It’s kind of hard to mess up the first two rounds of fantasy football drafts. Whether you’re an experienced player with custom projections or a newbie playing for the first time, the big names go early and most of the industry agrees on who the top 20 or so players are.
That means that Round 3 is the beginning of the end. The end of a level playing field, that is. This is where your hard work starts paying dividends and where you distance yourself from the competition with your fantasy rankings.
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The Top Players To Target in the Third Round
For purposes of this exercise, we are assuming the first 24 players in ADP are off the board. That means that, unless otherwise stated, we are operating within a 12-team half-point PPR setting.
Need a hand in navigating this pivotal round? Pull up a chair … class is in session.
Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
Earning targets is a skill. The fact that Olave demanded nearly eight looks per game during an impressive rookie season has me giddy about what this kid can do as he develops. When drafting a receiver in the first few rounds, some boxes need to be checked:
- Stable role on an offense I trust
- Complementary teammates
- Consistent quarterback play that comes with upside
If you have concerns about the first of those boxes, I can’t help you. Olave missed two games last season — and he led New Orleans in targets (by 42!). Yes, we are expecting Michael Thomas to be healthy this season and that’ll eat into Olave’s target count a little. But it’s not nearly enough to call into question his status as the alpha in this aerial attack.
Last season, Derek Carr led a Raiders team with much less depth on it than this Saints team to a top-12 rank in yards, yards per play, and points. He is entering his age-32 season with playmakers at every level in a NFC conference that, as a whole, lacks bite. So, yea, I think this offense is going to be just fine for fantasy football managers.
The “complementary teammates” box can be a tricky one to check, but not for Olave. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch in 2022, and to shake loose downfield, he’s going to need other pass catchers to attract attention.
Well, Michael Thomas owns the record for catches in a single season, Alvin Kamara’s talents as a pass catcher often impress more than his between-the-tackles abilities, and Juwan Johnson is an athlete that puts defenses in a bind.
All of that is nice, and yet, the most important piece to unlocking Olave’s WR1 potential is Rashid Shaheed. The second-year burner will play on the opposite side of the field as Olave and demand respect from the safety.
During the game, this limits how much shading a defense can do, thus leaving what I think is an elite talent in a position to embarrass opposing corners.
As for that third and final box, we as a community need to give Carr more credit for the upside he provides. I mean, just ask those who rostered Davante Adams last season. All he did was see his aDOT spike and his slate-breaking play count rank among the elite. That wasn’t an accident:
Carr aDOT progression
- 2018-19: 6.38 yards
- 2020-21: 7.78 yards
- 2022: 8.73 yards
Combine that with Carr’s track record of producing one elite pass catcher (from Amari Cooper to Michael Crabtree to Jared Cook to Davante Adams) and we are in business. You’re getting a receiver who could threaten fantasy football first rounds next season with your third pick. Enjoy the discount while you can!
PLAYERS I TARGET … Get started with your #FantasyFootball prep and highlight these guys!
— Kyle Soppe (@KyleSoppePFN) August 19, 2023
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson is my preseason MVP pick and we need not complicate this one. We know the versatile skill set that he possesses and that gives him top-overall scorer in fantasy potential. Think of him as the palette and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken the painter. It’s rare that you get a creative mind with a uniquely gifted trigger man, but that is what we have here.
The fear for some is a decline in rushing attempts for Jackson in an offense that puts a focus on the pass game, but I’m not concerned. While that thought could prove accurate, the increase in talent at the WR position makes those pass attempts much more valuable than in years past, thus keeping Jackson’s value, in my eyes, stable enough to handle a minor decline in designed runs.
I have Jackson ranked as the last of the elite fantasy quarterbacks — and you’re getting him a round later.
The Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase comes off the board in the first half of the first round, but Cincy’s next three options are routinely coming off the board in the mid-to-late stages of Round 3. I don’t have a problem with where any of them are going, but here is how I prioritize them.
Joe Mixon, RB
All the veteran back has done is total over 1,200 yards in each of his past four healthy seasons. He is coming off a career season as a pass catcher (60 catches, he never had more than 55 targets in a season prior) and has a career catch rate flirting with 82%.
The Bengals are set to post elite offensive numbers as long as this core is intact. We know Mixon is more than capable of capitalizing on those opportunities.
Tee Higgins, WR
While Chase separated himself as the go-to option in this pass game last season, Higgins is still an elite talent that projects for a monster season. Case in point? He led the team in catches, targets, yards, and caught their only touchdown pass in the AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs.
There is a better chance Higgins outproduces Chase than there is he greatly disappoints as a third-round pick (likely the second receiver on your roster). I have him projected for a career high in catches, yards, and touchdowns this season … and I’m not nervous about it.
Joe Burrow, QB
All signs point to Burrow being in a good health spot after an August scare. He has completed north of 68% of his passes in both seasons since the team drafted Chase, totaling over 9,000 passing yards in the process.
The floor for him on both a weekly and annual basis is incredibly high. And if his groundwork last season (257 yards and five touchdowns after totaling 260 yards and five scores through two seasons) proves stable, Burrow could well enter the top tier of fantasy signal-callers.
Of the four Bengals mentioned, he is the one I am least likely to draft at cost. However, that’s more due to my belief in Trevor Lawrence and the 20-pick discount I get when going that way.
The Players To Avoid in the Third Round
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots
I wasn’t optimistic that Stevenson could return RB1 value prior to the signing of Ezekiel Elliott and now I’m all the way out. His versatile skill set is impressive and allows him to carry a nice floor, but without much scoring equity, I worry about the upside.
He’s a strong prospect capable of producing at this level. Still, his path to underachieving is much more likely than him returning profit on this investment.
DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Metcalf has seen his yards per catch drop off a cliff over the past two seasons. And with Geno Smith under center again in 2023, I have a hard time thinking that changes. Involved in the Metcalf math is the potential for natural regression from Smith, the target share that Jaxon Smith-Njigba earns as an involved rookie, and the potential for this running game to take a step forward with a pair of impressive young backs.
Metcalf’s size is always going to give him unique weekly upside, my fear is that we could see a roller coaster season and that isn’t what I personally want from my third-round pick. Mike Williams is a receiver with a similar profile that you can grab some 30 picks later and that is the direction I am consistently going instead of paying the current asking price for Metcalf.
Who Should You Draft in Other Rounds?
Want to see what options might be available before or after your pick in other rounds? We have you covered.