The first day of the NFL draft was a fun one for fantasy purposes as we saw the snow globe of the wide receiver position continue to be shaken this offseason.
With that, we are going to walk through the fantasy-centric selections and trades of the opening night.
Panthers Select Bryce Young No. 1 Overall
Young is a decorated quarterback from one of the largest programs in the country.
He won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 and then followed that up last season as the only quarterback in Alabama history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
From a career production stance, Young ranks in the 98th percentile in career passing production in my prospect model.
Unlike C.J. Stroud, Young was at his best outside of the play structure. He is one of the best prospects in terms of moving behind the line of scrimmage, and that shows up objectively.
Outside of the pocket in 2022, Young had a class-high 14.9% touchdown rate while throwing for 7.7 yards per pass attempt (second).
His 7.8 yards per pass attempt under pressure in 2022 were also second in this class.
Young is almost inviting pressure due to his playstyle. Per Pro Football Focus, 32.4% of the pressures Young had this season were credited to himself, the highest rate of any quarterback in this class.
Young can and will move around to avoid that pressure, scrambling for 592 yards the past two seasons.
While Young has those traits, being forced to use his legs brings into question his lack of prototypical size at the position.
At 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds at the Combine, does Young use his playstyle as a way to compensate and make concessions in his game to adjust for his lack of size?
If Young had not had the production, I believe we could raise those questions to a higher degree.
On throws over the middle of the field from the pocket, Young completed 72.1% of his passes for 10.5 yards per pass attempt in college.
Young may not be built in the laboratory, but he has done nothing but produce at every level thus far while his career metrics throwing the football are objectively better than both Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, two passers with similar measured physical stature.
Carolina has gone through quarterback hell the past two seasons, so a major swing on a premier prospect was finally warranted.
Over the past two seasons, Carolina quarterbacks collectively were 31st in the NFL in completion rate (58.2%), 30th in yards per pass attempt (6.5 Y/A), and dead last in touchdown passes (30) and quarterback rating (73.6).
For fantasy, rookie quarterbacks have been a mixed bag with relatively lower odds to hit as week winners right away.
Cam Newton, Robert Griffin, and Justin Herbert are the only rookie passers to clear 300 fantasy points since the merger in 1970.
While Young is mobile, he is not at the level of runners of Newton or Griffin.
Can he be the type of passer that Herbert was as a rookie?
The way the Panthers are currently constructed, that will be a lot to ask since Carolina is lacking playmakers at wide receiver, has a strong offensive line, and has a viable young defense.
I would anticipate the Panthers to be a relatively low-volume passing game in neutral game scripts this season, which places more emphasis on Young being efficient out of the box to make a fantasy impact.
His mobility should lead to some spike weeks, but Young will be in a deeper bucket of streamers in one quarterback formats for 2023 and best served in QB2 platoons in SuperFLEX formats.
Texans Take C.J. Stroud With Second Pick
Even for Ohio State standards, the amount of passing production Stroud accrued over the past two seasons was lofty.
Starting 25 games the past two seasons, Stroud threw 85 passing touchdown passes to just 12 interceptions.
Comparing Stroud to all quarterback prospects to be invited to the Combine since 2000, he is among the elite company at his position:
- 9.8 career yards per pass attempt (98th percentile)
- 7.1:1 TD: INT ratio (97th percentile)
- 69.3% completion rate (96th percentile)
Stroud thrived in the play action heavy approach the Buckeyes incorporated.
With the use of play action in 2022, Stroud averaged 12.4 adjusted net passing yards per attempt with a 139.8 rating, the highest rate in this draft class.
Stroud also led this class with a 9.1% touchdown rate under pressure.
When he was not pressured, Stroud led the class with an 11.0% touchdown rate while throwing for 10.2 yards per pass attempt (second to Herndon Hooker).
In the pocket, he led the class with 10.0 yards per pass attempt while no quarterback in this draft class had a higher rating this past season (129.6) on throws 10 yards or further downfield than Stroud.
On throws 10 yards or further downfield outside of the numbers, Stroud led this class with an on-target rate of 65.2%.
Where Stroud takes some heat is playing out of the play structure, but he posted a 72.1% on-target rate on throws outside of the pocket (fourth in this class) while averaging 6.9 yards per pass attempt (third).
When we last saw Stroud play against Georgia in the playoffs, he completed 5-of-9 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns outside of the pocket.
In that game against the No. 5 defense in the country, Stroud completed 23-of-34 passes (67.6%) for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
We also saw Ohio State use him in the run game in November when they played Northwestern in heavy winds.
I do believe we will see Stroud run more in the NFL (and have more designed runs than Bryce Young), he just did not have to run much due to the infrastructure of the Ohio State offense and the surrounding talent.
He scrambled just 34 times in the past two seasons for 189 yards.
Stroud has the size and athleticism to create with his legs – he did scramble six times for 66 yards in that game for Georgia.
Joining the Texans, Stroud does not have a ton to work with to start his career.
Houston currently has a wide receiver room led by Robert Woods, Nico Collins, and the hope that John Metchie is 100% good to go this season after missing all of last season.
Houston does have a baseline tight end in Dalton Schultz, but Stroud is going to have to do some elevation for the surrounding pass catchers out of the box.
Like Young, Stroud is in a similar bucket as a platoon QB2 in SuperFLEX formats and streaming out of the blocks in one quarterback formats.
Anthony Richardson Lands With the Colts
When talking about fantasy football, Richardson’s trump cards can create a high floor while his ceiling can rival the front end of the position.
Richardson made major noise at the Combine when he checked in at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds.
Not only was he built as a create-a-player in Madden, but Richardson also checked out of Indianapolis with the highest athletic score I have ever registered in my prospect model at the position.
At that size, Richardson ran a 4.43 forty, logging the second-best speed score (accounting for player size) behind Robert Griffin. For good measure, Richardson then tacked on the highest vertical (40.5”) and broad jumps (11’9”) for any quarterback ever at the Combine.
This blend of size and athletic ability places Richardson in a rarified air, but he also comes without the passing production objectively entering the NFL.
This is where the projection comes fully in for Richardson. In terms of all combined invites since 2000, here are Richardson’s career core passing metrics:
- 7.9 yards per pass attempt (50th percentile)
- 1.6 TD: INT ratio (13th percentile)
- 54.7% completion rate (third percentile)
Richardson’s passing inefficiency raises many of the same questions surrounding Malik Willis from a year ago. But the difference of course is that Richardson remained in the SEC through college while having a significant spade in terms of size and physical traits.
Per Sports Info Solutions, Richardson was pressured on a class-high 37.1% of his dropbacks but was sacked on a class-low 10.1% of those pressures.
If you are thinking that Richardson invited much of that pressure due to his playing style, Pro Football Focus credited Richardson for being responsible for just 19.4% of his pressures, which was a lower rate than both Young and Stroud and the sixth-lowest rate in this class.
Richardson will need to work on his turnovers but was tremendous at avoiding negative plays on sacks.
If you do not believe that is significant, check out the numbers for teams that avoid taking sacks…
Have been making rounds stating how undersold it is that Anthony Richardson was elite at avoiding sacks and that alone gives his O a higher floor than assumed despite his issues.
Here are the past 5 years of drive performance when a team is sacked vs not. Just massive impact. pic.twitter.com/4e7XkqIcMb
— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) April 20, 2023
Whereas both Stroud and Young will have to retain a level of high passing efficiency to compete for QB1 output in fantasy, Richardson has much more leeway in that department.
If the passing efficiency does come along, then his ceiling breaks through the roof.
Now that he was selected as pick No. 4 overall, we should anticipate Richardson playing more than expected and should compete to start Week 1 with only Gardner Minshew in his way.
Minshew’s teams have a 2-10 record with him as a starter over the past three seasons including a 1-3 record with the Eagles.
His 44.5% success rate ranks 34th among passers over that span who have 100 or more pass attempts.
Paired with new coach Shane Steichen and his familiarity with maxing out Jalen Hurts with the Eagles, Richardson should be thought of as the best fantasy quarterback of the three early-round picks for 2023 and in Dynasty formats.
Falcons Grab Bijan Robinson With Eighth Pick
After racking up 4,215 yards and 7.0 yards per touch over three seasons at Texas, Robinson is arguably the best all-around running back prospect since Saquon Barkley in 2018.
He has a 95th percentile career production score in the prospect model while checking every box we look for in a prospect.
Robinson just turned 21 years old in January. His yardage and touchdown production increased every season of his collegiate career.
As a rusher, Robinson averaged 3.3 yards per carry on rushing attempts last season in which he was hit behind the line of scrimmage. Not only is that the highest rate in this class, but it is the second-highest rate that Sports Info Solutions has recorded on 75-plus carries since they tracked data in 2016.
Robinson led this class in 2022 in yards created after contact (1,006) while forcing a missed tackle on 32.2% of his attempts, second among this group.
Out of the backfield, Robinson averaged 13.4 yards per catch over his collegiate career.
We are not talking about stacking dump-offs here, either. He was the only back in this draft class to have 100 air yards this past season (105), accounting for a class-high 8.2% of the Texas air yards.
For good measure, Robinson also did not allow a sack and was credited with just four pressures allowed on his 78 snaps in pass protection this season.
Injecting Robinson into a scheme that led the NFL in plays out of pistol in 2022, we do not need to overcomplicate things.
Robinson will be the consensus RB1 for good reason and the player selected at 1.01 in the majority of rookie drafts in all formats.
He immediately threatens to be an RB1 in fantasy football in 2023, and I have him as the RB1 overall in Dynasty formats.
Atlanta running backs led the NFL in rushing yards (2,209) and yards per carry (4.9). They ranked second in expected points added per carry (0.04), were third in success rate (44.0%), and third in rate of carries to result in a first down or touchdown (25.7%).
That was with a running back room that was largely a sum of parts rather than a supreme talent at the position.
Lions Surprise With Jahmyr Gibbs At No. 12
Gibbs is 100% as advertised. He is the best speed and space player at the running back position in this draft class.
Out of the backfield, Gibbs averaged a class-high 3.3 receptions per game over his college career at Georgia Tech and Alabama. His receptions rose all three seasons.
This past year, he was targeted on 21.4% of his routes (second in the class), catching 44-of-52 targets for 444 yards and three touchdowns.
The Lions threw the ball to their running backs 21.1% of the time in 2022, which was 13th in the league. With the addition of Gibbs paired with the suspension of Jameson Williams, the backs are going to be involved here again in the passing game. The team has no target-earning tight ends and Marvin Jones, Josh Reynolds, and Kalif Raymond are ancillary assets in the passing game.
While Gibbs is going to be utilized as a pass catcher, that is also simultaneously the hardest archetype at the position to correctly calibrate when accounting for Gibbs being 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds. This archetype of player often gets limited by a coaching staff next level in a compartmentalized role.
Especially landing in Detroit, a team that was reluctant to extend D’Andre Swift’s workload. Swift was 212 pounds at the Combine as a prospect.
On the ground is where we saw Gibbs’ potential limitations due to role and archetype. Just 25.8% of his carries were inside runs, the lowest rate in this class.
On runs in which Gibbs was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage this season, he averaged just 0.9 yards per carry, the third-lowest rate in this class.
When he was contacted beyond the line of scrimmage, he averaged a robust 10.8 yards per tote, the highest rate in this class.
Just 8.6% of his carries in 2022 came in short-yardage situations (non-first downs needing 1-3 yards), which was also the lowest rate in the class. On those carries he averaged just 1.5 yards per carry, the lowest rate in the class.
When Alabama was inside of the five-yard line this season, Gibbs handled just three of the 16 team carries among running backs.
We are going to need those touches at the next level to turn Gibbs into a ceiling producer versus a floor-based PPR scorer.
Now, this type of draft capital investment gives Gibbs extra support in cracking through more playing time than expected, even if David Montgomery remains in the mix to take over the dirty work right now.
While Gibbs is an archetype of back that I am hesitant to go all-in on, this type of draft capital is tough to bet against and the type of signal you do not want to adjust for. He is in a very fluid situation potentially as early as this season, but definitely in 2023 moving forward.
Even if the Lions retain Swift, he is a free agent after this season and Montgomery can be made expendable by a more efficient player.
This is more of a Dynasty boost than a 2023 redraft spike, however.
We could see something happen with Swift. Whether he is still with the Lions through the remainder of the weekend or the summer, it is hard to see how all of these backs fit in one fantasy backfield.
If Swift does end up being traded, then he has a new life. A new team would inherently value him as a player. But Swift only has this season left on his rookie contract. There is a non-zero chance that the Lions do run a three-headed rotation for 2023 and then let Swift ride off after the season. Remember, this was a team giving Justin Jackson roughly 15 offensive snaps per game over the back of 2022 alongside Swift and Jamaal Williams.
This is a mess for projection-based analysis, but all of the backs here are sound game theory selections depending how you are drafting.
With initial things settling right now, I view Gibbs as more of a fit for gamers that draft receiver-heavy teams early in full-PPR formats and someone to avoid if rich in touchdown-based formats.
The same goes for Montgomery as a target for receiver-heavy drafters early on, but he has more touchdown appeal overall for those playing in standard and 0.5 PPR formats.
The Lions are not going to run for 23 touchdowns as a team again in 2023, but I would bet on Montgomery handling the majority of goal-line carries in 2023 and of course, he has added upside should an injury happen to the back in the primary pass-catching role.
Swift is a pure zero-RB guy right now with the actual hopes that he is on a different team. But if he does end up being traded before the season, then there is easily a range of outcomes where he still ends up the highest-scoring back of this trio in 2023.
Seahawks Get Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 20
We finally had a wide receiver drafted!
Smith-Njigba racked up a gaudy 95-1,606-9 line playing alongside two first-rounders in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in 2021.
Of course, everyone remembers Smith-Njigba capped that season off with a 15-347-3 game in the Rose Bowl with both Wilson and Olave sitting out, but JSN also posted 97 or more yards in each of the previous seven games with both active before that season finale.
When all was said and done, Smith-Njigba closed his 2021 season with 4.01 yards per route run.
With both Wilson and Olave leaving for the NFL, Smith-Njigba was set up to lead Ohio State and was a favorite for the Biletnikoff Award.
Unfortunately, he was injured in the opening game of the season and never regained his footing. At the end of the season, Smith-Njigba ran just 40 total pass routes, catching five passes for 43 yards.
Smith-Njigba’s pedigree as a prospect and insane 2021 season do buy him a bit of a hall pass for this past season. He did not run at the Combine, but we did see him post a 98th percentile agility score with a 68th percentile explosion score in the drills he did do.
There still is a question on if he has the type of ceiling next level to contend with the alpha WR1s in the league. It is only a question because Smith-Njigba does still take some projection as a perimeter wide receiver.
He ran just 85 total pass routes lined up outside in college. 95 of his 110 catches in college came from the slot while he ran just 15 total pass routes over three years at Ohio State with two or fewer wide receivers on the field.
Smith-Njigba has zero pressure to carry a passing game right away in the NFL going to Seattle.
In 2022, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett combined for 46.7% of the team targets, 43.6% of the receptions, 48.6% of the receiving yards, and 50% of the receiving scores.
Seattle used 11 personnel on just 63.0% of their passing plays in 2022, which was 26th in the league.
That rate is a lock to rise with the addition of Smith-Njigba. He is even good enough to push the target shares of those wideouts as the season progresses.
For fantasy, however, Smith-Njigba’s initial role is going to have to contend with major target earners. Geno Smith also was not the same passer over the back half of 2022 that he was over the front half. Smith-Njigba will enter the season as an upside WR4 that has more 2023 redraft value as a contingency bet for teams that fall behind the eight-ball at wide receivers earlier in drafts.
From a Dynasty stance, Lockett is signed through 2025 but will turn 31 this September. There is a potential out year after this season if Seattle does need to press the issue.
Chargers Grab Quentin Johnston With 21st Pick
At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, Johnston logged a 94th percentile explosion score in the vertical plus broad jumps.
On the field, Johnston’s athleticism shows up in that he averaged a robust 8.9 yards after the catch per reception (second in this class) while 49.9% of his yardage came after the catch (sixth).
He was credited with 19 avoided tackles a year ago per Pro Football Focus, second in this class. With his after-the-catch ability, Johnston ended his collegiate career averaging 19.0 yards per reception, third in this class.
Where Johnston draws some ire is that he tends to play smaller than his profile, which is why he needs to remain elite after the catch.
He caught just 8-of-23 (34.8%) contested targets this past season (35th) while tacking on an 11.8% drop rate (sixth highest).
For his career, Johnston converted just 2-of-18 red zone targets for touchdowns.
He also tended to disappear and be more of a boom-or-bust performer. Johnston had 50 or fewer yards in half of his 30 career games played (7-of-14 this season). The last time we saw him on the field against Georgia, he caught one pass for three yards in that bloodbath.
The good news is that Johnston will not be thrust into carrying a passing game in Los Angeles. That makes him a boom-or-bust WR5 for fantasy since Josh Palmer is not going to just roll over here and play zero snaps, but Johnston will have a runway to develop.
With both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams approaching their thirties paired with their health history, Johnston also will carry contingency upside.
Allen missed seven full regular season games and had two other games in which he only played 33% and 32% of the snaps due to ongoing hamstring issues.
Williams also missed four full games last season. Playing 76% of the snaps, Williams has yet to play in every game since his rookie season and has played 80% of the snaps or more in just one season so far in the NFL.
Zay Flowers Lands With Ravens
Flowers was force-fed in some anemic passing offenses, closing his career at Boston College with 78 catches for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2022.
Those touchdowns were a school record. He tied the school record for receptions in a season.
For the context of how much water Flowers carried for Boston College last season, he accounted for 29.8% of the team receptions (sixth in this class), 36.4% of the receiving yardage (third), and 57.1% of the team touchdown catches (first).
Flowers is 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds. He came out of Indianapolis registering in the 26th percentile in terms of athletic score while his 29.5” arms were in the second percentile at the position.
This was not an issue last season as Flowers pulled in 7-of-12 contested targets (58.3%), which was eighth in this class.
That said, Flowers does project to play more in the slot in the NFL than the 31.9% rate he played a year ago.
That should be the case in 2023 playing alongside Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham, although Bateman has plenty of slot experience going back to college to provide the Ravens with versatility.
A common theme so far, Flowers is more of a reserve fantasy wideout for 2023 that has contingency value behind Bateman and Beckham. He also is someone who can ramp up and take over more playing time as the season expands if Beckham is not quite himself.
Bateman has missed 16 games over his first two NFL seasons while Beckham will turn 31 this November and has not averaged more than 45.6 yards receiving per game in a season since 2019.
That said, the addition of Flowers is massive for the offense as a whole.
In 2022, Baltimore wideouts collectively were dead last in the NFL in targets (198), 31st in receptions (124), last in receiving yards (1,517), and 29th in touchdowns (seven).
Over the final 14 games of the regular season in 2022, Baltimore wide receivers caught one touchdown pass.
Vikings Add Jordan Addison
The 2021 Biletnikoff Award Winner was a pivotal part of pumping Kenny Pickett’s stock a year ago when he caught 100 passes for 15.93 yards and 17 touchdowns at Pitt.
Transferring to USC this past season, Addison had more mid-production (59-875-8) but still carried his higher-end efficiency.
Addison was still sixth in this draft class in yards per route run last season (2.78). He just ran 226 fewer routes in 2022 than he did in 2021.
Addison torched man coverage for 3.28 yards per route run this past season (eighth) while he showed plenty of versatility the past two seasons playing inside and outside.
After running 67.5% of his routes from the slot in 2021, Addison only ran 24.1% of his routes inside a year ago.
He also only had a 3.1% drop rate, which was the fourth-best rate in this class.
Addison gave people some pause in Indianapolis when he not only checked in at 5-foot-11 and 173 pounds but also posted an athletic score in the sixth percentile.
His production profile does buy him enough of a hall pass to retain front-end appeal in a softer draft class lacking blue-chip assets.
DeVonta Smith (who didn’t even weigh in at the Combine) has helped to open the door to betting on elite production that comes attached to a svelte frame.
Landing in Minnesota, Addison has the clearest path to initial playing time and making a fantasy impact of any wide receiver selected so far.
While the first three wideouts are better bets as the upside adds to fantasy benches, Addison should be thrust into a real opportunity right away.
In 2022, Adam Thielen was second in the NFL in routes run.
Even if the Vikings do not play in as many jailbreak game environments, Addison should take on that full-time vacancy as the WR2 in this offense.
He also gets viable quarterback play out of the gate, a strong offensive scheme, and an elite wide receiver on the field to draw attention for him to develop.
On top of everything, Addison also has more of a path to opportunity should anything god forbid happen to Justin Jefferson.
Bills Take Dalton Kincaid
Kincaid was a hyper-productive pass catcher and it resulted in him being the first tight end selected in the draft and the only one in the first round.
After a 36-510-8 line in 2021, Kincaid exploded as a fifth-year senior to catch 70-of-96 targets for 890 yards and another eight touchdowns last season.
Kincaid racked up:
- 24.3% of the Utah receptions (third in this class)
- 21.9% of the targets (third)
- 25.5% of the receiving yards (third)
- 25.8% of the receiving touchdowns (fourth)
- 26.7% of the air yardage (second)
- 2.0 yards per team pass attempt (second)
- 51.0% of his targets went for a first down or touchdown (first)
Kincaid is all pass catcher right now, so we are looking for him to find a role similar to Mike Gesicki coming out as a prospect.
The only question is whether Kincaid is as good of an athlete as Gesicki since we did not see Kincaid do any athletic testing.
Kincaid lined up in line on just 35.4% of his snaps, the second-lowest rate in this class. 55.1% of his snaps came lined up as a slot receiver, which was second, although 9.5% were out wide (seventh).
He averaged 2.52 yards per route run from the slot, which led this class.
Kincaid can immediately push Dawson Knox for playing time as well as pushing for snaps as the primary slot receiver in Buffalo.
Knox is a fine player, but not among the elite at the position.
Knox caught 48-of-65 targets for 517 yards and six touchdowns in 2022 after signing a four-year contract extension before the season.
His 14.2% target per route rate ranked 48th among tight ends while his 1.11 yards per route run ranked 37th.
Knox has scored 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons during the regular season. That could make Knox a potential threat to Kincaid’s upside, but it could also be a potential look at the scoring upside Kincaid could have.
Rookie tight ends are a tough investment for redraft purposes, however.
While Kincaid lands in a potentially fantasy-friendly spot, we will not be betting on him as more than an upside TE2 in 2023.
His primary appeal will be in Dynasty formats with added appeal in tight end premium settings.