Draft season is here, and you want every edge you can get. If you’re playing IDP fantasy football, you can find value in rookies who might be overlooked.
Thirty-six rookie cornerbacks, 30 linebackers, 22 defensive ends, 21 tackles, and 20 safeties were taken in the 2023 NFL Draft, and there will also be some undrafted cornerbacks who will produce their rookie seasons.
Which positions do rookies most often excel at? Where can you find value? And which rookie IDPs should you target? Here is what the research shows.
Rookie IDP Value By Position
It takes a long time for incoming defensive prospects to learn the game, get into the starting lineup, and become top players. Using the Fantasy Pros IDP scoring leaderboard, I found that only five defensive players finished in the top 24 in their position in the past three seasons.
Those players included three pass rushers and two cornerbacks. The players were: Chase Young, Micah Parsons, Aidan Hutchinson, Jalen Pitre, and Jaquon Brister. Interestingly, the two defensive backs to make the list last season were both safeties who made triple-digit tackles. Although cornerbacks are more likely to get playing time and make interceptions, the safeties were most likely to make it to the top.
Rookie cornerbacks, however, are better represented further down the list: No. 32 Tariq Woolen, No. 45 Sauce Gardner, No. 49 Kader Kohou, No. 50 Roger McCreary, No. 97 DaRon Bland. They would be options in deeper leagues and rank higher if you play in a league that rewards interceptions with big points. Woolen led the league in picks with six, and Bland tied for second with five.
My Favorite IDP Targets for 2023
Given that edge rushers and defensive backs are the most likely players to be IDP-worthy starters in their rookie seasons, I am focusing on those two positions. Jack Campbell might be a kneecap-biting badass. He might help the Lions win and be an IDP star in a couple of years. But I’m not taking a gamble on him as a rookie when many more proven veteran linebackers could help my team win a fantasy football title.
Brian Branch, S, DET
If a consistent tackle-maker at safety is the archetype of the rookie IDP producer, Branch fits the bill. The Alabama product finished fifth in solo tackles in the SEC his junior season and second in tackles for loss. He only missed 2.2% of the tackles he attempted in his career.
Emmanuel Forbes, CB, WAS
If you play in a league that rewards interceptions and defensive touchdowns, Forbes is your guy. He led the SEC in interceptions twice and led the entire NCAA in interception return yards and touchdowns twice. I just drafted him in a big-play bonus league I am running, and I am excited.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, SEA
Witherspoon joins 2022 interception leader Tariq Woolen in Seattle. Witherspoon can make plays on the ball, too; he made five interceptions and 25 pass defenses in his four years at Illinois. As a senior, he made three picks and 14 deflections. If he is as good as he looks, Seattle’s opposing quarterbacks won’t be able to target their top two receivers without risking a turnover.
Ji’Ayir Brown, S, SF
Brown is a safety who can blitz, hit hard, knock a ball loose, and pick one out of the air. In his senior year at Penn State, he made 11.5 impact plays (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries). He reminds me of a certain other young safety on the 49ers roster. Brown will likely start the season as the backup behind Tashaun Gipson, but he could see playing time in nickel sets.
Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, HOU
Anderson is the best pass rusher by a huge margin. He led the NCAA in pressures in two of his collegiate seasons, and he finished his career with 207 pressures, 55 more than anyone else in the past three years. He can win with speed or power.
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