Fantasy Football Rankings 2023: Playoff Strength of Schedule

The NFL team at PFN ranked the defensive units entering 2023 from top to bottom, and fantasy football rankings need to be adjusted as a result!

Fantasy football rankings require you to put a lot of thought into 100s of specific players, so it is easy to overlook the people on the other side of the ball … you know, the guys trying to ruin your fantasy season.

As a fantasy football analyst, much of my work comes on the offensive side of the ball, and that is where I am most comfortable. We all have our strengths, and knowing them is critical if you want to succeed in this game of ours at a high level. PFN’s Dalton Miller knows far more about “real” football than I do, so when my man ranked every NFL defense, I listened.

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Fantasy Football Rankings: Playoff Upgrades

Not all leagues are the same, but Weeks 15-17 are most commonly the fantasy postseason. This allows you to both avoid bye weeks (they extend into Week 14) while also not having to fear the dreaded “DNP-rest” that comes into play for some stars in the final week of the regular season. So which teams (and players) have the easiest trio of games over that stretch?

Carolina Panthers (2nd-Easiest): RB Miles Sanders

Whenever a team spends a high pick on a quarterback, the natural thought is that they are going to pass more in the upcoming season. I say that because that’s what I assumed. I was wrong.

Over the past four seasons, when a team spends a first-round pick on a QB and starts him, their overall pass rate has, on average, actually declined in that season (61.8%) from the year prior (62.4%).

That’s noteworthy for a Panthers team that ranked 30th in pass rate last season. You know what that means? They ranked third in rush rate, and they added Sanders this offseason, a running back that we know can handle a heavy workload. Here are the running backs last season that were 25 years or younger and had more games with 17 carries than Sanders:

  • Josh Jacobs
  • Saquon Barkley
  • Najee Harris

That’s the entire list. This offensive line is better than you think, and Bryce Young’s development should only help open up lanes for Sanders in time for this favorable part of the schedule.

Oh, and the Panthers are looking to get Sanders back involved in the passing game like he was in his rookie season. The pride of Penn State is going as a fringe RB2 and could well be a lineup lock when it matters most this winter.

New Orleans Saints (3rd): All of Them

I’ll keep this short because I sing their praises on seemingly every PFN Fantasy Podcast: The Saints are one of three teams that I can’t draft enough of (the Jags and Steelers being the others), so when I got the results of this study, I was thrilled!

Derek Carr isn’t an exciting name, but we saw him move the ball downfield last year when he had a legit threat in Davante Adams, and while the Chris Olave/Rashid Shaheed tandem doesn’t equal one Adams, they are plenty lethal.

Alvin Kamara has missed multiple games in four straight seasons, and yet, the next time he is held under 1,300 yards will be the first. You get those missed games (hopefully) out of the way in the first three weeks while he serves his suspension, and that is driving down his asking price (fringe top-30 RB).

Juwan Johnson remains one of my favorite TE dart throws late in the event that you are streaming the position. In fact, this defensive list helps put three names on my radar for the stretch run at the position: Johnson, Cole Kmet, and Luke Musgrave.

Green Bay Packers (8th): RB AJ Dillon

Aaron Jones is going to enter this season atop this depth chart, and he should. That said, he will turn 29 years old this winter and has over 1,300 touches on his NFL résumé, leaving the door open for Dillon to potentially assume a greater role when the Packers hit this light part in their schedule.

Early Fantasy Half-PPR Rankings Week 18: Isiah Pacheco, AJ Dillon, J.K. Dobbins, and More

Quadzilla has just 500 touches on his NFL ledger and has racked up north of 2,000 yards and 14 scores over the past two years in a less-than-featured role. Forecasting Jones to fall off the age cliff isn’t something I’d do, but Dillon is going 50 picks later, a discount I’ll happily take for the potential of him picking up significant work at the perfect time!

Fantasy Football Rankings: Playoff Downgrades

This is the way rankings work — the universe needs balance. I’m not telling you to fully fade the players mentioned below; I’m just sharing information. That’s what I am. A sharer of information. Does my information have a certain lean to it? Of course, that’s the gig. Here are the players that Miller’s rankings have me worried about.

AFC East Running Backs (4th-Toughest)

As it turns out, the AFC East is loaded. We knew this, but because of the highlights that these QBs produce, the defensive units are often overlooked.

None of these backfields are ones I am especially comfortable with in the first place, and a tough finishing kick of the schedule is enough for me to wonder if I want any exposure at all.

Rhamondre Stevenson is my highest-ranked of all the RBs in this division, but his scoring outlook is cloudy at best. James Cook is my favorite player at cost in this group, though the “BUF RB” role is certainly questionable given what Josh Allen does.

Consideration: Khalil Herbert (4th-easiest)

Both he and David Montgomery were top-10 running backs in fantasy points per carry last season behind the uniquely gifted Justin Fields … Montgomery is now a Lion.

Washington Commanders (27th): WR Jahan Dotson

The 2022 highlights looked great, and he again showed out in the first week of the preseason this summer, but there is no denying the downside here. From his offense as a whole to his projectable weekly target count to this poorly timed tough portion of the schedule, Year 2 could be bumpier than fantasy managers want to believe.

Dotson caught seven touchdowns as a rookie, something only 23 other receivers have done over the past decade. I can’t take that away from him. What I can do, however, is question the sustainability of them.

Those 23 rookie WR seasons that I just mentioned? Those receivers recorded a catch on 13.2% of their routes — they weren’t just able to score. They proved, at a young age, that they could get open at a good rate. Dotson’s rate was 9.3%.

Consideration: Donovan Peoples-Jones (10th-easiest)

Four players in 2022 had a 62% catch rate and 500 yards on balls thrown 10 yards downfield last season. Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce are all first-round picks this year, and they were all on the list … joined by 14th-round DPJ.

Dallas Cowboys (28th): QB Dak Prescott

He doesn’t run the ball at the level he used to, and fantasy QB elevator Kellen Moore is gone from the coaching staff. Sure, Dallas did bring in Brandin Cooks this offseason, but the loss of Dalton Schultz can’t be overlooked as a floor elevator.

And then there is the loss of Ezekiel Elliott. Has he lost a step? You bet — maybe more than one — but he is a plus-pass blocker.

Here are Prescott’s yards per pressured pass attempt over the past four seasons:

2019: 7.4
2020: 6.6
2021: 6.4
2022: 6.0

Consideration: Anthony Richardson (5th-easiest)

Last season, 12 quarterbacks ran for 250 yards … 10 of them were top-11 fantasy QBs on a per-game basis.

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