Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: 7 rookies primed to break out with their new NFL team in 2024

2T75M93 November 11, 2023: LSU's Jayden Daniels (5) delivers a pass during NCAA football game action between the Florida Gators and the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA. Jonathan Mailhes/CSM (Credit Image: © Jonathan Mailhes/Cal Sport Media) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

• Two quarterbacks who will push to be fantasy starters right away: Both of the top two quarterbacks drafted this year should be in consideration for starting spots in fantasy lineups in 2024.

• Question marks at quarterback shouldn’t stop Malik Nabers from being a strong fantasy asset as a rookie: While his overall weekly ceiling could be capped, there’s room for starting fantasy production from Nabers on a weekly basis.

• The Los Angeles Chargers get a great fit at wide receiver in the second round: Ladd McConkey should step in immediately as a reliable and go-to target for Justin Herbert.

Estimated reading time: 11 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.

QB Caleb Williams, Chicago Bears

The No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft walks into an offense tailor-made for fantasy success, which isn’t something that many former first-overall quarterbacks have had that benefit of in years past. For Williams, his success as a rookie is going to come from having one of the best receiving corps in the league between Keenan Allen, DJ Moore and now Rome Odunze. On top of reliable options like Cole Kmet at tight end and D’Andre Swift out of the backfield, Williams’ supporting cast is everything fantasy managers could want for a highly-drafted rookie quarterback to succeed in Year 1.

On top of all the talent around Williams, he doesn’t come up short in that category himself as a true dual-threat quarterback who can provide production with his arm and his legs. Williams’ willingness to scramble combined with the ability to extend plays and either take off or make big-time throws is going to pay dividends for fantasy purposes, especially considering the options he has to pass to.

Williams earned an excellent 91.4 passing grade for his college career (88th percentile among QB prospects since 2017) while adding 6.3 rush attempts per game. This equated to about 29.5 fantasy points per game for his NCAA career which is the fifth-best mark among Power 5 quarterback prospects since 2017 behind only Lamar Jackson (37.3), Patrick Mahomes (33.7), Baker Mayfield (30.3), and Deshaun Watson (29.9). Williams should push to be a top-12 fantasy quarterback on a weekly basis, with a top-15 floor in 2024, all things considered.

QB Jayden Daniels, Washington Commanders

Much like the previously mentioned Williams, Daniels steps into a situation where he’ll be given the keys to succeed early in his NFL career, and that should allow him to produce for fantasy right out the gate as a rookie. The Commanders, while not quite on the same level as the Bears in terms of elite receiving weapons, still offer some very strong options to get the ball to on a consistent basis. Terry McLaurin has been one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL and for fantasy football, doing so without a high-end quarterback to get him the ball, so the hope is that Daniels will change that. Adding in 2022 first-round pick Jahan Dotson, 2022 fantasy RB1 Austin Ekeler and one of the steadier tight ends in the league with Zach Ertz, Daniels’ life should be made easier relative to most rookie quarterbacks in terms of receiving.

More than anything else, Daniels offers an elite rushing upside that will help him translate to being an effective fantasy asset as a rookie. Daniels ranks among the 95th percentile of quarterback prospects in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.31) and 96th percentile in yards after contact per attempt (4.05), which is a very exciting combination for fantasy when also considering his 258 career scrambles (100th percentile) over his college career. Over the past two years with LSU, Daniels averaged 13.8 fantasy points via his rushing ability alone, which would be the second-highest mark among all quarterback prospects since 2017, behind only Lamar Jackson (20.5). If Daniels can stay healthy and avoid a lot of the hits that kept Anthony Richardson, who was on this list last year, from playing a full rookie season, then he should be a locked-in weekly fantasy starter by the end of this year.

WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Arizona Cardinals

Not only is Harrison the best wide receiver in this year’s draft class but he lands with Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, where he should have no problem dominating the target share on a weekly basis as a true alpha wide receiver. Harrison comes out of Ohio State with an elite 0.28 targets per route run for his career and that shouldn’t change in the NFL where his primary target competition will be tight end Trey McBride.

Harrison offers an all-around elite receiving profile to translate to the NFL, as highlighted in the chart below. He should mesh perfectly with Murray as his quarterback, offering a wide variety of routes to get open and provide the fantasy upside for both players through the air. For comparison, DeAndre Hopkins, who was Murray's last alpha wide receiver, finished no worse than 14.7 fantasy points per game (WR20) in a season during his time with the Cardinals, including two top-10 marks in that regard in 2020 and 2022. Harrison is going to push for similar numbers right out the gate considering his ability to earn targets combined with his high-end college production profile.

Marvin Harrison Jr.’s career college metrics and ranks:
Metric Value Rank among WR prospects since 2019
Yards per route run 2.98 93rd percentile
Receiving grade 91.3 94th percentile
Receiving grade lined up wide 89.5 97th percentile
Receiving grade lined up in the slot 89.9 94th percentile
Explosive play rate 45.8% 94th percentile
Receiving grade versus single coverage 94.5 98th percentile

WR Malik Nabers, New York Giants

The quarterback situation and the overall offense in New York are concerns for fantasy managers who spend up to roster Nabers in 2024, but the lack of target competition on the Giants gives him an island unto his own to see a ton of volume as a rookie. Much like Harrison, Nabers earned a high-end targets per route run figure (0.26) and has all the potential and talent to make the most of his Year 1 situation with the Giants.

Nabers' best recent comparison in his rookie year should be 2022 Garrett Wilson, who had a good enough season to win Offensive Rookie of the Year with a combination of Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco and Mike White as his starting quarterbacks. Wilson compares very similarly to Nabers coming out of college in efficiency metrics, both were top-10 picks in their respective drafts and have lackluster target competition to contend with as rookies on offenses with question marks at quarterback. Wilson’s ceiling was capped quite a bit in his low-scoring offense, finishing with just five top-12 finishes, but volume still allowed for overall production as he finished as the PPR WR21 that season. There’s also an argument to be made that Nabers’ fantasy managers should even be more optimistic about him compared to Wilson’s rookie year based on the situation, better college numbers, and slightly better quarterback situation, assuming Daniel Jones is back healthy. 

Comparing Malik Nabers and Garrett Wilson heading into rookie years:
Metric Garrett Wilson Malik Nabers
NCAA receiving grade 89.1 91.2
NCAA YPRR 2.73 2.83
NFL Draft capital 10th overall 6th overall
Team passing grade from previous season 56.2 (30th) 65.7 (20th)
Team WR/TE to earn 80 targets in previous season? NO NO
Rookie season yardage total 1,103 (14th) ??
Rookie season fantasy finish WR21 ??

WR Xavier Worthy, Kansas City Chiefs

There may not have been a better fit for Worthy in this draft than to land with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he gets a quarterback and offense perfectly suited to his skill set. Worthy’s speed is no secret at this point — after running a 4.21-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine, he is exactly the kind of weapon that can thrive in this Chiefs offense by either getting open underneath and taking off with the ball in his hands or by providing Patrick Mahomes a much-needed consistent deep target. Kansas City’s passing offense resulted in the highest percentage of passing yards coming after the catch in 2023 (60.6%), which was even more than the previous year when they finished with the third-highest mark in that regard (54.3%). Worthy is among the best in this year’s rookie class with the ball in hands, averaging 7.3 yards after the catch per reception for his college career, which is an 80th percentile mark among prospects since 2019.

Worthy has plenty of experience on deep targets, seeing 94 throws of 20-plus yards downfield during his college career, though he wasn’t necessarily getting the most accurate throws, as Texas ranked 118th out of 133 FBS teams in adjusted completion percentage on such throws since 2021 during his time with the team. Worthy came down with 77.4% of his catchable deep targets, which isn’t an amazing number by any means, but it’s a lot better than his overall completion rate on 20-plus targets (25.5%), which was the third-worst mark in the FBS over the past three seasons among qualifying wide receivers. Over the past two years, Mahomes ranks just 17th among qualifying quarterbacks in adjusted completion rate on 20-plus yard throws (42.1%) so the hope is that adding a speedster like Worthy will allow both players to flourish in that regard and act as a bonus to what he’ll be able to provide underneath and after the catch. Worthy could be even more crucial to Kansas City’s offense this year as Rashee Rice is expected to serve a significant suspension to start the season. 

WR Ladd McConkey, Los Angeles Chargers

Fantasy managers were clamoring for the Chargers to get one of the top three wide receivers in this year’s draft, but alas, the team opted to address the offensive line first which created a collective sigh from the fantasy community. However, hope was not all lost as the Chargers made up for it early in the second round by selecting Georgia’s Ladd McConkey, and suddenly the optimism for fantasy potential came roaring back.

McConkey is likely to play a primary slot role in the NFL given his size, but his overall skillset and route-running will allow him to also do the most damage in the middle of the field, giving Justin Herbert a consistent and reliable target to focus on. Since 2021, when targeting the slot, Herbert has earned a 92.2 passing grade which is the third-best mark among qualifying quarterbacks over that span. In 2023 alone, Herbert managed an 80.2% adjusted completion rate when targeting the slot which was the fourth-best mark among 25 qualifying quarterbacks.

Expect McConkey to be involved early and often in his NFL career, as he’ll likely be Herbert’s most reliable target on a weekly basis thanks to his ability to get open and be productive with the ball in his hands. HIs primary role in the slot should create confidence for fantasy managers as he has already proven to have an excellent feel for zone coverage while being productive from that alignment in college. McConkey had the fourth-best career yards per route run mark versus zone in this class (2.79) while tying for the best first down/touchdown per route run mark (0.15). His 2.84 career yards per route run out of the slot was also the third-best mark in this class among Power Five wide receivers with at least 150 routes, behind only Nabers (3.05) and Javon Baker (2.85). Leading the Chargers in targets is well within the realm of possibilities for McConkey as a rookie.

WR Keon Coleman, Buffalo Bills

Coleman also lands in an ideal offense for him to deliver right away as a rookie, potentially sitting atop a depth chart that includes only Khalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel and Chase Claypool after the team moved on from Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis this offseason. The Bills spending early draft capital on a wide receiver felt inevitable, and fantasy managers should have likely felt excited about whoever the team brought in, and Coleman now gets to be that guy for the time being. 

While I have some concerns about Coleman’s long-term sustainability in the NFL considering his college profile which was relatively unproductive as he managed just 1.87 yards per route run for his career and never surpassed 800 receiving yards in a season. The plus side of this is that he’s still young – not even 21 years old as of being drafted by the Bills – and the lack of target competition in Year 1 should allow him to be productive by default. 

One of the concerns with Coleman coming out of college is that he hasn’t given any indication that he’s a high-end separator which would help him earn more targets on his own. For his career, his open target rate on throws 10-plus yards downfield (21%) is the worst mark among the FBS wide receivers in this year’s class. On the plus side, Josh Allen has a 10.5% big-time-throw rate on tight-window throws (second-best) over the past two seasons and isn’t afraid to try and fit the ball into receivers without separation, which will ideally maintain the strong target rate for Coleman as a rookie until he continues to develop into more a polished wide receiver.


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