Joe's 2023 Fantasy Football State of the Union

Friday, Aug 25, 2023 at 12:33 pm ET


Welcome to my 2023 Fantasy Football State of the Union address. As drafts are underway and the season is right around the corner, I'd like to share some of my thoughts, insights, and opinions on what we've seen so far.

Running Backs Still Matter
Derrick HenryThere is plenty of talk around the industry about the decline of the running back position. Depending upon the source, it's either a wake up call or a lot of noise. You may have heard the terms "Zero Running Back" and "Hero Running Back". Both are strategies to deal with the RB position. We've written about it before. The best projected teams that we've experienced tend to employ the Hero RB strategy which essentially says to be sure to pick a Tier 1 or Tier 2 RB within the first few rounds.

As we've written before, taking a top-end RB with your first or second pick opens up some really interesting possibilities. It gives you that one bell cow while giving you flexibility with the receiver or tight end position. Looking at ADP data, let's assume you take Justin Jefferson or Ja'Marr Chase with your first round pick. You could pair him with someone like Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, or Josh Jacobs in the second. If you took Christian McCaffrey or Austin Ekeler in the first, you could pair them with someone like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Garrett Wilson, or Jaylen Waddle in the second. Either option sets you up well with solid anchors in those positions.

If your roster calls for at least two starting RBs, ignoring that position feels like a flawed strategy.

Quarterbacks Matter...at the right price
I have been incredibly impressed with the advice and analysis from Daniel Hepner, so it should come as no surprise that I'm going to enthusiastically encourage you to read his thoughts on when to draft a fantasy quarterback.

Patrick MahomesWith a pass-happy league, the QB spot is primed to deliver big points each week. You'll see that from the Tier 1 guys like Mahomes, Allen, and Hurts, but according to ADP data, you're going to spend a 2nd-round pick on them. In Superflex (and certainly some home leagues) you'll frequently see them come off the board in the first round. Normally I'm not spending that high of a pick for one of these guys, but in the draft this week for the Fantasy Nerds User League III, I did grab Mahomes in the 3rd round. It's the only share I have of him this season, and third round felt appropriate. I genuinely like that team and will be interested to see if that feeling remains at the end of the season.

If you wait on the quarterback position, I like targeting Daniel Jones, Geno Smith, and Kirk Cousins.

BONUS: Target Kyler Murray as your backup. With his current ADP and the expectation that he returns before your starting QB's bye week, Murray presents tremendous value here.

Wide Receivers Are The New Kings
This is a fundamental shift in fantasy football. For those of us who have played for many years (ahem), we grew up focused on the RB position. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to draft three straight running backs so the flex spot would be filled as well. Many teams are passing more and employing the RBBC (running back by committee) approach. The game is changing. We also grew up on standard scoring, but most leagues today are either half or full point per reception. Again, the game is changing. If you wait on the wide receiver position this year, you're likely to be disappointed come playoff time.

Deebo SamuelIf you are not getting one of the Top 20 guys, you're odds of success come down significantly. Take a peek at the Wide Receiver Tiers to get a feel for the kind of guys that you're going to want to draft on your teams. There is still some great value in the Tier 4 guys like Deebo Samuel, Chris Godwin, and Christian Watson, but they are much better suited to be your WR2/3 than your WR1. We have to remember that if they are our WR1, we're putting some unnecessary risk into our downline spots with guys like Michael Pittman, Christian Kirk, Michael Thomas, and Jordan Addison. It may be tough to count on consistent production from them each week.

Tight Ends...It's a Role of the Dice
For many years, Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was a tier unto himself. Today, Travis Kelce fits that bill and that's why you'll need to pay a first round price to have him on your team. If Mark Andrews or TJ Hockenson fall to you, that's a win. If they don't, you can wait.

Darren WallerOne guy that I have been targeting, but have thus far been largely unsuccessful in obtaining is Darren Waller. Personally, I like his potential this year over Kittle and Pitts who are ranked ahead of him. The knock on Waller is that he does tend to miss games due to injury (he missed 14 games during his time with the Raiders). The move to New York is a good one for him and we expect him to be one of the most targeted players in that Giants' receiving corp. His camp highlights have been mouth-wateringly fantastic. I am in complete agreement with our friends over at Draft Sharks who have identified Waller's ceiling potential as a Top 3 consideration. That's a risk that I'm willing to take.

As you might imagine, I draft a lot. Wether it's industry leagues, FN user leagues, our charity league, or any of the other dozen+ leagues that I'm involved in, I have significant shares of players like Dallas Goedert, Evan Engram, David Njoku, and Pat Freiermuth. From a projections standpoint, these guys are projected to deliver a point or less per week than George Kittle who is going earlier. In fact, once Kittle comes off the board (assuming Waller is gone), that's when I'll start looking at drafting a TE.

Riskiest Players To Draft
Darren Waller is risky, but he's not the only guy with question marks as you head into the draft room. There are guys that I have largely avoided and for good reason.

Breece HallBreece Hall's rookie season was a glimpse into what he can do. His knee injury in Week 7 curtailed what would have been an expectation-defying fantasy season. He's off the PUP list and back at practice in what appears to be a re-energized Jets offense. As if the injury risk wasn't enough, the Jets went out and signed Pro Bowl RB Dalvin Cook. Hall's ADP has fallen since Cook joined the team, but he's still being taken in front of guys who present more upside and have less competition for touches. I have no shares of Breece Hall simply because the price has been too high for where he's being taken.

Jonathan Taylor's situation in Indy has yet to be resolved as of this writing. Jim Irsay may want a mulligan after saying, "If I die tonight and Jonathan Taylor is out of the league, no one's gonna miss us. The league goes on. We know that." He has indicated that he doesn't want to pay Taylor an elite RB price though he's asking for an elite RB price in trade talks. It's frustrating for all involved and that adds significant risk for fantasy owners. Taylor has been given approval to seek a trade, and all reports seem to indicate interest from multiple teams. If he gets traded, he'll need to learn a new playbook quickly, and perhaps on the fly in the beginning. If he doesn't leave Indy, will he play (ala Le'Veon Bell) and how will he be used? I have to admit that I love the thought of defenses having to account for both JT and Anthony Richardson. I own several shares of JT, and given his current ADP, I have largely overpaid for all of them. Assuming things work out, he could be a value in the 3rd/4th rounds, but I haven't personally seen him fall that far. It's a risk, but it's one that I think will work out in the end. Given the well-documented implosion of Le'Veon Bell after his holdout, I can't imagine JT falling for the same trap. He'll play somewhere. The sooner we know where that is, the better.

I caught some flak for recommending people avoid Calvin Ridley. "Avoid" is too strong of a word. It should be more like "measured response". The guy hasn't played in a live NFL game since October 24, 2021. He missed most of 2021 with an injury and then was suspended for the entire 2022 season. The receiving corp in Jacksonville has gotten better and Ridley's not a known quantity - thus the increase in risk given his ADP. For me, it's all about price vs value on this one.

George KittleI mentioned George Kittle a few paragraphs up, and I have drafted him just once in my redraft leagues this year. I expect some TD regression from him in 2023 and he'll have to fight for target share with some seriously talented players (Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk). Let's not forget his history of injuries. He's only played a full season once. If past history is any indication, he's likely to miss 2-3 games this year. In the league that I drafted him, I made it a point to get a decent backup option on the bench for those inevitable missed weeks.

Like Kittle above, I have just one share of Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins. This is a player that is heavily dependent upon getting into the endzone. Without a touchdown, his fantasy contributions have been very underwhelming. Against that backdrop, we have to consider who else would get the goal line work if he doesn't, and low and behold, we have both Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards fully capable of filling that role. Add the fact that Dobbins has just recently come off the PUP list, and I have largely shied away from clicking the draft button.

Kadarius ToneyKadarius Toney is an enigma to me. First, I think he's insanely talented. When God handed out natural talent, Toney got an extra helping. Unfortunately, the big guy shortchanged him on durability and intelligence. Seriously - I think he's one of the least intelligent players in the NFL. Cerebral proficiency isn't necessarily required to play in the NFL, but it sure helps and he doesn't have it. He's a one-trick pony who can't seem to stay on the field, and that's the key. It's tough to score points if you're not even playing. That's the devil on my shoulder; however, the angel on the other shoulder reminds me that he plays in one of the most prolific passing offenses in the NFL with one of the most dynamic and talented quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes. The potential to become the top receiving option in that offense (outside of Kelce) is an attractive thought when seeing his name on the draft board. It's an undeniable enigma. For me, I have one or two shares of him in my redraft leagues, and I may have thrown up a little in my mouth each time I did click Draft.

Undervalued Players
One key to winning consistently in the draft room is by finding value picks. We've even introduced a new Draft Value Finder tool. When I created our NerdRank algorithm, it was designed to reward and weight those sites who publish the most accurate rankings and projections. I wanted to favor those who are demonstrably more accurate by position. When we bump up those consensus rankings to ADP data, we can start to find some diamonds in the rough.

For example, here are some of the players that are criminally undervalued in my opinion - sometimes to the tune of up to several full rounds.

  • Joe Mixon
  • Alexander Mattison
  • David Montgomery
  • James Conner
  • Chris Godwin
  • DJ Chark
  • Michael Gallup
  • Sky Moore
  • Dalton Kincaid
  • Rondale Moore
  • Tyler Lockett
  • Tyler Higbee

James ConnerJames Conner is interesting as he's two years away from the dreaded 30-year cliff, but what I really like about him is his usage. He's got little/no competition for targets and has finished as an RB1 in points per game each of the last two years. With Kyler Murray likely to miss time, you can bet that the Cardinals are going to lean on him. Yes, he'll miss time (as most backs do), but he presents a lot of value for where you're drafting him.

Joe Mixon is similar in that regard. Samaje Perine is no longer in the mix, and while he has been inconsistent with the points delivered each week, he's been a great draft value this season. I have Mixon as an RB2/Flex in multiple leagues and I'm more than OK with that.

Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are being drafted in territory that most of us are simply not accustomed to seeing. This has less to do with them as receivers and more to do with their QB situation. His volume will likely drop this year, but his efficiency has always been there. Even an injured Godwin has proven to be a valuable fantasy contributor. I have these guys on several teams as WR3's (ppr format) which I love!

If you wait on tight end or need a value backup, Tyler Higbee should be on your target list. He finished sixth among TE's last season and plays for a team that will likely be playing from behind quite a bit this season. Allen Robinson is gone and the Rams didn't do much outside of Puka Nacua in the draft. Cooper Kupp is back, but Higbee actually performed better in games with Kupp on the field. He'll see a healthy target share and presents great draft value. He's a fringe TE1 that can be had in the 12th and 13th rounds.

Geno Smith was a beast last year, and both Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf benefited. Whether it's Smith or previously Russell Wilson under center, I'll never understand the industry's reluctance on Lockett's fantasy potential. He has finished as a WR2 for the last five years. Admittedly, he's not a sexy pick, but I'm seeing rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba go ahead of him in drafts. Really? JSN is dynamically talented, but I'll take the reliability and proven production from the veteran in my drafts this year.

Overvalued Players
In several of my leagues, my lottery pick this year has been Tank Bigsby from the Jaguars. He was a talent for the Tigers in college and should be a talent for Jacksonville. He will play behind Travis Etienne this season, and I don't feel like that's being considered enough given Etienne's current ADP. Bigsby could very easily see the bulk of the redzone carries especially given that Etienne had the fifth-most carries inside the 10-yard line but only walked away with four scores. His value is in open space. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't hesitate to put Etienne in an open roster spot, but I'm looking for a bit more value from him in the draft room.

Aaron RodgersFuture Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers is still in green, but it's far from the quietness of Green Bay. If you're watching Hard Knocks on HBO, you'll see that the entire Jets team is all-in on him. Rodgers is coming off one of his worst seasons, but he's reuniting with OC Nathaniel Hackett and he's brought along some of his former teammates. He's got new weapons in Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, and Dalvin Cook so it appears to be Super Bowl or Bust for the Jets. Even with the change in scenery, it's difficult to imagine Rodgers reclaiming QB1 form. In Superflex leagues, he makes for a fine QB2. In one-QB leagues, he's not the guy that I want to pencil into my lineups. Given his current ADP, I don't have a single share of Aaron Rodgers in any form.

I've mentioned George Kittle already, but there's a reason why I only have one share of him. He fell a round later than his current ADP. At that point, he presented enough value for me. He's a good player, but I certainly wouldn't reach for him. There's a lot of talent available in the 4th and 5th rounds where he's currently going. It's also not lost on me that he scored on 18.3% of his receptions last year - a completely unsustainable share (avg for the league: 8.4%).

Safe Players
We love to preach the mantra of mixing safety and sexy in our draft strategy, but the earlier rounds should be where we focus our safety interests. Most of the guys in the first couple of rounds are safe so I'm not going to spend much time on them.

Aaron JonesOne guy that I do want to highlight is Packers RB Aaron Jones. He shares the backfield with the Quadfather AJ Dillon, but Jones presents great safety at his current ADP. He'll likely flirt with an RB1 finish once again, but he's being drafted as an RB2 which is where he'll most likely finish. His consistency means that you're not second guessing him in your lineups each week. He'll have to contend with new QB Jordan Love, but Jones remains a reliable option for fantasy owners.

Last season, Diontae Johnson failed to reach the endzone. That letdown along with an inconsistent showing from QB Kenny Pickett is likely baked into his current ADP. That's great news for fantasy owners. I fully expect to see Johnson in the endzone this year, and given his current ADP in the 7th round, he's a guy that I'm frequently targeting in my drafts. There's a ton of upside to him at very little cost.

At the end of the season, this take could make me look like I know what I'm doing or it's going to go the complete opposite direction, but I really do think that Alexander Mattison is a safe play. I'm aware of the prevailing thoughts from analysts across the Twitterverse (someday I'll get used to calling it "X"), but I disagree with their sour assessment. There was a reason why Mattison was frequently the top-rated handcuff in fantasy sitting behind Dalvin Cook on the depth chart. He performed admirably in Cook's absence and averaged more than 130 scrimmage yards over his last five starts. He's a great runner and has good hands to contribute as a receiving option. He's arguably one of only a handful of 3-down backs remaining in the NFL. He's got a fairly pedestrian schedule, has little competition for touches, is a known quantity to the fantasy world, and he's available in the sixth round. I think Mattison has the potential to finish as an RB1 (top 12 finish). Don't be surprised if Alexander Mattison is the steal of the draft this year.

Sleepers
I've always found the term "sleeper" to lack consistent definition across our industry. In its most basic form, a sleeper is someone who has the potential to significantly outperform their ADP. There are always a handful and the guys that I'm targeting as sleepers this year include:

  • QB Sam Howell, Commanders
  • WR Rashee Rice, Chiefs
  • RB Tank Bigbsy, Jaguars
  • RB James Cook, Bills
  • TE Dalton Kincaid, Bills
  • RB Jaylen Warren, Steelers
  • WR DJ Chark, Panthers
  • WR Zay Jones, Jaguars
  • WR Zay Flowers, Ravens
  • WR Jonathan Mingo, Panthers

Good luck in your drafts! Let's bring home a championship!
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Join the Discussion

TE(i)AM CommentedAug 26, 2023 1:52 am

Good article! I'm drafting 2nd in a Yahoo 14 team league. Does it make sense to draft a RB first? Top 25 scorers last year were 17 QB ( Top 9 & 12 of the top 15), 7 RB, & 1 WR (25th). It's a long 24 picks till my round 2 pick.

Nerd CommentedAug 26, 2023 10:07 am

I love this question. If that RB is Christian McCaffrey, then absolutely yes. If he goes at 1.01, then I'd take Jefferson. I wouldn't overthink that pick, but you are correct - it's a long wait for the snake to get back to you.

TE(i)AM CommentedAug 26, 2023 11:18 am

Thanks!

TE(i)AM CommentedAug 26, 2023 11:31 am

Interesting. Looking at the overall rankings based on my league's custom scoring setup, it's Allen, Mahomes, Hurts, Jefferson, Kelce, L. Jackson, Chub, Henry, Chase, Kupp. McCaffrey is 16th! How much credence should I put into that list?

Nerd CommentedAug 26, 2023 4:54 pm

Depends upon how unique your scoring system is, but for me, I'd still take either Justin Jefferson or Christian McCaffrey with your second pick. Good luck!


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