The Loop 2023 Fantasy Football Preview: The Rookies

21 July 2023

These days it’s pretty easy to get paid the big bucks. If you’re a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Or a seasoned medical professional. Or Taylor Swift.

But if you’re a star NFL running back, not so much.

While meal-ticket runners are still vital to winning football, standouts such as Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs are finding it impossible to get suitable long-term contracts. There are just too many affordable options at the position.

Another influx of prospects is heading into training camps this week. And fantasy mavens will find two blue-chip running backs, and a handful of other rookies who may post solid numbers for cost-conscious teams at an affordable price.

The draft day spotlight back in April was fixed on the top quarterbacks. But it is highly likely that the year’s top rookie will be among these running backs and receivers: :

1. Bijan Robinson (Falcons RB)

This Texas standout was the highest running back draft pick since Saquon Barkley in 2018, which means Robinson may have a lot of trouble getting paid five years down the road. But for now he’s the top prospect coming off a 1,894-yard, 20-touchdown season as a senior. Will he be a Longhorns legend like Earl Campbell or Ricky Williams? Probably not. But he could be the next Jamaal Charles or Priest Holmes, finding fantasy stardom after leaving Austin.

Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson (7) catches a pass during the NFL football team’s rookie minicamp Friday, May 12, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

2. Jahmyr Gibbs (Lions RB)

Alabama’s latest standout back joined the Tide after two years at Georgia Tech. A smart move, as he totaled 1,370 yards and 10 TDs in his one season playing for Nick Saban. With the departures of D’Andre Swift to Philadelphia and Jamaal Williams to New Orleans, Gibbs is already atop the Detroit depth chart, with only David Montgomery to challenge him for goal-line carries.

Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) is tackled by Kansas State safety Drake Cheatum (21) as he carries the ball during the first half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Swahawks WR)

The good news: The former Ohio State star caught 15 passes for 347 yards in his last full-game performance. The bad news: That was more than 18 months ago in the 2022 Rose Bowl. He played little last season in Columbus, catching only five balls, because of an injured hamstring. But if he’s healthy, many believe he could be better than fellow Buckeyes standouts Garrett Wilson and Chirs Olave.

FILE — Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs past Utah cornerback Kenzel Lawler (2) during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game, Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif.  (AP Photo/John McCoy, File) (John McCoy, AP)

4. Jordan Addison (Vikings WR)

It didn’t take long for the Vikings to find their replacement for the “Adam Thielen” spot in their offense. His transfer season at Southern California was underwhelming, with only eight touchdowns. But in his last season at Pittsburgh, he caught a full 100 for 1,593 yards and 18 TDs. And he will never face double coverage in Minnesota thanks to the presence of all-world Justin Jefferson.

Southern California wide receiver Jordan Addison catches a pass during warmups prior to an NCAA college football game against Fresno State Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

5. Zay Flowers (Ravens WR)

Baltimore has been struggling for years to find a top receiver to help out overworked quarterback Lamar Jackson. They may have found him in the wideout who caught 200 passes for 3,056 yards and 29 TDs at Boston College. He certainly looks like the Ravens’ most healthy receiving option compared to former Gopher Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham Jr.

Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Michael Conroy, AP)

6. Quentin Johnston (Chargers WR)

This Texas Christian wideout topped 1,000 yards in his senior season, and he began focusing on his NFL future about five minutes into the Horned Frogs’ 65-7 loss to Georgia in the national title game. While he’ll be working with Justin Herbert, one of the league’s top young QBs, he’ll also be working with standouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. So Johnston’s numbers won’t dazzle at first.

TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) makes a catch against Michigan during the second half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

7. Anthony Richardson (Colts QB)

The third quarterback taken at the draft in Kansas City is probably the top rookie QB prospect for fantasy purposes, at least for this season. The Florida phenom is all about potential. He passed for 2,549 yards and 17 TDs last season, while rushing for 654 yards and nine scores. He’ll definitely have his rough moments, but his only competition for the starting job is Gardner Minshew. We see this Gator starting by Week 6 at the latest.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) runs upfield during the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)

8. Bryce Young (Panthers QB)

The Alabama star was the clear choice for the Heisman Trophy and No. 1 draft pick. It’s hard to look past his 8,200 yards passing and 79 TDs in his two seasons leading the Tide. And his Carolina coach is famed quarterback guru Frank Reich. But Young will be hampered by his lack of NFL experience, and the Panthers’ lack of weaponry. Adam Thielen as his No. 1 receiving target? Miles Sanders at No. 1 RB? Not very daunting.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young poses for a photograph after winning the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

9. C.J. Stroud (Texans QB)

Ohio State’s quarterback posted similar numbers to Young in his last two seasons in Columbus (8,123 yards, 85 TDs), and he looked great in the Buckeyes’ national semifinal loss to Georgia.. But he’ll have an even iffier set of offensive tools to work with in Houston. So it might be a stretch to even consider Stroud for your backup QB slot. One positive: The Texans play in what might be the weakest division in the NFL, the AFC South.

FILE – Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) passes against Georgia during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik, File)

10. Zach Charbonnet (Seahawks RB)

This back blossomed after transferring from Michigan, tallying more than 3,000 total yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons at UCLA. Kenneth Walker III is the No. 1 RB is Seattle, but this rookie gives the Seahawks a second strong option near the goal line, Charbonnet will cut into Walker’s scoring this season.

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet runs the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

11. Devon Achane (Dolphins RB)

Vikings fans have wondered aloud why Miami native Dalvin Cook hasn’t landed back at South Beach. This rookie from Texas A&M is one reason why. The former track star ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at the NFL combine. A triple threat who had 28 TDs in three years with the Aggies. In addition to sharing running work with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Achane also could become the Dolphins’ No.1 kick returner.

Texas A&M running back Devon Achane (6) breaks free from LSU safety Greg Brooks Jr. (3) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

12. Tyjae Spears (Titans RB)

As a Tulane senior, Spears racked up 1,837 total yards and 21 TDs for the surprising Cotton Bowl champions. Despite the presence of USC QB Caleb Williams, Spears was the best player on the field that day, rushing for 205 yards and 4 TDs. He’s great insurance for that fast-approaching time when the Titans move on from King Derrick Henry.

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears (22) avoids being tackled during the first half of the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game against Southern California, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

13. Dalton Kincaid (Bills TE)

Tight end is the weakest link among fantasy football positions, and this Utah standout caught 70 passes for 890 yards and eight TDs as a Utes senior. The only tight end drafted in the first round, Kincaid was targeted by the Bills, who traded up to get him. At a minimum he’ll be sharing the spotlight with incumbent Dawson Knox, though he could be the starter by season’s end.

Southern California defensive back Jacobe Covington (14) breaks up a pass intended for Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) during the second half of the Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

14. Tank Bigsby (Jaguars RB)

This Auburn standout, who tallied 2,900 rushing yards and 25 TDs in his three War Eagle seasons, has reportedly been the revelation of the Jaguars’ offseason workouts. While he starts his rookie campaign as the clear backup to Travis Etienne, he might be a stronger goal-line option for the still-ascending Jacksonville offense.

Auburn running back Tank Bigsby (4) carries the ball as Western Kentucky defensive back Rome Weber (5) tries to tackle him during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

15. Kendre Miller (Saints RB)

TCU’s top back had 1,515 rushing yards and 17 TDs as a senior, helping lead the Frogs to the College Football Playoff. While that ended poorly for them, the NFC South might be easier competition than Georgia was. HIs fate is tied to that of all-pro Alvin Kamara, who is facing a suspension over his role in a Las Vegas brawl. The longer the penalty, the better the prospects for Miller.

TCU running back Kendre Miller (33) runs against Michigan during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Other notable rookies

Michael Mayer (Raiders TE), Sam LaPorta (Lions TE), Rashee Rice (Chiefs WR), Jalin Hyatt (Giants WR), Luke Musgrave (Packers TE), Jayden Reed (Packers WR), Roschon Johnson (Bears RB), Marvin Mims (Broncos WR), Jonathan Mingo (Panthers WR), Cedric Tillman (Browns WR), Will Levis (Titans QB).

Coming up

August 6: Veterans that we’re especially high on for this fantasy season.

August 20: Veterans that we’re not especially high on.

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected].

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