The 2023 NFL Draft is finally upon us, and prospects are now rookies with NFL cities to call home. Follow along for real-time analysis of the opening round’s impact on fantasy football plans for 2023.
Fantasy draft season may not be close to hitting its crescendo, but hardcore gamers have been selecting players prior to the conclusion of the collegiate bowl season. It’s time to let the real fun begin!
Also see: Day 2 | Day 3
Round 1 fantasy football reaction
1) Carolina Panthers | QB Bryce Young, Alabama
After trading into the first spot, the Panthers will begin the Frank Reich era with legitimate QB1 under center. Young, while notably undersized, possesses every other worthwhile attribute a team would want out of its starting quarterback. It will be a surprise if Carolina doesn’t turn the keys over to Young immediately, but there’s a chance veteran Andy Dalton could open the year as the starter if the rookie doesn’t hit the ground running. If so, it won’t last long.
The targets are decent enough, and the running game, led by Miles Sanders, should shield Young from having to shoulder the entire offense. Carolina’s line will grant enough protection for the cerebral Young to dissect the defense as well as any rookie should be expected to do.
In 2023 fantasy drafts, someone is likely to overreach for him in casual leagues. Quarterback is a deep position, and gamers can wait on their No. 1 more often than not. With that established, Young is a late-round flier in the deepest of leagues and has spot-play worth. He’s poised for a No. 1 career trajectory in the long run and deserves to be the top dynasty QB chosen.
2) Houston Texans | QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud overcame doubts about everything from his athleticism to mental capacity and was chosen No. 2 overall by Houston, a team that had been rumored to be looking to trade down. Davis Mills is the No. 1 guy on the depth chart at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time — perhaps roughly five minutes or so — before Stroud is running the show.
The Texans have a young cast of wideouts to grow with Stroud, and it’s fair to presume this team isn’t done yet adding playmakers. The offense line, while on the upswing, is still just so-so. The running game has promise with a pair of competent backs in Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary. Houston’s defense is still a work in progress, which suggests increased passing attempts. The likeliest to benefit is tight end Dalton Schultz.
Stroud won’t give you anything as a runner, but he has a lively deep ball and quality accuracy. How quickly will he put it all together in the NFL is the question no one can answer, but it’s definitely a concern for his early fantasy development. There is no reason to draft him in single-season leagues, but Stroud has potential to be a rock-solid QB1 in two or three years if he does his part and the team builds around him accordingly.
4) Indianapolis Colts | QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Richardson’s size and sheer athleticism make him a load to bring down on the field. He’s a mix between a young Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, so the mobility will guide his game until the aerial game slows down for the rookie. Richardson didn’t see the field much until 2022, so there’s going to be a steep learning curve early on. It’s unclear if the Colts will throw him into the fire with Gardner Minshew and Nick Foles on the roster. Given the draft investment, if head coach Shane Steichen feels Richardson is ready this summer, we certainly could see the two veterans fighting for the QB2 gig.
If he gets the early-season starting nod, Richardson is the premier rookie at the position for fake football. It all comes down to playing time. If he’s on the field, he’ll be running the rock enough to rack up fringe QB1 points any given week. The weapons are good enough through the air, and he has arguably the best back in the game to help keep defenses honest. Also, Steichen’s role in Jalen Hurts’ ascension shouldn’t go unnoticed. There’s absolutely increased bust factor associated with Richardson, given his shortcomings as a passer and inexperience, but we’re talking about pure upside here.
8) Atlanta Falcons | RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Atlanta lands the most talented back in the class, a true three-down workhorse who can do it all with the best of ’em. Atlanta ranked No. 3 in rushing last year with a mixture of Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier leading the way. The former may be sent packing or moved into a pass-catching role, whereas the second-year BYU back is now merely a late-round handcuff for Robinson.
Head coach Arthur Smith loves himself a hearty ground game, and the offensive line is built for it. The dramatically upgraded backfield will help Desmond Ridder develop without having to throw it 40 times per game, and that’s exactly what Smith wants. Atlanta still needs to upgrade the aerial attack enough to help keep defenders from crowding the box, a problem that may not be solved in 2023 if Drake London and Kyle Pitts (knee) don’t make necessary strides.
Robinson is an immediate fantasy RB2 with potential to be a top-12 guy. Teams don’t invest that kind of capital in a running back without leaning heavily on him. Fantasy gamers will have to pay up to land him, so be prepared to invest heavily. As far as dynasty plans go, Robinson is arguably the best back to come out since Saquon Barkley.
12) Detroit Lions | RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
What quite possibly could be considered the surprise of the draft, Detroit now has a three-pronged backfield after the free-agent signing of David Montgomery and the selection of Gibbs to join D’Andre Swift. Unless the Lions plan to trade Swift and his impressive lack of durability, this backfield could be a total mess for fantasy prognostication purposes.
Montgomery should occupy the two-down Jamaal Williams role, and Gibbs’ style is too similar to what Swift brings to the table — elusiveness and speed to burn. Both play an electrifying brand of football, so is Swift getting moved? Will he be shifted to a different position? Was Gibbs drafted as Year 1 insurance and as a 2024 replacement with Swift facing free agency? Too many questions, not enough answers.
If nothing changes from a personnel perspective, three backs will cannibalize each other’s stock from drive to drive, week to week, aggravating fantasy owners along the way. It’s fair to believe Swift will be moved, making Gibbs the back to target between he and Montgomery. For now, the situation warrants a wait-and-see approach until something happens. It’s just too murky to assess it with any clear recommendation.
20) Seattle Seahawks | WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
A great route runner whose lateral agility is fun to watch in the open field, Smith-Njigba tracks the ball well down the field. Seattle has two very capable vertical weapons in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett already on the roster, so a player who missed all but three 2022 games due to a hamstring will get a chance to work his way into the rotation in Year 1.
Lockett is under contract through the 2025 season, but the team has a contractual out prior to 2024, if needed. Smith-Njigba, 6-foot 5/8, 196 pounds, offers a similar skill set to eventually take over. In the interim, he’ll be a nice insurance policy against injury as well as field-stretching outlet for Geno Smith.
The 2023 fantasy value for JSN is relatively low on draft day, but he’s a name to stash for the waiver wire. In dynasty formats, consider him an eventual WR2 in fantasy.
22) Los Angeles Chargers | WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
A physical, big-bodied wideout, Johnston brings a potential WR1 weapon to an offense that already has Keenan Allen and Mike Williams under contract for the next two seasons.
Johnston won’t be asked to do too much as a rookie, likely learning from the bench as a spot player with the pass-happy Chargers. He will get a few plays dialed up for vertical routes as he learned the ropes behind two proven vets, but both wideouts have injury history that suggests we could see the standout Horned Frog sooner than later.
His 2023 fantasy football worth is minimal, but Johnston deserves a late-round selection. As for dynasty, he has the tools to develop into a sound No. 1 receiver. It may not happen in 2023 or even ’24, but there’s a blueprint to make him a viable stash.
23) Baltimore Ravens | WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
On the same day the lingering contract battle between Baltimore and Lamar Jackson finally came to an end, No. 8 now has a new weapon at his disposal — one in the same vein as a former favorite, Marquise Brown. The Ravens now boast several capable weapons in Flowers, Mark Andrews, Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, and Nelson Agholor. That’s a fair amount of speed and a variety of skill sets to contend with.
Rookie receivers tend to need time to develop and learn, but when your best attribute is getting deep, the playbook doesn’t need to be so thick. Flowers plays bigger than his 5-foot-9, 182-pound stature indicates, and he can be utilized on all three levels of the route tree via manufactured touches as well as via gimmick runs.
The volume won’t be great in his rookie season, but we should see a few splash plays from Flowers. He’s an intriguing best-ball selection but is a much stronger candidate for ascension in Year 2 and beyond.
24) Minnesota Vikings | WR Jordan Addison, USC
Standing 5-foot-11, 173 pounds, Addison makes up for his slender build with plus-quickness and enough long speed to go the distance. He overcame shaky hands early in his FBS career and has done a remarkable job improving in this regard. The Vikings lost Adam Thielen in free agency and needed someone other than K.J. Osborn to step up alongside All-World WR Justin Jefferson.
There should be more than enough Year 1 targets for Addison to make a name for himself catching passes from a proven quarterback in Kirk Cousins. Jefferson’s mere presence alone creates singles in coverage that a shifty wideout like this rookie can exploit. Addison is a strong WR4 target in 2023 drafts who can rotate into your lineup as a No. 3 or flex most weeks.
26) Buffalo Bills | TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah
The most talented receiving tight end of the class will be catching passes from Josh Allen in a prolific offensive design. Tight end Dawson Knox is on the roster but is limited in his offerings and has yet to play a full season in his NFL career.
Kincaid is a naturally smooth receiver and mover in the open field. He understands coverage exploits and will be a serious addition to this passing game.
That said, rookie tight ends typically are nonexistent in fantasy, and being a TE2 in an offense with several other mouths to feed will keep Kincaid out of the conversation of weekly options. He’s not draftable in single-year leagues but could emerge if Knox cannot stay healthy. In time, since Knox has a contract out after 2024, we could have a top-five fantasy tight end in Kincaid. Until then, his real-life contributions to the Bills will vastly outweigh the offerings to our fake counterparts.