Understanding the unique value that rookies can bring to your fantasy can be the difference maker between winning your league or having to spend 24 hours at waffle house. Rookies are the only fantasy players who possess no previously existing NFL stats for competitors to find automatically. Furthermore, rookie fantasy players are often overlooked due to the fact that there isn’t exactly a 1 to 1 overlap between NFL fans and NCAA Football fans.
This fact includes NFL general managers as well. We’re not exactly NFL executives ourselves but I seem to remember Deshaun Watson as one of the pre-eminent college quarterbacks of all time for multiple years against top competition. Mitchell Trubisky was a one-year starter at North Carolina (a fine program, sure) who struggled with the deep ball. In the same draft, Mitchell Trubisky was taken second overall and Deshaun Watson was taken 12th. Having said that, outside of quarterback it is important to understand that how a rookie fits into a particular scheme trumps almost all other considerations. We’ll update this post following the NFL draft in April.
NFL Rookie Running Backs
Regardless of the fantasy league one plays in, rookie running backs occupy most of the interest and attention of fantasy players. Rookie running backs are expected to contribute immediately as teams have four years (plus an optional franchise tag) to utilize their young running back before the hits appear to take their toll.
Bijan Robinson – Hailed as one the premier running backs in the draft in recent years, Bijan Robinson successfully broke 104 tackles in his final year as a longhorn. Regardless of where he lands, he will likely be the first player taken in every fantasy rookie draft. As far as traditional fantasy leagues go, it would be a surprise to see him last beyond the third round.
Jahmyr Gibbs – Whoever gets Jahmyr Gibbs is in for a treat. It’s unclear how teams will use him. It’s unclear if he projects as a running back, a slot receiver, a Kadarius Toney type or what, but he can bring everything except a bad attitude.
Tank Bigsby (Auburn): The Auburn running back had to deal with a lot of administrative changes or lack thereof during his time on the plains. However, he came out of it battle-tested. Bigsby possesses extremely quick feet and great vision through the hole. He’ll be a classic middle-round pick that takes on a large roll wherever he lands.
NFL Rookie Wide Receivers
Scouting rookie wideouts will pay off for fantasy users down the road. Whereas running backs are expected to contribute immediately and play a leading role for a team, receivers can take a long time to make an impact but have a longer shelf life. In PPR leagues (point per reception), drafting a future number-one wideout can be as, or even more important, than drafting a star running back.
Whereas the 2023 NFL Draft class appears slated to be exceptionally deep at quarterback and tight end, it seems evident that the wide receiver class has suffered as a result.
Quentin Johnston (TCU): The tools to be a top-10 pick, he’s big and fast at 6-4, 215 pounds. Expect Johnston to be off the board by the middle of the first round. A boom or bust option by any standards.
Jordan Addison (USC): The crafty highly sought-after wide receiver, it’s hard to imagine him not being a first-round pick. Given it could be towards the end of the first round, Addison could find himself as the first rookie wide receiver off the board in most fantasy formats. We’ll see where he lands before making a projection.
Jaxon Smith-NJIGBA (Ohio State): If you saw Ohio State play this year, you likely didn’t see Jaxon take the field. He was injured for almost the entirety of the 2022-2023 campaign.
NFL Rookie Tight Ends
Given the dearth of slate-breaking tight ends at the NFL, one would be wise not to sleep on rookie tight ends. This is particularly true in 2023 as the NFL will see, at least on paper, perhaps one of the deepest classes at the position ever.
Michael Mayer (Notre Dame): Long considered to be the NFL’s most exciting tight end prospect in some time, Michael Mayer is good at everything. In his time with the Irish, he’s filled out his 6-4.5 frame nicely, and really should be a near-every-down tight end at the next level by the fall.
Sam Laporta (Iowa): A crafty All-American, Sam Laporta is not the biggest guy on the list (6-4, 249) nor the fastest, but he just kind of gets it. He’ll garner comparisons to Mark Andrews at the next level.
Luke Musgrave (Oregon State): At 6-6, he’s also the burner of the group that few got to see because of an injury that sidelined him for all but two games of his last year at Oregon State.
Darnell Washington (Georgia): The other Georgia Tight End won’t have to wait long to hear his name called on the second day of the draft. The Georgia product is a physical freak (6-7, 270 entering his senior year) who will be a cheat code in the red zone.
NFL Rookie Quarterbacks
As few quarterbacks become NFL starters right after being drafted, rookie quarterbacks are often taken in fantasy leagues out of necessity or future potential. In the latter case, we’ll assume that you’re in a franchise league (where you get to keep some or all of your players from year to year).
Pre-Draft Rookie Quarterback Rankings Based on Talent
Bryce Young (Alabama) – Long considered to be a premier talent for the professional ranks, confidence in Bryce Young to be a franchise quarterback seemed to wither a bit in his last year at Alabama. Bryce Young is good at just about everything, but not particularly fantastic at any single element of the game.
C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) – Getting a chance to play against college football’s top defense (and one possessing copious amounts of NFL talent), paid off in spades for the Ohio State product. Stroud showed his ability to throw on the run, recognize defensive schemes and make all the throws the modern NFL game demands. Whether he will be successful at the next level is yet to be seen, but Stroud will certainly be given the reins of an NFL franchise in the coming years.
Anthony Richardson (Florida) – A physical freak that showed during the NFL combine, Richardson projects as a high-upside fantasy QB due mostly to his rushing ability. As we’ve seen in recent years, quarterbacks who can consistently generate yards on the ground have a high floor/high ceiling combination that is difficult to beat.
Will Levis (Kentucky) – If Bryce Young’s draft stock cooled a bit in this past year, Will Levis’ stock was in the freezer. Dealing with injuries and an anemic offense, the once consensus top pick had scouts guessing as he struggled to keep his head in 2022-2023 college football season. He’ll still be taken, worst case scenario, in the top 10 and we’ll evaluate his fantasy potential then. A large quarterback with good athleticism, expect Levis to profile well at the next level.