Finding 2023 Fantasy Values Using WAR


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Finding 2023 Fantasy Values Using WAR

In my first offseason WAR article, I identified draft targets with a lot of value based on last year’s WAR. These were guys who enter 2023 under similar situations and thus inherit similar expectations as 2022.

But what about the guys who might have found their footing and blossomed into a star mid-way through the year? Or established players that missed a lot of time in the first half of the season? That’s what this article will tackle as you continue to prep for your seasonal fantasy drafts.

Every year there are a few of these types that turn it on in the back half of the year, making it hard to peg where they should be drafted the following year. This usually occurs with rookie quarterbacks, rookie wide receivers, or second-year tight ends. If you read my first preseason draft article – you recall I used my Wins Above Replacement metric to identify which players’ ADP was significantly lower this year vs. their 2022 WAR. That approach doesn’t work for what we’re looking at here.

Take 2021 Amon-Ra St. Brown, for example. He blasted off from Week 12 until the end of the season after proving to his coaches he belonged on the field at all times. At the snap of your fingers, he turned into a star. That ended up not being a fluke the following year. St. Brown prowled his way to being the 18th-best fantasy player by WAR in 2022.

That leads us to wonder about this year. Who erupted in 2022 that might be this year’s St. Brown? I adjusted my WAR code to consider only Weeks 8-17 of last season. It’s a crude measure but provides an analytic starting point in determining the quantitative draft value of the mid-season bloomers. Byes were neutralized by not taking them into account, as some players would be penalized by the WAR model if they had a bye while others may not have.

Let’s take a look at the results and see if we can find another Amon-Ra-like diamond or two buried in the ADP rough.

2022 WAR – Weeks 8-17 ON

Tony Pollard, RB, DAL

Pollard’s story seemed inevitable. Everyone with working eyeballs knew he had more juice than Ezekiel Elliott, and the only reason he was being left in the stable early in the 2022 season stemmed from Jerry Jones’ issues with admitting a sunk cost. Even so, Pollard was worth a Round 2 pick over the entire season (WAR Rank #20) and hit the jets in the second half as the #6 player overall. His 2023 ADP around 22 is consistent with his 2022 full-season WAR, but there’s plenty of reason to buy into his second-half WAR rank of #6.

Imagine starting your draft off in the #2 spot landing Christian McCaffrey and Tony Pollard before a Round 3 theft of Jalen Hurts. If you’re able to pull that off, you might need to turn your webcam off if drafting online with the crew for a few minutes.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, DAL

CeeDee is a bigger name, but I think he’s a perfect fit for this analysis. He didn’t catch fire in the second half of 2022 for no reason. He got Dak Prescott back in Week 7 after his opening-game injury. With a second-half WAR rank of #5, he’s currently going off as ADP #11 for 2023. This might not seem like a lot, but for a first-round player, it is. Imagine having the opportunity as the team with the 11th selection in the draft switch first round picks with #5 without any repercussions. That’s what you’re getting by taking Lamb at 11.

Justin Fields, QB, CHI

Fields is my favorite value QB this year. It probably should still be Jalen Hurts, who’s now a proven fantasy star donning everything you want in a fantasy quarterback (except the terrible defense). But lucky for Fields, he will probably still have that to unleash his full fantasy potential. Justin also has his version of AJ Brown in DJ Moore to should help open up the field. There’s just so much to love here.

Fields’ legs managed to make him a Round 1 caliber player in the second half of 2022 even without a true #1 wide receiver. And he’s sitting at a Round 5 2023 price tag. Yeah, I’ll take that.

Amari Cooper, WR, CLE

Cooper is another perfect player for this research. He might have been around all year in 2022, but his star quarterback wasn’t. I expect Cooper to have an even better 2023 than back half of 2022 since Deshaun Watson has now had a full offseason to get comfortable and continue to develop rapport with his #1 receiver.

I last saw Cooper’s ADP at 39. His second half of 2022 settled in at #21 overall. Again, that was with a rusty quarterback. I absolutely love Cooper this year, even if his ADP creeps up a little bit like I think it might.

George Kittle, TE, SF

I talked about Kittle in my last article, and his value is so great I have to mention him again. The guy just has chemistry with Brock Purdy. They just work. He won’t be nearly as consistent as Travis Kelce, but you’re also not using a Round 1 pick on him as he sits around ADP #53.

James Conner, RB, ARI

Conner might be the toy that no one wants due to the dire straits of the offense he plays in. The Cardinals were a mess last season and there’s little reason to think they’ll be anything remotely close to an offensive threat this year. But Conner was still a Round 1 value player for the second half of last season despite all of this. And there’s really no one on the roster that is much of a threat to his workload. So to see him going at ADP 64 is just too good to pass up. He’s not going to be a home-run player, but he’ll make a great RB2 later in your drafts while you stockpile an extra stud at WR or TE.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAX

Lawrence’s 4-point Week 17 dud left a bad taste in people’s minds. Exploit it. He’s going at ADP 56, with a 2022 second-half-of-season WAR of rank of 39. That’s a round and a half of value if you believe Lawrence’s improvement wasn’t random but a part of the maturation process. I mean, who wouldn’t believe that? If you still want to punt on taking a top-tier quarterback, Lawrence is one of the best “wait-on-quarterback” options in Round 6 without waiting longer for a trip to Quarterback Goodwill.

Creator of fantasy football Wins Above Replacement. Jeff enjoys fantasy football analytics and sports analytics in general and writes comedic sports analytics columns on the side at