Dynasty Report: An Early Look at Three 2023 Rookie Wide Receivers (Fantasy Football)

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With college football finally here, there are multiple prospects to keep an eye on as they could potentially declare for the 2023 NFL Draft. In my previous article, I highlighted just how talented the upcoming running back class is shaping up to be. On top of that, there are several wide receivers that could shake up the dynasty landscape as well. In fact, per the NFL Mock Draft Database, there are currently seven receivers projected within the top 50 picks of the 2023 draft.  In this article, I will break down three of these receivers by leveraging my prospect model and providing a brief overview of their skillset, production metrics, and potential comps. Additionally, I will also be using mock drafts (via the NFL Mock Draft Database) as a proxy for draft capital. Keep in mind that a player’s trajectory could still change based on how their final year unfolds. However, at the very least, this should provide dynasty managers with an overview of how special this class could be. Let’s dive in!

Editor’s Note: For more dynasty-related content, check out the Dynasty Pass part of the Ultimate Draft Kit+.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba – Ohio State

One of the most intriguing wide receivers in the 2023 class is Jaxon Smith-Njigba out of Ohio State. Entering his collegiate career as the 5th ranked wide receiver per 247 Sports, he was not an immediate contributor for the Buckeyes totaling only 49 receiving yards and one touchdown in 2020. Keep in mind that he was competing against multiple future first-round picks in Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams, so it should not be too shocking that he barely found any opportunities in his first season. In his Sophomore year, however, he completely flipped the script. In a record-setting year, Smith-Njigba led all Ohio State receivers in a variety of production metrics while setting the single-season Big Ten receiving record with 1,606 yards. Operating primarily out of the slot, he routinely showcased his ability to create separation and gain yards with the ball in his hands. What stood out the most is his ability to change direction seamlessly and leverage angles after the catch, leading to many explosive plays. As a result, Smith-Njigba racked up the most Yards After Catch in the Big Ten last season.

With a 32.4% receiving yards market share and a 3.25 receiving yards per team attempt as a true Sophomore, Smith-Njigba placed himself among some of the most elite receivers in recent history. In fact, since 2010, there have only been three wide receivers who were drafted in the first round, broke out by age 19, and averaged at least 3.00 Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt in their second season:

Barring anything unexpected in 2022, Smith-Njigba is almost guaranteed to join that list as he is projected by many to go within the top 10 picks. As a result, my prospect model has him graded very highly as a 97th percentile wide receiver. And when I filter on size, production, and potential draft capital, the prospects that grade closest to him (since 2010) are:

While it will be interesting to see how Smith-Njigba performs without Wilson and Olave on the roster, I fully expect him to add to an already impressive profile. And based on his current trajectory, he should be locked in as a top-5 pick in most dynasty rookie drafts next off-season.

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Josh Downs – North Carolina

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One of my favorite receivers who is currently projected to be taken in the late first or early second round of next year’s draft is Josh Downs out of North Carolina. While he does not have the prototypical size of a wide receiver at 175 pounds, he is extremely athletic and explosive, allowing him to win in a variety of ways on the field. In fact, per Grant Hughes at 247 Sports, Downs posted a 42-inch vertical as a Junior in high school, showcasing some of that explosiveness that we saw on the field last season. By far my favorite aspect of his game is his speed variation, knowing exactly when to accelerate to take advantage of the defensive coverage. From a production standpoint, he is very similar to Jaxon Smith-Njigba in that he did not break out until his Sophomore year. As a true freshman, he played behind multiple NFL players in Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams, and even Michael Carter. But after they all declared for the NFL draft, Downs became the focal point of the Tar Heels’ offense, finishing with over 100 receptions and 1300 yards in 2021.

I alluded to this earlier when discussing Smith-Njigba, but finishing with over 3.00 Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt (RYPTPA) signals elite production for a wide receiver. It becomes even more impressive when that receiver posts such an average within their first two years. This alone puts Downs’ Sophomore production in elite company. Factor in an equally impressive 40.2% receiving yards market share, and it might be tough to envision an even better campaign for him this season. To put these numbers into perspective, the only Power 5 wide receivers to post a +3.00 RYPTPA and a +40% Receiving Yards Market Share last season:

In short, Downs’ trajectory has him projected as one of the most productive receivers in this class. Coupled with his estimated second-round draft capital, my model has him already ranked as a 93rd percentile wide receiver. He could climb even higher on this list if he posts an even better 2022 season. The only potential negative in his profile is his size, as North Carolina has him listed at 5’10’ and only 175 pounds. But surprisingly, despite his frame, his closest comps are still very much intriguing:

What stands out with this group of wide receivers is that they are all extremely skilled route runners. So despite their smaller frames, they can use their savviness and quickness to create separation on the field. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of Downs’ upside in the NFL. And assuming his knee injury from this past weekend does not bother him going forward, I expect him to continue to improve his resume on his path to the NFL draft.

Quentin Johnston – TCU

Another wide receiver who is projected to go in the first round is Quentin Johnston out of TCU. I chose to highlight Johnston in this article because he has a slightly different profile than both Smith-Njigba and Downs. Unlike those two receivers, Johnston is closer in size to a Courtland Sutton. Measuring in at 6’4”, he possesses the frame of a prototypical outside receiver. Early on in his career, however, his weight was a slight concern as he entered TCU at only 193 pounds. But per the team’s recent measurements, Johnston has gained over 20 pounds since then, entering the 2022 season at 215. Considering he is already a tough receiver that loves to fight through contact, adding body mass will only improve his game going forward. From a production standpoint, his raw numbers do not necessarily jump off the page. However, when you consider that TCU has been a run-heavy offense with only a 39.8% passing rate since 2020, Johnston’s statistics start to look a little more impressive. In fact, in each of his last two seasons, he averaged at least a 29% receiving yards market share and over 2.00 receiving yards per team pass attempt. So unlike both Smith-Njigba and Downs, Johnston was an immediate contributor for TCU, which gives him a slight advantage in his overall profile.

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While he has never hit the 3.00 Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt (RYPTPA) mark that I mentioned with the other two receivers, his consistent production does put him in a unique tier. Since 2010, there have only been three early-declare wide receivers drafted in the first round to produce at least 2.00 RYPTPA in each of their first two seasons:

Johnston would be the fourth receiver to join this list if he declares for the 2023 draft. And if he does get selected in the first round, with his production profile and size, he would rank in the 93rd percentile right next to Josh Downs. With his slightly larger frame though, his closest comps are slightly different:

Now, you might be thinking… a first-round TCU wide receiver? 

Yes, we have heard this story before with Josh Doctson and Jalen Reagor, who have been far from successful in the NFL. However, Johnston is much more athletic and already possesses a superior production profile. And unlike Doctson, Johnston is expected to declare early, which typically results in a higher success rate for fantasy wide receivers. For context, neither Reagor nor Doctson cracked the 90th percentile in my prospect model, at 88% and 77% respectively. That alone should instill some confidence that Johnston could finally break this trend and be a much more successful player in the NFL.

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