This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.
John and Mario did a 12-team, two-round rookie dynasty mock draft for a 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE PPR league and wrote up their thinking for the picks. The main takeaway of this mock is that Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields present uncommon upside at quarterback, and in general most of the value is at wide receiver. Some of the running backs have desirable upside, but a lack of depth at running back means the risk increases faster than it does at receiver, where there should be several steals later in the order.
You would ideally go into your rookie draft this year with your capital arranged such that you can hammer the receiver position, but in order to recognize positional inflation this draft assumes each team has equal needs across positions.
John made the odd-numbered picks, while Mario did the even-numbered ones. A quick acknowledgment of omitted players follows the second round. Stay tuned for later this month when we roll out Pro Day previews for all of this year's top prospects.
1.1: Ja'Marr Chase, WR LSU
There were three directions I could have gone here. The best quarterback prospect of at least this century was an option, as was his running back at Clemson. Etienne drew more serious consideration for me here as quarterback is so deep already. Meanwhile, Etienne tops a rather thin RB crop in 2021. Still, I had to go with Chase. He is a true Alpha on the outside who will develop into a fantasy WR1. The opt-out year doesn't concern me in the slightest. Chase's 2019 season – 126 targets, 84 catches, 1780 yards, 14.1 YPT, 20 TDs – at age 19 lays the groundwork for what should be a stellar NFL career. (J)
1.2: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
There are some smart people who prefer Najee Harris over Etienne, but for me there are worlds between them and there's no conceivable way for Harris to close the gap. My reasoning with Etienne is pretty simple: I don't believe there are many running backs in college football history capable of doing what he did at Clemson. To run for 4,952 yards and 70 touchdowns at an average of 7.2 yards per carry is a level of per-play dominance that I can't recall previously. Touchdown production is a downward pressure on per-play yardage – the end zone deprives the runner of ensuing yardage on the play in question – yet Etienne posts unmatched explosiveness in both categories. To me this is a Jamaal Charles sort of player. (M)
1.3: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The No.3 spot should be a coveted one in dynasty leagues this draft season as the guesswork will be taken out of the equation for you and you'll still end up with one of either Chase, Etienne, or Lawrence. In this exercise, I didn't have to think twice about going Lawrence. He is as can't miss as a QB prospect can be. Even if there are some growing pains along the way playing on a team that very much earned its No.1 spot in the draft this year, Lawrence will still be a fantasy QB1 as a rookie with the chance to be the 1B to Patrick Mahomes' 1A before too long. That's a valuable asset right there. (J)
1.4: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The question of Waddle vs Smith might be posed to many league rookie drafts this year. It's an uncomfortable question in one sense – they are both compelling in their own ways and that makes the fear of error difficult to shake – but those fantasy GMs should instead try to take solace in the fact that both are likely quite good. I happen to prefer Waddle because he appears faster at a slightly denser build than Smith, and because Waddle looks familiar due to similarities to past NFL successes like Steve Smith and T.Y. Hilton. I expect Smith to be very good too, but his particular combination of traits is less proven at the NFL level than Waddle's, in my opinion. (M)
1.5: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
No.5 isn't too dissimilar from picking at 3 in the sense that the guesswork is done for you by your draftmate. Choosing between Smith and Jaylen Waddle is tough, and while I do prefer Waddle, Smith is not far behind. His Heisman season was truly special, showing game-breaking ability. There are concerns about him being near the top of his physical development curve because of his age and he has a thin frame, but watch the tape, look at the production and doubt Smith at your own peril. (J)
1.6: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
Marshall would need to test poorly to fall lower than this in my rankings. Most correctly note that part of what makes Waddle and Smith impressive is the fact that they both stood out next to first-round picks in the same offense. Why, then, does Marshall get such little credit for keeping pace with Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson? Marshall scored a preposterous 13 touchdowns on just 46 catches in 12 games next to Chase and Jefferson in 2019, then in seven 2020 games Marshall produced far above LSU's team baseline as the clear WR1. In those seven games LSU threw for 2,194 yards and 17 touchdowns at a completion rate of 60.2 percent with a YPA of 7.6. Marshall drew 70 targets, catching 48 for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns (68.6 percent caught, 10.4 YPT). That means Marshall produced 1/3 of LSU's receiving yardage and 59 percent of their receiving touchdowns on just 24.2 percent of LSU's target share. His catch rate was 8.4 points higher than the team completion percentage, and his YPT was 2.8 yards better than the team YPA. He won't turn 21 until June, so if anything the age adjustment gives Marshall a bonus. (M)
1.7: Kyle Pitts, TE Florida
With the top tier of receivers off the board, this decision boiled down to reaching on running back or quarterback, or taking the slam-dunk No.1 tight end. Darren Waller is a popular comp of Pitts for his unique size/speed combo, but it's worth noting that Pitts is about 15 pounds lighter than Waller was at his combine, so let's pump the brakes just a bit. Still, Pitts is a cheat code with his length, athleticism and ball skills. The only concern I have for him producing early is whether the team that drafts him uses him properly (read: never makes him block). Here's hoping he finds a good landing spot. (J)
1.8: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
To me Fields is another Marcus Mariota, albeit probably a bit faster. I don't think Fields has the anticipation ability to handle a dynamically complex offense, but if he played for someone like Brian Daboll he could really go off. I still feel that way about Mariota, too, so that comparison isn't meant to be an insult. Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson have shown what rushing production can do for the fantasy value of a quarterback, and Fields presents a similar threat. (M)
1.9: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Fields pick could compel some to start the quarterback run but I'll nab Harris in what turns out to be a nice value. He's the clear-cut No.2 running back in this class with a three-down skill set. At best, Harris can be a Steven Jackson type. At worst? We're looking at an Alfred Blue or Josh Adams situation. I'll bet on the more optimistic outcome with Harris panning out to be a solid, consistent producer at the next level with some RB1 years along the way. (J)
1.10: Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State
Some projection models put a big red flag on Hill for his 2020 rushing production. Just throw it out – some stats aren't meaningful and Hill's poor rushing production in 2020 is clearly one such case. He had literally 15 carries! And we know those carries are meaningless not just because of how small the sample is, but also because Hill ran for 2,477 yards on 437 carries (5.7 YPC) over the prior three years. Hill's 2020 production was meaningful in another way, though, because Hill showed the ability to transition to a pass catcher in Mike Leach's Air Raid, catching 23 receptions for 237 yards on 29 targets in just three games. Hill has proven more than most a three-down skill set and his athletic testing might be pretty good, too. I've seen some people all but omit Hill from their running back rankings and I can't begin to imagine what they're looking at – he really looks similar to Miles Sanders to me. (M)
1.11: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
This is where the mock gets interesting. In my eyes, the Top 10 is pretty set heading into Pro Day season, but things get much more fluid and subjective after that. North Carolina's Dyami Brown was really close to being the pick here but I ended up going Bateman, a three-year producer at Minnesota despite shoddy quarterback play. He's a big-bodied receiver at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds and I'm willing to bet on him testing well enough to warrant a mid-Day 2 selection at worst come April. He looks like a better version of Gabriel Davis to me. (J)
1.12: Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina
Up from 185 pounds to 6-foot, 197, Brown could go from a very good prospect to a great one if he tests well athletically at his new weight. New weight sometimes carries the risk of lost speed, but Brown always had a lanky frame so I'm optimistic that he might have added explosive muscle that will preserve or even boost speed as opposed to bulk muscle that would only serve as an anchor. Brown's production was uniquely explosive at North Carolina and if he adds top-grade tools to his profile then there isn't really any reason to keep him out of the first round. (M)
2.1 (13th overall): Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Parsing between Gainwell and Chuba Hubbard is tough but I'll give the lean to Gainwell, who has less wear-and-tear and more polished pass-catching skill. Gainwell, who opted out in 2020, really has just one year of production to point to. So there's risk. It's just that the one year was so good that it smooths over concerns elsewhere. He not only took 231 carries for 1459 yards and 13 scores – keeping Antonio Gibson at receiver, mind you – but he also caught 51 of 61 targets at a clean 10.0 YPT with three touchdowns. Usually if a college running back catches 50 passes, he's doing so in an Air Raid offense and averaging 7.0 yards per catch at best. Not Gainwell. That unique production makes him so intriguing at this spot. However, he's listed at 5-11, 191 pounds, which may be a red flag. Here's hoping he added bulk during his training for the draft because it's clear that he has the requisite skills to succeed in the NFL if his body cooperates. (J)
2.2 (14th) Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Hubbard has some holes in his profile and his politics might draw scorn from an NFL coaching/front office class that has an interest in crushing the labor movement Hubbard advocated for prior to the 2020 season, but if he offers 4.45 speed on a 210-pound frame then it should keep coaches and scouts focused on his on-field talent. If Hubbard's track speed remains intact on a workhorse frame then it should overrule the peripheral concerns in his game. He reminds me of a smaller Ryan Mathews. (M)
2.3 (15th) Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Maybe I'm getting swept up in his latest workout feat, a 42-inch vertical, but sometimes it's good to remind yourself of just how crazy of an athlete Moore is. He came to Purdue and started setting records in the weight room before setting the Big 10 ablaze as a true freshman with 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 21 carries for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries kept him to just seven games the following two seasons. There's more risk with Moore than most of his advocates are willing to admit – frame, durability, small sample of production that wasn't even that explosive on a per-target basis–, but the upside is undeniable. With Dyami Brown and Rashod Bateman gone, Moore makes sense as the next WR to target. (J)
2.4 (16th) Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
St. Brown isn't flashy and that admittedly gives me some anxiety in a wide receiver class full of upside, but it also feels wrong to doubt a player so utterly automatic as St. Brown was in his USC career. As much as I would have liked to see more big plays and touchdown production, there's value in a receiver who can consistently produce a catch rate and per-target yardage above the team baseline, especially when we're talking about generally productive passing games like USC's. In his age-18.75 freshman year St. Brown outproduced Michael Pittman, who only was able to outproduce St. Brown after turning 22 when Brown was 20.75. St. Brown more or less kept pace with Pittman that one year, too. (M)
2.5 (17th) Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel have created a new paradigm among receivers, showing the value of densely built wideouts who can be YAC monsters. Rodgers is the next man up for this genre of receiver, checking in at 5-foot-9 and 211 pounds with burst and wiggle. Don't hold his late breakout age against him – he was competing with the likes of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross for targets for much of his career and his junior season was just months removed from a spring ACL tear. His 2020 season gives a glimpse of what he can do at the next level. He'll be a problem for any defensive back that comes at him hoping to bring him down with just an arm tackle. (J)
2.6 (18th) Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
In hindsight I probably should have taken Javonte Williams here – he and Jefferson are largely similar as prospects but Jefferson has had a fumbling problem at times and Williams never did – but Jefferson still has quite a bit going for him. He and Williams are the top 220-pound backs once you get past Najee Harris, which makes them interesting for their workload upside. As a pure runner it's pretty difficult to doubt Jefferson – it's highly impressive that at around 18.5 as a true freshman he ran for 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns on 239 carries in 12 games (5.8 YPC). (M)
2.7 (19th) Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
This might seem like a low placement for Williams, who is viewed as a Top 3 back in this class by much of the mainstream. I like Williams a lot – he has a workhorse frame (5-10, 220) and his production the past two seasons – 323 rushes, 2073 yards (6.4), 24 TD, 47 targets, 42 receptions, 481 yards, 4 TD – was elite. In fact, if I could do this over, I might take him ahead of Gainwell (still like Gainwell to be clear). The reason behind his slide, at least in this mock, is that the second tier of receivers is deeper and stronger than the second tier of running backs. Position scarcity might inflate Williams in some rooms, and his placement at 19 shouldn't be construed as a diss from the John + Mario brain trust. (J)
2.8 (20th) Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
I have trouble finding a window to raise him in the rankings, but it still feels wrong to list Wallace this low. I wouldn't have any problem with him going in the first round of the draft and think he would do exactly that in other, weaker wide receiver classes. But he's a little smaller or/and slower than some of his competition in this draft, and his knees have taken a worse beating than most of them too. Sometimes really good players fall for no real reason, and if Wallace falls he'd probably qualify as such a case. (M)
2.9 (21st) Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Tylan Wallace going the pick before signified the end of a tier in my eyes, so exploring quarterback became the best move on the board. I prefer Wilson to Trey Lance as Lance, while physically gifted, has such a limited sample at a lower level of competition that I just can't comfortably rank him above Wilson or Justin Fields. Wilson projects to be a high draft pick and a first-year starter. He has top shelf arm strength and his athleticism is underrated from what I can tell. Going Wilson rather than reach at another position was the clear move to make at 21 in this mock. (J)
2.10 (22nd) Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn
Schwartz is off the radar for many but I can't understand why. He might be the fastest player in the NFL once he arrives, and he was quietly productive for Auburn the past three years. He supposedly won't turn 21 until September, and in his 10 games from 2020 Schwartz caught 54 receptions for 636 yards and three touchdowns on 87 targets. That leaves Schwartz with a catch rate of 62.1 percent at 7.3 yards per target, which is only slightly above baseline but still above baseline as Auburn completed 59.6 percent of its passes at 6.7 yards per attempt. Schwartz's skill might lag behind some of his comparable peers, but he's also younger than most of them and much faster than all of them. He can be productive with less skill than any likely alternative. (M)
2.11 (23rd) Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi
Moore's frame (5-9, 185) gives him a slim margin for error but his production and film give reason to believe he can stick as a contributor at the next level. He had explosive production on high volume, especially as a junior in 2020 with 86 grabs for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns on 102 targets (8 games). We know Moore can be a difference-maker from the slot, and if he aces his athletic testing, getting him at the end of Round 2 in a rookie draft will be wishful thinking. (J)
2.12 (24th) Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma
Stevenson (6-0, 227) carries some risk but he's also the last of the high-upside running back prospects. With a workhorse frame and strong pass-catching results to this point, Stevenson has unique three-down upside for this range of the draft. The only other running back left with a clear three-down skill set is Elijah Mitchell from Lafayette, but he's probably not in Stevenson's class as an athlete. (M)
NOTABLE OMISSIONS (M)
All of the following guys were in play for the final picks of this draft and missed narrowly. They're listed in no particular order.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Lance has a big arm and can probably run better than most quarterback prospects too, so his upside is notable even in a strong quarterback class. The problem for his immediate value as a fantasy asset is the fact that he carries the highest risk of rawness among the top quarterbacks of this class, so if you pick him you might want to be prepared for a year or two of delayed returns, even before considering the possibility that he's a bust. In superflex or two-QB leagues he should be among the earliest picks in the order, though, because the good-case scenario for Lance is he turns out the second-best quarterback behind Lawrence.
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Jones can't possibly be any worse of a prospect than someone like Andy Dalton, but in the meantime his pro landing spot is impossible to guess and, crucially, he doesn't have the running upside that the other top quarterbacks in this draft can claim.
Both of these guys have high upside and stand out in the class for their size, but in the meantime there are unknowns they have to sort out before their projections become as clear as any of the receivers ranked ahead of them. Either or both of these guys could turn out to be the next Kenny Golladay, but if their testing turns out poorly they could fall well into the third day.
Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Toney is a terror with the football, but he only began producing once he was nearly 22 years old for Florida. His late breakout is somewhat excused since he played around other good receivers, but top talents generally find their way onto the field more regularly than Toney did prior to his fourth season witt the Gators.
Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville
Atwell's weigh-in will be very important. He was listed at 5-9, 165, but if he can weight closer to 175 then he could prove himself a good Marquise Brown imitation, in which case he'd become a consideration in the first 40 picks. If he disappoints with his weigh-in and athletic testing, though, he'd be at risk of falling into the fourth-round range.
All three of these guys are explosive backs in the 5-8, 200-pound range. Their testing will hold a lot of sway over how they settle into the draft order, and in the meantime it's difficult to foresee how that will shake out.
Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (FL)
Jordan is undersized at a listed 6-3, 245, and Hunter Bryant showed last year how narrow the margin of error is for tight end prospects with small builds. But Jordan was very productive as a pass catcher at Miami, and if he gets drafted high enough then his size would become a moot concern because the draft capital would ensure a safe playing time projection. If Jordan gets snaps then his projection is surprisingly stable – it's knowing the snap count ahead of time that's difficult. But if someone is letting this guy run routes, then he's probably drawing targets and doing a good job with them. He just needs to run and jump well enough to convince some team to take the plunge.