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2023 Fantasy Football Rookie Sleepers

Aaron White
Written by Aaron White
June 26, 2023
2023 Fantasy Football Rookie Sleepers

Between 2nd round pick George Pickens, 4th round pick Dameon Pierce, and 5th rounder Tyler Allgeier, the middle rounds of the NFL draft produce top tier fantasy football talent year after year.

This season, Bijan Robinson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Jahmyrr Gibbs headline the rookie class. However, let’s find some hidden gems later in the draft to round out your Underdog Best Ball roster.

RB Israel Abanikanada

Team: New York Jets | ADP: 214.0 (RB66)

Player Bio

Abanikanada is this season’s Isiah Pacheco. The Pittsburgh Panther ranked top 10 in production score, athleticism score, and total score for running backs at the combine and was hailed a “steal” for the New York Jets.

The Brooklyn native is a gold medal 100-meter dasher and was awarded All-American and first-team All-ACC honors for his 20 rushing TDs alongside 1,805 all purpose yards last season. If that doesn’t get you excited, just turn on the tape.

The 6.0 YPC and home-run play ability illuminated the field against Virginia Tech when Izzy ran for 320 yards and found the endzone six times. Yes, a half-dozen times against an ACC opponent.

While he wasn’t the biggest pass catcher in his career, Abanikanada has all the intangibles to become a solid NFL running back. The agility shown in his senior year and ability to plow through defensive backs was elite.

Talent, size, speed, and elite cutting is enough for me to believe that the RB2 spot in New York is locked up for Izzy.

Making the Case for Izzy as a 2023 Fantasy Sleeper

With a 214.0 current ADP on Underdog, the price for the Jets running back isn’t too steep. As for his touches, Breece Hall will obviously eat into them, but I believe Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will promote Izzy to the RB2 role as Michael Carter is simply average.

While Carter has a better catching and third down history than Israel, Carter’s running ability has peaked and he will most likely find a new home mid season as the Jets go with the upside back. As for Breece Hall, there’s always concern for a player coming off an injury such as an ACL.

While the Jets might be more cautious with him going forward, expect for Izzy to gain unexpected touches his rookie season, making him a late flier in drafts.

WR Tank Dell

Team: Houston Texans | ADP: 209.9 (WR90)

Player Bio

When C.J. Stroud became a Texan his draft night, one of his first wishes as the new franchise quarterback was to draft Nathaniel (Tank) Dell. The 5’8 speedster out of Houston gets to stay in town for his next big gig.

The combine score is extremely promising. At at 6.30, Dell is projected by NextGen Stats to be a “plus starter” in the league eventually. While eventually may not matter for some, there are a multitude of reasons Dell can produce his rookie season.

Making the Case for Dell as a 2023 Fantasy Sleeper

Tank led the American conference in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns for two consecutive seasons. That type of talent normally doesn’t fall into the 3rd round of the NFL Draft.

Via jabbing and vertical speed, Dell’s ability to get defenders on their heels is second-to-none when discussing late-round WRs in this draft class. Tracking and adjustments made to the ball is something Tank will use to help C.J. Stroud have a successful rookie campaign with Houston.

Texans' offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik stated that his newly acquired speedster is a “natural separator”. Compared to the rest of the wide receiver room between Robert Woods, Nico Collins, and John Metchie, I’ll predict a 40-50% snap rate for Dell to start his career.

That snap count is enough to take him with a late round pick simply due to the connection with his rookie quarterback and the uncertain wide receiver depth chart as we head into training camp season.

WR Puka Nacua

Team: Los Angeles Rams | ADP: 211.2 (WR92)

Player Bio

Around the same range you can snag either Izzy or Tank Dell, Puka Nacua out of BYU deserves some sleeper buzz this draft process. With a solid competitive nature to him, Puka lands in the perfect spot with Sean McVay developing his skill set.

If there was one criticism of Sean McVay’s past couple offenses, it has been predictability. Puka Nacua is an unpredictable player. Alongside his 625 receiving yards and 5 receiving TDs in his final BYU campaign, he also had 25 attempts for 209 yards and 5 rushing TDs.

With a basketball background and ability to make an immediate impact via jet-sweeps and motions freeing himself and Kupp up for Stafford, it’s time to invest in the next Ram wideout.

Making the Case for Nacua as a 2023 Fantasy Sleeper

While Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek haven’t worked out for McVay and Los Angeles, Nacua feels like a hit. Both Van and Ben are one dimensional players and don’t complement Cooper Kupp well.

However, Nacau knows how to compliment a star well. Before becoming the star of the Cougars last season, he lined up alongside Tyler Allgeier during his junior season, sharing the spotlight. There should be no problem working his way into the WR3 role in Los Angeles to complement the possible duo of Kupp and Jefferson, who have dealt with their own injury scares the last season or two.

At WR92, I’d bank on Nacua if you are a fan of jet-sweeps and Sean McVay-led offenses or if you drafted Cooper Kupp and want an insurance plan. While I wouldn’t expect a top 50 season for Puka, he is one of those “3rd draft day” playmakers that’ll be able to make a home in the NFL.

TE Darnell Washington

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers | ADP: 215.8 (TE40)

Player Bio

The backup tight end and possible elite red zone option for Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers deserves some buzz. A guy that has been impressive throughout the offseason, Washington turned heads in the combine running a 4.64 40-yard dash as a 6’7, 264-pound freight train.

With the 2nd best combine score out of all tight ends, there’s a real chance the Georgia TE becomes a starter that excels in the red zone, similar to Eric Ebron when he had the outlying 13 touchdown season with the Colts. Without much college production to go off of, the elite athleticism and rumors surrounding Darnell at the combine should command your attention.

With a 1st round draft grade by some experts, his expectation to be a mismatch against any player on defense should ring true in the red zone. As for defenses, it will be pick-your-poison as the Steelers offense inches closer to the end zone between Pickens, Harris, Johnson, Freiermuth, and now the 6’7 Washington.

Making the Case for Washington as a 2023 Fantasy Sleeper

While Pat Freiermuth will command a large chunk of the receiving work out of the position, Darnell should at least be a “must add” handcuff, or late draft flier if in need of a 2nd or 3rd tight end.

As the weather gets colder in Pittsburgh and the Pickett plus Najee combo struggles to move the football (which is bound to happen in the winter), look for Washington to pick up a greater role as he is a mismatch nightmare for any defense.

In the most physically demanding division in the NFL, Pittsburgh has added another fantastic receiving piece to help out 2nd year QB Kenny Pickett. With Tucker Kraft, Durham Smythe, and Noah Gray all ranked around Washington on Underdog, take a chance on the basketball-playing tight end.

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