2023 Rookie Hits and Misses

by Aaron St. Denis · Sleepers

Rookies in Redraft

As the redraft season kicks into overdrive, it is time to apply our knowledge of the 2023 rookie class and determine where they fit in alongside the veterans. Rookies are many times available in the later rounds and can be valuable assets to help us win in season-long leagues. Here we project which rookies will be hits and which will be misses in the 2023 season.

Zay Flowers – WR, Baltimore Ravens

Underdog ADP 79.5 (WR40)*

The Ravens drafted Zay Flowers with the 22nd overall pick in the first round. Entering training camp, he found himself on a wide receiver depth chart behind both Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham Jr. Add in Mark Andrews, and Flowers figured to be, at best, third on the team in targets. While I don’t believe he has moved his way to the number one pass catcher on the team, Flowers has certainly cemented himself as the second option throughout the preseason.

Flowers has been electric and elusive in his first NFL preseason. He has set himself apart from the rest of the Baltimore receiving corps. Beckham Jr has been an injury waiting to happen for much of his career and the relationship between the Ravens and Bateman has soured. A once-crowded situation has since parted like the Red Sea. This development has left Flowers as the highest upside play of all the rookie receivers. The range he is going in on Underdog leaves him in a grouping with the other rookie receivers and some aging vets. While finding this year’s rookie breakout is never a sure thing, Flowers is the easiest bet to make an immediate impact.

The Verdict: Hit

Quentin Johnston – WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Underdog ADP 80.0 (WR41)

All of the above about Flowers – assume the opposite for Quentin Johnston. I’m sure many of the people reading this will just dismiss me as another PlayerProfiler analyst who is out on Johnston. But at the beginning of the pre-draft process, I was the Quentin Johnston truther.

Things change. A receiver whose profile I loved has simply shown too many red flags to be a viable option this season. I will not write him off entirely for dynasty purposes, but he is a total avoid for redraft this season. While he does have the size to be a potential long-term fantasy asset, this profile is simply not one that will hit as a rookie. Big-bodied, X-type receivers tend to be much slower to develop and bust at a much higher rate. Factor in that Johnston is going in the same range as Flowers and the other rookie receivers and he is a terrible bet to make. If you miss on Flowers in your draft, fall back on Jordan Addison or Jaxon Smith-Njigba. If you miss on both of them, simply pass on Johnston and wait for one of the other rookie receivers below – available later in drafts.

The Verdict: Miss

Anthony Richardson, QB Indianapolis Colts

Underdog ADP 100.1 (QB11)

The Colts used the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft on Anthony Richardson. His upside is undeniable. He has the potential to develop into something like his best comparable player: Josh Allen. But keep in mind with Allen, it took some time to realize his potential. Richardson is going off the board as QB11 currently and is fool’s gold for redraft players. While he has all the tools to provide a decent rushing floor, he has absolutely no floor with regard to passing. It’s plausible that his passing skills take time to develop and he spends significant time on the bench learning behind Gardner Minshew.

Fantasy managers have become so enamoured with Richardson’s long-term upside that they have completely neglected that the chances of him hitting big as a rookie are non-existent. Pass on Richardson in 2023 redraft leagues. If you miss on the elite quarterbacks, draft the likes of Daniel Jones, Dak Prescott, Tua Tagovailoa or Kirk Cousins. They aren’t nearly as sexy, but they also won’t destroy your season either.

The Verdict: Miss

Zach Charbonnet, RB Seattle Seahawks

Underdog ADP 103.2 (RB35)

Zach Charbonnet wasn’t a surprise pick in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The surprise was his landing spot. The Seattle Seahawks chose to add him to a backfield that already sported one of the more impressive young backs in the game, Kenneth Walker.

Many fantasy gamers have interpreted this as an indication that the Seahawks are unhappy with Walker and would like to replace him with Charbonnet. This simply will not be the case. We often see the backfield where the young, flashy rookie earns time and takes over the backfield by midseason. The difference here is that when we saw a player like Jonathan Taylor take over his backfield, he beat out an aging and underperforming backfield mate. Walker is neither aging nor underperforming and while he certainly produced some unfavorable metrics in his rookie season, he is easily the more capable back for the Seahawks.

Charbonnet has crept up to the edge of the top 100 in drafts and is being massively over-drafted. There are two scenarios that could potentially play out in 2023. The first scenario sees Walker as the bell cow and Charbonnet relegated to backup duty. That is the most likely outcome. The second scenario is an even time-share, which would be catastrophic for both running backs and kill both of their values. Those drafting Charbonnet under the impression he will be the Seahawks’ bellcow back and flat-out supplant Walker are poorly informed and are betting on the wrong back. Buy the discount on Walker and avoid the rapidly increasing cost of the overhyped Charbonnet.

The Verdict: Miss

Dalton Kincaid, TE Buffalo Bills

Underdog ADP 117.3 (TE11)

Let’s get this out of the way: Dalton Kincaid is a tight end in title only. I understand that he is a poor blocker; that’s wonderful. The Bills have Dawson Knox for the blocker role. Kincaid’s lack of blocking chops will free him up to be a slot wide receiver with a tight end designation. Think 2006 Marques Colston. In that season, most sites had Colston listed as a tight end, while he clearly played as the team’s WR1. Colston would go on to be a top-10 receiver that season, all while slotting in as your tight end.

No, I’m not expecting Kincaid to be a top-10 wide receiver-level producer at tight end. He is not Travis Kelce. What I do expect is for him to produce on the level of a WR2, with a big-slot role. Kincaid is being drafted as TE11. Now is the time to draft a top-24 wide receiver to play as your tight end.

The Verdict: Hit

Jonathan Mingo, WR Carolina Panthers

Underdog ADP 153.3 (WR67)

My projection for Jonathan Mingo is based 50/50 on his athleticism and opportunity in the Panthers’ offense. His 40-yard dash, Speed Score and Burst Score are all in the upper ranges, despite his limited college production. Mingo was almost a complete unknown until right before the draft when he suddenly shot up the rankings and found himself drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft.

Mingo’s projected opportunity also sets him apart. While he does land in Carolina with a rookie quarterback, he also lands on a roster with no established pecking order in the wide receiver room. Adam Thielen and DJ Chark are both getting up there in age and are both new to the team. The WR1 job in Carolina is completely open for the taking. Thielen has shown massive signs of decline, while Chark is already struggling with injuries through the preseason. Mingo is going outside the top 150 picks and if he is able to carve out a significant role, he could be a league winner.

The Verdict: Hit

Jayden Reed, WR Green Bay Packers

Underdog ADP 165.0 (WR72)

Jayden Reed managed to find his way into the second round of the NFL Draft despite being tied to a barely functional Michigan State offense in college. With the size and speed Reed possesses, he would have been an easy first-round pick had he played in a fully functional offense. The other appeal to Reed is his landing spot. He lands with a Packers team that is turning over its roster. Nothing in this offense is defined as of now. Christian Watson has been the projected WR1 for the Packers through much of the offseason, but it’s easy to see a scenario where Reed supplants him for the top spot.

At the very worst, Reed has the talent to find himself as the Packer’s WR2 and if Jordan Love is able to be an above-average quarterback, Reed could be a steal of a deal at his current WR72 price tag. He is a late-round dart throw for sure, but could turn out to be a diamond in the rough.

The Verdict: Hit

Lessons Learned

The main takeaway is this: not all rookies in the same tier are created equal. The most glaring example of this is the wide receiver grouping of Flowers, Johnston, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jordan Addison. Casual drafters are largely unsure how to evaluate the non-Bijan Robinson rookies, so they have clumped all four of these receivers together at the edge of the top-100 picks. This is where value can be found. In addition to heavy target competition, Johnston has red flags popping up across the board. Smith-Njigba not only has target competition, but now looks to miss the start of the season due to injury. Addison has Justin Jefferson in front of him on the depth chart. Flowers is the only one with no red flags and an easy path to being his team’s number-one receiver, and yet he routinely goes as the last pick of the four. Flowers is going to be a league winner. Draft him now, before the casual drafters catch on.

The second takeaway is that draft capital is not the only thing to consider. Charbonnet and Richardson were both over-drafted by their NFL teams. Both of them are far less likely to hit for fantasy than their current prices would indicate. Conversely, the cost for Reed and Mingo is basically no-cost. Knowing how to differentiate the value of incoming rookies and where to draft them is a way to gain an edge in seasonal leagues. Avoid overpaying.

*ADPs are from Underdog with a date range from August 17 to August 24