Each year fans get excited about new rookies coming into the NFL, but few rookies will have huge impacts in fantasy football. In standard fantasy football drafts, managers need to be smart and not get excited about all of the new rookies entering the league and focus on the ones who can make an impact. Here are rookies to target in fantasy football redraft leagues.
1. Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh let James Conner walk in free agency, which opened up a hole on the roster at running back. The Steelers also lost some talent on the offensive line, but they were able to add to both of those units in the 2021 NFL Draft. With their first pick, the Steelers selected running back Najee Harris out of Alabama.
Harris split time with other backs in his first two years at Alabama, but carried more of a full workload in his last two seasons. The Steelers are a team that likes to give the lion’s share of the work to one running back historically. Harris will reap the benefits of that, as he will likely get most of the work for the team. The offensive line is still concerning, but Harris has a chance to be a high-volume player who will get a lot of goal line touches.
2. Michael Carter, RB, New York Jets
The Jets lost both Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore from last year’s roster at running back. They didn’t do much in free agency to help and had Josh Adams and Tevin Coleman as notable running backs on the roster. In the fourth round of the draft, the Jets added to their backfield by drafting Michael Carter out of North Carolina.
Carter excelled as both a runner and a pass catcher at North Carolina. The offense will need to rely on the running game, as Zach Wilson will be taking over the offense as a rookie quarterback. He fits well with their zone-running scheme and should be able to be their lead running back.
2. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals let A.J. Green walk in free agency, which left them with two talented receivers in Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. They needed to add more to their receiving core, as well as their offensive line, this offseason to support Joe Burrow. In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bengals drafted Burrow’s college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase to add to the receiver room.
The last time Chase and Burrow played together, the duo connected for 84 receptions, 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Burrow specifically succeeded in finding Chase downfield, which is something he didn’t do well in his rookie season without Chase. There should be a lot of big plays for Burrow and Chase in 2021, especially given their talent and history together.
3. Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons went into the 2021 NFL Draft needing defensive help, and maybe a running back, but they decided to take a tight end with their first round pick. Pitts is a true unicorn at the position and was the highest drafted player at his position of all time. In his junior season at Florida, he had 43 receptions for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, proving his worth as a prospect.
Pitts will join a high-powered offense and will have to fight for targets. With Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley being players who produce a lot, Pitts will have to find his niche. He is a mismatch for opposing defenses and could be productive in the red zone. To go with that, Atlanta didn’t adequatley fix their defense, so the Falcons will have to throw a lot.
4. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
For the 2021 season, the Dolphins are turning over the reins of the offense to Tua Tagovailoa. They have given him some more weapons to utilize this offseason, including speedster Will Fuller. In the draft, they made sure that Tagovailoa would have all the receivers he needs by drafting Jaylen Waddle, who is a explosive slot receiver.
The knock on Tagovailoa from his rookie year was that he wouldn’t take chances on throwing up 50-50 balls and letting his receivers come down with it. In Waddle, Tagovailoa will have a wide receiver who is speedy and can create separation with his route-running, which is more to the quarterback’s liking. Waddle and Tagovailoa have a rapport that stems from their college days at Alabama, even if Waddle said he prefers Mac Jones in an NFL Network interview. The 2018 season is the best year to judge the duo on, as Tagovailoa was healthy the whole year. In a wide receiver room that featured many future pros, Waddle had 848 yards and seven touchdowns. The Alabama products could easily replicate their college success in the pros.
5. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have not had good receiver play over the last few years. They were not able to address this in free agency, but they did trade up two picks to draft Heisman Trophy-winner DeVonta Smith out of Alabama. He had 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns to secure the award and to push him up draft boards.
In Philadelphia he will join his former teammate Jalen Hurts, who is taking over the starting quarterback role, even if head coach Nick Sirianni won’t admit it yet. Hurts and Smith weren’t exactly a dynamic duo when they played together, but both have grown since the 2017 college football season. Because of the lack of good receivers on the Eagles’ roster, Smith figures to get a lot of the targets outside of the tight end group in Philadelphia.
6. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions
Detroit had a solid wide receiver room in 2020. Then Kenny Golladay signed with the Giants and Marvin Jones Jr. left for Jacksonville. While this should’ve left a huge need for the Lions to address early in the 2021 NFL Draft, but they waited until the fourth round. They drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown out of USC, who arguably was projected to go a little bit earlier.
Jared Goff is now the quarterback in Detroit. While T.J. Hockenson will get his fair share of targets, the wide receiver group is underwhelming. St. Brown will join Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Receivers who are drafted in the fourth round don’t always have a lot of opportunity, but St. Brown has the talent and opportunity to do some damage in 2021.
Other Rookies to Watch
Gerrid Doaks, RB, Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins had a plan to take a running back earlier in the draft, but ended up taking Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round. After a solid career at Cincinnati, Doaks could take over the Dolphins’ backfield, as Myles Gaskin is the projeced starter as of now.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars- After James Robinson had a great rookie season last year, Urban Meyer and co. decided to draft a running back in the first round this season. Although Meyer thinks Etienne will just be a third down back, that likely won’t hold up, as not many third down running backs are first round picks.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars- The first overall pick should be monitored and would be a player to use a late round pick on in redraft leagues. He will be supported by a solid receiving core and is going to be the day one starter, which is something that not all of the rookie quarterbacks can say. If he lives up to the hype, he could sneak his way up the quarterback rankings in 2021.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears- While the Bears say that Andy Dalton will start, Fields gives the Bears something they have been dying for: A franchise quarterback. They traded up to get him and his dual-threat abilities could make him a dynamic fantasy player even as a rookie. Watch to see if he starts, but either way using a late round pick on him and seeing how it all plays out would be a smart move.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens- Bateman was the fifth wide receiver selected, but has a lot of talent as a well-rounded receiver. Lamar Jackson has been criticized in the past for his passing ability, but now has a solid outside receiver to target. Keep an eye on if there is rapport between Jackson and Bateman in the preseason.
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