No subset of players comes with more question marks -- or more upside -- than NFL rookies.
With no experience in a highly competitive league, first-year skill players are a gamble. But in fantasy football, those gambles often pay off. Rookies Jonathan Taylor and James Robinson were the fourth- and ninth-best running backs in all of fantasy football last season, respectively. Justin Jefferson ranked seventh in fantasy points among all wide receivers in 2020, while quarterback Justin Herbert also landed in the top 10 at his position (ninth).
NFL coaches aren't afraid to give heavy workloads to their top draft picks, and this year should be no different: Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be given the keys to their offenses, while Trey Lance and Justin Fields may not be far behind. Najee Harris and Kyle Pitts both are expected to start at their respective positions in Year 1.
If you're in a dynasty league where you can keep players from previous seasons, talented rookies are valuable commodities. So, which first-year players are set to make the most impact in 2021?
Here are our rankings of the top 10 rookies in fantasy football this season.
1. Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
From Le'Veon Bell to James Conner, the Steelers have a history of featuring young workhorse backs. Harris appears next in line. The Alabama product saw seven first-half touches in Pittsburgh's preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys and is the clear No. 1 back ahead of Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels. The Steelers' new-look offensive line needs to prove some skeptics wrong, but Harris' volume should be high in one of the NFL's better offenses.
Projected round: Second
2. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals didn't use the No. 5 pick on Joe Burrow's former LSU teammate to take things slow. Chase has been putting in extra work after every training camp practice and easily could leapfrog Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins as Cincinnati's No. 1 wide receiver by midseason. He may not produce right out of the gate, but as long as Burrow stays healthy, Chase could be a late-season fantasy weapon.
Projected round: Sixth
3. Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
The highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, Pitts is a matchup nightmare who should feature heavily in the Falcons' passing game under new head coach Arthur Smith, whose tight end duo of Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser combined for 80 catches, 835 yards and nine touchdowns in Tennessee last season. With Julio Jones out of the picture, Pitts should be Matt Ryan's third target behind Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage while being utilized in a receiver-type role.
Projected round: Seventh
4. Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
There's a reason the Broncos traded up in the second round to draft Williams. Melvin Gordon sits atop the depth chart but has missed nine games total over the last three seasons.
Unless Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater become elite passers overnight, Denver should run plenty, and Williams is well-positioned to see plenty of touches.
Projected round: Ninth
5. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Smith may miss all of the preseason due to a sprained MCL, but as NBC Sports Philadelphia's Adam Hermann observed, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was "clearly the best wide receiver" at Eagles training camp prior to his injury. Smith easily could be the No. 1 option on Philly's depleted receiving corps, so as long as Jalen Hurts airs it out enough, the speedy wideout could develop into a nice WR3 or even WR2.
Projected round: Ninth
6. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Can Lawrence be this year's Justin Herbert? He doesn't have the weapons Herbert had in Los Angeles last season, but Lawrence is billed as a generational talent who can lead the Jaguars back to relevance. While there may be growing pains under new head coach Urban Meyer, Lawrence should get to air it out and has top-10 QB potential.
Projected round: 14th
7. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
Waddle has the talent and physical traits to outplay his former Crimson Tide teammate in Smith. His ankle injury adds some level of risk, though, and he'll have more competition for targets from DeVante Parker, Will Fuller V and Mike Gesicki. That said, there's WR3 potential here.
Projected round: 11th
8. Michael Carter, RB, New York Jets
Carter has the physical tools to thrive in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur's zone-blocking run scheme, and he looks like the leader of New York's running back trio ahead of Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson. The question is whether the Jets' young offensive line can open up enough holes, and whether the Jets can be competitive enough to feature the running game consistently.
Projected round: Eighth
9. Trey Sermon, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Drafting Sermon may require patience: The presence of Raheem Mostert and Wayne Gallman means Kyle Shanahan could ease the rookie into action. But the 49ers' third-round pick out of Ohio State has early-down-back upside if he can stay healthy, and San Francisco's offense should move the ball this season with either Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo under center. He should be off the board by the 10th round in keeper leagues.
Projected round: Ninth
10. Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears
Fields should be available in the later rounds considering the Bears technically have Andy Dalton listed as the starter (for now). But if Fields flashes in the preseason and Dalton is mediocre out of the gate -- both very real possibilities -- then the Ohio State product should have the starting job in short order. He's a potential QB1 at a QB2 price.
Projected round: 18th
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