NFL Draft Round 1 Reactions

NFL Draft Round 1 Reactions

We'll be spending a lot of time dissecting the landing spots and outlooks of the 2023 rookie class, but I wanted to fire off some quick thoughts on the Round 1 rookie landing spots we got last night.

Most of my opinions below are positive. Draft position is a hugely significant component of prospect evaluation, so the 10 skill players selected last night generally saw their outlooks boosted.

Anthony Richardson is the rookie QB1

I'm a big fan of Bryce Young's game, and C.J. Stroud could emerge as a highly efficient passer in Houston's new Shanahan-descended offense. But after the Colts selected Anthony Richardson, he's the clear fantasy QB1 in the 2023 class.

In Superflex dynasty, I still view Bijan Robinson as the 1.01. On our Ship Chasing mega stream last night, Jakob Sanderson made the case that taking Robinson is still the best option, even if you need QB production, because he's such a desirable trade asset. I agree.

But in best ball, Richardson will be a tier above the other rookie quarterbacks. The one issue is how quickly he will play. But so far so good on that front.

In the final week of FFPC's Never Too Early best ball tournament, Richardson had a 13th-round ADP. Following this selection, I expect him to climb into the 8th-9th round. He'll likely settle in the 7th round as it becomes increasingly clear that the Colts are building around him from the jump.

Richardson is my highest exposure player in pre-draft best ball tournaments, and I'll likely be overweight on him going forward. However, as his price rises, it's important to remember that quarterback spike weeks are not as powerful as RB, WR, and TE spike weeks.

In other words, the payoff on QB hits tends to be a bit smaller. That makes it unappealing to take on risk at a position where optimal 18-round roster construction only calls for two QB selections. If we start to hear rumbles that Richardson could be brought along slowly, he could be a player to avoid at an elevated price tag.

Bijan Robinson could dominate the fantasy playoffs

The Falcons' selection of Bijan Robinson is about as on-brand as it gets. Last year, Arthur Smith had a called pass rate of just 49%, the lowest in the NFL. And remember... the Falcons were not good. Their expected pass rate was 63%. Teams like the Eagles and 49ers were good enough to dictate a run-heavy game script to their opponents; the Falcons' run game was an ideology.

And Smith, of course, also built his Titans offense around Derrick Henry. He'll have the opportunity to build a similarly focused offense with Robinson. And after securing top-10 NFL draft capital, Robinson is now the highest-ranked player in my RB model.

Robinson remains the Superflex 1.01. In best ball, we'll probably hear some talk about Tyler Allgeier maintaining a role. I would encourage you to zoom out when that talk comes up. The Falcons just spent the 8th overall pick on a running back whose No. 1 calling card is versatility. I'm a big fan of Allgeier's, but he won't dictate any part of how backfield touches are distributed.

This isn't to say that Allgeier won't have a role. He'll be involved to some degree and could see a frustrating amount of work to begin the season. But Robinson will eventually emerge as the clear top back. With his best games likely to be back weighted to the second half of the season, he's an ideal tournament best ball selection.

Robinson should be locked into the 1st round of drafts, and I expect to have him as my RB2 in best ball.

Don't hold the Lions' decisions against Jahmyr Gibbs

Dan Campbell has emphatically rejected our advances.

But as crazy as it was to see the Lions spend the 12th and 18th overall picks on an RB and coverage LB... that doesn't make this a bad outcome for the players they selected.

Jahmyr Gibbs is very likely to operate in a committee in 2023. If the Lions keep D'Andre Swift (which seems both insane and plausible), Gibbs will likely be in a true three-man rotation. That's going to be a huge bummer for his immediate fantasy production. But Gibbs' receiving ability still makes him extremely intriguing.

Here's what I wrote about Gibbs' ridiculous 2.47 career YPRR (behind only Christian McCaffrey, Rachaad White, and Alvin Kamara) in his pre-draft profile.

"Gibbs' receiving efficiency is at a level where I am confident that he can produce at a high level even if he never becomes an every-snap player. Of course, if he somehow does become a workhorse, all bets are off."

Gibbs will likely have to wait until at least 2024 to operate as a clear lead back. But he should be able to earn targets quickly.

RBs accounted for 22% of the Lions' targets in 2022, the 10th-highest rate in the league. Swift is clearly out of the Lions' plans whether or not he is traded. And while David Montgomery will get his touches, he's not a playmaker. Montgomery ranked RB24 in PFF's receiving grades last season and ranks RB57 in ESPN's receiver ratings over the last two seasons. If Gibbs is who the Lions think he is, Montgomery won't be able to hold him off forever.

As the No. 12 overall pick, Gibbs now rates very highly in my RB model... and ahead of Breece Hall and Travis Etienne, the top backs from the last two seasons.

In 1QB dynasty leagues, I now view Gibbs as the 1.02. If the best ball market wrings its hands about his Week 1 workload, I will have quite the bag.

Be patient with Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Jaxon Smith-Njigba's night was a bit disappointing. He actually went later in the draft than I thought he would and landed in a legitimately crowded situation.

Last season, the Seahawks ranked 22nd in 11 personnel (3WR sets). So, in addition to competing with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett for targets, he's likely to be competing with Lockett for snaps.

That creates a pretty undesirable situation for fantasy purposes, in the short term.

In the long term, I view this as a solid landing spot. The Seahawks' lack of commitment to 3WR sets is actually a positive when considering their likely evaluation of Smith-Njigba. If you don't operate with a full-time slot receiver, you're not going to draft a pure slot receiver in the 1st round.

Eventually, Smith-Njigba will likely be deployed similarly to Lockett, who has seen 50% of his career snaps out wide and 49% from the slot. That's great news for his long-term outlook since it means he will run a full slate of routes.

Those routes could take a while to materialize, though. Lockett showed no signs of slowing down last year, finishing WR2 in ESPN's open score and posting a solid 1.89 YPRR. The Seahawks can easily move on from him in 2024, but his contract and ability should keep him in place for 2023. So Smith-Njigba could need an injury to emerge as a difference-maker this season.

But then again, he could rack up numbers if his playing time exceeds expectations. 46% of Geno Smith's passes traveled between 0-9 yards last year, which was the 13th-highest rate. So he'll likely enjoy having JSN as an ultra-reliable underneath option. And defenses will pay dearly if they focus on taking the rookie away, with Metcalf and Lockett both offering high-end deep-threat ability.

Smith-Njigba should fall in best ball drafts... but not too much. I'll still be taking him in the 7th round, assuming he falls that far.

In dynasty, I've moved him behind Gibbs but still have him as my WR1.

Jordan Addison and Quentin Johnston are in perfect spots

My pre-draft evaluation of Addison boiled down to the idea that he was a ready-made NFL 1B WR. With that in mind, I was not overly worried about target competition:

"With a player like Smith-Njigba, a rookie breakout will likely look like Garrett Wilson's or Amon-Ra St. Brown's, where he eventually establishes himself atop the target pecking order and then draws targets at a very high rate. That path could be jeopardized by landing alongside an established No. 1 receiver. For example, I would be more nervous about Smith-Njigba landing in Minnesota than Jordan Addison.
Addison's YAC ability on traditional downfield routes gives him a path to high-end weekly results, even if operating as the clear No. 2 in his offense. If Addison hits, it's likely because his ability to separate downfield translated. And that ability will generate spike weeks, even alongside a true No. 1 option."

So while the presence of his superstar teammate hard caps Addison's target upside, he still looks like a strong best ball selection and remains my dynasty WR2.

Quentin Johnston looks to have found a similarly beneficial landing spot. This morning, Pat Daugherty noted in his recap that Johnston will be far worse at operating as a big WR than Mike Williams. But that's a feature, not a bug.

When targeted deep, Johnston saw a high contested target rate at TCU. That rate was a red flag and in the ballpark of players like Terrace Marshall, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (49%), and Denzel Mims (41%). He also struggled in contested catch situations:

"He posted just a 38% contested catch rate on deep targets, closer to Denzel Mims' 28% rate than Tee Higgins' 56%. Johnston's combination of a high contested target rate and an unimpressive contested catch rate is a legitimate red flag for how his deep-threat ability will translate to the NFL."

So the fact that the Chargers are unlikely to ask him to play like Mike Williams is a good thing. Johnston's Mike Williams impression is likely to be pretty unappealing. Instead, he could be used more like an outside field stretcher with YAC ability. John Daigle compared him to Brandin Cooks in passing last night, and honestly, I love that comp, despite the huge size discrepancy. Mike Renner has also called him a bigger Brandon Aiyuk. He should be able to operate in that type of role with the Chargers. And Johnston could be very fun with Williams handling traditional X WR duties.

"73% of his career yards were generated on targets traveling 10+ yards downfield. That bests Chris Olave (72%), DK Metcalf (71%), and Christian Watson (70%). Johnston also has an impressive 10.8 career YPT. We can debate if Johnston's skill set will translate to the NFL, but he clearly fits a valued NFL archetype."

Johnston is likely to fall in drafts, but I think his spike-week appeal has actually increased.

Timing Zay Flowers

Zay Flowers feels like a player that everyone (including me, to an extent) feels good betting on despite some significant red flags.

Flowers was a late declare and played on a bad team who had no choice but to feed him the ball. And Flowers was never ultra-efficient, peaking at 2.27 YPRR in 2021 and falling off slightly to 2.22 as a senior.

Now he lands in Baltimore, which suddenly has a crowded pass-catching corps. Sure, Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham are far from elite competition. But Mark Andrews is a target dominator, and overall passing attempts are likely to remain in check, even with the installation of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator.

And although Bateman's career has been frustrating so far, he was impressive on limited routes in 2022, posting a 2.38 YPRR with a 13.2 aDOT. He's likely to operate as the Ravens' primary deep threat. I'll still be targeting him in the double-digit rounds.

That's not to say Flowers will be locked out of deep targets. On the contrary, he showed some strong downfield ability at Boston College, and defenders will struggle to stay with him on Lamar Jackson scrambles.

Flowers will not be bullying NFL cornerbacks; he posted just a 38% contested catch rate on deep targets. But that won't matter if he's left his coverage defender in the dust. Just 25% of Flowers' deep targets were contested. This is a rate in line with Marquise Brown (27%).

Flowers will probably be a bit pricier in drafts than I would prefer him to be. And for the time being, I may prioritize other rookies. Even with an expected uptick in passing volume, projections aren't likely to be overly kind to the Ravens' passing weapons. The target share needs to be divvied up a lot of ways, and there aren't that many targets to divvy. With that in mind, I may bet on him to fall in drafts and then look to load up in late June and early July (once projections begin to roll out but before training camp hype gets in full swing).

Don't get swept up in Dalton Kincaid hype

Wherever you ended up getting Dalton Kincaid pre-draft, it was a smash. Unfortunately, I ended up being slightly underweight on Kincaid, which I realized (too late) was a mistake. We'll have to see where Michael Mayer lands, but Kincaid looks likely to be my dynasty TE1 unless Mayer finds a dream landing spot.

"In dynasty, I may ultimately have Kincaid as my TE1 if he hits the landing spot lottery with good draft capital. We are ultimately drafting rookie TEs with the hope that we land a superstar. And while Mayer's profile makes him a lot safer, Kincaid's field-stretching skill set will make him pretty fun if he ends up with a great quarterback."

Still, we're talking about a rookie tight end. If Kincaid rockets up best ball boards, I'll be making other bets.

Dawson Knox is an established part of the Bills' offense, and he ranked TE5 in PFF's run-blocking grades last season. Knox's contract locks him in through 2024. He isn't going away.

Meanwhile, Kincaid was a very poor blocker in college. He's likely to operate as a rotational big slot receiver in the Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant mold. That will definitely have its moments. But Kincaid's rookie playing time is likely to be up and down. As a result, it's critical to stay price-conscious on the rookie. If you're drafting him in the early double-digit rounds as a weekly contributor, he's likely to hurt your advance rates.

I may end up waiting until projections do their thing to target Kincaid – with the hope that he falls to the Round 14 range this summer. As a late-round playoff spike-week bet, he's a no-brainer.

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