It is considered a given that the Jacksonville Jaguars will make Trevor Lawrence the first quarterback off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft (and the No. 1 pick). According to most oddsmakers, the first wide receiver off the board is a given as well—Ja’Marr Chase. But the draft experts and oddsmakers are not always right.
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, either Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb were supposed to be the first wide receiver off the board. After having incredibly productive college careers, both were considered can’t-miss-selections with tremendous upside and the ability to produce right away.
Sportsbooks favored one or the other to be the first wide receiver off the board, who depended on the sportsbook. PointsBet favored Jeudy (-141) over Lamb (+100). But both still had a 50 percent chance or better of coming off the board before every other receiver.
Henry Ruggs III was in the conversation. But with +400 odds (at PointsBet), he just had a 20 percent chance of being the first wide receiver taken. As it turns out, the Raiders liked him more than Jeudy or Lamb. By taking him with the No. 12 pick, the Raiders made everyone that bet on Ruggs very happy.
Could something similar happen this year?
Ja’Marr Chase: PFF’s WR1 ?
Will he impress at LSU’s Pro Day today? ?pic.twitter.com/S531z3i3Tc
— PFF (@PFF) March 31, 2021
2021 NFL Draft Has A Deep Wide Receiver Class
With the attention and focus on the passing game, drafting a wide receiver that can step in and play immediately is a game-changer. This year’s wide receiver draft class has quite a few guys that fit that description. But who is the best, most NFL-ready of the group?
It is easy to see who the oddsmakers think the top wide receivers are:
|2021 NFL Draft: First Wide Receiver Selected||PointsBet||William Hill||FanDuel|
|Terrace Marshall Jr.||+5000||+4000||+11000|
|Amon-Ra St. Brown||+10000||+15000||+14000|
The obvious (and possibly only) knock on Ja’Marr Chase is that he only had one season as a starter for LSU. Yes, he was named college football’s best wide receiver in that season (2019). But it is not unreasonable to wonder if he could have done it again last season (he opted out). It is one thing to produce on a team stacked with talent, but last year’s group had much less than the 2019 LSU team.
However, oddsmakers have given him an 81 percent chance or better to be the first wide receiver drafted for a reason. Could it be because they cannot look past the impression Chase left in his last game. He stole the show in the 2019 national championship game with nine receptions for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
It could also be because there are questions about Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith despite their obvious talent. In Waddle’s case, teams will have reservations about his ankle; not enough to take him in the second round but enough to keep from taking him in the first. However, he has had more than enough to recover. But it is not unheard of for someone to lose a step after breaking an ankle.
If they take him, will they get the same game-breaking talent that he was in college?
As for Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner is an incredible talent, but he is small (6’ and 170 lbs.). His talent, athleticism, and skill are apparent. But can teams count on him to show up every week? Can his small frame handle the beating it will take playing in the NFL?
Beyond those three, there are several other excellent wide receivers. But it would be shocking if one of them were the first wide receiver off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft and not Chase, Waddle, or Smith.
Jaylen Waddle is dangerous ? pic.twitter.com/FmT5nD7mFd
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 27, 2020
Who Should You Bet On?
All three are incredibly talented wide receivers who will make whichever team takes them very happy. None of them are physically imposing players. But they each have the talent, athleticism, and instincts every team wants in a wide receiver.
So, how will anyone decide to take one over the other two?
Teams will watch tape of Chase from 2019 and think they have a can’t-miss player in him. But they may also wonder if he could have done it last year on a weaker LSU team.
Waddle’s ankle will be a concern, but the real mystery may be how good he actually is. He played behind two future first-round picks for most of his career at Alabama (Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III). When he finally became the No. 1 guy last season, he went down with an injury after just a few games.
Everything about him looks great, but throughout an entire season, would he still look great? We do not know.
As for Smith, his size could hold him back. Yes, he played against some tough defenders in college and took his share of monster hits from time to time. But can he take the kind of beating teams will dish out every week in the NFL?
Is the real possibility his small body cannot the beating enough for teams to overlook him?
Concerns about Smith’s durability and Waddle’s ankle make it seem like Chase is the clear and obvious choice. If you want to play it safe, then he is absolutely who you should bet on. However, there is value in betting on Waddle and/or Smith.
Smith’s production last season will be hard for some teams to overlook. But in Waddle, teams will think they are getting the next Tyreek Hill. That could be enough to push him ahead of Smith and Chase on Draft Day.