Fantasy football season is nearly upon us. In a matter of weeks, millions of people will draft their teams and begin the pursuit of fantasy glory. But if we’re being real, millions of folks have already done just that. For me, football is my year-round obsession. Not a day goes by that I don’t consider the sport and the potential range of outcomes for the upcoming season. I think about this 365 days so you don’t have to. I’m obsessed, so you get to enjoy your normal life. And I’m far from cursed in mine, to be fair.
Here I’ll lay out my blueprint for 2023 fantasy football drafts: the compilation of my thoughts about the game after charting hundreds of wide receiver routes, watching endless film and running through my projections for all 32 teams. I’ll get some major assists along the way from the gentlemen I’m lucky to consider colleagues here at Yahoo. I’ll point you to their great work to read or listen to later and hopefully, challenge the way you think.
If you’re just now jumping back into football, welcome. If you’ve been keeping up with content all year long, thank you for your support and for keeping the lights on. But the journey is just beginning for all of us. So let’s delay no further, it’s time to unveil the blueprint to build your most successful season yet. Good luck!
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Big picture thoughts for the 2023 seasonThe more I have thought about fantasy football this year, the more I’m convinced it all starts at quarterback. How you approach the quarterback decides the rest of your team. No pressure.
I was all-in on going early quarterback this year. I’ve said it many times on the Yahoo Fantasy Football Show: all my good teams last season featured either Jalen Hurts or Josh Allen. I am a full believer that elite QBs are back in the mix for early draft consideration because players like that are both incredibly efficient passers and offer rushing upside to break that game. The ceiling and floor combination is tough to beat.
But pieces like Andy Behrens’ “Is waiting at QB still a winning strategy?” and conversations like the one I had on the podcast recently with Dalton Del Don have me wavering.
There are some very appealing quarterbacks who go late in drafts. And same as it ever was, the opportunity cost of taking an early quarterback remains.
I want to make sure I have at least one anchor running back who comes from the first two rounds of drafts. I want a strong three-wide receiver corps that is filled with alpha target hogs or clear 1B receivers on a great offense. I loved the way Scott Pianowski said it on a recent podcast: “Get three receivers who start themselves.”
All of that is hard to pull off if you also want to lock in someone from the first tier of quarterbacks. Do I pass on that elite tier and try to hunt for rushing-based breakout candidates like Anthony Richardson or Daniel Jones? When you hit on one of those guys and they actually emerge as a fringe top-five scorer and your early running back and receiver picks work out, you build an unfair roster.
And yet, Andy’s words from his quarterback piece stick with me:
“In recent years, however, we’ve witnessed a string of the most remarkable individual quarterback campaigns in league history; golden-ticket seasons for fantasy purposes. Patrick Mahomes set the all-time QB fantasy scoring record in 2018. Lamar Jackson set the per-game scoring record the following year. Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen each produced seasons in 2022 that rank among the top-12 historically on a per-game basis. Mahomes now has the No. 1 and No. 2 QB scoring campaigns on his resume. Twelve of the top 18 all-time fantasy seasons at this position were delivered over the past five years.”
Should you consider drafting a quarterback early in fantasy football drafts this season? (Illustration by Taylar Sievert, Yahoo Sports)Those seasons were legendary and that’s why all of those players — yes, including Jackson — make up my first tier. I am fully convinced all of those players can have seasons like that again in 2023. And I don’t mind paying for the certainty.
I haven’t fully decided just which side of this internal debate I’ll land on being best for the season. Frankly, since I believe both are viable, it gives me the flexibility to live in the moment and let each individual draft come to me. I’d advise you to do the same.
Best fantasy ecosystems (drink)If you know me, I am all about ecosystems. Fantasy football can be all about hammering players from the best ecosystems in the NFL. I always think back to the Peyton Manning Broncos teams circa 2013. Sometimes winning your fantasy league is as simple as hoarding as many players from those kinds of special offenses.
It’s obvious that great ecosystems equate to some of the most potent and efficient offenses in the NFL. They’re surrounded by a quality line, loaded with good skill position talent and stewarded by a high-end play-caller. But there’s more to it than that. In fantasy, it’s important we look at these highly concentrated offenses around the league.
The 2022 Eagles were the best example of this. They had three star-caliber skill-position players and that’s where they threw the ball. If they were dropping back to pass, the ball was going to A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith or Dallas Goedert. Those guys combined for over 80% of the team targets. They didn’t mess around with a pass-catching back, a third receiver or a red-zone menace tight end. If they kept it on the ground, they were breaking the math and hammering people in the run game with Miles Sanders or Jalen Hurts. It made them painfully hard to defend but quite easy to predict in fantasy.
The Jacksonville Jaguars could be this year’s Eagles; an efficient offense with a concentrated target tree. You can confidently draft Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk and Evan Engram because they’ll be drawing the vast majority of looks. The 49ers have a setup like that with their top four guys and the Seahawks’ receiver set should handle the bulk of the targets. You can be in on all three of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxson Smith-Njigba in fantasy this season. I am, because Geno Smith’s performance was legitimate in every sense of the word. Those are my four favorite ecosystems to target in 2023.
Every year, I write about the teams we need to get right in fantasy football. The 2023 edition included the Browns, Chargers and Colts. With a few breaks, any or all of those three teams could jump into the elite ecosystem tier. You can call them the cautiously optimistic honorable mentions.
The addition of Calvin Ridley gives the Jaguars the potential to be among fantasy’s best ecosystems. (Illustration by Taylar Sievert, Yahoo Sports)
Fast Start vs. Hot FinishWhether analysts know it or want to admit it, best-ball brain has seeped into all of our content. The popularity and fun of Best Ball (available on Yahoo) have made it hard to transition the way we talk about that game into traditional redraft leagues. There is a difference, though.
Last season on Yahoo, 87.1% of teams that started 5-0 made their fantasy playoffs. Among 4-1 starters, 71.8% of teams made the dance. Once you got to 3-2, it could go either way; 50% of teams made the playoffs. Anything below .500 and the odds were stacked against you.
With many looking to take down massive best-ball contests, we’ve gotten overly obsessed with the end of the season. You’ll hear folks say “Weeks 15, 16, 17 … the ones that matter most for fantasy football,” when analyzing individual player or team outlooks. That’s true in a sense, even for redraft-managed teams. Those are the fantasy playoffs and we all want to win those weeks to take the league championship. We know why they’re a focus but, you have to get there in the first place for them to matter at all. And that’s where I’m changing my tune a bit.
I have always been fine with drafting my teams with a flippant attitude to the start of the season to leave myself open to late-season upside. I’m usually all about the hot finish. No one has caused me to reevaluate that stance more than Scott Pianowski. He’s banged the drum about the benefits of starting fast for years and has pushed fantasy managers to draft to “win September.” The numbers are on his side.
Last season on Yahoo, 87.1% of teams that started 5-0 made their fantasy playoffs. Among 4-1 starters, 71.8% of teams made the dance. Once you got to 3-2, it could go either way; 50% of teams made the playoffs. Anything below .500 and the odds were stacked against you.
Life is just a lot easier if you’re riding hot coming into mid-October. You can start filling your bench with late-season upside stashes like your favorite rookie receiver or a high-end backup running back when you don’t have to worry about chasing needs on waivers. You can get the best of both worlds with that hot start. We all want to make it to the end of the season. Just don’t prioritize it over winning the first few weeks.
How to view injuriesEven before we worked together at Yahoo, I thought Scott Pianowski’s in-season “anti-injury optimism” creed was one of the best fantasy football tenants around. It’s a lesson I’m still learning to this day.
The trickiest application of this creed is when it comes to carryover or prior-year injuries. It’s just objectively true that injuries can dampen a player’s performance in a season and despite what the injury report zealots want you to believe, a ton of maladies don’t get reported. You might be slamming a player’s performance all while he’s playing through or still recovering from a debilitating issue. And if you can’t let that prior season image of the player go, you could miss out on their rebound.
Again, it gets more difficult when we’re talking about carryover recoveries that might bleed into the regular season. My one piece of advice here is simply, don’t paint with a broad brush. Approach every situation as a unique occurrence. Yahoo’s own Jorge Martin spoke with Dr. Edwin Porras about the idea of “injury-prone” players and how to draft those who are currently injured in fantasy football. They touched on this concept. It’s a must-read piece before you draft.
The one “carryover injury” player I am willing to go out on a limb for this year is Breece Hall, the electric Jets back. And I was glad to see Dr. Porras endorse this approach.
As Dalton Del Don wrote in our Mock Draft 2.0 recap, “Hall’s fantasy managers may require a little patience either way, but he’s likely to be a top-five fantasy player over the second half and is my favorite to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick in 2024.”
Breece Hall could end up being a fantasy league-winner down the stretch. (Illustration by Taylar Sievert, Yahoo Sports)I couldn’t agree more with Dalton’s assessment of the player. Hall was averaging an absurd 4.6 air yards per target mark last year. That is special, prime David Johnson-type work. Hall’s ability to rip off explosive runs and win downfield pass routes is critical and we know New York is getting an efficiency boost with Aaron Rodgers in the fold. I just love Hall’s outlook.
I am willing to take the small “L” in the first few weeks and break the anti-injury optimism creed for Hall. Be judicious in how many of these shots you take though. Hall may be the lone guy I make an exception for in 2023.
Strategy ThoughtsI’ll openly admit that the strategy portion of my fantasy analysis toolbox is the weakest in my garage. I like talking about players and teams and trying to be ahead of breakthroughs in performance. I’d nominate any of Andy, Scott or Dalton to walk you through a strategy guide before me — our draft kit is also a great resource.
The one thing I think is valuable is being mindful of how you utilize rankings. For the love of god, just don’t draft off a numerical list — Dalton does a great job of adding nuance to the rankings discussion. I almost always endorse using tiers to understand buckets of drafts and where cliffs and valleys exist at each position. But even tiers won’t bring you all the context you need.
If you listen to one Yahoo Fantasy Football Show this preseason, make it Rich Hribar’s appearance on the “Rankings vs. Projections” episode. Rich and I discussed the pitfalls of rankings and he got my gears turning on player archetypes and how that can be the key to bucketing players for drafts.
We won’t give you some wild skeleton key strategy — spoiler alert, there isn’t one — but I think you’ll come away from that episode with a better understanding of how to use rankings ahead of your drafts.
What I can confidently tell you from a strategic perspective is that your approach to each position must complement the other. You can skimp at running back if your receiver corps is loaded, it’s tough to go early at both “onesie positions” (QB/TE) and feel great about your team, etc. We’ll cover that in detail below.
High-level QB elevator pitchYour entire draft plan must trickle down from how you approach this position. If you decide to go with an elite quarterback, you need to be prepared with a plan for how your running back and receiver rooms come together. Luckily, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer at quarterback this season. Elite guys are big-time advantages but there are options in the late rounds that make the position as deep as it ever was. As long as you have clarity in your approach and win at the other positions, you can’t go wrong.
High-level RB elevator pitchBe flexible with your running back plan. There are enough guys in the consensus top-10 rankings that I think almost every team can come away with one anchor at the position. That’s typically how I want to leave the first two rounds. However, while the dangers of the running back dead zone have been harped on for the last few years, I’m not sure it exists this season. If it does, it’s not in the area we once imagined. Jorge Martin notes that “From 2019 to 2022, between 12 and 15 running backs were drafted from picks 37 to 84 overall, with mixed results … Currently, there are 17 players in the Running Back Dead Zone. Beyond the pass-catchers, quarterbacks are being pushed up draft boards, with 10 passers being selected by pick 85 in Yahoo ADP.”
The dead zone is now alive with more options than ever. There are guys I have ranked between RB15-20 (Alexander Mattison, Dameon Pierce and one more guy I really like that we’ll hit on later) who I like at their draft value more than some of the players I have between 10 to 14. While I typically avoided those guys like the plague, I’m comfortable taking an RB2 option in the Round 5 to 7 range if I just straight-up like their outlook better than the receivers on the board.
High-level WR elevator pitch“It gets late early at wide receiver” — the words of Andy Behrens from our Mock Draft 1.0 recap still haunt me.
He’s right. Trust me, you can go down the list of wide receivers and paint a rosy target-share-based argument for a ton of guys outside the top-40 ranked players but you’re entering the wilderness faster than you think. I like some guys in that range and I want to take my shot on Skyy Moore, Nico Collins and a few others I will mention here along the way. But I want those guys to be gravy. I promise I won’t like a fantasy team I draft that doesn’t have two set-it-and-forget-it, we-all-agree-this-guy-is-going-to-ball type of wideouts, and a third whom I only require one beer to tell myself his breakout story.
High-level TE elevator pitchMy campaign slogan at this position has been clear for months: We just need to restore the middle class. Last season, Travis Kelce was as elite as ever and T.J. Hockenson complied his way to a big season. Everyone else was a mess but go back and look at what really happened. Injuries impacted just about everyone else at the position. If we get some guys from that middle-class tier healthy and rolling in 2023 combined with some breakouts from guys like Greg Dulcich and Chigoziem Okonkwo, we could see the tight end position come roaring back.
My quick pitch to you would simply be, just because a guy like Darren Waller burned you last year, don’t let those hurt feelings impact your drafting this season.
Rookies to KnowAs Andy Behrens wrote in our first mock draft recap, “Rookie skepticism is your friend.” Many fantasy managers have rookie skepticism. I get it, you’ve never seen this guy play a down in the NFL but you’ve seen many overhyped prospects come and go throughout your time watching the sport. But the last few years have shown us that rookies can not only be real fantasy assets but legitimate league winners if they come from the late round. Here are the players at each position you need to know this year:
QuarterbacksI broke down the rookie quarterbacks and their impact on their new teams after the draft. That’s the spot to hit if you want depth but I’ll run through some of those ideas here, as well.
For Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, we’re not so much looking at them as standalone fantasy options but rather, hoping they can elevate some sleepers in Carolina and Houston. Young is in a quality situation with a strong offensive line, run game and defense but doesn’t have a ton to form a great passing game, at least early, in the wide receiver and tight end rooms.
As a card-carrying member of the “Nico Collins is underrated” fan club, I think Stroud can really help this offense. Stroud can push it deep on play-action shots alongside a strong running game. He’s pro-ready. I think Collins should be on your radar in the double-digit rounds in every single draft. So Stroud’s performance matters, even if he won’t be putting up points himself.
Anthony Richardson, on the other hand, is going to matter a ton. Richardson is the most athletic quarterback ever tested at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s going to run enough as a rookie to be a fringe QB1, no matter how he fares as a passer. I happen to think he has more ceiling in the cerebral part of the passing game than most. If you’re the last person to take a quarterback in your draft, consider Richardson.
Running backsIf you’ve ever said “This guy’s never played a down in the NFL,” you’re not drafting Bijan Robinson. The uber-talented running back is a consensus first-round fantasy pick — and it’s justified. He was one of the most gifted backs to enter the NFL in years and went to the Falcons, who ranked fifth in rushing success rate last year. Arthur Smith is likely to use him as a receiving weapon too, and this target tree should be highly concentrated between Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Robinson.
Bijan Robinson is the top fantasy rookie in the 2023 class. (Illustration by Taylar Sievert, Yahoo Sports)
Jahmyr Gibbs is the other name to know. He was a legendary receiving talent in college and averaged 7.0 yards per touch in his 2022 season at Alabama. The Lions aggressively drafted Gibbs and given the depth chart at receiver, there’s a chance he’s the second-most targeted player on the team behind Amon-Ra St. Brown. He’s my RB19 and there are other analysts even higher on him, like our own Dalton Del Don (RB12).
Those are the main two rookie running backs but keep an eye on the following guys who could emerge. De’Von Achane is slight but brings a ton of speed to an offense that craves that trait and has passable veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. I like Zach Charbonnet’s game and love the 2023 Seahawks offense but he might be a bit player behind Kenneth Walker (when he’s healthy). Kendre Miller is an explosive back with an aggressive rushing style but the Saints running back room is crowded and hard to read.
Wide receiversAs you can imagine, I wrote a detailed breakdown of how the receivers drafted on Day 1 and 2 project for playing time as rookies. I’d love it if you read the piece but I’ll give you the groupings here.
Day 1 starters: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jordan Addison.
Have a few hurdles but will play a significant role: Zay Flowers, Quentin Johnston, Jonathan Mingo, Jayden Reed, Josh Downs.
Future bets: Marvin Mims, Rashee Rice, Cedric Tillman, Jalin Hyatt, Tank Dell, Michael Wilson
The only one I’d definitely move up here is Mims, whom I now think is a lock for the third receiver gig after Tim Patrick’s season-ending injury in camp. Mims can fly and is a perfect speed slot receiver for this offense. Sean Payton put every receiver in Denver on the block this summer and traded up for Mims as his first-ever draft pick with the Broncos. What does that tell you?
Again, read the full piece for my view on these players and the reason for slotting them in each group. Getting rookie receivers right is important. It’s been a theme the last three years to target rookie wideouts in the second half of their first seasons as possible league winners.
Tight endsRookie tight ends typically don’t matter for fantasy. That’s not the case this year. It starts with Dalton Kincaid, whom the Bills selected in Round 1; he will likely line up primarily in the slot. Kincaid has great hands and moves well. I have him ranked as a top-12 tight end because you should only care about upside that late at this position.
Sam LaPorta looks like he’s ready to moonwalk into a Day 1 starting gig with the Lions. He’s a YAC threat and Andy Behrens’ favorite player. The Lions don’t have much going on for them at receiver behind Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The Packers offense is filled with almost exclusively young players and that includes likely starting tight end, Luke Musgrave. Charles McDonald sold me on his game in our pre-draft positional preview show:
Typically with these rookie tight ends, they’re stuck behind by some mid veteran, some blocking specialist. That’s not the case with Musgrave. His only other competition is another rookie, Tucker Kraft.
One deep sleeper for the roadLet me talk to you about Michael Wilson real quick. Wilson showed excellent flashes of an ability to beat man and press coverage on his college film. He’s also the lone player on the Arizona Cardinals roster who has the size to play X-receiver. He could play ahead of Rondale Moore alongside Marquise Brown in two-receiver sets. He is the consensus-ranked WR116; I have him ranked 40 spots ahead of that. It doesn’t get deeper.
“My Guys”I’m not going to waste your time in this section. You don’t need me to tell you why a consensus first- or second-round fantasy pick is “my guy.” I’d love to tell you I’m all-in on Tony Pollard and Nick Chubb or Amon-Ra St. Brown’s top-five ceiling and Chris Olave’s path to being a WR1. But I’m going to go out on a bit more of a limb for you. I’ll give you some options at other positions before cracking open the Reception Perception notebook.
Non-WR DivisionI didn’t envision myself being completely Daniel Jones-pilled this season. But here I am. I wrote about the structural upside of this offense in my “Five Takeaways from my Projections” article. Combined with his rushing ability, if the coaching staff is more confident in the pass-catchers around Jones and opens up this offense, he has a top-eight fantasy quarterback upside. If I wait
Miles Sanders just doesn’t fit into the typical “running back dead zone, he’s getting volume by default” bucket. He was specifically targeted in free agency by this new regime in Carolina and while he benefitted from the Eagles ecosystem, he’s still a quality back. He is also a lock to catch more passes. He has a 50-catch season on his resume — under the same running back coach he has in 2023 — and is no longer competing for a rushing quarterback’s check-down targets with star-quality receivers and tight ends. He could clear 70 targets this season and has a top-15 running back upside.
The Steelers wide receiver group has the potential to be a quality trio but I still find myself clicking Pat Freiermuth quite a lot in drafts. His 17.6% target share and 0.23 targets per route run reflect a high-volume player. If Kenny Pickett takes a step, this whole offense can be better. He’s consistently available in the eighth or ninth round.
Wide receiversIf you think Calvin Ridley’s ADP (47.3 on Yahoo) is too high, you’re just forgetting how good he was at his peak. He was a No. 1 wideout and had shades of Stefon Diggs in his game. Now, he’s paired with an ascending offense and a growing young quarterback who needs a player like this to unlock the deep, outside-the-numbers passing game. I get the long layoff makes it tough but all reports from training camp are glowing. I have Ridley ranked as a fringe WR1. Be bold.
Much like Tyler Lockett, Brandon Aiyuk is now just grandfathered into a “my guy” spot pretty much every season. He’s just so good. Aiyuk posted a 79.3% success rate vs. man coverage score in Reception Perception last season. Almost all the guys who beat press at that level all posted WR1 seasons at some point in their careers. I’ll just take my shots on Aiyuk making that leap on an annual basis even if San Francisco looks crowded. Bet on great players; this game doesn’t have to be so hard.
Drake London didn’t hit the same statistical peaks as fellow 2022 rookies Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson but when viewed in isolation, London aced his rookie season. He ran out as the Falcons’ pure X-receiver and won against press and man coverage. He’s the most talented pass-catcher on this team. Desmond Ridder just needs to be functional for London to have a monster season.
I ranked Michael Pittman Jr. too high last year. I just didn’t think Matt Ryan’s arm was ready to fall off. Nothing about Pittman’s game has changed for 2023. And while there will be volume questions with Anthony Richardson at the helm, I’ll take the plunge. Pittman dominated first-read targets last season, per Fantasy Points Data, and both JJ Zachariason and Ben Gretch have done research to show how RPOs can help wideouts exceed expectations, even in run-heavy offenses. Betting a bit on the talent shining through here with a much more open passing game.
I would take Jahan Dotson over many other second-year wideouts people rank ahead of him in dynasty formats. I liked Dotson as a prospect but he even surprised me with how excellent he faired running out as a pure outside receiver and beating press coverage. He looked like an excellent player as a rookie. If Sam Howell can play, this offense is set to fly. Also, it’s perfectly reasonable to be in on all three of Dotson, Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. You know I am.
Jahan Dotson has breakout potential in his second season. (Illustration by Taylar Sievert, Yahoo Sports)Look, I wouldn’t have advised Elijah Moore to request a trade and get in fights with his coaches but he had a point that his talents weren’t being fully utilized; “it’s not your fault.” Moore knows how to run routes and put cornerbacks in a bind. He gets a fresh start in Cleveland and will smash if the quarterback is good. Moore isn’t even going inside the top 40 receivers.
One player(s) I won’t leave a draft withoutI’m cheating for this category but you’ll have to forgive me. I will not leave a draft this year without taking at least one Ravens wide receiver. There are three primary reasons for this.
For one, I fully believe that Todd Monken’s arrival signals a needed breath of fresh air for the Baltimore passing game. Let this be the last time you think of the Ravens offense as the condensed formation, run-heavy ways of the Greg Roman years. It’s a new era for Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. And he’s never had a receiver corps like this one.
You also don’t have to overextend yourself to get these guys. Due to overall skepticism about the offense, the injury history of some of the players and the lack of clarity in terms of roles, none of the Ravens receivers go inside the top 100 picks. Take advantage of that ambiguity.
Lastly, and most critically, I believe that all three of Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman and Zay Flowers can be excellent players in 2023 if health cooperates.
Beckham is the trickiest case because it’s been a while since we’ve seen him. But last we watched him play, he was an excellent starting-caliber X-receiver for the Super Bowl champs and I think we can now put to bed who was primarily to blame for his Cleveland year (Hint: It’s the same quarterback who dragged down DJ Moore to start last season).
Rookie Zay Flowers was a fantastic prospect who displayed excellent route running as an inside and outside receiver with explosive play potential. He was my WR2 overall in the 2023 draft class. If he’s the best receiver on this team, I will be zero-percent surprised.
Then there is Bateman. If all things were equal, he’d be my favorite pick from this wide receiver corps. As of August 8, Bateman is still on the PUP list as he recovers from a bad foot injury in 2022. I’m just very bullish on the player. I loved him as a prospect and think we’ve seen true full-field No. 1 wide receiver ability in spurts in the league. As such, I’m willing to take shots on him in drafts. We just need him to stay on the field.
Good luck in your 2023 drafts!We at Yahoo Fantasy hope this blueprint will help you draft juggernaut teams in 2023, ones replete with talent and upside at every position, that will help you crush September and the playoffs too, on your road to multiple fantasy championships!
Source : Yahoo Sports