Welcome to The Ultimate Fantasy Football Draft Guide for 2023, an overview of strategies and processes to help you decide who to draft in your fantasy football leagues (and just as importantly, when to do so).
This guide is a thorough review of pre-eminent draft strategies used by experts and it contains a sneak peek into my brain to show the processes dictating how I draft, who I’m looking to draft and when, and which positions I am prioritizing. My favorite targets at each position are included, and I’ve included a round-by-round cheat sheet at the end. Our complete rankings for each position are available on QBList.com, and links to each can be found below.
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Draft Strategies: Overview
What are some of the most common draft strategies used by fantasy experts and serious fantasy football players?
Robust RB – This is an “old school” strategy of snatching up as many viable “bell cow” running backs as possible in the early rounds. Robust RB drafters aim to leave drafts with at least two running backs in the first three rounds and at least three in the first five. Some still swear by this strategy and point to the increasing scarcity of three-down running backs in today’s NFL, in which RBBCs (Running Back By Committee) are now the norm. A Robust RB strategy makes the most sense in leagues that start only 2 wide receivers.
Hero RB – This strategy requires taking an elite, high-volume running back in either the first or second round who serves as a foundational lineup piece. Hero RB drafters then fill their rosters with exceptional players at other positions before circling back to find running back value in Round 6 or later. The Hero RB strategy makes the most sense in leagues that start 3 wide receivers, as managers who follow this path tend to fill their lineups with three top-shelf, starting-caliber wide receivers in between their first two running back selections.
Zero RB – Most people who employ the Zero RB strategy could conceivably call it “Robust WR,” as drafters who march to this tune tend to take at least four or five wide receivers before even considering the idea of selecting a running back. Zero RB truthers also tend to favor taking high-end quarterbacks and/or tight ends instead of running backs in the first five or six rounds of drafts. Zero RB is a viable strategy in full PPR leagues that start three wide receivers and have two or more flex spots.
Hero WR – Think of this strategy as the opposite of Hero RB: those who go “Hero WR” are taking an elite target hog in either the first or second round before selecting a couple of blue-chip running backs, a high-end quarterback, and/or a top tight end. The idea here is that an elite anchor at the wide receiver position allows a fantasy manager to go “best player available” and circle back for upside and value at the deepest of the four core positions.
Balanced – Those who have to try a little of everything at Thanksgiving can get behind the idea of balanced drafting, which spreads draft capital out fairly evenly among the four core positions, snubbing none of them. Balance seekers work to fill a roster without any major holes, which is a sound idea in principle. In practice, however, this tact encourages fantasy managers to reach for certain players because of the position they play when they’d be better off taking the best player available on the board.
Value – VBD, or Value-Based Drafting, has long been a favorite strategy of our friends at Footballguys. This tactic marries positional needs and player quality to identify the best values on the board. Value drafters use projections to compare the expected performance (fantasy points scored) of a given player against a baseline player at the same position, ideally on a sliding scale that adjusts to represent the corresponding depth of available players at that position.
How does Draft Position affect what strategy to employ?
Ideal strategy deployment can indeed vary based on draft position, and this is largely due to nuances in a league’s format and scoring system. For example, those picking in draft slots 1.01 – 1.08 in superflex or 2 QB leagues should ideally take a quarterback in the first round. In single-quarterback leagues, lineup configurations matter. Those playing in leagues that require three starting wide receivers have a much greater incentive to take at least one wide receiver in Rounds 1 and 2, especially in full PPR scoring systems.
Beyond that, there are important nuances to consider in each area of the draft:
Early Drafters (picks 1-4) – You’re getting one of the best players in the draft. Don’t get cute and screw it up. Be mindful of positional runs: you can either start them or miss out on them entirely (see “Late Drafters” below for a few applicable strategies). Last but not least, don’t count on players coming back to you 20-plus picks later. Try not to reach, but if there’s a player you want, go and get your guy.
Middle Drafters (picks 5-8) – You’re relatively insulated from position runs. This area of the draft lends itself very well to value-based drafting. Be water and let the draft come to you.
Late Drafters (picks 9-12) – If you’re in a draft with a Third Round Reversal, do a happy dance. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of your fellow league managers. However, you can become an agent of chaos by starting positional runs. One common way for managers drafting from the 12-spot to do this: double-tap a position (selecting two running backs, for example). Another way to get a run going is to crack open a new tier of quarterbacks or tight ends at the turn. However, never lose sight of the fact that your primary goal is to assemble the best team for yourself, not mess with the heads of your leaguemates.
Expected Player Performance: Rankings and Projections
What pitfalls do we need to watch out for when projecting, ranking, and drafting players?
The most important rule in projecting, ranking, and drafting player performances is also its simplest and most difficult: keep an open mind. Ultimately, this can get tricky in the middle and late rounds during peak “OH MY GAWD THOSE QUADS” hype video season. There are many temptations during the preseason to “confirm our priors,” which is analyst-speak for reinforcing our preconceived notions about players, whether good or bad.
This brings us to our second key: be wary of homerism. Your local media and beat reporters for your favorite team will undoubtedly hype up players who have shown growth or flashed in practice. It’s easy to get enamored by these glow-ups, and doing so will cause us to pass over more dependable options for the shiny object du jour.
In addition to overcoming positive bias for your favorite team, check your hate for rival teams and players. Shed that negativity before walking into the draft room. Subconscious feelings of hatred for players on your least favorite team(s) can be dangerous. For example, a surefire way for a Philadelphia Eagles fan to give his leaguemates an advantage is to adopt a hard “No Cowboys On My Team” stance. Passing on Saquon Barkley, CeeDee Lamb, and Tony Pollard so that your leaguemates take them instead is pure folly, worse than punting on third down.
All of that said, here are a few important rules of thumb when drafting:
- Whether you get your draft list here or anywhere else, be sure it is broken into tiers that make sense to you. It’s your team, so adjust your tiers and rankings to your liking, but avoid the temptation to reach hard for players you love irrationally.
- Know where the “drop off” points are for each position. Tight end is a very shallow position, and wide receiver is comparatively deep. This is where ADP, much maligned for encouraging rigidity and conformity, can serve as a great reference. Don’t fall for taking the 8th-ranked tight end over the 16th-best wide receiver, or you’ll be sorry.
- Have fun! Enjoy the team you draft. Feeling the urge to take a player you like a round or two early? Go for it! You might even elicit a few groans and earn the nickname “sniper.” Aside from winning a championship, there’s no better feeling! But take a player four or five rounds too early, and your leaguemates will thank you. Or laugh. Or both.
What goes into making projections and player rankings?
The secret formula can’t get into the wrong hands, but as a parent of a child with serious food allergies, I always need to know the ingredients in any concoction. Therefore, here are some of the many factors and statistical metrics that play a role in determining player ceilings, floors, and reasonable ranges of outcomes. These include:
- Expected volume of plays run
- Expected run/pass ratio
- Player skill and efficiency
- Player age, health, and athleticism
- Strength of offense
- Strength of surrounding cast (for example, talented skill position players can impact quarterback play, and vice versa)
The most effective rankings start with projections, which are helpful, but far from infallible. Projections are comprised of single statistical outcomes for each player, albeit the most likely, from a wide range of highs and lows. Despite their flaws, projections are useful for many reasons. For starters, they can be used to form rankings that help identify tier breaks in terms of expected player performance at a given position. The process of assembling those tiers and ranking players within them is part mathematical science and part context, with a few dashes of artistry and experience added in.
Does the strength or weakness of a team’s offensive line matter? Does it impact fantasy performance at all?
There is little impact on a player’s weekly performance for fantasy purposes, but good offensive lines definitely offer a boost to running back rushing performance for fantasy purposes, per Jared Smola of FantasySharks. Conversely, bottom-of-the-barrel units will hinder a running back’s ability to reach his ceiling.
Theoretically, quarterbacks who are constantly under pressure won’t be as effective in the pocket, and that can trickle down somewhat to skill position players: wide receivers and tight ends will see fewer catchable targets, thereby limiting their abilities to pile up massive fantasy points totals. This sounds like sensible logic, but Smola’s research shows the correlation is weak at best. He doesn’t say for certain why, but it may have something to do with the fact that sacks and pressures tend to generate negative game scripts, which tend to produce more second-half passing volume.
Now that we’ve gone through all that, the best offensive lines in football this year can be found in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Kansas City.
Honorable mentions go out to blockers in Detroit, Baltimore, Dallas, and Atlanta.
Meanwhile, the distinction for “NFL’s Worst Offensive Lines” belong to the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals. Dishonorable mentions are hereby bestowed upon the Tennessee Titans (PFF’s worst), Seattle Seahawks, and New York Giants (NOTE: the latter two could improve if youngsters Charles Cross and Evan Neal, both 2022 1st Rounders, take a step after mediocre-to-poor rookie seasons).
Does the strength of a player’s schedule matter?
The short answer is “sometimes.” The strength of any given team can fluctuate wildly given injuries and other factors, so weekly matchups during the season matter far more. I’d therefore caution against putting significant stock in Strength of Schedule as a factor in determining player performance outcomes.
That said, it makes sense to factor in at least a slight bump for players within the same tier at a given position who are poised to enjoy extremely favorable schedules. Likewise, we should also consider issuing slight fades to those with extremely challenging schedules in such situations. A perfect example: per Dave Richard’s recent analysis of tight end strength of schedule, Dalton Schultz and Juwan Johnson are set up with two of the easiest schedules in terms of opposing defenses throughout the season. Meanwhile, T. J. Hockenson and Darren Waller face comparative gauntlets.
Does this mean we should move Schultz and Johnson ahead of Hockenson and Waller in our rankings? Absolutely not! However, it does give me pause when considering Hockenson and Waller at their current ADPs with significant value on the board at other positions. It also helps me feel more comfortable taking Schultz (ADP 120, per Fantasy Pros) and Johnson (ADP 167) ahead of other similarly-ranked tight ends when approaching the areas of the draft where they’re going.
If you choose to make Strength of Schedule a factor in your rankings and evaluation process, I highly recommend this resource from Sharp Football Analysis. It cross-references each team’s schedule against the expected season-long win totals for every opponent, per Vegas over/unders. The teams with the easiest expected schedules are the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, by a wide margin.
While this is fantastic news for Bijan Robinson truthers, as well as anyone who has a horse in the race in a crowded Saints backfield, it may also be a product of playing in what is projected to be the NFC’s weakest division. The next tier of teams enjoying comparatively easy schedules are the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, and Houston Texans.
On the flip side, the New England Patriots draw the NFL’s toughest expected schedule by a statistically significant margin over the Las Vegas Raiders, the next closest squad with a dismal schedule forecast. Others who might find themselves with trickier-than-average schedules include the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and Kansas City Chiefs, three teams that happen to be laden with talent. Again, don’t go too crazy with this information; it is best used to help make decisions between similarly ranked players.
Speaking of player ranks, let’s roll up our sleeves and get into the evaluation of each position to help you be best prepared to dominate your league’s draft. We are QB List, so we naturally begin with the most important position in actual, real football: quarterback.
Our quarterback rankings provide an overview of the landscape of the position from a fantasy perspective, complete with all-important tiers. The top three quarterbacks have been going off the board rounds earlier than in previous years, so if you want Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, or Patrick Mahomes under center for your fantasy squad, be prepared to cough up a draft pick in Round 3, perhaps earlier. Of the three, Hurts offers the highest rushing floor and still has plenty of room to grow as a fantasy producer from a passing standpoint.
That’s too rich for some given the quality of running back and wide receiver options on the board at this point in the draft, so I’ve broken down the position to find some cost-effective values. We start with Justin Fields, who was a Top 5 quarterback in terms of fantasy points per game last season and finished as the QB6 in terms of total fantasy points scored…despite missing two games. Oh, and he started multiple games with a wide receiving corps that featured Dante Pettis, Equanimeous St. Brown, and N’Keal Harry.
Before you get any sicker to your stomach, know that Fields gets Darnell Mooney back healthy this year. Chase Claypool, acquired midseason last year, has had a full camp to learn the offense and develop rapport with his new quarterback. Most importantly, the Chicago Bears added an elite talent in the form of D.J. Moore, who should lift the profile of the entire offense.
The Bears will not finish at or near the very bottom of the league in terms of both plays run and run/pass ratio as they did last season. QB1 overall is therefore well within Fields’ reasonable range of outcomes, making him one of the very few quarterbacks I’m interested in drafting at ADP before the middle or late rounds.
Experts and analysts may disagree on the order, but there is more or less a consensus “Top Eight” at the position: Hurts, Allen, Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Fields, and Trevor Lawrence. My preferred approach at quarterback is to take what the board leaves me and snatch up one of these eight at a point where they represent value.
Another strategy is to wait until all eight are gone before snatching up either Tua Tagovailoa or Deshaun Watson, in that order. Consensus prefers Watson, who was positively dreadful last season and doesn’t have the benefit of the most explosive wide receiver duo in the game: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. If it weren’t for multiple concussions sustained prior to this season, Tua would be going higher. When healthy, he’s statistically as good as any quarterback in the league:
📊 Tua Tagovailoa 2022 QB Ranks:
➖ 105.5 Passer Rating (1st)
➖ 8.9 Yards Per Attempt (1st)
➖ 6.9% Touchdown Percentage (1st)
➖ 7 50+ Yard Passes (2nd)
➖ 5.9 Air Yards Per Attempt (2nd)
— FinsXtra (@FinsXtra) August 13, 2023
Players like Daniel Jones (700+ rushing yards last season), Geno Smith, Kirk Cousins, and Jared Goff certainly won’t be difference-makers for your team, but they’re values where they’re going in drafts and won’t hurt your squad if it’s loaded at other positions as a result of your use of earlier draft capital.
Deeper Sleepers for 2QB/Superflex leagues are led by Russell Wilson, who many are fading due to recency bias from his lone truly poor fantasy season. Jordan Love and Sam Howell are low on boards due to “Fear of the Unknown,” as we’ve collectively seen very little regular season game film from either.
It’s taboo to recommend Baker Mayfield in any format, but he’s worth a dice roll as a low-end QB2/QB3 in 2QB/Superflex formats. We vividly recall him serving as a scapegoat in Cleveland after playing through a shoulder injury one year after leading the Browns to their first playoff win in decades.
Mayfield then went down to Carolina to endure the waning moments of the disastrous Matt Rhule era before surprising most of us with reasonably competent quarterback play in his late-season cameo with the Los Angeles Rams. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson was absolutely dreadful last season (but that’s OK, apparently). Now captaining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, Baker arguably has better weapons to work with in the form of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin than he’s ever had before in his career.
Quarterbacks we’re avoiding/fading include Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, and Kyler Murray. Prescott is no longer the rushing threat he once was, and while a bounce-back season is definitely possible, he’s being drafted a bit too high as a result of name recognition; he should be going in the middle or back of the Geno/Cousins/Goff tier, not before it.
Our running back rankings break down the most controversial position of all, and our tier breakdowns should satisfy Robust RB drafters and Zero RB zealots alike. Christian McCaffrey is the top running back on our list, followed by a tier of four others: Nick Chubb, Barkley, Bijan Robinson, and Austin Ekeler. All of these players should be going in the first two rounds of single QB drafts.
In the next tier, we find Tony Pollard, Derrick Henry, Rhamondre Stevenson, Najee Harris, and Jonathan Taylor. All are values in Rounds 3 or later. Pollard is of particular interest this season: he was extremely efficient last year and no real threat exists to fill the void left behind by Ezekiel Elliott, who commanded a large share of red zone touches.
Some may take issues with the inclusion of Stevenson here, but I’m buying the dip after the signing of Elliott. At this stage of his career, Elliott shouldn’t present an obstacle any larger than the version of Damien Harris we saw in 2022; he also offers little to no threat to Stevenson’s passing down work. Keep in mind that from Week 3 onwards, Stevenson was an RB1 last season. He should retain a significant workload and remain at least as efficient with Elliott offering occasional breathers.
One thing that gets overlooked with Rhamondre Stevenson is his rushing efficiency:
▪️5.0 YPC on 210 rush attempts
▪️160 Rush YDS Over Expectation
The RYOE ranks among the likes of Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, and Derrick Henry.
Stevenson isn't just a checkdown merchant.
— Frank Ammirante (@FAmmiranteTFJ) June 25, 2023
Harris is primed for a bounce-back season after gutting out all of 2022 on a bad foot. Taylor’s ranking takes into consideration his current, nasty contract dispute; he has been excused from the team due to a personal matter, and there is a real chance he misses time at the start of the season for one reason or the other. That said, both become significant values in Rounds 4 or 5 if they hang around that long.
Other running backs we’re targeting later include Miles Sanders and James Conner, who should get the bulk of the carries and passing down work in Carolina, and Arizona, respectively. In the middle rounds, James Cook and his more decorated brother Dalvin Cook offer high-end ceilings despite their timeshare statuses, and 2023 Day 2 draft pick Zach Charbonnnet should offer a return on his draft capital via a prominent role in the Seattle Seahawks backfield.
Running backs we’re fading include Josh Jacobs, Breece Hall, and Javonte Williams. Jacobs led the league with an obscene total of 393 touches last year, and as referenced in our rankings article, volume of that magnitude is usually a harbinger of bad times the following season. A bitter contract dispute isn’t helping his cause from a fantasy perspective.
Hall and Williams present significant injury risks, although both appear to be ahead of expectations in terms of their recovery timelines. Age is on their side, but injury optimism has never been a friend of mine, as setbacks and compensatory injuries are common struggles for players working their way back from major injuries. Williams is the greater concern of the two, as he’s working his way back from multiple knee ligament tears, not just a single ACL as is the case with Hall.
In our wide receiver rankings, created by QB List’s own Dan Adams, six players find themselves in the first tier. Justin Jefferson is the clear top option at the position, followed by Ja’Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill. Despite injury risks (his own and those of his quarterback, Matthew Stafford), Cooper Kupp slides into the fourth spot. Kupp, who is one year removed from an NFL MVP-caliber season, led all wide receivers in fantasy points per game in 2022.
Next up is Stefon Diggs, who certainly has a path to the overall WR1 ranking as the undisputed target hog in an electric Buffalo Bills offense. Rounding out the top tier is Davante Adams who finished as the WR3 last season (WR4 in fantasy points per game). Adams, who turns 31 in December, earned a spot in this grouping on the strength of his absolutely stellar career to date.
Knocking on the door of this group are three players who often find themselves selected at or near the turn at the end of the first round: CeeDee Lamb, Garrett Wilson, and A.J. Brown. Lamb is on the cusp of joining the tier above, and some well-respected analysts have him there already; Dalton Del Don of Yahoo! Sports currently lists Lamb as his WR5. Brown posted a career year during his first season in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform. Meanwhile, Wilson balled out as a rookie despite a quarterback carousel featuring Zach Wilson, so expectations are high with Aaron Rodgers joining the huddle. A quick reminder of what Wilson accomplished with Mike White and the remnants of Joe Flacco under center:
Reminder of Garrett Wilson’s non Zach Wilson pace:
Now he gets Aaron Rodgers…pic.twitter.com/jKyyKliYuz
— Chris O'Brien (@17gamepace) August 17, 2023
In Tier 3, we have Amon-Ra St. Brown, who made a believer out of his many nay-sayers last season, followed by ultra-talented Jaylen Waddle, who has thrived opposite Tyreek Hill for the Miami Dolphins. Rounding out this tier are a pair of WR2s who would be primary targets in most offenses: Philadelphia’s DeVonta Smith and Cincinatti’s Tee Higgins.
Our next grouping is where we start really deviating from consensus. Calvin Ridley slots in as our WR15, which is either too high or too low, depending on which fantasy analyst you ask. Up next is Amari Cooper, who appears in our rankings about five spots higher than his ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) on FantasyPros. Talent is not a question mark for either, but situational concerns keep both out of our three highest tiers.
Mike Williams of the Chargers and Seattle’s DK Metcalf bring up the rear of this tier, both of whom get it done on the boundary as physical wide receivers who excel at the catch point. Both of their offenses welcome Round 1 talents in the form of Quentin Johnson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, respectively, but the thought process here is that the extra defensive attention both newbies require will help open things up for both players, especially in the red zone, where mismatch potential presents itself.
The fifth tier rolls ten deep, and a lot of these players will slip in drafts. Deebo Samuel offers skillsets that few others at the position possess, but many worry about consistency: the presence of McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle in the same offense will render Samuel a fourth option in certain games, depending on matchups.
D.J. Moore could enjoy a breakout in lockstep with his new quarterback Justin Fields, and Keenan Allen could very well lead the Chargers in targets if he can stay healthy. The upsides of second-year receivers Christian Watson and Drake London are undeniable, but the stocks of both are weighed down by uncertainty about quarterback play and volume in a run-heavy offense, respectively.
Many are betting against steady veterans Tyler Lockett and Chris Godwin, but that would be a mistake: Lockett has consistently returned value on his draft investment just about every year, and Godwin is now completely healthy a year removed from ACL surgery. Uncertainty about the role of rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba has caused many to fade Lockett entirely too far, and Godwin is an absolute steal of a WR3 in drafts right now.
Diontae Johnson is due for major touchdown regression after scoring (checks notes) a whopping total of zero last season. He should still see a healthy dose of targets and offers value for those willing to overlook recency bias caused in part by the struggles of a rookie quarterback who now seems ready to take a step. Christian Kirk and Terry McLaurin round out Tier Five; both are higher on many analysts’ boards, which speaks to the relative depth of this position compared to nearly every other.
As a staff, we’re split on the outlooks of several players farther down our rankings. Dan is higher on Marquise Brown than I am, whereas I’m far more bullish on Jerry Jeudy and Jahan Dotson. Given his gifts, Jeudy should thrive in an offense that made a superstar out of Michael Thomas. Dotson, over the last six weeks of his rookie season, was every bit as impressive as his more highly-regarded teammate McLaurin. Dotson, unlike McLaurin, commanded a target share of over 20 percent in each game during that stretch, which featured three different starting quarterbacks.
We’re both treading more lightly than some of this year’s top rookies: Jordan Addison is already battling concussion issues, and we’re only in Week 2 of the preseason. We love the aforementioned Jaxon Smith-Njigba in dynasty leagues, but consistent volume may be hard to come by with Metcalf and Lockett still producing at high levels.
Quentin Johnson faces similar challenges in an offense featuring Williams, Allen, Ekeler, and steady tight end Gerald Everett, who could thrive in Kellen Moore’s offense as Dalton Schultz did last season in Dallas, which is why I prefer to draft Zay Flowers and Marvin Mims at much lower costs, both of whom should capitalize on their opportunities for the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, respectively.
Erik Smith produced our tight end rankings this season, and to no one’s surprise, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews reign supreme. Kelce is going off the board in the first round of many fantasy drafts, while Andrews tends to last into the third round. T. J. Hockenson leads the next grouping. From Week 9 on, after coming over to the Minnesota Vikings via trade, “Hockenson ran the most routes, had the most air yards, and was targeted as the first read more than any other tight end,” per Brian Drake of FantasyPoints.
A case can be made for putting Hockenson in his own tier after watching him step into a new offense in the middle of a season and produce at an extremely high level, but we also need to give a nod to the talents and/or situations (or both) of four others in this grouping: George Kittle, Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller, and Dallas Goedert. Waller just needs to stay healthy to provide a return on their draft investments, as does Kittle, who should have few doubters at this point.
Top TE Seasons by YPRR [Since 2009]
+min. 150 routes, per @PFF
1 Rob Gronkowski, 2016 (3.20)
2 George Kittle, 2019 (3.12)
3 Mark Andrews, 2019 (2.89)
4 George Kittle, 2020 (2.84)
5 George Kittle, 2018 (2.82)
6 Rob Gronkowski, 2013 (2.75)
7 Chig Okonkwo, 2022 (2.61)*
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) August 16, 2023
Pitts offers unmatched physical gifts and looks to build on an impressive rookie season after a disappointing, injury-riddled sophomore campaign that was held back by horrendous quarterback play (we’re looking at you, Marcus Mariota). A Goedert selection is a bet not only on his talent but also his favorable role in an Eagles offense that should continue to grow and thrive.
Now that we’ve gone over the true, dependable difference makers at the position, the draft strategy I prefer at the tight end position is Kelce or Bust. Unless Andrews slides into the fourth round or later. I’m not against selecting any of the Tier Two tight ends above, but there’s usually value on the board at running back or wide receiver that interests me more at the ADP of each player. That said, I’m always on the lookout for value, so I’m happy to take any of the players above if they slip a round or two in drafts.
The best of the rest is headlined by Evan Engram, who finished as the TE5 last season; he retains his role in a prominent offense that should be even more prolific in 2023 given the addition of Ridley and the expected step we expect Lawrence to take at the quarterback position. Pat Freiermuth and David Njoku, both of whom finished Top Ten in terms of fantasy points scored per game at the tight end position in 2022, are also worthy values in the middle to late rounds of drafts.
Rookie tight ends don’t tend to produce at a high level, but this year’s class is particularly impressive. The Bills selected Dalton Kincaid in Round 1, and significant draft capital was also spent on Sam LaPorta by the Detroit Lions. Michael Mayer and Luke Musgrave are well-positioned to play larger-than-expected roles for the Las Vegas Raiders and Green Bay Packers, respectively. Mayer is a well-rounded player who should play nearly every snap for the Raiders, and Musgrave has turned many heads with his impressive speed and size, not to mention route running skills that belie his young age.
Any of those four rookies is worth a late-round flyer given their upside, but there are other late-round tight ends we also like. Revisit Scott Barrett’s offering above and soak in Chigoziem Okonkwo‘s impressive YPRR as a rookie; he has fallen too far down boards after the Titans signed DeAndre Hopkins. Also, I’d be remiss for glossing over Juwan Johnson. One of Erik’s “my guys,” Johnson appears at TE11 in his rankings, which is well above consensus.
I’m not interested in drafting kickers (more on that below), but I’m not against using a late pick on a great defense. The best defenses include the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys. The New England Patriots sneak into that tier for many, with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets not too far behind.
Many like to pay attention to the opening schedule for defenses before deciding which one(s) to draft. It’s tough to say for sure which defenses to target since so many opposing teams are better or worse than they were last season, and we have to use 2022 data since we don’t have any from 2023 data. That said, the Ravens, Denver Broncos, Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fit this bill, although I’d caution everyone to draft the last three at their own risk. Target Baltimore or maybe Denver if you want an edge here.
Is there a kicker worth drafting? Meh. Justin Tucker is still The Kicking G.O.A.T., but it’s usually advisable to take a flyer on an upside RB/WR who could hit instead of taking a kicker: there’s simply not enough variance in terms of FPPG between top-performing kickers and mid ones for me to justify taking a big boot too soon. I’ll do so only if league rules require it, and then I’ll make a motion to change the said rule for next year.
I’d rather draft a couple of scratch-off tickets in the form of high-risk, high-reward positional players and cut one for a kicker if that wide receiver, running back, or tight end doesn’t pan out. When and if other bottom-of-the-roster guys flop, it becomes very easy to figure out who to cut for a potential league winner during the inevitable post-Week 1 waiver run.
Draft Targets: Round-By-Round Cheat Sheet
Various photos courtesy of the NFL | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)