Rookies can make a difference in fantasy football because they rarely get drafted high enough that their ADP doesn’t pay off. Justin Jefferson was the WR48 and picked 121 overall in his rookie year as he finished as the RB6 with 1,400 yards on 88 receptions. Ja’Marr Chase improved Jefferson’s ADP a year later; his WR29 and 73 overall pick belied his 1,455 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Are there any rookies who could take the place of these champions this year? Probably not, but many can help fantasy football rosters at various points in the season. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most relevant rookies for fantasy football in 2023. This will be a weekly column, so keep coming back!
Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
There were times in Week 1 when Richardson looked like a young Cam Newton, flying around the field and sometimes throwing himself at defenders. With 10 rushes for 40 yards and a score, he will be a big threat as a runner. The passes will still be a work in progress, even if he has dropped 45 times, like Patrick Mahomes.
Richardson completed 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and one interception. So the rookie isn’t working from scratch as a passer. He appears 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. It will be a big moment for Richardson, who is still startable despite the Texans’ tough pass defense coming into the game.
Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Young and the soon-to-be rookie quarterback won’t get much commentary, as they are likely fantasy backups. The No. 1 overall pick threw for 146 yards and a touchdown, though he was intercepted twice. He could be a starter in the Superflex championships, but not much more.
CJ 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 out to see if the connection with Nico Collins (11 targets) and Robert Woods (10 targets) continues. This week is a good matchup against a young and developing Colts defense.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
Simply electric, especially on that 11-yard catch and run that turned into the first of what could be many NFL touchdowns:
His number of touches 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 simply has a special gear that few people have on an NFL field:
The nine touches for 60 yards pale next to the 21 carries for 74 yards and one score David Montgomery had against the Chiefs, but head coach Dan Campbell spoke to reporters this week about how he would like to involve Gibbs more now that his rookie debut is over.
We’ll see if his words come true in a matchup against Seattle that featured 93 combined points last year.
Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks
Early on, there was a clear separation between Charbonnet and incumbent Kenneth Walker III. Walker was on the field for 30 snaps to Charbonnet’s 11. Rushing attempts were a big plus for Walker, 12-3, as were targets, 4-0. It looks like Charbonnet has a big hill to climb to get started. For now, keep him on the bench.
Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans
Spears was on the floor a lot, also beating Derrick Henry, 36-28. Yet he only drew four total touches, while Henry was clearly the usage leader with 17. Spears must remain on the bench, but if he continues to see the field his touches should start to grow, as should the relevance of his fantasy.
Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars
The biggest rookie mistake of the day came from Bigsby, who allowed a Colts defender to take the ball away from him after it appeared the game was dead. Rookie note: The game is alive until kickoff. Bigsby came back to score a touchdown, but the clear leader in the backfield right now is Travis Etienne, who had 23 touches to Bigsby’s seven. Sit Bigsby for now, but the waiver wire may be cut soon.
Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears
The Packers-Bears game was 24-6 midway through the third quarter, so there’s no real indicator whether Johnson is on anything other than a committee. He led the group in routes covered (17) and finishes (seven). He caught six balls for 35 yards, so his pass-game usage is something to monitor should he see an improvement.
Inactives to watch: Between two players who were inactive in Week 1, De’Von Achane AND Kendre Miller, the one to watch is Achane. With Raheem Mostert suffering from a knee injury and Jeff Wilson on IR, there could be an opportunity in Miami’s 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 speed, and that translated into leading the Ravens with 10 targets while no other Baltimore pass catcher caught more than three. Flowers projects as if 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 would suggest letting Flowers do it again against the Bengals this week before starting him in a fantasy lineup.
Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams
The “gold found” pick went to all the fantasy managers who picked Nacua in the last round, just in case those glowing field reports were accurate. Well, they were rewarded with 10 receptions on 15 targets for 119 yards and at least one highlight play.
There is no greater authority than Matt Harmon pointed out that Nacua is more in the mold of Robert Woods than Cooper Kupp’s replacement. So Nacua could remain relevant even after Kupp returns, although Kupp is very much the alpha of this offense.
Be warned: The 49ers loom large this week, and that could mean a tough matchup for Nacua.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks
The widest receiver taken in the NFL Draft saw five targets, which he turned into three receptions for 13 yards. Give him another couple of weeks to make up for lost time due to the broken wrist.
Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
Playing clearly behind Justin Jefferson, Addison took on Tampa Bay’s smaller corners and caught four balls for 61 yards and his first NFL touchdown. Jefferson is the clear 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, less than half of Keenan Allen’s 33 on the day. When this number starts to get closer to half of Allen’s, that’s when we should start paying attention.
Marvin Mims Jr., Denver Broncos
There was some buzz around Broncos Country that Mims might have a bigger role than expected because the Broncos’ receiving corps was struggling. Getting eight routes to run and drawing two targets is not the way to get more attention. Place it 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 many more games with three or fewer receptions.
Other receivers to watch: Jayden Reed He’s talented and catches two balls for 48 yards, but he’s battling with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs for targets. For now he is waiting. Same with Jonathan Mingo, which has a quarterback who is cutting his teeth in the NFL.
Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers
Like his rookie teammate Reed, Musgrave is low in the pecking order for goals. But turning three catches into 50 yards at the tight end position makes you sit up and take notice. Musgrave is an element to add in all championships that start in a balanced way, even as a reserve.
Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
LaPorta is quickly reaching the same status as Musgrave in needing to be rostered in all tight leagues. Amon-Ra St. Brown is clearly the target magnet on the Lions, but LaPorta running the third-most routes on the Lions (18) makes it clear that he is part of this offense. Seattle gave up a lot of fantasy points to hit tough targets last year.
Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills
Receiving a lot of hype since training camp, Kincaid was on the field aplenty with 34 routes rushing against the Jets. This was just behind starting receivers Stefon Diggs (45) and Gabe Davis (39). Kincaid caught four balls for 26 yards.
If Kincaid can keep pace with the team leaders in targets on the pass-happy Bills, he will have relevance. He is also notable in a home matchup against the Raiders in Week 2.