Rookies Set To Make A Fantasy Impact
By James Collier
One of the most exciting parts of fantasy football is the unknown of drafting a rookie. Whether you took them in a dynasty rookie draft, or as a dart throw at the end of a redraft league, there aren’t many better feelings than seeing your guy breakout to win you matchups and ultimately, championships.
Last year’s rookie wide receivers Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Drake London and Christian Watson are all now consensus top 25 players at the position. As are running backs Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce, Rachaad White and Breece Hall – who, prior to his week seven injury looked to be on his way to becoming the steal of fantasy drafts.
But because it can be difficult to predict when that breakout performance will come for rookies, some fantasy managers lose patience and opt for the safer floor and known commodity of veteran players. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s rookies who could make an immediate impact for our fantasy teams and what level of risk they each bring with them from a redraft perspective.
Bijan Robinson (RB, Atlanta Falcons) - No Risk
As the highest drafted running back since Saquon Barkley in 2018, Bijan Robinson was always going to be on this list. Barkley finished as the number one fantasy running back in his rookie season and it really wouldn’t be a surprise to see Robinson repeat that feat this year.
The Falcons led the league in rush attempts last year, averaging almost 33 per game. Having a rushing quarterback like Marcus Mariota can bump that average up but in the four games at the end of the season with Desmond Ridder as the starter, they handed the ball off to their running backs 31.25 times per game. When you consider who their options were, fifth round pick Tyler Allgeier and 31 year old Cordarelle Patterson, it’s hard not to see a world in which Bijan does not average between 15 and 20 carries per game as a rookie. That volume alone should be enough to almost guarantee him a finish as a top 12 fantasy running back, and that’s without factoring in his talent.
We can also get excited about the prospect of Robinson being considerably involved as a pass catcher for the Falcons. Outside of Drake London and Kyle Pitts, the Falcons do not have an obvious third option who will command consistent targets. With Arthur Smith describing him as an “offensive weapon” they are surely going to find creative ways to get Bijan the ball through the air as well as on the ground.
Bijan is a lock to hit the ground running and be a fantasy star from day one, but he’s not exactly a secret and the price will be high even in redraft leagues. He will probably be off the board in the first round of most drafts, as one of the top five running backs taken.
Jahmyr Gibbs (RB, Detroit Lions) - Low Risk
Jahmyr Gibbs was the only other running back to be taken on day one of the NFL draft when he was selected by the Lions with the 12th overall pick. And as with the Falcons and Bijan, the Lions drafted Gibbs for a reason and will surely look to get the rookie involved in the offense early and often.
In 2022 the Lions offense took a huge step forward and a big part of that was scoring 23 rushing touchdowns, up from just 12 the previous year. 22 of those touchdowns were scored by players who are no longer on the roster with Jamaal Williams contributing 17 and D’Andre Swift five. Off the back of those touchdowns, Williams had a career high finish as the fantasy RB13 (PPR) and even though it was a disappointing season for Swift, with three games missed through injury, he still finished as the RB21.
As well as drafting Gibbs, the Lions’ other major addition in the backfield was David Montgomery, formerly of the Bears. And it will be Montgomery who takes over the Williams role as the early down and short yardage back, so Gibbs won’t be getting anywhere near 17 rushing touchdowns. But we should see the Lions coaching staff trust Gibbs much more than they did Swift, who they were happy to move on to the Eagles for just a 2025 fourth round pick. He will be a big part of the game plan and there won’t be many games where he sees under 10 touches like there were for Swift.
With Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the season there is not a lot of depth behind star wide receiver Amon-Ra St Brown, so the Lions will have no choice but to make the most of Gibbs’ talent as a pass catcher and get him heavily involved early on. He isn’t getting the same level of attention as Robinson but he isn’t going under the radar either and will be a top 40 pick in most leagues. He will need to be incredibly efficient to finish as a top 10 fantasy running back but it is definitely not out of the question.
Jordan Addison (WR, Minnesota Vikings) - Low/Medium Risk
Jordan Addison was the fourth and final wide receiver selected in the first round of this year’s draft, but is in a great position to hit the ground running quicker than those taken ahead of him. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quentin Johnston and Zay Flowers may each have their work cut out to earn significant targets early in the season, whereas Addison appears to have a defined spot on the offense next to superstar Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings have slowly become a pass heavy offense since drafting Jefferson in 2020, as you’d expect of a team that has a true superstar wide receiver at their disposal. In 2022, they attempted 672 passes (third most in the league) with Jefferson being targeted a whopping 184 times. This is up from just 516 attempts and 125 targets for Jefferson in his 2020 rookie season and 604/170 in 2021. The trend looks set to continue this year after they moved on from veteran running back Dalvin Cook in early June and with a harder schedule on the horizon. They also moved on from Adam Thielen who has long been a favourite target of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
This all means that despite the fact that Addison will never be the top target earner on this offense, there is still more than enough opportunity for him to be a great fantasy football asset. Lining up alongside Jefferson means that he will almost never see the best that the opposition defense has to offer and if his ability to separate translates from college to the NFL it won’t take him long to become one of Kirk Cousins’ go to targets.
Addison may not have the opportunity to become a dominant fantasy receiver but everything seems to be lined up for him to be a consistent performer for years to come. He is currently being taken in the wide receiver 35 to 40 range and if Adam Thielen can finish as the WR36 at 32 years old, it shouldn’t take much for Addison to surpass that and be a bargain in 2023 redraft leagues.
Anthony Richardson (QB, Indianapolis Colts) - Medium Risk
Although he was the third quarterback drafted in the 2023 draft, Anthony Richardson will almost certainly be the one most talked about in the fantasy space this season. Richardson is inexperienced, having only started 13 games in college and is therefore still very raw as a passer. However, he showcased elite athleticism at the NFL Combine and it is this athleticism that is the reason why he should be firmly on our radars in fantasy football.
The Colts have been riding the quarterback merry-go-round ever since Andrew Luck retired on the eve of the 2019 season and it is not insignificant that they were willing to spend a top four pick on Richardson. It is also noteworthy that newly appointed head coach Shane Steichen has experience in developing young quarterbacks. Steichen worked as the offensive coordinator for the Chargers in Justin Herbert’s rookie season in 2020 and then moved on to the Eagles to work with Jalen Hurts in 2021 and 2022. Both players made significant leaps as players but were also great fantasy assets, with Herbert finishing as the QB9 in 2020 and Hurts the QB9 in 2021 and QB3 in 2022.
There is enough evidence for Colts fans to be confident that Steichen can develop Richardson into a competent passer in the NFL and for fantasy managers to be confident that he will be scoring fantasy points when he’s on the field. The only question mark at this stage is whether he is the day one starter ahead of Gardner Minshew, who followed Steichen over from the Eagles. But it would surely be counterintuitive to sit Richardson behind Minshew when they have publicly said that he needs to play games to improve.
The athleticism and the assumed rushing production that comes with it, means that the ceiling appears to be sky high for Richardson as a fantasy quarterback. It’s unlikely that he gets close to that ceiling as a rookie but he should be fantasy relevant as soon as is named the starter. He makes for the perfect upside pick in the latter rounds of redraft leagues but we may want to pair him with a more reliable veteran option until we’ve seen him perform on the field.
Kendre Miller (RB, New Orleans Saints) - High Risk
Kendre Miller was injured at the end of the college season which meant he wasn’t able to attend the Combine and do any pre-draft testing. It was therefore a little surprising when the Saints made him the fourth running back to be selected with the 71st overall pick. Their confidence to spend a third round pick on him cannot be ignored though, especially when we consider the current uncertainty in their running back room.
Long term lead back Alvin Kamara has recently pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour charge for an incident that dates back to February 2022. We have been waiting since then for him to be suspended by the league and it now appears that a decision is finally imminent. It is still unclear how long a possible suspension will be, but it should be somewhere between two and six games. Even with the potential of a looming ban, Kamara has not been the same player over the last two years. He has slowly become less involved as a receiver and after leading the league with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2020, has managed just four and two in the last couple of seasons.
To address the touchdown issues, the Saints added Jamaal Williams in free agency and it should be a safe assumption that he will handle the vast majority of goal line duties all season. But Williams is not a particular efficient runner, averaging just 4.1 yards per carry in 2022 and 4.0 in his career. So, assuming that Miller sees game time early in the season with Kamara suspended, he will have a great opportunity to earn a permanent role. He seems confident that he will seize the opportunity and was recently quoted saying that he felt he could do “pretty much the same thing” as Kamara. The question is whether that is the Kamara of old that was a permanent feature as a top 10 fantasy running back, or the Kamara of last year that struggled to crack the top 20.
Miller represents the perfect risk to take at the end of a fantasy draft. He appears to be in a great spot to be a contributor from day one, if Kamara’s expected suspension arrives. He won’t cost a lot in drafts and if Kamara is back on the field sooner than expected, or he doesn’t contribute early in the season, then fantasy managers can move on in the knowledge that his circumstances shouldn’t get any better as the season goes on.
Other High Risk, High Reward Rookies:
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR, Seattle Seahawks): In fairness to “JSN”, he shouldn’t really be categorised as high risk but it may be a few weeks until he is earning consistent targets and we are confident enough to plug him into our starting lineups. But as soon as that happens, he should become a regular fantasy contributor.
Rashee Rice (WR, Kansas City Chiefs): Juju Smith-Schuster left in free agency, Kadarius Toney is injured again and Skyy Moore did not have a good rookie season. If Rice can prove himself in training camp and pre-season, maybe he could become Patrick Mahomes’ favourite target not named Travis Kelce.
Sam LaPorta (TE, Detroit Lions): Rookie tight ends almost never pan out in fantasy but for similar reasons to fellow second rounder Jahmyr Gibbs, the Lions might have to get LaPorta involved early in the season to get their offense going.
Feature Image: AP Photo/Paul Sancya
A Washington fan since the early 2010’s, James had no choice but to turn to fantasy football in search of happiness – and it wasn’t long until it became an obsession. You can follow him on Twitter @jamesc294.