The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft is in the books. A night full of stunning selections, some surprises, and six mid-draft trades leaves us with plenty to analyze. My favorite way to do so every year is to hand out superlative awards. It’s a fun way for me to break down certain picks for immediate, useful fantasy football analysis. If you’re a fan of “The Office” television show, think of these awards as “Dundies” for each player. They’re completely made up, all in good fun, but get the point across and well deserved.
Fantasy Football Superlative Awards for Round One of the 2023 NFL Draft
The Most Obvious Stud Award: Bijan Robinson to the Atlanta Falcons
The word “obvious” applies to most things with Bijan Robinson. He is the obvious best running back in a deep class, an obvious weapon for any offense, and obvious first-round talent. Landing in Atlanta is one of the more obvious spots for Bijan Robinson making him an obvious stud in fantasy football, as well.
Falcons head coach, Arthur Smith, is the former offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry earned the league’s rushing leader title in both 2019 and 2020 under Arthur Smith. From his first season to the next with Smith as head coach, Atlanta improved from 31st to 3rd in total rushing yards. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, the third-best rushing team in 2022 is now adding Bijan Robinson to their backfield.
Bijan Robinson scored 41 touchdowns in just 31 games with the Texas Longhorns, including 35 in his last 22 games. His large 6’0″, 220-pound frame is a big reason why. As the eight-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Robinson is going to step right in as the lead back for this team. Arthur Smith has his new Derrick Henry, but with higher receiving upside. Robinson is arguably a top-five pick at the running back position. Tyler Allgeier will serve as Robinson’s backup, after a 1,000+ yard rookie season, making him a notable handcuff now for fantasy football.
Biggest Jaw Drop Pick: Jahmyr Gibbs to the Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions started the night with five of the first 55 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Drafting a running back with the first of those five at 12th overall was not on my, or anyone’s, bingo card. Without a doubt, this is the most shocking pick of the first round.
The draft capital alone is meaningful for a player like Jahmyr Gibbs’s likelihood of providing an immediate impact on the Lions’ 2023 offense. This is a team with 61.5% of their running back carries from 2022 available following the departure of Jamaal Williams in free agency, who also led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns.
David Montgomery is joining the backfield as a free agent, but adding Gibbs with this high of a selection in the NFL Draft is an apparent death sentence to D’Andre Swift’s value. Gibbs is three years younger than Swift, who played just 39 of 50 possible career games in his first three seasons due to injury.
Lions GM Brad Holmes on RB D'Andre Swift:
"Yeah, I mean, D'Andre, he's still on our roster. He's still part of our team. He's still under contract with us. He's a dynamic football player. So, (the Gibbs pick) hasn't really changed the math there yet, but, you know, it is early."
— Colton Pouncy (@colton_pouncy) April 28, 2023
It’s possible Swift is playing elsewhere next season, but for now, the Detroit backfield is a three-headed monster. That’s good news for a team coming off of a season in which they scored the fourth-most touchdowns (54) and fifth-most points per game (26.6) in 2022. However, for fantasy, moving Swift would provide a lot more clarity to both his and Gibbs’ values especially. Regardless, Gibbs will be the RB1 for this team given his pass-catching upside, Jared Goff’s tendencies to throw short yardage passes, and lack of target competition especially with the suspension of Jameson Williams.
Quarterback Most Likely to Land on the Moon: Anthony Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts
It should go without saying how special of an athlete Anthony Richardson is. At 6’4″ and 244 pounds, he is by far the largest quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, he’s also the fastest, clocking in at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Drafting a player like Richardson is potentially capitalizing on the highest ceiling at the most important position in football.
For fantasy football purposes, Richardson looks like the next-best dual-threat player at the position. His size and speed combination will be racking up fantasy points when it’s time for him to take the field. Half of the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks in 2022 on a points-per-game basis rushed 112 times or more. I don’t know if Richardson will run quite that much, but it’s in his wheelhouse. However, with just 393 pass attempts from his time at Florida and a 24:15 touchdown to interception ratio, Richardson will benefit from at least a year of development first.
Without budging from the fourth overall pick, the Colts are able to bring in Richardson and his potential. New head coach, Shane Steichen, is fresh off of a Super Bowl run with Jalen Hurts and Philadelphia Eagles. His experience maximizing Hurts and his abilities as a mobile quarterback is that much more of an argument to take Anthony Richardson as the top quarterback in dynasty rookie drafts.
Most Likely to Succeed in 2023: Jordan Addison to the Minnesota Vikings
Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen some special stat lines from rookie wide receivers. Notably, both Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase posted 1400 yards or more each in their first NFL campaigns. Last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Garrett Wilson, logged 1,103 of his own in 2022. Jordan Addison is the most poised as the 23rd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to achieve similar numbers.
Addison immediately steps into the WR2 role in Minnesota. Last year’s WR2 for the Vikings, Adam Thielen, leaves behind 107 targets as he’s now on the Carolina Panthers. Addison is an excellent route runner with a 100/1,593/17 season at Pittsburgh on his resumé from the 2021 season. His 2022 season was cut short due to an ankle injury, though he still put up 59/875/8 in 11 games in his first and only season at USC.
Addison is capable of posting big numbers and should as a rookie while most of the top opposing defensive attention is on team mate, Justin Jefferson. Make no mistake, Jefferson is still the alpha on this offense. However, Minnesota passed at the third-highest rate in 2022. There’s plenty of opportunity for Addison to carve out a sizeable role as a rookie. He’s worth a late-round draft pick that could be an excellent value as the season progresses.
Most Likely to Succeed in 2024: Quentin Johnston to the Los Angeles Chargers
With the 21st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Chargers are adding TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston to their already talented wide receiver group. However, the trio of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Quentin Johnston won’t last long. Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams could be cap casualties and released as soon as next off-season. Releasing and/or trading both Allen and Williams in 2024 costs the Chargers roughly $24 million against the cap, but saves the team approximately $43 million.
Listen, I’m ecstatic about what the Chargers can accomplish in 2023, but as far as analyzing Quentin Johnston’s long-term value, he could be the top pass catcher for this team as soon as next year. As for now, though, he’s competing for targets with Allen, Williams, Austin Ekeler, and others. We’ve seen Keenan Allen and Mike Williams miss time before, so Johnson is an intriguing bench stash for 2023 redraft teams.
Hiring former Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, will be a key piece to Johnston and the entire Chargers’ offensive success. Quarterback Justin Herbert will attack downfield more, utilize his weapons in the middle of the field, and provide opportunities for yards after the catch. Quentin Johnston is one of the best receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft class with the ball in his hands. Even if they overhaul the position, he will have a head start in this system which should help him succeed.
I’m Not Mad, I’m Just Disappointed Award: Jaxson Smith-Njigba to the Seattle Seahawks
Don’t let the name of this superlative award fool you. I’m happy with the decision by the Seahawks to select Smith-Njigba and start a run of wide receiver picks in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. I just thought he would not only go a bit higher, but to a team where he would have a little more upside.
I fully expect JSN to operate out of the slot and hog plenty of targets from Geno Smith across the middle, especially this season. In fact, I do think the fit for him is perfect considering the personnel on Seattle’s offense. However, he is competing with both D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett for targets and both ranked inside the top-30 in total targets last season. It’s hard to imagine all three of them getting a fantasy-friendly piece of the pie in 2023 especially. Furthermore, Lockett averaged 14.8 points per game with 117 targets while D.K. Metcalf disappointed with just 13.3 points per game on 141 of his own.
Geno Smith should benefit the most from adding Smith-Njigba to this offense. As the reigning QB8 in fantasy football, he should maintain starter value. There is no clear-cut answer to who will replace Geno, though, when it makes sense to move on from him during or after his three-year extension runs out. All things considered, I just wished for a better landing spot for Jaxon Smith-Njigba from a fantasy standpoint, but love the addition for the Seahawks.
Better for Real Football Than Fantasy Football Award: Zay Flowers to the Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson is the biggest winner of the 2023 NFL Draft thus far. On the morning of the first round, he agreed to a five-year, $260 million contract with $185 million in guaranteed money. By night, he had a new weapon in wide receiver, Zay Flowers.
Zay Flowers joins Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, and Mark Andrews as the top pass catchers in the Baltimore Ravens offense. While revamping this group, and paying Lamar, indicates an emphasis on throwing more, I’m not sure there will be enough targets to make Flowers fantasy relevant any time soon. Including Lamar Jackson’s 2019 MVP season, the Ravens rank 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 6th respectively each season in rush attempts per game league-wide.
Until I see different, it’s going to be hard to trust that all of a sudden the Ravens put together an elite aerial attack. Lamar is averaging just 2,627 passing yards per season since his 2019 MVP season in which he threw for just 3,127 yards. Zay Flowers is explosive with a proven track record of success at the collegiate level. He is more of a best-ball pick in 2023, but worth stashing with a first-round dynasty pick as a key piece to a hopefully ascending Baltimore passing attack. Otherwise, he will need an OBJ and/or Bateman injury for redraft relevancy, which, given their history, isn’t out of the question.
Quarterback Most Likely to Stream on Your Team as a Rookie: Bryce Young to the Carolina Panthers
As the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Bryce Young is nearly a lock to start Week 1. If not, and Andy Dalton starts the season, we will see Bryce Young under center at some point in 2023.
First round rookie quarterbacks don’t have a great track record of success for fantasy football in year one. Over the last 10 NFL Drafts, of the 30 quarterbacks taken in round one, just two, that have played 10 or more games, have finished inside the top-12 in points per game (Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert). The odds are against Bryce Young.
It’s worth noting that 14 of 29 quarterbacks (we don’t know with Kenny Pickett yet) from this history sample finished inside the top-12 the following season, though. The coaching staff alone in Carolina is reason enough to believe Young will be just fine. For fantasy football purposes, it’s best to consider Young on a week-to-week basis a streaming option or mid-to-late-round best ball pick. This team likely leans on the run in 2023 which is good news for Miles Sanders.
A Pick That’s Worth 1,000 Words: Dalton Kincaid to the Buffalo Bills
I’m not actually going to write 1,000 words discussing this selection, but we learned a lot from it. First, the Buffalo Bills traded up in the 2023 NFL Draft to select Dalton Kincaid. Moving up two spots from pick 27 to 25 afforded jumped the Dallas Cowboys at 26. That indicates Buffalo’s belief that Dallas is heavily interested in replacing tight end Dalton Schultz in the draft with a top tight end. However, at pick 26, Dallas invested in a defensive tackle instead of Notre Dame tight end, Michael Mayer, who most had graded as a first-round selection. He is still available.
When Bills general manager, Brandon Beane, was asked about the decision to move up to get Kincaid, he mentioned him being the best player on their draft board. Beane emphasized Kincaid’s “elite hands” mentioning he’s “a really good route runner.” He also alluded to the idea of flexing Kincaid out more as a receiver giving them an option in the middle of the field claiming that is something Buffalo didn’t have.
Considering the Bills’ depth chart, Kincaid could legitimately provide value out of the gate in fantasy football. He could be their starting “slot receiver”, but a fantasy cheat code managers can plug in at tight end. Rather than draft one of the many undersized rookies still on the board, Buffalo elects to add 6’4″, 245-pound Kincaid into one of the top offenses in the league. Don’t let the presence of Dawson Knox deter you from what Kincaid can accomplish in his first season.
Quarterback to Stash and Pray For: C.J. Stroud to the Houston Texans
Adding C.J. Stroud to the Texans with the second-overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft indicates he is the future of the franchise. Right after selecting Stroud, Houston traded up from 12 to the third spot to select Will Anderson as key piece to their defense. It’s a great move for the team, but many were hoping for another pass catching option at the 12th spot.
That said, Stroud’s top pass catchers look to be Robert Woods, Nico Collins, John Metchie, and tight end, Dalton Schultz. It could be worse, but there’s no standout, elite option to rely on in year one. Stroud may also sit and develop behind Davis Mills.
The Texans offensive coordinator, Bobby Slowik, is also the former passing game coordinator from the San Francisco 49ers, a notable run-first team. There’s good reason to believe the combination of Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary are prominent pieces of their 2023 offense.
Stroud has a great arm, throws guys open, and boats eye-popping stats from his time as the starter at Ohio State. However, until we see that the Texans are serious about maximizing his talents with upgraded weapons or a pass-heavy approach, he’s best to stash. Stroud is my QB3 in dynasty rookie rankings following the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.