As the dust settles from the festivities of the NFL draft, team rosters are starting to come into focus as we head into the longest part of the offseason. It’s never too early to take a look at some players to target and avoid in fantasy football for 2023 – I do just that in the first part of an eight-part series covering one player to target and one player to avoid in redraft for the upcoming season.
One player to target: QB Lamar Jackson
Target him as your: QB1
Lamar was having a much better fantasy season than people gave him credit for last season before his injury in Week 13, and that was with a supporting cast that featured pretty much nobody outside of Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman (who was also injured himself in Week 8). Despite that, Lamar was consistently reliable week in and week out, posting at least 15 fantasy points in every week he played except for Week 7 (vs the Browns) and Week 13 (when he was injured). He also offered us a glimpse of his tremendous potential as a fantasy quarterback in the first three weeks, throwing for at least three touchdowns in each of the first three games while supplementing that passing production with 100+ yards rushing in two of those, as well. Things slowed down in the weeks following that, however, with Lamar failing to score more than two touchdowns in any game from Week 4 on. Looking ahead to 2023, Lamar has reached the light at the end of the tunnel, with the Ravens adding two big-name receiving options in OBJ and Zay Flowers and locking him up long term with the NFL’s largest contract in history. A new OC in Todd Monken should also offer Jackson a higher ceiling in the passing game. All signs are pointing up for Lamar this year, and his clear overall QB1 upside is something you shouldn’t pass up even with him standing as the current QB4 off the board on Underdog.
One player to avoid: WR Rashod Bateman
The third-year wideout from Minnesota has been a popular pick in the fantasy community for a breakout in the Ravens’ shiny new offensive system, but I’m not underestimating the impact that the additions of Zay Flowers and OBJ will have on the target share distribution. Not to mention the fact that Mark Andrews does, in fact, still exist – and Bateman hasn’t yet proven that he’s a target earner in the NFL at this point in his career (he’s eclipsed ten targets just once – and that was in a game with Tyler Huntley, not Lamar Jackson, at QB). In addition, he’s been one of the most oft-injured players in the league since his rookie year in 2021, missing a combined 14 games over those two seasons. And while his production in early 2022 looks encouraging on the surface, those numbers are inflated by two long touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2 – he never tallied more than four receptions in a game last year. I do think he’s due for a better season in 2023, but at his current price above Zay Flowers, I’m happier taking a swing at the rookie six spots later than accepting the risk that comes with Bateman at a higher price tag.
One player to target: RB Joe Mixon
Target him as your: Dead zone RB1
There’s a little uncertainty with Mixon’s immediate availability for the 2023 season because of his legal situation, but it doesn’t seem like anything will happen soon enough to cause him to miss time. That being said, the buy window is wide open on Mixon for 2023, who is unbelievably undervalued as the current RB17 on Underdog. Despite Perine’s presence in the receiving game last season (57 targets), Mixon still logged 79 targets in 2022 – a career high. Now, with Perine signing in Denver and little to no competition behind him, Joe Mixon stands as the only real running back the Bengals have heading into Week 1. We could potentially see his work in the receiving game increase even further (90 targets isn’t out of the picture!), and on an offense as high-powered as the Bengals, it’s safe to say that he’ll be punching in touchdowns at the goal line early and often. That kind of upside at a mid-5th round price is unheard of, and if his price stays where it is, he’s going to be an excellent zero-RB choice for 2023.
One player to avoid: TE Irv Smith Jr.
Smith hasn’t put it together yet in his still young career, but that’s largely been out of his control with injuries forcing him off the field for 27 games in the past two years. The talent is certainly not a question for Smith, and his role in the Bengals offense will likely resemble that of Hayden Hurst in 2022 and C.J. Uzomah in 2021 – however, it’s difficult to project any real production for a player that has missed as much time as Smith has and that hasn’t delivered substantial production even when he’s been active. He can be considered a dart throw, but nothing more than that, and his TE17 price is just a smidge high for my taste considering that the injury risk is relatively high with Smith.
One player to target: WR Amari Cooper
Target him as your: High-upside WR2
Strange home and away fantasy splits aside, Amari Cooper figures to reprise his role as the Browns’ WR1 in 2023 with a presumably much more dynamic Deshaun Watson under center. The two struggled to remain on the same page at the end of last season, but there’s no reason to think that Amari Cooper, one of the upper-echelon separators in the league, will have trouble building chemistry with Watson after a full offseason of work together. And it’s not as if Cooper needs a top-tier quarterback to produce; he garnered 126 targets last year with average, at best, quarterback play, including 37 of those targets in the red zone (5th in the NFL among WRs). His nine touchdowns were also tied for the third most among all WRs – a number that could certainly go up if Deshaun Watson returns anywhere close to form and with better receivers around Cooper to prevent defenses from dialing in on him in coverage. His WR18 price in the late third / early fourth round doesn’t sting at all, either, making him a very safe pick at WR with upside to finish inside the top 10.
One player to avoid: WR Cedric Tillman
The former Tennessee X receiver got solid draft capital coming off the board in the third round of April’s draft, but landed in a Cleveland WR room as crowded as any in the league. Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones look to have the perimeter wide receiver positions locked down, and with the X-factor addition of Elijah Moore to the offense, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Tillman sees enough work to become a relevant part of the Browns’ offense in 2023. He’ll be sitting on the waivers in most all fantasy leagues come Week 1, and he could have a market if anything would happen to DPJ during the season – but until then, there’s no need to take an unnecessary swing on a receiver that’s buried as deep as Tillman.
One player to target: WR Diontae Johnson
Target him as your: Extreme Value WR2
News flash: Diontae Johnson is the current WR36 on Underdog. Yes, the wide receiver that commanded 141 targets last year and that, up until last year when he scored zero, averaged just under seven touchdowns a year since 2019. It’s almost criminal how low Johnson is valued on the current fantasy football market, especially when the bottom line with Diontae Johnson is that he’s a flat-out target earner, regardless of who’s under center. He leads the league in double-digit target games since 2021, and that’s in a span of time where he played with an ancient Ben Roethlisberger and the two-man platoon of Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. And I’m prepared to fully excuse Johnson’s inability to find the end zone in 2022; playing on the NFL’s 7th-lowest scoring offense with a rookie at quarterback for most of the season will do that to a wide receiver. Put plainly, Johnson is about to get hit by positive touchdown regression like a truck, and any improvement in Kenny Pickett’s game will only stand to increase Johnson’s fantasy value. Johnson was also a victim of poor accuracy on the part of his two QBs last season – despite registering 141 targets, he caught just 83 of them (61.0% catch rate – 77th in the NFL) with just eight drops on targets that were considered accurate. Coming off the board in the last sixth round, Johnson is the definition of a risk-free investment with upside to be a low-end WR1 in PPR formats.
One player to avoid: WR Allen Robinson II
The Steelers took a flier on Allen Robinson after an absolute letdown of a season in LA, but don’t let the fact that they traded for him convince you that you should, too. He’ll be 30 by the time Week 1 rolls around, and while his veteran savvy might make him a nice outlet man for second year QB Kenny Pickett, he’ll be playing behind Diontae Johnson (mentioned above) and George Pickens. Both project to be the top dogs in the receiving game alongside Pat Freiermuth at tight end – as such, there will be few, if any, chinks in the proverbial armor for Robinson to slip through en route to establishing an impactful role on offense. Even if he does find himself on the field for any kind of substantial amount of time, we can’t expect him to create production after the catch at this point in his career; he managed just 2.15 yards after the catch per reception in 2022, good for an abysmal 118th out of 123 eligible receivers. Use your valuable roster spots on players with upside, and don’t horde relics of years past like Robinson.