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Dynasty Fantasy Football | Top 5 Rookies to Watch in 2023

Pre-Combine Top 5 Rookie RB Rankings

 

Now that the college football championship and fantasy football season have come to a close, it’s time to start scouting for the league winners of tomorrow. 

Rookies play a significant factor in all fantasy formats. Just look at how players such as Kenneth Walker III and Ja’Maar Chase have won fantasy leagues over the past couple of fantasy seasons. 

This article will give you the top 5 RB prospects to keep an eye on heading into the NFL combine. Complete with their strengths, weaknesses, information going back to their high school days as college prospects, and NFL comparisons. 

Whether you’re playing Dynasty fantasy football and want to start scouting rookies early or get ahead of your redraft league mates, you’ve come to the right place to crush your competition. 

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire)

5. Tank Bigsby, 6’0, 213lbs (22 in August) 

 He’s big, he’s loyal, and he can catch…but is he explosive? 

Our fifth-ranked RB heading into the combine is Tank Bigsby. Bigsby was the fourth-ranked RB prospect coming out of his high school class, and his muscular frame at a young age garnered him comparisons to Derrius Guice at the time. The Georgia native would go on to play in the SEC at Auburn. 

In his first season with the Tigers, Bigsby would rush for 834 yards and 11 touchdowns at 6.0 yards per carry (YPC) while also catching 11 passes for 84 additional yards. An impressive start for a young RB in America’s toughest college football conference. 

He would follow up that impressive season with 1099 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns at 4.9 YPC, simultaneously upping his catches from the season before to 21 for 184 more yards. 

Finally, in his junior season, he would rush for 970 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns at 5.4 YPC, raising his catch to 30 receptions for 180 yards. 

In totality, Tank Bigsby had a solid college career from an individual standpoint, but an underrated factor that must be considered is that Auburn is far from the crème of the crop in the SEC. They finished 5-7 this past season, and Bigsby remained loyal while many of his peers were keen to transfer by their junior season to make themselves look better heading into the draft. That wasn’t his style.

Auburn fan comment sections reflect that they are both grateful he stuck around and sorry they didn’t field a roster that allowed their star RB to reach his full potential. 

Regardless of how the team performed, Bigsby proved that he has a three-down skill set that could make him valuable in Fantasy football, depending on where he lands. Though seemingly slow on film, his high star rating entering college, paired with his production in the SEC, has me intrigued heading into the combine because if he tests decently, there’s a chance he still has better football ahead of him in the NFL. 

Despite the headline-worthy name, Bigsby’s apparent flaws leave him at 5th on this RBs to-watch list heading into the NFL combine. As of right now, I’d say he’s Slow Mixon. Joe Mixon seemed a little faster and more experienced as a receiver back when he played at Oklahoma, but until I see Bigsby’s testing numbers, I’m not sure what his NFL ceiling is. He might be a lite version of Joe Mixon, or he could be Isaiah Spiller. The only way to know is by seeing the measurables

4. Zach Charbonnet, 6’1, 220lbs (22 as of January)

(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)

Coming in at fourth on our rankings is Zach Charbonnet. He may be the oldest RB on this list, but he’s also my biggest sleeper in this draft class. After graduating high school, Charbonnet was the 4th ranked RB in his class with a 4-star rating and drew comparisons to David Johnson as a player with first-round NFL Draft potential. 

Charbonnet began his college career in the Big Ten playing for Michigan, where he was grossly underutilized. 

As a freshman, he posted 726 yards rushing with 4.9 YPC and 11 rushing touchdowns, an excellent start to a collegiate career. He received only 19 carries in his sophomore season despite having 6.5 YPC. Unsurprisingly, he would Transfer following that season, and once in the Pac- 12 at UCLA, he would begin to shine. 

As a Junior, Charbonnet would rush for 1137 yards at 5.6 YPC with 13 rush touchdowns and 24 receptions for 197 yards. The high-level recruit was getting a chance to showcase his talents as a lead RB. Had he chosen to declare for the NFL draft, I’m confident he would’ve been selected. 

As a senior, Charbonnet rushed for 1359 yards at 7.0 YPC with 14 rushing touchdowns and a whopping 37 receptions for an additional 321 yards. Charbonnet proved that he could legitimately be a three-down workhorse this past season. Because he played for the UCLA Bruins, he didn’t get the amount of attention he would have had Michigan fed him because Michigan was an undefeated team this past regular season; and managed to make it into the college football playoffs for the second consecutive year, while UCLA went 6-3 overall. Don’t let this distract you from Charbonnet as a prospect!

Charbonnet has Devonta Freeman’s run style and AJ Dillon-esque frame. Everyone wants a direct comparison, so they can be lazy and draft someone based on that name. News flash, that’s not how the real world works. 

In reality, Charbonnet is a big RB that isn’t trying to run everyone over with his size first. He’s massive like AJ Dillon but has a very different play style. His feet are choppy, and he’s trying to shake defenders as if he’s a smaller runner, but Charbonnet has the size to fall forward once contact he initiates contact. 

I tried to remember why Charbonnet’s play style looked familiar. Every time I tried to look at a larger RB, they either ran smooth like Joe Mixon or were opting into contact like AJ Dillon. Though Charbonnet is roughly 6’2 220 like those Mixon, the most remarkable thing about watching him is his unique playstyle, given his body build.

I understand that comparing a 6’2 RB to a 5’8 RB will likely cost me credibility with people that don’t put on the tape. Nevertheless, I challenge you to look at the film of Devonta Freeman from when he was with the Atlanta Falcons and then watch Charbonnet and tell me that his game isn’t similar. Both have slasher skill sets and are three down-backs. 

I mean it when I tell you that Charbonnet is my super sleeper man crush of this RB draft class. I don’t hear many people singing his praises right now, and I don’t care. Some might question whether his play style is practical considering how big he is, but I say that it makes him 1 of 1 entering the league. I project him to run around the 4.55 range, which is right around the speed AJ Dillon tested at coming out of college when he weighed 247 lbs. A big reason why Charbonnet doesn’t weigh as much is because his legs aren’t as massive as Dillons, but when you watch the tape, he finishes runs with a similar ferocity. This guy could be special.

(Photo by Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire)

3. Zach Evans, 6’0, 215lbs (22 in May)

Slotted in at third on our pre-combine rankings, we have Zach Evans, who had a nice college career but never became the star he was expected to be coming out of high school. Evans attended high school in Texas and was ranked the second-best RB prospect in his class. His elite athleticism and college-ready build at such a young age left many expecting him to be a dominant RB, but much like his run style, his potential would flash in bursts. Following a confusing college recruitment that ultimately landed him at TCU to begin his collegiate career, Evans would rush for 415 yards in his freshman season and 648 yards as a sophomore, with an average of 6.9 YPC during that span. 

Entering his Junior season in 2022, Evans decided to leave the Big 12 conference and prove himself in the SEC, considered the premier college conference. Although, TCU would shock all of college football by making it into the College Football Championship. Doing so despite having a new head coach and 200-1 odds to win it all entering the season (leaving had to hurt in hindsight), Evan’s transfer to Ole Miss did have some bright spots. 

In his lone season playing for Offensive guru Lane Kiffin, Evans put up 936 rushing yards and nine touchdowns with an average of 6.5 yards per carry. Proving that he can still produce in what most considered a more challenging conference and establishing himself as a good teammate by mentoring a freshman RB in Quinshon Judkins, an attribute that some questioned when he was a younger player due to a perceived ego. 

The red flags surrounding Evans stem from a few things. 

For one, he never caught more than 12 passes in a season during his college career. Given the way fantasy and the NFL as a whole favor pass-catching RBs, this is a concern. As electric as Evans may be on first, and second down, that role isn’t nearly as rewarding for fantasy lineups. Just look at how Jerick McKinnon has been the more fantasy-relevant RB down the stretch of the NFL season over Isiah Pacheco despite Pacheco rushing for more yards this season. 

Additionally, the emergence of his teammate Judkins (SEC Freshman of the Year) causes some hesitation on my end. Evans had a 6.9 yards per carry average in college, yet never cracked the 1k mark as a rusher despite his elite athletic profile and pedigree as a near-perfect RB entering college. The 5-star RB impressed on multiple occasions but was the 1B this season to a 3-star breakout freshman (Judkins is an absolute man child, look out for him in a few years when he’s draft eligible).

Is Evans capable of being ”The Guy?” This season alone, Evans dealt with a concussion and hip and knee injuries. Evans played in 27 out of a potential 37 games during his college career. He should shine at the NFL combine, but ultimately his two Hs (Health and Hands) have landed him as my RB3 for now. He enters the league with what I believe to be a rookie Elijah Mitchell floor as a player (don’t forget that Mitchell landed in a fantastic spot) but a Dalvin Cook ceiling if his hands wind up being better than advertised. 

Recap: Zach Evans has an Elijah Mitchell Pro Comp, was rumored to have a poor locker room presence, but by all accounts matured at Ole Miss as a teammate and was supportive of being the lightning to true freshman stud RB Quishon Judkins Thunder (look out for that violent RB in a couple of seasons) The #1 high school RB recruit coming out of Texas never lived up to the hype, but still has good potential as a pure runner in the NFL, hands aren’t as proven though his athleticism should shine at the combine. If he lands in the right situation, he could be a steal; god willing, his health woes are behind him. 

2. Bijan Robinson, 6’0, 220lbs (21 in January)

Bijan Robinson (Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire)

In what many would call a massive upset, we have Bijan Robinson ranked second heading into the combine. Bijan is a GROWN MAN! There’s no way to describe him without saying he’s literally “built different.”

Bijan is touted as a generational RB prospect, the greatest since Saquan Barkley got drafted 4th overall in 2017. I like Bijan (he’s such a star that you need only say his first name), but I think it’s disrespectful to compare him to Saquan (arguably the GOAT college RB prospect). 

If we focus purely on the RB prospect and try to tune out the hype of “Bijan,” Robinson is a tremendous prospect entering the league with a higher floor than any other runner in this class. 

Robinson was the #1 RB coming out of high school in the 2020 recruiting class. The same class included Zach Evans (2nd), Tank Bigsby (4th), and Jahmyr Gibbs (8th). 

During the NFL trade Deadline, I got slammed on Instagram for saying that Alvin Kamara wasn’t worth an Eagles first-round pick because their team didn’t desperately need Kamara in the short term, and by draft season, Bijan would be there waiting for them. I bring this up because, coming out of high school, Bijan received comps to Kamara, which I don’t think fit him at all at this stage of his career.

The 5-star top RB recruit hails from Arizona and has an NFL pedigree. His uncle, all-pro RB Paul Robinson, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 3rd round back in 1968 and ultimately played six years in the league as an RB for them. 

Robinson chose to play at the University of Texas, where he had instant success against the Big 12 conference—rushing for 703 yards at 8.2 YPC and catching 15 passes for an additional 196 yards as a freshman. He followed that up with a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him post 1127 rushing yards at 5.8 YPC and receive 26 passes for 295 yards. Finally, he posted a ridiculous 1894 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns his junior season, with 1580 rushing yards at 6.1 YPC and 19 catches for 314 yards en route to finishing 9th in Heisman voting. 

With a career as ridiculous as that, you can understand why the consensus All-American RB has been the bell of the ball for years, as the dynasty fantasy community has been licking their chops in anticipation of this bonafide 3-down monster. 

He’s an absolute Tank and has strong hands, although Texas didn’t utilize them as much as they could have. When I watch him, one of the biggest things that stand out is his elite balance. He’s far too big to get taken down by arm tackles and picks up good yardage after contact. 

With all of these great attributes and pedigree, there’s not much to knock him on except for one thing he could do to rise in my RB rankings. What stops me from referring to him as Bijan like everyone else and brings me back to reality with him is that on film, he has good burst and shiftiness, BUT seemingly not elite speed. 

Coming out of college, Saquan was an absolute alien coming in at 6’0 tall, 233 lbs, and still managing to test off the charts with metrics like a 4.40 forty-yard dash and 41-inch vertical. He was ridiculously explosive. Breece Hall was 5’11, 217 lbs, and ran a 4.39 forty-yard dash while posting a 40-inch vertical jump.

If Bijan Robinson can emulate Hall or Barkley’s testing numbers, it’ll be nearly impossible for anyone to deny that he’s the top back in this class. He’d be primed to be a future all-pro and immediate pro bowler as a rookie, REGARDLESS of his landing spot. 

However, I envision him running around a 4.52 forty-yard dash which is still fast but not blazing speed like the aliens Breece and Saquan proved to be. 

A realistic comparison for Robinson entering the league is a suped-up Kareem Hunt. Hunt joined the NFL and was a force playing for the Chiefs. He exhibited tremendous power, vision, contact balance, and hands for an RB. The only thing he lacked was speed. While Hunt ran a 4.62 40 and was only 5’10 216 entering as a rookie, I fully expect Robinson to surpass those metrics at the combine. I’m just not ready to place him with the likes of Saquan unless his testing measurables pop off the charts. Regardless of how he tests, I stand by the fact that he has the highest floor of any RB in this draft class and will be an eventual pro bowler.

(Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire)

1. Jahmyr Gibbs, 5’11, 200lbs (21 in March)

Our top dog of this RB class, Jahmyr Gibbs is ELECTRIC!!! There are so many comps for this guy, the typical analyst on TV or in an Instagram comment section will say Kamara. STOP! As a prospect, that’s plain disrespectful. Gibbs is so damn fast. I’m talking maggot from the Longest Yard fast. Dare I say…CJ2K fast. Earlier in the NFL season, the Counselor and I were on a call with Chris Johnson (AKA CJ2K). The Alabama RB first came to mind when asked about college RBs that were impressing him, and though many were caught off guard by Gibbs being his first choice, it’s not hard to see why. 

Similarly to how CJ2K did in his prime, Gibbs kills opponents with his burst and next-level speed. Though not the largest RB, listed at 5’11 200 pounds, he has hands that will make him a 3-down threat from the moment a team drafts him. He oozes potential as a PPR darling. 

Gibbs was a late bloomer in high school and entered college as a 4-star RB, the 8th-ranked RB for his class. Drawing comparisons to Aaron Jones (a laughable comp at this point), he’s surpassed expectations without ever cracking the 1K yard mark as a rusher. 

Gibbs began his college career in the ACC at Georgia Tech, where he rushed for 460 yards and had 303 receiving yards as a freshman; he followed this up with 746 yards rushing as a sophomore and 435 yards receiving. His average of 5.2 YPC and 59 receptions while at GT would get him noticed by top programs across the country. He would transfer to Alabama for his Junior season. Gibbs joined 2021 Heisman trophy winner QB Bryce Young at the college football juggernaut so that he could prove himself against SEC competition.

Entering this season, Gibbs was my sleeper to win the Heisman trophy. Unfortunately, due to Bama’s struggles this season (the first time that they missed the playoffs since they were established in 2014), he didn’t receive the amount of attention I’d anticipated.

Nevertheless, Gibbs continued to dominate against SEC competition, posting his best rushing season with 926 yards at 6.1 YPC while having 44 receptions and 444 receiving yards to go with a career-best 10 total touchdowns. 

Did Gibbs ever crack 1000 yards receiving? No, but did he go over 1200 all-purpose yards in each of the past two seasons? Yes. 

I can’t reiterate this enough, Gibbs could be the next great PPR RB at the next level, and it’s why I’m going on record before any other fantasy football analyst and saying that his ceiling is higher than Bijan Robinson’s!

As much as I am a fan of Gibbs, I can’t ignore that he never broke 1k yards rushing in college. Though this is typically something I’d find alarming, I’m tempted to highlight it as a positive. 

Hear me out; Alabama tends to feed their RBs at alarming rates considering the presumed short shelf life of Runners once in the league. For reference, Derrick Henry had 395 rushing attempts at 5.6 YPC his Heisman-winning senior season at Alabama, while Najee Harris had 251 at 5.6 YPC his senior year. 

Jahmyr Gibbs played on a less successful Bama team than Henry and Harris while averaging a higher YPC (6.1) and is declaring for the NFL draft a season earlier than both of them, following a junior year where he carried the ball 151 times. That’s less than half the number of times Henry carried it his senior season, and 100 carries less than Harris! Let that sink in. In March, Gibbs will turn 21 years old and enter the league with a refined 3-down skill set and fresh legs. 

Let’s also keep in mind that Alvin Kamara has NEVER rushed for over 1k yards in the league, and he’s still managed to be a fantasy draft target year in and out. Gibbs is much more explosive than Kamara, so don’t sleep on his NFL potential. 

Recap: Jahmyr Gibbs gets a Jamaal Charles Comp, everyone keeps saying Kamara, but the speed Gibbs has is ridiculous. He should be a PPR darling. I expect him to run a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. Coming into the season, Gibbs was my pick for Heisman, Bama underachieved, but I still like him…even more than (touted generational prospect) Bijan Robinson. My gut tells me that he could be the CMC to Bijan’s Fournette in this draft class. I think his ceiling in today’s NFL is so damn high because of his hands/shiftiness/speed. CJ2K was an unbelievable fantasy asset, so much so that I can’t put Gibbs there yet. I expect Gibbs to shine both at the combine and in the NFL, as this late bloomer has only continued to emerge since his junior year of high school.

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Isaiah DeAnda Delgado
Isaiah DeAnda Delgado
A student pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Central Florida.