2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers: 3 Late-Round Rookie Receivers With Star Potential

There is value on draft day to be found in first-year receivers currently drafted outside of the top 150 as last season demonstrated
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If you didn’t have Justin Jefferson on your fantasy football team last season, you’re probably spending the summer months in search of a late-round pick who can mirror his WR1 production at a low cost.

The Vikings rookie wide receiver was a league winner last season. Jefferson significantly outplayed his average draft position (123 overall, 49 at his position) in 2020 on his way to a WR6 finish in PPR. And he broke the rookie record for receiving yards in a season to boot.

It’s impossible to predict who will be the next Jefferson. You can take your pick of the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, Eagles’ DeVonta Smith or the Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle, but they all bring with them fair concerns regarding their situation. And each of them are going higher than Jefferson did, which takes some of the value out of hitting on a breakout rookie.

But Jefferson wasn’t the only rookie receiver who made significant fantasy impacts last season. Less heralded first-year receivers like the 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk, Bengals’ Tee Higgins, Jaguars’ Laviska Shenault Jr. and Steelers’ Chase Claypool outplayed their ADP on their way to fantasy relevance.

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All of these players had ADPs outside of the top 150 and Aiyuk, Higgins and Claypool all ended up as WR3s. Shenault Jr. finished as a WR4. If you’re in search of Jefferson-level production outside of the top 150 (and trust me, we all are), good luck. But finding a Claypool or Higgins isn’t out of the question.

Below are a few candidates currently being drafted outside of the top 150 who could end up a starting wide receiver on your fantasy team.

Terrace Marshall Jr., Carolina Panthers

ADP 227, WR 73

LSU WR Terrace Marshall Jr.

Marshall is reunited with Joe Brady, his offensive coordinator at LSU, this season in Carolina. Last time the two were together, the Tigers won a national championship with the most prolific college offense ever. Marshall, despite not being the first, second or even third option in an offense that featured Jefferson, Chase and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, grabbed 13 touchdowns. He followed that up with 10 scores in 2020 despite a revolving door at quarterback and a lesser offense after Brady and Joe Burrow’s departures for the NFL.

All this to say, Marshall has proven he can get his in an offense where he’s not the focus. He walks into a Panthers offense that returns two 1,000 yard receivers in DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, brought in David Moore from Seattle and returns Christian McCaffrey, the NFL’s most prolific pass-catching running back. Marshall figures to start out as the fifth option in the offense but could potentially compete with David Moore for the third receiver spot.

If Brady can unlock Sam Darnold, whom Carolina acquired via trade from the Jets, there will be plenty of offense to go around. The Panthers’ third receiver in 2020, Curtis Samuel, left for Washington this offseason which freed up 97 targets. Marshall, a 6-foot-2 target, figures to get his fair share of those looks, and his production in college exhibits what he can do with just a few touches per game.

Marshall is currently being drafted one spot ahead of Jaguars tight end Tim Tebow (TE26) and three spots ahead of the Dallas Cowboys defense (DST20). If he plays himself into the WR3 role in this offense, he’ll more than outplay his ADP.

Amari Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

ADP 321, WR 85

The value of having Rodgers on your team hinges entirely on whether the Packers have Aaron Rodgers on theirs. The reigning MVP’s future in Green Bay will affect the market of much higher touted fantasy players, including Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan. But there’s certainly room for Amari Rodgers to make a fantasy impact in the Packers offense if Aaron Rodgers sticks around.

Outside of Adams, Green Bay’s top two receivers in 2020 were Alan Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who each hauled in just 33 passes. Lazard missed six games in 2020, but neither he nor Valdes-Scantling were huge beneficiaries of Aaron Rodgers’ otherworldly campaign. Amari Rodgers could quickly compete with Lazard and Valdes-Scantling for targets and would benefit from soft coverage with Adams drawing defenses’ attention.

As the No. 1 option in his senior year at Clemson, Rodgers eclipsed 1,000 yards. Green Bay spent a third-round pick on him, the highest the team has drafted a receiver since Adams in 2014, in what seemed like an olive branch to the embattled Aaron Rodgers. His size (5-foot-9 and 212 lbs) and speed make him an intriguing prospect. PFF compared him to T.Y. Montgomery, a dual-threat running back who spent three and a half years in Green Bay.

Again, the value in this pick hinges entirely on Aaron Rodgers staying put in Green Bay to throw to Amari Rodgers. But if you’re bullish on that happening, you should be bullish on Amari Rodgers, who’s currently being drafted one spot ahead of the 49ers’ JaMycal Hasty (RB 94) and three spots before the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense (DST27).

Josh Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers

ADP 256, WR 80

Going in on Palmer is a bet on Justin Herbert and the Chargers are betting heavily on Herbert in his sophomore season. Los Angeles brought in offensive coordinator John Lombardi, the Saints former quarterbacks coach, and invested in protecting Herbert with offensive linemen acquisitions in free agency and the draft. Then the Chargers went and got Herbert another playmaker in Palmer.

He didn’t put up huge numbers in four years at Tennessee, but he also wasn’t playing with a quarterback like Herbert. He flashed big play ability, averaging 21 yards per catch in his sophomore season, but he was hardly an end zone threat with just seven receiving touchdowns in his college career. Third-year receiver Jalen Guyton is projected to be Los Angeles’ third wide receiver but Palmer could easily cut into that. Tight end Hunter Henry left for New England in the offseason and his 93 targets are up for grabs.

Even if Palmer pushes Guyton for the WR3 spot, he could play fourth fiddle in the offense to Keenan Allen, the clear cut No. 1, Mike Williams, and running back Austin Ekeler, a pass-catching machine. Still, the Chargers offense was prolific in 2020. It figures to be even better in 2021 and Palmer should get his share of that wealth. He’s currently being drafted one spot ahead of Bears’ kicker Cairo Santos (K19).

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