This 2023 NFL season has already seen significant contributions from rookies at various positions. Usually, rookie players take time to get up to speed at the NFL level. Now that we are almost halfway through the season, I’d like to take a closer look at a rookie for each offensive position who, surprisingly, has risen up when called upon.
Surprise 2023 Rookie Fantasy Football Performances
Jaren Hall – Minnesota Vikings – Quarterback
Jaren Hall was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. When backup quarterback Nick Mullens was placed on IR on October 11, Hall slid into the backup role. At the time, it seemed unlikely that he would see playing time as Kirk Cousins hadn’t missed time due to injury throughout his career. This changed on October 29.
Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 8. Hall took his place as quarterback and finished out that game. Hall completed 3 out of 4 passes for a total of 23 yards. This Sunday, Hall will be starting for the Vikings, with newly acquired Joshua Dobbs serving as the backup. With the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart injured, this opportunity for Hall to serve as an NFL starting quarterback was a surprise turn of events. It will be fascinating to see how he makes use of this chance and if he can retain the starting role.
Jaleel McLaughlin – Denver Broncos – Running Back
Jaleel McLaughlin went undrafted in the 2023 NFL Draft. He was signed as a free agent by the Denver Broncos. Luckily, he also made the final team roster. When the season began, McLaughlin was listed as the third running back on the Broncos depth chart. In Week 4, starter Javonte Williams suffered a hip injury, and it was McLaughlin who filled in with the majority of the carries. He rushed for 72 yards in Week 4 and then 68 yards in Week 5 with Williams sidelined. Coming into this season, it was Samaje Perine who was initially assigned the backup role. Surprisingly, the undrafted free agent McLaughlin surpassed him and will be the primary backup to Williams going forward.
Josh Downs – Indianapolis Colts – Wide Receiver
Josh Downs was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Over the first four weeks, he was averaging 39.5 receiving yards. In Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans, however, Downs saw a significant increase with 97 receiving yards. Averaging Weeks 5-8, Downs has had 78.75 receiving yards– double from his first four weeks.
I think we can say that Downs has found his rhythm. Interestingly, that coincides with Gardner Minshew taking over as the starting quarterback in place of the injured Anthony Richardson. So, perhaps the surprise here is that Downs has seen great receiving output when the veteran Minshew is throwing the passes.
Sam LaPorta – Detroit Lions – Tight End
Sam LaPorta was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Usually, rookie tight ends have trouble acclimating to the NFL in the first year. This has not been the case for LaPorta. He’s averaging 54.25 receiving yards per game. He is currently ranked third on FantasyPros’ rest-of-season rankings, just after the elite TEs, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews. Again, it’s surprisingly unheard of for a tight end to do this well in his rookie year. Perhaps he is faring so well because the Lions offense has a role carved out for receiving tight ends, having previously rostered T.J. Hockenson. In many of the games this season, LaPorta has been the second receiving option for quarterback Jared Goff and should continue in that role going forward.
Blake Grupe – New Orleans Saints – Kicker
Blake Grupe was an undrafted free agent signed by the New Orleans Saints this year. He competed with veteran kicker Wil Lutz for the spot on the team and, to everyone’s surprise, ultimately won out. He’s made 17 out of 21 field goals on the season so far, which is 81 percent. Grupe was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 5, helping the Saints defeat the New England Patriots while making two 50+ yard field goals. He is averaging 8.4 fantasy points per game, which is remarkable, especially for a rookie kicker. The Saints record is 4-4 so far, and the team relies heavily on having a consistent kicker. Grupe has been exactly that.
These rookies and others from the rookie class are making this 2023 NFL season entertaining and exciting to watch. I can’t wait to see each of these players rise even more in the second half of this season!