It has been nearly a month since the 2023 NFL draft, and we now have a much better grasp of what each team’s roster core will look like this season. That means we can start to project expectations for this year’s batch of rookies. First-year players tend to experience a learning curve, but we will see plenty of standouts right out of the gate. Which newly drafted players will lead the pack in major statistical categories? How many yards should we expect to see from first-round QBs Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson? What are reasonable expectations for Bijan Robinson? And who will pace all rookies in tackles and sacks?

Let’s take a look at the top-five projected leaders among rookies in a variety of categories for the 2023 season. These team and player projections are my own, compiled through a process that is both quantitative (league, team, coaching and player trends) and qualitative (projected depth chart placement and role). And for full statistical outlooks, you can head over to our projections page to sort and filter through the entire league. I update them often leading up to the start of the season.

Jump to:
Passing | Rushing | Receiving | TDs
Tackles | Interceptions | Sacks

Passing yards and touchdowns

1. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers: 3,553 yards, 19 TDs
2. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans: 3,348 yards, 17 TDs
3. Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts: 2,889 yards, 16 TDs
4. Will Levis, Tennessee Titans: 629 yards, 3 TDs
5. Stetson Bennett, Los Angeles Rams: 522 yards, 3 TDs

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Barring injury, Young (first overall), Stroud (second) and Richardson (fourth) are going to play early and often as rookies, and it won’t be a surprise if all three are under center in Week 1. The history of the position tells the story. From 2011 to 2022, 31 of 37 first-round QBs (84%) took over as the starter prior to Week 10, including 17 (46%) who started in Week 1. Of the 16 QBs picked in the top four, 11 started in Week 1 and three others took over by Week 5, leaving Jared Goff (Week 11) and Trey Lance (Jimmy Garoppolo‘s backup) as the exceptions.

Zoning in on Young and Stroud, 12 QBs picked either first or second overall since 2011 appeared in at least 10 games as a rookie. Those 12 averaged 3,389 yards and 17.4 touchdown passes. If we conservatively project 15 starts for Young and Stroud and take their underwhelming supporting casts into account, projections near those recent league averages make sense. Note that, of the 37 QBs drafted in the first round since 2011, only nine reached 20 passing TDs as rookies.

Richardson’s passing numbers are a bit lower, but as we’ll get to later, that’s partially because he’s expected to add substantial value with his legs. More scrambles, of course, means fewer pass attempts. Levis (second-round pick) and Bennett (fourth-round) could get some late-season starts in relief of Ryan Tannehill or Matthew Stafford, respectively, if their teams aren’t playoff contenders.

Rushing yards and touchdowns

1. Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons: 1,118 yards, 8 TDs
2. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions: 738 yards, 7 TDs
3. Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts: 609 yards, 5 TDs
4. Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks: 479 yards, 3 TDs
5. Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans: 303 yards, 2 TDs

Robinson is the major standout here after he was selected with the No. 8 overall pick of April’s draft. Tracing back to 2012, we’ve had six running backs selected in the top 10: Ezekiel Elliott (1,631 rushing yards), Saquon Barkley (1,307), Todd Gurley (1,106), Leonard Fournette (1,040), Trent Richardson (950) and Christian McCaffrey (435). Each of them finished as a top-10 fantasy running back as a rookie, and only McCaffrey (who did most of his damage as a receiver) was under 229 carries. Even if he defers some carries to impressive second-year RB Tyler Allgeier, Robinson won’t be short massive volume and should put up similar numbers to those previous high-pick backs.

Gibbs barely missed the top 10 after Detroit selected him No. 12 overall. We’ve seen plenty of success from mid-to-late first-round RBs (Doug Martin, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs all ran for at least 1,150 yards), but we’ve also had a few duds (Mark Ingram, David Wilson and Rashaad Penny were held below 500 yards). Gibbs’ running mate, David Montgomery, is certain for an offensive role, and that’s likely to come on early downs and near the goal line, especially considering Gibbs is smaller and a terrific asset in the passing game. Gibbs is positioned for a big rookie season, and he doesn’t need a 1,000-yard rushing campaign in order for it to be a success story.

The aforementioned Richardson is looking to become the fifth quarterback in NFL history to rush for 600 yards as a rookie. That may suggest this projection is too high, but his rare physical traits and likelihood of starting most of the Colts’ games position him to get to the mark. In fact, Robert Griffin‘s rookie QB record of 815 yards is certainly in jeopardy. Cam Newton (706), Lamar Jackson (695) and Josh Allen (631) are the others who reached the 600 mark. One quick fantasy note here: Since 2011, eight QBs have finished 13th or better in fantasy points as a rookie, and all eight produced at least 213 rushing yards (442.3 average) and four rush TDs (6.4 average). Richardson has some risk, but he’s an intriguing fantasy sleeper.

Second-round pick Charbonnet landed in a tough spot as a complementary back to Kenneth Walker III in Seattle, which is certainly going to limit his output. Titans third-rounder Spears was extremely efficient at Tulane, and he’ll battle Hassan Haskins and Julius Chestnut for the No. 2 gig behind Derrick Henry in Tennessee this season. And Bears fourth-round rookie Roschon Johnson (281 yards) just missed the cut, but he’s a name to watch, with Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman his top competition for touches.



Field Yates states the case for Bijan Robinson being the No. 1 pick in fantasy

Field Yates and Mike Clay project what Bijan Robinson’s fantasy output could be in his rookie season.

Receiving yards and touchdowns

T-1. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks: 766 yards, 6 TDs
T-1. Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings: 766 yards, 5 TDs
3. Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers: 715 yards, 5 TDs
4. Jonathan Mingo, Carolina Panthers: 659 yards, 3 TDs
5. Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens: 616 yards, 5 TDs

After three consecutive drafts in which at least three wide receivers were selected prior to pick No. 20, there were none this past April. In fact, Smith-Njigba, Johnson, Flowers and Addison were selected with four straight picks (Nos. 20-23) and were the only WRs picked in the first round. This area of the draft has rarely been a breeding ground for big rookie seasons. Since 2011, 17 WRs have been drafted in the 15-25 range, and only three of the 17 reached 800 yards (Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson). And interestingly, only four of the 17 even played in at least 16 regular-season games, as the whole lot averaged 12.2 games played.

Smith-Njigba was the most highly regarded WR in this class, but he’s stepping into an offense where he’ll be no higher than third on the depth chart (behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett). Addison has the easiest path to snaps among the first-round receivers, as his top competition for snaps opposite Jefferson will be KJ Osborn.

Johnston is in a similar spot to Smith-Njigba, with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen locked in atop the Chargers’ depth chart. And Flowers will need to overcome a low-volume Baltimore passing game that will also feature Mark Andrews, Odell Beckham Jr. and perhaps Rashod Bateman. Mingo was the fifth WR drafted in April, and with DJ Chark and Adam Thielen his top competition, the rookie could quickly emerge as Young’s top target.

Packers receiver Jayden Reed (585 yards), Bills tight end Dalton Kincaid (493) and Chiefs wideout Rashee Rice (456) just missed the cut. Kincaid’s projection of 493 yards would rank 10th among rookie TEs over the past decade.

Running back receiving yards and touchdowns

1. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions: 379 yards, 2 TDs
2. Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons: 376 yards, 2 TDs
3. Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks: 187 yards, 1 TD
4. Devon Achane, Miami Dolphins: 142 yards, 1 TD
5. Chase Brown, Cincinnati Bengals: 139 yards, 1 TD

Since 2011, 16 rookie RBs have posted a top-10 fantasy campaign. Those 16 averaged 409 receiving yards, and 11 of them were in the 250-500-yard range. That might suggest that these Gibbs and Robinson projections are too low, but not when you factor in some injury risk (three missed games for RBs is a conservative projection) and the recent league-wide dip in efficiency for backs in the passing game (5.7 yards per target over the past three seasons, compared to 6.1 over the prior nine years).

Regardless, Gibbs is expected to be a featured passing-game target in Detroit, and the same goes for Robinson in Atlanta. Gibbs gets the small edge here, as he’ll likely have fewer obligations in the run game and will be working in a more voluminous pass game that projects for nearly 80 more attempts than Atlanta’s offense.

Charbonnet is a superior passing-game prospect to Walker, but limited snaps and a lot of mouths to feed in Seattle won’t allow him many targets. Miami will carve out a role for speedy third-rounder Achane, but his snaps will be limited by his 5-foot-8, 188-pound frame, as well as the presence of reliable Jeff Wilson Jr. and explosive Raheem Mostert. And Brown is battling Trayveon Williams to replace Samaje Perine as Joe Mixon‘s primary backup in Cincinnati.

Just missing the top five: Dallas’ Deuce Vaughn (127 yards) and Spears (117).

Touchdowns from scrimmage

1. Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons: 10
2. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions: 9
3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks: 6
T-4. Zay Flowers, Baltimore Ravens: 5
T-4. Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings: 5
T-4. Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers: 5

Touchdowns by rookies are on the decline, as the 139 scored in 2022 were the fourth-fewest by first-year players over the past decade, while the 133 in 2021 were the second-fewest. And that’s despite a full extra week of games. Twenty rookies reached 10 TDs during the span, though zero did last season (Christian Watson and Walker each scored nine, Jahan Dotson scored seven and no one else cleared five).

Of the 20 double-digit TD scorers, 15 were running backs, so it should be no surprise that Robinson and Gibbs lead this list. Robinson could lose the occasional red zone touch to Cordarrelle Patterson or Allgeier, but his combination of role, talent and size (215 pounds) will allow plenty of scoring opportunities. Gibbs is 199 pounds and will lose goal-line work to 222-pound Montgomery, but note that Detroit had 27 touchdowns scored by a running back last season, and the man he’s essentially replacing (D’Andre Swift) scored at least seven TDs all three seasons in Detroit. Both Robinson and Gibbs are projected for two receiving TDs, which may seem conservative, but consider that only 12 rookie RBs have cleared that number over the past decade, and only McCaffrey (five), Alvin Kamara (five), Barkley (four) and David Johnson (four) had more than three.

Receivers Smith-Njigba, Addison, Flowers and Johnston round out the projected TD leaders. None are above six for the reasons laid out earlier. In fact, the aforementioned 17 WRs previously drafted in the Nos. 15-25 range averaged 3.0 touchdown receptions during their rookie seasons, and none had more than seven. Expanding to all rookies over the past decade, only 14 have reached eight receiving TDs in their first seasons; none did it in 2022, and Ja’Marr Chase (13) was the only one in 2021.

Kincaid projects for four TDs, which would tie him for ninth among TEs over the past decade. Only three rookie tight ends reached seven during the span, including Hunter Henry (eight), Pat Freiermuth (seven) and Joseph Fauria (seven).



Day 1 NFL draft picks who could impact your fantasy teams

Daniel Dopp, Field Yates and Mike Clay examine the potential fantasy impact of three Day 1 draft picks.


1. Jack Campbell, Detroit Lions: 97
T-2. Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks: 67
T-2. Emmanuel Forbes, Washington Commanders: 67
T-4. Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots: 63
T-4. Deonte Banks, New York Giants: 63

Rookies totaled a decade-high 3,875 tackles last season, which came after a lowly 3,078 (second-fewest over the past decade) in 2021. First-year players are averaging 3,291 during the 10-year span.

Shaquille Leonard‘s 163 tackles in 2018 are the most by a rookie over the past decade, though he is one of only four rookies (all picked in the first two rounds of the draft) to reach 130 during the span. One of those four was Jalen Pitre, who led all first-years with 147 tackles last season. It was a pretty good year for rookie defenders, as Quay Walker (119), Devin Lloyd (115) and Jaquan Brisker (104) all reached triple-digits.

A linebacker will generally lead the rookie class in sacks, so Campbell gets a big edge here as the only off-ball backer selected in the first two rounds of April’s draft. It wouldn’t be too unusual for a safety to lead the way in tackles — Pitre, Jeremy Chinn (116 in 2020) and T.J. Ward (105 in 2010) pulled off the feat — but that’s unlikely in 2023, as no safeties were drafted in the first round and only two were chosen in Round 2.

The lack of early-round linebackers and safeties explains why these projections seem low — and why there are so many cornerbacks in the top five. In fact, Witherspoon, Forbes, Gonzalez and Banks were the only defensive backs selected in the first round. All four are good bets to start in Week 1, which should allow 60-plus tackles across the board.


T-1. Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks: 2
T-1. Emmanuel Forbes, Washington Commanders: 2
T-1. Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots: 2
T-1. Deonte Banks, New York Giants: 2
T-1. Julius Brents, Indianapolis Colts: 2

Yes, I know these seem super low, but that’s not by accident. Rookies are averaging 43.1 interceptions per season over the past decade. That’s despite a decade-high 61 INTs by first-year players in 2022, which was a huge leap from a decade-low 31 in 2021. First-round rookies combined for 12 last season after totaling either six or seven in each of the prior three seasons.

Only 15 rookies have reached four interceptions over the past decade, with Marcus Peters (eight), Tariq Woolen (six) and Casey Hayward (six) the only players above five. Pat Surtain II (four) is the only first-round rookie with more than three over the past five years.

We already talked about the four first-round cornerbacks, leaving Brents as the only new face here. The No. 44 overall pick could immediately join Kenny Moore II in the starting lineup for the rebuilding Colts.


1. Will Anderson Jr., Houston Texans: 9
2. Lukas Van Ness, Green Bay Packers: 7
3. Tyree Wilson, Las Vegas Raiders: 7
4. Myles Murphy, Cincinnati Bengals: 6
T-5. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas City Chiefs: 5
T-5. BJ Ojulari, Arizona Cardinals: 5
T-5. Byron Young, Los Angeles Rams: 5
T-5. Will McDonald IV, New York Jets: 5
T-5. Isaiah Foskey, New Orleans Saints: 5

Rookies are averaging 106.4 sacks per season over the past decade. The high (130.0 in 2019) and low (71.5 in 2020) during the span have both been hit in recent years, and first-year players totaled 108.5 sacks in 2022.

Aidan Hutchinson led all first-years with 9.5 last season, the fifth most by a rookie over the past decade, but James Houston (8.0) and George Karlaftis (6.0) were the only others to clear four. Micah Parsons‘ 13.0 sacks in 2021 was the most by a rookie over the past decade.

Seven edge rushers were selected in the first round this season, and only four first-rounders have reached double-digit sacks as a rookie over the past decade — Parsons (13.0), Bradley Chubb (12.0), Josh Allen (10.5) and Joey Bosa (10.5) — and only five others reached eight. The sack projections for every player listed above would rank top-20 among first-round picks over the past decade.

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