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The 13 NFL Rookies Who Could Have Instant Fantasy Football Success

Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs could be day-one contributors as running backs, but they won’t be the only rookies who could get in on the action early

AP Images/Ringer illustration

The 2023 NFL draft just ended, which means it’s time to start getting excited for the rookie fantasy football class.

From a fantasy perspective, we have two elite running back options at the top of the board for the first time since Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey were top-10 draft picks in 2017, and a potential league-winning rookie quarterback worthy of a mid-round draft pick for the first time since Kyler Murray in 2019.

Wide receiver should yet again be a deep position in this rookie class, but there isn’t quite the same high-end talent as there has been the past three seasons, which saw Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Drake London, Garrett Wilson, and Chris Olave jump out of the gates as top-tier fantasy players.

There are more odds and ends to sort through and the order of this list will surely change before training camp, but for now, below are the top rookie fantasy options heading into the summer. Unless otherwise noted, these rankings are based on half-PPR scoring.

Tier 1: Week 1 Fantasy Starters

1. RB Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons

Robinson is the best running back prospect at the position since Saquon Barkley, and he’s landed in the perfect spot for fantasy production. In 2022, the Falcons led the NFL in rush rate (51.3 percent) and ranked among the league’s top five teams in rushing first downs (152) and yards per attempt (4.9). Even when Atlanta is down multiple scores in the second half, Arthur Smith stays committed to the run. It’s fair to question whether that’s a reliable winning formula, but it bodes well for his running backs’ counting stats.

The former Longhorn is also a skilled receiver with natural route-running ability. It’s possible Robinson will be employed in a Deebo Samuel–like hybrid role for the Dirty Birds, which would add significant value for fantasy managers in PPR leagues.

There will be some competition in this backfield—Tyler Allgeier is coming off a 1,000-yard rookie season and Cordarrelle Patterson was the RB9 in 2021—but expect Robinson to take the reins as the lead back in Week 1 and average 20 touches per game. He’s the current favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and a surefire fantasy first-rounder come September.

2. RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions

Gibbs wasn’t expected to be a top-12 pick in the NFL draft, but his selection at that spot—and Lions general manager Brad Holmes’s comments after the draft—say a lot about how Detroit plans to use the former Crimson Tide and Georgia Tech standout.

“It’s not just about, ‘Don’t pick a running back,’ because that’s not really how we view him,” Holmes said. “All the hours and research and all the time that we put in in terms of what we can get from these players, it becomes very visible what kind of impact that they can bring.”

What Gibbs brings is elite pass-catching ability that could make him McCaffrey Lite. Check out these numbers from Scott Barrett of Fantasy Points:

Gibbs ran routes all over the formation while at Alabama, and throughout the pre-draft process was compared favorably to CMC and Alvin Kamara, who during his rookie season racked up more than 1,500 scrimmage yards behind 120 rushes and 81 receptions. If Gibbs, who totaled 3,349 scrimmage yards (2,132 rushing and 1,217 receiving) across his three collegiate seasons, is given a lead-back role from Week 1, he could easily finish as a top-five option in PPR leagues, and a top-10 or top-15 running back in standard formats.

Tier 2: Mid-Round Picks With Upside

3. QB Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

Having Richardson this high is a gamble, because we aren’t even sure he’ll be starting for the Colts in Week 1. That said, count Colts owner Jim Irsay as someone who doesn’t want to wait long to see the most athletic QB prospect ever take the field.

“His development is so key to the franchise’s future,” Irsay said after the draft. “He gets better by playing.”

Something tells me that first-year head coach Shane Steichen is going to have Richardson ready to start the season opener, and that we’ll see a pared-down playbook with simple reads similar to the one Steichen and Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni employed during Jalen Hurts’s first games in Philadelphia.

Looking at fantasy leaderboards from the past few years shows how rushing QBs are a cheat code in fantasy. Hurts was QB3 and Justin Fields QB6 last season; Josh Allen was QB1 the two seasons before that; and Lamar Jackson was far and away the QB1 in 2019. Richardson could be the best QB of the draft class if he plays early and often for Indianapolis, where he could be a fantasy league winner as soon as year one.

4. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks

It’s become a bit clichéd to remind readers that Smith-Njigba was the leading receiver on the 2021 Ohio State team that also rostered last year’s first-rounders Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but … it simply cannot go without saying. After being selected as top-12 picks in last year’s draft, Wilson and Olave finished 2022 as the half-PPR WR19 and WR25, respectively, and I expect a similar output from JSN his rookie year. He’s the real deal—just ask A.J. Brown:

A hamstring injury kept Smith-Njigba from building on his historic sophomore season for the Buckeyes this past year, but he looked fully healthy at the combine, where he showcased his elite short-area quickness by dominating the receiver group in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill. JSN may not rack up a ton of yards or touchdowns for the Seahawks this season, but he profiles as the perfect complement to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and should feast while working out of the slot. Like Julian Edelman but with better size, JSN should have more value in PPR leagues, where his ability to find empty space could make him a target vacuum in Seattle.

Tier 3: Late-Round Fliers

5. WR Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings

The former Biletnikoff winner enters a receiver room with a clear lead wideout in Justin Jefferson, but also with a target and leadership void after the exit of veteran Adam Thielen in free agency.

The Vikings drafted Addison to fill that void, but he may have trouble establishing a significant role in an offense that already features other high-usage stars T.J. Hockenson and Dalvin Cook. Addison will also have to battle for targets with K.J. Osborn, who’s going into his fourth season with Kirk Cousins and looked like a legit breakout candidate next to Jefferson at times during the second half of the 2022 campaign.

If Addison overcomes his previous drops issue and adds some muscle this offseason to help him better compete with the physicality of the NFL game, he could vault into the WR2 conversation at some point in 2023. This will be a trial-by-fire season for the rookie receiver, but he has enough upside to warrant late-round consideration in fantasy drafts.

6. WR Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson is back, and he appears eager to show the world he can throw the rock:

After a couple of tumultuous offseasons, the Ravens finally signed their former MVP to a long-term deal, and the addition of Flowers is one of many that could transform this previously run-happy offense into a more downfield passing attack in 2023.

Flowers is a smaller receiver, but his speed and elusiveness—he totaled 500 yards on 12 deep receptions last year at Boston College—should make him one of the league’s better downfield threats the moment he steps on an NFL field in Week 1.

Mark Andrews, Odell Beckham Jr., and Rashod Bateman will likely be Jackson’s go-to targets early in the season, but Flowers has the versatility to stay involved in the offense, even if it means he’s more active in the screen and end-around game early on. His field-stretching impact should help more in real football than in fantasy this season, but there’s WR2 upside should he step into the Hollywood Brown role sooner than later.

7. WR Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs

This is a bit of a Patrick Mahomes dart throw, but hey, why not? The Chiefs’ current receiving corps is led by Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, none of whom scream WR1 potential despite the important roles they each play in the offense. Justyn Ross has generated some fanfare this offseason as well, but even still, the top receiving position in this offense behind Travis Kelce is wide open.

Enter Rice, who was one of the best receivers in college football last season per Pro Football Focus’s grades and has the all-around game to produce high-floor results in the NFL right away. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but Rice is a reliable target who led SMU in receptions each of his last three seasons in college.

Rice has a fairly low fantasy ceiling in his rookie year, but if he becomes the 1B to Kelce’s 1A in the Kansas City offense, you’ll be kicking yourself for not taking a flier on the guy, especially in dynasty formats.

8. TE Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills

Hypotheticals matter here: If Kincaid becomes the no. 2 option that Josh Allen has been looking for the past few years, he could easily be a top-10 fantasy option at his position this season.

Kincaid, the first tight end drafted, has the ability to stretch the field unlike any other player at his position in this class. It’s never wise to predict a major breakout by a rookie tight end, but Kincaid has the skill set to excel in one of the league’s most pass-happy offenses.

Tier 4: Worth Monitoring

9. QB Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

Young is pro-ready and sees the field well. He’s likely a streaming option in 2023 in non-superflex formats because of how deep the quarterback position is, but he was picked no. 1 in the draft for a reason.

10. WR Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers

Johnston made this list based on draft position and pedigree, but he will be competing for targets with Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Josh Palmer, and Jalen Guyton in his rookie year. There’s some dynasty upside, but I’m not overly excited about his redraft prospects in 2023.

11. WR Jonathan Mingo, Carolina Panthers

Carolina traded D.J. Moore in order to draft Bryce Young, leaving a massive void—an average of 134 targets per season since 2019—in the receiver room. The most proven receiver on the Panthers is DJ Chark, who’s tallied more than 800 yards in just one of his five NFL seasons. Mingo has one of the clearest paths toward fantasy relevance on this list if he can beat out the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart.

12. TE Michael Mayer, Las Vegas Raiders

Darren Waller is gone, and Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard are unlikely to keep Mayer from shooting up the tight end depth chart. While more of a dynasty option than a redraft target, the former Notre Dame star’s ability and willingness to block (they call him “Baby Gronk” for a reason) should keep him on the field in short-yardage and red zone situations, which gives him more scoring upside than the average first-year tight end.

13. TE Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers

The former Oregon State standout should see a fair share of playing time right away in Green Bay. Tight ends are safety nets for young QBs, and Musgrave could become a favorite target for Jordan Love early in their respective careers.