Top 9 wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft

The NFL is saturated with wide receiver talent. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news for defensive backs, but that’s not ending any time soon. The top wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft are just as talented as the ones from years prior, if not more so. As our rankings indicate, many of the receivers in the 2021 class seem destined for premier roles in the NFL. It’s an ambitious task to rank these players. Yet, using our PFN Top 300 Consensus Board, we were able to do just that. These are the top nine wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Top wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft | 6-9

The PFN Top 300 Consensus Board was compiled by draft analysts Oliver Hodgkinson, Dalton Miller, A.J. Schulte, myself, and PFN Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline. The depth of this class was observable in our rankings.

Ten receivers who failed to crack the top nine still earned top 100 grades from certain analysts. Those receivers were Tylan Wallace, D’Wayne Eskridge, Amari Rodgers, Dyami Brown, Nico Collins, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Austin Watkins, Shi Smith, Jaelon Darden, and Anthony Schwartz.

9) Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC

Our first wide receiver in the top nine is USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, who barely edged out Wallace for the spot. In fact, St. Brown and Wallace had almost identical average rankings. The difference turned out to be my ranking of St. Brown — I have him as my 42nd-best prospect, while Wallace’s highest ranking is only 52. St. Brown received top-75 grades from four of five analysts.

I, for one, am happy that St. Brown edged out Wallace because now I can talk more about one of my favorite players in this class. St. Brown is more impressive than Wallace athletically. Wallace has slightly higher top-end speed, but St. Brown is stronger and more explosive, with a 38.5-inch vertical, a 127-inch broad jump, and 20 bench reps at around 6 feet tall and 194 pounds.

On the field, they’re similar players. Both are good route runners and have alpha-like traits in contested situations. Additionally, both have excellent hands and body control and are just 21 years old. However, St. Brown is more slippery and elusive after the catch.

Each has great potential at the next level, but St. Brown’s heightened multi-phase ability and superior athleticism are what give him the nod on my board. He’s extremely underrated, and he has a chance to outplay his draft stock substantially.

8) Elijah Moore, Mississippi

He may only be a slot receiver, but Elijah Moore has a chance to be the best slot receiver out of this class and possibly one of the best in the league. Moore had a fairly consistent range on our PFN Top 300 Consensus Board, with a high of 45 and a low of 61. His average ranking was 53.8, comfortably within the bounds of the top nine.

Moore was once a top recruit out of high school. Yet, coming out of the same class as Rondale Moore and Ja’Marr Chase, Elijah Moore fell under the radar for a bit. He exploded in 2020 to the tune of 86 receptions, 1,193 yards, and 8 scores in just eight games.

The Ole Miss WR is a stellar athlete — with a 4.36 40-yard dash and a 36-inch vertical at 5-foot-9, 178 pounds — but his playstyle beyond that is what truly earns him praise.

Moore’s size might generate some assumptions about his style, but he plays bigger and tougher than he weighs. He has strong hands to be authoritative in tight windows, and he has the speed, versatility, and elusiveness to be a threat all over the field. On top of the surface-level traits, Moore’s route running is exceptional, and it’ll help him make an impact early in his career.

7) Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU

Having the raw traits will get you far in draft evaluation. In the 2021 class, few top wide receivers possess the raw athletic traits that Terrace Marshall Jr. boasts. There wasn’t much variance in the rankings of Marshall. It was generally agreed upon by our analysts that he was a top-50 talent. His rankings ranged from 40 to 48, culminating in an average ranking of 44.4.

As mentioned above, Marshall is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. He earned a Relative Athletic Score of 9.77 at his pro day. Numbers that contributed to that score include a 4.40 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical, a 125-inch broad jump, and 19 bench reps at around 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. That alone makes him one of the top wide receivers in the 2021 draft.

The big concern surrounding Marshall is whether or not he can maximize his athletic traits at the next level. Despite his size and athleticism, he’s not yet an elite threat in contested situations, and he’s not an overly consistent route runner, either. All the tools are there, and he shows genuine flashes, but there’s still work to be done for Marshall to reach his ultimate ceiling.

6) Kadarius Toney, Florida

There are countless archetypes at wide receiver. You have your technicians, jump-ball specialists, and straight weapons. Kadarius Toney is a member of the latter group. He’s one of the most enthralling playmakers in the 2021 NFL Draft, and his rankings lined up with that reputation. Amazingly, three analysts ranked Toney at the same spot (33), and overall, he had an average ranking of 42.8.

I had the lowest ranking of Toney, mainly because I feel that he needs more refinement in a traditional receiver role. His success will be more dependent on how effectively his coordinator can use him. Having said that, Toney’s run-after-catch ability is elite, and his athletic profile echoes that truth. He recorded a 4.38 40-yard dash and a 39.5-inch vertical, and his elusiveness and stop-start ability consistently drops jaws.

I want to see Toney employ his traits within a more diverse route tree at the next level. Nevertheless, in the right offense, he has the speed, explosiveness, and creative capacity to be a dangerous weapon in short ranges. For teams that like to scheme touches to their playmakers closer to the line of scrimmage, he’s an excellent fit, and he has the natural traits to expand his repertoire.

Top-9 wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft | 1-5

Much like other positions of depth, it was a close race for the fifth position. Both Toney and Marshall received average rankings that came within two spots of the fifth overall receiver. Here are the top five wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft, according to the PFN Top 300 Consensus Board.

5) Rondale Moore, Purdue

Yes, Rondale Moore is a top-five receiver on PFN’s Top 300 Consensus Board, even after measuring in at just 5-foot-7, 181 pounds at his pro day. Moore’s average ranking of 42. 4 is barely above Toney’s 42.8. Dalton helped seal the deal with a top-30 ranking for Moore, placing him at 26 overall.

It makes sense why one would have Toney over Moore. Moore’s potential down the field is more limited, and they’re both elite athletes, so any comparison of their athletic traits is splitting hairs. I see Moore as an equally dynamic run-after-catch threat with his explosiveness and agility, and his contact balance is even better than Toney’s. Part of this stems from Moore’s dense frame. As small as he is, he’s basically a bowling ball in RAC situations — a bowling ball with a jetpack.

Like Toney, Moore’s success also depends partly on where he goes. He’ll need a coordinator who appreciates what he can do despite his height and adequately gets him touches. In my opinion, Moore is handily a better route runner than Toney, and his combination of athleticism and density gives him a ton of potential if used the right way.

4) Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

There’s a massive gap between Moore and the next man up, which happens to be fellow Big Ten wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Bateman’s average ranking on the PFN Top 300 Consensus Board is 17.6. Every analyst saw him as their WR4, and each ranked him between spots 14 and 20. You won’t often find that level of agreement for any top wide receiver prospect in 2021.

As one might expect, Bateman’s general favorability as a prospect stems from a well-rounded, non-polarizing profile. Bateman has a nice athletic skill set. He has good refinement as a route runner, and he’s rugged and reliable in contested catch situations. Bateman measured in smaller than expected at just over 6-foot and 190 pounds, but his 4.43 40-yard dash and 36-inch vertical reaffirm his physical foundation.

Bateman is on an island in the 2021 NFL Draft’s wide receiver class. He’s smooth, smart, and skilled in all phases. That universal solidity gives him an edge over those below him. But at the same time, Bateman doesn’t necessarily have an elite physical trait, and he’s not quite as terrifyingly consistent as DeVonta Smith. Thus, while rated highly, he doesn’t challenge the top three.

3) DeVonta Smith, Alabama

It’s DeVonta Smith vs. Chase vs. Waddle for the top three spots — always has been. Some rankings might have outside challengers, but as the PFN Top 300 Consensus Board exemplifies, these three are the most often agreed upon as bonafide top talents at the position. Smith comes in third, with an average ranking of 8.2 and four top-8 rankings out of five analysts.

I was the one who ranked Smith outside the top 10, at 12 overall. I’m a big fan of him as a player. However, his weight did cause me to bump him down a bit. It’s important to understand just how rare it is for receivers with Smith’s weight to succeed at the NFL level. It’s also important to understand that, while these things bear noting, one must apply the prospect’s unique context to the situation.

The uncertainty of Smith’s 166-pound frame is enough for me to rank him just below the top two. However, that’s as far as he should go. I think Smith can be the outlier at his weight. Some 166-pound receivers might be small and fragile, but Smith is lanky and wiry and seems compactly built for his size. On top of that, Smith is an exceptional athlete, an elite route runner, and a devastating competitor. That’s enough for him to at least challenge for the WR1 title.

2) Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

Believe it or not, Ja’Marr Chase was closer to WR3 than he was to WR1 on our PFN Top 300 Consensus Board. He earned an average ranking of 8, just 0.2 spots higher than Smith. Chase received three top-six rankings, something Smith didn’t receive from a single analyst.

Chase also earned the highest overall ranking of any receiver — second overall, from Tony Pauline. Still, Chase’s variance was wider. Thus, he nearly fell out of the top two.

There are some notable qualms regarding Chase’s refinement. For me, his physical traits — combined with his undaunted supremacy as a pure catcher — make him a bonafide top-end talent in this class. He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns with Justin Jefferson and Marshall in his receiving corps and dominated to such a degree that his opt-out didn’t hurt him.

Chase tested as one of the best athletes in the 2021 wide receiver class. He registered a 4.34 40-yard dash, a 41-inch vertical, a 132-inch broad jump, a 3.99 shuttle time, and 23 bench reps at over 6 feet tall and 201 pounds.

The pure instinct with which Chase contorts and catches in contested situations is otherworldly, and his combination of density and explosiveness gives him RAC potential as well. He can refine his route running, but there’s no reason to overthink Chase’s talent. He’s right up there with the top 2021 wide receiver.

1) Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

The top wide receiver on PFN’s Top 300 Consensus Board isn’t Chase or Smith, it’s Jaylen Waddle.

Waddle earned an average ranking of six from PFN’s draft analysts. He was WR1 for every analyst but Pauline, who had Chase at the top. Even Waddle saw some modest variance in his rankings, but his highest rankings trumped those of Chase and Smith, and so he came away with the crown.

It sometimes seems like Waddle gets negative press due to being compared to his former teammate Henry Ruggs III, who hasn’t yet panned out in the NFL. Ruggs was an elite speed threat, as is Waddle, so there are concerns over how Waddle will translate. However, while Ruggs was primarily a speed threat, Waddle is a complete receiver who builds his game around elite speed and explosiveness — there’s a difference.

Waddle can run routes with effortless twitch and chaotic motion, and he creates separation with envious ease. The Alabama receiver’s most marketable trait is his dynamic ability, as he can both make plays downfield and extend short passes for big yardage.

Even beyond that, Waddle has the route-running precision, hand strength, awareness, and contortion ability to be a complete receiver at the NFL level. He’s a mismatch nightmare in every phase and a potential game-wrecker on the professional stage.

Want more prospect news? Want to do your own mock draft?

Dive into PFN’s Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator and test your own drafting acumen. Continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay in the loop on all things college football and the NFL Draft landscape.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.

Podcast: More than Football with Trey Wingo To subscribe to More than Football with Trey Wingo and Brett Yarris, find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

RELATED ARTICLES
FEATURED