What the Scouts Make of the 2021 WR Class

A look at player grades for the 2021 WR class, and how they compare to past classes

I’ve spent a good bit of time this off-season attempting to flesh out what the 2021 wide receiver class may look like in the NFL. Most notably, I built an app that will produce comparable players and a range of outcomes based on desired inputs.

But there is one factor that has not bee included in this analysis: what the scouts think. Obviously, a lot of my work comes from studying the box score, and trying to determine what the numbers tell us. However, what the film-grinders think tends to matter a good bit. We know that quality scout grades have much to say about draft position.

Additionally, people watching the tape will be more likely to consider context when grading players. In short: we should care what these people think about prospects.

I have gathered ESPN’s grades and ranks dating back to the 2004 draft. I prefer ESPN scouting data the most because:

  • They give both a player grade and a rank within the class

  • Those grading the players (most notably Mel Kiper) have been doing it for the entirety of the sample

Today, I will engage in the simple exercise of just showing you who the 2021 WRs are graded most similarly to. This should give you a good idea of what the scouts think. Keep in mind that the player grades are given on a 1-99 scale, while overall rank just means how that player ranks within his class across all positions.

Ja’Marr Chase, LSU - 94

Chase comes in the highest overall of all 94-graded prospects, which perhaps speaks to weakness of the 2021 draft at large. It is safe to say that the scouts have minimal reservations about Chase, despite the 2019 Biletnikoff winner opting out of the 2020 season. Troy Williamson represents the only known bust of this group (we’ll see about Jerry Jeudy, but I am bullish). Chase should be a top-6 pick in this draft, and command target volume right away.

DeVonta Smith, Alabama - 93

What a difference one number makes. While a scouting grade of 93 is obviously overwhelmingly positive, it is rather ironic that previous players receiving this number have been almost all busts. We should focus more on the number itself when evaluating Smith, but I always wonder exactly how these grades are computed.

Phrased differently, if guys like Kiper and McShay are using some kind of scoring rubric, perhaps similarities in traits lead to players with higher bust potential all being tiered under the same number. However, we also tend to be fooled by randomness, and a sample size of five really shouldn’t sway our opinions too heavily.

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama - 92

Waddle finds himself in a rather interesting group. He has the same scouting grade as last year’s top-drafted rookie WR, Henry Ruggs, as well as CeeDee Lamb. We also see the first second round pick to be graded here in Limas Sweed. It is easy to see how much wider the range of outcomes is as we move down the scale.

Kadarius Toney, Florida - 90

There is a huge number of 90-graded players, which perhaps gives us some better insight as to player quality than these previous, smaller groups. Again, the range of outcomes appears to be wide, both in draft position and player success. Of the 15 players listed here, nine are objectively busts, but there are also some high-level talents such as Calvin Ridley and Will Fuller.

Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU - 88

I find it interesting that Marshall is expected to be in the first round mix, but is graded similarly to very few actual first round picks. Again, this speaks to the weakness of the draft class across all positions. As expected, the lower we get on the grading scale, the less productive players we see. Ironically, Keenan Allen is the best player on this list, and he wasn’t drafted until pick 76.

Elijah Moore, Ole Miss - 87

Moore is sixth in the ESPN ranks at WR despite ranking 11th in the Grinding the Mocks aggregate draft position (80th overall). The worldwide leader is bullish here, and so are his similarity comps.

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota - 86

This is a bit of a mixed bag for Bateman. On the one hand, he rates way lower here than his early comps would suggest, as well as his WR4 ranking on Grinding the Mocks. On the other, there are a handful of productive players to receive an 86, including some of the game’s best. This again brings back some thoughts about what goes into the grades.

I don’t have a ton to say about the rest of the prospects, but here are the grades for the next handful of prospects.

Tutu Atwell, Louisville - 85

Nico Collins, Michigan - 83

Rondale Moore, Purdue - 82

The unicorn of the 2021 class is not getting much love from ESPN.

Sage Surratt, Wake Forest and
Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State - 81

That does it for all of the WR prospects rated an 80 or better. Be sure to keep these evaluations in mind when evaluating your favorite 2021 prospects!