2023 Fantastic Fantasy Freshmen

By John Laub
John Laub

Getting A Handle On The Incoming Rookie Class

Despite all of the different ways to play fantasy football, redraft leagues remain the most common. One question that must be addressed every year: How do the rookies rank among the veteran players when drafting a fantasy team?

For years, fantasy players targeted rookie running backs and passed on the other positions for the most part. If a fantasy player still embraces the old-school paradigm, they will miss opportunities to draft rising stars as freshmen.

Last year, rookie receivers Garret Wilson, Chris Olave and Drake London all became reliable weekly starters, and of course, running backs Kenneth Walker, Tyler Allgeier, Dameon Pierce and Breece Hall (despite suffering season-ending injury) all generated fantasy production.

In 2023, astute fantasy football diehards will once again acquire rookie playmakers on their rosters and reap the rewards of their homework. In order to assist, I rank the top freshmen in tiers -- Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Cum Laude and Honors. Projections are based on the upcoming 2023 campaign.

Summa Cum Laude

RB Bijan Robinson, Falcons

I am very comfortable selecting the newest Falcons' runner among the top-6 picks in redraft leagues. My confidence is based on coach Arthur Smith's philosophy and offensive scheme, which foreshadow high-end fantasy production. In three of the past four seasons, Smith has orchestrated a ground game at Tennessee and Atlanta that ranked in the top 5: In 2019, 138.9 ypg. (third), in 2020, 168.1 ypg. (second) and in 2022, 159.9 (third). Last year, rookie Tyler Allgeier earned 210 carries, averaged 4.9 ypc. and scored three touchdowns.

At 6-0 and 222 pounds, Robinson is a three-down ball carrier and profiles as a much-better runner than Allgeier. "Bijan is an impact football player. We just feel he's an explosive weapon. He's a home run hitter; however, he gets the football in his hands," coach Smith stated after the Draft (nesn.com). The former Longhorns' playmaker easily out-touches Allgeier's totals from last year and ascends to a fantasy difference maker immediately.

2023 Projections: 1,320 rushing yards, 45 receptions for 340 yards and 13 touchdowns

Grade: A+



QB Anthony Richardson, Colts

For the past three seasons, the Colts placed a Band-Aid on the quarterback position by acquiring veterans Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Philip Rivers and made the playoffs only once. With the fourth-pick overall, the organization could not bypass upgrading the quarterback position and selected Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.

The imposing signal caller landed with a great coaching staff with head coach Steve Steichen and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Richardson will catapult the rookie to fantasy prominence sooner rather than later. There is no question the trajectory that Richardson envisions for himself. "I want to be a legend. I want to be like Patrick Mahomes, I want to be like Tom Brady. I want to be one of the greats. …I will be one of the greats," Richardson opined at the NFL Combine in March (usatoday.com). It is music to the ears of fantasy managers.

At 6-4 and 244 pounds, Richardson has ideal size, traits, athletic ability and leadership skills. He is the definition of the modern dual-threat signal caller. All projections for the rookie must begin with the number of games started in 2023. The projections are based on 14 starts for the dynamic rookie.

2023 Projections: 2,660 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, 700 rushing yards and eight touchdowns

Grade: A




RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Lions

I did not expect two runners to be plucked off the board within the top-12 picks of the Draft, and especially not by the Lions, who signed free agent David Montgomery in the offseason and rostered DeAndre Swift before trading him to Philadelphia.

The organization obviously graded Jahmyr Gibbs highly and took him off the board with the first of their two selections on Day 1 of the Draft. The Detroit organization strongly believed in the former Alabama ball carrier. "Brad Holmes (General Manager), myself, the staff, the personnel department, we all fell in love with this guy a long time ago. He pops off the tape, he's dynamic, he's explosive and he's an unbelievable human being and a worker. He brings an explosive element to our offense," coach Dan Campbell declared (si.com).

The fantasy community rejoices and feels confident that the Lions made the right decision. Campbell will clearly bestow Gibbs with an abundance of work in the passing game, which is fantasy gold.

2023 Projections: 625 rushing yards, 50 receptions for 330 yards and seven touchdowns

Grade: A-




WR Jordan Addison, Vikings

The Vikings already employ all-world game breaker Justin Jefferson, the most dangerous pass-catcher in the league. Yet the organization sought another playmaker who can win one-on-one contests to take advantage of defensive coverage on Jefferson and targeted Jordan Addison as the guy.

"We added a really good player. ... At a very, very important position that continues to be a major position as this game continues to evolve. Combining Addison with our skill group as a whole, we feel like we're going to be able to attack some premier match-ups. We feel like we've added a real weapon," coach Kevin O'Connell proclaimed after selecting the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner.

Last year, veteran Adam Thielen registered 107 targets and corralled 70 passes but averaged only 10.2 ypc. In the offseason, Thielen signed a contract with the Panthers, and Addison strides into a starting position. At 5-11 and 172 pounds, the Vikings' rookie is a fleet-footed, home run hitter, who is a savvy and slippery route runner with elusiveness and quickness.

2023 Projections: 65 receptions for 930 yards and seven touchdowns

Grade: A-




Magna Cum Laude


WR Rashee Rice, Chiefs

Looking at depth charts, the Chiefs need an influx of talent at wide receiver: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore are the projected starters in 11-personnel formations. Scantling is a journeyman, Toney cannot stay on the field and Moore rarely touched the ball as a rookie last year.

Kansas City traded up eight spots with Detroit to snag SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice with the 55th selection. Rice was the seventh receiver off the board before higher-ranked prospects Marvin Mims, Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman. Obviously, the Super Bowl Champions graded Rice highly and believed he fits into their system.

"(Rice is) really good with the ball after the catch; he's like a running back after the catch. Explosive, fast-twitch kid. He can play inside, he can play outside. Coaches will find a way to get him involved in the offense," Chiefs assistant general manager Mike Borgonzi said (kansascity.com).

At 6-1 and 204 pounds, the former Mustang has a nice frame with long arms and sticky hands. He quickly gets off the line of scrimmage and produces YAC totals once the ball is in his hands. Rice is in a near perfect spot to begin his professional career and become a viable fantasy option.

2023 Projections: 68 catches for 840 yards and six touchdowns

Grade: B




RB Kendre Miller, Saints

Currently, Alvin Kamara's legal status is unresolved. Who will be the leader in carries and targets in the backfield? Is it Kamara, free agent Jamaal Williams, or rookie Kendre Miller? Looking at the situation from afar, there is no clarity at this point.

At 5-11 and 215 pounds, Miller looks like an NFL bruiser with grit, ruggedness and physicality. He uses good vision to identify cut-back lanes and is an elusive downhill runner. "Miller runs with violence. He's a one-cut runner. He'll press a hole and be able to put his foot in the ground and get North to South. He's got speed to be a home-run hitter, too," Saints' coach Dennis Allen expressed when breaking down the former Horned Frogs' star (nola.com).

Miller has a good size-and-speed combination with agility and twitch. There is no certainty that the rookie earns the majority of the carries this year. Nevertheless, it is within his range of outcomes to be the lead back by November in the Big Easy.

2023 Projections: 800 rushing yards, 10 receptions for 60 yards and seven touchdowns

Grade: B




RB Devon Achane, Dolphins

The Dolphins clearly sought an additional speedy game breaker on offense. Opponents must defend every yard of the gridiron against Miami's dynamic speed demons Tyreek Hill and Jayden Waddle.

With the 84th selection in the Draft, Miami added Devon Achane. "We generally like speed around here. You're always keeping in mind that you're adding players, and the running back room is very important. You find a person and player that fits the organization's skillset but also within the locker room. We're really excited to add Achane, who is really fast," coach Mike McDaniel proclaimed after the selection (thephinsider.com).

I cannot ignore the landing spot, offensive scheme and depth chart in Miami. Coach McDaniel coordinated the 49ers' run game from 2017-20 and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021. In San Francisco, Elijah Mitchell, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Carlos Hyde all produced fantasy-worthy numbers at times, and last year, Mostert and Jeff Wilson both occasionally performed well in McDaniel's outside zone-blocking scheme.

Achane is better than all of the aforementioned ball carriers McDaniels employed. I will make the bet that the former Aggie, despite not surpassing the 200-pound threshold and having a smaller frame, succeeds with limited touches and high efficiency in Miami.

2023 Projections: 650 yards rushing, 50 receptions for 440 yards and seven touchdowns

Grade: B




Cum Laude


RB Roschon Johnson, Bears

Roschon Johnson did not pop in an analytics profile of college production. Yet, Chicago liked his size-speed-strength combination as a future NFL runner. "Johnson is hard-nosed. Fits this division (NFC North) to a tee. Powerful, physical, breaks a lot of tackles. He has a lot of hidden yardage with him. I have a feeling this guy is going to be with us for a really long time. He just emulates everything we want a Chicago Bear to be," Bears area scout John Syty reflected after the Draft (nbcsports.com).

In the fourth round, Chicago grabbed Johnson with the thirteenth selection. When training camp opens, free agent D'Onta Foreman and third-year ball carrier Khalil Herbert adorn the top of the Bears' depth chart. Neither is a bona fide three-down back, and the former Longhorn should see touches in the Windy City.

At 6-0 and 219 pounds, Johnson will carve out a significant role as the season progresses. By the end of the campaign, do not be surprised if the rookie is the lead ball carrier in the backfield.

2023 Projections: 800 rushing yards, 20 receptions for 100 yards and eight touchdowns

Grade: C+




WR Quentin Johnston, Chargers

Lukewarm on the production profile at TCU, my film grades called attention to challenges in regard to route running and hands at the catch point for Johnston, who ranked fourth among receivers in my analysis. Nevertheless, the Chargers valued Johnston highly and selected him as the second receiver off the board. "(Johnston) is a weapon to score any time that he touches the ball. There are very few receivers in the game who are threats to score whenever they have it," Chargers' coach Brandon Staley uttered after the selection (chargers.com).

Veteran receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams impede Johnston's path to immediate fantasy prominence. However, the two stars missed a combined 11 games last year and both are over 28 years old. At 6-3 and 212 pounds, Johnston is an athletic playmaker, who profiles as a big-bodied X-receiver and wins with long arms, body control and leaping ability. As a freshman, Johnston is in a really nice situation to score fantasy points.

2023 Projections: 46 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns

Grade: C+




WR Jonathan Mingo, Panthers

One of the biggest risers among receivers in the 2023 Class, Jonathan Mingo garnered second-round draft capital (2.08) and the fifth wideout taken. Therefore, fantasy diehards must take a closer look at the former Mississippi product.

At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Mingo has prototypical size and speed as a boundary receiver. With excellent catch-and-run skills, he has a big frame and employs strong hands, good technique and steadfast determination to succeed as a pass-catcher. "I can turn a little five-yard hitch into an eight-yard touchdown, to make things easier on the quarterback. Gotta make the quarterback look good," Mingo said (panthers.com).

On the depth chart, the Panthers list an aging Adam Thielen, declining DJ Chark and underperforming Terrace Marshall, Jr. at receiver. Mingo furnishes a young difference-maker on the outside to develop with rookie QB Bryce Young. There is a feasible likelihood that Mingo leads the team in targets as a freshman.

2023 Projections: 60 receptions for 780 yards and five touchdowns

Grade: C+




WR Jayded Reed, Packers

The Packers played their hand wonderfully in the NFL Draft. The team traded back twice and still landed the receiver the organization coveted in the second round, Jayden Reed. "He is big and he's strong, if you want to simplify it. He's got exceptional strength for a smaller-frame player, and he can run. We think he can do both (slot and outside)...we feel like he's versatile enough to do both," stated Packers' scout Jon Eric Sullivan (packersnews.com).

At 5-11 and 187 pounds, Reed caught 203 passes in college and posted a 31 percent dominator rating in 2021. He also blazed at the Combine, posting a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash. The former Spartan joins a WR room with rising sophomores Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. He provides the coaching staff with a versatile playmaker, who can be moved all over the formation.

2023 Projections: 55 receptions for 680 yards and four touchdowns

Grade: C+






TE Dalton Kincaid, Bills

Analyzing the performance of rookie tight ends, the historical results do not foretell a productive campaign for Dalton Kincaid or any of the other freshmen at the position in 2023. It is rare for a rookie to make a fantasy impact. Banking on Kincaid to be a fantasy producer ignores the difficult challenge ahead for the vast majority of rookie tight ends.

Nonetheless, it is a promising situation for the Bills' first-round selection. He has an exemplary offense, a stupendous quarterback and high-end athletic ability to transcend the historical trends. "I think Dalton Kincaid is going to be an outstanding NFL player. He's with a great organization, he's got a great quarterback to get him the ball. They do have a really good No. 1 tight end but (Kincaid) will be a great complement to him," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham proclaimed (desert.com).

At 6-4 and 246-pounds, the former Utah product enters the league as a prototypical "F" tight end prospect. With natural hands and great ball skills, he is a smooth route-runner, who attacks defenses at all levels of the field. Kincaid furnishes QB Josh Allen with another nice playmaker.

2023 Projections: 53 receptions for 665 yards and five touchdowns

Grade: C




WR Marvin Mims, Broncos

With his first pick as coach of the Broncos, Sean Payton selected Marvin Mims. The speedster rose up rankings during the scouting process in the winter and provides Denver with a young game breaker, who can ascend up the depth chart in 2024 if Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy are no longer with the team.

"Mims got return skills, character makeup and he's smart. He's someone that can play at Z and can play at X. He brings an element of speed you can feel on tape. …He's extremely intelligent, and you feel the top-end speed," Payton proclaimed (broncoswire.com).

At 5-11 and 187 pounds, Mims changes the dynamics of opponents' schemes by attacking secondaries vertically and commanding the attention of defensive coordinators. He accelerates in the blink of an eye and promptly explodes upfield, which is a component that the Denver offense desperately needs. Payton knows how to scheme speedsters open deep, and Mims will hit a few home runs in 2023.

2023 Projections: 45 receptions for 675 yards and four touchdowns

Grade: C




TE Sam LaPorta, Lions

It is early in the prognostication season; yet, it appears that the Lions have become one of the national media and fan's favorite teams before training camp opens. Detroit has many interesting fantasy football playmakers, including second-round pick Sam LaPorta who was selected with the 34th pick overall.

"Sam LaPorta is as good a football player as I've ever coached, probably the best one. He's an exceptional competitor, very talented. The way he practices, the way he plays, if my son could just emulate that, whatever he chooses to do, I'd be awfully proud of him," Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stated at the end of the 2022 season (247Sports.com).

Last year, Detroit traded T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota after seven games and played a trio of tight ends the remainder of the year. Tight ends Brock Wright, James Mitchell and Shane Zylstra combined for 40 catches for 389 yards and nine touchdowns. In practices, the coaching staff waxed poetically in regard to LaPorta's talents, and the rookie's potential opportunity foreshadows fantasy goodness.

2023 Projections: 50 receptions for 550 yards and five touchdowns

Grade: C




WR Zay Flowers, Ravens

Can you remember the last time a Baltimore receiver finished among the top-12 fantasy WRs? I'm old enough to remember WR Michael Jackson catching passes from QB Vinny Testaverde in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Rashod Bateman has not reached elite fantasy status since the Ravens drafted him in the first round in 2021. Will Zay Flowers become a fantasy darling in a Ravens' uniform? The talent and skills are clearly there to succeed.

Baltimore graded the Boston College playmaker so highly that the team drafted him in the first round. "I haven't come across many more impressive, just, face-to-face prospects that I've ever interviewed at the Combine and then here in Baltimore. His story, his resiliency, his ability to just succeed and handle things was really, really impressive," Ravens' GM Eric DeCosta declared (baltimoreravens.com).

Did the organization finally land a rising fantasy star? In the long run, it is quite possible.&