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Dynasty Rookie Sleepers for 2023

By C. H. Herms 5:35pm EDT 7/25/23

Change Your Team with These Sneaky Picks

Winning a dynasty championship isn’t easy.

You have to make intelligent lineup decisions, savvy trades, and even savvier rookie-draft picks to build a winner.

Hitting the mark with late-round picks makes you look smart and change your outlook.

We’ve identified a list of dynasty rookie sleepers that you should keep your eyes on in 2023.

What Makes a Dynasty Rookie Sleeper?

For this exercise, we looked for players who:

  • went later than expected in the NFL Draft
  • sport a viable path to relevance
  • and earned a good score in our prospect model

On top of that, each of these players carries a Sleeper superflex rookie draft ADP outside of the top two rounds in a 12-team league.

No risk, high reward, and you can cut bait any time if something doesn’t work out.

Let’s discuss:

Has your rookie draft already happened?

Check out our dynasty superflex trade value chart to help you make the perfect deal for these players.

DeWayne McBride, RB, Vikings

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 3.12, RB13

The Vikings’ backfield is wide open without Dalvin Cook.

Alexander Mattison is the favorite to be RB1, but it’s unclear who will be the second back. Kene Nwangwu is primarily a special teams contributor, and 2022 5th-round pick Ty Chandler only appeared in three games as a rookie.

Though McBride only carries seventh-round NFL draft capital, he’s intriguing.

The 5’10, 209-pound back was a standout performer at UAB, finishing his final college season second in the nation in rushing yards (1,702) and tied for third in rushing TDs (19).

McBride also ranked second in yards after contact (1,072), ninth in PFF elusive rating, and fifth in runs of 10+ yards (45) among college RBs in 2022 (min. 100 carries).

Big Production, Small School Competition

Unfortunately, there are a couple of forces working against McBride:

  • He fumbled nine times over the past two years.
  • He totaled just 5 catches for 29 yards in his college career.

It’s also worth remembering that McBride played in Conference USA, with only two career games against Power 5 schools (Georgia in 2021, LSU in 2022).

McBride managed only 95 yards on 26 carries over those two games.

Even so, McBride boasts the largest gap between his analytical score and NFL draft capital (a -19% correlation) of any RB in this class. He ranks as the fifth-best RB in our model and has both talent and opportunity working for him.

We'll see how McBride fares in the competition for backfield touches this summer. There's plenty of work available.

TIP

You want to especially get in early on RBs. They reach their production peak quicker than any other position. That's a key component of our dynasty strategy.

Eric Gray, RB, Giants

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 4.05, RB15

The Giants and Saquon Barkley finally agreed on a one-year deal worth up to $11 million following a contract dispute. We know he'll be the leader of this backfield in 2023.

Beyond Barkley, the Giants don’t have much RB talent. Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell combined for just 110 touches in 2022.

At 5’9, 207 pounds, Gray is a strong, compact runner with solid pass-catching chops who could immediately seize the RB2 role.

Gray only had one season of high-end college production, but his prospect pedigree ranked among the best in this class. 

A Diamond In The Rough?

He was a four-star recruit who won Tennessee’s Mr. Football award three years in a row and the state’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year award twice. He spent two seasons at Tennessee before transferring to Oklahoma in 2021.

Gray spent his junior season stuck behind current Eagles RB Kennedy Brooks before taking over the backfield in 2022. He tallied 1,374 rushing yards (fourth among RBs in the Big 12) and tied for eighth in PFF rushing grade last season.

Gray also caught 99 career passes in college, including two years reaching 30 receptions.

He ranks as the RB12 in our prospect model, ahead of such names as Jaguars RB Tank Bigsby and Bears RB Roschon Johnson. All three of these players are considered to be their new teams' backups, yet there's nearly a two-round gap between them and where Gray is being drafted.

There's a ton of value to getting a player late in rookie drafts who's only one injury away from being an NFL team's starting RB. What more can you ask from a dynasty rookie sleeper? 

New to playing dynasty? Let us help you.

Israel Abanikanda, RB, Jets

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 3.07, RB11

Breece Hall opens 2023 as a question mark as he recovers from his torn ACL. When healthy, he’s the slam-dunk RB1 in this Jets’ offense.

That fact is the only sure thing about this backfield.

The Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt recently reported that he expects RB Michael Carter to be RB2 to open 2023, calling him "the most experienced, popular in the locker room and is generally a quality pass-catcher."

However, Rosenblatt later mentioned that Abanikanda is his pick to be the player to grow into the backup role as the season evolves.

Size + Speed = NFL Production?

Abanikanda had a remarkable junior season at Pitt in 2022, leading the ACC in:

  • carries (239)
  • rushing yards (1,431)
  • total scrimmage yards (1,577)

His 21 total TDs ranked first among all FBS RBs. He also finished 15th in the nation in PFF rushing grade (90.6) with 38 runs of 10+ yards.

Abanikanda carries some concerns with his vision, but he’s a big-play threat with extraordinary long speed in the open field.

The 5’10, 216-pound back also won’t turn 21 until October.

Being a fifth-round pick in the NFL Draft isn’t ideal, but everything else about his profile is exciting.

Abanikanda ranks as the RB7 in our prospect model with a -17% agreement between his analytical score and his NFL draft capital. We know the talent is there. There's potential for early opportunity. Why not take a stab?

Charlie Jones, WR, Bengals

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 4.11, WR18

Speaking of potent offenses, have you seen the Bengals lately?

In case you missed it, they’re pretty darn good.

Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins rank among the league's best 1-2 receiver combos. That duo will soak up most of the targets in the passing game, but being the third WR in Cincinnati isn’t such a bad thing.

The Bengals have finished no lower than third in the NFL in 3+ WR personnel grouping(s) since 2020, and veteran wideout Tyler Boyd is entering the last year of his contract. He finds himself on the field often and managed to post 10.4 PPR points per game last year, running most of his routes from the slot.

You may have to wait a year, but Jones could prove to be Boyd's replacement. This makes Charlie Jones a great dynasty rookie sleeper target. 

A Late Bloomer, A Year Early

At 24, Jones is an older prospect who had multiple stops in his college career. After stints at Buffalo and Iowa, Jones had a breakout 2022 campaign at Purdue, ranking second in the nation in receiving yards (1,361) and 13th in PFF receiving grade.

In early May, The Athletic's Paul Dehner wrote that he believes Jones has what it takes to eventually become “the new Boyd” in 2024 and beyond. Bengals WRs coach Troy Walters has already taken a liking to the rookie, too.

“No matter where you throw the ball, he’s going to make the play,” Walters said. “He’s a technical route runner. If it’s a 15-yard route, he’s going to run 15. If it’s 12 yards, he’s going to get 12. He knows how to manipulate coverages to beat the defenders at the top of his routes. He just knows how to get open.”

Charlie Jones Rates Well in Prospect Model

Jones ranks 11th among WRs in our rookie model, with a -18% agreement between his analytics score and his NFL draft capital.

For those keeping score, that's a gap of seven spots between his rookie ADP and where he scored in our model. It's not a massive inefficiency, but it's far from insignificant. Calling him a good dynasty rookie sleeper candidate being taken in the late-fourth round is no stretch.

It's most likely that Jones will be just a return specialist as a rookie. He recorded two top-6 FBS finishes in punt-return yards.

But at the end of a rookie draft, why not take a chance on a player who can potentially become the slot receiver in an elite offense?

TIP

See where Jones stands in our dynasty rookie rankings.

Puka Nacua, WR, Rams

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 4.06, WR15

Quick: how many receivers can you name on the Rams besides Cooper Kupp?

Maybe Van Jefferson? Anyone else?

The Rams don’t have a ton of firepower on offense and haven’t been the same since winning the Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago. That's good news for a rookie trying to win a role.

Nacua appeared in only six games over his first two college seasons. But he popped off after transferring from Washington to BYU in 2021.

Making His Mark Early

Among college WRs who drew at least 50 targets in 2022, he ranked second in PFF receiving grade and second in yards per route run (3.53).

Nacua even registered 39 carries during his two seasons at BYU, logging 357 yards and 5 rushing TDs in 2022.

He brings a versatile skill set to Los Angeles. And Nacua has already earned the respect of his new team.

"He's pretty special," Kupp said, per Sports Illustrated. "If he can stay on a good trajectory, he's going to be a very good football player in this league. I love the way that he attacks each day. He's got a great feel for the game, great feel for leverage, running routes.”

Our rookie model reflects much of that. The -17% agreement between Nacua's analytical score and his draft capital indicates the Rams may be on to something here. They scooped Nacua in Round 5.

Consider stashing Nacua as a high-upside dynasty rookie sleeper on your bench or taxi squad, if you haven’t already. 

Clayton Tune, QB, Cardinals

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 5.02, QB7

We don’t know when Kyler Murray will step back into his starting role after last year's ACL tear.

Veterans Colt McCoy and David Blough will have an opportunity to win the job, but Clayton Tune is in the mix as well.

"What I like about [Tune] is he's not scared," said Cardinals HC Jonathan Gannon, per Sports Illustrated.

“There's a couple throws that he made out there [in July], and I'm like, 'Man, that's a tight fit right there.' … We've thrown a lot at him to operate the offense the way we want the quarterback position operated, and he's making some good reads."

Strong Finish at Houston

Tune spent five seasons at Houston, ultimately putting together his best year as a starter in 2022.

He tied for first in PFF passing grade with Bryce Young, ranked eighth in passing yards (4,065), and tied for third in passing TDs (40) among FBS QBs with at least 400 dropbacks in 2022. Tune also flashed some as a runner, racking up 544 rushing yards.

The -18% draft-analytic score gap for Tune ranks second widest among QBs in our model.

Tune could bring some value in superflex leagues in 2023 as a dynasty rookie sleeper if he beats out the veterans in training camp.

If you're not first in your league, you're last.

Stetson Bennett, QB, Rams

Sleeper Rookie ADP: Pick 4.04, QB6

Bennett is a decorated college QB with a remarkable story.

Standing at 5’9.5, 185 pounds coming out of high school, he was an undersized two-star recruit who walked on at Georgia in 2017. Bennett spent his freshman season on the bench before transferring to a junior college to gain experience.

Bennett sprouted over time (now 5’11). He became the Bulldogs’ starter for 2021 and 2022.

As a sixth-year senior in 2022, Bennett finished eighth in PFF passing grade, sixth in passing yards (4,132), and 14th in adjusted completion percentage (76.3%) among FBS QBs.

Bennett Finds Opportunity in L.A.

Bennett fell to the Rams in the fourth round. But he could hit 2023 as Matthew Stafford's backup.

Stafford is 35, coming off an injury-riddled season. And NFL insider Michael Lombardi tole The Pat McAfee Show in July that the Rams tried to trade Stafford this offseason.

Rams HC Sean McVay spoke glowingly about Bennett during OTAs in June, telling Yahoo Sports that the rookie has “a good feel for being able to get through progressions quickly. He can feel space on the back end as it relates to different coverage counters that he's seen, but he feels open areas and gets through things quickly.”

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