The NFL Draft has been mired in hot takes surrounding the skill players that will hear their names called during the draft in late April. Takes that see Anthony Richardson as QB1, Jordan Addison as only a slot player, or the tight end takes. Lordy! The tight end takes!
Personally, I think the conversation during these months without NFL football (sorry, XFL), we can talk ourselves into a lot of things and convince ourselves that we must overpay to land certain prospects.
That’s true of the NFL and for fantasy football dynasty managers. There are only a few NFL prospects that will enter the league as rookies and deliver for their teams immediately. Even fewer if you’re an offense-only fantasy league. If four QBs are drafted in Round 1, it’s likely only one of them is going to see sustained success. But which one? The RB market is hot in this draft, but beyond Bijan Robinson, anyone can pop. But who will that be?
In this mock draft, we’ll try to sort out who will pop right away through this 12-pick mock draft (assume 12-team league with a Superflex slot).
Round 1, Pick 1 (1.01) – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Look, I know running backs and when to draft them is a running fantasy football debate that may consume us all, but Robinson is the real deal! He’s a gifted runner, explosive athlete, and is ready to take a backfield over from training camp. Going in the top-10 of the NFL Draft is a little insane. Going No. 1 overall in dynasty rookie drafts is a no-brainer. We shouldn’t overthink this and that tends to happen when a player is discussed for months on end. The zigging and zagging is insane. This guy is the 1.01.
Just a reminder of how silly of a prospect Bijan Robinson is. pic.twitter.com/M5YlVGqaWg
— Jake Anderson (@JakeAndersonPGA) March 26, 2023
Best NFL fits: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Everyone
1.02 – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
I’ve officially fallen off the Bryce Young as QB1 train. I think he’s a talented prospect and plays football in the same revolutionary way it’s played today, but in building for the long haul, I don’t want someone who’s historically undersized at the position.
Here’s where Stroud comes in. He’s a smart QB who can read through his progressions like a seasoned pro. He’s not quite the mover in the pocket that Young is, but he’s got the best arm in the draft in terms of precision. Stroud to Carolina or Houston would give him a chance to start right away in your Superflex position.
Best fits: Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis
1.03 – Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
Gibbs is currently the No. 2 back in the draft, but the gap is closing on him, especially after an uninspired combine. Gibbs is a little undersized—weighing in at 199 pounds at the combine—and some teams are going to be worried about whether he can handle a full NFL workload. Drafting Gibbs might mean getting him as a handcuff, but he does have the capability of being a good fantasy producer. And there’s no reason to believe that Gibbs can’t get and stay over 200 pounds.
From an explosive standpoint, Gibbs left a lot to be desired during the combine, despite running a 4.36 in the 40. His 10-yard and 20-yard splits were less than impressive and his broad jump was below average. His tape, however, features a dynamic runner in open space who has some really good afterburners. He reminds a little of Aaron Jones given his size and determination as a runner.
Best fits: Tampa Bay, L.A. Chargers, Buffalo
1.04 – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
You’ve probably heard that JSN is too slow, but I’m here to join the chorus of voices that is telling you: it’s okay! He has good football speed who could create separation in a phone booth. Running a 4.5 at his Pro Day certainly seems to have jacked up his value. According to Mathbomb, JSN’s relative athletic score, which is a composite score that gauges a player’s athletic abilities relative to the position they play, is 9.16 after his Pro Day. This drops him in the rankings among other WRs in this class, but he’s still ahead of talented guys like Marvin Mims, Zay Flowers, and Josh Downs.
What makes Jaxon-Smith Njigba so QB friendly?
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) March 24, 2023
Testing doesn’t make or break a player, but it is nice to see him with a 10-foot-five-inch broad jump and Elite grades in the shuttle and 3-cone. It helped that JSN had a QB at Ohio State who could put the ball wherever he wanted and other talented WRs on the roster, but there isn’t any reason on tape to doubt that Brian Hartline has another pro-ready wideout who can contribute. His sure hands will be a QBs best friend.
Best fits: Green Bay, Tennessee, Houston
1.05 – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Johnston is another WR who really blows me away with how he moves, but in a different way than JSN. Not only is Johnston an explosive play waiting to happen, but he can also play so high above the rim, shorter defensive backs will certainly struggle. He’s still developing as a route runner, but he should be able to gain chunks of fantasy points by being faster and bigger in matchups.
The biggest issue for Johnston on film is when it looks like he’s playing a little too fast. Concentration drops can plague him and he just needs to play a little more in rhythm sometimes, feeling the game and when to decelerate and then hit the NOS. Johnston, I believe, is the most ready WR to play Week 1 based on pure athleticism. JSN may need a few months to build chemistry before he can be a reliable fantasy contributor, whereas a QB simply needs to throw it somewhere near Johnston and he’ll run under the pass or extend for it.
Best fits: Atlanta, Tennessee, New England
1.06 – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Addison certainly hasn’t helped his draft stock through Combine testing, which could result in a precipitous drop in the draft. While Addison is more than a slot WR, his testing numbers didn’t give us the best view of the athleticism he displayed at Penn State and USC. He lacks elite size and will need to prove that he can maintain weight at the next level (weighing ~171 makes me dubious of his ability to hold up).
Despite these limitations, Addison is another player who must be scouted beyond testing. In fact, none of the numbers for this WR class are truly that impressive. When watching Addison, you see a player who is a great route runner, can shake open easily, and has the downfield speed to get past the last level of defense. From his own mouth, Addison says that he’s not afraid to go over the middle and intends to improve his catch radius. He’s not going to give you much as a blocker on the outside, but his quick feet can help him remain unjammed coming off the line of scrimmage.
Best fits: Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Minnesota
1.07 – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
This is a maniac move right here. I don’t care. I think I might actually be too low on him relative to fantasy drafts. If he goes No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, he may be a few spots higher. This is a quarterback with unseen athleticism and could gobble up fantasy points like Pacman. When people say things like “he’s a running back playing quarterback” or “he’s an EDGE that can throw,” it’s not because of veiled discrimination that suggests Black QBs should switch positions, but rather because Richardson is a powerful and fast runner and is likely the most gifted athlete in this class—regardless of position. He should absolutely play QB though, it’s the most fun.
Watching Anthony Richardson avoid sacks is like watching Picasso paint pic.twitter.com/TNyk3SJed3
— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 20, 2023
While good tape and impressive stats prop up other prospects in this mock, Richardson’s projections completely altered after an insane combine. Richardson shed his alter ego in the phone booth and came out flying in Indy, setting combine records for a quarterback with a 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot nine inches in the broad jump. His 40 time is the third fastest for a QB recorded at the Combine, but to be fair, most QBs elect to not run these days (we don’t have a Young or Stroud 40 even after their Pro Days.)
The question remains: will this Superman save my squad or is he just an alien with untold potential who doesn’t know how to harness his powers?
Best fits: Carolina, Seattle, Detroit
1.08 – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Flowers is an agile and shifty playmaker with great speed on the field. He’s on the smaller side, but has no problem working the deep- to intermediate-middle of the field. Zay is the type of player who has great on field awareness and on his best plays, he takes great angles and maintains incredible balance.
The word on Flowers is that his teammates at BC loved him and that he really set the tone for them during practice and workouts. We love a good leader, but we especially love a young player who understands that he succeeds as his team does. On the field he helped BC by returning punts and running gadget plays to take advantage of his athleticism. He compares build-wise to Steve Smith Jr. and he could match him both in talent and as a teammate.
Best fits: Baltimore, New Orleans, Minnesota
1.09 – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
It’s time. I was going to go with another RB here, but I think there’s a pretty significant cliff between Robinson, then Gibbs, then everyone else. And we haven’t gotten the chance to overreact to a playoff team adding another back to the stable. Young’s only knock is his size and that matters in the long run and for fantasy. There have been other small-ish QBs in the league and, recently, the prototype for what a QB can be is vastly different from statuesque pocket passers of the past.
Bryce Young this throw is NOT NORMAL. pic.twitter.com/dlwP76VX5k
— Kyron Samuels (@kyronsamuels) December 31, 2022
But we’re asking Young to not only be a statistical anomaly, but to be the first player to ever succeed at his size. I’m Issa Rae when it comes to rooting for guys like Young, but he’ll need to be in a really good situation. I like the value of drafting him late in the first round as well. You’re likely a playoff team drafting in this spot, so you can take more chances with your squad. Young can rip it, man. When we’re talking about Bryce, the passer, he really is a talented thrower with multiple arm angles. He’s not the fastest QB when he scrambles, but the man can scoot out of trouble and navigate the pocket better than anyone in this class.
Best fits: Houston, Carolina, Detroit
1.10 – Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
The third RB taken in your dynasty drafts, and even in the NFL draft will be subject to debate up until the start of the draft because there are a lot of RBs bunched together here in the same tier. I think Spears is a dynamic running back who is a silky smooth runner, loves to block, and has really good hands.
At the Combine, Spears really gained a platform to display his explosive traits and speed. Among the top backs in this rookie class (Robinson, Gibbs, Bigsby, Charbonnet, Achane) Spears’ RAS is only second to Bijan Robinson. Spears plays with great running strength and balance and his testing in the jumps and sprint splits helped confirm what the tape displayed in terms of explosiveness.
Best fits: Atlanta, New Orleans, Baltimore
1.11 – Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
It’s hard to tell what Jalin Hyatt can be given the circumstances that surrounded him this season. With a new offense at Tennessee that is exceptional at getting players open for big chunk plays, several Vols players exploded this season with Hyatt among them. We love good production at the college level, but the question remains whether it is a Hyatt breakout or the product of a really impressive offense.
The boring answer is probably a little bit of both. Hyatt’s route tree is fairly limited and the tape shows a player constantly wide open—a product of the play design—but man is he fast. Hyatt easily zips past defenders with his 4.4 speed and 1.5 second 10-yard split, which is wicked quick! The burst with which he comes off the line is evident here and if the defender doesn’t react quick enough, he’ll be looking at a dust cloud. And this was often the case in Tennessee. Utilizing stacked formations was essential to the passing plays and corners often couldn’t get their hands on Hyatt to jam him up. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts at the next level. But also maybe a smart coach will put him in a similar position to be successful.
In addition to how much his draft stock was inflated by his offense, his size leaves a little to be desired. He’s a little slight and not particularly heavy, but we’ve see plenty of leaner WRs succeed at the next level. If he gets drafted by a squad with a big armed quarterback—maybe one in the north?!—he could be a valuable asset at the back end of this first round.
Best fits: Buffalo, Kansas City, Minnesota
1.12 – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Has the tight end hype gotten out of hand? I don’t think so. It is important to note how diminished the position of TE has been in offenses across the NFL, despite what Travis Kelce is up to, however. That isn’t to say the position isn’t valuable, but it’s hard to determine who will produce on the fantasy level by being a top-three target for his team and who is a player that does the ugly work for the offense and only occasionally becomes a bigger focus.
Michael Mayer may be the closest player into this draft to remain on the field consistently and have a long career. Mayer is deceptively fast for a TE with the ability to outrun linebackers, while still having the size and strength to move those same linebackers in the running game. He can contribute right away as a red zone weapon, while he develops the rest of his pro game.
I don’t generally think TEs are viable first round draft picks in dynasty unless they show true Day 1 potential. It can take at least two seasons for a TE to really show out because it’s such a difficult position to learn. Further, it takes really good circumstances for a tight end to blossom. This is a deep TE class, but if anyone can burst onto the scene, it’s Mayer.
Best fits: Detroit, Green Bay, Dallas