- Former NFL safety Matt Bowen is a veteran of four teams over seven seasons, and now provides analysis for ESPN Insider.
After watching the college tape and taking in the 2023 NFL combine workouts, it’s a great time to break down the top rookie prospects from a fantasy football perspective.
There’s quarterback talent here, pro-ready running backs with PPR upside, a versatile wide receiver group, and a loaded class of tight ends.
So, let’s get into it. Here are the prospects to put on your fantasy radar as we continue to work through the draft process.
Bryce Young, Alabama
A prime target for both re-draft and dynasty formats, I see Young as the best quarterback prospect in this class, despite his undersized, narrow frame (5-foot-10, 204 pounds). Give me the two years of high-level SEC tape, plus the 8,200 yards passing and 79 touchdown passes he compiled as a starter. Young has excellent field vison, he can make every throw required in an NFL playbook and his upper-tier pocket movement allows him to create space and reset the throwing window. Put the ‘Bama quarterback in a rhythm-based pro pass game and watch him produce — as a rookie.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud is the most accurate passer in this class, and his throwing session at the combine meshes with his tape from Ohio State. Controlled footwork here, a smooth release and the ball is delivered with precise location. In two years as the starter for the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Stroud completed 69.3% of his passes for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns. And the tape versus Georgia in the College Football Playoff answered some questions about his mobility. He can create with his legs. Given the arm talent I see with Stroud and his ability to read it out from the pocket in a schemed pass game, he is an obvious dynasty option and should also be considered in redraft formats.
Anthony Richardson, Florida
We saw the rare, physical tools with Richardson at the combine. He’s 6-foot-4, 244 pounds. He’s fast (4.43 speed). And he’s explosive (40.5-inch vertical). The arm strength jumps here, too. He can drive it to the second and third level of the field. Rocket throws. That also shows up on the tape, as does the need for pro coaching and development. Tighten the footwork to increase his accuracy as a passer, while building a stronger sense of rhythm and accelerated vision. But that also sets up Richardson — who could play behind a veteran in his rookie season — as my top dynasty target. With his playmaking traits, plus the ability to be deployed on designed rushes, Richardson could have an extremely high ceiling in fantasy as a dual-threat quarterback.
Bijan Robinson, Texas
We can lock in Robinson as the top rookie running back to get in redraft formats. Robinson looked very good in combine drills, especially when running routes. He’s an easy mover, smooth, and has natural hands. The 4.46 speed works, too. But for me, this is about the college tape and the multi-dimensional ability Robinson will bring to the league as a three-down back at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. An explosive runner who can play through contact (78 broken tackles last season), Robinson has the one-cut style that fits the pro game. See it and go. Plus, with more usage as a receiver in an NFL offense, Robinson is set up to produce as a volume runner — with PPR upside.
Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Gibbs can really roll. We’re talking 4.36 speed. Game-breaking juice when he gets to the perimeter or past the second level of the defense. But when we look at his fantasy profile, we have to hit on the receiving traits. Backfield releases to beat linebackers in coverage. Motion or align in the slot. And the screen packages to maximize his open-field vision. The 5-foot-9, 199-pound back caught 44 passes last season in the Alabama offense, a system that is filled with pro route concepts. He should be a premier target in redraft leagues this season for managers playing in PPR formats.
Tyjae Spears, Tulane
I watched Spears on the practice field during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala. He demonstrated big-play ability, body control/change of direction at the second level, and flashed in the pass-game reps during one-on-one drills, too. Last season, Spears had 61 rushes of 10 or more yards, including four in the Cotton Bowl win over USC. Spears can flat-out scoot when he hits open grass. And with more targets on angle routes, flats and option concepts in the pros, the Tulane product could find his way into your fantasy lineups in ’23.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Smith-Njigba’s change-of-direction times at the combine — 6.57 3-cone, 3.93 short shuttle — translate to slot production in the league. Shake the coverage and make yourself available to the quarterback. And even though the former Buckeye played in only three games this past season, we can look at the Rose Bowl tape from the ’21 season, where Smith-Njigba caught 15 passes for 347 yards and three scores. Route-running detail stands out, plus production after the catch. Keep him on the fantasy radar through the draft process.
Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Hyatt will need to expand his route tree in the pro game, but his vertical stretch ability is what we need to focus on here. The 6-foot, 176-pound receiver ran a 4.40 40 at the combine, but he plays even faster. And the tape versus Alabama? Come on, now. Hyatt had six receptions for 207 yards and five touchdowns. Scheme him out of the slot and with formation/alignment to get free releases off the ball. And then cut it loose down the field. Hyatt floats past defenders and is an easy dynasty target who can develop with pro-game reps. But he also has redraft value, with more non-PPR upside as a low-volume, big-play option.
Zay Flowers, Boston College
I saw some comps for Flowers to Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett over the weekend. They really do match up when we look at their physical profiles, plus Lockett’s route tree with the Seahawks. At 5-foot-9, 182 pounds — with 4.42 speed — Flowers can stretch the defense over the top to get loose at the second level on crossers and in-breakers. I see dynamic ability here from a receiver who can also be set up as a motion/movement target from a variety of alignments. Team and scheme fit will be important for his rookie production.
Quentin Johnston, TCU
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound receiver didn’t run a 40 at the combine, but his explosive measurements — 40.5-inch vertical, 11-foot-2 broad jump — point to his high-end traits at the position. Johnston can align to the backside of 3×1 sets, play as a power slot and more. The TCU product can move after the catch and he logged six catches for 166 yards and a touchdown versus Michigan in the College Football Playoff. He’s a dynasty target who could surprise as a rookie if he plays in a system that will cater to his size and speed in the route tree.
Jordan Addison, USC
It’s all about the route-running with Addison. He can get open at all three levels of the field. Now, the physical skills and traits don’t pop (5-foot-11, 173 pounds; 4.49 speed), but we have to trust the tape here. Addison has proven college production, with a route tree that will translate to the NFL from both inside and outside alignments.
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
At a position that is extremely volatile in fantasy, Mayer should be a top redraft target due to his pro-ready skill set. At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds with 4.7 speed, Mayer is your chain-mover in the pass game, a high-percentage option who can work the middle of the field or stretch the seams. And he ran pro route concepts at Notre Dame from both inline and flexed alignments.
Dalton Kincaid, Utah
Kincaid can align at multiple spots in a pro passing game due to his size (6-foot-4, 246 pounds) and elevated route-running/ball skills. The system fit will matter here, as Kincade will be at his best with a club who deploys the tight end as a matchup piece. The college production this past season at Utah (70 receptions, 890 yards, eight touchdowns) and the receiving skills point to a prospect who could be an early producer as a rookie. Put him on your redraft target list.
More notes on the rookie prospects
• West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton ran a 4.38 40 and posted a 41-inch vertical at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds. He has the profile of a boundary X receiver. Fades, slants, in-breakers, and quick screens. Pick him up late in dynasty formats.
• Kentucky quarterback Will Levis has a strong, 6-foot-3 frame and a big-time arm. He’s a dynasty target who will play his best football in a play-action-based system with vertical elements.
• Georgia tight end Darnell Washington is 6-foot-7 and 264 pounds. That’s matchup potential, especially in the red zone.
• North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs (5-foot-9, 171 pounds) is a sudden mover with speed out of the slot. Put him in a heavy 11 personnel system (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and he can produce numbers as a rookie.
• In a loaded class at the position, Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta could be a sleeper. LaPorta ran a 4.59 at 6-foot-3, 249 pounds, and he posted a 6.91 3-cone time. He’s rugged after the catch, with inside/outside flex in the route tree.
• Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh is a name to keep on the radar. Good tape versus SEC competition. More pass-catching ability than you think. Pro skill set.
• I watched Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave at the Senior Bowl practices. At 6-foot-6, 253 pounds with 4.61 speed, he has route-running ability, a big frame and body control to shield defenders at the catch point.
• Let’s see where Auburn running back Tank Bigsby lands. Pro frame and physical running style at 6-foot, 210. Could be an early-down back for multiple teams.
• Texas A&M running back Devon Achane (5-foot-8, 188 pounds) dropped a 4.32 40 at the combine. Lightning fast with big-play juice. And he factors into the pass game.
• Illinois running back Chase Brown could land in a spot where he plays a volume role early in his career. He’s a downhill runner. And he can contribute to the pass game on swings, screen and unders out of the backfield. Brown tested well too, with a 4.43 40 and a 40-inch vertical.
• Oklahoma wide receiver Marvin Mims is a potential dynasty target given his 4.38 speed, splash-play ability, plus the catch-and-run traits he put on tape.
• Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn measured in at 5-foot-5. But with his stop/start speed and pass catching ability, Vaughn could potentially play a role as a change-of-pace, pass-catching threat in a pro backfield rotation.
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