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: TE Dalton Schultz
Target him as your: Fallback TE1
Dalton Schultz was a security blanket for Dak Prescott, and that’s exactly what he’ll be for C.J. Stroud on an offense with minimal experience in the receiving game outside of Robert Woods. Schultz wasn’t efficient by any means last season – he ranked in the bottom half of the league among TEs in yards per reception and yards after catch per reception – but he can make up for what he lacks in efficiency with volume. Schultz registered at least 85 targets in each of the past three seasons, proving that he can hold his own against tight target competition (Ceedee Lamb had 148 last year, and in 2021 Amari Cooper and Ceedee Lamb had 99 and 116, respectively) and poor QB play (Dak Prescott missed 11 games in 2020). Outside of Robert Woods, no Texans wide receiver has more than 150 career targets, slating Schultz to be relied on early to help get C.J. Stroud into a rhythm. As the TE13 off the board in the 12th round on Underdog, Schultz might not have the upside of the top tight ends in the league, but his weekly floor should be safe enough that no manager gets burnt by taking him. It’s also worth noting that reports from Texans OTAs have suggested that C.J. Stroud is ahead of schedule in his development, which can only help Schultz’s fantasy prospects for 2023.
One player to avoid: RB Dameon Pierce
Pierce might have been a mainstay during Good Morning Football’s “Angry Runs” segment, but unfortunately angry runs do not score running backs more fantasy points. Pierce was an excellent playmaker in 2022, shedding would-be tacklers left and right and bullying his way forward on multiple occasions, but that playmaking ability came exclusively in the run game. On 30 receptions, Pierce posted an abysmal 5.5 yards per reception (49th out of 57 RBs) and an equally discouraging 6.67 yards after the catch per reception (41st out of 57). Ok, so he’s an early down back. We’ve seen running backs play well in that role even without the receiving work, so what’s the difference with Pierce?
Enter Devin Singletary, who is an equally as bad pass catching RB as Pierce! His 6.82 after the catch per reception and 7.37 yards per reception ranked 38th and 35th among those same 57 running backs mentioned earlier. Both of those numbers compared to the rest of the league are bad as is, but in the Texans backfield, Singletary has an edge over Pierce in that department, meaning there’s a chance we see SINGLETARY on the field on passing downs, limiting Pierce to the lowly early down role. Sure, the Texans offense was bad last season; we can cut Pierce some slack for that. But it isn’t going to be much better in 2023, and with added competition he didn’t have last year, plus an RB20 price on Underdog that leaves little room for error, Pierce is one of the shakier investments coming out of Houston.
One player to target: QB Anthony Richardson
Target him as your: Boom/Bust QB1
Richardson’s range of outcomes may be the widest of any fantasy quarterback heading into 2023, but his elite athleticism inspires hope that he can finish as a fantasy QB1. With his Cam Newton-esque frame and speed reminiscent of Lamar Jackson, Richardson is quite literally unlike any quarterback we’ve seen enter the league. To bet against the top athlete in QB combine history would be foolish, especially now that he’s paired with Shane Steichen (you know, that guy that helped to make Jalen Hurts the high-end fantasy QB he is today). Richardson’s rushing ability will push him over the top in 2023 as long as he can stay healthy (his 7.4 YPA was tied for fourth-highest in the NCAA last year among qualifying NCAA QBs) and fend off potential mid-season replacement by the likes of Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger, the latter of which is difficult to envision happening with the Colts likely viewing this season as a developmental year for their new QB. Richardson has the potential to be a perennial top-5 QB, and it’s that upside that makes him my favorite target despite the uncertainty on an offense that otherwise lacks luster.
One player to avoid: RB Jonathan Taylor
Avoiding Jonathan Taylor has more to do with the landscape around him than it does with Jonathan Taylor himself, but shelling out a second round pick on a running back in a fundamentally different offense than the one he has excelled in previously is just too rich an investment. His efficiency numbers from last season weren’t all that bad: he ranked inside the top-20 among qualifying RBs in yards after contact per attempt and missed tackles forced. But while those are fine numbers, the Colts offense figures to take on a drastically different look in 2023 than it had in 2022. With a rookie QB under center, the Colts offense might spend most of the year in the bottom third of the league with regards to production, which means fewer goal line looks for Taylor – and even then, Anthony Richardson figures to be part of the game plan where the money is made inside the 5. If that’s not a strong enough case for you to get your hands off of Taylor at his RB4, consider some running backs currently coming off the board later than him on Underdog:
Tony Pollard: RB6, Mid-2nd Round
Tony Pollard: RB7, Late-2nd Round
Derrick Henry: RB8, Early-3rd Round
Josh Jacobs: RB9, Early-3rd Round
Pollard has a world more upside than Taylor at a cheaper price, while Nick Chubb has been the definition of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get fantasy running back. Henry is getting older, but at half the price of Taylor, he’s a better value in drafts and Josh Jacobs inexplicably is going later than all of the above. Taylor has the greatest risk associated with him of the running backs mentioned here, yet is the most expensive of them all; smelling what I’m cooking?
One player to target: WR Calvin Ridley
Target him as your: High-upside WR2
Ridley is now three years removed from his superb 2020 season that saw him average 18.8 PPR points per game, but picks up in Jacksonville where he left off in Atlanta squarely in his fantasy prime as a wide receiver. Trevor Lawrence appears to have taken the next step and is primed to contend for elite QB status in 2023, which should have Calvin Ridley managers foaming at the mouth – Ridley put up his best fantasy season (90-1374-9) with Matt Ryan well past his prime on a Falcons team that wnt 4-12. And despite not seeing any NFL action since 2021, we can assume that he’ll be back to commanding a large share of targets on the Jaguars offense: he averaged over 10 targets a game in five games in 2021, as well as just over 9 targets a game in 15 games in 2020. On paper, he’s the clear cut WR1 on the Jags offense, and history has little to say about receivers coming back from a season-long suspension. That being said, it’s difficult to project Calvin Ridley to fall off a cliff in terms of his production in 2023, and seeing as his situation is arguably one of the best he’s had in his career, his WR16 price feels justified given the upside he presents.
One player to avoid: RB Travis Etienne
The Jaguars suggested earlier this offseason that they didn’t want to see Etienne handling 75+% of snaps again in 2023, which significantly limits his ceiling on the Jaguars offense. It seems that their intent is to make 3rd-round RB Tank Bigsby a part of the rotation in the backfield with Trevor Lawrence, which means that we could see Bigsby take on early down and goal line work – a death sentence for Etienne’s RB1 prospects. While Etienne might hang onto the work he received in the receiving game last year, that alone won’t be enough to keep his weekly floor secure. Even though he was one of the most dynamic RBs after the catch in the passing game (2nd in YAC/reception, 5th in yards/reception), Etienne failed to catch more than three passes in any game in 2022. Perhaps that number could go up in 2023 with Etienne potentially looking at more frequent work on passing downs, but as the RB13 on Underdog, the less-than-ideal ceiling coupled with a wide range of outcomes makes him overvalued as the board stands today.
One player to target: TE Chigoziem Okonkwo
Target him as your: Moonshot TE1
Tennessee’s offense once again will live and die by the run game, but with just Treylon Burks to compete with in the passing game, Chigoziem Okonkwo is maybe the most intriguing fantasy football tight end in the league. Okonkwo put up bonkers efficiency numbers – mind you in his rookie season – leading ALL NFL TEs with at least 30 targets in yards/reception (14.0), YAC/reception (7.8), and yards per route run (2.61). He didn’t rack up many targets, however, with his 45 targets on the year ranking just 30th in the NFL among tight ends. That can be largely attributed to his playing behind Austin Hooper in 2022, who left for Las Vegas in free agency, and having to deal with disastrous QB play when Ryan Tannehill missed time. Assuming Tannehill can come back healthy and maintain a baseline of competent QB play, Okonkwo could smash his late-11th round ADP in 2023. Upside like his doesn’t come around often, and with the tight end landscape as barren as it’s ever been, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on him at his price.
One player to avoid: QB Ryan Tannehill
How much does Tannehill have left in the tank heading into his age 35 campaign? Time will certainly tell, but what’s become clear after watching last season is that he’s no longer a rushing threat like he was during his early years in Tennessee. We also saw his fantasy ceiling nosedive in 2022 sans A.J. Brown, finishing just three times inside the top-10 QBs on a weekly basis. The Titans are still a run-first team that will feature a heavy dose of Derrick Henry and rookie RB Tyjae Spears, and if Tannehill struggles for an extended period of time in 2023, the threat of second round rookie QB Will Levis swooping in to take command of the offense looms large. Tannehill should realistically only be rostered as a last resort option in 2QB and superflex leagues, as he presents next to zero upside with a floor that is borderline unstartable.