As we quickly approach our final fantasy drafts, the team at DFF wanted to provide everyone with a free one-stop-shop to head into Week 1. In the 2021 DFF Fantasy Guide, we will walk you through the different league formats and offer advice on how to best attack those leagues from a strategic perspective. We will then shift into looking at how positional values are changing over time. Our own Chris Miles compiled player projections for all fantasy-viable players that you can print out and bring to dominate your final fantasy drafts. Shifting back to a dynasty lens, several of our writers provide you with their favorite early-round, mid-round, and late-round targets in the ‘My Guys’ section. We will also take you behind the scenes of our ranking summit and compare where our rankers have players valued versus consensus ranks. Finally, we will look towards the future with an in-depth positional analysis of the upcoming rookie drafts. Our own Billy Beaman will close out the guide with his crystal ball rankings where he predicts the top-12 positional rankings that we could see heading into the 2023 fantasy season.
Chapter 1 – League Formats Overview
* How does this type of league work?
* What is important to prepare for?
* What is your favorite strategy?
A Redraft league is a league that starts up fresh each year, usually with the same recurring teams. You will draft a team in either a snake draft or an auction. You have these players and get to use the waiver wire and trades to improve your team throughout the season. Typically only the top three season finishers are awarded a payout. Projections and tiered rankings will get you in the best place to be prepared to play. The top platforms for playing in a redraft league are Sleeper, ESPN, and MyFantasy League. Typically, redraft leagues have the draft occur one-to-two weeks before the NFL opening game.
Paul Patterson on the best redraft strategy:
You should try to get at least two running backs within the first four to five rounds because the position thins out after that. Remember, each team only has one starting running back, but there are two to three wide receivers on the field for every play. This means that there will still be quality wide receivers available even after the running backs have dried up. If you only have to start one quarterback, don’t be afraid to wait on the position. You can even be the last team to draft one if you want to stock up at other positions. Ideally, the quarterback you select late should have some rushing ability or at least play in a good offense.
A BestBall redraft league functions similarly to traditional redraft except the platform will automatically set your optimal lineup; therefore, there are no weekly lineup submissions. These drafts are almost exclusively snake-style drafts. In BestBall redraft leagues you cannot add free agents, make trades, or do any other transactions after the draft has concluded. These leagues typically will draft in the early Summer (May through July).
Paul Patterson on the best best-ball strategy:
In BestBall, you need to be very careful about how you allocate resources to each position. Because you only have to start one of each, you shouldn’t draft more than three quarterbacks or tight ends. At running back, you’re better off drafting players in the earlier rounds that have clear roles. Otherwise, you should target pass-catching running backs in the later rounds because they tend to provide big performances when their teams fall behind and are forced into comeback mode. You should allocate the most roster spots by far to the wide receiver position. Outside of the top tier, wide receivers tend to lack week-to-week consistency. The solution is to have lots of options knowing that you only need a few of your players to have big games in a given week. Finally, you should try to “stack” when you can. To create a stack, you simply pair a quarterback with one of their pass-catchers (Aaron Rodgers with Davante Adams, for example.) Stacking is proven to increase your weekly upside.
A dynasty league is similar to redraft, however, there is one inaugural startup draft, and then you have the right to roster those players for the entirety of their careers. You will typically go into the season with four to five rounds of future rookie draft picks (i.e. 2022 1st) that are tradeable assets. Then after the NFL Draft based on reverse standings, you will have a fixed (non-snake) draft to select the top incoming rookies. Startup drafts for these leagues typically draft anytime from March to August, and some even draft after the NFL season has started.
Joe Memmolo on the best dynasty strategy:
Trust your board. Or if you don’t trust your board, trust our board. The DFF Dynasty rankers have analytics nuts, film gurus, and some combo of the two leading our Army in the best direction. I use these rankings to envision tiers of players and then weigh options each round as my team build becomes clearer. You have to stay flexible and be ready to adjust on the fly, while not being afraid to miss on high upside players in the middle rounds. It’s a dynasty, after all, we’re not drafting for fifth place.
Superflex Dynasty Leagues
Superflex dynasty leagues typically mirror Dynasty Leagues except one of the available flex starting spots can be used on a quarterback. Superflex has become the most popular dynasty format because it brings the value of the quarterback position in real football from a stream-able asset to a very valuable one.
Brad Hartnett on the best Superflex strategy:
In dynasty, I prefer to either go all-in on year one and try to win a championship. More often I will go with a Productive Struggle strategy to maximize my team’s long-term value and sacrifice year one. This means in the startup we are going to trade back for meaningful future rookie draft picks, that being first and second-round picks. When we make our selections we are going to put a heavy emphasis on young quarterbacks and pass catchers. This enables us to have a strong roster long-term, and also have the future draft capital to trade for meaningful assets when our championship window opens.
IDP stands for an individual defensive player, in these leagues along with rostering offensive skill position players you roster all defensive positions. Otherwise, these leagues act the same as traditional redraft and dynasty leagues. IDP leagues are for the owners that have a breadth of football wherewithal and can appreciate defensive players and schemes.
Tripp Brebner on the best IDP strategy:
IDP gamers must learn defenders’ roles to construct tiers for a draft board suited to their leagues’ scoring and settings. In a common league that requires three linemen, three linebackers, and three defensive backs, the top tier of DLs is those premier pass-rushing defensive ends who play predominantly from the edge. With rare exceptions, the top interior linemen lack the upside of their running mates because they face more traffic to get to the quarterback. Players with 20-sack upside can win you your league.
Linebacker tiers are likely less obvious. The most important tier is comprised not just of star players but also of linebackers we can expect to play full time. The Titans’ Jayon Brown, for instance, outscored the Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner in 2020 (per FantasyPros.com’s points per game). Brown will nevertheless go much later in typical IDP drafts for lack of name recognition.
Three sets of players comprise the second tier of draftable linebackers – (1) LBs in training-camp battles we think will emerge as full-time players like the Rams’ Kenny Young, (2) teams’ second LBs who will lose a small share of snaps to dime sub-packages like 49er Dre Greenlaw, and (3) premier pass-rushing outside linebackers like Khalil Mack. This much more uncertain tier should fill out bench spots. Opening-day starters should come from LB Tier 1.
The top tier of safeties is those players deployed near the line of scrimmage on teams with distinct strong- and free-safety roles. The Bills’ Jordan Poyer scored merely two-tenths of a point per game fewer than breakout star Jeremy Chinn of the Panthers in 2020 (per FantasyPros.com). The rare cornerback who plays the majority of his snaps in the slot and regularly blitzes (e.g., Colts’ Kenny Moore) can also be folded into the DB1 tier. IDP gamers should throw late-round darts at players impacted by camp battles that might qualify for DB Tier 1 like the Jets’ Marcus Maye rather than burn picks on other, lower-upside DBs.
Devy stands for a developmental player, in these leagues along with rostering offensive skill position players you roster college prospects on your taxi squad. Otherwise, these leagues act the same as traditional redraft and dynasty leagues. devy leagues are for the owners that have a breadth of football wherewithal and can appreciate players prospecting employing analytics and film.
Brad Hartnett on the best Devy strategy:
For me, in devy leagues, you cannot go wrong with the zero-RB and a degree productive struggle. Quarterbacks and wide receivers have by far the longest shelf life in the NFL, focus on those positions in the startup draft and focus on adding premier devy running backs to make a run for the title in year two and beyond.
Chapter 2 – High-Level Trends
The NFL is officially a passing league, the pass ratio across all NFL teams has not been below 55% since 2008, and has not been below 50% since 1981. There are several promising trends that we can apply to the 2021 season, however, we must preface this by saying all of these metrics should be taken with a grain of salt because it is impossible to devise a system to smooth out the impact that COVID-19 had on the NFL in 2020. Overall in 2020 NFL teams passed the ball at a 56.6% clip. Teams quickened up their rate of play which accounted for just the fourth time teams surpassed the 18,000 offensive play threshold.
Not only were NFL teams outpaced their trending offensive play expectations they also were more efficient than ever with their play calling. The 2020 NFL season saw the highest overall yardage gain since the 1976 merger with over 183,000 yards from scrimmage. Given the higher number of plays called we expected the raw volume to be higher, however, it was also impressive that teams gained the second-highest average of yards per play with 5.78 yards per play in 2020.
Teams weren’t only gaining more yardage in 2020, they were scoring at a higher rate as well. The NFL saw the most offensive touchdowns scored in 2020 than any season ever. This was fueled by teams scoring the most passing touchdowns ever, compounded by the highest rushing touchdown output ever. Teams scored a passing touchdown on 4.8% of their designed passing plays, and 3.9% in the rushing department. The increased rushing output could indicate the level of difficulty of converting red-zone trips into touchdowns was easier in 2020 without having to deal with the opponent’s fan base in full force.
One of the main reasons for this increased output in terms of volume and efficiency is the reduced mistakes being made or caught by the officials. The NFL despite having a relatively high number of passing plays called saw the lowest number of interceptions in recent history. Call carriers also secured the ball in traffic better resulting in the fewest number of fumbles lost. From an execution, perspective teams were flagged the least number of times by a large margin. It is clear to note that while the players may only be impacted by fans in the stands to a degree, the officials are impacted drastically. Without fans in the stands, the referees were less apt to make calls that appeal to the crowd, resulting in more extended drives which cause increased production and efficiency.
With that said, I think it is fair to conclude that the NFL is going to continue to drive its pace and volume will continue to rise. It is safe to say that fans coming back in full force will cause the number of penalties up. Penalties put teams in worse situations and may force play-callers into obvious pass situations, this will drive the defense’s ability to cause interceptions, pass deflections, and decreased scoring.
Now, 2021 will look drastically different from a volume perspective when taking into account the new 17-game schedule. Using a three-year moving average I believe we can expect a conservative output shown below.
Chapter 3 – Positional Value
We are going to view the standard league as a Superflex (SF) Dynasty league, so assume that we are talking in terms of SF unless otherwise noted. The reason why I want to focus on Superflex is that it is by far the most popular startup dynasty option among newly created leagues. It also makes sense from a common-sense standpoint, the quarterback is the most important position in a real football game, so we should make it the most valuable position in fantasy.
Here is how the first round of Superflex drafts is valuing each position from 2018 to now:
As we can see in 2018 quarterbacks were hardly cracking the top-12, but there was a shift in consensus in 2020 where it shot up above the valuation of wide receivers. It became the most important position in 2021 to build your roster around a quarterback, and typically younger ones due to the emergence of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and many others. Running back has long been king, but was surpassed by wide receivers in 2019, regained value in 2020, and then became the clear second-fiddle to quarterback in 2021. Pass catchers surprisingly held value at the wide receiver position, but both receivers and tight ends fell to zero first-round picks in 2021. Could some of the young studs like A.J. Brown, Justin Jefferson, or Kyle Pitts turn this around in 2022 and going forward?
A league is never won or lost in the first round though so let’s look at the first four rounds to see how the elite NFL players are valued in fantasy over time:
While there is little change in trend lines for the elite prospects, as the positional values are moving in the same directions as the first round. There is an obvious callout that the first round is the most impactful value-wise of the top-48 so this should be no surprise. Let us also look at the top-100 drafted players over time.
The main takeaway from moving the scope from the top-12 to top-48, to the top-100 is that the first-round or first couple rounds of startup drafts are determining how to value players. Then owners are adapting and picking players at those positions accordingly. As you can see in these graphs there are value numbers in the thousands, and you may be asking yourself what are these values and how are they created?
Value is an arbitrary formula that takes low numbers, such as ADP, and converts the lowest ADP into the highest value. It is an inverse logarithmic function, if you have specific questions about this feel free to message me on Twitter @DynastyDiagnos1 and I’d be happy to answer, but we are going to keep it light in this guide.
To put it more clearly, let’s look at this differently. Here are the values as a percentage of a total for the top-12, 48, and 100.
The dynasty community is starting to properly value quarterbacks in the Superflex format, however, there is the potential for an overcorrection. In 2022 a potential startup strategy could be to wait on a quarterback and build up a strong foundation of skill players, then taking some of the aging quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr. Just some food for thought.
Chapter 4 – Projections
DFF Staff Writer Chris Miles was kind enough to provide his projections for the upcoming 2021 NFL Season. For your viewing pleasure, we have coalesced the top positional players based on their Miles Projection.
|Quarterbacks Projections Courtesy of Chris Miles @ChrisMiles1017|
|Running Backs Projections Courtesy of Chris Miles @ChrisMiles1017|
|Wide Receivers Projections Courtesy of Chris Miles @ChrisMiles1017|
|Terrace Marshall Jr.||70||112||787||6||182.8||10.8|
|Tight End Projections Courtesy of Chris Miles @ChrisMiles1017|
Chapter 5 – My Guys for the 2021 Season in Dynasty
For this section, a few DFF members were kind enough to create video content for you to see who specific DFF members are targeting in a ‘My Guys’ dynasty series. Enjoy these videos!
These videos are set up to provide DFF’s targets and are structured to include one early-round pick from the first three rounds, a middle-round pick from rounds four to seven, and a late-round pick from rounds eight and beyond.
First up is my own ‘My Guys’
Who should you look for in the later rounds of the draft? @DynastyDiagnos1 believes that guy is Rondale Moore.
Check out today’s “My Guys 2021” and see who else is on his radar!
— Factory SportsTV (@FactorySportsTV) August 12, 2021
Second, we have our Co-Owner Billy Beaman’s ‘My Guys’
Who should you look for in the later rounds of the draft? @DynastyDiagnos1 believes that guy is Rondale Moore.
Check out today’s “My Guys 2021” and see who else is on his radar!
— Factory SportsTV (@FactorySportsTV) August 12, 2021
Third, we bring you our staff writer Jared Hines’s ‘My Guys’
— Factory SportsTV (@FactorySportsTV) August 9, 2021
Finally, we bring you our Lead Redraft Analyst Paul Patterson’s ‘My Guys’
— Factory SportsTV (@FactorySportsTV) August 16, 2021
There you have four DFF members ‘My Guys’ for the 2021 dynasty season. Be sure to heed their sage advice and be sure to go out and give them a follow on Twitter. Their respective handles in order of video are @DynastyDiagnos1, @WillieBeamanDFF, @Ship_Chaser, and @fantasyfreezer.
Chapter 6 – DFF Staff Ranks vs ADP
The DFF crew maintains live rankings for SF/TE-Premium Dynasty, Redraft, SF/TE-Premium Rookies, Devy, IDP, and IDP Rookies here. For this, we are going to drill into the SF/TE-Premium Dynasty rankings to give a snapshot of individual players that the DFF Rankings like and dislike compared to Sleeper’s SF average draft position (ADP). Please also understand that these rankings are a snapshot of when this article is published and will not be dynamically linked.
The players that the DFF staff are highest on compared to ADP are the following:
As you can see the DFF Rankers are very high compared to the consensus on Darnell Mooney, Michael Gallup, and Tyler Boyd. We see these three options as potential league winners at the wide receiver position that are in the team’s WR3-4 range of drafts. The Deshaun Watson value is heavily fueled by one ranker who for some reason is optimistic given his legal woes and holdout status in Houston. All of these players are potential league winners and are great values even if they do not exceed their preseason expectations.
Similarly, it is valuable to look at who the DFF Rankers are lower on compared to consensus. Here is a look at the converse approach to their values.
Our DFF Rankers are avoiding aging running backs that are being drafted relatively highly in drafts. These could be potential options to sell high after they have a big game this season to optimize your fantasy rosters. Some of these results are surprising though if you would like to learn more about how these consensus rankings are put together definitely look to our full set of rankings here.
Chapter 7 – Future Class (Devy) Analysis
Playing in devy leagues not only gives you a unique perspective on the new frontier of fantasy, and will also vastly improve your decision-making skills in non-devy leagues. Understanding how future classes project to be at specific positions we can make more optimal decisions about stacking our current value on dynasty teams. Having an understanding of how to value future classes can also give you further insights on when is the ideal time to go into win-now mode and when to stay in the “permanent contender” status, as well as when is best to initiate a rebuild. Let’s look at how the upcoming two classes that have had college football action and how they stack up.
THE 2022 CLASS
After we were blessed with elite options across all positions in the 2020 and 2021 NFL Draft classes, the streak will end with the 2022 NFL Draft Class. Overall the class looks incredibly strong in the trenches and at defensive skill positions, but not as promising at any of the traditional fantasy positions. Overall, I would grade the class as a 5.5/10. For a reference point, the 2007 class would have been the closest to a 10/10 in recent memory.
Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell head up the 2022 quarterback class, and will most likely be jockeying for the QB1 drafted. Rattler has amazing arm talent, but is a bit undersized and needs to shore up his decision-making. Howell has the requisite size and accuracy but he lacks the mobility to be a threat on the ground at the NFL level. The class will rely on how well Liberty quarterback Malik Willis is able to build his budding first-round draft grade with a strong 2021 season. Similar to Rattler, Matt Corral out of Ole Miss has great arm talent and mobility but needs to improve his decision-making to garner first-round draft buzz. I would grade the 2022 quarterback class as a 7/10.
2022 RUNNING BACKS
For the 2022 running back class, there are only two prospects that you would want to wager on earning early draft capital. Isaiah Spiller, the do-it-all back for Texas A&M has the combination of early-career production and elite athleticism. Breece Hall the Iowa State power back has a more impressive production profile but lacks some of the pass-catching chops and dynamic athleticism of a Spiller. Outside of those two backs, you are hoping for a breakout from Oklahoma’s transfer Eric Gray, BYU’s Tyler Algeier, or the athletic but injury-ridden Zamir White. Overall I’d grade 2022 running back class as a 5/10.
2022 WIDE RECEIVERS
The wide receiver class is the shining point for the 2022 Draft Class in fantasy, the issue with that is how incredibly deep fantasy options at wide receiver already are. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave of Ohio State both have first-round optimism based on their respective separation creation, ball skills, and body control. David Bell out of Purdue is a production monster and his big frame bodes well for an outside receiver in the NFL. Treylon Burks out of Arkansas is an athletic freak in a similar vein as DK Metcalf. We also have Justyn Ross returning to football from injury status for Clemson, the big-bodied receiver was arguably better than Tee Higgins at their time together with Trevor Lawrence. Overall, I’d grade the 2022 wide receiver class a 7.5/10.
2022 TIGHT ENDS
The tight ends in the 2022 class really start and end with Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermeyer. He has the production, athleticism, and size to be at least a move-tight end at the NFL level. Every other prospect in the class has either athleticism but production concerns or vis-a-versa. Overall, I would grade the 2022 tight end class a 3/10.
THE 2023 DRAFT CLASS
We are going to be blessed with another amazing draft class in 2023. It comes with a stable of elite-level quarterbacks, one of the best running back classes we have seen over the past decade, with the ability to improve this season. A good, but not great wide receiver class that has high pedigree players who can make it a great class with a second-year breakout. We also have an elite option at tight end, along with an incredible athlete at the position that could take the class over the top if he can get it figured out between the ears. Overall, I would grade the 2023 class as an 8.5/10.
D.J Uiagalelei has already supplanted himself as the top devy quarterback by many, which is impressive given he is still two years away from playing. Bryce Young also will get the chance to keep the Alabama quarterback pipeline alive with his five-star pedigree. C.J. Stroud has already beat out Kyle McCord and to a lesser extend reclassified quarterback sensation Quinn Ewers for the Ohio State starting job. It’s a very impressive trio with the room for more breakouts to take place. Overall, I would grade the 2023 quarterback class as a 9.5/10.
2023 RUNNING BACKS
For the 2023 running back class, there are only already three slam-dunk prospects that could gain first-round draft capital. Bijan Robinson out of Texas had a freshman season breakout and with Steve Sarkisian running the show and feature Robinson early and often. Tank Bigsby the Auburn back is one of the most athletically advanced young running back prospects. Jahmyr Gibbs the pass-catching savant at Georgia Tech looks like Alvin Kamara in the making. Outside of those three, we also are optimistic about Alabama’s Jase McClellan, TCU’s Zachary Evans, and Georgia’s Kendall Milton. Overall I would grade the 2023 running back class as a 9.5/10.
2023 WIDE RECEIVERS
The wide receiver class of 2023 is top-heavy at this point. Kayshon Boutte out of LSU is the only player who we are currently wagering on gaining first-round draft capital. Boutte is a true alpha, with the size to play on the outside and the athleticism to bully defenders. Outside of Boutte, we have optimism about the class but still have question marks on players. Rakim Jarrett from Maryland has the pedigree and early production to like. Marvin Mims the undersized Oklahoma receiver will get the opportunity to play with two NFL-caliber quarterbacks. There are many more that could drastically improve their prospect profiles with strong seasons. Overall, I’d grade the 2022 wide receiver class a 7/10.
2023 TIGHT ENDS
The tight ends in the 2023 class have the potential to be a great class. The breakout star of Notre Dame in Michael Mayer had already beat out Tommy Tremble for pass-catching work, Tremble gained day-two draft capital. Also, the misguided but insanely athletic Arik Gilbert showed off during his time at LSU, but entered the portal and due to poor academics and questionable off-field decision making and has not yet found a home. He is a first-round talent if he can get it together. To have two promising options as devy tight ends after just their rookie season is very promising. Overall, I would grade the 2022 tight end class an 8/10.
Chapter 9 – Billy Beaman’s Crystal Ball Rankings (For the 2023 NFL Season)
You might be asking yourself, “why am I reading about 2023 rankings when we are still focused on the 2021 season that is quickly approaching?”. I mean, sure we’re only just on the precipice of the 2021 season kickoff but we play dynasty fantasy football and many of us have ventured into Devy formats so in all reality 2023 is just around the corner for us, and we must be prepared! It’s so close you can already taste some of the value shifts as 2023 creeps into our subconscious and possibly into our future rankings before it’s even here.
So, with that in mind, I took a deep look into my crystal ball and put together what my 2023 top 12 rankings for each position might look like given the information and data we have available today. Without further delay, let’s dive right in!
Some great quarterbacks are being left outside my top 12, namely Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. Wilson is mainly due to age and his fantasy inconsistency towards the end of the season each year. Watson’s ranking could rise but as it currently stands there is too much risk to foresee him as a top 12 quarterback in two years. Tua Tagovailoa almost made the top 12 but I don’t think he has the upside of Zach Wilson or even DJ Uiagalelei, the only 2022 or 2023 prospect to claw his way into my top 12 rankings. I believe as an unknown commodity, much like Trevor Lawrence, DJU will come in with an inflated value based on his talent and potential.
Mac Jones was the only first-round rookie quarterback from the 2020 class not to make my 2023 top 12 and that’s simply because I believe his ceiling to be capped compared to these other quarterbacks with a rushing floor or elite arm talent. To that point, I have Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Trevor Larence, and Zach Wilson at the back half of my top 12 rankings with the proven veterans remaining at the top unchanged from 2020.
The ranking that stands out to me here the most is Trevor Lawrence at 10. The future of the Jacksonville Jaguars appears to be littered with struggles from a first-year NFL head coach, to a poor offensive line, and then major injuries…I’m just not sure it’s something anyone could overcome, but still giving Lawrence the benefit of the doubt with a top 10 ranking.
No major surprise but my running back rankings contain by far the most rookie presence of any positional group. This doesn’t shock me because of the excessive turnover rate at the position year to year and the hype for incoming “workhorse” running backs. All you have to do is look to Najee Harris this year for the perfect representation. Harris is already a top seven dynasty RB per Sleeper ADP.
Generally, rookies take a few years to breakout, but that all goes out the window for running backs who are typically thrown into the fire on day one. This is due to necessity in many cases, but the learning curve for running back is much easier to gap than in other positions. Truthfully it was tough to find a slot for Ezekial Elliot who will be 28 going on 29 with these young game-breakers entering the league. Javonte Williams and Antonio Gibson also just missed the cut but there is no question I’m lower than consensus on the two.
Jonathan Taylor is s step above, in my opinion, not much else needs to be said. I see swift establishing himself as a force over the next two years with all the volume to himself in Detriot. As the Kamara’s, Barkley’s, and McCaffrey’s age (however young they still are) they will slowly drift outside of my top 12 as you can see above.
Now, let’s not beat around the bush any longer and address the 2022 and 2023 rookie running backs included in these rankings. Breece Hall and Isaiah Spiller are talented enough to breakout given the right landing spot and usage. Imagine either land in Miami, Buffalo, or Atlanta. All running back needy teams where they would take on all of the work, rushing and receiving. Tank Bigsby is a giant muscle and runs with toughness but lacks top-end speed, regardless he’s going to receive high draft capital and that will boost his value ahead of the aging and inconsistent running backs. Lastly, Bijan Robinson is building a generational profile the likes of Saqoun Barkley and due to that hype alone, he’s going to end up in the top 5 in 2023, his rookie season.
It’s challenging anytime you have to leave one of your all-time favorite players outside of your top 12 rankings, but there comes a time in every player’s career when they meet this inevitable fate. No, I didn’t intentionally leave DeAndre Hopkins outside the top 12 in 2023 but the truth is he will be 31 years old and that typically marks the fantasy production age cliff for even elite wide receivers, especially the ones without top-end speed. Just look to Julio Jones, he’s just 32 years old and his ADP has fallen into the 9th or 10th round. I mean no disrespect, but talented wide receivers like Hopkins and Devante Adams are going to slip outside the top 12 over the next few years due to age, a dip in production, or lack of consistent quarterback play (i.e. Aaron Rodgers retirement).
While I think some talented wide receivers are entering the NFL over the next two years I also know we’ve been spoiled with the early production from the position over the last few seasons from players like Justin Jefferson, DK Metcalf, and A.J. Brown. We shouldn’t consider this the norm or come to expect the same from prospects which is why you’ll find just one wide receiver from the 2022 and 2023 class make it into my top 12 rankings for 2023, Treylan Burks. Burks is by all accounts a stud measuring in at 6’3” 232 pounds. He’s an elite athlete with the size and speed to dominate NFL defenders and I think he’ll do just that his rookie season which will land him just inside the top 12 with a bright future ahead.
Otherwise, there aren’t too many surprises. A.J. Brown and Justin Jefferson continue to dominate targets and their competition. Tee Higgins is who I thought he was and Ja’Marr Chase pulls it together but not at the level we quite expected. CeeDee Lamb takes over the WR1 role in Dallas and Jerry Jeudy asserts himself as the Alpha in Denver. Chris Godwin likely finds himself the top-dog on a new team come 2022 and Calvin Ridley, DK Metcalf, Tyreek Hill, and Stephon Diggs continue to do what they do best.
Kyle Pitts ranked number on an overall tight end in 2023!?!? Shocker! Well, not really. Pitts will quickly fly up the rankings if he’s even half the player we’ve hyped him up to be. Kyle Pitts is in line to be peppered with 80-100 targets in his rookie season, something we have never seen before. Most targets to a rookie tight end were 70 in 1996 to Rickey Dudley. Talk about historic.
T.J. Hockenson also rose the rankings for me when looking two years ahead. A major factor is Travis Kelce and George Kittle’s age. Kelce will be 33 and Kittle will be 29, going on 30. I want what will be the 27-year-old version in T.J. Hockenson who I’ve been vocal about making that jump to the elite level in 2021. I also have Mike Gesicki elevating his play over the next two seasons to prove he is a top 5 fantasy tight end and worth a big contract in Miami. Andrews and Waller will remain productive which is why they are ranked sixth and seventh respectively.
Tight end 8-12 is where things get a bit tricky. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the tight end position in fantasy, especially with the later-round talent. Pat Freirmuth is a player I see leading this group of tight ends. We’ve already witnessed the Big Ben to Freiermuth connection and clearly, the kid is athletic and talented. The only question is who his quarterback will be in the future which is why he lands at 8, but his upside is enticing. Cole Kmet being paired with Justin Fields is exciting and that keeps him inside the top 10 considering he should hit his breakout by 2023. Michael Mayer out of Notre Dame is the only rookie tight end I see making the top 12 in 2023 and that’s due to the lack of talent at the position. Noah Fant’s situation and target competition prevent him from really taking the next step and Harrison Bryant on the Browns likely won’t have the volume to keep him ranked over Noah Fant or a hyped-up rookie like Michael Mayer given he receives the anticipated draft capital.
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