Post-Draft Fantasy Questions for Each NFL Team
NFL Offseason - The draft is another key information period in the NFL offseason that meaningfully affects everything for teams. More importantly for you, it's also a key milestone in fantasy football that can be something of a double-edged sword of opportunity.
We now know more about how teams value players previously on the roster as well as their new additions via free agency dollars and draft capital deployed. This opens a lot of opportunity to be directionally correct with your team and player evaluations and build "super teams" before markets catch up in high-dollar best ball tournaments such as Underdog Fantasy's Best Ball Mania IV that features an industry-high $3 million to first place (use promo code OUTSIDERS to double your first deposit up to $100!). If you're right panning for gold amongst this year's rookie running backs or undervalued backups, you could end up with league-winners like the Dameon Pierces or Tyler Allgeiers and Jamaal Williamses or Rhamondre Stevensons of last year.
This post-draft period also offers a lot of opportunity to be completely wrong about players based on misreading the tea leaves for certain situations. Markets took all of training camp and countless beat writer reports to properly value players ranging from George Pickens to Tyreek Hill last year. Hill in particular was basically ignored in some circles after his offseason trade from Kansas City to Miami as his ADP relatively cratered. That blind spot ended up costly as he became one of the best second- to third-round values in a pass-happy Miami offense.
I'm sick enough to admit: Speculation season and the chance to be right about lower-probability things that the rest of the public treats as binary outcomes is the fun part for me. So let's go team by team and try to read the proverbial greens of their most interesting acquisitions this offseason as we tackle 32 fantasy football questions for each team following the draft.
How likely are they to hit the skids before Kyler Murray returns?
You could pin this Cardinals question to the non-moves around DeAndre Hopkins, but the question more closely aligns with the core of drafting Arizona players this year. I have avoided the Cardinals in my 100-plus best ball drafts so far in 2023 because I view a ton more downside than upside in their current situation. Yes, they have finally shed the fake sharp Kliff Kingsbury and his strained relationship with franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. But the move to former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon as head coach with new offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, most recently the Browns' 2022 quarterback coach, doesn't offer a ton of new inspiration.
Even with that aside, the ACL tear and recovery window for Murray is a bigger issue. Murray tore his ACL in mid-December of 2022. Everyone from Chris Godwin to Hendon Hooker has shown miraculous ACL recoveries and the fantasy world hopes the same for under-25-year-olds such as Breece Hall and Javonte Williams this year (with full recovery generally regarded as more achievable within that age window). For Murray, who turns 26 in August, there are some age and timing concerns. What if he isn't good to go until November and the Cardinals are 2-6 at that point? Would they be inclined to fully push Murray? Will they also avoid a potential distraction with DeAndre Hopkins if they can't find someone who wants to take on his 2023 $19.5-million base salary? That's a lot to worry about for a team that was mostly sleepwalking through last season with only James Conner showing up to work by the end of the campaign.
I have largely avoided Cardinals so far in drafts besides Conner, whom I expect to quite literally run out the clock on this Arizona season if things go awry. Maybe Houston gunslinger Clayton Tune, with his draft-class-high 73.4% on-target ball rate according to Sports Info Solutions, can come in for a banged-up and iffy Colt McCoy to get the Cardinals through Murray's recovery. With markets currently pinning the Cardinals at the bottom of 2024 Super Bowl winner odds at +20,000, I'd tend to err on the side of disaster.
Are the Falcons going to run the ball 35-plus times per game?
The Falcons selected electric Texas running back Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick with the hope of shoring up a backfield that already had fifth-round steal Tyler Allgeier near the tops among rookies in EPA per rush, rush DVOA, and avoided tackle rate. Despite that, Arthur Smith claims he want to pass more.
Arthur Smith, pointedly, says the team wants to throw more often this season
"More balance. The way we want to play."
they better. Just 24.4 pass att per game last year (31st) pic.twitter.com/kGVmSy8XJu
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) April 28, 2023
I'll spare you and myself having to craft a vintage Memento "Don't believe his lies" meme with Arthur Smith and, really, any head coach talking about his team's intents this time of year. But let's just say I don't expect Smith to suddenly Air Raid this thing after years of offenses that look like Bronko Nagurski is involved in the backfield. Sorry to the remaining lovers of the immensely talented Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
So the bigger question is if Bijan Robinson will pay off lofty real-life draft capital as a top-eight pick as well as a spot in the first round of fantasy football drafts. I tend to think his arrival in Atlanta does two things:
- It hurts the value of Tyler Allgeier, a player going top-100 based on his outlier rookie year with an assumption of becoming a bellcow back this year.
- It hurts the value of Bijan Robinson with Allgeier already being called a "goal-line sledgehammer" by Arthur Smith as it relates to their two roles.
Robinson is a monster, a guy who landed in an offense that will use him as a souped-up version of Allgeier, a player who only saw 11.1 routes per game in 2022 despite a 41.2% receiving DVOA. But I think he'll be a bit overvalued with Allgeier likely to carve out 10-ish touches for himself, some of which could be of the highest value. And if it ends up being more of a timeshare than expected—as well as potential contingent value if Robinson were hurt at any point—I wouldn't be shocked if Allgeier is fantastic leverage against the highly drafted Robinson, with Allgeier likely to fall precipitously in ADP in the coming weeks and months.
How much will new offensive coordinator Todd Monken have Lamar Jackson throw?
Zay Flowers crossed off a very important milestone for potential fantasy production with draft capital closely aligned with opportunity. He finds himself in a wide receiver corps with new addition Odell Beckham and previous high draft pick Rashod Bateman, plus two ball-hungry tight ends in Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely. He also finds himself on a team that we know loves to run the ball with both its quarterback and any running back it can trot out, ideally stud J.K. Dobbins and his 28.6% rushing DVOA.
We know there would be a pretty low likelihood of Flowers reaching his potential in a Greg Roman offense that saw Jackson drop back just 31.5 times per game in 2022, almost 15 times less than guys such as Justin Herbert and Tom Brady and even new Miami backup Mike White. It's hard to sustain a passing offense with a need for massive efficiency to balance out the lack of volume.
If Monken opens things up as he did at times at Georgia, Flowers could benefit from increased pass attempts as well as more effective usage of the other weapons to open things up for him. If Monken falls in line with previous Ravens rhetoric and establishes that run, it'd be hard to imagine Flowers keeping up with his rookie peers with five or fewer targets per game. I want to believe in this offense with a newly paid Jackson, but I really worry about the ability to adeptly give Beckham his requisite targets, develop Bateman and Flowers, and feed their outlier tight ends. Some of those things will occur, but not all.
Will the Bills really use Dalton Kincaid as a big slot receiver?
All offseason long, I have been locked in on Dalton Kincaid as a tight end to watch for fantasy. At Utah, he crushed my alma mater USC with a massive 234-yard performance that sunk the Trojans' national title dreams. He creates a ton of value in short targets with a gaudy 0.396 EPA per target on throws under 10 air yards according to Sports Info Solutions. He's also a beast in the slot with 4.5 slot targets per game leading to a 0.646 EPA per target when running a route there, behind just low-volume Brenton Strange in this class.
But we know the Bills and, more importantly, Josh Allen love Dawson Knox. Knox brings an in-line blocking element that is not expected to be a major part of Kincaid's game, with Kincaid more of an adept catch-and-runner with his 29% avoided tackle rate at Utah. The only pathway for Kincaid to reach his potential early on is for him to be used in Travis Kelce fashion in a high-octane offense.
Kincaid clearly brings a dimension that the Bills did not add during this offseason, unless you think the diminutive Deonte Harty is that guy. But there is a real blocker (some pun intended) to Kincaid's playing time in the team's comfort with Knox. With early drafts seeming frothy for Kincaid, I worry he may be in a spot that's tough to come through unless the Bills basically treat him as their WR3 (or WR2 when Gabe Davis does his annual disappearing act for 10 to 15 weeks of the season).
Will Bryce Young be more than a game manager with upside in Year 1?
It's easy to see why the likable, Alabama-coached Bryce Young landed as the No. 1 overall pick. It's hard to imagine how he outright kills the Panthers even if he lacks the gunslinger mentality of C.J. Stroud or the world-beating athleticism and deep-ball arm of Anthony Richardson. With a solid defense previously under Steve Wilks, the Panthers were able to hang in the NFC South race despite the Matt Rhule, Baker Mayfield, and Christian McCaffrey misfires to start the year.
The Panthers can win this division if that defense holds up. If that's the case, it seems very possible this team relies a lot more on free-agency running back contract-winner Miles Sanders than it allows Young to get out there and feed new signings DJ Chark, Adam Thielen, and Hayden Hurst as well as the A.J. Brown-looking second-rounder Jonathan Mingo and up-and-comer Terrace Marshall, who flashed a freak-level 0.46 EPA per target in 2022.
I tend to think that Young will end up more of a West Coast-style dink-and-dunk player in this offense. Even at Alabama, he only threw passes of 20-plus air yards on 10.3% of dropbacks. (Stroud and Richardson clocked in at 13.3% and 15.4% of theirs.) When you combine that with the defense's potential, it's hard to see a ton of upside for this offense with its mix of replacement-level vets and rookies being blocked by them.
Can Justin Fields actually pass in this offense?
I won't pin the Bears' oft-anemic pass game solely on Fields. We saw at Ohio State he has no fear of forcing the ball downfield at volume. But this Bears team through two regimes has shown little interest in Fields as a traditional passer with his 29.3 dropbacks per game even lower than that Lamar Jackson number we worried about earlier.
With DJ Moore, Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and the new addition of rookie Tyler Scott, it does seem like the Bears have now invested in getting Fields weapons (even if you disagree with the draft capital used to get Claypool in particular). But much like Baltimore, there will only be value provided to all of these players if there's a real commitment to playing differently and allowing Fields to use his rushing ability to set up the pass. There were flashes of those concepts towards the end of last year, but it's not like Fields lit the world on fire with a brutal 60% on-target throw rate.
Fields has an appealing 30 ADP on Underdog Fantasy to start the season, much cheaper than the holy triumvirate of Allen, Hurts, and Mahomes despite similar fantasy ceilings. It's still safe to wonder if he'll make the leap he needs as a passer to create material fantasy value for his pass-catchers.
Bonus question: Can Roschon Johnson win this backfield by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around? He may be a bigger, better D'Onta Foreman and a better pass-protector than Khalil Herbert.
Is Joe Mixon going to get cut?
With a need to extend Joe Burrow and likely Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon represents big potential cap savings as a post-June 1 cut for a team in desperate need of flexibility. Mixon's legal issues have also made the team give some iffy non-statements of support that make his future with the team seem even more murky.
If Mixon is cut, newly drafted running back Chase Brown is being deeply undervalued thus far in fantasy football. Brown wasn't great at Illinois in advanced metrics, but he did earn himself 29.6 touches per game according to Sports Info Solutions, including 27.3 rush attempts each time out. He had an iffy 17% avoided tackle rate and slightly negative -0.034 EPA per rush, but he does come with an elite athletic profile, including a 4.38s 40-yard dash.
People currently view Brown as another in the Chris Evans school of Bengals running backs, a pass-catcher unlikely to seize a guaranteed role despite the departure of Samaje Perine. There remains a risk the Bengals add another street free agent—guys such as Kareem Hunt and Ezekiel Elliott could be had for a song and a dance—but Brown is not being treated like a potential high-upside weapon in a top AFC offense.
Are the Browns a potential AFC North sleeper?
If we assume stable production and maybe some growth, the AFC North could end up as one of the toughest divisions in the league. The Bengals are alive as long as they have Joe Burrow slinging it to elite weapons. The Ravens should see at least a slightly less impotent offense with a chance of becoming downright explosive. And the Steelers have accrued a lot of quality weapons to give Kenny Pickett all the runway he needs to grow or prove himself not the quarterback of the future.
Meanwhile, the Browns are in their first full year and offseason with the troublesome Deshaun Watson. They have cemented their backfield as belonging to Nick Chubb, and either he'll rise to more receiving work or the young Jerome Ford could step up to take some pass game downs left behind by Kareem Hunt. They have real weapons with the perpetually underrated and younger-than-you-realize Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Njoku, and new additions such as slot Elijah Moore and another big bodied outside weapon in Cedric Tillman.
If they are able to start hot with an offense that showed whiffs of explosiveness last year, this is a tremendously undervalued team that will likely need to score points to achieve wins in its division. Watson also ran six times per game, giving him a little juice as a rusher to add additional fantasy upside. Hold your ethical nose and grab some Watson stacks because the Browns are treated like a non-factor despite perfectly middle-of-the-pack Super Bowl odds at +2800.
Are the Cowboys going to regress on offense?
I hated that the Cowboys lost Kellen Moore, even if it does mean that Justin Herbert reaches the height of his powers. I hated it even more that Mike McCarthy made quotes after Moore left about the team's desire to run the football and limit risks, a.k.a. inhibit the pass game. And I hated it the most that McCarthy hired legendary run-establisher Brian Schottenheimer as the architect of this new approach.
Despite that, false flags like the acquisition of aging burner Brandin Cooks, releasing Ezekiel Elliott while giving Tony Pollard a presumed bellcow role, and a sneaky tight end addition of the undervalued Luke Schoonmaker and his 0.441 EPA per target in 2022 have given the public more hope for the Cowboys offense.
I remain unsold. CeeDee Lamb is my least favorite end-of-the-first round receiver with a likely reduced target share. Ronald Jones lurks as a cheap veteran whom you could absolutely see the Cowboys force-feeding Elliott's prior workload in a way that hurts Pollard's upside. And the Cowboys defense is good enough to win real games without making an appealing fantasy output.
I absolutely think the Cowboys are a contender and in the hunt once again to be a thorn in the Eagles and Giants' NFC East prospects. But the way they get there feels a lot less like an explosive, high-octane offense even though they are certainly being drafted like one.
Are the Broncos more likely to end up a top team or blow it all up?
Marvin Mims was one of my preferred second-/third-round receivers in this draft, a player who can really get downfield and play big outside despite iffy size. Now he finds himself behind Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and the returning Tim Patrick with some real questions about how this new Broncos offense will look with Sean Payton taking over.
We also have questions about Russell Wilson, who showed signs of life towards the end of last season but doesn't necessarily seem beloved by his new head coach. We have seen highly regarded second-year tight end Greg Dulcich find new competition after Payton acquired his stalwart Adam Trautman. We have seen multiple trade rumors about Jeudy and Sutton, concerns about Javonte Williams' recovery from a catastrophic knee injury, and a lot of question marks all around with the assumption that it'll all be smoothed over by the genius of Payton.
The Broncos are a top-12 contender according to Super Bowl futures with +2500 odds as of press time. They are being treated like a real contender. But there are genuinely a lot of questions and the potential for concern if Payton decides they need to rebuild in his image for 2024. There could be a lot of wasted potential for all of these players in that process.
Are the Lions really a blockbuster offense in waiting?
I like Dan Campbell. He's fiery, he plays aggressively and shockingly analytically sound on fourth-down calls, and he clearly gets a lot out of his players. That said, I think there has been lot of crowning the Lions as both an NFC North champ and fantasy juggernaut that feels a bit outside the pale to me.
Amon-Ra St. Brown looks great. He'll get an extra six games as the unquestioned alpha target with Jameson Williams' iffy gambling suspension, but both should have monster ceilings when you need to win a league or best ball tournament. David Montgomery also got one of free agency's biggest running back contracts and could potentially soak up all of that Jamaal Williams goal-line work that created a ton of value for him in 2022. For whatever flaws in draft capital management it was to take Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 or Sam LaPorta as the No. 2 tight end off the board, these are quality players who avoid tackles at a high rate and should provide value from Day 1.
But we have a potential end to the Jared Goff era coming in the form of the big-armed and mobile Hendon Hooker, a player who took advantage of Tennessee's occasionally gimmicky offense to put up a class-best 83% catchable ball rate prior to his ACL injury. Goff's big contract can be exited cheaply after this season.
You also have an improved defense that was fairly aggressive in the offseason and has to be better than last year, perhaps necessitating less offensive explosiveness if it can keep opposing offenses under control.
Does this mean I'm avoiding Lions stacks or some of their key parts? Not at all. But I think the journey to these guys achieving their value may not be as binary as it seems. The NFC North has teams that I expect to be better than they seem, particularly the Bears and now-youthful Packers. The Vikings also should be less of a paper tiger than they were last year with offensive additions and the coaching stability of new defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
The Lions are treated and priced like the Bengals of the NFC North. They have done nothing to warrant that mantle yet. Keep that in mind if you find yourself heavily leaning on these guys in every team you build.
Green Bay Packers
Can Jordan Love and a young Packers corps overcome the specter of Aaron Rodgers?
The Packers are, in a lot of ways, treated like the inverse of the Lions. No one expects anything from them and everyone expects massive regression after losing Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers to his new home in New York.
Despite that, I'm intrigued by the situation. Christian Watson had one of the highest EPAs per target of all players, not just rookies, in 2022 with a 0.47 EPA per target according to Sports Info Solutions. Romeo Doubs had his moments and some sharp draft experts liked Jaylen Reed more than the public, which showed with the draft capital the Packers used to get him. Luke Musgrave also showed tremendous upside in his two games prior to injury in 2022 with an ungodly 0.605 EPA per target as Oregon State hit him downfield with five targets of 10-plus air yards in that small sample size. (Tucker Kraft excites me less, but he's a better catch-and-run guy who'll be taking a big leap in competition from South Dakota State.) And let's not forget that Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon remain one of the most solid backfield duos in the league for fantasy.
I personally love taking a cheap Packers stack with Jordan Love in the hopes he can be good from Day 1 after years toiling behind Rodgers. He should bring mobility and, again, the weapons are the thing. I'm sure there's also a bit of a chip on Matt LaFleur's shoulder to show that perhaps Rodgers was more of an inhibitor than asset down the end of his Green Bay career. The Packers should NOT be world-beaters. But you may find more competitive games from them as a result and, if their defense continues to backslide, maybe potential for shootouts not unlike what Detroit faced in 2022.
Though he went No. 2 overall, do people understand the upside of C.J. Stroud?
Nothing frustrated me more than the home stretch of the draft than whatever happened with C.J. Stroud. Whether it was opportunistic marketing for S2 testing or a team trying to smoke-screen to get Stroud to fall, Stroud didn't deserve the last week of slander before he landed with draft capital he deserved.
Stroud's numbers leap off the page as a prototypical gunslinger who can create value even for his middling Texans receivers. Stroud had a class-high 10.5% touchdown rate per dropback and he excelled with the deep ball, notching a 50% completion rate on throws over 20 air yards with a class-high 0.93 EPA. He was also deathly accurate with an 81.2% catchable ball rate according to SIS.
This is the kind of player who can raise the tide of his entire pass-catching corps. And even though guys like Dalton Schultz and Devin Singletary are closer to replacement level than outliers, they are competent in ways that previous Texans roster slots have not been.
The Texans may try to let their defense win games given who DeMeco Ryans portends to be as head coach and his staff's largely 49ers-driven pedigrees. If that defense takes some time to congeal as one would expect, there could be a lot of slinging by Stroud. I don't think the markets properly reflect how good this guy can be and I'd love to get some cheap Stroud-John Metchie stacks now before the Athletic summer hype cycle starts up.
Is Anthony Richardson's landing spot the most perfect in recent memory?
For literal months on Splash Play, my FO-affiliated podcast with my pal Pete Overzet, I have clamored for the elite rushing and deep-throwing Anthony Richardson to meet his potential in a pairing with new Colts head coach Shane Steichen. And now that it's upon us, people seem to have the appropriate reaction to Richardson landing with the Jalen Hurts-shaping mentor who schemed a beautiful Eagles offense.
Despite the love for the pairing and Richardson as an elite rusher with a better-than-most-running-backs 38% avoided tackle rate, people still seem to find Richardson rawer than expected. As a result, guys such as Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce are often not paired up with Richardson with the idea being he can't get them the ball.
Richardson's accuracy numbers glow red in my data sheet with a bad 53.7% completion rate, 71.5% catchable ball rate, and egregiously ugly 58% on-target rate according to SIS. He was impossibly bad in throws under 10 yards with a -0.44 EPA and 56% completion rate.
What people miss: Richardson's 0.78 EPA per throw of 20-plus air yards is second behind Stroud amongst highly drafted quarterbacks. His 0.49 EPA on throws between 10 and 20 yards was better than that of Stroud, Will Levis, Tanner McKee, Hendon Hooker, or Clayton Tune.
Shane Steichen will scheme up throws that Richardson can hit. He will use Richardson in a lot of similar ways that worked best for Jalen Hurts. He will find ways to get the ball downfield to give guys such as Pittman and Pierce more opportunity than the noodle-armed Colts pupu platter provided in 2022. If you treat Richardson just as a rusher, you won't capture the full upside of what he and this new staff bring to the table.
Is Travis Etienne doomed?
This question is teetering on Stephen A. Smith-style hyperbole, but it's a real question. Last season, the Jaguars showed a bizarre aversion to using Travis Etienne as a pass-catcher, with only 18.6 routes per game and an ugly 13.6% target per route run rate. This season, they used a third-round pick on pure runner Tank Bigsby. Bigsby, while stuffed at the line a very high 24.2% of rushes according to SIS in a way not befitting the name Tank, is regarded as a power runner who can force people to miss with a solid 28.1% avoided tackle rate.
What does that leave behind for the sleight-of-build Etienne, who was already on the low end with 13 rushes per game? It doesn't seem great, especially when you account for the 33.3 ADP that Etienne currently has on Underdog Fantasy, good for RB13.
Perhaps this Jacksonville offense is so good that the sheer weight of the pass game with Calvin Ridley added creates a lot more rushing and scoring opportunities for all. Maybe Bigsby, new signing D'Ernest Johnson, the returning JaMycal Hasty, and second-year back Snoop Conner, all fall in line behind an improving Etienne and I'm dead wrong. To me, though, Etienne is now one of the most overvalued players as a result of this offseason's signifiers that show a real lack of trust at worst—and a big desire to save Etienne's health and efficiency at best.
Kansas City Chiefs
Is Rashee Rice a stud thanks to his landing spot, or is he just the new Skyy Moore?
I have already heard a lot of people I know and respect talk about how they won't fall for another Skyy Moore after loving him last year. As someone who casted a more skeptical eye towards Moore, I'm far more ready to embrace and potentially be burned by Rashee Rice.
While both come from smaller schools with Moore out of Western Michigan and Rice from SMU, Rice was an unreal target earner in a way Moore was not. Rice's 38% target per route run rate in college likely reflects the quality of his teammates and opponents, something that won't be the case with guys such as Kadarius Toney and Travis Kelce competing for looks. But the ability to be a target-earner at that volume as he averaged 112.8 yards per game does seem like something that could carry over to some level.
I also see Rice's 3.1 targets per game on throws of 20-plus air yards to be a huge difference-maker. Moore thrives in short spaces while Rice brings a 0.758 EPA per target on deep throws that is somehow even better than a downfield beast like Quentin Johnston in this class.
Maybe Rice ends up another Skyy Moore. Right now, you're paying such a cheap price at a 176.2 ADP that I'd take that flyer, one that could grow even stronger if Marquez Valdes-Scantling ends up cut at some point this offseason.
Las Vegas Raiders
Will fantasy players learn the value of newly signed Jimmy Garoppolo?
It made sense last year why no one drafted Jimmy Garoppolo with the 49ers seemingly handing the keys to Trey Lance as they sought a way out of their capped ceiling with Jimmy G. At a 181.2 ADP on Underdog thus far, I see less of a reason why people should still feel that way.
Is Jimmy Garoppolo an electric runner with a big arm who will force his offense to massive fantasy upside? Of course not. He is, however, surrounded by offensive talent, including elite-upside guys such as Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs, with a contract that ensures he'll get a lot of runway before the Raiders would consider moving on. Aidan O'Connell is not necessarily putting the fear of God of Garoppolo not finishing the season as starter, even if he does end up a perfectly fine backup or more.
The reason you draft Garoppolo is to cut your parlay on items to get correct in a lineup. Adams is a slate-breaker at wide receiver. Jakobi Meyers saw relatively big offseason money. Michael Mayer is a highly drafted tight end who should quickly usurp Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard. Jacobs will eventually come to terms with their attempt at franchise tagging him and likely be just as effective as he was last year. It's entirely possible Garoppolo rides the wave of this offensive production around him to a very usable year in a division that is predisposed to high scoring games.
Los Angeles Chargers
Who will be this team's greatest fantasy weapon?
Austin Ekeler requested a trade this offseason with the Chargers disinclined from extending the undersized stud as he turns 28 in May. With his contract coming to an end and some uncertainty as to the future of the partnership, it's possible an Isaiah Spiller, on whom the Chargers spent solid draft capital in 2022, carves out a role as an understudy back with contingent value. If not, perhaps the steady-running Josh Kelley gets there. Either way, there is a world where Ekeler regresses from a role where he had 87% of the Chargers' rushing touchdowns and 44% of their total touchdowns in 2022.
If that's the case, particularly in a more vertical offense curated by new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, you could see the power shift to new first-rounder Quentin Johnston. Sure, Mike Williams is a better high-point receiver and downfield target. Keenan Allen is the better route-runner by a wide margin. But the 21-year-old Johnston now gets to learn from both while bringing his superpower of a dominant 38.3% avoided tackle rate in 2022 according to SIS data.
Johnston's ADP fell a lot prior to the draft. With one weekend's worth of data, his ADP is now up to 102 on Underdog Fantasy. I wouldn't be shocked if that rises exponentially over the summer, especially if we see some of those ballyhooed camp reports about being unable to tell him and Mike Williams apart as Johnston makes big play after big play. I'd get in on his discount now with a chance he emerges as a key part of this offense—and possibly ends up the top dynasty wide receiver in the class as he comes of age alongside Justin Herbert.
Los Angeles Rams
Will Stetson Bennett start at some point this year?
I have had a lot of doubts about Matthew Stafford's return to form with his spinal injuries posing a lot of risk for a guy who has taken a ton of hits in his career. I now have a lot less doubts in the Rams' ability to continue to produce for fantasy if Stafford faces setbacks thanks to addition of Stetson Bennett.
Again, I'm a USC sycophant and not a Georgia one. I don't think Bennett was anywhere near the top of the class as some diehard Bulldogs fans may have sworn. But he is a guy who had a 0.328 EPA per throw at Georgia and was incredibly good at everything, with positive EPAs at every level of throw (though admittedly not great on deep balls with only a 39% completion rate and 0.31 EPA per throw over 20 yards). Either way, that won't really affect a guy like Cooper Kupp who just needs someone to stand in the pocket and feed him the ball in close range. Teams will likely not load the box against Cam Akers (or Kyren Williams or Zach Evans if Akers falls out of favor yet again) thanks to Bennett's ability to at least keep them honest.
I share Mike Tanier's views generally that Bennett is not Brock Purdy. However, I think this was one of the best possible landing spots for him. If he does start at some point this year, I genuinely think he can keep the ship afloat even if I don't expect him to be an Anthony Richardson or C.J. Stroud-style Day 1 world-beater.
Does Devon Achane immediately usurp Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson's roles?
One of the worst-held secrets of the draft process was how similarly people viewed Devon Achane's ability to Raheem Mostert's. He's a one-cut runner with crazy straight-line speed who handled a ton of volume with 23.2 touches per game at Texas A&M. He doesn't have the avoided tackle rate I'd like for a shifty runner, just a 21% missed tackle rate and a bleh 0.013 EPA per rush.
I believe a lot in this Miami offense, though. Their pass rate over expectation was one of the highest in the league in 2022, and there's no reason to expect that to change with the modern-minded Mike McDaniel pulling the strings. The Dolphins' elite receivers will create a lot of red zone rushing opportunities, particularly since neither Tyreek Hill nor Jaylen Waddle is exactly a goal-line, go-up-and-get-it type of receiver.
The net-net is that there will be a lot of rushing opportunity in this offense. Is Achane appreciably better than Mostert or Wilson right now? I'd say no. Is he guaranteed to see touches in Week 1? I wouldn't be shocked if he were inactive, unless he ends up as a kick returner as well. But rookies tend to rise as the season goes on. By the time the fantasy football playoffs come around in Weeks 15 to 17, it's hard to imagine Achane not earning himself some portion of this backfield if not the lion's share of the work. And that could easily be worth his weight in gold for an end-of-season spike week.
Will Dalvin Cook finally get cut?
Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon rumors have swirled this entire offseason, with both generally universally regarded as likely to be post-June 1 cap casualties. Cook's backup Alexander Mattison signed a "bigger than a backup" contract this offseason and, even with shoddy draft capital in the seventh round, UAB running back DeWayne McBride grades out as a potential bellcow with 21.2 rush attempts per game and a solid 32% avoided tackle rate. Coaches may also fall in love with his ability to move a pile; McBride's 0.198 EPA per rush against eight-man boxes was only behind Roschon Johnson, but McBride has a much larger sample size. It may shock you to hear UAB didn't have a ton of elite weapons to take the pressure off him.
Point being: right now Dalvin Cook is still being drafted at a 57.7 ADP. I tend to think that's one of the most egregious errors of the offseason. The musical chairs of running back spots with genuine upside are dwindling and, if Cook doesn't stay in Minnesota, he could find himself closer to Latavius Murray "I'll sign for anyone and run reliably at replacement level" territory than his previous first-round production.
With both Mattison and McBride going cheaply as well as an offense that should continue to improve with a full season of T.J. Hockenson and more elite talent at wide receiver in Jordan Addison, I'd be deathly afraid to get stuck holding dead Dalvin Cook bags.
New England Patriots
Is Rhamondre Stevenson completely locked in as the anchor of this offense?
With a 33.2 ADP currently on Underdog Fantasy, people expect another year of Rhamondre Stevenson as a New England bellcow back. He had 17.5 intended touches per game and, while his -0.8% rushing DVOA or -0.05 EPA per rush aren't lighting the world on fire, he seemed to earn the trust of Bill Belichick over the course of the season.
That said, I have my doubts. Not only do we have a new, at least replacement-level offensive coordinator in Bill O'Brien stepping in for out-of-his-depth-but-lushly-bearded Matt Patricia. We also have a noteworthy contract going to James Robinson and a very interesting young back in Pierre Strong entering his second year behind Stevenson. They didn't spend any draft capital on the position, so clearly they feel good about their stable for now after the free-agency departure of Damien Harris.
Is it possible they feel better about the depth than they do Stevenson as a whole? If Stevenson were to end up closer to 13 touches per game than 18, it would be very hard for him to dig out of his draft position. It would also make a Strong or Robinson very interesting leverage for the end of the season against a much more highly drafted Stevenson.
Stevenson carried a lot of my best ball teams last year as a tremendous zero running back draft value. That was as a pick in the 80s to 120s. I'll still take some shares of Stevenson at his elevated ADP but I would avoid going whole hog personally. Just when you think you won't get Belichick'd is when you get Belichick'd the hardest.
New Orleans Saints
Can Derek Carr and Michael Thomas regain their previous fantasy mojo?
The first thing I'll say here has nothing to do with new Saints quarterback Derek Carr or the shocking return of Michael Thomas. It is this: you need to stop drafting the likely-to-be-suspended-for-half-a-season-ish Alvin Kamara and start drafting third-rounder Kendre Miller. Jamaal Williams will clean up a lot of the early work, but Miller and his 29.5% avoided tackle rate at TCU according to SIS is the kind of guy who should earn a role by Week 17. This is a great landing spot for him and it wouldn't be shocking to see Kamara fade out of the Saints' long-term plans (as if him ceding tons of snaps to Mark Ingram last year didn't do that enough).
That said, the team's future really comes down to if Carr and Thomas can be their former selves. Carr was miscast in a checkdown-heavy offense in Las Vegas while the Saints have sworn they'll use his verticality to create value for weapons such as Chris Olave, Rasheed Shaheed, Juwan Johnson, and vaguely compelling rookie AT Perry. If Carr is successful, we'll either see more downfield value for Michael Thomas—who actually was good in his limited 2022 run with a 0.55 EPA per target and 31.1% receiving DVOA—or more space for him underneath to point-per-reception every opponent to death.
Carr's contract is so oversized that I would err on the side of hoping he comes through. He'll get every possible shot to pay off the $30-million-plus average annual value his contract carries in the first three years, and this is a team that wasn't shy allowing Andy Dalton to sling it at times last year. I love a New Orleans stack and the potential for Michael Thomas to return and add value at a time everyone has written him off. Buy the dip.
New York Giants
Why does a team that runs as often as the Giants need roughly 50 wide receivers? AND Does Saquon Barkley know how replaceable he is?
Our first official two-pronged question comes very late in this article when I should be trying to hit the finish line. But I really am baffled by the addition of Jalin Hyatt to a crowded New York receiver corps with Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, late-season breakout Isaiah Hodgins, and new signing Parris Campbell. They also added Jamison Crowder and still have previously-in-the-rotation David Sills as well as former Jets wideout Jeff Smith.
Daniel Jones dropped back a "meh" 35.6 times per game in 2022 and perhaps the team will try to run him less than his 7.5 times per game to preserve him on a big deal. I still find it hard to believe this team can create fantasy value with this many weapons, particularly when you account for new tight end Darren Waller as well. I'll continue to take Hyatt, Robinson, and Slayton in best ball drafts for their ceiling when the ADP aligns, but I wouldn't be shocked if not a single Giants wide reciver ends up in the top 30 at the position by the end of the year.
Similarly, one draft move that stood out to me was the addition of former Oklahoma running back Eric Gray. He hardly came up in the draft process, but stood out to me with a 23% avoided tackle rate and very low 12.7% stuffed run rate along with a 0.154 EPA per rush. He also had a 31% target per route run rate with 36% avoided tackles on his smallish sample size of 11.5 routes per game. He's the kind of back who could quite literally be a better and fresher version of Saquon Barkley in this offense with the ability to handle serious volume at 20.5 touches per game last year.
With reports that Barkley wants to "reconvene" on his contract as he refuses to sign his franchise tag, Gray could be a much larger threat to Barkley than a Matt Breida was in 2022. If Barkley realizes that too late, don't be surprised if the unheralded Gray soars in media reports and eventually ADPs.
New York Jets
Is Breece Hall as likely to be a bellcow back as the markets suggest?
Let's put aside the expected questioning of Aaron Rodgers and how his persona may affect a team on the rise with exciting young weapons such as Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson. Let's ask the questions people are afraid to ask about the beloved second-year running back Hall, coming off a torn ACL with a 24.9 ADP on Underdog Fantasy.
As I mentioned earlier, Hall is young as he turns 22 in May. There is strong data that aligns with players under age 25 being more likely to recover fully from an ACL injury, though there is also data that suggests it makes the injury more likely to recur. I'm willing to take the flyer on the health.
What I worry about is now a heightened version of what I was already worried about: the Jets may simply not want to give Hall the workload he saw last year. He is clearly a key part of future plans but with Zonovan Knight flashing some skill, newly drafted Israel Abanikanda bringing game-breaking speed and an ability to handle carries at volume, and Michael Carter bringing a pass-game dimension that Rodgers may need, there's a chance Hall is in a whole new world. There's also new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to overcome, a man who's no stranger to committee backfields.
Hall is a running back, and they're always at risk of being vultured by a backup. Even if you love his ADP and upside, this is a lot of risks for a guy being drafted like a certainty.
How will this Eagles backfield break down?
I have never been a D'Andre Swift guy. It's nothing against him or his talent but more so about how his roles line up against the public's perception of him. Fantasy players love D'Andre Swift. He has had outlier rushing and receiving days, great pedigree coming from Georgia, and he's still just 24 years old. His 15.2% rushing DVOA last year is nothing to sneeze at, even if it misaligns somewhat with the outsized love for him as a fantasy football player.
There is real concern for him in this backfield at his current 62.8 ADP that has quickly risen since his trade to Philly. There is also real concern for Rashaad Penny (102.9 ADP) and Kenneth Gainwell (160.2 ADP). The difference is those guys are both substantially cheaper as leverage against the more highly drafted Swift.
Penny's contract would be an easy cap cut, but he is quite possibly a better rusher AND receiver than Swift. If nothing else, he's more likely to be a two-down sledgehammer. Gainwell has also shown massive upside in this Philadelphia offense, albeit without his expected real pass game role or even reliable touches.
There is nothing wrong with D'Andre Swift. However, I feel like he's another player being crowned before he has shown the ability to match his production to how the public views him. I'd rather have Penny or get Gainwell for free. Hell, you can even take a spin with a free Trey Sermon after he landed on the Eagles at the end of last year. You don't get bonus points because D'Andre Swift grew up in Philly and people keep thinking he's on the cusp of a breakout every year.
Will Matt Canada avoid blowing the Steelers' young offense?
There are flaws in Pittsburgh, to be clear. Najee Harris is more of a pure volume back than a player with anything useful about him (as his -4.4% rushing DVOA and -9.8% receiving DVOA might suggest). Diontae Johnson is not a WR1, even if he's probably more due for positive touchdown regression than anyone in the league. Kenny Pickett is not C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson, no matter how many jerseys he may sell to Sheetz frequenters.
But good god is there a lot of talent here now. George Pickens was an EPA world-beater with 0.38 EPA per target as a rookie and a respectable 15.6% receiving DVOA. Pat Freiermuth is an above average tight end with 0.07 EPA per target and a 2.8% receiving DVOA. And rookie Darnell Washington, despite some medical red flags that made him fall in the draft, had 0.399 EPA per target at Georgia according to SIS, and he blocks like Juggernaut.
There is no reason this team shouldn't be greatly improved ... other than their offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, who inexplicably returned despite some egregious errors in 2022. Coaches, much like players, can grow and improve, and that's why I'm willing to buy in on cheap Pittsburgh stacks in an AFC North that, again, will score points in a lot of games. If Canada is going to save his job, it comes with increased fantasy production from multiples of these guys and Kenny Pickett as a low ADP (171.3 on Underdog Fantasy) vessel for it all.
I love trying to capture young, underpriced teams on the upswing, so I'm willing to ride with the questionable play calling in the hopes I nail a lower probability outcome according to the markets. If it fails, embrace Kyle Broflovski's mother's ethos in 1999's South Park: The Movie as you loudly and proudly blame Canada.
San Francisco 49ers
Is Trey Lance a value or a sucker's bet?
We all love the prospect of a dual-threat rusher and thrower with the kind of size and youth of Trey Lance. You also can't argue how snakebitten he has been with iffy starts his first year and less than two games, one of them during a monsoon, he played his second year before a season-ending leg injury.
The team has seemingly indicated it prefers former Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy to start, but Purdy himself comes with major risk in a UCL tear that reports seemingly say could have him back for the start of the season or to miss the entire year. The 49ers added Sam Darnold as necessary depth to get through training camp and the preseason, but now reports are he could also start over Lance if the moon and sun align.
I will caveat this as saying: no one burned me as bad as Trey Lance last year as he ended up in roughly 25% of my best ball teams. I have genuine concerns with how he flashed absolutely nothing last year with an impossibly bad -0.522 EPA per pass according to SIS (again: small sample size, but bad is bad is bad). He should be able to run and avoid tackles, but this 49ers team has now seen how it can function with someone slinging the ball downfield with some skill and accuracy. They can't have Lance submarining talent like Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle downfield, let alone killing the short pass game with Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel.
Lance's current 152.1 ADP on Underdog Fantasy feels about right, especially when contrasted with the 198.2 ADP of Brock Purdy. Then you look at guys like C.J. Stroud going after Lance and I get genuinely concerned.
Draft Lance when he materializes as an ADP value and you have other 49ers to stack him with, be careful of your overall exposure, and don't be surprised if he blows up in our faces once again.
Can Jaxon Smith-Njigba have an impact this year in Seattle's wide receiver corps?
Jaxon Smith-Njigba reminded me a lot of Ja'Marr Chase in this draft process after he mostly sat out 2022 thanks to a lingering hamstring issue. JSN doesn't bring the same athletic profile with obvious outside receiver potential, but he is an absolute game-changer who had a class-high 0.86 EPA per target in 2021 with massive value in throws under 20 air yards, including a 0.769 EPA per target in throws under 10 yards and a 0.804 EPA in throws between 10 and 20 air yards.
Teams and fantasy players then found ways to talk themselves out of him with size, athletic profile, and even the high quality of teammates reflecting poorly upon JSN for no particular reason. Now he lands in Seattle, safely lodged behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in perceived target shares as well as competing with the fantasy draft-overvalued Kenneth Walker with three-down stud rookie Zach Charbonnet about to breathe down his neck for production overall.
There have been reports that Lockett could move outside more to allow JSN to take his natural slot position. Even if that's the case, this is the quintessential fantasy football paradox: do you buy in on the talent or the situation? Situations can create production. Talent creates upside over the course of time.
As a result, I love JSN in dynasty and wouldn't be shocked if he still is worth being the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver off the board, especially next year with Lockett's contract at a potential exit point. With pristine landing spots for guys such as Quentin Johnston and even a case to be made for Jordan Addison, I'm less inclined to lock in that JSN will be the top rookie wide receiver for this year, particularly if his 60.5 ADP holds. The game-to-game and future upside is there, though, so you'd be a fool to not have shares.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do the Bucs think they're good with this team right now?
The Buccaneers remind me a lot of the Cardinals' situation discussed earlier now that they no longer have Tom Brady to keep them viable in the top tier of the NFC. They seem to be inclined to run the roster back with no moves for Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask likely to compete for the starting quarterback job, and Rachaad White only facing competition from free-agent pickup Chase Edmonds, who clearly lost some luster in 2022.
The Bucs currently have the seventh-lowest Super Bowl win odds at +6500. They have unproven offensive coaching with former Seahawks quarterback coach Dave Canales replacing Byron Leftwich as offensive coordinator. They have veteran talent who likely would quickly fall by the wayside if the Bucs fell out of NFC South contention—though, admittedly, I'm not sure there's another team in the division that can run away from them.
The only sure thing right now seems to be that Rachaad White will have a real chance to seize the lead role in this situation at a 78.1 ADP that shows the market has started to catch on. Don't be surprised if he soars up to a fifth- or sixth-rounder with a chance to see meaningful run-game and pass-game work. And keep an eye on rookie Trey Palmer, one of the few bona fide outside receivers in this class who could learn a lot from the Mike Evans route tree (which admittedly is missing a branch or two). Besides that, it all feels gross and flimsy.
Will the Titans run back their Derrick Henry heliocentric offense?
Derrick Henry's 24.3 intended touches per game were the most in the NFL in 2022. He even saw some catches, with 2.4 targets per game to go with those 21.8 rushes.
As Henry enters his age-29 season, it feels like the Titans should try to save him by either throwing the ball more overall or using Tulane rookie Tyjae Spears to take some of the onus off of him as both a rusher and pass-catcher.
The Titans have historically shown little interest in anything besides Henry. Potential stud outside wide receiver Treylon Burks saw just 4.8 targets per game. Trendy tight end prospect Chig Okonkwo saw only 2.6 targets per game. It's hard to expect that pass-game volume to increase with either Ryan Tannehill or "quarterback of the future"
Malik Willis Will Levis behind center.
With rumors the Titans hoped to find a trade market for Henry, something has to give. If I had to guess, you're more likely to see Spears involved than any other previous Titans running back farmhand thanks to the fact that he's not just a Henry doppleganger like 2022 draft pick Hassan Haskins is. But I'll have to see proof the Titans won't run Henry into the ground again with how little things have changed for them other than a concerted effort to improve the defense, something which would only make a run-heavy approach more appealing to them.
Are we sure that Sam Howell will hold onto the starting quarterback job?
I was interested in Sam Howell last season simply because he's a guy who grades out as a willing downfield passer on a team that had little of interest at quarterback last year. This year, people seem to be borderline excited for Howell despite the fact that the Commanders are paying a healthy contract to new "backup" Jacoby Brissett with a contract that could total $10 million.
This battle intrigues me since:
- Brissett was genuinely good last year as a Deshaun Watson stopgap with a 13.0% passing DVOA and 27.2% rushing DVOA.
- The Commanders are fairly loaded offensively with Terry McLaurin underappreciated as a 0.32 EPA per target outside receiver, rookie Jahan Dotson also flashing when healthy, and interesting running backs with a healthier Brian Robinson and maybe resurgent Antonio Gibson (I omit Curtis Samuel here since he's potentially a cap casualty).
Howell snuck out an end-of-season win against Dallas that put him on people's radar. But he brought a -18.5% DVOA on the year and a -0.43 EPA per pass that will not win you a job in the XFL or USFL, let alone the NFC East. I'm not sold that Howell is the quarterback of the future, and if I were new Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, I'm not sure I'd want my first-run play calling to die in the hands of a small fifth-rounder who won a game before I was hired.
I'd watch out for Brissett here. This is a talented young team who is worth drafting multiple pieces from. If you end up wrong with Howell, it can be crippling even if McLaurin, Dotson, and Robinson/Gibson end up having outlier seasons.
Stay tuned later this week for an update to my SPAGS Fantasy Football Rankings to reflect all this above as well as the new ADPs from Underdog's Best Ball Mania tournament (use promo code SPAGS to save 10% on an FO+ subscription).
Follow me on Twitter @ChrisSpags and don't be afraid to check out my show Splash Play, where we'll be drafting teams for the 2023 season all week. It may seem early, but this is when the fun truly begins for fantasy football. Let's hope we get some things right along the way.
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