- The Anthony Richardson hype is well-deserved: The combination of Richardson and Shane Steichen should allow the fourth overall pick to flourish in Year 1.
- The obvious choices at running back: Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs won’t disappoint in their rookie seasons.
- One rookie tight end to buck the trend: Can a lack of other options at the position in Detroit allow Sam LaPorta to exceed rookie tight end expectations in 2023?
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Breakout rookie production is difficult to come by for fantasy football purposes, but every year, there are a few options who emerge and make a name for themselves. The combination of opportunity and talent is important for a lot of fantasy success and in this class, there are potentially seven clear choices to bet on in becoming Year 1 assets in fantasy football leagues.
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Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
The No. 4 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft is often referred to as a developmental project, given his elite tools in addition to inexperience and unideal passing success. Luckily for fantasy managers, his physical tools allow him to create out of structure, maneuver the pocket and add a ton of rushing upside, which should drive up his fantasy production, even as a rookie.
Shane Steichen comes in as the Colts’ new head coach after spending the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, working with 2022 MVP finalist Jalen Hurts, who was also deemed a developmental quarterback with excellent physical tools at the time he was drafted. Richardson should be considered a substantial favorite to be the starting quarterback in Indianapolis in 2023, over Gardner Minshew, and that expectation will allow for plenty of opportunities to score fantasy points.
Given the learning curve that Richardson is expected to experience as a passer, it’s possible that the Colts minimize his work as a thrower and create opportunities for him as a runner, not unlike Justin Fields last season. Fields rushed for over 1,100 yards (first among QBs) in 2022, only threw for 2,242 (tied for 26th) and finished as the QB7 overall. As another comparison, Hurts — in his first year under Steichen (2021) — finished as the overall QB9 while only throwing for 3,144 yards (21st) and rushing for 784 (first). Rushing upside and being able to create out of structure has become a huge part of quarterback value in fantasy, which should enable Richardson to thrive right out the gate in the NFL.
Anthony Richardson’s 2022 rushing numbers among draft-eligible NCAA QBs in 2022 (26 qualifiers):
|Rushing yards per attempt||7.4||T-1st|
|Yards after contact/attempt||3.56||3rd|
|Missed tackles forced||39||1st|
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
There’s not a fantasy manager in this galaxy that isn’t aware of Robinson and his talent, and landing with last year’s most run-heavy offense will only allow him to showcase that talent even more as a rookie. Not only did Arthur Smith’s Falcons run the ball at a higher rate (50.8%) than any other team in the league, but it also helped that their offense was well set up for that strategy, as it ranked first in the league in run-blocking grade (83.7). This combination allowed fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier to rush for over 1,000 yards last season but finish just 0.6 points per game over expectation (tied for 36th among running backs), which, considering his talent, Robinson should have no problem exceeding.
The Texas product has been touted as a “generational” running back, and it isn’t just his elite rushing ability, as he can also be a serious threat in the passing game. While he wasn’t as involved as a receiver in college as some of the other backs in this class, he still posted a top-five mark in yards per route run (1.44) on 60 targets (13th) over the past two seasons, which ranked fourth in this class. Through his four starts at quarterback last year, Desmond Ridder targeted the running back position on 23.5% of his passing attempts, which was the second-most among quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks in 2022. Robinson is in the perfect position to emerge as the overall RB1 and will be well worth a top-three fantasy draft pick in 2023 leagues.
Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions
The Lions were clearly all in on Gibbs in this draft, taking him 12th overall and trading D’Andre Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after, and that level of confidence should also translate to fantasy managers. Gibbs has an elite receiving profile coming out of college, earning 2.30 yards per route run since 2021 (second in this class) on 95 targets for a 91.5 receiving grade (second in the class). Jared Goff and the Lions were above average last season in targets to the running back (18.1%), and given the investment in Gibbs, fantasy managers could expect that number to increase in 2023.
Gibbs’ versatility as an every-down threat should keep him on the field for the majority of snaps, even with David Montgomery, who could see more of the Jamaal Williams short down and distance/goal-line role, in the picture. So there isn’t much to be worried about for Gibbs’ outlook as a rookie. Gibbs’ rushing ability is still as strong as most in this year’s class as well with a 90.2 rushing grade and 3.34 yards after contact per attempt since 2021, he should have no problem contributing for fantasy managers in the Lions’ offense.
ROLL LIONS ROLL ????
The @Lions select @AlabamaFTBL RB Jahmyr Gibbs with the No. 12 pick! pic.twitter.com/EQw8c437p0
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 28, 2023
Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
With Kevin O’Connell taking over as the Vikings’ head coach in 2022, the team saw a dramatic shift in how it deployed its offensive personnel versus when Mike Zimmer was in charge. Specifically, in terms of 11 personnel (three wide receivers), Zimmer had one of the lowest rates in the league during his tenure in Minnesota at 48.2% (28th), but with O’Connell coming in, that moved up significantly to 73.9% (fifth), which bodes well for Addison’s chances to get involved in the offense.
Addison has the versatility to play slot or outside wide receiver, and given his first-round draft capital, he should be given every opportunity to do so in the NFL. Even with K.J. Osborn performing admirably last season and still in the mix, Addison will more than likely be heavily involved. With Adam Thielen’s release, there are over 100 targets up for grabs in this 2023 offense, and Addison is the perfect rookie wide receiver to take advantage of that. He earned top-five marks in this receiver class in multiple stable metric categories and commanded targets at a high rate across two college programs. With all the attention Justin Jefferson draws, Addison should continue to see a high rate of targets at the next level considering his top-tier receiving ability.
Jordan Addison’s stable metric ranks among this year’s class of wide receivers since 2021:
|Receiving grade vs single coverage||90.2||5th|
|Receiving grade vs zone coverage||87.6||2nd|
|Yards per route run||2.88||2nd|
Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs
Rice may have been the seventh receiver off the board in this year’s draft, but he landed in one of the more ideal spots to produce as a rookie thanks to a thinner depth chart in Kansas City and the reigning MVP and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. It’s no secret that the Chiefs' passing game goes through Travis Kelce, but there is room for another consistent producer to emerge on a weekly basis, and Rice has the skill set to be that guy. With other inconsistent receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Justin Watson and Skyy Moore as the primary options of note, Rice will have a shot to leapfrog at least a few of them on the depth chart as a rookie and provide fantasy value as a later round option in fantasy drafts.
So, why is Rice amongst that group? Toney could very well be that consistent option, but he has been anything but reliable so far in his NFL career, making him difficult to trust for a full season. Rice also offers a similar ability as Toney to add yards after the catch, which was a big part of Mahomes’ offense in 2022, ranking fourth among all quarterbacks (min. 100 dropbacks) in the percentage of passing yards that came after the catch (54.28%). Rice ranked fifth in this class in receiving yards after catch (1,276) since 2020, fourth in receiving yards after contact (535) and first in missed tackles forced on receptions (46). If Toney continues to be unreliable, the Chiefs’ passing attack should allow Rice to utilize his after-the-catch ability often by Mahomes maintaining a lower average depth of target and letting the SMU product go to work with the ball in his hands.
Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts
Downs could qualify as a sleeper target in 2023 after being the 12th receiver off the board and landing with a developmental quarterback in terms of passing ability. His slot role and ability to be a quarterback-friendly target could make him the ideal option for Richardson in Year 1. As much as Richardson’s cannon for an arm is referenced in his ability to create big plays, his best work came when targeting the slot and those high-percentage completion areas of the field, which should be a focus for a rookie acclimating to the NFL.
As highlighted in the passing map below, his deep throws were a success, but he also had a lot of success targeting the middle of the field, and that showed in his passing grades as he earned his best passing mark when targeting the slot in 2022 (82.1).
Anthony Richardson’s 2022 passing map:
Downs was among the best in this year’s class at working the middle of the field, earning the top receiving grade working against zone coverage (89.2) since 2021, and getting open at a high rate of 61.2% (sixth). This success wasn’t exclusive to zone as he earned the third-best receiving grade versus single coverage in this class since 2021 (91.4) and was open against single coverage on 34.4% of his targets (eighth). His ability to get open and work the middle of the field will be exactly what Richardson is looking for as a passer, potentially making for a dynamic rookie duo in 2023.
Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
The Lions had their pick of tight end options outside of the first round, and in such a loaded class, they chose the best fit for them, which was LaPorta out of Iowa. Rookie tight end success is difficult to come by for fantasy purposes, but considering the lack of receiving options at the position in Detroit, LaPorta has a shot to be one of the more impactful rookie options of the past few years.
After trading away T.J. Hockenson, the Lions went away from targeting the position as much as they did with him on the team, going from the top 10 in the league in the percentage of tight end targets per route run (21.1%) to 28th in the league (13.8%) once they traded him away. Now, with LaPorta in place, they’ll have reason to go back to that well.
LaPorta offers another very strong receiving profile for Jared Goff to rely on, including top-five marks in this class since 2021 in receiving grade (88.7), and yards per route run (2.06). He also offers speed and versatility as he can line up anywhere in the offense and be a receiving threat, which will allow him to be a valuable fantasy option in a dynamic offense that ranked top five in positive EPA per play percentage just last season (46.2%).