The Fantasy Footballers’ Top 10 Things to Remember for 2023
The beginning of March means it is time to retrace our steps from the 2022 fantasy season for what we can learn and take forward into 2023. Andy, Mike, and Jason compiled their annual Top 10 Things to Remember for 2023 list!
10. Andy – Rookies Get Run
Andy kicks things off with a pretty straightforward lesson: rookie RBs are going to get work. The 2022 season saw plenty of rookie RBs contribute to fantasy rosters and their workloads came in all different shapes and forms. Whether it was players like Breece Hall and Dameon Pierce who were involved in their offenses from Week 1, or Ken Walker III and Tyler Allgeier benefitting from injuries in their RB room there were plenty of rookie RB options. Even players like Brian Robinson, Rachaad White, Isaih Pacheco, and James Cook each had fantasy relevance throughout the year.
When we take a look back, this isn’t a new trend either. Over the last 11 fantasy seasons, there have been at least two rookie RBs that finished the season inside the top-24 every season. The 2022 season was an exception when only Ken Walker III finished as RB16. However, without injuries to Breece Hall (RB42) and Dameon Pierce (RB27) that forced them to miss substantial time, that trend should have continued with both Pierce and Hall finishing inside the top-24 RBs in points per game based on their games played.
The lesson here is despite the cases that will undoubtedly be made against rookie RBs, they are worth investing in during draft season. When you consider the depth of the upcoming rookie RB class and the large number of pending free agents at the RB position – Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Damien Harris, and David Montgomery just to name a few – this could play an even larger of a role in 2023 depending on how things shake out this summer.
9. Mike – Don’t be afraid of your own ideas. The NFL gets things wrong.
Lesson number nine is a nice reminder from the show’s consistent contrarian that it’s alright to think independently from what the general consensus may be.
The last few off-seasons saw massive moves made for fantasy-relevant players that just flat didn’t work out:
- The Denver Broncos’ mortgage for Russell Wilson
- Chase Edmonds getting the first RB contract of free agency in Miami
- Allen Robinson acquired by the LA Rams
- Kenny Golladay cut by the NY Giants after making $1m per catch
- Justin Fields taken behind Zach Wilson in the 2021 draft
Literally, none of those moves worked out though there was general consensus that the teams made great moves and the players would be valuable for fantasy managers. The Hitman is reminding us that just because something seems accepted as a fact by the fantasy community, the NFL can get things wrong.
8. Jason – Elite WRs Changing Teams
Speaking of off-season moves, lesson eight from Jason reminds us how perfect of a record the elite WRs changing teams have had in the last year. Last summer saw three huge WR names dealt on the NFL trade market when A.J. Brown, Tyreek Hill, and Davante Adams all changed teams via trade. By no coincidence, the Eagles, Dolphins, and Raiders were three of the four biggest shifts in team WR target shares for the season.
Jason argues that these teams are making massive investments by taking on established elite receivers to shift to a more pass-heavy offense. Looking forward, this means fantasy managers should not be hesitant about buying in on elite WRs – DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, and Tee Higgins are possible names – if they’re moved during the off-season.
7. Andy – Winners Win
Circling back to Andy, lesson seven may seem like a given at first glance, but having players on winning teams can translate to more fantasy wins, especially at the WR position.
Only five of the top-20 WRs in 2022 were on teams with losing records and two of those five still made the playoffs (Chris Godwin and Mike Evans with the 8-9 NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers). In fact, since 2021, 75% of the top-20 WRs in fantasy football have come from teams with winning records.
Andy argues that this will be something to at least keep in mind when you’re making your WR rankings for 2023, especially during draft season. Take a look at several WRs who went back-to-back in fantasy ADP from 2022:
- Mike Williams (WR31, Chargers made the playoffs) and Diontae Johnson (WR39, Steelers finished 9-8 and missed playoffs)
- Michael Pittman (WR23, Colts finished 4-12-1) and A.J. Brown (WR5, Eagles lost in Super Bowl)
- Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR8, Lions finished 9-8 but missed playoffs) and Brandin Cooks (WR49, Texans finished 3-13-1)
When you consider that all of these players were taken at the same spot in drafts, every time the player whose team was more successful ended higher in the end-of-season ranks. It doesn’t mean that the D.J. Moores and Michael Pittmans of the NFL aren’t still talented or valuable assets, but their teams are set up for a full rebuild and could be a deciding factor when they’re up against a similar WR on a team set up to win now.
6. Mike – “Team Big WR” is taking a hit.
The Fantasy Hitman brings a lesson about perspective regarding bigger WRs, or more so smaller WRs and their ability to produce at an elite level. Data suggests that high-end WRs are getting smaller, not bigger, as time goes on.
|Average for 1st Round WR in NFL|
Over the last 22 NFL drafts, the average size for first-round WRs drafted has decreased an inch and a half in height and 14 pounds in weight. There’s also a decline for second and third-round NFL WRs, by an inch in height and seven pounds in weight.
|Average for Day 2 WR in NFL|
But how can fantasy managers use this? In 2022, only three WRs that finished in the top-10 WRs were over 200 pounds (Devante Adams, A.J. Brown, and Amari Cooper). This doesn’t mean that bigger WRs can’t be elite or finish as a WR1, just that NFL rosters are telling us smaller WRs are more of the direction that NFL offenses are leaning towards.
5. Jason – Remember the Remembrances
Break out the Pensieve, as Jason reminds you to remember the lessons learned in years past. In the Things to Remember for 2022 article, Jason told us two important lessons that need to ring true still in 2023: “Hurt Don’t Help” and “Don’t Trust the Quarter-blechs.”
When a player is missing significant time in training camp or preseason, they tend to see a dip in draft value, but Jason found it was better to avoid those players instead of buying in. The lesson proved true again in 2022:
- JK Dobbins – Only played in eight games
- Elijah Mitchell – Only played in five games, one top-24 finish
- Michael Thomas – Played in just three games
- Kadarius Toney – Missed nine games, just two top-24 finishes
- Darren Waller – Missed eight games in the middle of the season
The second trip down memory lane is regarding mid-level QBs that change teams and give supposed new hope to the receiving options.
Again, let’s review:
- Matt Ryan – Didn’t fix anything
- Baker Mayfield – Didn’t fix anything
- Carson Wentz – Didn’t fix anything
- Marcus Mariota – Didn’t fix anything
- Russell Wilson – Didn’t fix anything
Mainly the lesson is to not be deceived by the Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Daniel Jones’ of the NFL landscape-changing teams this summer, and do not expect it to mean anything significant for your fantasy roster.
Sorry again, D.J. Moore.
4. Andy – Ending… and Trending
Andy’s final lesson to remember is completely about beginnings and endings. While some players have final season rankings that may feel underwhelming, the way they ended the season could be more indicative of how their 2023 season will begin. For instance:
- Najee Harris – RB14 on the season but was RB4 over the last eight weeks
- Keenan Allen – WR41 on the season but was WR10 over the last eight weeks
- Jerry Jeudy – WR21 on the season but was WR11 over the last eight games
- Dawson Knox – TE14 on the season but was TE6 over the last eight games
What we’re taking away here is that there is more nuance than the end-of-season rank when you’re considering the next season. Players like Chris Godwin or Cam Akers who are returning from major injuries they suffered in the prior season having a strong back-half of the year can be an indication they’re primed to be more valuable the next season.
This thought process can work in the opposite direction as well:
- Aaron Jones – RB9 on the season but was RB24 over the final eight games
- Christian Kirk – WR11 on the season but the WR35 over the final eight games
- Gabe Davis – WR27 on the season but the WR49 over the final eight games
The main point Andy makes here is that how someone ends the season can be a larger indication of what’s to come in the future than what a stellar start meant to a season passed.
3. Mike – “Late Round QB” is changing
The name of the game for the educated fantasy manager for years has been heavy RB and WR drafting in the early rounds because there is so much value at the QB in the middle to late rounds, but that could be changing. Don’t get it wrong, there were more than 40 QBs who finished inside the top-12 QBs in a given week during 2022, so streaming is still an option, but it’s getting harder.
While there are still plenty of QBs who will put up strong fantasy weeks, the QBs who are difference makers are being identified and getting drafted earlier. The Fantasy Hitman thinks a lot of this can be attributed to fantasy managers as a whole being in on the “cheat code” of a rushing QB, resulting in the difference-making QBs over the last three seasons being drafted by Round 8.
Things will shift as draft season approaches, but it may be time to reexamine the range in which fantasy managers address the QB position since there is now a large gap in some of the elite fantasy difference makers.
2. Jason – Lost Players Aren’t Found
The Big Shimmy hits us with a heavy one that needs a little explaining but can be extremely valuable for fantasy managers. Jason argues that when we see a player who has a down year with a better situation to “bounce back” the next year, it’s not a player worth betting on.
Take Allen Robinson, Courtland Sutton, and Darren Waller for example. Each player had a down year in 2021, but their situations all seemed way improved for a much better season in 2022. However that wasn’t the case for any of them, in fact, they had worse years than their previous “down year.”
One indication of this drop-off in production can be tracked by diminishing involvement. Here are some guys whose Target Per Route Run has dropped in recent years:
- Adam Thielen – 21% in 2020, under 20% in 2021, 15% in 2022
- Diontae Johnson – 26.5% in 2020, 26.9% in 2021, 22.9% in 2022
- Michael Gallup – 15.5% in 2020, 17.8% in 2021, 16% in 2022
Looking forward to 2023, players like Adam Thielen, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers all looked like they’d taken a step backward in production last season and there will be a case to be made for next season to be better based on a handful of factors. While Jason acknowledges that there is a possibility that these players are back to their normal selves in 2023, he argues that history supports betting on them not being back to form.
1. Kyle – Get your Tight Ends Checked Out Early
It wouldn’t be a Fantasy Footballers lesson without a butt pun.
The final thing to remember comes from Kyle Borgognoni regarding the TE breakout. Kyle argues that identifying TEs who excel in gaining yards after the catch paired with a positive yards per route run in their first two seasons is an indicator of the TEs that we’ve seen become high-end fantasy options.
The Borg compiled every TE over the last decade who had 2+ yards per route run in their first two seasons:
The two names that stick out here are Kyle Pitts and Chig Okonkwo. The entire fantasy community has been salivating awaiting the ceiling that comes with Kyle Pitts only to be left with sadness. However, this stat is encouraging for his future as a fantasy option. The hotness at TE is Chig who led all TEs in yards per route run last season. While the Titans rookie only had two receptions for 20+ yards downfield, he turned seven receptions into 20+ with yards after the catch.