NFL free agency is going to be a ton of fun this season. There is likely going to be more players switching teams than we are accustomed to seeing. But it will help shape team needs heading into the NFL Draft. Post free agency is when we can really get a feel for what position and players teams may target in the draft. Of course, we will always be wrong on some -- think Justin Jefferson to the Eagles, which seemed like a lock to many, myself included -- only for the team to take a different receiver. This year is also a strange year for the draft, as the college football season was reduced and some players did not even partake. That is why it is more important than ever for fantasy players to know about the rookies that will arrive with a lot of hype come fantasy draft season.
One way to get to know these rookies is to simply watch them. You can find highlights and games and stuff to watch to get a feel for them, and it's always useful to do so. Another way is to jump into the numbers and learn about them that way. But don't worry, I do not expect you to do so alone -- in fact, I will give you all the stats you need to know about the incoming rookie class!
Stats to Know about 2021 QB Class
Trevor Lawrence has been highly touted as the top QB in this class basically since he stepped on a field. He topped 3,100 yards in all three college seasons, including 2020, despite playing five fewer games. He threw for 30 and 36 TDs his first two seasons and threw 24 in just 10 games in 2020. He will also be able to pick up fantasy points with his legs at the next level. He rushed for 563 yards in 2019 and followed it up with 203 this past season. He's also rushed for at least eight TDs in two straight seasons. He excels at selling the handoff near the line of scrimmage and rolling out. He could be used similarly to Josh Allen near the line of scrimmage at the next level. Clemson took a sack on 3.5% of their plays last season. For those wondering about the type of offense Lawrence ran at Clemson, the Tigers used 11 personnel, which is three-wide receiver sets, on 87% of their plays. Play-action was used 31% of the time and 91% of the plays were ran out of the shotgun. And just in case you were wondering, Urban Meyer ran 76% of plays in 11 and 87% from the shotgun during his tenure at Ohio State. Just saying.
Zach Wilson worked his way into the early first round range after breaking out in 2020, throwing for a college career-high 3,692 pass yards and 33 touchdowns. In his first two seasons combined he had thrown just 23 touchdowns. His yards per attempt also shot up to 11.0 in 2020. Oh, and he added 254 yards and 10 touchdowns with his legs, which were also career highs. He may not have the rushing upside of some of the other QBs in this class, but at least he can add some, especially if he can be effective near the goal line. QBs being able to add points with their legs is becoming more and more important in fantasy football. As for his offense at BYU, the Cougars utilized three-wide receiver sets on 51% of their plays, play-action on 37%, and 61% of the plays were from the shotgun. They allowed a sack on 2.8% of plays.
Justin Fields is another QB that could be one of the first picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Fields' best season came back in 2019 when he threw for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns, with just three interceptions as a sophomore. In a reduced 2020 season he threw for 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns in eight games. But his completion percentage did jump from 67.2 to 70.2 this past season. He can definitely add points with his legs, as he rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 and then 383 yards and five touchdowns in the shortened 2020 season. In 2020, Ohio State used 11 personnel on 61% of plays and called play-action on 34%. Fields operated out of the shotgun on 71% of plays and took a sack on 7.3% of plays, which is by far the highest of these first-round QBs.
Mac Jones threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns with just four interceptions in his first full season as the starter. He did start four games in 2019 in place of an injured Tua Tagovailoa and threw for 1,503 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions that season. Jones is not much of a runner, as he has rushed for 50 yards combined in his last two seasons. He did add a rushing touchdown in each of the last two, but I would not expect him to run much at the next level. With Alabama last season, the Crimson Tide used three-wide receiver sets on 66% of plays and used play-action on 46%. They had 64% of the plays from the shotgun and allowed a sack on 3.5% of plays.
Trey Lance did not get to play in 2020, as North Dakota State's season was suspended due to COVID-19. In 2019, he threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns with no interceptions as a sophomore. He also rushed for an eye-popping 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns that season. He showcased that he will be able to add fantasy points with his legs, perhaps the best of the bunch in this class. He has the size to be a factor near the goal line in the NFL, as he is listed at 6-foot-4, 224 pounds. In 2019, North Dakota State utilized 11 personnel on just 24% of plays, with just 52% of plays coming from the shotgun, both the fewest of these five QBs. The Bison used play-action on 38% and Lance took a sack on 4% of the plays.
Stats to Know about 2021 RB Class
Najee Harris is going to be one of the first running backs drafted this year and I expect him to be one of the first rookie RBs to go in fantasy drafts. Harris is listed at 6-2, 230 pounds, drawing comparisons to another big 'Bama back, Derrick Henry. In his senior year at Alabama, he rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns. He topped 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons. He has also posted 27 and 43 catches, 304 and 425 yards and seven and four touchdowns the past two seasons, respectively, showing he can be utilized in the passing game. He averaged 3.2 yards after contact per attempt, which ranked 15th of draft-eligible RBs. His 72 missed tackles forced ranked second among RBs. But he did not fare as well on a per-touch basis, as his 0.28 missed tackles forced per touch ranked ninth. Last season's Alabama offense ran an inside zone run scheme on 20% of the plays and an outside zone on 29%. More on the zones later.
Travis Etienne is another RB who could go in the first round of the NFL draft. Listed at 5-10, 215 pounds, all Etienne did in Clemson was produce. His stats jump off the screen like video game numbers. He topped 1,600 rushing yards as a sophomore and junior, before posting 914 in a shortened senior season. He scored at least 13 rushing touchdowns in all four college seasons, including seasons with 19 and 24. His receptions have increased every season in college, topping out at 48 in just 12 games as a senior. He posted a college career-high 588 receiving yards in 2020 but has posted over 400 in each of the last two seasons. He forced 44 missed tackles, which ranked seventh among draft-eligible running backs with a minimum of 100 carries. His 0.26 missed tackles forced per attempt ranked 11th. He also averaged 3.8 yards after contact per attempt, which tied for the 11th best out of 22 qualified RBs. At his pro day, Etienne ran a 4.40 40-yard dash. In 2020, Jonathan Taylor (4.39) was the only RB to run a sub-4.4 40. Clemson used the inside zone on 55% of its plays and an outside zone on just 8%.
Javonte Williams is a physical runner who is expected to be one of the first three running backs selected in this year's draft. Williams had his best season as a junior in 2020, rushing for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also posting career highs across the board in the passing game with 25 catches, 305 yards and three touchdowns. While he is a very physical runner, he takes a lot of pride in his pass-catching abilities. His 77 missed tackles forced and 0.48 missed tackles forced per attempt both led all college running backs last season. In fact, none of the other qualified backs averaged 0.37 MTF per attempt. Oh, and if you're still not excited, his 4.6 yards after contact per attempt ranked fourth. North Carolina ran inside zone on 45% of its plays and outside on just 12%.
Williams isn't the only RB coming out of UNC this season. His college teammate, Michael Carter, who is listed at 5-8, 199 pounds, is also entering the NFL. Carter stepped up in his final two seasons at North Carolina, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each. He topped out with 1,245 yards as a senior. He also posted a career-high nine rushing touchdowns as a senior, after rushing for three or less the previous two seasons and eight as a freshman. He caught 25 balls as a senior and at least 21 passes in three straight seasons. His 267 receiving yards was a career high and he had six receiving touchdowns in his college career. Carter topped his backfield mate in yards after contact per attempt in 2020, averaging 4.7 per attempt, which tied for the second best among draft eligible RBs. Carter also forced 50 missed tackles, good for the third most in this class. His 0.31 missed tackles forced per attempt ranked fifth.
Chuba Hubbard took his talents from the Great North (Canada) to Oklahoma State and will soon be calling the NFL home. He exploded in 2019 as a sophomore, rushing for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns on 328 carries, adding in 23 catches for 198 yards. In 2020, he played only seven games and finished with 625 yards and five touchdowns. As a junior, he put up 22 missed tackles forced and averaged 0.17 missed tackle forced per attempt, both in the bottom three of the 22 draft-eligible RBs with at least 100 carries. His 2.5 yards after contact per attempt were tied for the lowest of this bunch. I wanted to compare those numbers to his great 2019 season, when he went for 1,380 yards after contact, the most in the nation. That season he had 82 missed tackles, good for 0.24 per attempt, and averaged 3.7 yards after contact per attempt. Hubbard is a former high school track star, so we know he brings speed. Listed at 6-0, 208 pounds, he brings size as well. He can make an impact as a rookie if he lands in the right spot. Oklahoma State ran inside zone on 49% of its plays and outside zone 26% of the time.
Kenneth Gainwell is a dual-threat back, listed at 5-10, 191 pounds. He showed off his abilities in 2019 running for 1,459 yards and 13 TDs, while adding 51 catches, 610 yards and three TDs as a receiver. He finished that season with the second-most receiving yards by an RB, despite having the fifth-most targets. He could get dubbed a pass-catching specialist in the NFL -- look at what's happened to Duke Johnson -- but he did show he can run at the collegiate level. Landing spot will greatly matter for him. Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season. Memphis ran inside zone 19% in 2019 and outside zone 22%.
Kylin Hill from Mississippi State is listed at 5-11, 210 pounds. His best season came in 2019 as a junior, when he ran for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns. He only played three games in 2020, but did post a career-high 23 catches for 237 yards. Mississippi state ran inside zone on 70% of its plays and outside zone on just 3%.
Rhamondre Stevenson from Oklahoma is listed at 6-0, 227 pounds. He is a big power back who can run between the tackles and is at his best when running downhill. He ran a 4.64 40. He has played two seasons of college ball, putting up career highs across the board in 2020. Last season, he rushed for 665 yards with seven touchdowns and 18 catches for 211 yards. Oklahoma ran inside zone 28% of the time and outside zone 19%.
Jaret Patterson from Buffalo is listed at 5-9, 195 pounds. He's put up big numbers throughout his college career, topping 1,000 rushing yards in three straight seasons. His high came in 2019 when he rushed for 1,799 yards on 312 attempts. He's scored 19 rushing touchdowns in two straight seasons. He has never done much in the passing game, leaving college with 20 receptions over three seasons, including not picking one up in 2020. Buffalo ran inside zone on 24% of its plays and outside on 43%.
Trey Sermon of Ohio State will be heading to the NFL as well. He is listed at 6-1, 215 pounds. He has never topped 1,000 yards rushing in college but did top out at 947 as a sophomore. He has five rushing TDs or less in three of four seasons but scored 13 times as a sophomore. His career high is 16 catches as a freshman, and he has never topped 200 receiving yards in a season. Ohio State ran inside zone 43% of the time in 2020 and outside zone on 35% of plays.
You may be wondering why I kept mentioning the type of run schemes an RB's offense ran in college. If this year is anything like last, you will hear this thrown around a lot for potential fits. Now, just because an RB didn't run in a specific system in college doesn't mean he can't make the transition. But it is an important piece of the puzzle in trying to figure out Year 1 usage and workload.
NFL teams that schemed an inside zone the most in 2020 (league average was 27%):
- Texans - 45%
- Bengals - 43%
- Eagles - 42%
- Cardinals - 41%
- Raiders - 40%
- Chiefs - 37%
- Dolphins - 35%
- Packers - 35%
- Seahawks - 33%
- Jaguars - 32%
NFL teams that schemed an outside zone the most in 2020 (league average was 25%):
- Bears - 47%
- Titans - 45%
- Rams - 44%
- 49ers - 39%
- Browns - 39%
- Jets - 38%
- Vikings - 36%
- Seahawks - 33%
- Packers - 33%
- Cowboys - 33%
Let me know what you think on Twitter and Instagram, @MichaelFFlorio.