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Fantasy Football: Will top QBs from NFL Draft boost their respective RBs, WRs and TEs?

Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers took Young No. 1 overall after their big trade-up and will remake their franchise around him. While the Panthers also have the competent Andy Dalton, who had a nice year on the Saints in 2022, on the roster … Young should be considered a 99% lock to start Week 1.

Head coach and likely play-caller, Frank Reich, has been a bit of a chameleon throughout his tenure guiding NFL offenses. He’s worked with so many quarterbacks between his Eagles and Colts days that we’ve gotten to see him use a ton of different philosophies. Reich has employed a ton of RPO and deeper-shot passing offenses during both of his stints with Carson Wentz but leaned more toward the quick-strike, high-volume passing attack in his one year with Andrew Luck.

I think we could see something of a marriage between those two approaches in Carolina. An RPO-heavy offense would take advantage of Young’s playmaking instincts, while a Luck-style quick passing game is a natural fit for his processing, accuracy and surprising middle-of-the-field passing prowess for a short quarterback.

Either way, we typically don’t see rookie quarterbacks operate extremely voluminous pass offenses and I don’t expect the Panthers to buck that trend.

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This team ran the ball extremely well late last year, thanks primarily to an offensive line that returns almost completely intact this season. The new coaching staff tapped Miles Sanders — who has Eagles-related ties to running backs and assistant head coach Duce Staley — in free agency and gave him a $5.9 million signing bonus and $13 million guaranteed. That type of deal — and the fact Carolina didn’t add any other backs in the draft — indicate Sanders is going to get a ton of work. He might record a career-high in touches in Year 1 with Carolina.

Sanders is a fringe top-20 back in consensus early fantasy rankings and he could easily outkick that range if this offense is good. With a rookie quarterback and a defense that looks ready to win right now, Sanders and this offense are going to be playing in run-heavy scripts.

Sanders is the one member of the supporting cast I can cleanly project after Young’s arrival. Basically, nothing that’s happened in Carolina before matters because this group has experienced wild turnover in the last 365 days.

Tight end Hayden Hurst should have a relatively easy role to forecast. His two career-high target seasons are 88 and 68 and he’s averaged 9.7 yards per catch in the NFL. That sort of volume in a short-area, outlet receiver-type gig is what he likely slides into with the Panthers.

The wide receiver room is the most jumbled of the bunch. Veterans Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark were added in free agency but their best seasons are distant memories at this point as age and injuries, respectively, have sapped them. Thielen is likely locked into a starting role but I could see Terrace Marshall Jr. pushing Chark for the X-receiver spot in camp if he has a great offseason. Given what Marshall has shown in the NFL, I’m not betting on it.

The most interesting name, by far, to note here is rookie Jonathan Mingo. I think Mingo profiles so similarly to Amon-Ra St. Brown as a route runner and could be a power slot player for the Panthers. Young had great timing with slot receiver John Metchie at Alabama in 2021 and his middle-of-the-field work would overlap well with Mingo if the latter earns this role right away. He’s a late-round dart throw, or waiver-wire speed-dial option at some point in the season, to file away.

Either way, Young proved last year that he can make magic with a non-star-studded pass-catching corps. Alabama has been a receiver factory of late. Metchie and Jameson Williams were an awesome duo for Young in his first year as the starter. He showed last year that he can elevate the game of role players. Even though he’s a mere rookie, the Panthers will likely task him with that right away.

C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans

The Texans did the sensible thing and took a quarterback at the second-overall pick. The 49ers-migrated coaching staff of DeMeco Ryans and Bobby Slowik may have had fantasies of making this oft-efficient offense work with “just any old quarterback,” but reason won out. Projecting Stroud’s fit into a likely Shanahan-style offense with the Texans takes a tiny bit of imagination.

Stroud operated in a high-volume, dropback passing game at Ohio State that took advantage of the intermediate and deep portions of the field. This offense usually requires some boot-action play fakes, moving pockets and precision in the underneath game. I have little doubt Stroud — who I was a big fan of on film — can do all of those things but it’s just a small projection based on his collegiate game.

I didn’t buy into the processing or play-under-pressure concerns others had with Stroud’s game. However, if those were holes to poke in his game, an offense like this that moves a quarterback out of the pocket and cuts the field in half can help ease those growing pains early on.

It also helps that Houston employs one of the better tackle duos in the NFL with Laremy Tunsil signed long-term and Tytus Howard now established on the right side. They added some players on the interior like Shaq Mason and rookie center Juice Scruggs while hoping 2022 first-rounder Kenyon Green takes another step.

The line should help Stroud and the run game, led by Dameon Pierce. Last year’s rookie was a sensation for the team and it appears this new staff also has a good bit of faith in him. The only player of significance they added was Devin Singletary, who is a fine complement and change of pace. Pierce could be tasked with taking the figurehead role on this offense while Stroud develops.

It’s a proven run game system. Pierce is a nice option at RB19 in early consensus fantasy ranks.

The pass-catchers are a bit more of a layered analysis. Right now, I expect the WR1 to 5 to end up being Nico Collins, Robert Woods, John Metchie, Tank Dell and Noah Brown with Dalton Schultz at tight end. I am less clear on what the order of target distribution will look like for this crew. Collins is the one guy who projects well as an X-receiver and has flashed ability through two years in the league. He’s a very underrated breakout threat. The rest of the guys are slot or flanker options with Woods having by far the most proven resume. He has declined as a separator over the last two years but is a strong blocker. That alone may get him on the field for two-receiver sets.

I thought Stroud is a ready-made, NFL-capable passer coming into the draft. While the Texans offense may not be voluminous in his rookie season, there’s a chance he makes them more efficient than we imagine. Someone in this pass-catching corps is going to benefit.

Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

It’s easy to get super excited about Richardson’s fit with the Colts. The new head coach’s experience with Jalen Hurts gives a clear developmental path to follow — especially when building different styles of offense around a mobile quarterback as he grows — and the supporting cast is in place.

Of course, there is a chance Richardson sits for a large chunk of the season if the Colts don’t think he’s ready. However, both owner Jim Irsay and head coach Shane Steichen seemed to indicate they think a player like Richardson who needs the reps will get better by playing, even if it’s tough early. Also, it’s not hard to imagine the owner who hired Jeff Saturday off the ESPN set last year putting his finger on the scale when it comes to decision time, no matter what he says now.

Back to that supporting cast, I like this group a lot more than most. Jonathan Taylor is an easy bounce-back candidate in fantasy. Rushing quarterbacks can boost the efficiency of running backs and create easier lanes and defensive mismatches. Taylor already carries a career-yards-per-carry average north of 5.0. It’s scary to think about Richardson and Taylor working in tandem.

The wide receiver corps is often maligned in the national media but I am a big fan of this group’s potential. Michael Pittman, I believe, carries the profile of true No. 1 wideout and has excelled with two different styles of quarterbacks (neither good) the last two years. He separates well in the short to intermediate range, especially over the middle, and can win contrasted catches.

Alec Piece is a limited route runner but wins on slants and deep patterns and is a ball-winner in tight coverage. Rookie Josh Downs completes this room and was one of my favorite receivers in the draft. He was my WR5 behind the Round 1 guys and should be a Day 1 target-earned slot option.

Even the tight end room has immense potential between the twin towers of Mo-Alie Cox and Jelani Woods. I can see Woods' athletic gifts translating more to the NFL game in his second season.

For fantasy purposes, it’s worth noting that mobile passers and rookies tend to bring down the overall passing volume of teams. Indianapolis could end up being bottom-three in overall pass attempts in Richardson’s rookie year.

However, no offense played with more of a roof over its head than the Colts in 2022 and Richardson’s arm talent should immediately open up more vertical looks for all of these guys, especially Pittman. They’re about to go from the outhouse to the penthouse of quarterback athleticism and arm strength, replacing Matt Ryan with Richardson.

It’s a high end in the range of outcomes but if he hits the ground running like Cam Newton did as a rookie, all of these guys could be fantasy values.

Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

As long as Ryan Tannehill is on the roster, I think it’s going to take a lot for Levis to unseat him at the QB1 spot. Round 2 quarterbacks typically have a long road to travel to get on the field early. Levis’ draft day fall seemed to confirm the hesitations around the limitations and bad habits he showed on film.

Of course, Tannehill has dealt with injuries and that could get the rookie on the field. Levis should have good odds to take over the backup job from Malik Willis, who clearly isn’t beloved by the coaching staff and was drafted by the prior GM. There’s a chance he isn’t on the Week 1 roster, too.

The pass-catching corps is extremely young and unproven. Right now, their top three target-getters would likely be wide receivers Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips along with tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo … probably not in that order. All of them were rookies last year.

Burks dealt with injuries last year but was an inconsistent player on film as he learned, essentially, a whole new position at X-receiver after being a collegiate gadget option. He could take a big leap forward but that’s too often treated as a given by folks who are higher on his game based on college stats. Philips had some summer hype last year and was a sleeper slot prospect I liked but we didn’t see much of him as a rookie after dealing with injuries too.

Meanwhile, Okonkwo shined to end 2022 as a big-play threat. He caught 81% of his targets and averaged over nine yards per target over the last six games. He could easily be their top receiver this season and be a breakout fantasy tight end.

All three of these guys need to develop and it would be in their best interest to do that with a veteran quarterback in Tannehill. While Levis played in an NFL offense in college, coordinator Tim Kelly’s system doesn’t use the same language as the west-coast, Rams-style attack he played with under Liam Cohen in 2021. There would be a learning curve for the rookie and that may end up stunting all of these players who are near blank slates in the NFL.

Either way, this offense looks like it’s ready to saddle up Derrick Henry for another immense workload given the state of the pass-catching corps and the team philosophy. That would be the case to an even greater degree if Levis has to play.