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How to Value Rookies: Post-NFL Draft (2023 Fantasy Football)

How to Value Rookies: Post-NFL Draft (2023 Fantasy Football)

Before the 2023 NFL Draft kicked off in Kansas City, I released an article titled How to Value Rookies Pre-Draft (Fantasy Football 2023) to provide some insight into the approach for rookies in dynasty and pre-draft best ball fantasy football formats.

Because there’s no denying that the recent influx of young talent that has entered the NFL has altered the way fantasy managers need to approach rookies. Guys are hitting the ground running. Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jahan Dotson, Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Dameon Pierce, Jonathan Taylor, Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris, Amon Ra St. Brown and Elijah Mitchell all produced as rookies the past three seasons.

Dynasty Rookie Draft Kit

How to Value Rookies in Fantasy Football: Post-NFL Draft

Draft capital is a crucial factor to consider when evaluating the potential of rookie players in fantasy football. With every new prospect entering the league, there is a level of uncertainty that needs to be considered when determining their fantasy value.

Understanding how the NFL views a player based on their draft position can provide valuable insight into their potential success at the professional level. By leveraging this information and historical data on rookie performance, you can create a winning strategy for the 2023 rookie class. This will give you an edge in dynasty rookie drafts, season-long leagues, and best ball drafts by identifying undervalued players and maximizing their potential in your lineup.

Running Backs

Draft capital is a crucial factor to consider when evaluating running backs in fantasy football. The reason for this is that there is a clear and significant correlation between a running back’s draft position and their production in fantasy football. This connection is not surprising since draft capital is a better indicator of opportunity rather than just talent or skill alone, and the running back position is highly reliant on volume in fantasy football. By factoring in draft capital when evaluating running backs, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to drafting, trading, or starting them on your fantasy team, ultimately leading to better outcomes and success in your league.

Most NFL teams are wising up to drafting a running back at the back end of Round 1 or in the middle of Day 2 (look away Detroit Lions fans) with a goal to run them into the ground through the extent of their rookie contract.

Rookie Running Backs since 2013

Drafted # Carries (Avg) Receptions (Avg) Touches (Avg) FF Finish RB1% RB2% RB3% RB4%
1st Round 12 200 37 237 18 50% 70% 80% 90%
2nd Round 26 146 26 171 37 12% 40% 52% 80%
3rd Round 30 102 21 132 58 14% 17% 28% 52%
4th Round 43 73 19 96 70 0% 0% 23% 31%
5th Round 30 55 11 75 81 3% 7% 10% 16%
6th Round+ 47 32 7 61 96 0% 3% 5% 8%

First-round rookie running backs, on average, see 237 touches per season – a number that ranked 20th at the position last season. However, the benchmark at 20 is slightly inflated due to the extra game, so I’d estimate the average is closer to the top-15 based on the previous 16-game season sample size (237 touches ranked 15th in 2021).

Najee Harris – 381 touches in 2021, No. 1 in the NFL – is the best-case scenario for a first-round rookie volume-wise but still showcases the impact a first-year runner can make despite zero professional experience.

Last year we had zero RBs selected in the first round, but three finished with over 225 touches between Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce and Tyler Allgeier. And Breece Hall was on pace for 242 touches before his injury.

Two running backs were selected in Round 1 during this year’s draft: Bijan Robinson (8th) and Jahmyr Gibbs (12th). Nobody was surprised with Robinson going inside the top 10, but Gibbs going 12th overall – with some reports claiming Detroit would have taken him sixth overall – is extremely eye-opening.

The draft capital alone mitigates any workload concerns for Gibbs based on his 199-pound frame. Detroit paid a premium, and that means he is going to get his touches (likely high value in the form of receptions) regardless of what the team paid David Montgomery during free agency.

Last season ex-Lions and newly acquired Eagles running back D’Andre Swift was uber-efficient on a per-touch basis: fourth in fantasy points per touch, third in yards per carry, 23rd in points per game and 19th in yards after contact per attempt. Swift (10.3) and Jamaal Williams (16.1) combined for 26.4 touches per game. Even with a projected 50-50 split, Gibbs is looking at a 224-touch workload. With a 55% split, Gibbs is flirting with nearly 250 total touches over a 17-game season. Simply put, the former Alabama running back needs to be ranked as a top-12 fantasy running back for the 2023 season.

In Round 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft, there was only one running back selected. The Seattle Seahawks drafted Zach Charbonnet to the chagrin of all who expected second-year RB Kenneth Walker to maintain status as a premier RB dynasty asset.

It’s scary for those who have Walker rostered in dynasty because Charbonnet boasts a three-down skill set and his 52nd overall draft capital suggests that he will see solid work in some capacity. Remember, running backs drafted early on Day 2 are essentially the first-round running backs from five years ago with the position so heavily devalued by real NFL teams.

The average running back finish for a first-round running back is RB18, and it’s RB37 for a second-round running back in Year 1.

And that’s why you should be heavily drafting Charbonnet because his discounted ADP due to the Seattle landing spot doesn’t fully capture his draft capital. Situations and backfields change. A player’s draft capital is forever linked to them.

Charbonnet (RB30 and dropping) seems priced closer to his floor than their ceiling as Round 2 running backs finish as RB3s more than half the time (52%).

Let’s also be real here regarding the Seattle landing spot. It’s clear that the Charbonnet selection is more telling on how the team/organization feels about Walker. He underwhelmed as a receiver in college and his first year in the pros. His rushing success rate per True Media ranked second-to-last (31.4%) among rushers with at least 100 carries in 2022. He also missed games because of injuries.

Charbonnet posted the 5th-highest PFF receiving grade and tied for first in receptions per game (3.7) among his draft class. The former UCLA running back also finished with the highest positive run rate (57%) and lowest bust rate (4%) among drafted running backs.

The rookie Seahawk can’t deliver the home run rushes like Walker, but he can be trusted to hit doubles as a rusher and receiver consistently.

Keep in mind that head coach Pete Carroll is never afraid to shake things up when it comes to his backfield. The team drafted Rashaad Penny in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft. But former 7th-round draft pick Chris Carson was the team’s leading rusher in 2018, 2019 and 2020. One of Charbonnet’s closest comparisons per Mockdraftable.com is Carson.

It’s also worth mentioning that Charbonnet was not the only running back the Seahawks drafted. They selected Georgia receiving specialist RB Kenny McIntosh in the seventh round.

Another intriguing topic is to cover the five running backs selected in Rounds 3 and 4.

2023 Running Backs Drafted Rounds 3-4

Round No. Selection Team Player Best Ball ADP (5/2/2023) College
3 71 NO Kendre Miller RB49 TCU
3 81 TEN Tyjae Spears RB50 Tulane
3 84 MIA Devon Achane RB42 Texas A&M
3 88 JAC Tank Bigsby RB54 Auburn
4 115 CHI Roschon Johnson RB45 Texas

 

Most analysts — myself included — and draft pundits tend to cluster “Day 2 running backs” together because the draft is set up in that fashion, but the facts advocate we should view them separately. The major overall drop-off in running back production from Round 2 to Round 3 cannot be ignored.

The volume and fantasy finish margin from Round 2 to Round 3 running backs is more significant than Round 3 to Round 4 running backs. Tyrion Davis-Price is the example from last season of a Round 3 running back that completely failed to fire.

“Of the 30 running backs who’ve been drafted in the third round over the last ten years, just five of them have finished as a top-24 running back in their rookie season, while 21 of them finished outside of the top-36 running backs.”

Considering the average rookie finish for a 3rd-round RB is RB58, the four third-round rookies are being priced slightly heavier by the market based on their true draft capital. The argument for these backs is for their upside, as the nearly identical RB1% suggests the ceiling outcomes is very similar between RD2 and RD3 running backs if one stumbles into volume to realize their fantasy ceiling. But it comes with a much shakier floor than Round 2 running backs, which can be a tough pill to swallow especially in dynasty formats.

Tulane’s Tyjae Spears was the only running back that was expected to go in Round 3, and he was the second one picked behind only TCU’s Kendre Miller. Devon Achane and Tank Bigsby rounded out the remaining Round 3 backs. Achane owns the highest ADP (based on his landing spot in Miami).

Achane’s landing spot rocketing his ADP that has me somewhat concerned. None of these Round 3-4 guys should have immediate top-36 expectations, and I am afraid Achane might creep into that range. However, that’s under the assumption that Dalvin Cook isn’t traded to the Miami Dolphins at some point during the offseason.

As I wrote in my 2023 NFL Draft Grades for All 32 NFL Teams, Spears gives the Titans a solid backup option for Derrick Henry, but I’d be wary about his long-term prospects. He was projected to go higher than 83rd overall but fell because of worrisome issues concerning the health of his knees. The terms “missing ACL” and “knee arthritis” should scare you.

Texas running back Roschon Johnson was the lone Round 4 running back and is being selected ahead of all three Round 3 running backs sans Achane. However, my research has found there’s not much of a difference between the two (Round 3 versus Round 4) in first-year production, so I don’t think it’s ludicrous. Round 4 running backs look much more like Round 3 running backs from a post-draft production standpoint than their Round 5-plus counterparts.

In the past four seasons, 45 running backs have been selected in Rounds 5-7. Tyler Allgeier and Isiah Pacheco were the best of the bunch last season. Over the same period, the big-hitting rookie running backs who significantly contributed to fantasy rosters were Phillip Lindsay and James Robinson, who both went undrafted.

There’s a slightly higher hit rate in the fourth round than in Rounds 5-7. Players like Tony Pollard, Dameon Pierce, Rhamondre Stevenson, Chuba Hubbard and Michael Carter most recently enjoyed fantasy-relevant weeks as rookies.

However, it’s still a massive uphill battle to wait until even early Day 3 to hear a running back’s name called.

From 2013 to 2021, just two running backs finished as top-24 running backs (Jordan Howard in 2016, Zac Stacy in 2013). Pierce (RB27) and Allgeier (RB28) came extremely close to top-24 status last season. A few guys also came seriously close in 2021 – Elijah Mitchell (RB25), Michael Carter (RB29), and Chuba Hubbard (RB33) – but ultimately fell short of cresting fantasy RB2 status.

We should not value any rookie running back drafted on Day 3 with a top-24 price tag. And ADP heavily favors the Rounds 3-4 crops of RBs over 5-7.

2023 Running Backs Drafted Rounds 5-7 (Plus notable UDFAs)

Round No. Selection Team Player Best Ball ADP (5/2/2023) College
5 143 NYJ Israel Abanikanda RB64 Pittsburgh
5 163 CIN Chase Brown RB56 Illinois
5 172 NYG Eric Gray RB79 Oklahoma
5 176 IND Evan Hull RB81 Northwestern
6 193 WAS Chris Rodriguez RB102 Kentucky
6 212 DAL Deuce Vaughn RB69 Kansas State
6 215 LAR Zach Evans RB61 Ole Miss
7 222 MIN DeWayne McBride RB68 UAB
7 235 GB Lew Nichols III N/A Central Michigan
7 237 SEA Kenny McIntosh RB98 Georgia
UDFA TB Sean Tucker RB66 Syracuse
UDFA BAL Keaton Mitchell RB107 East Carolina
UDFA DET Mohamed Ibrahim N/A Minnesota

 

Part of this stems from these later round backs having to earn touches and work their way up a depth chart. After all, the draft capital constitutes that teams don’t have to play them.

Because they can only gain opportunity by showing out their talent in practices or preseason, I would highly recommend a lean towards the talent/athleticism of Day 3 running backs.

If they land on a team that boasts a weak running back depth chart, then that should be added to the equation. But if all else is equal, go with the best player you think can deliver when called upon.

Tyler Allgeier was that guy for me last season. I loved him coming out as a prospect, but he faltered slightly after he fell to the fifth round. However, he did get a favorable landing spot on a weak Atlanta Falcons depth chart.

In this year’s class, there are a few notable names that fit the criteria I am looking for, but none as strongly as Allgeier did last season.

In the case of Illinois running back Chase Brown, I expect his ADP to rise potentially ahead of some Round 3-4 RBs after he landed on a Bengals depth chart that could be without Joe Mixon at some point. However, I’d be wary if his ADP rises too much because his profile doesn’t suggest he will take the job and run with it.

Brown was crazy productive last season, rushing for 1,632 yards and 10 TDs. His 329 carries ranked second in the nation and his 83 forced missed tackles ranked 3rd. Brown rushed for at least 100 yards in all but one game that he played in 2022. However, Brown benefited substantially from massive volume as his efficiency left more to be desired. His career 2.4 yards per play ranks 3rd-worst among the RBs I sampled from this year’s class. Brown tested extremely well at the NFL scouting combine finishing first in both the first in the vertical jump (40?, 94th percentile) and broad jump (127?, 93rd percentile). He also ran a 4.43 40-yard dash. The final word with Brown is that he can lead a backfield based on his experience. But it’s more likely to end in empty volume than truly improve an NFL offense’s actual efficiency. Sounds a lot like what he saw last season from Mixon.

Outside Brown, there are five Day 3 running backs that fit the criteria I am looking for.

The Rams traded up to draft Zach Evans. L.A. traded No. 252 and a sixth-round pick in 2024 to the Bills for Pick 215, where they selected the Ole Miss running back.

Evans spent his first two college seasons at TCU, seeing limited usage alongside fellow 2023 draft prospect Kendre Miller. Evans was the clear frontrunner in the backfield to start his sophomore campaign but suffered a turf toe injury that cut his 2021 season short. Evans would go on to transfer to Ole Miss at the start of the 2022 season, where he posted his best college counting stats to date with a 17 percent dominator rating. His 15% boom percentage per Sports Info Solutions led all RBs in his class.

However, he failed to fully take over at the backfield as he did at TCU, losing out on touches to freshman running back Quinshon Judkins. The fact that Evans has struggled to fully take over a backfield at the college level – along with no contributing role as a receiver – is a major red flag as he makes his way into the NFL, but his efficient play when on the field suggests he can deliver when called upon. His career average of 3.47 yards per play ranks second-best among the incoming rookie RBs I sampled earlier this offseason. Evans also boasts decent size at 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds – albeit the weight he measured at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine was much lighter than his listed weight at Ole Miss (216 pounds).

At the Ole Miss pro day, Evans posted a 4.45 40-time (85th percentile), ran a 4.26 20-yard shuttle (54th percentile) and finished the 3-cone drill in 7.08 seconds (48th percentile).

Evans’ best-case scenario was landing on a weak depth chart, and there is nobody threatening behind Cam Akers in the Rams backfield.

The Vikings’ 7th-round pick DeWayne McBride headlines the RB class this season with a 4.18 average yards per snap. It’s the highest mark I’ve tracked over the past three draft classes. It’s a testament to just how elite McBride was as a rusher in three years at UAB, considering he was a complete non-factor in the passing game with just five receptions during his entire collegiate career. Even so, McBride totaled a top-five dominator rating (27%) for his excellent efforts.

If the Vikings move on from Dalvin Cook, it’s just McBride competing with Alexander Mattison for starting reps in the Minnesota backfield.

Jets running back Israel Abanikanda is just 20 years old and has the speed to burn at 216 pounds (4.40 time). In his breakout 2022 season, he rushed for 1,426 yards and 20 touchdowns (1.9 per game) en route to a 39% dominator rating (tied for the highest mark in the class). Abanikanda would go on to finish as PFF’s eighth-highest rusher in his draft class. There’s a small path for the 20-year-old him to see work in Gang Green should Breece Hall return slowly from his torn ACL injury. The market also seems to be “down” on Abanikanda after some believed he would earn better draft capital.

Eric Gray first burst onto the college football scene at Tennessee in 2020, rushing for 758 yards and four TDs with 31 catches for 262 yards en route to a 26% dominator rating as a sophomore. After the season, Gray transferred to Oklahoma for his last two years of college ball. His numbers fell after he lost his starting job in 2021, but he regained RB1 duties the following year. And he made his final year count, posting a 26% dominator rating with Kennedy Brooks off to the NFL.

Gray finished the 2022 season third in the class in PFF receiving grade and fifth in PFF rushing grade. The 5-foot-9 and 207-pound rusher finished the year third in positive rushing EPA and fourth in boom rate (rushes generating an EPA of one-plus). And per Sports Info Solutions, Gray posted the highest missed tackle rate per 100 touches in the class.

It’s also entirely possible that Gray could have been selected earlier by the Giants if they had more picks available to them. Big Blue didn’t have any other picks after 73rd overall until they selected Gray with the 172nd pick. Considering Saquon Barkley has yet to sign his franchise tag, Gray is a player worth monitoring. New York’s RB depth chart is barren behind Barkley. Could easily see this Giants coaching staff falling in love with Gray. He totaled 549 carries in college and never fumbled.

New Colts running back Evan Hull spent the past two seasons owning his team’s backfield as a mega-producer posting back-to-back seasons with a 35% dominator rating. The 5-foot-10 and 209-pound back hauled in 87 passes for 800 receiving yards as a full-blown three-down back while forcing over 100 missed tackles. With a decorated production profile and desirable athleticism – 78th percentile or better tester in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and 3-cone drill – Hull should have no issues rising to No. 2 on the Colts RB depth chart.

He could even carve out a separate receiving role after leading all FBS running backs in receptions and receiving yards in 2022.

Wide Receivers

The expectations for rookie wide receivers in the NFL have skyrocketed in recent years due to their remarkable production during their first seasons. In the past, it was commonly believed that it took about three seasons for a receiver to achieve a breakout performance. However, the evolving college game has changed that narrative, as players like Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson from LSU shattered records in their rookie year. Even Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave found considerable success as rookies.

Nowadays, if a receiver doesn’t perform well by their second year, both real-life and fantasy teams are quick to seek alternative options.

Rookie Wide Receivers since 2013

Drafted # Targets (Avg) FF Finish WR1% WR2% WR3% WR4%
1st Round 42 75.0 59.0 7% 26% 32% 37%
2nd Round 50 60.8 77.3 3% 9% 26% 31%
3rd Round 41 35.6 95.1 0% 3% 8% 14%
4th Round 43 23.8 95.3 0% 3% 3% 0%
5th Round 42 25.1 90.6 0% 0% 6% 7%
6th Round+ 58 7.9 116.7 0% 0% 0% 0%

 

However, compared to running backs, you can see a stark contrast in hit rates based on draft capital. 26% of first-round wide receivers finishing as top-24 options is a more probable outcome than a third-round running back ending as a top-24 option (17%).

Therefore – under no circumstances should you draft a third-round running back over WR with Round 1 draft capital. The current rookie draft ADP reflects this, but last year there were times when Jahan Dotson was being drafted after Isaiah Spiller, Dameon Pierce and Rachaad White. Don’t be that person in your rookie drafts or redraft leagues to pass on the four Round 1 WRs in favor of a Day 2 running back. Bad process.

2023 Wide Receivers Drafted Rounds 1-2

Round No. Selection Team Player Best Ball ADP (5/2/2023) College
1 20 Seattle Seahawks Jaxon Smith-Njigba WR29 Ohio State
1 21 Los Angeles Chargers Quentin Johnston WR47 TCU
1 22 Baltimore Ravens Zay Flowers WR49 Boston College
1 23 Minnesota Vikings Jordan Addison WR43 USC
2 39 Carolina Panthers Jonathan Mingo WR71 Ole Miss
2 50 Green Bay Packers Jayden Reed WR85 Michigan State
2 55 Kansas City Chiefs Rashee Rice WR74 SMU
2 63 Denver Broncos Marvin Mims WR83 Oklahoma

 

The most fantasy-relevant rookie wide receivers are certainly drafted in the first two rounds. There have been 33 rookie wide receivers who’ve finished inside the top-36 (WR3 territory) over the last 10 years, and 27 of them were drafted inside the top two rounds of the NFL Draft (82%).

Round 2 or higher rookie wide receivers have combined for fantasy WR3 seasons at a 58% clip.

Based on the hit rates that I’ve previously touched on, I’d project at least 1 or 2 of the four first-round rookie WRs in this class to finish at top-24 options. None of them are priced as such, which means they are all values, with three going outside the top 40 WRs.

Of the four Round 2 WRs selected, I’d project maybe one to finish as a top-24 option or at least a top-36 option. Rashee Rice seems like the best bet based on the opportunity he should see in a high-powered Chiefs option. I am also a massive fan of Marvin Mims, and I think his second-round draft capital is telling as Sean Payton’s first draft pick at the helm of the Denver Broncos.

I’d also estimate that another WR finishes inside the top-36 with 2nd-round picks, offering a 26% fantasy WR3 hit rate.

Considering all eight of the Round 2 or higher rookie WRs, there’s a strong chance that more than half will finish as WR3s in their first season. Round 2 or higher rookie wide receivers have combined for fantasy WR3 seasons at a 58% clip.

Thus, you could blindly draft all four first-round rookie WRs or another Round 2 WR with a decent probability they all finish inside the top-36. Considering zero of them have an ADP inside the top-36 based on the current best ball ADP (other than Jaxon Smith-Njigba) you need to draft them aggressively until the market adjusts. Jordan Addison is probably my favorite bet to do so, based on his landing spot with the Minnesota Vikings.

After Round 2, expectations need to change. Don’t be overly bullish on the Round 3 guys like Jalin Hyatt, Tank Dell, Josh Downs, Cedric Tillman, Michael Wilson, or Tre Tucker (please don’t). Even in the case of Hyatt or Dell, where the teams (Buffalo and Houston) traded up to acquire them.

Because like the running back position – there’s another drastic fall from Round 2 to Round 3. Just 3-of-39 3rd-round wide receivers have finished top-36 since 2013, including zero hits over the past two seasons. Come on, Jalen Tolbert.

If I had to make one exception, it would likely be one of the Tennessee WRs. Coming from a gimmicky college offense, each possesses a wide range of outcomes at the pro level. With Hyatt specifically, I think it’s fair to view him closer to the Round 2 WRs than Round 3 WRs because the Giants were willing to take him in Round 2. They also traded very aggressively to draft him trading a No.89 and No. 128 (4th-rounder) to move up to the 72nd overall selection.

Joe Schoen has ties to Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, and that relationship played a part in the team’s confidence in selecting Hyatt. Brian Daboll sees comparisons to Gabe Davis in his game, but there’s no question Hyatt enter the NFL with a much stronger college profile than the Bills WR.

Hyatt also said in his post-draft presser that he plays much closer to 188-190 pounds, which is drastically different from his weight at the combine (176 pounds).

Outside the top-100 picks, you can pretty much ignore the majority of WRs taken from Rounds 4-plus.

There have been 35 wide receivers drafted in the fourth round from 2013-2020. Not one of them has finished as a top 50 wide receiver in their rookie year. Amon-Ra St. Brown is the only fourth-round WR to buck the trend since 2013. The Lions’ rookie wide receiver was the extreme outlier in this category in 2021, as he not only finished top 50 but 21st overall.

But in 2022, it was more of the same with 4th-round rookie WRs between Romeo Doubs (WR76), Erik Ezukanma (WR212) and Calvin Austin (N/A).

The primary takeaway is to go aggressively after wide receivers with Round 1 or 2 draft capital but be extremely wary of those that go Round 3 or later. ASB’s blazing 2021 season is not the norm; fantasy managers should not chase the possibility because it will not be easily replicated.

It’s easy to tell yourself a story that guys like Derius Davis, Tyler Scott or Puka Nacua can have a stretch of fantasy production. But realistically, you are just praying for a spike week. I wouldn’t touch any of these guys outside the 18th round of a best-ball format. And in the case of Davis/Scott, it would only happen if I rostered Justin Herbert or Justin Fields as my quarterback.

My one sole exception for drafting Day 3 WRs would be the new Patriots and former LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte.

Despite being drafted in the sixth round, Boutte has shown tremendous potential during his time at LSU. As a freshman, he led the team in targets with 76, converting his volume into an impressive 22% dominator rating at just 18 years old. He followed that up in 2021 with another 22% dominator rating in just six games played, cementing his status as the team’s alpha WR1 after Terrace Marshall Jr. left for the NFL.

Although he struggled with injuries in 2022 and failed to show the same elite playmaking ability as his first two seasons, Boutte ended his college career strong with a season-high 11 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown against Georgia.

If Boutte is back to 100% health as an NFL rookie, he has the potential to be a steal in fantasy rookie drafts. Despite his fall to the sixth round of the draft, he has shown the ability to produce at a high level against tough competition. His youth is also a major plus, as he won’t even turn 21 until after the draft (May 7th).

However, there are concerns about his work habits and attitude, as well as his poor testing numbers at the NFL Combine. He finished last in the vertical jump and second to last in the broad jump, which raises concerns about his explosiveness and ability to separate at the next level. Nevertheless, if he can overcome these concerns and return to the form he showed earlier in his career, Boutte could be a great late-round option in fantasy rookie drafts.

And most importantly, he won’t clog your dynasty roster with middling production. He’s either going to hit or flame out entirely. There is no in-between. This is the way.

Tight Ends

You can almost always look the other way in redraft leagues when it comes to rookie tight ends – Kyle Pitts from two years ago being the one exception to the general rule of thumb. He was used more like a wide receiver in the Atlanta Falcons offense, which is why he was able to find success as the TE7 overall in his first season. The dude is also just a unicorn, and no standard rookie tight ends should be compared to him.

Pitts joins Evan Engram as the only rookie tight end who’s finished as a top-12 option over the last nine years.

Although there was another rookie tight end in 2021 that came close to finishing top-12: Pat Freiermuth. The Pittsburgh Steelers tight end finished 2021 as the TE13 thanks to seven receiving touchdowns.

The Penn State product is also the first rookie tight end selected in the second round to finish as a top-18 option since 2013.

Rookie Tight Ends since 2013

Drafted # Targets (Avg) FF Finish TE1% Top-18% TE2%
1st Round 9 64.3 24.4 22% 33% 56%
2nd Round 17 36.6 37.7 0% 6% 30%
3rd Round 27 19.7 49.9 0% 3% 8%
4th Round 25 23.7 45.6 0% 4% 12%
5th Round 21 10.9 55.1 0% 0% 5%
6th Round 24 12.0 59.3 0% 0% 0%

 

But alas, the great rookie performances from tight ends in 2021 did not carry over to 2022. This past season was a return to the norm for first-year tight ends, with Chigoziem Okonkwo finishing as last year’s best-performing rookie as TE24.

Simply put, a rookie tight end almost always needs to be drafted in Round 1 for hopes of fantasy relevance in Year 1 with a respectable 64.3 target average – TE15 last season. Round 2 is much tougher to get behind for any tight end historically.

Lucky for us, we had a tight end selected in Round 1 this season. The Buffalo Bills traded up to get ahead of the Dallas Cowboys to select Utah’s Dalton Kincaid 25th overall. And the landing spot is ideal for the first-year tight end catching passes from quarterback Josh Allen. He’s well worth the price of TE16 in early best ball ADP due to his top-24 floor and top-12 ceiling projection combination.

After Kincaid, there should be a tier gap between him and the crop of Round 2 tight ends. Sam LaPorta, Michael Mayer, Luke Musgrave, Luke Schoonmaker and Brenton Strange were the five tight ends selected in Round 2. 30% of Round 2 tight ends finish as top-24 options, so expect 1-2 to be fantasy relevant in Year 1. I don’t think you need to go beyond the first two guys that were selected in Round 2 with them facing little competition at their respective positions.

The Raiders traded up to select Mayer, who was pegged as a no-doubt first-rounder in all pre-draft publications. His competition in Las Vegas is O.J. Howard and Austin Hooper. Sam LaPorta is YAC monster and is competing with Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell for playing time. All things considered, I do slightly prefer LaPorta from a redraft perspective as the Lions have less proven pass-catchers overall due to the Jameson Williams suspension.

Musgrave and Schoonmaker feature more uncertainty in their tight end rooms. Dallas boasts three young tight ends between Schoonmaker, Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. The Packers drafted another tight end in the 3rd round of the draft with South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft. I preferred Kraft pre-draft and will gladly take the discount drafting the second tight end Green Bay selected. Musgrave currently owns a TE33 ADP versus Kraft’s TE38 ADP. Schoonmaker is the TE34.

Outside Kraft, I’d avoid all other tight ends in Round 3. With an 8% chance that any of the other third-round tight ends – Darnell Washington, Cameron Latu — enter the top-24 territory, they cannot be drafted. I’m floored that these guys even have best ball ADPs.

I’d rather take a shot at Josh Whyle or Elijah Higgins, where I can at least envision them rising to the depth chart on their respective rosters. Whyle is on a relatively weak Titans tight end depth chart and can be a mismatch for the offense in the passing game. Higgins is a WR-TE convert, which is intriguing a Dolphins roster that has Durham Smythe pegged as the starter.

To be honest, you’re better off just fading the rookie TEs (outside Round 1) altogether in non-premium tight end formats. After Kincaid, Mayer and LaPorta you are squinting REAL hard to envision a fantasy-relevant tight end season.


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9 Players Trending Up & Down (2024 Fantasy Football)

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