The years of rookies taking time to marinate on NFL depth charts before exploding with high-level production are in the past. Rookies are now some of the best values in best ball drafts with season-defining upside if everything falls in line.
Opinions vary on the strength of this year’s draft class, but I’m here to tell you that I’ll have heavy exposure to this year’s crop of rookies.
Here are the players I’m targeting in best ball drafts.
- NFL Draft Needs for Every Team
- Introduction to Best Ball Leagues
- Erickson’s Best Ball Positional Primers
Rookies to Target in Best Ball (2023 Fantasy Football)
Anthony Richardson (QB – Florida)
And this is how Anthony Richardson closed his pro day throwing session. He'll join us shortly on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/DVQVFzYQkg
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 30, 2023
The dual-threat workout phenom should be targeted late in best ball drafts as a QB3 who could take you to the promised land in 2023. Anthony Richardson’s rushing upside has been well-documented, but his passing prowess has been undersold. In 2022 in clean pockets, he was 47th in PFF passing grade and 14th in big-time throw rate (minimum 50 pressured dropbacks). If Richardson wins the starting job out of camp or takes over mid-season, he could be the rocket fuel needed to take down best ball contests.
For my full Anthony Richardson breakdown, read up here.
C.J. Stroud (QB – Ohio State)
C.J. Stroud is the clear QB1 of this class in my rankings. His arm talent is special, no matter how you slice it. Last year he was eighth in PFF passing grade, second in yards per attempt, and tenth in big-time throw rate among FBS quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks (per PFF).
Stroud is currently -330 per DraftKings Sportsbook to go first overall to the Carolina Panthers, so let’s play out this possible landing spot and what it could hold for fantasy purposes. The Panther’s receiving depth chart doesn’t look imposing with Terrace Marshall, D.J. Chark, Adam Thielen and Hayden Hurst leading the way, but it’s also not terrible. This is a competent receiver group that can allow Stroud to function. While we can question the ability of these players to separate at the various stages of their respective careers, we shouldn’t worry about Carolina’s ability to give him clean pockets and plenty of time to find an open player. Last year the Panthers held opposing pass rushes to the fourth-lowest pressure rate.
With a strong camp, it’s not impossible for Stroud to emerge under center in Week 1. Stroud’s situation isn’t knock-down eye-popping amazing, but it’s not nearly as bad as consensus opinion believes. He has the talent to offer multiple spike weeks for best ball teams this year.
Bijan Robinson (RB – Texas)
Bijan Robinson isn’t cheap in best ball drafts, but he’s worth paying for. Robinson will get the draft capital to enter an NFL roster as the unquestioned workhorse from day one. Robinson has finished top-12 in yards after contact per attempt and PFF’s elusive rating in each of the last two seasons (minimum 100 carries). Add in that he was 19th in PFF receiving grade and 21st in yards per route run last year (minimum 20 targets per PFF), and you have the perfect formula for an every-down bell cow with top-five upside in 2023.
Zach Charbonnet (RB – UCLA)
Zach Charbonnet is a dancing rhino covered in 🧈 pic.twitter.com/IEMxCYPulf
— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) February 16, 2023
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Zach Charbonnet is a tackle-breaking tank that should get day two draft capital. He has workhorse potential from the jump. I outlined why Charbonnet’s ADP will rise immediately after the NFL Draft here. Draft the Land O’Lakes rhino now!
Tyjae Spears (RB – Tulane)
Tyjae. FREAKING. Spears. pic.twitter.com/CEbAOUcUKb
— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) February 2, 2023
Tyjae Spears is lightning in a bottle. He ranked fifth in yards after contact per attempt, 15th in breakaway rate and 11th in PFF’s elusive rating (minimum 100 carries per PFF) last year. After weighing in north of 200 lbs, an NFL franchise could view him as a possible workhorse or, at the very least, as a committee lead with pass-game upside. Spears was also 21st in PFF receiving grade in 2022 (minimum 20 targets per PFF). A play-making dynamo running back that could get day two draft capital should be at the top of your best ball draft lists.
DeWayne McBride (RB – UAB)
Any conversation about DeWayne McBride needs to begin with reasonable expectations. He likely will be a zero in the passing game at the NFL level. He amassed only 10 targets in college with a paltry 0.16 yards per route run (per PFF). So while an adventurous person could argue there’s possibly untapped talent in that realm, it’s difficult to see it at this juncture.
While McBride won’t boost his fantasy scores with receptions, his early-down abilities could lessen the sting of stone hands. McBride has been an elite tackle-breaking bulldozer over the last two years, ranking top-12 in yards after contact per attempt, breakaway run rate, and PFF’s elusive rating each season. An analytically minded NFL franchise could take a shot on McBride earlier than most expect. He’s a fantastic dart throw in best ball drafts.
Roschon Johnson (RB – Texas)
Roschon Johnson is buried no longer! The NFL is Johnson’s time to shine. After working behind Robinson at Texas, Johnson has the opportunity to step into the limelight under the bright lights of the NFL.
Johnson displayed immense talent at Texas. With 4.06 or higher yards after contact per attempt in each of his final three collegiate seasons, he displayed mauling power on a per-touch basis (per PFF). As a north/south battering ram with plus-burst, Johnson is a scheme versatile back that should emerge as a committee-lead with the size to hog goalline line totes.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR – Ohio State)
my dawg @DBro_FFB joined the #wakeup show yesterday and said damn what you heard jaxson smith njigba is that dude and I'm taking him 1.0whaaa🤯 #2023NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/ueJr2s8phh
— Ray G (@RayGQue) March 30, 2023
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is that dude. I don’t care that he missed most of last year due to injury. What I witnessed in 2021 was more than enough to cement himself as a future alpha wide receiver and the top wide receiver in this class. Smith-Njigba has quieted naysayers with his 4.48 pro day 40-time and 99th percentile agility scores.
He led all FBS wide receivers (minimum 50 targets per PFF) in PFF receiving grade and yards per route run in 2021. Smith-Njigba will immediately be a high-end target earner for an NFL offense that can stretch the field. In 2021 he was also ninth in yards per route run and tied for first in PFF receiving grade with targets 20-plus yards downfield. He won’t come cheap in best ball drafts, but there’s still meat on the bone for him to pay off in 2023.
I outlined my thoughts on the rest of the projected first-round wide receivers in best ball in my ADP Risers article.
Dalton Kincaid (TE – Utah)
Damn it Doug. Get out of my head...
Legit just finished watching his film and I thought the ENTIRE TIME...
This dude moves like Travis Kelce.
Dalton Kincaid is my TE1. https://t.co/Gli7btsvFW
— Derek Brown (@DBro_FFB) February 26, 2023
During prospect evaluation, I don’t make it a habit to compare collegiate players to legends in the NFL, but my comp for Dalton Kincaid is Travis Kelce. Yes, I know that probably inspired a fair share of eye rolls, but his receiving talent is legit. Kincaid ranked second in yards per route run and first in PFF receiving grade in 2022 while lining up in the slot on 55.1% of his routes (per PFF minimum 50 targets).
Kincaid could easily garner first-round draft capital. Any team paying up for his services knows where his strengths lie, so I don’t believe he will be stuck inline blocking for most games. Kincaid, who can play some outside, should be a versatile mismatch piece for his next offensive coordinator. In 2022 he ranked 13th in PFF receiving grade and yards per route run against man coverage (minimum ten man coverage targets per PFF).
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