32 Fantasy Football Storylines to Monitor in Training Camp for 2023
We. Are. Back! The start of NFL training camps can only mean one thing – fantasy football draft season is here! But we need to pump the breaks a little bit. Right now, we think we know what’s going to happen for each team, but let’s be real – there’s so much up in the air and there’s no shortage of unanswered questions. Once those questions are answered and we get some clarity over the course of training camps, draft strategies, player takes, teams to target, etc. start to come into focus.
n this article, I’ll highlight one fantasy-relevant storyline to monitor in training camp for each NFL franchise. From positional battles to injuries to coaching schemes, there’s an edge to be had if you’re up to date on what’s happening in camp. Here’s what I’m watching for in late July and August as we prepare for our fantasy drafts. Camps open for most NFL clubs the week of July 24.
Looking for more Fantasy Football Draft prep advice? Be sure to check out the award-winning 2023 Ultimate Draft Kit, which includes everything we think you need to win your league – projections, tier-based rankings, sleepers, breakouts, busts and so much more!
How healthy is Kyler Murray?
Murray tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in December last year and underwent surgery on January 3, 2023. That means when the Cardinals kick off the regular season on September 10 against Washington, he’ll be eight months out from surgery. The typical recovery timeline for athletes off this injury ranges from nine months to a year, so the odds of Murray being cleared for Week 1 are stacked against him. The key here is how long it will take for Murray to be out there as the team’s starter.
If he misses a couple of games, Murray could end up being a potential draft steal as a late round QB. However, if he misses 6+ weeks and starts on the PUP list, fantasy managers will need to prioritize other QB targets in their draft. We know Kyler has been a prolific fantasy scorer when healthy, averaging 21 fantasy points per game in his career with fantasy finishes of QB7, QB2 and QB10 in his first three years as a pro. Murray has been one of the league’s most dynamic runners of the football when healthy, but the issue here is that this ACL recovery is unlikely to result in those same rushing stats. Based on my research, the vast majority of QBs off an ACL are less efficient in yards per carry in their first season following this injury, potentially capping his weekly upside.
After signing a massive $230 million deal, I’d be surprised if the Cardinals put their franchise QB out there at less than 100%. Murray’s health and practice participation is the number one thing I’ll be watching when Arizona opens camp in late July. He didn’t participate in mini camp or OTAs.
The Falcons drafted Ridder in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and that alone raises major question marks in terms of Ridder’s viability as a starting NFL QB. In four starts last year, Ridder averaged 177 passing yards per game (6.2 YPA). Granted, he didn’t have Kyle Pitts during those games as Pitts was out with an MCL injury, and Drake London was still a rookie. But still, that sort of production is #NotGreat, albeit in a small sample.
As a rookie, Ridder ranked 30th in completion percentage over expected and 34th in EPA per dropback among 47 qualifying passers. Second-year QBs generally take a step forward in year two, so there’s certainly room for Ridder to grow as an NFL player, but the numbers from year one don’t inspire much confidence, especially when you consider that this offense projects to be one of, if not the, most run heavy schemes in the NFL.
Last season, Arthur Smith’s Falcons turned the page back to 1997 and ran the ball…a lot. They ranked 31st in pass rate over expectation (PROE) and 27th in pace of play…Not exactly a hotbed of fantasy goodness in terms of throwing the ball. After the team took Bijan Robinson 8th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, it seems unlikely the overall philosophy will change behind one of the NFL’s best run blocking offensive lines. Atlanta also has the NFL’s second-easiest strength of schedule. In other words, they may not be pushed to throw if they can get out to some early leads. It is worth noting that Atlanta’s neutral pass rate jumped from 45% in Mariota starts to 49% with Ridder (small sample alert).
Marcus Mariota was abysmal as a passer last year (see below), so maybe Ridder can provide an upgrade. If both London and Pitts are going to pay off their ADP, it seems likely that Ridder will have to do it via improved efficiency rather than volume.
"An Easy Step-By-Step Guide on How to Gouge Your Eyes Out" 🧵
Subtitle: All 14 of Kyle Pitts' so-called 20+ Yard "Targets" from Marcus Mariota
🔊special thanks to Andrew Maxwell Dwyer pic.twitter.com/BCOPoELc6d
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) May 16, 2023
Who will emerge as the Ravens WR1?
All off-season, we’ve been excited about what this new look Ravens offense can be for fantasy in 2023 under their new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. In his career as a play caller, Monken has never had an offense log a pass rate below 56%, and if you follow the team’s off-season acquisitions of OBJ and Zay Flowers, it all lines up for Lamar to potentially set a career high in pass attempts.
Since 2019, the Ravens have ranked 32nd, 31st, 28th and 32nd in neutral pace. When Monken was with the Bucs, his offenses ranked 4th, 4th and 11th in pace. Collectively, we should see a faster offense with more pass attempts, so it makes sense that fantasy players are interested in the upside of this passing attack.
But, there’s issues with all three of these candidates, and let’s not forget that Mark Andrews is probably still this team’s actual WR1. Rashod Bateman is coming off Lisfranc surgery and needed a cortisone injection back in June when he was ramping up his activity, Zay Flowers is a rookie, and Odell Beckham played the same number of snaps as your great grandmother in 2022. From a health perspective, OBJ should be in the clear from ACL tear from a year and a half ago, but the efficiency numbers signal the end might be near. From 2018 to 2021, Odell’s efficiency numbers are:
- Fantasy PPG: 16.0 > 10.3 > 10.8 > 7.6
- Yards per target: 8.5 > 7.8 > 7.4 > 6.5
- Yards per route run: 2.26 > 1.81 > 1.79 > 1.57
Who will emerge as the third option in the receiving game?
Over the last three years, the Bills have ranked 3rd, 6th and 1st in PROE while simultaneously ranking top-3 in points per game in three consecutive seasons. Obviously, this is an offense we want to chase for fantasy upside as long as Josh Allen is back there doing his thing. Stefon Diggs is locked in as Josh Allen‘s WR1 and Gabe Davis seems locked into 2WR sets, but there’s opportunity for a third option to step up.
Buffalo brought in undersized speedster Deonte Harty and former Dolphin Trent Sherfield this off-season to add depth to their WR room after drafting Khalil Shakir in the 5th round last year. But let’s not bury the lead – the Bills traded up to select TE Dalton Kincaid out of Utah in the first round, and there’s been a lot of talk about using both Kincaid and Dawson Knox together on the field. When you look at Kincaid’s college profile, this makes sense given Kincaid’s ability to play in the slot and detached from the line. The selection of Kincaid signals that we could see Buffalo’s use of 11-personnel (3WR sets) continue to decline. Over the last three years, their rate of 11-personnel has dropped from 87% to 77% to 70%.
Here’s what Bills GM Brandon Beane said following the team’s selection of Kincaid: “We think he’ll pair well with Dawson and give us another target in the middle of the field. So, yeah, when him and Dawson are in the game, you’re in ’12’ [personnel], but it’s quasi like ’11’ anyway.”
Does Adam Thielen have anything left in the tank?
Thielen was fantasy’s WR30 in 2022 with just over 700 yards and 6 TDs during his final year in Minnesota. On the surface, those numbers sound pretty decent, especially for a guy who’s currently being drafted as the WR54. The issue, of course, is that Thielen goes from a prolific Minnesota passing offense to Carolina to play with a rookie QB in Bryce Young. For context, Kirk Cousins was 4th in the NFL in pass attempts last year, and Minnesota ranked 6th in PROE while Thielen’s 674 routes run was a career high.
That’s the good. Here’s the bad. Thielen is set to turn 33 later this year, and the underlying efficiency numbers suggest the end is near (here?). Over the last three years Thielen’s efficiency numbers have fallen off a cliff:
- Yards per route run: 1.86 > 1.63 > 1.03 (!!)
- Yards/target: 8.6 > 7.6 > 6.7
- Targets per route run: 21.3% > 19.3% > 15%
Considering he was playing next to arguably the NFL’s best WR in Justin Jefferson, this is certainly a concern. Perhaps Thielen can earn enough of a target share to mask some of these concerns, but he’ll be playing with a rookie QB and a head coach in Frank Reich who’s team’s have been consistently run heavy. Over the last four years in Indy, Reich’s Colts have ranked 21st, 24th, 26th and 28th in PROE. The last time he called a pass-first offense was in 2018 during Andrew Luck‘s final season. The Colts ranked 6th in PROE that year.
Who will emerge as the RB1?
Chicago let David Montgomery walk in free agency, creating an open competition for the RB1 role between incumbent Khalil Herbert, free agent signing D’Onta Foreman and 4th round rookie Roschon Johnson out of Texas. Last season, the Bears ranked dead last in PROE with the Bears averaging a whopping 32.8 rush attempts per game, the third-most in the NFL. The addition of D.J. Moore tells us this team will probably throw a bit more in 2023, but make no mistake about it – this team should still be a top-10 team in terms of rush attempts. Montgomery vacates 59% of the RB carries from 2022, so the opportunity is certainly there for one of these three to emerge.
Herbert was ultra efficient with his opportunities in 2022 ranking #1 in Next-Gen Stats Rushing Yards over Expected (RYOE) per attempt metric while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In his career (mostly when David Montgomery has been out), Herbert has played five games where he played 60+% of the snaps. In those games, he’s averaged 19.8 attempts and 100.6 yards on the ground. The guy seems #good at football, but now he’s got two early-down backs who have the potential to mix in and steal work.
D’Onta Foreman was quietly awesome last season in Carolina. From Week 7 on last year when he got the opportunity, Foreman averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and logged a 49% success rate, one of the best marks in football. Like Herbert, he pops in RYOE, ranking 6th in that metric on a per carry basis. That all happened while seeing 8+ defenders in the box on almost 36% of his attempts.
And finally, we’ve got Roschon Johnson who played behind some guy named Bijan Robinson in college. Because of that, Johnson had limited production at Texas, and he fell to the 4th round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Since 2010 there have been four rookies drafted in the 4th round who have averaged 10+ PPR points/game in year one: Dameon Pierce, Michael Carter, Roy Helu and Nyheim Hines.
Who is the RB2 behind Joe Mixon?
Mixon has been involved in legal discussions all off-season after his January incident, but as of this writing we’re less than 60 days away from kickoff. The possibility that Mixon faces suspension from the NFL seems less likely by the day, and the fact that the Bengals haven’t invested much in their RB room and Mixon agreed to restructure his deal signals that they may not be all that worried about it either – we’ll see.
But even if Mixon plays 17 games, there’s quietly some big time opportunity available behind Mixon with Samaje Perine now in Denver. Perine vacates 31% of the RB carries and perhaps more importantly, a healthy 51 targets in the receiving game. Last season, Joe Burrow targeted the RB position at the 7th-highest rate while logging the NFL’s 3rd-highest check down rate.
So who could inherit the Perine role? Cincy took Chase Brown in the 5th round of the NFL Draft out of Illinois, but the hit rate on these late round guys is quite poor. They’ve also got two “incumbents” and I’m hesitant to even use that term. Chris Evans didn’t log a single rush attempt in 2022 while Trayveon Williams has already played four professional seasons. In four years, he’s seen a total of 57 opportunities. This is a sneaky landing spot for one of the remaining free agent veteran backs.
Can Deshaun Watson get back on track?
After the Browns signed Watson to a fully guaranteed $230 million deal, they sure hope so. Watson’s 2022 season was…bad. Like really bad. Among 37 QBs who logged 200+ snaps last season, Watson ranked 31st in EPA per play and 32nd in completion percentage over expected. For reference, that was down there with the likes of Zach Wilson and Carson Wentz – woof! In his six starts, Voldemort averaged just 183.7 passing yards per game, and Cleveland’s offense ranked 25th in yards per game and 26th in points per game. Of course, it was an uphill battle for Watson to perform given that he was away from the team serving his 12-game suspension after not playing a down of football the year prior in 2021.
It wasn’t that long ago that we saw some really great football from Watson in Houston, banking three straight seasons as fantasy’s QB5 from 2018 to 2020. In those three seasons, Watson completed 69% of his passes with an impressive 8.3 YPA mark and a rock solid 5.5% TD rate. If you follow the Browns’ moves this off-season, it certainly looks like they’re going to open up this offense a ton compared to what we’ve seen in Cleveland over the last few years. They let Kareem Hunt walk then traded for Elijah Moore, drafted Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman in Round 3 and signed track star Marquise Goodwin to add a vertical threat. Of course, Amari Cooper and David Njoku remain on the squad as well.
And if you zoom in on Watson’s final few starts a year ago, Kevin Stefanski kind of already told us this offense should be more up tempo and pass-centric moving forward. They dealt with weather concerns in Week 16, but in Week 15, Cleveland logged a 67% pass rate, and in Weeks 17 and 18, they threw the ball at a 54% and 61% rate, respectively. Their neutral pace also jumped to 14th over the final month of the season compared to 25th during the first three-fourths of the year with Brissett under center. Everything is there for Cleveland to be a hotbed of fantasy goodness in 2023. That is, if Deshaun Watson can get back on track.
Are the Cowboys going to actually run the ball more?
Immediately after the 2022 season, Dallas HC Mike McCarthy said this, “Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up. But I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense…I don’t desire to be the No. 1 offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league with a number of wins and a championship. And if we gotta give up some production and take care of the ball better to get that, then that’s what we’ll do, because we have a really good defense.
But here’s the thing – Dallas was already run heavy in 2022. The Cowboys ranked 8th in neutral situation rush rate last year. If McCarthy thought that wasn’t conservative enough of an offensive game plan, we could be in trouble, folks. If you follow the Cowboys’ off-season moves, however, something doesn’t add up here. They let Zeke and his 248 touches walk, leaving a backfield headlined by Tony Pollard (who’s never been a bell cow in his career), 2022 UDFA Malik Davis, Ronald Jones, Rico Dowdle and 5’6″ 6th round rookie Deuce Vaughn. Meanwhile, the ‘Boys brought in Brandin Cooks and now get Michael Gallup in year two off the ACL. That said, it is still possible they bring in one of these free agent RBs or re-sign Zeke to a lesser contract.
Dallas also hired multiple analytically driven staff members this off-season. Based on their moves, rational thinking here would signal they could lean more pass heavy and run a ton of 3WR sets with Cooks and Gallup on the perimeter and CeeDee Lamb in the slot. McCarthy’s quotes may be overblown, or they could mean Dak and the passing attack will have to be ultra-efficient to pay it off for fantasy. We’ll see what they do when the chips are down…
How healthy is Javonte Williams?
The former UNC Tarheel suffered a multi-ligament knee injury (ACL, LCL, Postero-lateral corner) in Week 4 last year and underwent surgery the week of October 10, 2022. The good news? Williams was able to participate in a limited fashion during OTAs and mini-camp, and Denver hasn’t brought in any of the big name remaining available free agent RBs after signing Samaje Perine to a two-year deal back in March. He’s also young, hyper-athletic and has excellent draft capital, which are three predictors of success in returning from this injury.
The bad news? Running backs in year one off ACL surgery are almost always less efficient and see less volume compared to their pre-injury level of play, and Williams’ injury is more complicated than a straightforward ACL procedure. Just last week, Williams said “the plan” is for him to be ready for training camp.
He also said this: “I mean, that’s the plan. I feel like I’m ready to go. …It’s just all about the evaluation, how the Broncos feel about it…Just seeing how I feel, moving, just trying to get my speed back to normal, things like that.”
Williams has multiple hurdles to go to being cleared ahead of Week 1, and while that isn’t out of the realm of possibility, his recovery is more cumbersome than an isolated ACL tear, so he’s far from 100%. Just how healthy is he actually and how close is he to returning to the field? We should get those answers during camp.
How are the running backs being utilized?
The Lions backfield is going to look a heck of a lot different in 2023. D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are out the door and Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery are in. Detroit’s offense ranked top-five in both points per game and yards per play in 2022, so there’s obviously a ceiling to chase here for fantasy purposes. When you factor in that the Lions vacate the most RB carries from the year prior (403) as well as 100% of the team’s RB carries inside the 5-yard line (aka J Willy) this situation is arguably one of the most important for fantasy in 2023.
Detroit signed David Montgomery to the 5th-most guaranteed money of any free agent RB since 2020 then immediately drafted Gibbs 12th overall in the NFL Draft. Financially, they’re committed to getting both of these guys the rock early and often, and when you consider the state of the WR depth chart behind Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams‘ six game suspension, it’s not difficult to envision this 1-2 punch being dangerous for fantasy football behind PFF’s 5th ranked offensive line entering 2023.
There’s been a ton of talk this off-season about Jahmyr Gibbs being viewed as more of a “weapon” rather than a traditional RB. Looking at his elite receiving profile coming out of Alabama and his 199 lb. frame, that makes a ton of sense. Detroit targeted the RB position at the 11th highest rate in football last season, so there’s plenty of opportunity for Gibbs to see a healthy target share.
As for Montgomery, he’s no slouch in the receiving game either with 34+ receptions in three straight years. His real value for fantasy, however, is likely to come from inheriting the Jamaal Williams role aka the goal line role. Williams led the NFL in carries inside the 10-yard line a year ago, which led to an outlier 17 rushing scores. No, that won’t happen again for Monty, but can he win that job and fall in the end zone 8-12 times? Absolutely. Keep in mind, Detroit let Williams walk in free agency just to pay David Montgomery more money on the open market, so they view him as an upgrade.
Can Jordan Love run an NFL offense?
The Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay is over. Next up: Jordan Love, who has attempted 83 passes in his pro career after being drafted in the first round back in 2020. It’s a small sample and this is a meaningless stat, but in those opportunities he did average 7.3 yards per attempt. Who knows – maybe he’s really good!
When you look at what’s available as far as weapons for Love, the most stable situation is the backfield, which is headlined once again by Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Those two will get to run behind PFF’s 8th ranked offensive line. Meanwhile, the receiving core is a complete unknown. Christian Watson looks like an exciting breakout candidate entering year two in the NFL, but this group of pass catchers is historically young. Watson and Romeo Doubs are entering year two while Jayden Reed is a 2nd round rookie out of Michigan State. Meanwhile, the Packers are set to trot out not one, but two rookie TEs in Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft.
Considering how little experience is on the depth chart on the offensive side of the ball, it makes a ton of sense that we might see an extremely conservative game plan from Matt LaFleur in 2023 which features a ton of usage from the RBs. If Love can surprise in his first year as the starter, however, it could mean big things for Christian Watson‘s potential ceiling. If he can’t move the ball down the field effectively, this offense could have a low floor. Entering 2023, the Packers have a 7.5 win total are tied with the Bears for the longest odds to win the division (+400).
Pierce was selected in the 4th round of the 2022 NFL Draft and ran away with the opportunity last year, literally. Pierce was awesome last season when you peel back the curtain and look at his underlying metrics. In 13 games last year, Pierce ran for almost 1,000 yards while averaging a healthy 4.3 yards per carry playing for one of the NFL’s worst offenses. He was a tackle breaking machine, forcing the 4th-most tackles in the league among all backs who logged 50+ rush attempts, and he ranked second in PFF’s elusive rating.
The issue is that he wasn’t heavily utilized in the passing game (2.3 receptions per game), and the Texans weren’t scoring enough points (30th in scoring) for Pierce to find the end zone enough. Despite how good he was as a runner, he was the RB21 in fantasy points per game in PPR formats with Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale as the primary competition for touches in the backfield.
This season, he’ll be competing with Singletary and Mike Boone and while those guys aren’t anything to write home about in terms of talent, they’re probably an upgrade over sexy Rexy and Dare. It remains to be seen if Pierce’s role in the passing game can grow enough for him to reach a fantasy ceiling. Singletary isn’t a special talent as a pass catcher, but he’s better in pass protection than Pierce according to PFF. The former Buffalo Bill ranked 8th among 69 qualifying backs in pass pro grade last season while Pierce ranked 58th.
Will Anthony Richardson start in Week 1?
Since 2012, every first round rookie QB (except Jordan Love) has had at least one start in year one and the average start time was Week 4 according to our own Kyle Borgognoni. Indy selected Richardson fourth overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, and immediately after the selection, new head coach Shane Steichen had this to say about his new signal caller’s potential playing time, “I think the development of players comes with more experience… I think when you play more, that’s how you develop… practice reps, game reps, I think that’s how you develop.”
There’s no doubt that Richardson will see the field in year one, but how soon will it happen? Week 1? Week 4? 6? If we go back to Steichen’s recent history in the NFL, he was in Los Angeles when Justin Herbert played 15 games as a rookie, and he was recently in Philadelphia when Jalen Hurts took over as the starter in 2021 as a second-year player. I suspect Richardson will see the field early, but if he enters Week 1 as the starter, his upside for fantasy is massive.
Over the last 20 years, every rookie QB with 80+ total rushing attempts was a top-10 fantasy football QB in fantasy points per game. For those who like #math, that’s just 4.7 carries per game. Fantasy drafters passing on early QB need to look for upside later, and Richardson could be the answer when he gets out there. It’s possible Gardner Minshew opens the season as the starter, but if recent history tells us anything, it won’t be long before we see Richardson’s freaky athleticism on display.
What can we expect from Calvin Ridley in 2023?
The last time we saw Calvin Ridley play a full season of football was 2020 when he was the WR4 in fantasy football on the back of a 90 catch, 1,374 yard season with the Falcons. Man, he was so good that year. Among WRs who saw 25+ targets that season, Ridley ranked 8th in yards per route run (2.44), logged the 11th most receptions and ranked 14th in PFF receiving grade. But that was a long, long time ago, and in a small sample size in 2021, we saw Ridley take a step back.
In five games in 2021, Ridley was on pace for 105 catches across a 17-game season, but he was only on pace for 955 yards. His efficiency numbers took a big step back with his YPRR mark dropping all the way down to 1.43, and his yards per target number dropping from 9.6 in 2020 to 5.4 in 2021. Granted, he was playing through a foot injury, and now we know in hindsight that he was dealing with some off-the-field stuff as well. Matt Ryan was also on the decline as a QB. The same is not true for his current signal caller.
Now more than 700 days since he last took an NFL snap, who the heck knows what we’re getting from Ridley, who shockingly is still playing on his rookie deal at the age of 28. He joins a Jaguars team on the rise with Trevor Lawrence looking likely to make the leap in year three after he was one of the best QBs in football down the stretch. Following Jacksonville’s Week 11 bye, TLaw ranked:
- 4th in PFF passer grade
- 3rd in big time throw rate
- 5th in EPA/play
- 8th in passing yards
- 10th in adjusted completion percentage
In that same sample, Jacksonville ramped up their pass rate and pace, going from 18th before the bye to 7th in neutral situations down the stretch. With Lawrence getting another year in Doug Pederson’s system, it’s certainly possible this offense opens it up in 2023. If it does, Ridley can be a key cog of fantasy lineups. The issue, of course, is that this is already a pretty loaded depth chart with talented pass catchers in house. We’ll see if Ridley is still the same dude he was back in 2019 and 2020.
What is Kadarius Toney‘s role in the offense?
The drumbeat on Kadarius Toney is once again deafening as we roll through the off-season. But we’ve seen this story before haven’t we? Toney’s upside and talent when on the field is undeniable. Since entering the NFL, he’s earned a target on just over 27% of his routes while posting some silly efficiency numbers. A career 2.14 yards per route run guy, Toney also popped with a career high 10.1 yards per target after being traded to KC halfway through the year.
The issue, of course, is that Toney just hasn’t been a volume guy thus far in his career, and the injury concerns are real. Since entering the NFL, he’s only played in 19 out of 34 regular season games, missing time with recurring ankle and hamstring injuries. And when he landed in KC last year, Toney barely played (see below), even when it mattered most in the playoffs.
Kadarius Toney routes run by week after he returned from his hamstring injury
Super Bowl: 5
Conference Championship: 3 (injured)
Divisional Round: 12
Wk 18: 6
Wk 17: 15
Wk 16: 9
Wk 15: 3
— Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT) June 29, 2023
Toney ran just five routes in the Super Bowl, and now he’s apparently entering camp as the WR1. Something just doesn’t add up here – the Chiefs are either big fat liars, or Toney will need to see a massive jump in his playing time and usage to get there for fantasy. The talent is undeniable, and JuJu + Mecole vacate a combined 135 targets, but this depth chart isn’t exactly thin. Skyy Moore was a second round pick last year, MVS is being paid like a starting perimeter WR, and the team added Rashee Rice in the Draft and Richie James in free agency. Plus, let’s be real – Travis Kelce is the WR1. Is Toney just a gadget guy, or will he be an 80+% snap share type of guy?
When will Josh Jacobs report to camp?
This feels like cheating. Of course this is what we want to know! I could use the same question for the Giants and Saquon Barkley, but spoiler: I won’t. Both Jacobs and Barkley received the Franchise Tag earlier this off-season and neither player was able to come to an agreement with their franchise on a new deal by Monday’s deadline.
Because both star RBs haven’t signed their franchise tag, they can holdout of training camp without being fined. Multiple sources have reported that the 2022 rushing leader won’t be showing up to camp when it starts next week. How long will he be out? Will he miss regular season games?
With no long-term deal being reached today, Josh Jacobs is not expected to report to training camp with the rest of his team. The Raiders are not expected to see Jacobs until later this summer, if then. Jacobs will have decisions to make as to when he is willing to report. https://t.co/U7TLnhjThJ
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 17, 2023
Jacobs is coming off a 2022 campaign in which he handled a massive 89.9% rush share, good for 340 attempts. Since 2013, there have been six RBs who have logged a 320+ carry season: DeMarco Murray, Le’Veon Bell, Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, Adrian Peterson and Ezekiel Elliott. Bell sat out the following year over a contract issue, but the other five all saw a drop in their yards per carry mark and four out of five RBs saw a drop in their PPR points per game by an average of 8.35 points per game.
Of course, that’s a small sample size, but my research has shown that players who miss significant training camp time due to injury tend to under-perform relative to ADP expectations. No, this isn’t injury related, but missing significant camp time has the potential to hurt Jacobs’ (and Barkley) 2023 outlook. The sooner he reports, the better. Behind Jacobs, the Raiders are paper thin at RB: Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden combined for 38 carries in 2022.
Is Kellen Moore the key to unlocking the Chargers passing game?
There’s a ton of optimism from the fantasy community about the Chargers entering the 2023 season, and a lot of that buzz comes from the addition of former Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. With Moore at the controls of the offense, Dallas has been one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses over the last few years.
Here are Dallas’ ranks in pace of play and points per game since 2019:
- 2019: 4th, 6th
- 2020: 2nd, 2nd (prior to Dak’s season-ending ankle injury)
- 2021: 1st, 13th
- 2022: 4th, 1st (after Dak returned from his finger injury)
And in those four years, Dak Prescott‘s averaged depth of target (aDOT) was 9.8, 8.3, 8.2 and 8.7. For reference, Herbert’s aDOT was 7.8 and 7.9 in 2020 and 2021 before plummeting to 6.9 last season. Under Moore, we should see an up tempo, aggressive game plan that features more down field passing from Herbert in 2023. Per Warren Sharp, here’s where Herbert ranks among QBs (min 30 attempts) on throws 30+ yards down the field over the last two years:
- #1 in accuracy
- #2 in EPA/attempt
- #3 in success rate, completion rate and TD rate
- #4 in YPA
Is Cam Akers the dude?
This off-season, head coach Sean McVay hasn’t been shy about publicly stating that Cam Akers is going to be the lead RB in 2023. When you look at the depth chart, it’s not difficult to envision Akers being a 250+ touch guy this year, but if we rewind the calendar by about a year, no one, and I mean no one saw Akers going from a top-5 round pick in redraft leagues to being benched a few weeks into the season to almost cut from the team to being a league winner down the stretch.
It was a bizarre season, to say the least, but just to highlight how dominant Akers was down the stretch, here are his final rushing stat lines:
- 17/60/2 , 72% snaps
- 12/42/1, 42% snaps
- 12/65/0, 76% snaps
- 23/118/3, 75% snaps
- 19/123/0, 78% snaps
- 21/104/0, 100% snaps
He was the RB4 in half PPR formats over the final six weeks. And keep in mind – that production was with Baker Mayfield under center and no Cooper Kupp when the Rams decided to waive the white flag on the 2022 season. Those looking to invest in Akers this season will find comfort in the fact that LA didn’t do much to add competition for Akers in 2023.
They drafted Zach Evans late on day three of the Draft and signed 28-year-old veteran plodder (2.9 YPC last year) Sony Michel on a cheap one-year deal. They’ve also got Kyren Williams, who didn’t do much as a rookie and Ronnie Rivers, who totaled just 14 touches last season. The competition for Akers is almost non-existent entering 2023, but we thought the same thing last year…
Can Tua repeat his breakout season?
Of course, a lot of the talk this off-season regarding Tua has been about his concussion history and the potential risks lingering into 2023, but if we take a step back and just look at what he did on the football field, he was great.
Tua led the NFL in both TD rate (6.3%) and yards per attempt (8.9) last season. It was truly a special breakout season based on what we saw the previous two years. Of course, adding a good play caller in Mike McDaniel and some guys named Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle didn’t hurt. But when you go back to his rookie and sophomore seasons, it wasn’t great for Tua.
In his first two years in the league, he threw a combined 27 TDs and posted yards per attempt averages of 6.3 and 6.5. The third-year leap for Tagovailoa was massive, but we saw the offense (and Tua) stumble a bit down the stretch.
In seven fully healthy games from Weeks 1-10, Tua posted five top-12 fantasy weeks, including ceiling performances when he finished as the QB2 in Week 2, the QB1 in Week 8, the QB4 in Week 9, and the QB3 in Week 10. After the Week 11 bye, however, it was bad.
He didn’t have a single week as a top-12 QB, and his completion rate plummeted to just 55 (!!) percent while only throwing 1.4 TDs per game. Is Tua the guy we saw to open the year, or was that just a small sample and a blip on the radar?
Can Alexander Mattison handle the RB1 role?
The Vikings decided to move on from Dalvin Cook after June 1, leaving behind a depth chart that features Alexander Mattison as the team’s RB1. Behind him, there isn’t much to write home about – Ty Chandler (5th round pick in 2022), DeWayne McBride (7th round pick this year), and Kene Nwangwu, who has primarily played special teams over the last two seasons.
In his career, Alexander Mattison has smashed for fantasy when Cook has missed time. In eight career games with 15+ opportunities (when Cook was out), Mattison has averaged 16.9 fantasy points per game. If we knew we were getting anything close to that type of production, Mattison should be a top-three round selection. The issue, of course, is that we don’t actually know if Mattison can do it for a full season as he’s been Cook’s backup ever since he entered the league.
When you look beyond the success Mattison has had when he’s gotten the volume, the efficiency metrics leave a lot to be desired. Over the last two years, Mattison has averaged just 3.7 yards per attempt and has averaged 2.78 yards after contact per attempt. Among RBs who have logged 100+ carries over the last two seasons, those numbers would have ranked 68th and 42nd, respectively. Is Mattison set to smash his ADP or is he a classic ‘dead zone’ RB who’s propped up by volume? PFF has the Vikings’ offensive line ranked 15th heading into the season, but they struggled running the football last year. As a team, the Vikings ranked 25th in adjusted line yards per Football Outsiders. Fortunately, they return all five starters on the O-line.
Will Rhamondre Stevenson repeat the same usage he saw in 2022?
Simply put, Rhamondre Stevenson was a league winner, smashing his ADP and finishing the season as the RB11. Once Damien Harris went down due to injury, Stevenson took over the starting job and didn’t look back, running for over 1,000 yards while catching 69 of 88 targets. He was a volume machine and he was efficient. He’s one of just five RBs over the last five years with 69+ catches who have averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The others? Alvin Kamara twice, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley.
Entering 2023, Damien Harris is now in Buffalo, and behind ‘Mondre, it’s names like Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris rounding out the depth chart (sure, include Ty Montgomery if you want). New England has been linked to Dalvin Cook at times this off-season, so we’ll have to see there, but the bottom line is that as it stands, Stevenson figures to be in line for a ton of work…I think?
My pause here is that Stevenson’s 49.6% rush share was the second-highest rate for a New England back over the last 10 years according to Rich Hribar. More specifically, he handled 35.6% of the RB touches, which was the highest rate for any Patriots RB since 2016. That stat is also credited to Rich. We know the story with New England RBs over the years – Bill loves himself a committee, but was Rhamondre just that good to force his way into being dominant in the usage department again in 2023? If he does, he’ll be an outlier in terms of what we’ve seen from New England over the last decade.
How many games will Alvin Kamara miss?
As of this writing, the Alvin Kamara situation is up in the air from an NFL suspension standpoint. Just this past week, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge related to his involvement in an incident that took place during Pro Bowl weekend back in 2022. As part of the case, Kamara will reportedly pay $100K to the victim for medical bills and is required to do community service.
The NFL hasn’t made their final decision on how many games Kamara will be suspended for in 2023, or if he’ll be suspended at all. Around the fantasy space, most are projecting somewhere in the 2-4 games range, but it’s possible this goes up to six games. How many games he misses will largely dictate how big of a value Kamara is at his current RB29 ADP. If he misses two, that could be a smash. If he misses six, it seems pretty fair.
Of course, there’s a ripple down effect here for guys like Jamaal Williams, who signed with New Orleans in free agency, and rookie RB Kendre Miller out of TCU. Kamara, who is entering his age 28 season, showed some signs of decline this past year. His yards after contact per attempt (2.72), yards per target (6.4), and targets per game (5.13) numbers have dropped in three straight seasons, but as Marvin Elequin pointed out in his 2023 TD Regression Candidates article, Kamara is due for positive TD regression. He feels like one of the more obvious fantasy wild cards entering 2023.
What does Darren Waller have left in the tank?
The Giants made a splash this off-season, trading for the Wallerus, who should step right in as the team’s target leader in 2023. Last season, the Giants sort of pieced it together all season after their depth chart was massively affected by injury. Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson both tore their ACL, and Kenny Golladay (pour one out for the smooth routes) was benched in favor of 2020 6th-round pick Isaiah Hodgins and NFL journeyman Richie James. They simply didn’t have a true WR1 on the roster, but in 2023, that player just might be Darren Waller, if he has anything left in the tank.
It was a disappointing final season for Waller in Las Vegas. He played in just nine games last year, spending time on the IR due to a hamstring issue that originally started in training camp and then lingered all year. In 2019 and 2020, though, Waller was one of the true difference makers at TE, posting 90/1,145/3 and 107/1,196/9 stat lines, but since then, Waller hasn’t been the same player, spending time on the IR due to knee and hamstring issues.
Over the last three years, Waller’s efficiency numbers have noticeably taken a hit. From 2020 to 2022:
- Fantasy points per game: 14.1 > 9.6 > 7.9
- Targets per route run: 267% > 23.4% > 17.1%
- Yards after the catch per reception: 5.6 > 4.5 > 2.8
- Yards per route run: 2.28 > 1.70 > 1.58
He also failed to force a single missed tackle last season. Entering his age 31 season, it’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen the best from the Wallerus. Either way, the opportunity should be there for Waller given the state of the WR depth chart in New York.
How healthy is Breece Hall?
Hall tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee in Week 7 last year and underwent surgery on November 11, 2022. Hall hasn’t participated much in the team’s off-season program thus far but has publicly stated he’ll be ready to go for Week 1. Possible? Sure, but players tend to be over-optimistic when it comes to their own health.
The Jets have been doing their homework on Dalvin Cook, a possible sign that New York a) doesn’t feel confident in Hall’s early season outlook or b) doesn’t trust what’s already on the depth chart behind him. Behind Breece, there isn’t much to write home about in terms of a legitimate threat to his workload. Michael Carter has shown he’s nothing more than a change of pace back, Zonovan Knight largely proved he’s just a guy, while Israel Abanikanda is a 5th-round rookie.
When on the field last year, Hall showed massive upside. He only logged 80 carries, but he was the NFL’s best RB on a per-carry basis in NextGenStats’ rushing yards over expected metric. He was also #1 in PFF’s Elusive Rating (min. 50 carries), and #2 in yard after contact per attempt. No matter which metric you look at, Hall was excellent. This bodes well for his recovery following surgery. As we discussed previously, NFL Draft capital, age, and athletic testing profile are three strong predictors of success following ACL surgery. Hall checks every box – he’s young (22), was the 36th overall pick last year, and has a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.96 out of 10.
The main question here is likely not if, but when Hall gets back on track. Week 1? Week 8? Week 12? He has the potential to be a late-season hammer when he’s healthy, and if he can start the season at or close to 100%, he looks like an awesome pick at his current ADP.
Who is the RB1?
Miles Sanders obliterated his 2022 ADP, finishing the season as the RB13 on the back of over 1,200 rushing yards and 11 rushing scores. The depth chart for Philly is going to look a lot different in 2023 after the team let Sanders walk in free agency. They replace him with former Detroit Lion, D’Andre Swift and free agent acquisition, Rashaad Penny. Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott also remain on the depth chart.
On a per touch basis, Swift has been excellent for fantasy. The issue is that he just hasn’t gotten the volume and/or playing time (partly due to injuries) most have projected, making him a fantasy bust in recent years relative to ADP expectations. In three years in the NFL, Swift has ranked 6th, 18th and 6th in yards per route run while averaging an efficient 4.3 yards per carry as a runner.
Speaking of efficient runners, Rashaad Penny is historic in terms of his efficiency. No, like literally one of the best ever in terms of his efficiency.
Running Back Leaders
Career Yards Per Carry
NFL History (1946 – current)
*minimum 300 career rush attempts
1 – Rashaad Penny (5.7)
T2 – Bo Jackson (5.4)
T2 – Jamaal Charles (5.4)
4 – Chet Mutryn (5.3)
T5 – 6 players (5.2)
— Curtis Patrick (@CPatrickNFL) May 24, 2023
Of course, Penny’s health has been a major issue throughout his career, and he’s coming off a fractured fibula from the year prior. He also hasn’t been involved whatsoever as a receiver. In 42 career games played, he’s seen just 36 total targets.
As for Kenneth Gainwell, it’s not like he’s going away either, and when it mattered most down the stretch last year, the team used him in the playoffs. In the Super Bowl, Kenny G played just over 50% of the snaps, which was more than the aforementioned Sanders. Whenever he’s gotten the opportunity to play, Gainwell has been productive. Since 2021 among qualified RBs, Gainwell ranks #2 in EPA per rush attempt among all backs.
And let’s not ignore the fact that Jalen Hurts is probably this team’s RB1 at the goal line. His 43 red zone carries last year were the most by a QB since ProFootballReference started tracking this stat. He was tied for second in the NFL in carries inside the 5-yard line, and as long as the “tush push” remains a legal play, I suspect that won’t change.
PFF ranked the Eagles as the #1 offensive line entering this season. There’s certainly value to be had here if one of Swift or Penny can emerge as the dude in camp.
Will Kenny Pickett take a step forward in year two?
As a rookie, Pickett’s numbers were quite bad. He averaged just 190.3 yards per game, 6.1 yards per attempt and an abysmal 1.8% TD rate. That mark was the lowest of any rookie QB that started 12+ games since 1990.
And here’s a stat that should make you terrified – Kenny Pickett joins the following QBs as the only ones who have failed to throw for 10+ TDs (minimum 10 starts) in their first season since 2000: David Carr, Kyle Orton, Bruce Gradkowski, Jimmy Clausen, Mitchell Trubisky, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson.
The good news? Historical data tells us he should throw way more TDs in 2023. Since 2000, the average TD rate for sophomore 1st round QBs is 4.6% (min. 12 starts), which is right around league average.
Last season, Pittsburgh ranked 20th in PROE and 18th in neutral pace of play. If Pickett is going to support Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Pat Friermuth as legit fantasy options, he’ll need to take a big step forward in his second season. Hopefully we get some positive camp reports.
Is Brock Purdy healthy enough to be the QB1?
All off-season, the 49ers have made it clear – if Brock Purdy is healthy, he’s the dude. Pour one out for Trey Lance truthers like myself. After the team went 6-0 down the stretch before making a deep playoff run, it’s easy to understand why they’d be handing the keys over to the former 7th round pick. The big issue here is the healthy of Purdy’s right elbow. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game in January then underwent surgery on March 10th to stabilize the ligament with an Internal Brace procedure.
Purdy began a throwing program in early June, and he should continue to ramp up his volume and velocity throughout the remainder of the season. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Purdy will be ready to play within the first month of the season, but the key question here is whether or not he’ll be ready for Week 1. Beyond that, how much time will he get with his teammates in camp, and when will he be full go?
Christian McCaffrey (RB1), Deebo Samuel (WR16), Brandon Aiyuk (WR29) and George Kittle (TE4) are all being drafted inside the top seven rounds on Sleeper. Purdy’s health will directly affect all of those players’ early season outlook. Behind Purdy, San Francisco still has Trey Lance and free agent acquisition, Sam Darnold.
How will the RB touches be distributed?
Seattle took Kenneth Walker in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft then doubled down by selecting UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet 52nd overall this past April. Thanks a lot, Pete Carroll! This now looks like a potential fantasy headache depending on how the touches get distributed.
Walker was great for fantasy last season when Rashaad Penny went down due to injury. From Weeks 5-12 before the ankle injury, Walker was the RB5. He was seeing some outlandish workloads. Excluding Week 13 when he left the game early due to the ankle injury against the Rams, Walker averaged 23 total opportunities per game from Week 6 on.
However, when you look at Walker’s efficiency numbers, there’s some reason for concern. He logged a 42% success rate, which ranked 41st among RBs who saw 90+ carries according to NextGenStats. As a receiver, he ranked 103rd in PFF receiving grade and his 0.67 yards per route run ranked 57th among RBs. After selecting Charbonnet, Carroll immediately praised Charbonnet’s receiving ability in the screen game, and the team still has third down back, Deejay Dallas on the squad.
One area where Walker did excel was as an explosive home run hitter. Walker was 9th in the NFL in explosive rush rate, and he was 14th in missed tackles forced per attempt. In other words, Walker was a boom-bust type of runner a year ago. Will he hold off Charbonnet the way Chris Carson did to Rashaad Penny or will we see a true 50-50 split? Is there a world where Charbonnet overtakes Walker as the year goes on?
Or…quietly. Can both be good for fantasy? Over the last decade, when RB teammates each saw 200+ touches, all 0f these RBs ended up inside the top-24 at the position, and perhaps more importantly, the RB2 in terms of ADP (the second RB drafted) outperformed his ADP every time. As of this writing, Walker comes off the board as the RB14 while Charbonnet is selected as RB34.
Tom Brady wasn’t great last season, but the volume and pass attempts were there. The Bucs led the NFL in both plays per game (68.2) and pass rate (67%), and while Brady obviously took a step back in his final year, Evans and Godwin saw enough targets to mask some of the obvious inefficiencies of the offense.
Mayfield’s 2022 season was wild. He started the off-season by landing in Carolina before he eventually landed on the Rams for the final month and a half of the season. Shoutout to Baker for somehow beating the Raiders on Thursday Night Football just days after arriving in LA. The numbers for Mayfield last year were atrocious.
Among 37 QBs who played 200+ snaps last year, Mayfield was dead last in EPA per play, success rate and completion rate over expected. With Mayfield under center, will we get the same play volume and pass rate that we saw with Tampa? Most likely not, especially with Todd Bowles likely to implement a defense oriented and conservative game plan.
And if the volume comes down, can Evans and Godwin rebound in the efficiency department? Evans, who turns 30 this season, posted his lowest yards per target number since 2017 while Godwin’s 7.2 yards per target was the lowest of his professional career. Hey, maybe Baker can be this year’s Geno Smith?
The Titans entered the off-season with by far the weakest WR room in the NFL. Then, they signed former All-Pro WR, DeAndre Hopkins, a sign that the team is all in for 2023 in what profiles as ‘The Last Dance’ for the Titans with their aging roster.
Before we dive into Nuk and Burks specifically, it’s important to note that Tennessee’s offense has ranked 30th, 32nd and 30th in PROE over the last three years. AKA – this is Derrick Henry‘s offense. As long as King Henry stays healthy, that’s unlikely to change in 2023, so if Hopkins and Burks are going to pay it off for fantasy, they’ll likely need to do it via efficiency.
Treylon Burks‘ chances of seeing a massive target share this year are probably out the window with Hopkins in town. D Hop showed no signs of slowing down last season (see below), but it is notable he’s entering his age 31 season.
The underlying metrics on DeAndre Hopkins say he's still #Good at the game:
* 29.4% target share
* 25.7% TPRR
* 1.98 YPRR
* 7th among WRs in expected PPR points pic.twitter.com/6Mp9ep8TJ0
— Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT) May 26, 2023
It was an up and down rookie year for Treylon Burks last season, but when you peel back the curtain, the underlying metrics are at least encouraging that he could take a step forward in year two. Burks earned a target on 21.3% of his routes run last year, which is the same number as Ja’Marr Chase and A.J. Brown as rookies. His 1.75 yards per route run metric was also good for 29th among 84 WRs who saw 50+ targets, just behind Tee Higgins and Brandon Aiyuk. No, I’m not saying Burks is anywhere close to those types of guys, but it at least shows his rookie season wasn’t a complete bust despite the uninspiring fantasy finishes.
Fortunately this is a condensed target tree, so it’s possible both guys can provide value for fantasy. As of this writing, we have Hopkins ranked as our WR20 while Burks comes in as WR43.
Can Sam Howell support multiple top fantasy options?
The ‘Manders took Howell in the 5th round of the 2022 NFL Draft then chose to sit him all year behind a struggling Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke. He got just one start, and it came in Week 18 against Dallas. As it stands, we have a sample size of one game for Howell as an NFL starter. No one knows if he’ll be good as a pro, but it is notable that the hit rate on day three QBs for fantasy is bad…quite bad. Per Ian Hartitz, 64% of top-12 fantasy QBs since 2013 have been Round 1 NFL Draft picks.
The Commanders have seemingly placed all their chips on Howell for 2023 by only signing Jacoby Brissett to a one-year deal worth $8 million. With Heinicke and Wentz leading the way for Washington in 2022, the Commanders offense ranked 20th in yards per game, 25th in EPA/play, 24th in points per game and 27th in success rate. With Howell and/or Brissett under center, it can’t get worse right? Right?!
Heinicke and Wentz were two of the NFL’s worst QBs last season. Heinicke, who’s now in Atlanta, ranked 47th in PFF passing grade (out of 48 qualified passers) and 29th in EPA/play (out of 37 QBs). Wentz ranked 39th in PFF grade and 33rd in EPA/play. With Eric Bienemy now in town as the OC, maybe the offense will be more aggressive, but ultimately the fantasy upside and ceiling for the Washington guys will come down to whether or not Howell can be a legitimate starter in the NFL.