Ranking the Top 10 Wide Receivers of the 2021 NFL Draft Class
The 2020 NFL draft was littered with talented wide receivers, but the 2021 class also has its fair share of playmakers.
Several of the top 10 receivers in the 2021 class come from top-tier programs, but there are also a couple of players from smaller programs. Some great receivers were left off this list, but they'll have plenty of time to move into the top 10 as the season wraps up and the predraft process begins.
Let's take a look at the top 10 receivers for 2021 based partially on production, but mostly on the skills that they've demonstrated on tape that will play in the pros.
10. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
Wake Forest's Sage Surratt opted out of the 2020 season, but he still belongs on the list of top receivers in this year's draft class.
In 2019, Surratt had 66 receptions for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns in just nine games. He topped 150 receiving yards four times.
At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Surratt uses his size and strength to his advantage. He's a below-average athlete, lacking the explosiveness and top-end speed of other receivers on this list. However, he's still a capable downfield receiver by leveraging defensive backs well with his size and contested-catch ability. He's also a tenacious blocker, which NFL coaches will love.
The lack of athleticism limits his upside as an NFL prospect, but Surratt has the size and playmaking ability to be a solid possession receiver. Teams looking for a physical presence at the position would likely take Surratt late in the second round or early in the third.
9. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
Two losses in their last three games have hurt Oklahoma State's hopes of a Big 12 title, but wide receiver Tylan Wallace has continued to solidify his draft stock this season.
Wallace was a first-team All-American in 2018 and has consistently been a top weapon for the Cowboys. He's caught 185 passes for 3,163 yards and 24 touchdowns in his college career, making him one of the most productive receivers in the nation.
At 6'0" and 190 pounds, Wallace is an impressive downfield threat with sudden explosiveness and a solid release package at the line of scrimmage to get separation early when given a free release. He's also terrific making contested catches thanks to his excellent vertical leaping ability and strong hands.
Wallace suffered a torn ACL in 2019 that ended his season early. That's resulted in a dip in production, particularly when trying to find the end zone. The Cowboys receiver can also struggle against press coverage when lined up against more physical corners, and he doesn't excel in creating separation at the route stem as much as the other receivers on this list.
Still, Wallace's skill set will allow him to fill a solid role at the pro level as a Day 2 pick.
8. Chris Olave, Ohio State
As the Ohio State Buckeyes aim for another College Football Playoff appearance, wide receiver Chris Olave is trying to improve his draft stock.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Olave has 75 receptions for 1,238 yards and 16 touchdowns. He doesn't have as many receptions as some of the other players on this list, but he's been no stranger to the end zone.
Olave will operate best in the pros as a possession receiver. His footwork and lateral agility make him a polished route-runner, and he has good enough body control to position himself well in contested-catch situations.
He should still be an early Day 2 pick in the 2021 draft, but Olave doesn't have the stats or top-tier athleticism that others on this list have. That won't stop him from contributing in the NFL, however, regardless of where he ends up playing.
7. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
As a former 5-star recruit, USC's Amon-Ra St. Brown is used to being in the national spotlight. He hasn't gotten as much national attention in college, but that could change once he's in the NFL.
The Trojans have played in only three games, with St. Brown catching 19 passes for 266 yards. That's not a bad start to the season, but he'd also like to see the end zone after putting up 1,042 yards and six touchdowns last year.
St. Brown has some of the highest upside in this draft class thanks to his top-tier athleticism. His burst, strength and elusiveness have been put on display at times in his college career.
It's likely that the USC receiver will be a project in the pros as he works on cleaning up his footwork and expanding the number of routes he's capable of creating separation with. However, with that athleticism and play strength, he should be able to establish himself as a second-round pick.
6. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Although his production has dropped off a bit in 2020, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman is still one of the top receivers in the 2021 draft class.
Bateman was one of the most exciting receivers in the country in 2019, averaging 20.3 yards per reception with 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had initially planned to opt out of this season but then opted back in at the end of September. Now, Bateman has opted back out to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft.
Unfortunately, Bateman's production took a step back this year. The tape has still shown an NFL-caliber player, however. His play strength and competitive toughness show up on contested catches and with the ball in his hands. Defenders struggle to bring Bateman down because of his contact balance and a strong stiff-arm.
Bateman will need to clean up his play at the line of scrimmage, especially when getting jammed by cornerbacks. However, his ability to create separation at the route stem will allow him to get open in the pros.
If he had the size or speed of some of the other players on this list, he might have been ranked a little bit higher. Still, Bateman should be a borderline first-round pick.
5. Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
For fans of tall and athletic wide receivers, LSU's Terrace Marshall Jr. is someone to keep an eye on.
Marshall carved out a role of his own behind Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in 2019, catching 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. As the top target on the team this year, Marshall has been more productive on a per-game basis. He's already picked up nine touchdowns in six games, putting him just two scores behind FBS leader Jaelon Darden.
Coming in at 6'3" and 200 pounds, Marshall has the size and physical strength to handle defensive backs. He isn't deterred by cornerbacks trying to jam him off his release, and he has terrific body control to make contested catches.
The LSU junior is also surprisingly quick despite his size. He'll need to clean up some of his technique at the route stem and as a run-blocker, but his physical tools alone make him worthy of a first-round pick.
4. Rondale Moore, Purdue
Don't let his small stature fool you, because Purdue's Rondale Moore belongs in the conversation as one of the best wide receivers in this draft class.
Coming in at just 5'9" and 180 pounds, Moore took the Big Ten by storm as a true freshman in 2018 with 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. A knee injury ended his second season after just four games.
Moore made this year's debut last week against Minnesota after opting back in for the 2020 season. He caught 15 passes for 116 yards while adding another 20 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Even though he's the smallest receiver on this list, Moore might be the best after the catch. He's so low to the ground that he has elite contact balance, and his elusiveness and acceleration make it difficult for defenders to even get a clean hit on him. He also consistently creates separation when running routes by quickly changing speeds and direction.
Moore's size and 2019 injury may be concerning for some, but his on-field performances are so impressive that he should be widely considered a first-round prospect.
3. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
We only got a glimpse of what Jaylen Waddle can do in a full-time role this year, but scouts should be impressed with what they saw.
Waddle had limited opportunities behind Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III in 2019 but looked like the real deal this year. He had at least 100 receiving yards in all four full games he played, catching 25 passes for 557 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns were 87-plus yards.
Unfortunately, Waddle's season was cut short after he suffered a likely season-ending ankle injury on the opening kickoff against Tennessee. Matt Zenitz of AL.com has suggested that there's a chance Waddle could return if the Crimson Tide make it to the College Football Playoff, but it's still unlikely.
Prior to his injury, Waddle showed his abilities as both a vertical threat and a return man. His acceleration is arguably the best in this draft class, getting to his top speed almost immediately to burn by defenders. He also does a good job tracking the ball over his shoulder on deep passes and is able to extend outside of his frame to make more difficult catches.
For a team picking early in the first round looking for a big-play threat, Waddle would be a great fit.
2. DeVonta Smith, Alabama
It's such a close race between Alabama's top two receivers as draft prospects, but the injury to Waddle gives DeVonta Smith a slight edge on the big board, at least right now.
Smith has been a playmaker for the Crimson Tide for years and is the only receiver in SEC history with multiple games of four or more receiving touchdowns. He's been a focal point of the offense in 2020, catching 65 passes for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns in just seven games.
Although he's not the most explosive receiver in this class, Smith creates separation with his quick footwork and varying release packages at the line of scrimmage. He's a threat after the catch as well, regularly making defenders miss to pick up additional yards downfield.
The biggest concern for Smith is his wiry frame at just 6'1" and 175 pounds. He's stronger than he looks, but Smith will need to put on some more muscle to deal with stronger defensive backs in the NFL who aren't afraid to get physical in press coverage.
Other than that, Smith's tools and experience make him a legitimate first-round talent.
1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
There are a lot talented receivers in the 2021 draft class, but LSU's Ja'Marr Chase is the best of the bunch.
Chase opted out of the 2020 season after an incredible 2019 season that ended with a national championship. Not only did the Tigers go undefeated, but Chase was also a unanimous All-American with 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.
After breaking SEC records for receiving yards and touchdowns in a season, Chase didn't have much left to prove in college. He was a technically sound route-runner despite being just a true sophomore. He also showed off elite athleticism and explosiveness that made it difficult for defenses to cover him. Even when they did, he was so physical at the catch point that the LSU star was able to make impressive catches in traffic.
Even if he isn't the biggest receiver at 6'1" and 208 pounds, Chase is the most gifted receiver in this class, so he shouldn't have to wait long to hear his name called in April.
Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite.