Rookies can be difference-makers in fantasy football because rarely are they drafted high enough that they don’t pay off their ADP. Justin Jefferson was the WR48 and pick 121 overall in his rookie year when he finished as the RB6 with 1,400 yards on 88 receptions. Ja’Marr Chase a year later improved on Jefferson’s ADP; his WR29 and overall pick 73 did not portend his 1,455 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Are there rookies who could follow in those star players’ shoes this year? Probably not, but several can help fantasy football rosters at various points of the season. Here’s a quick analysis of the most relevant rookies for fantasy football in 2023. This will be a weekly feature, so keep coming back!
Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
There were moments in Week 1 when Richardson looked like a young Cam Newton, flying around the field and sometimes pile-driving himself into defenders. With 10 rushes for 40 yards and a score, he will be a big threat as a runner. Passing is going to be more work in progress, though he dropped back 45 times, same as Patrick Mahomes.
Richardson did complete 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and an interception. So the rookie is not working from ground zero as a passer. He does appear to have a great connection with Michael Pittman Jr., the big-body receiver who caught eight of 11 targets for 97 yards and a score. That is going to be big for Richardson, who is still startable despite a tough Texans pass defense coming up next.
Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Young and the next rookie quarterback are not going to get big write-ups, as they’re likely backups for fantasy. The No. 1 pick in the draft threw for 146 yards and a touchdown, though he was intercepted twice. He could be a starter in Superflex leagues, but not much more.
C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
Stroud is also a fringe starter in Superflex leagues. He also had some growing pains, completing 28 of 44 passes for 242 yards. Keep an eye on if the connection with Nico Collins (11 targets) and Robert Woods (10 targets) continues. This week is a good matchup against a Colts defense that is young and developing.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
Simply electric, especially on that 11-yard catch and run that he turned into the first of what could be many NFL touchdowns:
YO Bijan Robinson wow pic.twitter.com/UJNO0HzLY0
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) September 10, 2023
His touch count compared to Tyler Allgeier — 18-16 in favor of Allgeier — could be something to monitor. But you’re starting Robinson, and he’ll contribute as long as he gets at least 15 touches.
Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions
Gibbs just has a special gear that few people have on an NFL field:
The Jahmyr Gibbs tape is still good on rewatch. His ability to vary speeds and turn on the jets in a straight line is as impressive as it was at 'Bama.
But what impressed me the most was the contact balance. Guy just wouldn't go down. pic.twitter.com/VChABH4akb
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) September 8, 2023
The nine touches for 60 yards pale next to the 21 carries for 74 yards and a score that David Montgomery put up against the Chiefs, but head coach Dan Campbell talked to reporters this week about how he wanted to get Gibbs more involved now that his rookie debut is over.
Let’s see if his words come true in a matchup against Seattle that saw 93 combined points scored last year.
Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks
In the opener, there was a clear separation between Charbonnet and incumbent starter Kenneth Walker III. Walker was on the field for 30 snaps to Charbonnet’s 11. Rush attempts were a big advantage for Walker, 12-3, as were the targets, 4-0. Charbonnet appears to have a big hill to climb to being startable. For now, keep him on the bench.
Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans
Spears was on the field a lot, even out-snapping Derrick Henry, 36-28. Yet he only drew four total touches, while Henry was clearly the usage leader at 17. Spears needs to remain on benches, but if he continues to see the field his touches should begin to grow, as will his fantasy relevance.
Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars
The biggest rookie error of the day was by Bigsby, who allowed a Colts defender to strip him of the ball after it appeared the play was dead. Rookie note: The play is alive until the whistle blows. Bigsby came back to score a touchdown, but the clear leader of the backfield at this time is Travis Etienne, who had 23 touches to Bigsby’s seven. Sit Bigsby for now — but he could be a waiver-wire cut soon.
Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears
The Packers-Bears game was 24-6 midway through the third quarter, so there is no true indicator if Johnson is in anything but a committee. He did lead the group in routes run (17) and targets (seven). He caught six balls for 35 yards, so his pass-game usage is something to monitor in case he sees an uptick.
Inactives to watch: Between two players who were inactive in Week 1, De’Von Achane and Kendre Miller, the one to keep an eye on is Achane. With Raheem Mostert nursing a knee injury and Jeff Wilson on IR, there could be an opportunity in the Miami backfield for Achane as soon as this weekend.
Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens
Few players, not just rookies, looked as good as Flowers last week. He had great burst and velocity, and that translated to leading the Ravens with 10 targets while no other Baltimore pass catcher drew more than three. Flowers is shaping up like he will be a big part of the offense that so many are counting on to take the step forward under offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
I’d suggest letting Flowers do it again against the Bengals this week before starting him in a fantasy lineup.
Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams
The “found gold” pick went to all fantasy managers who drafted Nacua in the last round, just in case those glowing camp reports were accurate. Well, they were rewarded with 10 catches on 15 targets for 119 yards and at least one highlight-reel play.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 10, 2023
No greater authority than Matt Harmon pointed out that Nacua is more in the Robert Woods mold than subbing for Cooper Kupp. So Nacua could stay relevant even after Kupp returns, though Kupp is very much the alpha of this offense.
Warning: The 49ers loom this week, and that could mean a tough matchup for Nacua, who is now questionable with an oblique injury.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks
The top wide receiver taken in the NFL Draft saw five targets, which he turned into three catches for 13 yards. Give him another couple of weeks to make up for time missed due to a fractured wrist.
Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
Clearly playing behind Justin Jefferson, Addison took on the lesser corners of Tampa Bay and caught four balls for 61 yards and his first NFL touchdown. Jefferson is the unquestioned receiving leader with 150 yards and 44 routes run. Addison was fourth on the Vikings with 29 routes. The recommendation here is to sit Addison against Philadelphia's defense in Week 2.
Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers
The rookie ran 16 routes, which was less than half of Keenan Allen’s 33 on the day. When this number starts to creep closer to half of Allen’s, that’s when we should start to pay attention.
Marvin Mims Jr., Denver Broncos
There was some hype around Broncos Country about Mims possibly having a larger-than-expected role because the Broncos’ receiving corps was banged up. Getting eight routes to run and drawing two targets is not the way to gain any more attention. Stash him on your bench if you can.
Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs
Rice led all Chiefs pass catchers with receptions … with three. In a Mahomes offense when Travis Kelce returns, prepare for Rice to have several more games with three or fewer catches.
Other Receivers to Watch: Jayden Reed is talented and caught two balls for 48 yards, but is contending with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs for targets. He’s a hold for now. Same with Jonathan Mingo, who has a quarterback cutting his teeth in the NFL.
Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers
Like his fellow rookie teammate Reed, Musgrave is down the pecking order for targets. But turning three catches into 50 yards at the tight end position does make one sit up and take notice. Musgrave is a must-add in all leagues starting a tight end, even as a backup.
Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
LaPorta is quickly reaching the same status as Musgrave in needing to be rostered in all leagues with tight ends. Amon-Ra St. Brown is the clear magnet for targets on the Lions, but LaPorta running the third-most routes on the Lions (18) makes it clear that he is a part of this offense. Seattle gave up a lot of fantasy points to tight ends last year.
Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills
Getting a lot of training camp hype, Kincaid was on the field plenty with 34 routes running against the Jets. That was just behind starting receivers Stefon Diggs (45) and Gabe Davis (39). Kincaid caught four balls for 26 yards.
If Kincaid can keep up among the team leaders in targets on the pass-happy Bills, he will have relevance. He’s even start-worthy in a home matchup against the Raiders in Week 2.