I used to obsess about college players’ fantasy potential before they joined teams, the player that was the straw that broke the camel’s back was Tavon Austin in the 2013 NFL Draft. Austin had a great career at West Virginia, tallying 288 receptions for 3,413 yards receiving and 29 receiving touchdowns. He also had 110 rushing attempts for 1,033 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He was a special teams phenom, tallying 2,407 kick return yards and 433 punt return yards. He scored four touchdowns returning kicks and another one on a punt return.
Then the 2013 NFL Draft happened. Jeff Fisher and the then St. Louis Rams ended up selecting him and my fantasy heart was broken. Saddled on an offense that did not know how to use his versatility, Austin took three years to be fantasy relevant, tallying 907 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in 2015. That was the only year where he was more than a low-end WR4 or high-end WR5.
Who knows if Austin would have turned out to be a Hall of Fame wide receiver if he had gone to a team with the quarterback to deliver him the ball in a scheme that moved him around the formation? Landing spots matter, players need to go to teams that understand how to use their talents. You don’t want speed wide receivers going to teams that do not stretch the ball vertically. You do not want small quarterbacks going to teams that keep quarterbacks in the pocket. You do not want tight ends going to teams that prefer to use their tight ends as blockers rather than receivers. Since my Austin heartbreak, I do not rank rookies until I know what team is employing them and how their skill sets translate to that offensive system.
Below is a list of some of the top skill position players in the 2023 NFL Draft. I think all of them should be first-round selections, and all of them have a chance to be great NFL players that fantasy managers draft for years to come.
Dream Landing Spots for Rookies
C.J. Stroud (QB – Ohio State)
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Multiple sources are reporting after the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers pulled off their massive trade that the “sense around the league” is that the Panthers moved up for Stroud. I think Stroud would be a great fit in Carolina for many reasons. Frank Reich has a ton of experience as an NFL quarterback, offensive coordinator, and head coach. Stroud would be joining an offensive-friendly system with an experienced head coach in a division that did not have a team finish with a winning record in 2022 and where Derek Carr is the best quarterback in the division.
In Carolina, there would be no threat to him starting in 2023. Andy Dalton should not prevent him from being the starter in Week 1. This feels like a place he could succeed very early if the Panthers can surround him with enough weapons to thrive. They are a little light on skill position players after trading D.J. Moore, but they added Hayden Hurst in free agency, and there is time for them to add pieces in free agency or the NFL Draft. Fantasy managers would love Stroud ending up here, it gives him a chance to be a Week 1 starter in 2023 and to be an instant fantasy contributor.
Dream Landing Spot: Carolina
Bryce Young (QB – Alabama)
Young won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 and had an 80:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio playing for an SEC school. That is a big reason that teams are excited to draft Young. He is not for everyone, though. He was listed as 6’0″ and 194 pounds at Alabama, and the NFL Combine confirmed that he is just a hair over 5’10” and 204 pounds. That is fairly small for an NFL quarterback, and the team that takes him is going to have to embrace his lack of height and design an offense that plays to his strengths.
Shane Steichen is entering his first season as the Indianapolis Colts head coach, but he was the offensive coordinator the last two seasons that helped develop Jalen Hurts. Hurts was only 6′ 1″ and 222 pounds coming out of college, and the Eagles had to build an offense around his strengths. That does not mean I am suggesting Hurts and Young are similar quarterbacks. Young rushed for 162 yards at Alabama for his career. Hurts had two games at Oklahoma where he ran for 176 yards and 173 yards. It would be a disaster for the Colts to have Young run a Hurts-style offense.
What I am saying is they are both smaller quarterbacks, and when you have a smaller quarterback, you have to be creative about moving them out of the pocket and creating throwing lanes behind massive offensive lines. The Colts are a rebuilding team, but they have some good pieces. I think Young ending up in Indianapolis would be a dream landing spot for him. He would have a chance to work with a promising young head coach that has had success with a smaller quarterback and is on a roster with some pieces that need the right quarterback to help bring everything together.
Anthony Richardson (QB – Florida)
Richardson is one of the more polarizing prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler had a report in February that multiple NFL scouting departments had first-round grades on Richardson, as well as fourth-round grades. That report claimed that one scout compared him to Cam Newton and Justin Fields combined. The reason that he is receiving such a variety of draft grades is the tape does not match his physical talent. Richardson ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash with a 40.5″ vertical jump, but he had only 654 yards rushing last year at Florida. He showed a great deep ball at the NFL Combine but also completed only 53.8 percent of his passes last year, and he had only 17 touchdown passes.
I think what is important for him is he goes someplace where he has some time to grow in a division that is not loaded with superstar quarterback talent. Teams like the Las Vegas Raiders and Washington Commanders need a starting quarterback, but the AFC West is loaded with elite quarterbacks, and both franchises are under pressure to win this year. The last thing Richardson needs to do is join a team where he is on to his second head coach and offensive system in 2024 or 2025.
That makes Houston a dream landing spot. I think they finally hired the right head coach in DeMeco Ryans, and he brought Bobby Slowik with him from San Francisco to run the offense. I would be shocked if Ryans is not given three years after the Texans went back-to-back with one-year stints for their head coach. Richardson would have a chance to grow with this young and promising coaching staff. The Texans are also not going to have to give up a boatload of picks to draft Richardson. They have Dameon Pierce to give them a solid running back to lean on in the running game and they have two first-round picks in the Top-12 and five picks in the Top-75. They could definitely add some more offensive weapons in the NFL Draft and give Richardson a chance to start in Week 1 and be fantasy relevant immediately with a cast of good young players.
Will Levis (QB – Kentucky)
There are a lot of things to love about Levis. He has exceptional arm talent and the mobility to make plays. That was evident in 2021 when he posted 2,826 yards passing, 24 passing TDs, 376 yards rushing, and nine rushing TDs. The problem is turnovers, as he had 23 interceptions in 24 games at Kentucky. That is one less interception than Young and Stroud had at Alabama and Ohio State combined. He is going to need to be better at making his reads and going through his progressions.
That is why I think he would be a great fit with the Las Vegas Raiders. Josh McDaniels is one of the better offensive minds in the league, and he had a lot of success working with Tom Brady in New England. Levis would have a ton of weapons with the Raiders. Davante Adams is one of the best wider receivers in the NFL. Josh Jacobs received a franchise tag while they try to work out a long-term deal. They did sign Jimmy Garoppolo, but he is a bridge quarterback, and if history is any indicator, he will be hurt at some point this year, and his backup will be thrust into action sooner rather than later.
Anybody going into that situation would have a chance to succeed, so you could make the Raiders a dream destination for any of these rookie quarterbacks. The chances of Stroud, Young, and Richardson making it to the Raiders, given the quarterback state of the Panthers, Texans, and Colts is very unlikely. Levis has as much physical talent as anyone, but he also needs a lot of coaching to help him develop into an NFL quarterback. The Raiders are a place where he would be in both a great offensive system and be surrounded by a strong supporting cast.
Bijan Robinson (RB – Texas)
Robinson had 1,422 yards from scrimmage in 2021 and 1,894 yards from scrimmage in 2022. He scored 35 touchdowns in those two seasons. Robinson has the talent to be a featured back that can play all three downs. He needs to go to a place that does not embrace a committee approach and would be willing to build an offense around him.
Running backs do not go that early in the draft most years. Even though Robinson is the seventh-ranked prospect on the CBS Draft Prospect Rankings, their mock drafts have him going at the end of the first round. If he is going to last that long in the NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals would be a dream destination. Joe Mixon is not likely going to be back on his current contract, and that would give Robinson a chance to be a Week 1 starter on one of the best offenses in the NFL. If the Bengals can add Robinson, he could easily be a late Round 1 or early Round 2 value in fantasy drafts in 2023.
Jahmyr Gibbs (RB – Alabama)
Gibbs was a very versatile back at both Georgia Tech and Alabama. Not only did he have 383 carries for 2,132 yards and 15 touchdowns in 29 games, but he also had 103 receptions for 1,212 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. At 5’11” and 200 pounds, he does not have elite size, but he is big enough to be used in both rushing and passing situations. He can fly down the field, which he confirmed by posting a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
I think Miami would be a great place for him if he is still around in the second round, or they can trade into the first round to acquire him. Jeff Wilson is not a very big running back; he stands 6’0″ and 194 pounds. Raheem Mostert is only 5’10” and 205 pounds. Those were two running backs that came with head coach Mike McDaniel from San Francisco. Gibbs would be a player that fits the build of running backs that McDaniel has used in the past, and there would be a great opportunity for early playing time if the Dolphins, despite Miami re-signing Mostert, Wilson, and Myles Gaskin.
Quentin Johnston (WR – TCU)
Johnston was one of the best deep threats in the country at TCU. He tallied only 115 receptions in 30 career games but turned those into 2,190 yards receiving, 19.0 yards per catch, and 14 receiving touchdowns. Johnston can run many different routes in the route tree, but at 6’4″ and 193 pounds, his best route is the fly pattern.
What better place would there be for a guy that can run the fly pattern like Johnston to go than to a Chargers team looking to stretch the field more in 2023? The Chargers have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Justin Herbert. Mike Williams and Keenan Allen restructured their contracts, but Allen is 31 years old, and Williams misses a lot of games with injury. Johnston would be in a great quarterback situation in Los Angles with a chance to see targets in his rookie year and the potential to be a WR1 in fantasy football by 2024. The Chargers would be a great place for him or any other rookie wide receiver to land.
Jordan Addison (WR – USC)
Addison was the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner with 100 receptions for 1,593 yards receiving and 17 receiving touchdowns at Pittsburgh. He transferred to USC in 2022, but he battled injuries and finished with 59 receptions, 875 yards, and eight touchdowns. What makes him so intriguing is that he can run routes from the slot position and the outside position. Per Pro Football Focus, over his three-year career, Addison played 1,102 snaps in the slot and 757 snaps out wide in his college career, recording over 1,200 receiving yards at both positions.
I think he is someone that would fit in well in Green Bay. Even though they look like they are moving forward with Jordan Love, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Love showed a big enough jump from 2021 to 2022 that there is a lot of optimism surrounding him. The Packers have Christian Watson as a big wide receiver on the outside, having someone like Addison to also play outside or the slot would give them a lot of versatility on offense. Green Bay needs some upgrades at wide receiver after losing Allen Lazard in free agency. They have a very good passing scheme and Addison would be a dream addition to this offense and a place where he could contribute immediately in fantasy football.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR – Ohio State)
JSN was unstoppable in 2021, tallying 95 receptions for 1,606 yards, 16.9 yards per reception, and nine receiving touchdowns. His Rose Bowl performance against Utah was out of this world, as he tallied 15 receptions for 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The issue is he was not able to build on that season in 2022. He suffered a hamstring injury in their first game, had another setback when he came back in their third game and did not play after their seventh game against Iowa. He finished the year with five receptions for 43 yards and no touchdowns in just three games.
The Cowboys need someone to play opposite of CeeDee Lamb, who led the team with 1,359 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns. Their second most productive receiver in 2022 was Noah Brown, with just 43 receptions for 555 yards and three touchdowns. Smith-Njigba would be a great fit in this offense because he can play the slot, and he would not have to shoulder the responsibility of being the top option. I am not sure if Smith-Njigba has the top-end speed to be an elite WR1 in the NFL, and he did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. This would be a great landing spot for him to have a role early and develop without having to be the star of the offense while also having a chance to be fantasy relevant immediately.
Michael Mayer (TE – Notre Dame)
Mayer was one of the best college tight ends in 2021 and 2022, finishing with 138 receptions for 1,649 yards and 16 touchdowns in just 24 games. He earned the nickname Baby Gronk, and if he plays anything like Rob Gronkowski at the NFL level, he is going to make the team that takes him extremely happy.
Green Bay usually goes defense in the first round, and there are a lot of experts that believe if they do go offense, they will look to add a wide receiver. Mayer would also be a good selection for the Packers in the first round. Robert Tonyan was a touchdown machine in 2020 with 11 touchdowns, but he has just four touchdowns over the last two years, and he had too many games where he had little to no impact. Jordan Love is going to need a tight end to give him a target for those tough yards over the middle. Mayer would have a great opportunity to have an immediate impact in Green Bay with a young quarterback that has a ton of upside.
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