Fantasy football draft strategy 2023: What changes should you consider?
With the 2022 NFL season officially in the rearview mirror, many fantasy football managers will take the time to reflect on what went right and wrong with regard to the draft, waiver wire, trades, injuries and much more.
Our ESPN Fantasy analysts are no different. So we asked them the following question:
After watching the way the 2022 season played out, what would you like to emphasize as you plan out your strategy for 2023 drafts?
Field Yates: Prioritize quarterbacks earlier in the draft
Yes, much of our ESPN Fantasy staff has long preached patience at quarterback because of the oft-abundant supply, but recency bias (I’m not afraid to admit it!) will drive me toward one of the elite quarterbacks earlier in my draft this year. While I believe the underwhelming crop of quarterbacks this season — led by the Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford (pre-injury) and Russell Wilson quartet — will be better on average next year (save for Brady, of course). I’m not letting another year go by where I’m crossing my fingers for my starter to reach 20 points in a game.
Daniel Dopp: Target QBs with legs
While I agree with Field on prioritizing quarterback earlier in drafts, I want to take it one step further. The league has more weapons at the QB position than ever before, thanks to their mobility. I’ll be drafting a QB that gets at least 3-4 carries per game, even if they are primarily scramble drills to extend drives. Ideally, I’d rather have seven-plus carries per game, but I’m not going to be greedy. I’m out on statues like Rodgers and Stafford in favor of younger, mobile QBs that can score you points in multiple ways.
Eric Karabell: Avoid the temptation to take a QB early … load up at WR and RB instead
We are all dealing with the lure of investing in top quarterbacks, but one season of old fellows struggling should not alter years of sound strategy. Construct your roster puzzle with wide receivers and running backs first or you simply won’t have enough. Perhaps I will be more likely to leave drafts with a pair of top-15 QBs now, just in case one “sure thing” is anything but, and I will be less dismissive of in-season QB surprises in free agency (think Geno Smith and Justin Fields) in case of necessity.
Liz Loza: Consider taking a star WR with your first pick
The dwindling number of every-down RBs has long forced fantasy fans to scramble for a potential primary ball carrier in the first three picks of drafts. That’s living in a scarcity mentality, though. Just because there are more receivers in the game doesn’t mean that the elite players at the position won’t outlast and outscore a supposed “robust” running back. Justin Jefferson, who carried an ADP of 6.3 heading into last September, led the largest percentage of ESPN fantasy teams to the championship game (43.4%) while averaging 21.7 fantasy points per game. Admittedly, Austin Ekeler (whom I passionately stumped for ahead of Christian McCaffrey) outpaced Jefferson by 0.2 fantasy points per game. Ek, however, was the exception. Given the volatility at RB and the potential second-round values at the position (like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs), Jefferson and a healthy Cooper Kupp are the top two players on my draft board.
Matt Bowen: Play the streaming game at tight end
Given the volatility of the position in fantasy, and the disappointments I experienced with Kyle Pitts and Darren Waller this past season in a couple of leagues, I’m looking to take the streaming route during the upcoming season. Yes, I will still target an upside tight end very late in my drafts. Give me a player here with potential scoring upside based on formation deployment, scheme fit and route-running traits. But if that doesn’t hit, then I’ll play the weekly matchups based on defensive coverage trends and the offensive tendencies that develop throughout the season.
Eric Moody: Prioritize value over “players you like”
Instead of aggressively selecting players you like well above their average draft position, it’s better to lean heavily on your positional tiers when assembling a fantasy squad. It’s tempting to draft players you like, but fantasy managers should always look for value picks and players who have fallen too far in the draft. Last season, managers may not have been clamoring to draft Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Jamaal Williams, Josh Jacobs, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Lockett, but they all outperformed their ADPs.
Mike Clay: Listen to Stephania Bell!
One potential limitation in the projection process is the ability to adjust for efficiency when a player is either not fully healthy or finally healed up from a major injury. An example of the former is J.K. Dobbins, who is a superb athlete and was positioned for a breakout 2022 season, but struggled with his ACL recovery and was not an impact player for most of the fantasy season. The best example of the latter may be Saquon Barkley, whom I was high on in 2021 (his first season back from a torn ACL), but too low on in 2022 (more than a full year removed from the injury). Whoops. Stephania was ahead of the field on both players, and I’ll certainly be working on improving my health-related variables in my 2023 projection model.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Pay no mind to D/STs
I know we say this every year, to the point it might feel like obvious, almost tired, advice, but I’m not spending one iota of draft capital on a defense/special teams unit after this past season. With the way the game has transformed around quarterbacks, particularly those who are the most mobile, there’s no way that any D/ST you draft can possibly go an entire season without drawing multiple must-avoid matchups. And I don’t do the “sit your D/ST while streaming another” dance, because it’s a waste of roster resources. The Patriots, Eagles, Cowboys and 49ers, the four D/STs to exceed 150 fantasy points in 2022, had a collective seven weeks outside the positional top 20 in scoring — and they were drafted 14th, 13th, seventh and sixth, respectively, at the position in the preseason, hardly known commodities on draft day and rather nice waiver-wire finds in their own right. Meanwhile, the D/STs that faced the Texans, Colts and Rams each week totaled more points (185, 184 and 172) than the position-leading Patriots D/ST (169) did on its own, reflecting the value of targeting bad offenses. Fantasy D/ST success today is clearly so much more about the opponent than the D/ST itself.