Rookie wide receivers seem to be making bigger impacts in the NFL, and that trend should continue with the talented crop of WR prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. What makes this year’s top receivers so intriguing is several either didn’t play (Ja’Marr Chase) or played limited games due to injuries or opt-outs in 2020 (Jaylen Waddle, Rondale Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., Rashod Bateman). This could lead to some surprises as early as the first round, with sleepers being available as late as the third.
Eight wide receivers went in the first 34 picks of the 2020 draft, and it’s likely this will remain a coveted position in 2021. There might not quite as many wideouts selected as early this year, but with three top-15 studs and several more pass-catchers with first-round talent, you can bet these elite athletes will tempt plenty of teams.
With that in mind, Sporting News takes a closer look at our top-10 WRs for the 2021 NFL Draft.
NFL Draft 2021 wide receiver rankings
1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Chase opted out of the 2020 season, but he left no doubt about his abilities in ’19 when he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 TDs. Chase isn’t a monster specimen (a little over 6-feet, 201 pounds), but he’s an elite athlete who can run every route and make every catch. He dazzled at his pro day with a 4.38 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical jump, and 11-foot broad jump. He’s a sure-fire top-10 pick who has “instant star” written all over him.
2. DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner was particularly electric in the postseason, catching 34 passes for 529 yards and eight TDs in the SEC Championship game and two College Football Playoff games. His 12-catch, 215-yard, three-TD performance against Ohio State is all the more impressive when you factor in that he barely played in the second half because of a finger injury. There’s no denying Smith’s all-around talent and ability as a receiver, but some have expressed concern over his slight frame (6-0, 170 pounds). Durability and the ability to get open against more physical corners in the NFL are worries, but given Smith’s speed and route-running skills, he figures to be a top-15 pick with as much upside as any receiver in this draft.
3. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
An ankle injury ended Waddle’s regular season after just four games, but he managed to return for the National Championship. The speedster was putting up massive numbers before his injury (25 catches, 557 yards, three TDs). Waddle reportedly ran a 4.37 40-yard dash in high school, so even though he doesn’t have great size (5-10, 180 pounds), he can fly past defensive backs, similar to former teammate and ’19 first-round pick, Henry Ruggs III. Some like Waddle over Smith, while others have him a little lower. Either way, he figures to be a top-15 pick. He could be inconsistent (like Ruggs) early in his career, but the potential is there for big numbers.
4. Kadarius Toney, Florida
Toney was used all over the field last season, catching 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 TDs and adding another 161 yards and a score on 19 carries. He also returned both kicks and punts, where he averaged 22.1 yards per kickoff return and 12.6 yards per punt return. Toney is the type of all-around athlete NFL teams love, so despite measuring at just under 6-feet and 193 pounds, Toney seems like a no-doubt first-round pick. His 4.39 40 time only adds to his upside.
5. Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
Marshall opted out late in the 2020 season and wound up playing just seven games, but he averaged over 100 yards per contest and hauled in 10 touchdowns. The nearly 6-3, 205-pound receiver has good size and great speed (4.38 40-yard dash), and he had no problem working in a complementary role in ’19 (671 yards, 13 TDs) or a featured role in ’20. Marshall likely has first-round talent, but he could fall to the second round and be a real steal for whoever gets him. Either way, he profiles as a relatively “safe,” productive pick.
6. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Bateman played just five games in 2020 before opting out, and while his performance wasn’t quite as good as his breakout ’19, he still averaged over seven catches and 94.4 yards per game. Bateman’s pro day wasn’t overly impressive, save for his 4.39 40-yard dash time. That alone puts him in the second-round discussion. With adequate size (just over 6-feet, 190 pounds), solid route-running ability, and dependable hands, Bateman will likely go in the second or early third round, and he has plenty of upside if he lands with the right team.
7. Rondale Moore, Purdue
Moore is one of the most interesting WR prospects in this year’s draft class. He starred as a freshman, catching 114 passes for 1,258 yards and 12 TDs in addition to running 21 times for 213 yards and two TDs, but a leg injury in 2019 and knee/hamstring injuries in ’20 limited him to just seven games as a sophomore and junior (64 receptions, 657 yards, two TDs; nine rushes, 35 yards, TD). Moore is also relatively diminutive for a wide receiver at 5-7, 180 pounds, but he reportedly ran a blazing 4.29 40 and had a 42.5-inch vertical. Put it all together and you have an undersized, injury-prone, elite athlete who can run, catch, and return kicks. What’s that worth in the draft? Second-round pick? Third-round? It’s hard to say, but chances are someone will pull the trigger on Moore early and bank on being able to keep him healthy and utilizing him in creative ways.
8. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
St. Brown had an up-and-down career at USC, never quite breaking out as expected but always providing solid, steady production. He set a career high with seven TDs last season despite playing just six games, but his yards per catch was a career-low 11.7. At nearly 6-feet, 197 pounds, St. Brown’s size doesn’t stand out, and his 4.51 40 time is pretty average. However, he has good hands when locked in and impressive strength, and his overall potential should see him drafted in the first three rounds.
9. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Wallace broke out as a sophomore at Oklahoma State (86 catches, 1,491 yards, 12 TDs) and continued to post solid numbers despite tearing his ACL in 2019, catching 112 passes for 1,825 yards and 14 scores in 19 games over his final two seasons. At 5-11, 193 pounds, Wallace lacks elite size, but he reportedly ran a 4.39 40-yard dash during a pro day for his training company. That speed, coupled with his consistent production, should help Wallace land in the second or third round, where he’ll likely be a part-time player this year but show glimpses of major upside.
10. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
Moore was dominant during his eight-game junior season at Ole Miss, catching 86 passes for 1,193 yards and eight TDs. If that wasn’t enough reason to be intrigued by him, he also ran a 4.32 40-yard dash and a 6.65 three-cone shuttle, which is the fastest of any wide receiver since 2018. Clearly, the speed and quickness is elite, but Moore’s size (5-9, 178 pounds) could be an issue. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his name called in the second round, and he’s the type of player who could star in a multi-faceted role if he’s selected by the right team.