5 NFL rookies with Year 1 breakout potential in 2023 fantasy football

Author: Kate MagdziukPublished: 05/03/23
Kendre Miller + Rashee Rice 2560x1440
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The 2023 NFL Draft is officially in the books, and fans and fantasy football managers are left to speculate which of the rookies in this class could have an immediate impact as Year 1 breakouts. There's a lot to live up to based on some of the more recent draft classes, too, with a lot of stars shining right out of the gate.

With the desire for immediate production in mind, here are five players you'll *probably* want to draft in your fantasy football leagues this year.

QB Anthony Richardson (Indianapolis Colts)

Meet rookie QB Anthony Richardson — the man about to give the term "Konomi Code" an entirely new meaning. The self-dubbed "Cam Jackson" (get it? he's likened himself a blend of Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson) tested off the charts at the 2023 NFL Combine, and now, he should have an immediate opportunity as a starter with limited options for the team at quarterback heading into 2023 (Gardner Minshew? Meh).

There are some who make the argument that he shouldn't start right away. After all, he is one of the least experienced quarterbacks to come out of this draft class, having attempted just 393 total pass attempts in three years at Florida. I'll counter, though — that's why they need to start him, as soon as humanly possible. There is no substitute for live reps.

Once he does officially get the start, he becomes immediately fantasy relevant, regardless of how quickly (or slowly) he develops as a passer. His rushing ability provides him with a really safe floor and simultaneously high ceiling for fantasy.

RB Kendre Miller (New Orleans Saints)

TCU running back Kendre Miller was one of my favorite pre-draft sleepers... and now, his landing spot with the New Orleans Saints amplifies my interest ten-fold.

The short on Kendre Miller as a prospect: Miller enters the NFL fresh off a season as one of the most productive running backs in college football, totaling over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns in the 2022 season. He was an integral part of TCU's run-up to the College Football Playoff National Championship game (where they lost, abysmally), functioning as a true workhorse. He's not a top-end athlete, but he's got solid play strength and the ability to play through contact, which helps the play live on even after a defender has reached him.

Running backs Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams sit atop the depth chart for the Saints, but let's consider the following.

1) Kamara is currently navigating legal issues stemming from an assault at a nightclub in February of 2022. With that comes the possibility (or perhaps likelihood) that he will inevitably be suspended, or placed on the commissioner's exempt list. As demonstrated with RB Ezekiel Elliott back in 20, a player can be suspended even in the absence of criminal charges, if an NFL investigation deems them to have broken the code of conduct. His trial for the pending chargers will begin July 31, just ahead of the 2023 NFL season.

2) Jamaal Williams had a breakout season in 2023, leading to him signing a three-year, $12 million contract with the Saints in free agency this season. I still find myself looking to pump the breaks on expectations for him to produce that moving forward. His age-27 breakout was definitely something to behold — but it's an outlier; a sudden breakout that late into a player's career is extremely uncommon. Prior to 2022, he'd never exceeded 180 carries in a season. He's now entering his age-28 season, with the 13th most career touches among active running backs (1,075). Don't discount Miller in favor of an aging (albeit talented) running back who's played a complementary role for most of his career.

WR Rashee Rice (Kansas City Chiefs)

Rashee Rice didn't break out until his final season at SMU, but once he did — WHEW — he did the dang thing. In his senior year, the 6'0, 200-pound receiver posted 96 receptions (5th most in college football) for 1,355 receiving yards (3rd) and 10 touchdowns. He ranked 11th among wide receivers in missed tackles forced after the catch, first in catches on targets of 20+ yards (18), fifth in deep yards, and eighth in contested catches. That, my friends, is #good.

Rice isn't an elite athlete, but he did surprise in a big way with his performance at the NFL Combine this year. Rice posted a vertical and broad jump (95th and 86th percentile for WRs, respectively) and a 10-yard split (93rd) percentile that showed he's more explosive than we might have thought — a big plus for him at the next level if he can start to showcase that explosion on the field.

Now, he's headed to Kansas City to catch balls from the best quarterback in the league — NBD. One of my favorite qualities noted while watching Rice's tape was that he can be a quarterback's best friend with the way he follows along on scramble drills. That feels like a really, really great fit for a quarterback whose most incredible trait is making absolutely INSANE off-platform throws when flushed out of the pocket. Chef's kiss.

The opportunities are certainly there to earn targets in his rookie season, competing with WRs Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, and Skyy Moore for snaps off the bat — all of whom haven't exactly proven themselves as worthy WR1s in their careers.

WR Tank Dell (Houston Texans)

Why yes, I am seriously noting the 5'8, 165-pound wide receiver as one to monitor for fantasy football. Let's be clear, though — if Tank Dell is productive as a receiver at his size, he'll be an outlier.

Still, he's already an outlier in his own right as the hands-down best route runner in this class despite his size. His blazing 1.49-second 10-yard split at the NFL Combine — indicating his burst and explosion — ranked in the 93rd percentile for wide receivers. It's not a crucial data point by any means, but it is one that confirms exactly what we've already seen from him in college — he's explosive off the line of scrimmage and that innate ability makes him very, very difficult to cover.

Dell will undoubtedly fit right in as a slot receiver for the Texans — ready to be a safety valve for rookie C.J. Stroud across the middle of the field. He's got a pretty good track record with the slot receivers, too (hellooo, Jaxon Smith Njigba!).

TE Dalton Kincaid (Buffalo Bills)

A lot of people might have been less than impressed with the Bills' move to trade up for Kincaid, but I'm here to say — let's consider the positive here! Coming out of the Utah tight end factory at 6'4 and 246 pounds, he's undoubtedly the best receiving tight end 2023 has to offer. The best part? Though he's a willing blocker when given the opportunity, that's not necessarily his strength — which, one could argue, is a plus for fantasy production.

On one hand, a tight end's ability to block is often key to him earning snaps on the field. He's good enough in that department to see work. However, what makes him an elite tight end prospect (and he is one) is his receiving ability, luckily for Josh Allen, who was in need of another weapon to throw to behind WR Stefon Diggs. Kincaid's skillset would (at first glance) lend itself to more of a receiving role, relegating Knox to more of a blocking role, where he's largely been pretty successful so far in his career.

Read more about some other players with potential Year 1 breakouts like Ravens WR Zay Flowers and Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

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