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11 Guys Who Could Win You a Fantasy Championship

By Jared Smola 3:03pm EDT 8/25/23

We spent countless hours building the 2023 rankings and projections. We’ve hit you with undervalued players, overvalued players, busts, breakouts, and sleepers.

But who are the guys you GOTTA have on your team?

We asked each member of the Draft Sharks staff for two guys they’re targeting in drafts.

The result?

11 guys who could win you a 2023 fantasy championship (with one surprising player getting a pair of votes!).

Highlight these dudes on your fantasy football cheat sheet.

 

Deshaun Watson, QB, Cleveland Browns

Smola: The fantasy landscape has changed at QB. The elites are now scoring 25-30 points per game, with weekly upside well beyond that.

It’s tough to win without getting that level of production in your QB spot.

Sure, you can get it from Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, or Patrick Mahomes. For a third-round price tag. Or even Lamar Jackson for a fourth.

Or you can use those early-round picks on high-end RBs and WRs. Maybe get an elite TE.

And then draft Watson, who has the upside to give you 25+ points per game. For much cheaper.

Watson’s return last year was ugly. But this bet is on him re-emerging as the real-life and fantasy stud he was in Houston from 2018-2020.

That guy registered a sterling 68.7% completion rate and 8.3 yards per attempt, while also averaging 30 rushing yards per game.

Watson’s finishes among QBs in fantasy points per game:

  • 2018: fifth
  • 2019: fourth
  • 2020: sixth

Watson will be playing with significantly better weapons behind a significantly better offensive line than he ever had in Houston.

So the ceiling reaches even higher than what we saw in Houston.

Getting top-5 QB production from Watson – who’s regularly available in Round 7 or 8 – could be the key to winning 2023 fantasy championships.

 

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

Korff: When you have a chance to draft a Judo master in the eighth round (or later), you take it.

The elite QBs (Hurts, Allen, and Mahomes) are gone by the third round. Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert usually go by the fifth.

Why not swing for the fences with Tua in the eight round or later?

When looking for a QB in the mid-to-late rounds, I want to target an offense with explosive potential and the chance to take a step forward.

Tua is throwing to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, two of the most explosive WRs in the game.

I am more targeting the guy throwing to Waddle and Hill than Tua specifically. He just comes cheap enough for me to take a chance.

And this one makes Schauf upset. That’s always a bonus.

 

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Smola: You gotta score a ton of fantasy points to be a league winner from Round 2 of drafts.

Pollard is capable of scoring a ton of fantasy points this year.

With RB Ezekiel Elliott (finally) out of the way, the stage is cleared for Pollard to take over a feature role.

We’ve seen him in that role on occasion. And it’s been spectacular.

Pollard has topped a 50% snap rate in 11 career games (including playoffs). His averages in those games:

  • 13.8 carries
  • 69 rushing yards
  • 0.64 rushing TDs
  • 4.5 targets
  • 3.5 catches
  • 33.3 receiving yards
  • 0.27 receiving TDs

That’s 19.2 PPR points per game, which would have ranked fourth among RBs last year.

If he can tack on 2-3 more points per game, he’ll be competing for the crown of overall RB1. And if he does that from Round 2 of fantasy drafts, we’re talking about a league winner.

 

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

English: I want pieces of Baltimore’s offense.

It starts with the return of a healthy Lamar Jackson, who missed five games in 2022.

Then there’s the deepest pass-catching corps of Jackson’s career: Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, and Odell Beckham.

It’s tough to say how targets shake out behind Andrews. But I have no such questions about the backfield, where Dobbins recently returned to the field at 100%.

Recall that he tallied 5.7 yards per carry last year, despite knee trouble. There’s no doubting his talent on the ground.

If you’re seeking more optimism, how about the arrival of new OC Todd Monken. His offense will feature a more dynamic passing game, and likely, more receptions for Dobbins.

The 24-year-old – entering a contract season – looks poised to outproduce his RB20 ADP.

 

James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills

Pappano: The second-round RB out of Georgia managed just 110 regular season touches last year but still managed to finish as the overall RB44 in PPR. (His 5.7 yards per carry ranked third among RBs).

In fact, Breece Hall was the only RB to score more fantasy points on fewer touches.

Fast forward to 2023. The Bills are without last year’s starter, Devin Singletary, though they’ve brought in a pair of veterans (Damien Harris and Latavius Murray).

Cook has pulled away from the pair in training camp. And his usage this preseason clearly indicates he’s won the starting job.

He should be a sparkplug RB on an incredibly potent offense. That gives him a higher ceiling than critics ascribe to him because he might lose touches to his competition.

He’s clearly the most explosive RB on the team. The Bills will find a way to get the ball in his hands -- including the passing game. Cook averaged 8.6 yards per catch as a rookie.

 

Khalil Herbert, RB, Chicago Bears

Korff: When in doubt, target ambiguous backfields.

Three Chicago RBs are getting drafted in the average 12-team league: Khalil Herbert at 8.07, D’Onta Foreman at 13.05, and (rookie) Roshcon Johnson at 14.06.

This looks like the definition of an ambiguous backfield.

Reports say Herbert is the starting RB, and there is even talk of Foreman being “a surprise cut.”

We don’t often get opportunities like this in the eighth round.

Herbert is a talented runner who finally has a chance at the starting job. ADP still needs to catch up with his RB41 finish last year as the second fiddle to David Montgomery (now on Detroit).

The market seems wrong here.

 

Tank Bigsby, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Schauf: A team’s No. 2 RB obviously needs some help to become a league-winner. But that’s the first point on Bigsby.

We know Doug Pederson doesn’t want to ride a single workhorse RB. We know that because he didn’t as Philly’s HC. And we know that because he said so this offseason. Then he drafted Bigsby in Round 3.

Travis Etienne will lead the Jacksonville backfield. But he’ll also share some work with the rookie.

Etienne curiously saw his target share decline after the James Robinson trade last season. Bigsby led his final Auburn team in receptions, accounting for 19% of the team total.

“I would even say he’s a better pass-catcher [than anticipated],” Pederson recently told ESPN’s Michael DiRocco.

The receiving presents an early path to some fantasy value. And if anything happens to Etienne, Bigsby makes like the Draft War Room and switches into Upside Mode.

Oh, and that would be in an ascending offense that finished top-10 in yards and scoring last year.

That’s the kind of RB you want on your fantasy bench.

 

Herms: Perhaps a bit bold, but there’s been no shortage of glowing reports about Bigsby out of Jacksonville this summer. ESPN's Michael DiRocco reported recently that Pederson said he "doesn't want to overload Bigsby early in the season, but it's likely his role will expand as the season progresses."

Pederson has only given a RB more than 50% of the team’s carries once in his six seasons as an NFL coach. So we know the opportunity will be there for Bigsby to get regular work.

Whispers that Bigsby has been a solid pass-catcher and that he could also seize goal-line work for the Jags make him one of my favorite players to target.

I still expect Travis Etienne will get his, but give me a cheaper shot to have a guy scoring TDs in one of the league’s youngest, upstart offenses any day.

  

Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Herms: I will never for the life of me understand why people keep sleeping on Lockett.

His current PPR ADP of WR30 is ridiculous. We’re talking about a guy who’s put up four straight seasons with 70+ catches, 1,000+ receiving yards, and 8+ TDs.

Yes, he’s on the older side (31), but our aging-curve research shows that WRs of Lockett’s quality produce, on average, 82% of their peak numbers at age 31.

That’s more than enough production to see a massive return on investment, particularly when considering rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s wrist injury that’ll likely keep him out for the start of 2023.

When in doubt, draft Tyler Lockett.

 

George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pappano: All the write-ups on Pickens this summer have been overanalyzed breakdowns of numbers.

The knock on him has been that he’s a 50/50 specialist who can only run go routes. Sure, he looks amazing when you watch ESPN highlights, but Pickens lacks what it takes to be a consistent fantasy WR … or so the critique goes.

Here’s the other reality: As a rookie he put up 52 catches for 801 yards and 4 TDs. That was with a shaky QB in fellow rookie Kenny Pickett at the helm.

The word out of Steelers training camp is that Pickens has expanded his route tree, and has a newfound rapport with Pickett.

And, of course, he’s still making highlight-reel catches on contested throws.

Former Steeler — and now NFL analyst — Ryan Clark said Pickens is “much more talented than Justin Jefferson.”

Mmmmm ... probably not. But Pickens has the raw talent to be a consistent starting WR in the NFL.

The critical question is “can he pick up the nuances of the game?” That’s the real difference between Pickens and Justin Jefferson.

For what it’s worth, former Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger has said this duo can be the best QB-WR since he and Antonio Brown wore the black & gold.

 

A Ravens Pass-Catcher

Schauf: “Bold stance, Matt. How ‘bout you pick one player?!?”

Trust me, this is a more helpful answer than if I just picked a single pass catcher. Because I’m not chasing a single member of the Baltimore pass offense. I want pieces of it.

Everything the Ravens have done this offseason points to more of a passing lean. They switched from a run-heavy OC to pass-friendly Todd Monken. They paid up for Odell Beckham. They drafted Zay Flowers in Round 1.

So if you’re chasing the whole pass offense, shouldn’t we just target the QB?

Sure. There’s plenty of upside to Lamar Jackson. But he has also climbed the ADP charts throughout summer. You can still draft him, but he’s going too early to be a “must.”

TE Mark Andrews is going in a similar range, so you’ll probably have to choose between them in 12-team drafts. I’d rather take Andrews (pass-catcher No. 1) in that case. Because there are more chase-worthy options at QB than TE.

The Wideouts

Then there are the Baltimore WRs. Beckham, Flowers, and Rashod Bateman all sit outside the top 40 at the position in ADP. So which one should you target?

All of them.

Anyone who says he/she knows which Ravens WR will break through and lead the group this season is lying. Two of those guys have never played with the team before. The other is coming off a Week 3 foot injury that sidelined him into training camp.

All are capable of cracking at least the top 30 fantasy WRs by the end of the year, though – with upside into the top 24.

So get some exposure to all three. Pair two of them on the same roster. Consider trying to trade in season for one who starts slow.

But buy pieces of the Baltimore pass offense.

  

Darren Waller, TE, New York Giants

English: Admittedly, I’m buying into some camp hype here.

OK, it’s a lot.

Waller might have been the league’s buzziest player this summer. He dominated Giants defenders daily. And he seemed to garner a monumental share of the targets.

I might hesitate if we were talking about a rookie or second-year player with a suspect profile. But Waller has two career top-5 finishes.

If not for several injuries over the past two seasons, that number might be four.

Here’s the good news: Waller’s made it through the summer injury-free. With a Round 6 ADP (TE5), I’m happy to pay for one of the position’s true difference-makers.

 

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