2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

by Cale Clinton
2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

Welcome back for a look at my 2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies article. Every year, the one edge that we fantasy football owners always try to sniff out is the rookie class. Usually, this is the topic we have the least information on. After all, we don't have a sense of how these young prospects will transfer to the pros. However, there are some things we can do to help us.

Outside of pre-draft scouting reports, where these players ended up is extremely important.

Knowing the personnel around a rookie is crucial to understanding who he is competing with for touches or who will be getting him the ball.

Understanding the scheme a player is in will also significantly change the perception of a given player.

While we cannot be 100% certain of how things will shake out for a given player, we can at least begin to make some educated guesses.

2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

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2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies Quarterbacks

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Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

I mean, duh.

Yes. Trevor Lawrence is the #1 overall pick, revered by everyone as the second coming of some ancient football diety. Maybe I should have gotten creative and picked one of the other four quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round. Before you accuse me of stating the obvious, hear me out.
Trevor Lawrence is one of just two rookies guaranteed for a starting job. Mac Jones is currently in a camp battle with Cam Newton, and both Trey Lance and Justin Fields have essentially been ruled out as Week 1 starters. Lawrence and New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson are the only two guaranteed starting gigs. In all honesty, I think Lawrence has the better starting cast to begin his career.

Jacksonville is very solid. The running back room, made up of Travis Etienne, James Robinson, and Carlos Hyde, is extremely deep and has a wide range of skill sets. While the receivers room lacks a top name, a core of DJ Chark, Marvin Jones Jr., Lavishka Shenault, and Phillip Dorsett is nothing to turn your nose up at. Also, I'm sure many of you have seen the touchdown between Lawrence and quarterback-turned-tight-end Tim Tebow. I understand that defenders are heavily disadvantaged during the non-contact portions of camp, but if Lawrence is getting touchdowns out of Tim freakin' Tebow, then he can do it with anyone.

Trevor Lawrence will also have the entire coaching staff putting him in a position to succeed. As I discussed in my article on how coaching changes will affect fantasy football, Urban Meyer offenses are heavily reliant on their quarterback. His assistants, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, also run offenses that fluctuate in EPA/play depending on how good the quarterback is. The creativity that these three minds can generate is second-to-none. A lot of that creativity will benefit Trevor Lawrence in the stat column. This team may not be extremely competitive with the number of holes on its defense, but this offense will look night and day compared to last year.

Fantasy Football ADP for Trevor Lawrence

Fantasy Football Calculator currently lists Lawrence as QB14 with an ADP of 9.12 in 12-Team Half-Point PPR leagues. Baker Mayfield is probably the only quarterback below Lawrence that I would consider drafting ahead of him. However, Lawrence does have a ceiling that would propel him into that fantasy QB1 tier.

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers

Now if you REALLY want to take a gamble on your quarterback selection, Trey Lance is your man.

The San Francisco 49ers were ravaged by injuries last year. Despite their poor performance, this was a team that was one half away from the Super Bowl just a year prior. The offensive line is strong. The 49ers have depth at the receiver and running back positions. The offense's missing piece since 2019 has been quarterback. In April, the 49ers began the process of rectifying that issue by drafting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.

Thus far, the only roadblock between Trey Lance and a starting job is Jimmy Garoppolo. It's not a matter of if Lance will overtake Jimmy G this season, but when he will.

While Kyle Shanahan is adamant that Garoppolo will start Week 1, I wouldn't be so sure. First off, it would cost San Francisco next to nothing to cut Garoppolo. OverTheCap notes San Francisco would incur a mere $1.4 million cap hit by cutting Garoppolo after June 1. This would save San Francisco $25 million on the cap. That kind of money opens up a lot of flexibility in the middle of the season to acquire players via trade.

While Shanahan trusts Garoppolo and will not declare a quarterback battle between him and Lance, Lance might be forcing the issue.

Lance's performance in camp has been blowing beat reporters away. There was a lot of skepticism about drafting Lance third overall in this past draft. While he fits Shanahan's run scheme to a T, there were questions regarding Lance's passing ability. Through camp, however, that issue has yet to arise. The spiral isn't always crisp, but what Trey Lance is doing through the air proves he has what it takes to start right out the gate. San Francisco and Lance mesh perfectly together offensively. Adding this passing element blows the conversation wide open.

Fantasy Football ADP for Trey Lance

Fantasy Football Calculator lists Lance as QB20 in a 12-team Half PPR league. With an ADP as low as his, I would easily wager a late-round pick on stashing Lance to see if he starts. If Lance starts, he has a chance to be a top-ten scoring quarterback in fantasy football. I would even draft Lance as high as the 11th round. As more reports come out of 49ers camp, Lance's stock will only rise.

2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies Running Backs

Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos

When you get players that can do THIS...

...he's bound to get some love from me.

In all seriousness, there are few rookie backs in a position to succeed the way Javonte Williams is. Denver's offense (sans quarterback) is loaded. The receiving core does enough field-stretching to force defenders out of the box. The Broncos have a better-than-average offensive line. Despite splitting time with Melvin Gordon, Williams has a wide enough skillset to either overtake Gordon as RB1 or create offense in the passing game and as a secondary back.

However, I like Williams the most for his ADP. Javonte Williams is currently listed at RB28 on Fantasy Football Calculator's 12-team Half-PPR ADP Calculator. His ADP of 6.01 slots Williams a half-round behind Travis Etienne and nearly four rounds behind Najee Harris. Najee Harris is hitting Clyde Edwards-Helaire levels of hype for me, which are never sustainable. Last year, multiple media pundits believed Edwards-Helaire would be an RB1 solely because he was on Kansas City. He finished as RB22 according to Fantasy Pros Half-PPR data from 2020. Solid rookie season? Of course, but first-round pick-worthy? No. Harris is on that same trajectory in my mind. At this point, I am too concerned with the quality of the Steelers offensive line to take him as a running back to start week in and week out.

Fantasy Football ADP for Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams

As for the other top-three rookies, I would go Williams over Etienne every time just based solely on opportunity. Etienne has taken snaps at receiver during minicamp in order to improve his weak hands. While he will certainly find a way to get his touches, splitting carries between James Robinson and Carlos Hyde is going to take opportunities away no matter how you slice it. Williams has one less mouth to feed and is already a very competent pass-catcher.

Trey Sermon, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Back to San Francisco, Trey Lance isn't the only rookie named Trey impressing at camp. Trey Sermon has been getting significant first-team reps throughout training camp. He has certainly been impressing while doing so.

While Sermon may have been the fourth running back off the board, he certainly has what it takes to be the top prospect. The speed, vision, and power he possesses would make for an ideal running back prospect on its own. Adding him into one of the most potent run games in the NFL puts him in another league entirely.

Like the other Trey on the roster, head coach Kyle Shanahan continues to play coy about Sermon's involvement. Despite the fact that Sermon is taking first-team reps, Shanahan claims that he is simply trying to lighten the load on Raheem Mostert. In fact, Trey Sermon's entire role on offense will be to "tenderize the defense" before Mostert enters the game.

To you, that may sound like RB2 status. To me, that sounds like ample opportunity.

Raheem Mostert is 29 years old. He has played 16 games in a season just once in his career; he appeared in more than 10 games just three times in his six years in the league. Sermon is young and entering the league with fresh legs, taking just 116 rushing attempts his senior year. If Shanahan's plan is to start with Sermon, he may just stick with the hot hand if Sermon performs well enough.

Fantasy Football ADP for <a rel=Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon" />

Sermon's ADP has jumped nearly two rounds in the last month, while Mostert is on a slow but steady decline. Mostert is currently Fantasy Football Calculator's RB25, while Sermon is RB39. Wait those three extra rounds and take a risk on Trey Sermon. Worst-case scenario, you have a fantastic run offense's RB2 who will see ample opportunity. Best-case scenario, you just drafted a top-15 fantasy running back in the eighth or ninth round.

2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies Wide Receivers

Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets

I've already gushed about what I believe how important I believe Elijah Moore will be to this Jets team. During my Fantasy Football Coaching Changes & Effects article, I likened Moore's rookie season to Deebo Samuel's rookie season. If Moore's early showings from camp are any indication, I think Jets fans are in for a fun season.

Moore's speed, separation ability, and hands have all turned heads during camp. Corey Davis doesn't see Moore as a rookie, but as a leader on the field. Head coach Robert Saleh thinks he is already ahead of the game. The top highlights from Jets camp have all been deep-bomb connections between Zach Wilson and Moore. The former Ole Miss receiver may not have secured a starting role yet, but he is well on his way to a starting role and eventual stardom.

Fantasy Football ADP for Elijah Moore, <a rel=Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder" />

Moore has already surpassed Jamison Crowder in ADP, and Corey Davis is within reach. Even still, the current listing of Moore at WR56 makes him a steal. Davis will be drawing every team's top corner. Jamison Crowder is relegated to the slot, a position that is surprisingly crowded on the Jets roster. Moore, who will have the opportunity to be the second wide receiver lined up on the outside, will not only be drawing weaker assignments but also have the freedom to be used as a gadget guy.

The amount of trickery that San Francisco incorporates into their offense is staggering. I am not sure how much Robert Saleh and Matt LaFleur intend on incorporating in their first season, but Moore has the skillset to execute those kinds of plays.

Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens

I first touched on Rashod Bateman's impact on Baltimore's offense in my piece on 2021 NFL Draft Winners. This is the year that the Baltimore Ravens need to develop some sort of passing offense. They were the only team in the NFL to run the ball more often than they passed.

The thing is, they weren't all that bad at passing. Ben Baldwin's RBSDM lists Baltimore's passing offense as halfway decent. The 2020 Ravens finished 18th in Dropback EPA/Play. Lamar Jackson finished 13th among quarterbacks in EPA/Play, 16th in CPOE, and 8th in Air Yards.

With a limited receiving core, the Ravens finished near league-average in passing efficiency, while Lamar performed respectably and continued to take shots downfield. The notion that Lamar Jackson is a run-only quarterback with limited passing ability is highly overblown. While that may have been true his rookie season, Lamar Jackson has developed into a fine passer over his first three seasons. He just hasn't had the talent around him that raises his game up.

Now, the Ravens have a much deeper wide receiver room. Joining Marquise "Hollywood" Brown are Sammy Watkins, Tylan Wallace, and the man of the hour, Rashod Bateman.

Yes, I know this matchup looks different the second these two get pads on and Marlon Humphrey is allowed to jam Bateman at the line. However, give credit where credit is due. That was damn impressive.

Rashod Bateman is exactly what this Baltimore Ravens team needed. An all-around talent, Bateman has what it takes to be the first receiver on a given team. His presence makes Hollywood Brown's job easier by drawing the harder assignment, and Baltimore immediately becomes a more dynamic passing offense. Lamar's efficiency numbers go up solely from the presence of more receiving talent.

Fantasy Football ADP for Rashod Bateman, <a rel=Marquise Brown" />

Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman is determined to get Baltimore throwing the ball more. The way you make that a reality is by feeding Rashod Bateman.

2021 Rookie Tight Ends

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons

This one is about as big of a no-brainer as putting Trevor Lawrence on this list.

Yes, Kyle Pitts is the top tight end in this rookie class. That isn't up for debate. I join a chorus of analysts and talking heads who believe Pitts will thrive right out of the gate. However, this is a list of the rookies who will most impact fantasy football.

Do you know how Kyle Pitts is going to impact fantasy football? By being a top-five fantasy tight end as a rookie.

Moving on from Falcons legend Julio Jones only further solidified the notion that this offense will run almost exclusively through Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley. Pitts has already flashed his positional versatility in camp, lining up out wide, in the slot, in-line, and being put into motion frequently.

Pitts is also built like a mad scientist's experiment for a perfect tight end. It makes sense why everyone labeled him a "unicorn" heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. There is no one in the league with his size, strength, speed, and agility. He is a matchup nightmare for defenses.

The Falcons' top five leaders in targets last year were Calvin Ridley (143), Russell Gage (109), Hayden Hurst (88), Julio Jones (68), and Todd Gurley (35). Neither Jones nor Gurley are currently on Atlanta's roster and Hayden Hurst will now be back-up to Pitts. New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith will do everything in his power to ensure those available targets go to Kyle Pitts. Per Sharp Football Stats, the 2020 Tennessee Titans ran 48% of their pass plays out of 11 personnel and 31% out of 12 personnel. On 79% of Tennessee's pass plays in 2020, a tight end was on the field. Jonnu Smith finished third on the team in targets, and Kyle Pitts is already a better receiving tight end than Smith.

2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

Source: Stat Muse

Per Stat Muse, the record for targets in a season by a rookie tight end is held by Jeremy Shockey with 127 targets. I think Kyle Pitts' floor this season is cracking the top five, surpassing Dustin Keller's mark of 78. His ceiling is joining Shockey and Evan Engram as the only three tight ends with 100 targets in their rookie season.


If you enjoyed this 2021 Fantasy Football Impact Rookies article, be sure to check out more 2021 Fantasy Football content from our great team of writers!

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