NFL Draft 2021: A surprising take in the top 10 wide receiver rankings

The 2020 NFL Draft was regarded as a generational wide receiver class. What if we told you 2021 might be even better? Matt Valdovinos, PFN draft analyst, is breaking down the class' top 10 rankings.

The 2020 wide receiver class was heralded as the best in years. Its talent at the top was only rivaled by its impressive depth. Many thought it to be a once in a generation type of positional class, but what if I said that the 2021 class could be even better? Both classes have their strengths, and I believe 2020 had more quality depth than the 2021 class. However, in terms of elite talent, I think the 2021 class takes the cake. So who are the top receivers in the 2021 class, and how do they stack up against each other? Let’s take a look at the class rankings.

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Top 10 wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class

1) Rondale Moore, Purdue 

Rondale Moore is one of the most exciting players in all of college football and one of my personal favorite players in the 2021 class. He’s more than just a receiver, he’s a versatile weapon. Moore is a threat to score any time the ball touches his hands, he possesses an innate ability to make plays as a receiver, runner, and returner.

Additionally, many players like Moore who profile as “gadget players” aren’t very refined as receivers. This isn’t the case for Moore. His elite athleticism combined with his ability to start on a dime makes him an impressive route runner. Moore rivals 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III in terms of athletic ability and should have a huge year for Purdue this season.

2) Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

One of my first 2021 Draft crushes, Rashod Bateman stepped onto the Minnesota campus as the team’s best receiver. He had a productive freshman season but was unstoppable last year as a sophomore. Bateman is an alpha receiver and his physical tools are off the charts.

He’s 6’2″, 210lbs, and should run a 4.4 or better when he’s completing his 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. Bateman is an extremely polished route runner with excellent hands and the ability to win at all levels off the field. Bateman and teammate Tanner Morgan should have a big year together as they chase a spot in the Big-10 title game.

3) Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

The consensus number one wide receiver amongst draft analysts, Ja’Marr Chase is exactly what you think of when you envision an X-receiver. The apex, the alpha, or whatever word you choose to use to describe him, Chase is it. The only reason he comes in at number three for me is that I have some withdrawals about his athletic ability, and I’m not a fan of receivers whose biggest calling card is their ability to win 50/50 balls. Chase is more than a 50/50 specialist, but his game heavily revolves around the jump ball. That play is monumentally more difficult against NFL corners than collegiate ones.

4) Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Similar to Moore, Jaylen Waddle is an explosive play-maker who provides scoring potential whenever he touches the ball. He’s one of the best return men in NCAA history, averaging 20 yards per punt return, and 35 per kickoff return. Waddle’s production has been a bit underwhelming, however, you must consider that he was the youngest of four receivers that will all be top 50 selections at Alabama. In 2020, Waddle will finally be a top option in the offense and could be one of the most productive players in the nation.

5) Chris Olave, Ohio State

Similar to Waddle, Chris Olave has had to wait for his turn in the spotlight. Ohio State has been loaded with quality receivers for years, but Olave took control this past season. Despite sharing the field, and targets, with KJ Hill and Binjimen Victor, Olave was able to lead the Buckeyes in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Now, with Hill and Victor both moving on to the NFL, Olave has a chance to truly shine. His fundamental understanding of route running, strong athletic ability, and elite hands combine to make him a very well rounded receiving prospect.

6) Devonta Smith, Alabama

I’ve been torn between listing either Devonta Smith or Clemson’s Justyn Ross at this sixth spot. At the end of the day, I chose Smith because his strong route running and sticky hands make him an already quality receiver. When I say sticky, I mean best hands in the class kind of sticky. Smith is also a strong athlete, further helping him separate. My only concern with Smith is that I’m not sure he gets much better than he is now. A bit of a limited ceiling is what prevents him from breaking into my top five.

7) Justyn Ross, Clemson

Ross has the highest likelihood to move up dramatically in these rankings. Working as the number two behind Tee Higgins for his first two seasons, Ross is finally the number one at Clemson. With elite size and jumping ability, Ross has made some of the most impressive catches I’ve ever seen. He has a knack for the big play and, despite not being overly quick, is still a quality runner after the catch. Ross is very similar to former teammate Higgins, and his draft stock will likely be similar.

8) Tamorrion Terry, Florida State

One of the most exciting players to watch in college football, Tamorrion Terry was a weapon for FSU last year. Despite being 6’4″, Terry is more than just a 50/50 receiver. He’s got excellent speed and he’s one of the top YAC threats in the class. He averaged 160 yards per game over his last four games last season. I expect Terry to build on last year and have another very productive season. Terry still has work to be done as a route runner, and some drop issues keep him from reaching higher on this list.

9) Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

Prior to losing his season to injury, Tylan Wallace was the most productive receiver in the nation. He’s the epitome of a deep threat. Strong vertical route running, great acceleration and solid long speed, added to very impressive contested catch abilities. I expect Wallace to continue to be one of the nation’s most productive receivers, as long as he can return to 100% after last seasons injury.

10) Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC

If we were ranking players based on their names, than Amon-Ra St. Brown would be listed as my undisputed WR1. Unfortunately, these rankings are exclusively based on how I expect these players to stack up for the 2021 NFL Draft. St. Brown has functioned as WR2 in his first two seasons, behind newly drafted Michael Pittman.

Now, St. Brown has the opportunity to seize the WR1 mantle, and his pairing with true sophomore Kedon Slovis is one of the best in college football. A great blend of size and speed, St. Brown is also a well-polished route runner with strong concentration at the catch point. He’s a candidate to be a serious riser throughout the season.

Honorable Mention: Damonte Coxie, Memphis. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest. Ronnie Bell, Michigan. 

The 2020 wide receiver class was supposed to be a once in a generation type of group. The talent of the 2021 class could change that sentiment completely. We’re looking at back to back classes of truly elite receiver prospects. What separates 2021 from other classes is its rare diversity. Whether you’re looking for a weapon to use in countless ways like Moore or an alpha X-receiver who wins at the catch point at an unstoppable rate like Chase, the class has it.

In order for the class to surpass 2020 as the superior wide receiving unit, a few things must happen. We must see progression. The 2020 class was better at this point in the process, but I have a feeling the 2021 class will develop into something truly special with upwards of eight players being selected in the first round.

Matt Valdovinos is a draft analyst for PFN. Follow him on Twitter @MVScouting. Follow PFN on Twitter @PFN365

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