7/10/23 UPDATE: On July 10th, I took a few hours to thoroughly review this Draft Plan and I updated all ADPs along with anything else that needed updating. I also added a few more options.
It’s time for the 2023 NFL season, which means it’s time for me to form a specific plan of action for each position — AKA my fantasy Draft Plan. And at this time of year, there is no more active drafting market than Underdog Fantasy Best Ball drafts.
I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but each season brings with it at least some subtle trends that I react to, and in 2023, I’m seeing some fairly significant shifts in the ways fantasy enthusiasts are drafting, so I’ve reacted accordingly.
I’ve always laid out the plan in terms of how I’m attacking each position, but the meat and potatoes of the plan are the actual players I’m planning on targeting and using to implement the plan. So what I have below is not only what I think is an optimal plan of action, but also what I feel are optimal picks based on ADP, upside, and downside. We’re talking about the best ball strategy here, so make sure you understand your players’ upside/downside, volatility, etc.
Note: We’re constantly updating our Best Ball rankings if you’re looking to get an early start to draft season with our friends over at Underdog Fantasy (Promo code: FANTASYPTS). New signups to Underdog get both a deposit match of up to $100 and a Fantasy Points Standard subscription for just $5!
THE QUARTERBACK PLAN
The sharps have been giving more love to the QBs in all fantasy drafts over the last few years, and that trend is definitely continuing this year. In Best Ball and other drafts, we’re now seeing the top few quarterbacks going off the board earlier than I’ve seen in over 15 years.
I’ve been placing a higher priority on getting an elite option at the position for several years myself, but last year I was not paying top dollar for the studs, so I did not promote Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Justin Herbert as good picks. I’ve also been wary of running QBs going off the board before some excellent RB/WR options, so I did not promote Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray at all. I did target high-end players with elite potential, but I dropped a tier or two for better values, and I got that with my two top targets — Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts.
But there are more QBs than usual commanding an extravagant cost this year, and I might be out on all of them. Allen and Mahomes are extremely costly, and Hurts, Lamar Jackson, and Justin Fields, who all have more risk due to their active running, are also too expensive for me. So if I’m going to use a very early pick on a QB this year, it’ll be the guy who has quickly emerged as one of my favorite QBs of all time, and I’m talking the fourth round, so it’s not that early:
- Joe Burrow (Cin, 45 ADP) — We’ve yet to see Burrow’s career year, so if I don’t see any elite options at RB/WR/TE, I’ll take Burrow in the fourth because it may be hard for the Cincinnati Bengals to retain Burrow along with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, so they may go for broke and sling it like never before this year.
I love Burrow, and I’m looking to zig when many others are zagging by taking their QBs early this year, so I want to get my QB1 a little later, so if I’m “stuck” one round after Burrow goes i the fourth, I’ll take this guy in the fifth:
- Justin Herbert (LAC, 55 ADP) — ADDED 7/10. It’s the right time to buy Herbert, given all the improvements on offense, and his lowered cost.
But ideally, I’m getting optimal value at QB, which is represented for me by two players. Player one stands out to me as a no-brainer, just like Burrow last year, as the QB7/8 off the board:
- Trevor Lawrence (Jax, 60 ADP) — With Calvin Ridley added and Evan Engram back, I don’t see how he fails after his 2022 showing in which he fought through adversity, played hurt, and lit it up down the stretch. With 50 points a season using his legs so far, and his passing numbers set to take off in year two of Doug Pederson’s Jacksonville Jaguars tenure, Lawrence really is the perfect fantasy pick because he runs (but not too much), and he’s very capable of hanging with his more expensive contemporaries.
In player two, we have a guy who I isolated in January as my top QB target. He’s moved up the board since then, but he’s still my value pick of the year as the QB9 on Underdog:
- Deshaun Watson (Cle, 83 ADP) — Unless he’s unable to regain something close to his 2020 form, he’s a slam dunk with a year under his belt and an improved supporting cast for the Cleveland Browns. And he’s shown all off-season that he’s regained something close to his 2020 form.
Most likely, I’ll be selecting either Burrow, Herbert, Lawrence, or Watson as my QB1 on Underdog, but I do need a backup plan beyond these three, and this guy is it:
- Daniel Jones (NYG, 112 ADP) — He’s the QB14 off the board, which is actually down from May and unfair to Jones considering his QB1 standing last year and all the positives working in his favor this year, like a vastly-improved receiving corps and an upgraded OL. He’s already completely cleaned up his ball security, and despite his weak receiving corps, from Weeks 10-18, Jones was first in the NFL in Completion Percentage Over Expectation at 4.9%. That is a clear sign that he’s still ascending, so while I’m not totally sold, I’m also 100% convinced Jones will outproduce this draft position.
If I need a backup plan for my backup plan with Jones, I have the guy:
- Kirk Cousins (Min, 100 ADP) — Like clockwork, Kirk puts up numbers — and the Minnesota Vikings don’t win crap. His rushing production is completely negligible at this point, but their defense is going to stink again, and the strength of their roster is their receiving corps and OL, which bodes well for Cousins in year two with HC Kevin O’Connell.
It’s important to roster a solid QB2 in Best Ball, of course, but I’m not sure I’d want to pay up for Jones or Cousins as my QB2, so I need more options. They are:
Russell Wilson (Den, 133 ADP) — For the record, I wanted no parts of Russ last year, but I’m confident in a Denver Broncos bounceback with Sean Payton, and at damn near a 50% price reduction in cost from 2022.
Kenny Pickett (Pit, 167 ADP) — I know OC Matt Canada stinks and they’re the Pittsburgh Steelers — so they want to run the ball a lot — but I’m still offended by Pickett’s low ADP. The man had the lowest TD% in the league last year, and even if he doubled it to 3.6%, it would have only been good for 22nd-best in the league, which, if you’re being optimistic like I am, means there’s a lot of room to grow. Pickett played very well as a rookie in the youngest offense in football, so considering how strong his supporting cast is in year two, I’m sounding the positive regression alarm.
Brock Purdy (SF, 172 ADP) — Purdy’s ADP is up 20+ spots from when I originally listed him in May, and that’s because he’s clearly the #1 QB. He was only 37th in pass attempts last year, but his 7.6% TD rate was tops among all QBs with at least 170 attempts. If he started 17 games at a San Francisco 49er-like 30 attempts per game, that would be 39 TD passes on the season. He’s not a gifted thrower, so his TD rate could drop 50% this year, yet he’d still be a viable pick this late.
Mac Jones (NE, 200 ADP) — I did have Mac here last year, but that was mostly about his extremely low cost because I had little confidence in the guys who were charged with running the New England Patriots offense in 2022. They ran it right into the ground, as feared, but this time around, Mac’s even cheaper, and I actually do have confidence in the OC (Bill O’Brien), so I feel strongly that Mac will outproduce this draft slot by a lot. He’s a decent QB2 really late and a nice and handy QB3, also very late.
Anyone listed above would be an elite QB3, and I would advise getting a QB3 on Underdog, especially if you roster a player with a checkered injury past. The pickings are slim otherwise, with several low-end options guaranteed nothing in terms of playing time, but Desmond Ridder (Atl, 201 ADP) and Baker Mayfield (TB, 212 ADP) should have to trip badly to lose their starting gigs. If I had to dig deep in the last round, I might take a shot with Jacoby Brissett (Was, 215), since I’m not a big Sam Howell believer (at this early stage).
For now, as of mid-May, here’s a ranking of my five favorite QB picks based on ADP:
- DeShaun Watson (Cle, 77 ADP)
- Trevor Lawrence (Jax, 60 ADP)
- Justin Herbert (LAC, 55 ADP)
- Joe Burrow (Cin, 41 ADP)
- Kenny Pickett (Pit, 172 ADP)
THE RUNNING BACK PLAN
A look back at last year’s RB plan revealed many more hits than misses, but I’m including players who missed a lot of time due to injury as “hits,” like Breece Hall. As usual, this position is volatile, so it’s tough to deal with.
The good news is there’s usual depth here this year, and due to the love people are giving the WRs and the QBs in 2023, the backs are being pushed down the board. There are plenty of high-end options I’m willing to draft this year, including Christian McCaffrey (3.8), Bijan Robinson (8.1), Austin Ekeler (8.1), Jonathan Taylor (17.2), Saquon Barkley (18.4), Nick Chubb (15.7), Tony Pollard (21.7), Derrick Henry (24.4), Breece Hall (31), and Rhamondre Stevenson (26.5). That is the actual top-11 RBs on Underdog as of early-July. But I don’t find myself banging the drum loudly for any of them, and I do see a lot of potential landmines other than Eckler, Taylor, Chubb, and Pollard.
But I will add one player to my target list, and I’ve come to like him while preparing for the season by mock drafting from various draft spots:
- Josh Jacobs (LV, 28.3) — ADDED 7/10. A potential holdout or contract dispute notwithstanding, I like Jacobs because one can open a draft with an absolute stud WR at 1 or 2 overall and still get Jacobs at 24 or 25 overall, which is nice because Jacobs is still young, versatile, and durable, and he was a stud himself last year and still owns a massive role.
My plan is to be calculated, by targeting the best values, and there are some excellent gambits out there this year that scream buying opportunity, so discerning shoppers take note. Rounds 3-8 is where it’s at, and I have isolated ten excellent options in this range as of Mid-May. I like this list so much that I’m even willing to go “Zero RB” through the first three rounds, which I’ve never done in my life.
Here they are in order of their ADP:
Najee Harris (Pit, 37.6) — His touch total was down 18% in 2022, but he was still fifth in the league last year with 313, and he dealt with that foot injury most of the season. The OL might actually be a strength now for the Steelers, and Harris, with 32 games played and the most RB touches in the league the last two seasons, is a good pick in the third round and a steal in the early fourth. And I know he’s a volume-dependent guy who isn’t special by any means.
J.K. Dobbins (Bal, 57.6) — It’s ironic that Dobbins’ ADP is the lowest it’s ever been (or close) because THIS is the year to draft him. Per Fantasy Points Data, after a slow start upon return Weeks 3-7 with just 3.5 YPC, 2.4 yards after contact per carry, and just 0.17 forced MTs per carry, Dobbins’ numbers soared to 7.0 YPC, 4.23 YAC per carry, and 0.21 FMTs per carry. The Baltimore Ravens took care of Lamar Jackson, they now have some semblance of depth at receiver, and they failed to add anyone of note to the backfield. With Dobbins looking to earn the biggest workload of his NFL career after a strong finish to 2022, I'm surprised he isn’t getting drafted earlier.
Dameon Pierce (Hou, 68.3) — I’m not that worried about Devin Singletary, who I think will simply give Pierce a breather for a few series a game and maybe split the passing down reps. That’s not insignificant, but it still leaves Pierce with a very solid 17-18 touches a game for a Houston Texans team that has upgraded personnel everywhere you look.
Cam Akers (LAR, 69) — The OL came together and he was a different player down the stretch, and the numbers bear that out. Akers averaged just 3.3 YPC and 0.54 yards before contact per carry in the first 11 games (84 attempts), per Fantasy Points Data. But those numbers rose in the final six games to 4.9 YPC and 2.10 yards before contact per carry, and I thought he looked all the way back from his Achilles injury. It’s the perfect time to stay all the way back in his contract year because Sean McVay is likely to lean on him heavily. The LA Rams may be bad again this year, but Akers can do plenty of damage in the passing game if needed. His ADP is inching up, but he’s still a great value
Rachaad White (TB, 83.3) — His situation isn’t ideal, with Baker Mayfield taking over at QB and new OC Dave Canales having never called plays. But Canales is a run-oriented guy, and he also did great work with Geno Smith last year, and the OL will be healthier/more talented for the Tampa Bay Bucs. I spoke with Rachaad in-depth in June, and he’s feeling very good about the new offense, which is putting players in a position to succeed. White also told me he’s expecting “plenty of balls going his way” in the passing game. White’s ADP is not rising, so he remains a steal. He’s looking at 80+ targets and 225+ carries. We have him averaging 14.3 PPG in 16 games, which would have been good for RB14 last year, yet he’s the RB26 as of 7/10/23.
David Montgomery (Det, 81) — Jahmyr Gibbs is the sexy pick in the revamped Detroit Lions backfield, with Monty the boring one, but Jamaal Williams was very boring this time last year … until he started racking up TDs. Williams led the league with 17 of them behind a great OL, which bodes extremely well for Montgomery because he led the league last year in missed tackles forced per attempt at .31 (among 42 RBs with at least 100 carries, per FP Data). Montgomery lacks explosiveness, but so does Williams, who was the RB12 in total scoring last year despite putting up only 12/73 receiving (we have DM with 31/240/1.5 receiving).
Javonte Williams (Den, 94) — ADDED 7/10. The news and the vibes on Javonte are getting better and better as the year has progressed, and we were already over his ADP for a week before news came out on 7/9 that Williams may actually be ready to go. His injury was not as serious as JK Dobbins’ which was confirmed to me by Dr. Mark Adickes in a recent FP Podcast.
James Cook (Buf, 95) — ADDED 7/10. I initially left him off my list, but I’ve thought about him more and his ADP is stable around 95-100, which is pretty darn nice for a guy who I’m projecting for 10 touches a game but should get 3-5 more if things go well. I think he’ll be their “primary” back, meaning he’ll get about 40-50% of the carries and well over 50% of their RB catches.
Brian Robinson (Was, 106.7) — I don’t think the Washington Commanders offense will be very good with Sam Howell at QB, and we don’t usually like RBs on bad teams, but there were at least 15 teams with a worse record last year, and they have a solid roster. B-Rob played lighter than he did in college last year, and it looked very good to my eyeballs, and the numbers agree: both his YPC average and forced missed tackle rate rose 27% from Weeks 10-18. He’s a viable RB3 who is available 20-30 picks after those types are usually drafted, and his HC Ron Rivera told me in June they’d like to use him in the passing game on early downs a little this year, so he’s on my list.
Rashaad Penny (Phi, 115) — His injury track record is tragic, but his upside is mesmerizing in the excellent Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack, and he’s easily the favorite to be the primary early-down back. In a lesser environment last year, Penny ranked second in explosive run rate at 10.5%, and he led the NFL in yards after contact per carry with 4.37 (both among RBs with 50+ carries, per FP Data). He might be lucky to catch 10 balls here, but Penny does have potential as a checkdown option in the passing game.
Now that we’re about 120 picks into a draft, the RB options left on the board are mostly dart throws, and I actually don’t like much of what I see in the 120-150 overall range, so I have zero players from that group (although I could easily warm up in Kahlil Herbert in August.
Most of these guys will be battling for depth chart positioning in the summer, but one guy who could be his team’s guy is Roschon Johnson (Chi, 150). I do also like Pierre Strong (NE, 214.8) as a late, late pick. Otherwise, the rest of the group consists of what I view as choice handcuffs, including Chase Brown (Cin, 192), Tyjae Spears (Ten, 171), Zamir White (LV, 211.5), Jerome Ford (Cle, 206.5), and Eric Gray (NYG, 215.3). Another player added to my list is Michael Carter (NYJ, 215), whose arrow is pointing upward again heading into camp.
THE WIDE RECEIVER PLAN
What jumps out to me as I formulated my plan of action at this position was the lack of quality options in Rounds 3 and 4, which isn’t a shock because everyone’s snatching up the top wideouts and pushing the RBs down the board.
So let’s start there and implement this rule for 2023, at least in Underdog drafts: you must use one of your first two picks on a wideout. And I’m very willing to open a draft WR-WR, since there are a plethora of appealing backs available in the fifth-to-eighth rounds (as detailed above), which is unusual. You don’t need me to tell you to draft Ja’Marr Chase or Davante Adams, but I do particularly like these three high-end options in the second round, so I’ll list them.
Garrett Wilson (NYJ, 13) — He’s a stud on the New York Jets, and he’s about to take off as the unquestioned top option for future HOFer Aaron Rodgers.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (Det, 14) — Despite missing a game in 2022, ARSB was eighth in the league with 146 targets (9.1 per game), and with Jameson Williams out of the mix the first six games, I actually think his volume may go up this year.
Chris Olave (NO, 19) — He fits the profile of a high-pedigree guy who proved he can excel in the NFL, and his best football is still in front of him. The New Orleans Saints got him a solid QB in Derek Carr, so the arrow is pointing up.
Outside of the top-24, I’m not feeling many players going off the board in the 25-48 range, or Rounds 3 and 4, which includes guys like DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Calvin Ridley, Amari Cooper, DJ Moore, and Mike Williams. However, I do like these three dudes in the fourth:
Christian Watson (GB, 40) — It's a leap of faith with Jordan Love hoping to become another Green Bay Packers QB great with zero starts on his resume, but the talented Watson put on a show in the second half of the season, and he should command the ball here as their best overall receiving option.
Jerry Jeudy (Den, 41) — I somehow found the courage to leave Jeudy off my target list last year, which was an accomplishment for me as a Jeudy stan, but now I’m all in with Sean Payton in town and solid chemistry built last year with Russell Wilson. He’ll likely be inside a lot, which is good for matchups, but per FP Data, despite running fewer than 50% of his routes from the outside, Jeudy ranks 11th in YPRR lined up on the perimeter at 2.35 among WRs with at least 150 outside routes run. This is the year Jeudy is unleashed. I’ve had this position for over two months and his ADP is inching upward (it was 48 in May).
Drake London (Atl, 43) — They will run the rock more than any other team in the league, but he clicked well with Desmond Ridder the final four weeks of the season, when he was 10th in the league in WR targets. His catch rate and YPR also improved in these games. I know Kyle Pitts was out the final six weeks, but London’s 0.29 target per route run rate was fourth in the NFL, and London was also top-7 in YPRR from the slot at 2.75 among WRs with at least 75 slot routes run. I don't think Ridder is particularly good, and London isn’t a must-draft for me, but I’m still optimistic.
Brandon Aiyuk (SF, 51) — ADDED 7/10. I originally left him off the list because he’s pricey, but he had another spectacular off-season, so I can’t quit him. As much as I’ve always loved Deebo, I like Aiyuk more this year.
Through four rounds, I’ll have at least two WRs almost every time this year, and I’m fine with grabbing three WRs in those first four rounds, which may be a first for me. Again, that’s largely a function of the quality RBs dropping into the 5th-8th rounds.
We’re now in the 5th-8th round portion of a draft, so I’ll be targeting some RBs around this time, especially since I do not like many of the WR picks in this range using Underdog ADP from mid-May. But if I’m looking for a WR, I’ll have these guys lined up:
Diontae Johnson (60, Pit) — His ADP is up 15 spots from May, but I’ll still list him here in early July. He didn’t score a TD last year and returning OC Matt Canada stinks, but Diontae has averaged 153 targets a season the last three seasons with his second-highest career total of 147 coming last year with a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett. Only five WRs saw at least 153 targets last year, so Diontae is still a major go-to guy. He was rightfully the WR18 off the board last summer, so his WR39 ADP early on in 2023 on Underdog is too low. As much as I love George Pickens, Diontae is a better overall player.
Treylon Burks (Ten, 68) — I wasn’t in on him at all last year, and I’m still not convinced he’s good, but he is physically talented, and I’m projecting a 20+ percent target share on the receiver-poor Tennessee Titans, who should see competent QB play all season. The vibes are way better on Burks this year, since his asthma situation is under control. All bets are off if they sign D-Hop, though.
Jordan Addison (Min, 71.3) — Playing for the Minnesota Vikings this year is an ideal situation for the rookie, and he can line up all over the formation, which is one of the reasons they wanted him. Playing off Justin Jefferson is going to get him the best matchups on a weekly basis, and I could see him having a Chris Olave-type season. (Olave posted 72/1042/4 in 2022; I’m projecting 69/945/4 for Addison).
Kadarius Toney (NYG, 73.6) — I love Skyy Moore, but I was also a Toney fan coming out and I drafted him over Amon-Ra St. Brown in our staff dynasty rookie draft back in 2021 (whoops). Toney looks like a front-runner based on his experiences in New York, but the good news is you’re always out in front with Patrick Mahomes and HC Andy Reid. I don’t expect him to truly show us his very best for a whole season, but if he plays 14+ games, his upside as their default No. 1 WR is large. It’s WR1 upside.
Gabe Davis (77, Buf) — I oversold Gabe last year, but my projection would have hit very close if he didn’t miss a game due to cancelation, and most importantly if he didn’t get that high ankle sprain in Week 1 that caused him to miss another game in Week 2. The injury dogged him most of the season and caused him to lose some confidence catching the rock. I did oversell his talent, but it’s a moot point for 2023 because A) he was a big winner in the draft B) he’s still in a great spot with Josh Allen as the starter opposite Stefon Diggs, C) he’s in a contract year, and D) his cost has dropped by 100% (‘22 ADP of 40).
Elijah Moore (87, Cle) — His ADP is up almost 20 spots since May, but I’m still in. I’m on him every year, and I don’t have any plans to bail now that he’s teamed with Deshaun Watson. Moore managed a 7-game run as a rookie in ‘21 with 35 grabs for 525 scrimmage yards with 6 TDs, good for a WR4 standing and WR10 in PPG. A lot of that production was simply a product of Moore’s talent and ability to win quickly, so moving on to the Cleveland Browns with Watson was absolutely ideal. He’ll work off a legit No 1. in veteran Amari Cooper with a lot of talent at TE to help create opportunities for the dynamic Moore, whose big-play potential increases greatly with Watson, who is an aggressive and effective downfield thrower. They LOVE Moore and he should take over as the top wideout in 2024 with Cooper (making big money) pushed off the roster.
Zay Flowers (90.4, Bal) — Flowers was my favorite pre-draft WR, and he’s my favorite post-draft WR for the long term. I do like Jordan Addison a little more this year, but I can easily envision Flowers taking over as the top target here late in the season once Odell Beckham is placed on season-ending IR. Flowers is a little more talented and versatile than Rashod Bateman.
Moving down the board around 100+ picks into a draft, my specific WR needs depend on my corps of receivers already drafted, but I’m usually looking for upside. We’re talking a bunch of NFL No. 2s or worse, but I still like these guys to go down as nice values this far down the board in Rounds 10-12:
Skyy Moore (KC, 113) — His ADP is up one round since May, which is a good sign related to his very positive off-season. Skyy “won” the offseason, and things look promising with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman gone. I do love Rashee Rice as a prospect, but rookies have a learning curve in this offense, so I like Skyy’s chances of soaking up 40-50% of the 170+ vacated WR targets to give him around 100 on the season. I admittedly don’t see the same upside for Moore as I previously did, but what I see is a solid WR3 in the second half of the season, and he’s going off as the WR54.
Romeo Doubs (GB, 121) — Solid possession receiver-plus with inside/outside versatility and red zone potential. Everyone is starting from scratch with Jordan Love and he’s a grizzled veteran compared to most of the rest, which has been evident all year, as Love-Doubs has been a thing.
Darnell Mooney (Chi, 125) — Backing Mooney was one of my worst WR calls this past year, but I only projected him to score ONE more fantasy point than ‘21, and he was still by far the top WR to open the season. Mooney’s season ended early in Week 12, but from Weeks 4-11, a decent sample size of seven games, Mooney had a solid 12.9 YPR and 72% catch rate and was the WR22. I had him as the preseason WR20. No one on the planet could have predicted the Bears to average 78 passing yards per game in the first three weeks, so other than the injury, Mooney was what I expected. I did expect more from Justin Fields, but we’re looking better with him in Year Two in the system, and with Mooney now properly cast as a #2, and with his price tag down about 65% this year, he’s still a target.
Adam Thielen (Car, 143) — By far the most boring player in this article, but I can see Thielen standing out as the only consistent wideout on the Carolina Panthers this year, and his great hands and pristine route-running, should help rookie QB Bryce Young move the sticks. Word was starting to spread in early-July that Thielen is the WR1 in the offense, though.
We’re in Rounds 13 now, or around 150 picks into a draft, and by now I’ve got at least four WRs, so I’m now looking for depth. Sometimes, solid depth comes in the form of a boring player, and I have a few below. But again, it’s usually about upside, so it’s usually about first and second-year players.
My favorites from picks 150-215 are:
Rashid Shaheed (NO, 165) — Insanely good showing last year, and his 2.79 YPRR was third highest in the league behind only Tyreek Hill and AJ Brown, per Fantasy Points Data. If Michael Thomas misses more time, Shaheed may be ready for a large role for these New Orleans Saints after he had a 1st-read target share of 25.9% the final four weeks of the season, per FPD. He’s not just a deep threat, people.
Jayden Reed (GB, 179.7) — I was a big Reed supporter pre-draft because I saw him practice for three days at the Senior Bowl, and he should be a plug-and-play guy in the slot in Green Bay. Considering Christian Watson is still raw and Romeo Doubs isn’t a speed guy, I wouldn’t be shocked if Reed ended up leading Green Bay in receiving.
John Metchie (Hou, 181) — I love Metchie as a player, and he was one of my favorite Combine interviews of all time, so I’m glad he’s back. I also think he’s immediately their best and most versatile receiver, so I would not be surprised to see his ADP rise 50+ spots next year after a successful debut season in 2023.
Parris Campbell (NYG, 175) — He’s been on my list for two months and his ADP is up 25+ spots in that span, so I’m onto something. This WR group is confusing. Wan’Dale Robinson is coming off an ACL, Darius Slayton got paid pretty well to return and will be a factor, and Isaiah Hodgins was very solid last year, but I’ll point my dart to Campbell at this dirt cheap price. He has the most versatility in the group and is tentatively penciled in as the top slot option, but he can also line up outside. Injuries have been a major problem, but he’s still just turned 26 and he’s coming off his healthiest season. He also caught the same number of balls last year as stud DJ Moore (63, tied for 37th most at WR).
Michael Wilson (Ari, 215) — This guy was awesome in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, so I think he’s a great dynasty pickup, but he’s here due to DeAndre Hopkins’ departure, which opened up a huge opportunity. So far, he looks to be taking advantage, so he should start and pair well with Hollywood Brown.
Josh Reynolds (Det, 215) — A very sneaky value because he’s had some fine moments the last two seasons with his boy Jared Goff, and Jameson Williams out the first six games guarantees a large role. From Weeks 2-5 last year (23% of the season), Reynolds was actually the WR16 in scoring with 22/307/2 with a 14.0 YPA and 71% catch rate.
THE TIGHT END PLAN
My TE plan is flexible this year, with Travis Kelce deserving of an extremely high pick, despite his advancing age. I do worry about using a top-6 pick on a 34-year-old TE, since it’s never been done before, but I don’t see many strong alternatives in the first round, so I will definitely take Kelce this year.
But I do always prefer to draft my TEs after Round 1, so I only plan to dabble in the Kelce business. I see some landmines or players I don’t trust near the top of the TE board this year, like Darren Waller and Evan Engram, and I’ll be avoiding all of them. I still have three different paths I’d be comfortable going for my TE1, so let’s break them down.
TE Plan #1
I thought he was too pricey to list last year, so I didn’t target him, but I’ll gladly take a small profit from this guy’s dip:
- Mark Andrews (Bal, 29) — As long as we’re in the third round, Mandrews is a good deal, and that’s even knowing the Ravens are going to play 11 personnel more this year. He’s still Lamar’s guy and they will throw more under new OC Todd Monken, who nurtured future NFL star TE Brock Bowers the last two seasons at Georgia.
TE Plan #2
Last year, in addition to leaving Andrews off my list due to his high cost, I also refrained from including a player who, now a year later, might actually be my top target at the position.
You guessed it; this dude:
- Kyle Pitts (Atl, 70) — I’m all in. Not that I’m expecting Dez Ridder to be a savior, but Marcus Mariota did crush Pitts last year. Bijan Robinson will get some looks in the passing game and could bogart more production than I expect, but I think Pitts is in a healthier environment overall with two weapons on the field with Bijan and top wideout Drake London. If Artie Smith can’t coax 4/60/.20 out of Pitts weekly in Year Three, the Atlanta Falcons need to find another coach.
TE Plan #3
It’s entirely possible that I miss out on both Andrews and Pitts because I’m not looking to proactively get them well above their ADPs. Their ADPs, as they relate to the other TEs, are part of the appeal, so “reaching” would defeat the purpose. If I am still looking for a TE1 in the middle rounds, I have this final route, which is the least desirable route, in theory, but it could be the most fruitful. I’m targeting two TEs with 100+ ADPs that I think have nice breakout potential, and they are:
David Njoku (Cle, 106) — Even though it seems like he’s been in the league for a decade, I still don’t think we’ve seen Njoku’s career year, but he’s peaking now and proving the Browns right for paying him so well.
Chigoziem Okonkwo (Ten, 130) — There are a ton of strong indicators that Okonkwo is THE sleeper of the year at TE this year. Only Tyreek Hill and AJ Brown had a higher YPRR in the entire NFL among players with at least 150 routes, per FP Data, and they really need contributions from him this year. This process started last year, as only Kyle Pitts had a higher targets per route run rate than Chig.
I’m usually not comfortable coming away from an Underdog draft with only two TEs, so I’m definitely interested in the best TE2 options, those who have TE1 potential, and my top two options are:
Cole Kmet (Chi, 148) — His ADP is actually up a round from May on Underdog. I had him as the TE8 last summer and named him my breakout TE, and despite an incredibly worrisome start with only 5/56/0 TOTAL in his first FOUR games, an abominable 2.0 FP per game, he actually was the TE8. My source told me that Kmet was going to be a major red zone force, and he went from scoring 2 and 0 TDs his first two seasons to seven scores in 2022. He’s not a stud, and he’ll need the TD love again to come through, but DJ Moore and Darnell Mooney have never been big TD guys, and Chase Claypool stinks.
Juwan Johnson (NO, 169) — His ADP is also up from May, and 20+ spots. I really loved what he’s done the last two seasons as a former college WR who moves well. The annoying Taysom Hill is still here, but he’s got only 13 catches the last two seasons, and I don’t think Foster Moreau is a big threat. Johnson last year reached a 20.7% first read target share in the final four weeks of the season, and he was fourth among TEs in YPRR at 2.1, per Fantasy Points Data. He also has an incredible 20% TD rate after catching 11 TDs on 55 Rec’s the last two seasons.
My last group of TE targets are ideally TE3s, but these guys have the potential to finish as top-24 producers:
Sam LaPorta (Det, 174.5) — I’m usually not giving love to rookie TEs, but his combination of affordability, opportunity, and talent is pretty appealing in Detroit.
Tyler Conklin (NYJ, 190) — I actually liked Conklin last year, and we ranked him as the TE25 in the preseason despite his TE45 ADP — and the dude was the TE16 with 53/552/3 on 83 targets. We got wind of how the Jets analytics guys loved Conklin, and I can see Aaron Rodgers gravitating to him as well. He’s the type of player who won’t be featured every week, but there will be weeks where he’s a focus, so I can see a handful of big games.
Jake Ferguson (Dal, 206) — I know he's an average athlete, but I’ve liked this dude since last year’s Senior Bowl and my interview with him at the Combine, and he showed well as a rookie. I simply think he can stave off #2 pick Luke Schoonmaker (who had a foot injury that was highly-disruptive for his offseason) for at least half the season, and Ferguson will be involved all year no matter what. He’s a very good red-zone threat.
Cade Otton (TB, 215) — I thought he was pretty darn solid last year, and he’s still growing into his role, so I could see him emerging as the third option in the passing game here (not including the RBs).