-drafted Gainwell. He has a good shot to displace Boston Scott as the true No. 2 and preferred handcuff. Draft him as an RB5.
15. Zach Wilson, QB, Jets
Wilson, like Lawrence, is guaranteed to have a starting job, and he steps into the superior offensive system with much-improved offensive line, running back, wide receiver, and tight end situations. Robert Saleh’s defense will spring some holes at first, leading to some garbage-time passing volume for Wilson. He also can pad some of his numbers with a little running. He’s a better deep option with more help and talent than Sam Darnold. Draft him as a QB3.
Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings 2021: Watch ’em
16. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions
The Lions have tried to piece together viable veteran wide receiver group for Jared Goff minus Kenny Gollday, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amenolda. St. Brown was their only drafted wideout, and coming out of the same program as JuJu Smith-Schuster, he can turn into a key slot target for Detroit’s new QB.
17. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Panthers
After losing Mike Davis in free agency, Carolina had to draft a new viable backup for Christian McCaffrey to clean up some committee options. Hubbard flashed big production at Oklahoma State and is a good bet to displace Rodney Smith and Reggie Bonafon as the preferred handcuff.
18. Javian Hawkins, RB, Falcons
Speaking of Davis, the Falcons didn’t draft a back behind him, but don’t sleep on the fact they signed Hawkins as an undrafted free agent. Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t a real backup and the other options are Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James. Hawkins, based on talent, should have been a Day 3 pick from Louisville.
19. Elijah Moore, WR, Jets
Wilson will be throwing to Corey Davis and Denzel Mims on the outside, and for now, still Jamison Crowder in the slot. Moore’s value is limited with the current situation, but it would improve with more big-play appeal if New York releases Crowder in favor of using the second-round pick more.
20. Amari Rodgers, WR, Packers
The Packers still have Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard behind Davante Adams, but neither of them could emerge as consistent producer wherever they were lined up for Aaron Rodgers last season. This Rodgers will have a diverse slot-based role at first, so the key is whether the other Rodgers trusts him to feed him enough as a rookie (assuming he’s still in Green Bay).
21. Rondale Moore, WR, Cardinals
This Moore is also an explosive undersized athlete and big play waiting to happen. The problem, even with Larry Fitzgerald mulling retirement, is this team has DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and Andy Isabella for Kyler Murray. It will be difficult tor Moore to stand out with his short stature, but watch out if Arizona works in his speed and quickness more at the expense of Kirk and Isabella.
22. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Patriots
The Patriots like to have pure power backs, and this Oklahoma smasher has a chance to carve out a key role in their committee with Damien Haris and James White. You can’t trust early-down backs in New England in general, but you also can’t totally ignore them, especially if Stevenson takes over the scoring role of Sony Michel.
23. Kadarius Toney, WR, Giants
The Giants took Toney after losing out on DeVonta Smith, and it wasn’t the best place for him in fantasy. Kenny Golladay is the new No. 1, Darius Slayton has some chemistry with Daniel Jones as the outside deep threat, and Sterling Shepard can settle back into the slot with Golden Tate gone. There’s also Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, and Saquon Barkley to catch passes. Unless there’s a chance for Toney, a nice-sized, big-play slot, to get into 11 personnel as a rookie, he should be off the fantasy radar.
24. Terrace Marshall Jr,. WR, Panthers
Marshall ended up in a curious spot because his size/speed profile from LSU suggests he will be an option to replace free agent-to-be Robby Anderson in 2022. There’s potential that the Panthers move D.J. Moore into the slot to take over where Curtis Samuel played, but they also drafted Samuel-like Shi Smith on Day 3. There’s also Christian McCaffrey back catching passes and tight end might be viable, too, with Dan Arnold and Tommy Tremble. However you look at it, Marshall has his work cut out to produce as a rookie.
25. Nico Collins, WR, Texans
The Texans now have five “C’s” in their wide receiver corps as Collins joins Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Keke Coutee, and Chris Conley. He gives Houston much-needed size and great catch radius at the position. Unfortunately, he must navigate through a crowd, too, and has an uncertain QB situation.
26. Tylan Wallace, WR, Ravens
Wallace was a good value pick for Baltimore, but he should be behind Hollywood Brown, Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins and is a more developmental target at first.
27. Brevin Jordan, TE, Texans
Jordan should have been drafted out of Miami on Day 2 but the Texans were smart to add him late as another unique athletic target on Day 3. It’s not the best place with the aforementioned wideout crowd and QB uncertainty, but the talent is there to help as an intermediate receiver. Wait for Year 2.
28. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers
The Steelers added Freiermuth, the well-round blocker and receiver, to replace Vance McDonald as more of an-line option to pair with more pure receiving Eric Ebron. His biggest rookie value might be helping Harris in the running game, however. Beyond Ebron, Pittsburgh has few vacated targets as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool remain the wideout centerpieces for returning Ben Roethlisbeger, while Harris also will get considerable backfield catches.
29. Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers
If Sermon might be the new Coleman for Kyle Shanahan, logic would say the sixth-rounder Mitchell profiles like the new Matt Breida. It’s the 49ers’ running game, so you can’t sleep on any healthy young body involved with it.
30. Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Jones has a fair chance to start for Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels over bridge Cam Newton, but should that happen, without running ability on a defense/running-oriented offense where the tight ends (Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith) seem more reliable than the wide receiver mix, Jones is set up for a low floor, a far cry from what might have been with the 49ers.