Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: 9 WRs/RBs To Target in 2023

    It is important to enter every draft with fantasy football targets, so here are the nine guys to highlight on your rankings sheet!

    I’m no different than you. I still like rolling up to my draft with my ranks in hand and my targets highlighted. That’s right: pen, paper, and my fantasy football draft strategy laid out on a single sheet. There’s something about the feel of the paper in my hand that inspires nostalgia, but it also jives with how my mind works best.

    I am, unofficially, 97% more likely to remember something if I write it down, so going through the process of physically crossing players off of a cheat sheet helps me personally have a good feel for what is left on the board. Yes, in 2023, I realize how archaic that sounds, but I’m not drafting for you, I’m drafting for me, and I’m doing it my way.

    More important than how you track the players are the names that are highlighted, and my list is below, but I am curious … what draft day traditions do you have that you will never change? Send me pictures of your best, and we can enter draft season with immaculate vibes! As for those highlighted names, I present to you the nine players I’m actively looking to draft.

    9 Fantasy Football WRs/RBs To Target in 2023

    Tony Pollard (RB – DAL)

    Maybe I’m crazy, but we’ve spent years complaining about the role of Ezekiel Elliott, and now, with him gone, you guys aren’t willing to jump on Tony Pollard with anything more than a late second-round pick? You’re better than that.

    Barry Sanders through two seasons (535 carries and 595 touches):

    • 5.19 yards per carry
    • 5.94 yards per touch

    Pollard thus far in his career (510 carries and 631 touches):

    • 5.13 yards per carry
    • 5.74 yards per touch

    Do I have your attention yet? If you’re not sold on the raw talent of Pollard, there’s not much I can do for you. Understanding that he is “pop off the screen” good, let’s evaluate the situation.

    Is it possible that head coach Mike McCarthy might just be a savant when it comes to producing rushing scores? During McCarthy’s three seasons in Dallas, the ‘Boys rank ninth in rushing touchdowns despite ranking 28th in red zone rush rate. I would be quick to dismiss that as some weird trend over a small three-year sample if McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers, during the final year of his tenure, didn’t rank 11th in rushing scores while ranking 31st in red-zone rush rate.

    Is that still a weird stat? Sure, but over a 14-year sample, it has some teeth to it, and I think it makes the case that McCarthy actually owns the ability to create quality rush TD spots.

    If Pollard is going to live up to my RB6 ranking of him, he’s going to have to not only produce when handed the rock but also as a pass catcher. Zero. Worries. We are talking about a kid that was a receiver in high school and showed some route-running chops a season ago.

    In 2022, Pollard tallied 75 air yards … a mere 99 more than he had for his career prior. Yeah, you read that right. The team experimented with more aggressive designs, and you know what? He responded by setting a career-high in yards per catch (9.5) and caught three touchdown passes after totaling just two through three seasons prior. I’m clicking Pollard’s name basically any chance I get in the second round, and I’m not sorry about it.

    Calvin Ridley (WR – JAX)

    “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Corny? Maybe. True? Definitely. Ridley missed last season due to a lapse in judgment (I’m not sure which is more offensive, thinking he had a beat on “several multi-leg parlay bets” or placing the bets in the first place, but that’s a discussion we can have in the Pro Football Network betting channel), but returns this year as a fully healthy 28 year old who is ready to remind the fantasy football nation what he is capable of.

    From 2018-20, he ranked 23rd in yards per catch (14.1) and sixth in touchdown receptions (26). By themselves, those are impressive marks, but when you consider that he produced those numbers alongside peak Julio Jones (14.6 yards per catch and a league-high 96.1 receiving yards per game over those three seasons) on a rather ordinary Atlanta Falcons offense, those numbers are special. How average were those Dirty Birds?

    Here are their per-game ranks during that stretch:

    Scoring: 12th
    Yards per play: 15th
    Red-zone completion percentage: 20th

    I’m happy to field bets on the 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars ranking better in all three of those categories, and as much as I like Christian Kirk, there is only one peak Julio Jones. Maybe there is some rust that requires knocking off, but locking in Ridley as your WR2 in the fourth or fifth round is child’s play.

    Diontae Johnson (WR – PIT)

    From Week 7 of 2020 through the end of the 2021 season, there were five, count’em five, receivers with more half-PPR fantasy football points than Diontae Johnson. And guess what? All five of them are garnering first-round consideration this season. Then there is Johnson and his late sixth-round ADP. Yep, buy time!

    Last season, we saw the Miami Dolphins change the role of Jaylen Waddle, and it paid off in spades. The Pittsburgh Steelers tried something similar with Johnson (his aDOT rose 20.7% in 2022 from his career average) and failed. It happens. While the Dolphins figure to embrace Waddle’s versatility moving forward, the Steelers figure to slot Johnson back into his comfort zone and get him back to producing those fantasy numbers we’ve come to know and love!

    Amidst the struggles, Kenny Pickett was still trying to get his WR1 involved as DJ saw a career-high 9.5% of his targets come in the end zone. I’m erasing 2022 from my memory bank and entering 2023 with similar expectations for Johnson as I had just 12 short months ago.

    Jordan Addison (WR – MIN)

    Let’s call the Minnesota Vikings what they are: a juggernaut. They aren’t the flashiest of offenses, but under the tutelage of Kirk Cousins, they seem to always offer fantasy value. I don’t think this season is going to be any different.

    Jordan Addison is one of my guilty pleasures this draft season, and I’m not ashamed of it. The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner enters the pro game with an athletic profile that is favorable and a situation that should put as much on his plate as he proves capable of handling.

    We still don’t give Cousins enough credit, and if the past is at all an indicator of the future, a third pass catcher in this offense is going to be a fantasy asset … and it only costs you a seventh- or eighth-round pick to get the favorite to fill that role.

    James Conner (RB – AZ)

    Nobody is in a hurry to get exposure to the Arizona Cardinals and their sub-six win projection by the Wise Guys. I get it. And to be honest, it’s not as if I’m itching to get an Arizona player on my team, but the hate has simply gone too far here.

    First, there is the skill set of James Conner. He has 26 touchdowns during his two seasons in the desert, a number that trails only the great Austin Ekeler. That seems good. Dig a little below the surface, and you’ll uncover a stable profile that features consistent yard-after-contact numbers and a catch rate just shy of 83%.

    Next is a mentality change on your part. It’s easy to fade running backs on bad teams with the lazy analysis of “their team is terrible, they are going to be behind, and thus he isn’t going to have many chances to produce.” If you’ve made it this far in this piece, you’ve probably guessed … I don’t do lazy.

    Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: 9 WRs/RBs To Target in 2023

    Last season alone, six of the top-11 fantasy RBs (PPG) played on a losing team. I’m not going out of my way to target awful teams, but blindly fading them isn’t the play, either.

    Last but not least is the lack of true competition. In a lost season, the Cardinals thought so highly of current RB2 Keaontay Ingram that they gave him all of 27 carries, and he proved himself ready for the pros by gaining 60 yards on those carries.

    We don’t know, for sure, that Ingram can’t play at this level, but we certainly have no proof that he can. With him being the backup, it seems safe to label Conner’s role as safe as any entering the season.

    Jakobi Meyers (WR – LV)

    You’re going to see a lot of pro-Meyers takes from me as we gear up for the regular season, and that’s because he’s boring. Wait, what?

    I profiled Jordan Addison a minute ago, and he’s an easy sell. He’s a high-pedigree prospect who NFL fans have yet to see and enters an offense that has been productive recently and parted ways with its longtime WR2. Like I said, easy sell.

    Meyers, honestly, is none of those things. He was undrafted out of NC State, is most well-known for a historic scoring drought to open his career, and joins an average offense that is welcoming in a quarterback billed as a game manager. And yet, I’m in.

    Having all the tools in your bag is great, but it’s not always needed. You don’t care if the chef at your favorite restaurant can sing or if your Uber driver can dunk, right? You just need them to excel in their area of expertise, and your life will be better because of it.

    Well, Meyers proved himself as a solid target earner from the slot during his time in New England (12th in slot receptions over the past two seasons). That is a spot on the field where Jimmy Garoppolo proved to be most proficient during his time in San Francisco.

    Combine similar strengths with the fact that defenses will allocate most of their resources in attempting to slow the two All-Pro performers on this offense (Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs), and you have yourself a boring receiver that can overachieve in a big way.

    Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR – CLE)

    Are you excited about the potential of the Browns’ offense but hesitant to invest in Deshaun Watson? No problem, DPJ makes for a way to get a piece of the action, and he only costs you a 13th- or 14th-round pick. His career receiving rates (16.0 yards per catch with 13.5 aDOT) tell you all you need to know about his big play upside, but don’t sleep on the micro gains he made last season.

    In 2022, DPJ improved as a target earner (targeted on 16.8% of routes, up from 14.1% in 2021), and the Browns were more willing to move him around the formation (30.5% of his routes came in the slot, up from 23.1% in 2021).

    I’m not here to argue that Peoples-Jones is ready to be considered a weekly starter for your fantasy team, but the upside makes him worth a roster spot. And his schedule (Weeks 15-16: vs CHI, at HOU) puts him in a position to peak at the perfect time.

    We saw him post three straight double-digit half-PPR games in the middle of last season, and a run like that down the stretch of 2023 is certainly possible given the favorable schedule along with the upside Watson possesses under center.

    Ty Chandler (RB – MIN) / Joshua Kelley (RB – LAC)

    When I am throwing darts at the end of my draft, I look at the offenses I trust and work backward. I also tend to lean toward running backs with that final pick, understanding that it is far easier for a reserve back to step into a feature role than it is for a receiver buried on the depth chart to all of a sudden elevate as the guy in the passing game.

    <steps onto soapbox>

    And yes, I said “last pick.” Most analysis you will read is the same: “Use your final two picks on a D/ST and a K, the two positions that are most random week-to-week.” I don’t disagree with the overall point that those two positions are a mess and literally anything can happen in a given week, but if I’m targeting guys like Chandler or Kelley and am confident that no one else in my league is, then why reach two rounds?

    By moving your D/ST and K pick up one round, you’ll be able to get a unit with more talent due to most of the managers in your league waiting another round to address those positions. And while they are rounding out their rosters with defenses and kickers, you get the backup running back that you had targeted all along.

    <steps off of soapbox>

    The case for Chandler is that we aren’t sure that Alexander Mattison is a lead back in the NFL, period, let alone for an entire season. That’s not to suggest that Chandler is, but he scored 14 times in his final collegiate season and is in the mix with DeWayne McBride for the RB2 role on this offense.

    The case for Kelley isn’t all that complicated: the Los Angeles Chargers pretty clearly have a carry count they don’t want Austin Ekeler to exceed, and this will be Kelley’s fourth season with the franchise. It’s not the strongest of cases, but fantasy football is often a war of attrition, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kelley work his way into an eight-to-10-touch role in an offense that has the potential to drop 30 points on anyone.

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