In a pass-heavy modern-day NFL, teams are on the hunt to find the next Julio Jones. Players like Jones are at times impossible to contain, which creates sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators. While they may not be the same caliber as Julio Jones, the list of top WR prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft demonstrates the talent to be premier players at the next level, and teams will be on the lookout for their top WR fits.
The 2021 WR draft class as a whole
Coming off the heels of a historic 2020 wide receiver class featuring the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, CeeDee Lamb, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Justin Jefferson, the 2021 class might be even better. In fact, as it stands today, it looks like up to six wide receivers could hear their name called on Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. This would tie the amount we saw selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The first receiver to come off the board in 2020 was Henry Ruggs III, who went to the Las Vegas Raiders with the 11th pick. What makes the 2021 class so special is that we might see three wide receiver prospects selected in the top 10 picks.
Let’s take a dive into the best fits for the top 2021 WR draft prospects.
Best fits for the top three WR NFL draft prospects
1. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (5’10”, 183 pounds)
Best Fit: Miami Dolphins
The current Miami Dolphins receiving corps ranks dead last when it comes to creating separation. Miami’s primary goal heading into the offseason should be adding a dynamic weapon for franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Overall, the Miami Dolphins lack speed on the offensive side of the ball, and Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle brings that in spades.
Waddle is one of the most electrifying players in all of college football. He possesses game-breaking speed, being rumored to run the forty-yard dash in the range of 4.37. He presents the ability to churn yards after the catch in chunks and is incredibly elusive in the open field. To say he is a big-play wide receiver would be quite the understatement. His 19.1 yards per reception during his collegiate career would be solid evidence supporting that claim.
Nick Farabaugh agrees that Waddle would be one of the top WR fits for Miami, stating: “The Miami Dolphins have to be an attractive fit for both sides of this equation. Not only would Waddle be reunited with his former quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but the one thing that Miami is really missing in that offense is a burner. They need speed out wide with the size of DeVante Parker already in that receiving room. With what they are trying to build in South Beach, Waddle immediately makes that offense harder to defend, even for New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.”
Instantly, Waddle would become the Miami Dolphins’ most dangerous threat on the offensive side of the ball. The trio of Waddle, DeVante Parker, and Mike Gesicki gives Tagovailoa a legitimate group of weapons at his disposal. The Dolphins land the best WR prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
2. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (6’1″, 200 pounds)
Best Fit: Los Angeles Chargers
Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has enjoyed a sensational season. He is currently the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Adding another significant pass-catcher to Herbert’s arsenal will do nothing but help his trajectory.
Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 college football season. The last time we saw him play was LSU’s historic 2019 season, where he hauled in 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns while averaging a staggering 21.2 yards per reception. He displays an outstanding catch radius, paired with underrated speed and strong mitts. Chase excels at making the tough catch in traffic. His savviness as a route runner allows him to create separation with ease. He is a nuanced mover, which allows him to thrive in the intermediate passing game.
In my most recent 7-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, I projected the Chargers to select Chase, stating: “In a perfect world, there would be an upper-echelon offensive line prospect who could come in and protect Justin Herbert. The Chargers’ woeful offensive line has been the team’s Achilles heel for quite some time. Taking an offensive lineman not named Penei Sewell this high would be too rich for me, so why not provide Herbert with a game-changing wide receiver? The combination of Keenan Allen and Ja’Marr Chase would be an absolutely lethal combo for the Chargers’ dynamic signal-caller.”
3. DeVonta Smith, Alabama (6’1″, 175 pounds)
Best Fit: Detroit Lions
Both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are unrestricted free agents at season’s end, so wide receiver moves to the top of the Lions’ offseason wish list. Alabama’s DeVonta Smith is a silky-smooth route runner, who is insanely talented after the catch. His tool belt consisting of outstanding body control, brilliant quickness, and strong hands make him an elite receiver prospect. He currently ranks first in all of college football with 1,327 receiving yards for the 2020 season. In the draft community, he draws comparisons to Indianapolis Colts’ Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison.
In Tony Pauline’s updated big board, he ranks Smith as the 5th overall prospect, exclaiming: “DeVonta Smith is a sturdier version of Jerry Jeudy and a better receiver than Henry Ruggs III. He’s a surehanded, consistent wideout with the ability to break plays wide open. In the end, I think Smith ends up going in the top half of the first round like Jeudy in 2019.”
Best landing spots for WR prospects 4-6
4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (6’2″, 210 pounds)
Best Fit: Baltimore Ravens
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has been a major disappointment in Charm City. Outside of his talent, the cupboard is bare at wide receiver for the Ravens. For their offense to take the next step, they must upgrade the pass-catchers on the roster for Lamar Jackson. The Ravens land one of the best WR prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft by selecting Bateman.
On tape, Rashod Bateman sends serious Keenan Allen vibes. Bateman is a route-running wizard, who wins at the catch point and has spectacular ball skills. He brings size to the position that the Ravens currently lack. Above all, his ability to attack the football will fit the “Play like a Raven” mantra that Baltimore preaches. Bateman’s physical brand of football screams Baltimore Ravens, making him one of their top WR fits.
5. Rondale Moore, Purdue (5’9″, 180 pounds)
Best Fit: Green Bay Packers
When the Packers were on the clock in the 2020 NFL Draft, we all thought the selection was going to be a receiver to help Aaron Rodgers. Instead, the Packers selected Utah State’s Jordan Love, who was chosen to be Rodgers’ eventual replacement. This move lit a fire under Rodgers, who is currently playing at an MVP level.
This year, the Packers need to get it right and add some electricity to their passing attack. Injuries have plagued Purdue’s Rondale Moore over the last two seasons, but when healthy, he is one of the most dynamic receiving threats in the nation. He has legit 4.33 speed, and what he lacks in stature, he makes up for with his relentless work ethic and a chip on his shoulder. Moore might just be the best athlete of any 2021 wide receiver prospect.
The last time we saw Moore healthy for an entire season was in 2018 for his freshman season. In that season, he hauled in 114 catches for 1,258 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Due to his speed and athleticism, Moore’s draft stock will soar when next April approaches.
6. Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU (6’3″, 200 pounds)
Best Fit: Washington Football Team
The question remains when it comes to just who will be the Washington Football Team’s starting quarterback in 2021. The team has outplayed its expectations heading into this season. Thus, they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to landing one of the 2021 NFL Draft’s top quarterback prospects. Rather than force their need for a quarterback, it would be wise for Washington to find one of their top WR fits to complement Terry McLaurin.
LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. has taken advantage of his teammate Ja’Marr Chase’s decision to opt out of the 2020 college football season by showcasing his ability to be a No. 1 receiver. Marshall’s combination of size and speed makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Out of all the top WR prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Marshall Jr. reigns supreme when it comes to winning the contested catch. Above all, Marshall Jr. is a touchdown machine, scoring 23 times in 28 collegiate games.
When Washington does finally find their quarterback of the future, the combination of Terry McLaurin and Terrace Marshall Jr. will serve them well.