Rookie Report: Class of 2021 Year Summary and 2022 season Outlook
By Steve Uetz
For the purposes of this season-long article series, I will take you through how all the fantasy-relevant rookies from the 2021 class are performing on a week-to-week basis. I will break down their weekly statistics and offensive role regarding their real-life development and fantasy football outlook.
The last time we reviewed the rookies’ weekly progress it was after week 16 and A TON has transpired across the NFL since then. Follow along as we review how the rookies performed as the regular season has concluded and ponder the players’ outlook for 2022.
Trevor Lawrence, QB Jacksonville Jaguars
In week 17 Lawrence and the Jaguars were demoralized by suffering a 40-point loss on the road against the New England Patriots. Lawrence completed 17 of 27 passing attempts for 193 yards with 1 TD, and 3 INTs. He gained 16 yards rushing and took 2 sacks.
After struggling against the Patriots, Lawrence ended his rookie season with a BANG! He led the Jags to an upset victory over the Colts which caused a seismic shift in the AFC playoff landscape. Lawrence had one of his best games of the season as he completed 23 of 32 pass attempts for 223 yards, 2 TDs, with 17 yards rushing while taking 1 sack.
Reflecting on the rookie of the former number 1 pick from 2021, Lawrence had a mostly forgettable season. Despite the mighty struggles, Lawrence clearly is the franchise QB and realistically has nowhere to go but up as a professional player and fantasy asset. The Jaguars recently made a fantastic head coach hire in Doug Pederson who should be instrumental in boosting Lawrence’s professional development! However, us football fans are patiently waiting to see two things from the Jaguars; 1) how Jacksonville approaches the 2022 draft, and 2) the return of a healthy DJ Chark. Entering his sophomore season Lawrence has QB2 upside but may unfortunately be a slow burn to stardom since the Jaguars have a massive task of a continued roster rebuild.
Zach Wilson, QB New York Jets
In week 17 Wilson and the Jets tough battle against the Buccaneers has become a complete afterthought due to Antonio Brown’s mid game meltdown where he stripped off his jersey and ran off the field. Tom Brady did that thing he always does and led his team to a comeback victory. The Jets held a 14-point lead in the middle of the 3rd quarter but were unable to tame Brady and Antonio Brown-less Buccaneers. Wilson’s performance was encouraging as he didn’t commit any turnovers and only took 1 sack as he completed 19 of 33 pass attempts for 234 yards and 1 TD.
Week 18 was a more reflective outing of how the Wilson and the Jets’ season was. Wilson was bested by the tough Buffalo defense as he took 8 sacks losing 79 yards. Wilson was held under 100 passing yards as he completed only 7 of 20 pass attempts totaling 87 yards with 1 TD.
After a mostly brutal season for Wilson and Jets there is reason to be excited for the future of the offense since Wilson is paired up with the dynamic duo in WR Elijah Moore and RB Michael Carter. Wilson will head into his sophomore season as no more than a back-end QB2 as he figures to be a dynasty hold. You likely won’t get a good enough return if you are trying to sell now and he isn’t much of a buy candidate unless you are a die-hard Jets fan that is numb to the perpetual suffering that the franchise brings you.
Trey Lance, QB San Francisco 49ers
Lance got the start in week 17 and tallied a win for a solid 20-point fantasy outing. Lance filled in for the temporarily injured but endlessly handsome Jimmy Garoppolo, as the 49ers faced the struggling Texans. It was a perfect opportunity for the veteran to rest and for the rookie to get some substantial experience facing a relatively weaker opponent. Lance performed well as he completed 16 of 23 passing attempts for 249 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, as he gained 31 yards on 8 rushing attempts and took 1 sack.
For the 2022 redraft season, Lance should be given the starting job as Garoppolo’s play making limitations were on full display in the 49ers impressive playoff run. With Lance as the starter, the mid-1st round Super-Flex rookie draft ADP from the previous year will be rewarded as he will hold QB1 upside for the foreseeable future. Lance will be a popular late round QB target for your redraft leagues, like Patrick Mahomes entering his sophomore season.
Justin Fields, QB Chicago Bears
Fields did not play in the final three games of the season. This is disappointing because he had put together two solid fantasy starts in a row leading up to his extended absence. The Chicago Bears will look very different in 2022 as they recently hired a new Head Coach in Matt Eberflus and General Manager in Ryan Poles. The Nagy and Pace era finally comes to end leaving Chicagoans in an optimistic and refreshed state of fandom.
For the 2022 redraft season, Justin Fields will be an interesting late round QB option with QB1 upside similar to Jalen Hurts entering his sophomore season. For dynasty, Fields certainly has QB1 upside with his juicy rushing floor but may be valued as a low QB1 to high QB2 range for the next 2-3 seasons.
Mac Jones, QB New England Patriots
In the week 17 annihilation of the Jaguars Mac Jones gave a stellar turnover-less performance. He completed 22 of 30 pass attempts for 227 yards, 3 TDs, and added 12 yards on the ground. With the guaranteed playoff spot secured, the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in week 18 as Jones regressed with two turnovers. He completed 20 of 30 passing attempts for 261 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Jones gained 4 rushing yards, took 2 sacks, and lost a fumble.
Jones finished the season as a mid QB2 but more importantly led the Patriots back to the playoffs after missing out in the previous season. All season long Jones was a safe and solid floor play as he could manage games playing with a strong defense. Long time Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels was hired as the Head Coach for the Las Vegas Raiders. It is a tough loss for the organization, but I question the overall impact it will have on Jones specifically. Despite the low fantasy ceiling, Jones is a clear franchise caliber QB which is appealing for Super-Flex dynasty leagues. Jones is a dynasty hold as a steady QB2 option.
Davis Mills, QB Houston Texans
Mills and the Texans had a rough outing against the Trey Lance led 49ers in week 17. Mills completed 21 of 31 passes for 163 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, while taking 3 sacks. After the tough loss on the road, the Texans gave a more competitive and turnover-less effort at home against the division rival Tennessee Titans. Mills bounced back from previous week as he completed 23 of 33 pass attempts for 301 yards, 3 TDs, with 12 yards rushing while taking 2 sacks. Mills was mostly underwhelming but certainly flashed at times; this two-week sample is a microcosm of Mills’ rookie season which is comparable to a nausea-inducing roller-coaster ride that is best to avoid.
The Texans are a bit of a mess right now. They just unjustifiably fired David Culley, the one-year rental and made scapegoat head coach. They are dealing with a franchise QB crossroads as they continue to handle the Deshaun Watson saga and figure out if David Mills is the long-term option. They currently hold the 3rd overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft which feels too soon to target one of the top QB prospects in this upcoming class. Even if Mills going into his sophomore season as the starter, he has low-end QB2-to QB3 upside making him a hold in Super-Flex dynasty leagues.
Najee Harris, RB Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris ended the fantasy season in incredible fashion. The Steelers faced the Browns on Monday Night football which was believed to be Roethlisberger’s last home game in Pittsburgh. Not only did the Steelers win but Harris halted the Brown late game surge with a game-sealing 37-yard TD run in the final minute. Harris gained 188 yards on 28 rushing attempts and caught all three of his targets for 18 yards. 31 touches and over 200 yards from scrimmage is what fantasy football dreams are made of.
In week 18 during the rainy and sloppy contest in Baltimore, Harris struggled with efficiency in the battle for a potential playoff spot. Harris gained only 28 yards on 11 carries but caught all four of his targets for 27 yards.
Harris literally had a phenomenal rookie season as he compiled 381 total touches for an average of 22.4 touches per game. This total was the second most all time touches for a rookie running back, behind only the elite LaDainian Tomlinson (398 total touches in 2001). Harris will return in his sophomore year as a clear RB1 option even with lingering questions of quarterback contingency as the Steelers search for the replacement of the recently retired Ben Roethlisberger.
Javonte Williams, RB Denver Broncos
Javonte Williams’ season ended on a surprisingly down note. After setting the fantasy football world ablaze with passion in the several weeks prior, he finished the year being severely outperformed by veteran Melvin Gordon. Over weeks 17 and 18, Gordon doubled Williams’ yardage production with three less offensive touches (Williams 29 – Gordon 26).
I remain bullish on Williams going into his sophomore season where I believe he will be a reliable RB2 option. I recognize that his maximal range of outcomes could be as high as a low RB1, but legitimate questions remain about the identity and quality of the Denver offense. Will Williams continue to split time with Gordon? Who will be the QB and will the QB play improve? With new coaches in town, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett and Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten, Denver’s offense could use a fresh start with their impressive core of weapons who in large part disappointed in 2021.
Elijah Mitchell, RB San Francisco 49ers
After missing three straight weeks Mitchell returned to the lineup in week 17 and continued right where he left off prior to the injury. In the winning effort against the Texans, Mitchell gained 119 rushing yards on 21 attempts and caught both of his targets for 11 yards and hist first receiving TD of the season! In week 18 he handled another 21 rushing attempts as he gained 85 yards for another strong display of rushing efficiency.
Mitchell churned out an impressive rookie season and arguably brought the largest return on investment from rookie draft season. There is no reason to think that the 49ers won’t roll with Mitchell as the teams’ RB1 after how he performed week in and week out. Going into his sophomore season Mitchell should be valued as an RB2.
Michael Carter, RB New York Jets
After performing well against Jacksonville in week 16, Carter disappointed to close out the season. In the wild week 17 matchup against the Buccaneers, Carter gained 54 yards on 3 rushing attempts including one run for 55 yards and caught his only target for 9 yards. This was unfortunate if you were relying on him for your championship week but it wasn’t a great matchup in the first place. Then in week 18 he struggled with rushing efficiency like he did early in the season as he gained 19 yards on 9 rushing attempts and was unable to haul in any of his three targets.
Carter finished as an RB3 and did most of his damage as a pass-catcher which was a promising aspect of his college profile. For his sophomore season, Carter should be regarded as Flex play or as a backend RB2 caliber player. I imagine that he will be a popular ZeroRB target for redraft leagues in 2022. He should continue to thrive in a passing game that will often be playing from behind.
Chuba Hubbard, RB Carolina Panthers
Hubbard closed out the season as the lead RB in a Christian McCaffrey-less offense against two tough defenses. In week 17 he gained 55 yards and 1 TD on 17 carries and caught 3 of his 4 targets for 13 yards against the Saints. In week 18 he improved his rushing efficiency and gained 48 yards on 9 carries and caught both of his targets for 8 yards and 1 TD!
Hubbard and the Panthers went through a rocky season where much of the offensive potential went unrealized with the shocking failed Joe Brady experiment. Joe Brady was fired as the Carolina OC and has since landed back on his feet as the QB coach for the Buffalo Bills. Hubbard most struggled with efficiency in his rookie year and needed a major workload to be confidently placed in your starting lineups. For his sophomore season I think he should be valued as a priority handcuff to McCaffrey and will be usable as a deep league Flex play in the case of McCaffrey to miss time again.
Jaret Paterson, RB Washington Commanders
Paterson was one of my favorite college prospects entering the 2021 season. I loved his landing spot and was thrilled that not only did he make the team but was able to contribute to fantasy teams when it mattered the most. In week 17, Antonio Gibson was ruled Out leaving the workload in Paterson’s hand for the fantasy championship. Paterson delivered for fantasy managers as he handled 17 touches for nearly 100 total yards and a TD. He gained 57 yards and 1 TD on 12 rushing and caught all five of his targets for 41 yards.
In week 18, with Antonio Gibson back in the lineup Paterson gained 21 yards on 6 rushing attempts and caught both of his targets for 14 yards. Entering his sophomore season he is presumably the clear handcuff to target and will be an excellent late round RB target for redraft leagues and an important acquisition on teams with Gibson rostered.
Kenneth Gainwell, RB Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have used RBBC for the last several years; wisely for real life football but annoyingly for fantasy purposes. Kenneth Gainwell’s random but mostly minimal usage was disappointing since he had a knack for making big plays with the opportunities he was given. In week 17 he gained 4 yards on only 1 rushing attempt, but in week 18 he totaled 16 touches. Gainwell demonstrated explosiveness with multiple chunk gains for a total of 78 yards and 1 TD on 12 rushing attempts. He also caught 4 of 7 targets for 9 yards.
Entering his sophomore season, he will remain an intriguing player but may be hard to trust in a starting lineup unless there is clear and consistent opportunity like what transpired in the week 18 matchup. At this point I imagine he will be an RB I will be targeting in the late rounds of Best Ball leagues in 2022.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB New England Patriots
In week 17 Stevenson heavily contributed to the Patriots 40 point beat down of the Jaguars. Stevenson gained 107 yards and 2 TDs on 19 rushing attempts while playing the role of clock-eating punisher. With New England being already guaranteed playoff berth in week 18, Stevenson only handled 5 total touches; he gained 34 yards on 4 rushing attempts and caught one of two targets for 2 yards.
Entering his sophomore season Stevenson will be primarily backing up Damien Harris. With the combination of playing with a strong defense and Mac Jones under center, the New England rushing game will be an attractive position group to target. Patriots running backs usually come at a cheaper price and are annoying to deal with; however, Stevenson is a very interesting player because of his potential ceiling. All things considered; I think he is a lottery ticket worth gambling on. He will be one of my favorite late-round Best Ball RB targets in 2022.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR Cincinnati Bengals
Chase ended the fantasy season in one of the most epic and glorious ways imaginable. He exploded in week 17 (during FF championship week) catching 11 of 12 targets for 266 receiving yards and 3 TDs! The 266 receiving yards broke the single game rookie receiving record! On a pure professional level he mightily contributed to the Bengals wild success as they earned the title of AFC North division champs in their week 17 win over Kansas City.
With the Bengals already being playoff bound, Chase only played in part of the week 18 contest as caught 2 of 4 targets for 26 yards. That yardage total was good enough to set not just the Bengals rookie single season receiving record, but the Bengals franchise single season receiving record! Leading up to the Bengals appearance in the Super Bowl, Ja’Marr also broke the rookie record for postseason receiving yards! (*swoon*)
His dominance from the LSU national championship run with Burrow didn’t let up all after taking the 2020 season off. Chase is an absolute stud and is a clear cut WR1 option until proven otherwise.
Jaylen Waddle, WR Miami Dolphins
Waddle, the PPR machine, closed out the season with two consecutive seven target games. In week 17 he 3 of 7 targets for 47 yards and in week 18 he caught 5 of 7 targets for 27 yards and 1 TD. Waddle concluded his rookie season as WR2 that eclipsed 1000 receiving yards and totaled 104 receptions on 141 targets!
His outlook is bright and should be considered a low end WR1 to a high end WR2 for the 2-3-year window. The Dolphins now continue their search for a new head coach as Brian Flores was surprisingly relieved of his duties. I’m am really excited about Waddle’s outlook and am looking forward to more future penguin ‘waddle’ TD celebrations!
DeVonta Smith, WR Philadelphia Eagles
Smith ended his season with two consecutive three-catch games as the Eagles earned a spot in the playoffs. In the week 17 win against Washington Smith caught 3 of 6 targets for 54 yards and in the week 18 shellacking against the Cowboys he caught 3 of 4 targets for 41 yards with Gardener Minshew under center.
Smith quietly finished the season as a WR3 coming up just 84 yards short of a 1000-yard season. He only eclipsed 100 receiving yards twice and ended the year with 5 TDs. Smith’s 916 receiving yards was good enough to give him the Eagles single season rookie receiving record. For his sophomore season I think he should realistically be valued as a WR3 option with WR2 upside. His rookie season brought a decent return on investment from rookie draft season, but not quite as good as the likes of Ja’Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle. The future looks very bright for Smith!
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR Detroit Lions
Few players across the league ended the season as strongly as St. Brown did. He concluded his epic 6-week glory fest with two consecutive 8-catch games. In week 17 St. Brown caught 8 of 11 targets for 111 yards and 1 TD! He also contributed to 23 rushing yards with a TD on 2 rushing attempts. If you rode the St. Brown wave into your fantasy championship you were mightily rewarded! The following week with the win against Green Bay, St. Brown caught 8 of 10 targets for 109 yards and 1 TD, with 12 rushing yards on his lone rushing attempt!
St. Brown finished the year as a low end WR2 which was an extremely pleasant surprise! Entering his sophomore season St. Brown should be valued as a low end WR 2 to high end WR 3. His amazing potential was on display as he finished the season earning double digits targets in six straight games.
Rashod Bateman, WR Baltimore Ravens
Bateman had a mostly disappointing rookie season and started the year off injured from training camp. After 5 straight weeks of earning 6 or more targets, his role in the offense was terribly inconsistent. In week 17 he had his highest targeted outing as he caught 7 of 10 targets for 58 yards followed by a week 18 performance where only caught 2 of 4 targets for 22 yards.
Baltimore’s passing game relied heavily on Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews which hurt Bateman’s ROI (Return on investment) from rookie draft ADP and the breakout game we were hoping for never really came to fruition. I still believe in Bateman’s upside; optimism should remain since he will be entering into his second season with a healthy, proper, and full off-season. Entering his sophomore season he should be valued as a WR4 with WR3 upside.
Kyle Pitts, TE Atlanta Falcons
Pitts finished the season with two consecutive two-catch performances. In week 17 he caught 2 of 4 targets for 69 yards, including one for 61 yards. In week 18 he caught 2 of 5 targets for only 8 yards. Pitts eclipsed 1000 receiving yards but only hauled in 1 TD over the course of the season. He finished the year as a TE1 (with a mostly erratic Matt Ryan) and will presumably be regarded as such until proven otherwise. Pitts partially lived up to the hype but still did enough to provide a solid return on investment being a top 5 rookie pick.
Pat Freiermuth, TE Pittsburgh Steelers
Freiermuth closed out the season with two consecutive 5-catch games. In week 17 he caught 5 of 6 targets for 22 yards and then in week 18 he caught 6 of 9 targets for 53 yards. Freiermuth should be regarded as a low end TE1 option for his sophomore season and likely beyond. Roethlisberger ended his career in Pittsburgh on high note but with clear play-making limitations. Whoever replaces him should serve as an upgrade for the Steelers pass-catching core, Freiermuth included!
Best and Worst of the rest of the 2021 Rookie Class
Elijah Moore, WR New York Jets
Moore achieved short lived fantasy stardom as he had seven consecutive weeks with 6 or more targets and was often involved as a rusher during that span. Moore’s potential was quickly realized but was unfortunately placed on IR, ending his season after his highest targeted game which came in week 13. Moore was one of the few bright spots of the Jets offense, I expect that to continue in his sophomore season and beyond. He should be valued as at least a PPR Flex option while holding WR2 upside. My pre-season player comp for Elijah Moore was Antonio Brown; I believe that potential upside can hold true moving forward.
Khalil Herbert, RB Chicago Bears
Since David Montgomery returned from injury Herbert only saw minimal work as a backup. It would serve you well to review how Herbert performed when Montgomery was out. Entering his sophomore season, Herbert should be valued as an elite handcuff option to target in either redraft leagues or as a buy low candidate in dynasty. If you have David Montgomery rostered in your league, I would be aggressive in my pursuit to acquire Herbert.
Brevin Jordan, TE and Nico Collins, WR Houston Texans
Jordan unfortunately caught one (and his only) target for 9 yards in the final two weeks of the season. Jordan is hold or a stash in deep dynasty TE premium leagues but expectation should remain low until we have a reason to be excited about a Houston pass-catcher besides veteran Brandin Cooks.
Collins remained steadily yet mostly minimally involved in the inconsistent Houston passing attack. In week 17 he caught 2 of 5 targets for 35 yards and in week 18 he caught 3 of 7 targets for 67 yards. Collins is essentially second in line for targets behind the veteran Brandin Cooks but Houston remains a struggling NFL franchise so optimism should be halted until we see clear positive improvements to the offense. A new head coach to start that process wouldn’t hurt either.
Joshua Palmer, WR Los Angeles Chargers
Palmer yo-yoed his way on the stat sheet through the last 5 weeks of the season. Week 17 was the low end of the yo-yo as he caught 3 of 5 targets for 16 yards but then shot up to the top in week 18 as he caught 4 of 9 targets for 45 yards and a TD. I love his situation being paired with the young QB stud Justin Herbert, but one big question remains: “Where will Mike Williams sign?” This will be critical for Palmer’s sophomore season outlook.
Kadarius Toney, WR New York Giants
Toney unfortunately did not suit up for the final two games of the season capping off a disappointing rookie campaign. Toney had 4 games where earned 9 or more targets which make him an attractive late round PPR target for 2022 redraft leagues. For dynasty he is a hold as the Giants offense has nowhere to go but after an abysmal display of incompetence. Recently hired Head Coach Brian Daboll will look to quickly turn the offense around. Hopefully Toney’s potential can be realized through Daboll’s system and with a healthier and improved version of Daniel Jones under center.
Rondale Moore, WR Arizona Cardinals
Moore unfortunately did not suit up for the final three games of the regular season but did return in the Wild Card playoff matchup where he finished second on the team in catches and targets. Moore displayed versatile usage with 18 rushing attempts over the course of the season, but unfortunately showed more floor than ceiling as a rookie. Entering his sophomore season, Moore remains in a great situation, but questions of his offensive role remain.
Trey Sermon, RB San Francisco 49ers and Terrace Marshall, WR Carolina Panthers
These two players unfortunately have a lot in common. They both churned out the worst return on investment from rookie draft season with highly questionable quality of outlook for the 2022 season. The hype train was at full steam going into the season and unfortunately derailed leaving fantasy managers perplexed by their lack of production and involvement in their prospective offenses.
Dyami Brown, WR Washington Commanders and Amari Rodgers, WR Green Bay Packers
These two WRs were commonly drafted at the end of the 2nd round of rookie drafts but were mostly completely absent from the plans of their prospective offenses. They currently are both dynasty holds, but could quickly become cut candidates if offensive involvement remains down.
Travis Etienne, RB Jacksonville Jaguars
Etienne was unfortunately sidelined for the season from a foot injury that he sustained in the pre-season. He looks to enter the 2022 season fully healthy which will be needed since fellow RB teammate James Robinson suffered an Achilles tear in week 16. If Cam Akers’ rehabilitation is any indication for Robinson, then Robinson should be in line to fully return by the start of the season. Etienne will likely get a jump start in opportunities as Robinson rehabs and should figure to be the featured RB as predicted going into the 2021 season.
Thank you for reading and following this Rookie Report series all season long!
Follow me on Twitter @FantasyLadder for any further fantasy football discussion, questions, or advice!
Steve Uetz has over 15 years of experience in fantasy football. He enjoys writing fantasy football content and articles. He is very passionate about Auction Leagues. Other than his own fantasy football teams, Steve is a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles & Penn State! Steve (@FantasyLadder on Twitter) is very accessible and involved in the Fantasy Football Twitter community! Reach out to him anytime for questions or advice! His primary goal is to help you win your leagues.