IDEAL ROOKIE LANDING SPOTS: PASS CATCHERS
Wide receivers and tight ends can be the most difficult positions to evaluate for fantasy football. How much of the production is based on offensive scheme, the QB, or even just the supporting cast of other skill players? This rookie class is no different, as many scouts believe that in other years, 3-4 of these players would have a right to claim the top pass catcher spot. In order to avoid the endless rabbit hole of speculation that can come with trying to determine the value a rookie will present to a team even before the draft has begun, this article will look at determining the best landing spot for each player rather than analyzing the prospect’s ceilings and what to expect long-term. This list of players is based on a combination of rankings by multiple scouting experts in order to determine the five best prospects participating in next month’s draft. On top of the expert rankings, this list will take into consideration the teams who need a pass catcher. The pass catchers are ordered by where they are expected to be drafted and not necessarily by their fantasy outlook or overall talent, even though those aspects will be discussed. With all the rules and caveats out of the way, let’s get to the list.
Kyle Pitts- Atlanta Falcons
Off the top, I feel compelled to say the Falcons have recently been rumored to be attempting to trade down in the draft with a team that is searching for a QB. If the Falcons are unsuccessful in doing so, however, the ideal selection would be Kyle Pitts, the tight end out of Florida. Pitts is the whole reason that this article is titled as pass catchers and not wide receivers because he is an elite talent as a pass catcher. Many scouts believe that if he lined up outside as a WR, he would be the top WR prospect. The Falcons already have two elite WRs with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, so adding Pitts would allow them to take full advantage of Matt Ryan’s final contract years. Pitts could come in and perform as a top 5 TE from day 1; he’s just that good, plain and simple. It would be shocking to see Pitts fall any further than pick 9 in the draft, and the Falcons are the perfect team in that range to take full advantage of his skill set.
Ja’Marr Chase- Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase had an absolutely historic 2019 season at LSU, tallying 84 receptions, 1,780 receiving yards and 20 TDs. He also did this as a true sophomore at 19 years old. The production is certainly there, and while it is a limited sample size as a result of him opting out of the 2020 season, the talent on tape is nothing to scoff at. The Bengals are looking to get Joe Burrow some protection after his season ending ACL injury last year, and although it may make more sense to draft an offensive lineman, the idea of pairing him up with his former LSU teammate is an incredibly likable move. We saw the results this duo produced in college and once you add in the talent of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, the Bengals have a powerful, young wide receiver core. Chase has all the physical attributes that make him a great #1 WR at the next level, minus the elite speed. His body type is built to win off the line of scrimmage and dominate at the catch point, which can make up for his lack of blazing speed. This is the perfect fit for a team that struggled to get the ball downfield and would give Burrow options to get the ball out of his hands quicker and more efficiently.
Jaylen Waddle- Miami Dolphins
Jaylen Waddle has been outstanding when he has been on the field. The issue for him is that this past season, when he was finally one of the top options, he couldn’t stay healthy. It’s understandable to know why he didn’t have high snap totals his first two seasons with him competing for looks with other 1st round picks such as Jerry Juedy, Henry Ruggs III, soon to be 1st rounder Devonta Smith and Irv Smith Jr., a 2nd round TE. What Waddle did show, however, was his explosive playmaking ability all over the field. The majority of his work came in the slot, which is why he is the perfect selection for the Miami Dolphins. With DeVante Parker and Will Fuller V, Waddle would be the perfect selection to move into the slot and produce at a high level. He has the ability to line up outside if needed, but he is best suited towards the center of the field. He would also get the chance to reunite with Tua Tagovialoa and provide some comfort with familiarity. Waddle would give the Dolphins that extra playmaking threat and keep defenses guessing where he might line up in formations. This is a perfect fit for both the Dolphins and Jaylen Waddle.
Devonta Smith- Detroit Lions
There is no way to start off talking about Devonta Smith other than saying that he had the greatest single-season college WR performance last year, winning both the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship at Alabama. Despite all this, there are concerns about his frame and how it translates to the pros, especially since he plays outside and not in the slot. He is listed at 6’ 1” and 175 pounds, a good height for his position but lighter than any other top-5 WRs. Most scouts don’t believe this will have teams worried about his production ability or his ability to stay healthy, but it could see him falling just a little bit. The Detroit Lions are in desperate need of receiving talent, and Smith is the best available receiver at this point in the draft, making him the obvious selection here. Jared Goff will need all the help he can get, and Smith would join the team sliding right into the #1 WR role.
Rashod Bateman- Green Bay Packers
If we were to tier the pass catching options for this class, the first four players in this article would be in a tier by themselves. The clear drop-off in talent would stop with Rashod Bateman, WR out of Minnesota. Bateman had his best season in 2019 and started the 2020 season with good, but not great stats. He then made things difficult from an evaluation perspective by opting out after 5 games. The concern with Bateman is his speed, which is only an issue if he struggles to get open. The Green Bay Packers have been looking for a clear #2 WR behind Davante Adams for years, and Bateman just may be that guy. He isn’t going to come in and be the dynamic sidekick, but he has enough talent and playmaking ability to take some pressure off Adams. There are multiple options for the Packers at this spot in the draft and Bateman is the guy that would work best.
So much about playing the WR or TE position is based on situation and scheme. Ultimately, the QB needs to be able to get the ball to open guys, and the scheme needs to be a fit for that player's talents. These top 4 players are so talented that I wouldn’t be shocked at which order they were drafted. That’s how good Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith are as prospects. The ultimate determination of success for their NFL careers will be how effectively they can be used and how much of a workload they receive. This is a draft I can’t wait to watch and look forward to discussing after the pieces have finally settled. Most importantly, stay dreamin’!