If you’ve been following my content for a while, you may have noticed how I’ve been getting more aggressive with young players in my old age. My approach leads to some volatility, but it generally serves me well in all types of fantasy football drafting, including best ball.
But I completely lost my ability to select “boring” players in 2022, and in one BB draft in particular, I rolled with a backfield of Javonte Williams, Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce, and Brian Robinson. That’s an impressive group of young backs, and I also aggressively targeted the first-year wideouts with Jahan Doston, George Pickens, Skyy Moore, and Jameson Williams. I made some good picks otherwise, like Joe Burrow, CeeDee Lamb, and TJ Hockenson, and I firmly believed/believe that all 12 of these players are really, really good.
Unfortunately, I got my ass kicked in this league, finishing 10th out of 12th, so the sexiness of the unknown turned out to be a mirage. Granted, I had some bad luck with injuries to Javonte and Breece, but I’m trying to focus more on production and draft value rather than obsessing about upside with rookies. That said, as I slowly and conscientiously scanned the latest ADP on Underdog Fantasy with strict criteria in terms of what represents a sleeper or a value and what doesn’t, my list is mostly composed of young, ascending players. I did refrain from listing a rookie, so I included my top-10 2023 rookie values or rookie sleepers on Underdog Fantasy as of now.
These picks should hold/last until at least the 2023 NFL Draft, so for those drafting in the post-free agency period before the draft from late March to late April, I narrowed 50+ good values into the best of the best, and my current top-10.
Top-10 Underdog Fantasy Values
1. Rachaad White (RB, TB — 94 ADP/RB29) — This is my list, so it’s littered with dudes who are “my guys,” and White’s one of my guys. His situation isn’t ideal with Baker Mayfield taking over at QB and new OC Dave Canales having never called plays. But Canales did great work with Geno Smith last year, and the Tampa Bay Bucs' OL will be healthier, and they will need to improve their running game to help the QB. Outside of drafting Bijan Robinson or a trade for Austin Ekeler, no one else on the planet is going to take White off the field on passing downs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so he’s looking at 80+ targets. I did a very conservative projection for White with 285 touches, including 60 receptions and 8 TDs, and it was 245 points, which was good for RB10 last year. But for some reason, White’s getting drafted as the RB29.
2. Deshaun Watson (QB, Cle — 80 ADP/QB9) — Thanks to some savvy offseason acquisitions, the Cleveland Browns have one of the best rosters in the NFL, so it’s not like Watson has to step up and carry this squad on his back. That’s ideal because Watson was quite shaky in his Browns debut last year. But he was lights-out in 2020 with a 70% completion rate and an NFL-best 8.9 YPA, with a 33/7 TD/INT ratio and a strong 444/3 rushing. Watson isn’t an amazing value at 80 overall, but he’s a value relative to the other QBs at QB9 off the board. I did a realistic early projection for Watson, and it was 365 FP, which was only 20 points off Jalen Hurts’ total last year and Watson’s going off the board a full five rounds after Hurts as of late March. Given Watson’s previous accomplishments and prime age of 28, he’s my early favorite for my top QB pick (considering ADP).
3. Najee Harris (RB, Pit — 42 ADP/RB14) — Normally, I wouldn’t be that excited about a volume-based and relatively “boring” option, but I’m trying to embrace boring this year, and it’s usually not boring when any back gets 300+ touches, as Harris has in each of his first two seasons. His touch total was down 18% in 2022, but he was still fifth in the league last year with 313 touches, and he dealt with a pretty serious foot injury most of the season. I don’t really see a major role increase for Jaylen Warren, and the rebuilding of the Pittsburgh Steelers OL has quietly progressed well and could very well get a boost by a first-round selection in this year’s draft. OC Matt Canada’s limitations are evident more so in the passing game, so Harris should be more than fine with 300+ touches in an offense that is still ascending and stocked with skill player talent. The WRs are getting a ton of love on Underdog Fantasy this year, so even if you open WR-WR, you can roll with Harris as no worse than your RB1 in Round 3 and potentially as your RB2 in Round 4. It’s not sexy, but it’s worth it.
4. Skyy Moore (WR, KC — 125 ADP/WR59) — I oversold him in 2022, but I’m a Skyy truther, and I’m back baby! As expected, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman are gone, and the Skyy hype is already building. I expect the Kansas City Chiefs to add another WR or two, perhaps a Day Two pick at worst in the draft, but Skyy should be locked in as their slot, and I expect him to soak up about half of the 170+ vacated WR targets to give him around 120 on the season. That’s a fairly aggressive projection, but rookies start out slow in this offense, even Tyreek Hill, so I think Skyy’s locked into a huge role now. Once the draft hits and the Skyy hype builds after he’s a major focus in the OTAs for these Kansas City Chiefs, Moore’s ADP should quickly rise 25+ spots in the spring and early summer.
5. Cam Akers (RB, LAR — 82 ADP/RB25) — We’ve been in uncharted territory with RBs coming back from Achilles injuries in recent years (a typically career-altering, if not ending, injury), but D’Onta Foreman’s comeback from his 2017 rupture has given us a lot of hope. Foreman did take three years to recover, but he confirmed this past year that his strong showing with the Tennessee Titans in 2021 was legitimate. That makes me feel good about Akers because I thought he looked about all the way back Weeks 12-18, when he was the RB6 in total scoring with 112/549/6 (4.9 YPC) while catching 11 of 12 targets for 99 yards. Akers did most of this with Baker Mayfield, who was claimed off waivers on 12/6/22 and desperately thrown into the starting lineup. Matthew Stafford is back, but the LA Rams are light at receiver, so expect Sean McVay to get back to his bellcow roots by, barring a surprise draft pick, featuring Akers with 20+ touches every week. The timing is also perfect for Akers in the final year of his rookie deal. I could easily make the argument that Akers should be in everyone’s top-15 at RB, yet he’s only going off the board around 80 overall on Underdog Fantasy, and I see little to no risk at that ADP.
6. Jake Ferguson (TE, Dal — 197 ADP/TE26) — I’ve been a fan since my Combine interview with him last year, as the 4-year Wisconsin Badger (and Barry Alvarez’s grandson) told me he was all about fantasy football. I had previously seen him practice for a week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, and he made it look fairly easy all week and scored in the actual game. He quickly earned snaps for the Cowboys last year and proved to be an asset as a blocker and a very sneaky weapon in the passing game, catching 19 of 22 targets and doing some fine work in the red zone. I predicted around midseason last year that Dalton Schultz would not return to the Dallas Cowboys and that Ferguson was going to be a plug-and-play replacement, and five months later, it’s looking that way. If they opt against picking a TE in this deep TE class in the first 3-4 rounds, it should be wheels up for Ferguson. He won’t likely get the same volume Schultz was enjoying, but Ferguson can do more damage after the catch, and it’s a TE-friendly spot with Dak Prescott often looking for his TE security blanket. Even with his ‘22 fate not totally sealed, Ferguson should be going 30-40 picks earlier.
7. Elijah Moore (WR, Cle — 103 ADP/WR50) — I’ll double or even triple down on underachieving players if I believe in their talent, and I’ve been a Moore backer from day one. Last year was a disaster, but Moore managed a 7-game run as a rookie when he put up 35 grabs for 525 scrimmage yards with 6 TDs, good for a WR4 standing and WR10 in PPG. A lot of that production was simply a product of Moore’s talent and ability to win quickly, so moving on to the Cleveland Browns and Deshaun Watson was absolutely ideal. He’ll work off a legit No 1. in veteran Amari Cooper with a lot of talent at TE to help create opportunities for the dynamic Moore. Moore hasn’t been used much as a deep three so far in the NFL, but he can play consistently outside, and he did run a 4.35 40 at his pro day two years ago, and his big-play potential increases greatly with Watson, who is an aggressive and effective downfield thrower.
8. Rashod Bateman (WR, Bal — 86 ADP/WR43) — I know there’s a lot to be decided for these Baltimore Ravens, but let’s assume the unthinkable doesn’t happen and Lamar Jackson is back. I don’t think Bateman’s ADP would rise all that much, but Bateman’s outlook will improve dramatically. His efficiency wasn’t spectacular as a rookie at 1.26 yards per route run, but he was still the most efficient WR on the Ravens during the 12 games. The eyeball test was solid, which is partly why they traded a top wideout in Marquise Brown. Baltimore has three pass-catching TEs on the roster, which is good because new OC Todd Monken is a TE guy, but while Monkin may not use much 11 personnel with three WRs on the field, the Ravens will likely throw more and more effectively with passing game caveman Greg Roman gone. Bateman was the WR28 off the board in drafts last summer, and if he’s healthy and paired with Lamar, he’s a nice value as the current WR43.
9. Brian Robinson (RB, Was — 114 ADP/RB37) — I understand the OL is below-average, they could be in QB hell again, and Antonio Gibson is still here, but I thought Robinson was very solid last year, so I thought he’d be getting a little more love than RB37. The man got shot in the summer and still handled 17 carries a game in 12 games, which projects to 290 carries over a full season, which would have been the fifth-most in the NFL. He needs to improve his receiving skills to earn some more passing down work, but Robinson caught 35 balls at Alabama in 2021, so he has 20+ catch potential even with Gibson here if he just gets one extra target a game. I think he’s a 260+ touch guy, and there were only 15-20 of them last year, so Robinson should be getting more love playing for the conservative Ron Rivera and the soon-to-be-sold Washington Commanders.
10. Diontae Johnson (WR, Pit — 74/WR39) — I understand the man didn’t score a TD last year and that returning OC Matt Canada stinks, but Diontae has averaged 153 targets a season the last three seasons with his second-highest career total of 147 coming last year with a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett. Only five WRs saw at least 153 targets last year, so Diontae is still a major go-to guy. He was rightfully the WR18 off the board last summer, so his WR39 ADP early on in 2022 on Underdog Fantasy is just too low.
Top-10 Underdog Fantasy Rookie Values
Bijan Robinson is a stud, but he’s also the RB4 on UD, so that’s not a value. Neither is
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR29), Jahmyr Gibbs (RB16), Quentin Johnston (WR42), and Jordan Addison (WR45), and these players are the first five rookies being drafted on UD as of publication.
I was at the Senior Bowl practices all week and interviewed a bunch of these dudes at the combine, but it’s a deep class full of good — not great — prospects, so landing spot is a little more important. But based on talent and pro potential, and considering ADP, here are my top-10 rookie values from now until the NFL Draft.
1. Zay Flowers (WR, 98 ADP/WR47) — This is a little pricey, but I have a feeling he’s going to land in a great situation, like on the Giants.
2. Tyjae Spears (RB, 164 ADP/RB50) — Dominated all week at the Senior Bowl, and I liked him in person at the Combine. He could be a primary back on a passing team but overall has sneaky bell-cow potential.
Running back draft prospect Tyjae Spears (@tyjae22) hopes his versatility will be attractive to #NFL teams at the #NFLDraft.— Fantasy Sports Radio (@SiriusXMFantasy) March 4, 2023
Listen to the full interview and a complete recap of the #NFLCombine all next week, M-F at 7am ET with @Fantasy_Guru.
3. Rashee Rice (WR, 217 ADP/WR90) — Another Senior Bowl guy I liked in person on the field in Mobile and in an interview at the combine, Rice plays with an edge and could be a surprise producer at some point in the season as a team’s third or even second receiver.
4. Marvin Mims (WR, 190 ADP/WR83) — Mims has been rising up the board after testing well at the combine and there’s a lot to like including speed, inside/outside versatility, and underrated RAC potential.
5. Israel Abanikanda (RB, 221 ADP/RB66) — With an old-school vibe, Izzy was my favorite guy to talk to at the Combine, he’s a volume guy and he isn’t truly special, but he definitely has some pop in terms of his burst, and his vision is very good. He will not be on the field on passing downs early on, but I see no reason why he can’t be a dangerous checkdown option once he cleans up his technique in terms of catching the ball and blocking.
6. Josh Downs (WR, 139 ADP/WR63) — Damn good football player and could be a roll-out-of-bed guy in the slot as a rookie in the NFL. He is quite frail, but he’s also fast and has a knack for making big plays/scoring TDs. I know our guy Brett Whitefield had some concerns with him in our 2023 Prospect Guide, I could see him going to a team that could use his specific skill set, like the Falcons or Vikings. Great kid, by the way, as you can hear in this interview I did with him in Indy last month.
7. Cedric Tillman (WR, 225 ADP/WR93) — His father played in the NFL, and he’s one of the best sizable outside X receivers in this class. He’s not sexy and may not get a lot of separation in the NFL, but he has very strong and reliable hands with only 6 career drops in college. And for what it’s worth, I liked him a lot when I interviewed him last month and he reminded me of Michael Pittman with the NFL bloodlines and readiness.
8. Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (WR, 237 ADP/WR101) — Dell’s used to getting discredited due to his small size, but I liked the vibe I got from him and how he discussed that issue with me at the Combine last month. I also liked how he routinely smoked DBs in practice at the Senior Bowl, so I’m willing to buy at this low price and hope for two or three big games.
9. Trey Palmer (WR, 239 ADP/WR109) — Palmer is raw, but he also has better speed than most in this class, so he could get lucky and land in an ideal spot, like opposite Justin Jefferson in Minnesota (Palmer told me on 3/24/23 he was meeting with the Vikings that day).
10. Kenny McIntosh (RB, 240 ADP/RB89) — McIntosh has tested horribly this year, so a lot of this ranking is based on his ADP of 240, which is well within “free pick” territory. But he does have a three-down skill set, and he’s one of the best receiving backs in this class.