Kenneth Walker III and rookie Zach Charbonnet will either fight it out for snaps as the Seattle Seahawks starting running back or else this was all a rouse by Pete Carroll to excite an easily excitable cohort of football fans.
If the Detroit Lions’ reaction to landing Jahmyr Gibbs on NFL Draft night is anything to go by, we should probably prepare ourselves for the second coming of LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers picked up Justin Herbert’s fifth-year option and he has Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and rookie breakout candidate Quentin Johnston to throw the ball to now in what might be one of the most improved offenses.
What do we make of all this and where do we even start to analyze it? Let’s begin by looking at some of the interesting rookie landing spots.
Ranking rookies for fantasy football before they have even played a snap as professional NFL players is a business fraught with uncertainty. And because of that, the list below isn’t a testament to how highly we rate these players rather than a look at their situations and how they could go about exceeding expectations.
The good thing about this time of year is that while uncertainty is rife, there is an abundance of optimism too. If you squint hard enough, you can see Randy Moss in the 5-foot-10 wide receiver your team drafted in the sixth round. We are only thinking boom and rarely bust at this time of year.
So, let’s look at the rookie rankings and pick some landing spots that inspired some intrigue when their names were called on draft night. We have created an easy-to-use ADP (average draft position) list from FantasyPros to get a better feel for where each player is being drafted.
(Note: any mention of ADP is based off PPR leagues with regular rules and no SuperFlex)
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
Current Fantasy Football RB ADP: 4th
Current Opta Analyst RB Rank: 6th
This couldn’t be a better fit for Robinson, who is the No. 1 pick in rookie drafts with plenty of room to spare. The Falcons ran the ball more than any other team in the league last season (559 attempts) and they did it well. They finished seventh in rushing EVE.
Atlanta ran the ball on 55.3% of its plays last season. That number should drop with Desmond Ridder taking over from Marcus Mariota at quarterback, but Arthur Smith is still committed to “running the piss out of the ball.”
This season, the third-year head coach has his three-down back to do that in Robinson. That’s exciting in and of itself and Smith said: “We just feel he’s an explosive weapon. He’s a home run hitter however he gets the football in his hands.”
You need to pour plenty of salt on coachspeak during the offseason, but there’s no reason to believe that the Falcons won’t run it heavily. Smith was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans in 2020 when Derrick Henry went for over 2,000 yards out of the backfield. Henry’s 378 carries that year was tied for the 18th most in a single season.
Robinson was considered by some as the most talented player in the draft. The Falcons made him the highest running back taken since the New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley second overall in 2018.
Robinson ranked fourth among college running backs with at least 100 carries last season in missed and broken tackles per touch and seven in burn percentage on high volume.
Cordarrelle Patterson was never the long-term solution for the Falcons, but even he excelled in Smith’s scheme. He finished with three top-10 weekly finishes in PPR leagues and another two inside the top 20. When Patterson wasn’t finishing in the top 10, his teammate, Tyler Allgeier was. The 2022 fifth-round pick finished fifth, 14th, eighth and ninth in fantasy PPR leagues over the last four weeks of the season.
Allgeier might take some volume off Robinson but we are probably looking at an 80/20 split. Allgeier had 38 rushing attempts in the red zone last season. That was 10th among all players in the league despite his limited role.
Robinson is being drafted fourth at RB on FantasyPros now. He’s sixth in our running back rankings, which were No. 1 on FantasyPros last season. It’s rich for a rookie running back, but the former Texas Longhorn will get the opportunities and has proven he can withstand a big workload.
Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs
Current Fantasy Football WR ADP: 62nd
Current Opta Analyst WR Rank: 121st
The consensus on Rice’s ADP has been mixed since he was drafted. And that’s also the case when looking at the FantasyPros average draft position and our wideout rankings.
The Chiefs had the best passing EVE in the NFL last season and they have the best quarterback in the league in Patrick Mahomes.
But it won’t be easy for a rookie to come in and earn a notable share of the targets, especially one who has been criticized for his lack of consistency. This is one of the slickest offenses in all of football and Andy Reid needs production.
Rice played with a turf toe injury in 2022 and said it impacted his explosiveness, but he still finished with 96 receptions, 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had 1,823 burn yards (fifth among FBS receivers) and 4.7 burn yards per route last season (seventh).
It might help Rice that the receiving corps in Kansas City isn’t an inspiring group. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the only wide receiver on the team with a 600-yard receiving season to his name. The idea of Kadarius Toney is much better than his actual production so far – he’s played a total of 19 games in his two years in the league. He caught just 16 passes last season.
Skyy Moore, Richie James and Rice are all in the mix after that.
Last season, 48.9% of the Chiefs’ targets went to wide receivers. It was the second-lowest number in the league next to the Baltimore Ravens’ 42.6%.
The lack of production from receivers in the offense makes sense given Travis Kelce caught 110 passes last season and remains the premium tight end in fantasy football as well as being Mahomes’ favorite target.
But the future Hall of Fame tight end turns 34 this year. Kelce led the Chiefs with a 24.76% target share. JuJu Smith Schuster was second and someone must replace those targets.
Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings
Current Fantasy Football WR ADP: 37th
Current Opta Analyst WR Rank: 51st
Only three quarterbacks threw the ball more often than Kirk Cousins in 2022 – Tom Brady, Justin Herbert and Mahomes. The Vikings finished second in passing yards (283.4 per game) and third in completions (448).
Addison has entered a room with the best wide receiver in the NFL in Justin Jefferson, who sits at the top of most fantasy football rankings. Addison’s biggest strength is his route running, but he’s not physical enough to play outside and be productive consistently. Luckily for him, he won’t have to be.
Jefferson requires so much attention that Addison can win underneath. Addison helped turn Kenny Pickett into a first-round pick two years ago when he was at Pitt before helping Caleb Williams win a Heisman trophy after transferring to USC. Cousins is going to love him too.
The Vikings have lost Adam Thielen, who received the second-highest target share after Jefferson. Irv Smith Jr. is now on the Bengals and he was replaced by T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson only arrived midway through last season and should mop up a larger share of the targets next season.
Addison is our 51st-ranked receiver and projected to have 55 catches for 675 yards and 4.5 touchdowns, though he could be a high-end WR3 if he adapts to the NFL smoothly and Cousins continues to air it out.
Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers
Current Fantasy Football WR ADP: 76th
Current Opta Analyst WR Rank: 57th
There’s a path in the Packers’ Choose Your Adventure series where Reed becomes Jordan Love’s favorite target. Reed was selected 50th overall by the Packers and he can play all over the field.
Christian Watson is currently (our rankings are updated a couple times per week) our 34th-ranked wideout, but he only finished last season with 611 yards and seven touchdowns with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. He had two receptions or fewer in six of his 14 games last season. He is not a lock to become the No. 1 option despite Green Bay losing two of its top three receivers from last season.
With so much turnover in Green Bay, it’s not inconceivable that Reed could emerge as the best receiver on the roster.
Marvin Mims, Denver Broncos
Current Fantasy Football WR ADP: 78th
Current Opta Analyst WR Rank: 76th
Russell Wilson’s 2022 was one season he’ll want to forget and Mims’ low ADP is tied to the catastrophe that was the team’s offense last year. But the former Seattle Seahawks quarterback still has a solid deep ball and news that Jerry Jeudy will likely miss the first few weeks of the season due to injury make Mims someone who will get more opportunities early on.
Sean Payton figures to lean into both pounding the rock with Javonte Williams and Samije Perine and play-action passing with Wilson. The veteran quarterback finished sixth among quarterbacks with more than 300 attempts last season with 8.94 average air yards per throw.
And Mims Jr.’s 21.1 burn yards per target was the highest in college football last season for receivers with at least 200 routes run.
Payton needs no introduction as the quarterback whisperer who helped turn Drew Brees into a Hall of Famer. And the Broncos moved up in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft to pick Mims.
With the passing game in such trouble last season, Payton and Co. highlighted Mims as someone who could help Wilson and the offense get back on track. Courtland Sutton has been mentioned in trade talks and 29-year-old Tim Patrick is coming of an ACL tear.
With Jeudy out, Mims and Sutton are likely to be two of Wilson’s top wideout targets. We’re not ready to rule out some good production in his rookie season.
Other Situations to Watch
Anthony Richardson (Opta Analyst’s 24th-ranked QB) and Josh Downs (81st WR) could be an intriguing combination for the Indianapolis Colts. Steichen helped turn Jalen Hurts into an MVP candidate and he has the weapons to create another juggernaut. It might take a year or two before Richardson develops into the dual-threat quarterback we saw in college. Downs was drafted in the third round (79th overall) and was considered one of the sleepers in this draft.
Bryce Young (25th QB) and C.J Stroud (26th QB) will start in Week 1 for the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, respectively, while Will Levis (Titans) and Hendon Hooker (Detroit Lions) will probably have to wait their turn. It was a hard reset for the Panthers, but Jonathan Mingo (70th WR) could be one to watch in Frank Reich’s offense.
The Buffalo Bills thought highly enough of Dalton Kincaid (16th TE) to select him in the first round (25th overall), and he’s been taking the first-team snaps. We have him ranked higher than veteran Dawson Knox (26th TE).
The Lions were fun last year and Jared Goff was much better than expected. They went and drafted two of the most highly touted players in the draft with Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta. Gibbs is our ninth-ranked running back, but LaPorta is just 46th among tight ends after failing to make much of an impact in the preseason.
We didn’t see a single running back taken in the first round last season, but this season we had Robinson and Gibbs gone by the 12th pick. Tyjae Spears (64th RB), Tank Bigsby (77th RB) and Chase Brown (74th) were picked later in the draft.
Is is possible that after giving up on running backs in previous years, the NFL is starting to come back around to the importance of talented players at the position?
Time will tell.