For many, the NFL Combine is the unofficial kick-off of the new dynasty season, a time when the declared rookies take the field in an attempt to raise their draft stock ahead of the NFL Draft in April.
For dynasty leaguers, there is no more enjoyable time than holding rookie draft picks with the attached anticipation of new players joining their rosters, perhaps completing the puzzle to winning the elusive dynasty championship. Whether last season was an unmitigated disaster or you secured a repeat title, the NFL Combine and NFL Draft are likely only behind your league’s rookie draft in anticipation and excitement. It’s something we all share.
You, the dynasty coach, know all too well just how important it is to ‘win’ your draft. In a game where a single player can make the difference between relevance and also-ran status, you can’t afford to leave your selection to a strategy of ‘dumb luck’ or a misinformed pick. At the very least, you need to understand each rookie’s value proposition within his class into your own team’s needs. Anything less and you might as well pull names out of a hat.
Those playing the dynasty format for any length of time understand the game has changed dramatically even over the past few years, let alone the last decade. Metrics, graphs, trends, new methods of ranking, and ridiculously complex forms of analytics now have the ability to help you make more informed choices, or, for many, muddy the waters of your research. No single metric, ranking, or set of analytics can guarantee the success of your draft selections. To wit, NFL front offices swing and miss all too often and no group of individuals have more at stake or more experts at their disposal to maximize the success quotient of each selection. If the front office of an NFL team can’t maintain a high degree of success, how are home-gamers like you and I supposed to?
Rookie Ranking Tiers
Tiers have obviously been around for a long time, though it seems some have cast aside their usage in favor of other draft and/or production-based metrics. That could be a big mistake. Every dynasty coach needs to understand how to tier each incoming rookie class toward determining the depth of class and selection value. It is through this understanding that you will be able to handicap your opportunity when holding rookie draft selections or acquiring them. Sell out of known-production players to double down into a weak draft and you may negatively impact your team for years to come. Skillfully leverage your roster depth and draft capital to move up or acquire additional selections into a strong draft and you seize the opportunity to be your league’s next dynasty team. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
In short, rookie draft tiers make up the talent stratification of each year’s draft, and understanding this stratification will help you to ascertain the wheelhouse and depth of each class and its potential.
The 2023 Dynasty Rookie Draft
The 2023 rookie class was heralded almost exactly a year ago today. Many were moving 2022 draft picks in return for 2023 picks, anticipating this year’s strong class. A funny thing happened on the way to this year’s NFL Combine – it lost much of its luster.
The receivers just didn’t develop as expected. Outside of Bijan Robinson, the running backs largely devolved into a deep pool of well-sized athletes but not a ridiculously clear RB2. Jahmyr Gibbs is a good prospect but is far from a guarantee. The quarterback class is four-deep and each are so different from the one next to him. Strangely enough, we seem to have the deepest tight end group we’ve had in 10-15 years. The issue here is in the fact that highly drafted tight ends have a rough fantasy history.
The upside of this draft class is its broad depth. I could make a relatively strong argument for picks 1.02 – 2.02 being very close in value. This is a fantastic year for a coach who won his/her league in 2022 and is holding a late-first rookie selection or, better yet, multiple late firsts. I think it could also be a strong strategy to trade out of a higher selection in return for two picks in the aforementioned value zone (1.02 – 2.02).
Just as a quick note, you can see the tiers of any ranker who has added them by simply clicking on his name above the gray heading bar.
Excited yet? Tired of my rambling and just want me to get to the tiers and the players within? Let’s do just that.
1.01 Bijan Robinson, RB
It’s a tier of one and I can safely say it will remain so. In fact, I could even say tier-one possesses only a single player and tier-two contains no players, the next players being placed in tier-three. But there’s enough talent for me to give the players the benefit and not have an empty tier.
Robinson will be the top overall selection in probably 99% of 1QB drafts, the 1% left to those who are somehow absent when they go on the clock and fall victim to the auto-draft monster. This fact presents a great opportunity for a team holding the 1.01 who may not need running back depth. While Robinson is the best running back since Saquon Barkley, he’s still a running back, and this year’s 1.01 is currently carrying a massive premium because of Robinson and his stand-alone value. It’s not out of the question a team could pick up three first-round value assets in return for the 1.01 and the right to select the rookie phenom. Running backs continue to lose value in fantasy due to injury and committee rotation. While Bijan Robinson looks the part, a deal shouldn’t be out of the question.
If a drafting coach needs help at running back, he’s as safe as a pick as you could hope for.
1.02 Jahmyr Gibbs, RB
1.03 Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN), WR
1.04 Quentin Johnston, WR
1.05 Jordan Addison, WR
1.06 Michael Mayer, TE
Good luck if you have selection 1.02. Any of these players could easily be the selection and the only guidepost for a selection of Gibbs will be your need at running back. Absent that, this is as true a trade-back situation as I’ve seen. I’m already on record saying that I’d trade back from 1.02 to 1.05 without much question, especially if I could pick up another pick at the top of the second round. While I do have preferences at receiver, as seen in my rankings, there’s not enough clear differentiation for me to pound my fist for any one of these players over the other.
Another note here is in the inclusion of Mayer in this tier. He has flipped back and forth between tier two and tier-three multiple times. On talent alone, Mayer is a tier-two player. But positionally, tight ends don’t often make my top two tiers, and for good reason. Most highly drafted tight ends don’t produce well in fantasy. There are exceptions recently (T.J. Hockenson) but, generally, when looking at tight ends production in the NFL, rounds two-through-four are your wheelhouse. That all said, I like Mayer as much as I liked Hockenson and he’s in the same scouting range as last year’s Kyle Pitts (I know you Pitts truthers hate hearing that). I was probably the lowest on Pitts of most all fantasy scouts/analysts. As I recall, he was ranked as my 1.07. Still high for a tight end.
At receiver, JSN, Johnston, and Addison all present different styles for consideration. JSN is the most polished and, without question, the best route runner in the class. Johnston has the highest ceiling due to size and dynamic. Addison has the production across multiple teams/systems. All have their downsides as well which are well known. JSN with a balky hamstring that cost him all of 2022, Johnston with his raw nature and focus-drop issues, and Addison with his size.
Unless I need running back, I’m out of the 1.02, trading back to 1.05 or 1.06 even depending on return value. Furthermore, even should I need running back help, there are going to be nice upside players available at 1.07+ enough to consider trading to acquire other assets.
And once again, never dismiss trading a pick for a “known production” player, letting the acquiring coach take the rookie risk in return.
1.07 Zay Flowers, WR
1.08 Zach Charbonnet, RB
I really like both of these players and think both are starters in the NFL. Flowers could have been my WR1 in this class if he had been 6’0+ but, alas, he’ll be an upside slot-specialist at the next level. There’s enough there to like even at his 5’9″ size. He possesses quick feet and the agility to get off the line of scrimmage. He can run a full route tree and is capable across all depths. He’s locked in a battle with Josh Downs for WR4 in this class and I clearly prefer Flowers.
Charbonnet doesn’t possess dynamic, speed or quick-twitch agility to be a problem in space. What he does possess is a three-down skill set, strength, and enough wiggle to create angular space to churn out extra yardage and place defenders in inferior positions. He’s strong at first contact and has a nose for the end zone. My comp for him is James Conner and I like him a measure better than Conner as it stands. His draft position will be key in determining his value.
1.09 Kendre Miller, RB
1.10 Rashee Rice, WR
1.11 Chase Brown, RB
1.12 Josh Downs, WR
2.01 Cedric Tillman, WR
2.02 Sean Tucker, RB
We didn’t get to see Kendre Miller or Sean Tucker run which was a disappointment. Tucker has a chance to be very good in my estimation based on tape review and assessed speed but he reminds me a bit of last year and Pierre Strong. He could easily be a third or fourth round draft selection and without the near-term starting prospects. He’s a candidate to fall much further on my rankings. Miller is underrated and I think is going to be a nice sleeper based on his current dynasty value. I’m higher than most on him still I believe. Chase Brown helped himself immensely during the combine and he’s now a very solid second-round selection
I’m not as high on Downs as others are. Like Flowers, he’s thinly built but Flowers was able to add 13 lbs. of muscle between his final collegiate year and the NFL combine, bringing his weight to 183 lbs. Not so for Downs. Downs also profiles as a slot receiver but doesn’t possess the footwork or route IQ that I believe Flowers has. He is very fluid and thrives in space so he has a chance to be very good in the right system. I still like him as a top-15 selection, most likely between picks 1.12 and 2.03. He could slip further in my rankings.
I really like Cedric Tillman as an upside prospect with an NFL body. I wish he was 21 but he’ll be 23 in April. Still young enough but it does lower his allure modestly. I’ll be watching the drafted situation with him very closely.
2.03 Kayshon Boutte, WR
2.04 Bryce Young, QB
2.05 CJ Stroud, QB
2.06 Zach Evans, RB
2.07 Devon Achane, RB
2.08 Will Levis, QB
2.09 Anthony Richardson, QB
2.10 Roschon Johnson, RB
2.11 Tank Bigsby, RB
2.12 Tyjae Spears, RB
3.01 Marvin Mims, WR
3.02 Jalin Hyatt, WR
It’s a big tier group and there will be movement in my rankings here. Boutte continues to slide on my board as I just don’t see enough transcendent qualities for me to select him over some of the other prospects. Two groups of quarterbacks here and, truth be told, I’m beginning to prefer Stroud over Young but I have not made the move in my rankings yet. Same goes for Levis and Richardson. I often love to take a rookie quarterback with a middle second-round selection, oftentimes getting the first off the board. Four to choose from this year and all are very different.
The topic of Richardson is an interesting one. None of the top five athletic quarterbacks, based on Combine performances of all time, have been successful in the NFL but Richardson is built differently. I would not be drafting Richardson ahead of the other three if I had a dire need at quarterback. If your quarterback situation is secure and you want to swing for the fence, go for it but not that history is not on your side. He’s very exciting to watch and think about but I have little trouble passing on his potential upside. Mark my words, the Twitter crowd will be circling the wagons and it’s not long before I see Richardson as the QB1 on a few rookie rankings…it’s only a matter of time.
Roschon Johnson is my big mover and he could move higher still. Love his size and potential. He’s built for the NFL and was stuck behind Bijan Robinson. He looks good with the ball in his hands, he’s a road grader but can do it all. Devon Achane is dropping on my board only due to size. I just don’t desire small backs even though I love how he runs. I’ll let another coach take the risk here. Tyjae Spears continues to rise in the community and, while I do like him well enough, I don’t see anything truly special to elevate him much higher than the middle of the second round. I’ll be watching more tape on him shortly.
Jalin Hyatt is a Twitter darling and I’ll own zero shares of him. I prefer Marvin Mims if I’m looking for a deep threat but both will be drafted as scheme “fits” and that doesn’t usually translate well to fantasy.
3.03 Luke Musgrave, TE
3.04 Israel Abanikanda, RB
3.05 Kenny McIntosh, RB
3.06 Dalton Kincaid, TE
3.07 Xavier Hutchinson, WR
3.08 Darnell Washington, TE
3.09 AT Perry, WR
3.10 DeWayne McBride, RB
3.11 Eric Gray, RB
3.12 Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB
Rounding out my top 36 players here, there will be movement within this tier as well, with one or two potentially moving up to the tier above.
Didn’t get to see Israel Abanikanda run, another disappointment. I wasn’t impressed with any of the running backs in this tier and while the receivers, Hutchinson and Perry, helped themselves during the combine, not enough to be high-upside sleepers in my book. The tight ends in this group look good and this is a good year to throw a pick at the position in the third round of rookie drafts. Darnell Washington looked better in drills than he did on tape, especially given his massive frame. He’s going to be an in-line player but could have upside. Dalton Kincaid and Luke Musgrave also have great upside if they go to a tight end friendly system. I won’t overdraft either if I don’t like the drafted situation.
I really want to like Kenny McIntosh and DeWayne McBride but in the case of McIntosh, the slower time when combined with age is just too much to overcome. With McBride, I just don’t see enough dynamic to excite me though, with running backs, all they need is a chance and a good offensive line. Lower-tier running backs are very hard to project.
Lastly, my deep sleeper quarterback remains Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He’s mobile, has a live arm and is accurate. He finished his senior season with a 69.6% completion percentage, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He’s older and will be 24 in November but I don’t subtract many points for age at the quarterback position. To some degree, a bit more age is a positive for the position. I’ll be stashing him in a few deep-roster leagues.
Hope you liked this look at my 2023 Post Combine Rookie Tiers. Give me a follow on Twitter @DLF_Jeff.