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Rookies to Target in Best Ball Leagues (2023 Fantasy Football)

Rookies to Target in Best Ball Leagues (2023 Fantasy Football)

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 rookies I’m targeting in best ball drafts.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

Rookies to Target in Best Ball (2023 Fantasy Football)

Here are the rookies I’m targeting in best ball leagues.


Anthony Richardson (QB – IND)

Anthony Richardson‘s rushing prowess is well known. Expect Shane Steichen to utilize his legs a ton in the design of the Colts’ offense. Last year Jalen Hurts led all quarterbacks in rushing attempt and red zone rushing attempts per game. Richardson could rival those numbers in 2023.

While Richardson’s floor is extremely high thanks to his rushing ability, his passing ceiling is being underrated. His talent and progression in this department is what holds the key to unlocking a fantasy face melting ceiling. Steichen will highlight play-action and deep shots in this passing attack that will make Richardson’s transition to the NFL easier and offer explosive upside on the field. Last year Jalen Hurts was seventh in deep passing attempts and fourth in play-action passing attempts (per PFF). Richardson is a hand and glove fit with both of these wrinkles. In his final season at Florida, he was fifth in play-action passing grade, 19th in play-action yards per attempt, and 20th in PFF’s deep passing grade (minimum 150 dropbacks or 20 deep pass attempts per PFF).

Rushing quarterbacks with cannon arms are my ultimate weak spot. Konami code carpe diem.

Dynasty Rookie Draft Kit

Running Backs

Bijan Robinson (RB – ATL)

Yes, I know this is obvious, but I don’t care. I still have to mention Bijan Robinson here. Robinson should be fed a bell-cow workload immediately. If you’re telling me that a back that has ranked 11th and 18th in yards after contact per attempt and sixth and third in PFF’s elusive rating (minimum 100 carries per PFF) over the last two years will get 300 touches in his rookie season, sign me up! The price tag in best ball will be pricey, but if he finishes as a top-three fantasy back, no one will gripe about it by the end of the season.

Roschon Johnson (RB – CHI)

Roschon Johnson could take over the starting running back job by mid-season in Chicago, if not earlier if he has a standout camp and preseason. In college, Johnson was hidden behind Bijan Robinson, so he couldn’t show what he could do with more volume. The glimpses we got of Johnson in college, though, were fantastic. He ranked 11th and 17th in yards after contact per attempt and third and fifth in PFF elusive rating (minimum 90 carries per PFF). Johnson is already arguably the best pass-protecting running back on the roster. This should allow him to grab most of the passing-down snaps quickly. Johnson’s upside scenario is as the team’s workhorse, with Herbert or Foreman spelling him occasionally.

Tank Bigsby (RB – JAC)

Bigsby got the draft capital nod from Jacksonville as they took him in the third round of the NFL Draft. The Jaguars choosing to spend further significant capital on their backfield is interesting. Travis Etienne‘s new backfield mate brings a different skill set to the table. Bigsby runs like a person possessed with fury and gritty tenacity. He was top 15 in yards after contact per attempt and PFF’s elusive rating in two of the last three seasons (minimum 100 carries per PFF). Etienne could be regulated to early down work between the 20s this season, with Bigsby gobbling up the red zone work. Why would this happen? Well, Etienne was one of the worst backs in the NFL inside the red zone last season. In 2022 among 65 qualifying backs, Etienne ranked 57th in red zone touchdown conversion rate. Bigsby could help Jacksonville solve that problem. This is the type of running back to seek out in the middle/later rounds of drafts. One that will have a stand-alone role with the upside to be a league winner should further injuries strike the backfield depth chart.

Kendre Miller (RB – NO)

While I might not be the biggest Kendre Miller fan, I’ll still regularly target him in best ball this year. The Alvin Kamara suspension situation is the elephant in the room that will eventually get clarified. Once the length of the suspension is announced, Miller’s ADP will surely rise. Even with Kamara missing time, Miller will still share the workload with Jamaal Williams. I love Williams and will continue to root for him, but let’s be real here. He’s nothing special as a talent. Last year he finished outside the top 50 running backs in juke rate, breakaway run rate, and yards created per touch. Miller will lead the backfield without Kamara and could retain a role as Kamara’s backfield running mate after his return over the lovable Wiliams. Miler’s north/south no-nonsense running style carried him to 23rd in PFF’s elusive rating last year. If something wild happens, like Kamara getting released, Miller will skyrocket to the moon. Draft him now.

DeWayne McBride (RB – MIN)

McBride is another talented back that could contend for a starting job should the dominoes fall his way. This is assuming that Dalvin Cook gets traded or released, which has been rumored all off-season. Assuming Cook is jettisoned, Alexander Mattison is the biggest hurdle McBride would have to jump to grab the role. Mattison isn’t unsurmountable, though. His per-carry efficiency has been dropping since he hit the league. His yards after contact per attempt and breakaway percentage have dropped in each of his four seasons in the NFL. In 2022, among 61 rushers with at least 70 rushing attempts (per PFF), Mattison ranked 41st in yards after contact per attempt and 60th in breakaway percentage. McBride has no issue with breaking tackles which could allow him to jump the veteran Mattison on the depth chart. Over the last two years in college, McBride has ranked top-12 in yards after contact per attempt, breakaway rate, and PFF’s elusive rating (minimum 100 carries). I won’t go overboard with McBride exposure, but he could be a plug-and-play top 20 running back if everything goes his way.

Evan Hull (RB – IND)

If you’ve been walking around the Dynasty streets or perusing Twitter, you already know my love for Evan Hull. If you’re just now tuning back into fantasy for best ball season and redraft, Welcome. My name is Derek Brown, and I’m the Evan Hull fan club president. We meet every other Tuesday at noon at the VA bingo hall. I usually bring pizza and drinks. Stop by and punch your Hull club card.

Seriously though, Hull should be the RB2 on the Colts’ depth chart almost immediately. This new coaching staff has no allegiances to mediocre talents Deon Jackson and Zack Moss. Hull has a true three-down skillset that he flaunted at Northwestern. Last year he led all FBS running backs in receiving yards while also ranking 16th in PFF receiving grade and seventh in yards per route run (minimum 20 targets per PFF). Hull is the perfect final pick for zero RB builds and Anthony Richardson stacks.

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Wide Receivers

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR – SEA)

Since Jaxon Smith-Njigba was announced as the Seahawks’ pick in the NFL Draft, worries have been circulating about Seattle’s usage of three wide receiver sets and his target share with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. These are valid concerns, but before I push back against them, let’s discuss Smith-Njigba as a talent. In 2021 he was first in yards per route run and first in PFF receiving grade (minimum 50 targets per PFF) while drawing a 22.7% target share alongside Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Smith-Njigba gets typecast as a low aDOT player, but he has also shown the ability to win downfield. In 2021 he was ninth in yards per route run and tied for first in PFF’s deep receiving grade (minimum 15 deep targets per PFF). Smith-Njigba is an elite-level prospect. With that said, I have a hard time believing the Seahawks burnt a first-round pick on a player they don’t plan to feature, so I believe they will run a ton of 11 personnel in 2023. Regarding the subject of target share, Smith-Njigba can put those concerns to rest quickly and hit the ground running as the second option in this passing attack. While I don’t want to take anything away from Tyler Lockett, he hasn’t been a high-end target earner. Over the last four seasons, he’s never ranked higher than 36th in target per route run rate. The addition of Smith-Njigba can allow Lockett to return to stretching the field. Since 2019 he’s ranked top-12 in deep targets twice. Last year he logged the second-lowest aDOT of his career and the lowest YAC per reception mark. Smith-Njigba should garner targets early and often in 2023. Draft him and enjoy.

Quentin Johnston (WR – LAC)

Ok. Deep breath. Here’s the list of injuries Mike Williams has sustained since entering the NFL: herniated disk, knee strain, back spasms, hamstring strain, hip flexor strain, high ankle sprain (twice), and transverse process fracture. I bring this up because Quentin Johnston could be operating as the Chargers’ WR2 sooner rather than later. That type of upside in his rookie season shouldn’t be ignored in an offensive system that could challenge for the league lead in passing attempts and play volume. Even if he doesn’t supplant Williams this season, Johnston offers this offense a different element as a RAC specialist. Last year Johnston ranked sixth in YAC per reception and 11th in missed tackles forced (minimum 50 targets per PFF). Kellen Moore can design looks for Justin Herbert to get Johnston the ball in space and let him do his thing. Johnston is an affordable stacking option with Herbert. The Week 17 correlation degens like myself will also love that the Bolts play Denver, who allowed the most missed tackles in the NFL last year.

Jordan Addison (WR – MIN)

Last year Adam Thielen earned a 17.0% target share and 107 targets. He did this while ranking outside the top 55 wide receivers in yards per route run and route win rate (per Why can’t a talented first-round wide receiver match (or easily exceed) these volume numbers in his first season? Addison can. He absolutely can. Addison has ranked 22nd or higher in yards per route run and PFF receiving grade in each of his last two collegiate seasons (minimum 50 targets per PFF). The Vikings were third in neutral passing rate and second in red zone passing rate last season. I don’t see them dropping outside the top 5-10 teams this season in either category. Addison could be a WR2 in fantasy if he can pass T.J. Hockenson in the target pecking order.

Marvin Mims (WR – DEN)

Sean Payton traded up and got his guy in the second round of the NFL Draft. Mims’ talent is real after ranking top-24 in yards per route run in two of the last three seasons (minimum 50 targets per PFF). Right now, it looks like a log jam at receiver for Denver, with Mims competing with Tim Patrick for starting reps, but that could change quickly. Sean Payton has no allegiance to Patrick. It’s entirely possible Mims could beat him out in camp. A player with Mims’ draft capital and collegiate production (96th percentile breakout age) should not be available late in best ball drafts.

Jayden Reed (WR – GB)

Here’s another example of a talented wide receiver drafted in the second round of the draft falling to the later rounds of best ball drafts. While Reed’s efficiency metrics tanked in 2022, the year prior, he was 36th in yards per route run and 38th in PFF receiving grade (minimum 50 targets per PFF). Pair those numbers with a clear path to a starting job in Week 1 and a 98th percentile collegiate breakout age, and we have a player you should be heavily exposed to in best ball.

Puka Nacua (WR – LAR)

I don’t normally have a heavy infatuation with a wide receiver drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, but I do for Puka Nacua. I won’t apologize for falling head over heels for a wide receiver that you can easily draft with your final pick in best ball drafts that ranked second and sixth in yards per route run over the last two years (minimum 50 targets per PFF). Nacua has highlight reel body control and strong mitts. Last year he ranked 17th in contested catch rate (minimum ten contested targets per PFF). Nacua has a fairly easy path to playing time this season with only Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell ahead of him to start camp. Nacua could get some Robert Woods-esque handoffs this year after amassing 357 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns at BYU. Nacua is a smash pick.

Draft Wizard

Tight Ends

Dalton Kincaid (TE – BUF)

I don’t usually draft rookie tight ends in best ball, but I think Dalton Kincaid is built differently. Outside of the propensity for rookie tight ends to flop in fantasy, another concern is hovering around Kincaid’s outlook. His name is Dawson Knox. Knox and Kincaid can coexist in this offense as they will play different roles. Over the last two years, Knox has played 42-47.2% of his snaps in the slot, which will decrease dramatically with Kincaid. Knox was in line for 31.3-37.6% of his snaps during that stretch, which should increase this season. Kincaid should eat as the Bills’ big slot. Last year among all collegiate wide receivers and tight ends with at least 20 slot targets, he was second in PFF receiving grade from the slot. If we pin this down to tight ends, Kincaid ranked third in slot yards per route run (per PFF). Add on Kincaid to your Josh Allen stacks or as a Week 17 correlation with any New England players (whispers Rhamondre Stevenson).

Sam LaPorta (TE – DET)

While Kincaid has playing time concerns this year, Sam LaPorta doesn’t. LaPorta should be immediately installed as the Day 1 starter for the Lions. With only Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, James Mitchell and Derrick Deese behind him on the depth chart, he should have no trouble carving out a full-time role. LaPorta is a mauling pass-game assassin. In each of the last two seasons, he has ranked inside the top 20 in PFF receiving grade and yards per route run among FBS tight ends (minimum 20 targets per PFF). LaPorta is a movable matchup chess piece that Ben Johnson will love. Last season Laporta played 20.2% of his snaps as a perimeter receiver. Sammy Ballgame should make some noise in 2023.


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