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Highest Upside Fantasy Football Players (2023)

By C. H. Herms 2:43pm EDT 8/17/23

Upside Is Everything In Fantasy Football

Those who play fantasy football know there is no greater truth than this:

You can’t win a championship without scoring a ton of points.

The best way to attack a draft is to target upside. In fact, it's one of the pillars of our fantasy football draft strategy.

Getting too risky is a dangerous game, of course, but you must ensure that your lineup carries as much max potential as possible.

In this article, we’ll highlight some of the highest upside fantasy football players available in each round, per our ADP index.

Read along to give yourself the best chance at building an explosive fantasy lineup in 2023.

ADP is just one piece of the puzzle.

Check out our award-winning fantasy football rankings to help provide the context you need to make the most informed decisions possible.

 

Round 1: All of Them?

We won’t spend too much time on this section for one simple reason:

Every player chosen in the first round is an upside pick.

Unless your pick gets hurt, winds up in some worst-case scenario where several players around them struggle, or perhaps their QB gets injured, they’ll probably be one of the leading point scorers on your roster.

For this reason, managers should feel comfortable with guys like Justin Jefferson or Travis Kelce leading their squads.

If we’re to nominate a player as an honorable mention here, it would be Cooper Kupp.

He only played in nine games last season due to an ankle injury, though the Rams pass-catcher still led all WRs in PPR points per game (22.4) in 2022. A return to health would make him a good bet to contend for WR1 overall this year.

 

Round 2: Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

Fun fact: the lowest PPR weekly finish Chubb recorded last season was RB37.

That means he was at least worthy of a flex spot in every game he played in 2022.

We know Chubb provides a safe floor, but the upside he carries for managers this year is tremendous.

Why? Team situation and a lack of competition for touches behind him.

Context Matters

Draft Sharks analyst Jared Smola recently penned an article highlighting the impact o-line play has on RB production. In short, the correlation between blocking grade and RB fantasy success is strong.

The Browns are returning all five starting offensive linemen from a unit that last year ranked eighth in Pro Football Focus (PFF) run block grading. Between their dominance and Chubb’s own track record, it’s a recipe for lots of points.

On top of that, Chubb’s long-time backfield mate Kareem Hunt remains an unsigned free agent. The pair split carries in each of the past four seasons, and with Hunt gone, Chubb figures to see an even greater concentration of carries. There should be plenty of them coming, too.

Here’s how the Browns rank in Pass Rate Over Expectation (PROE) in each of the last three seasons under HC Kevin Stefanski:

  • 2020: -3.4% (23rd in NFL)
  • 2021: -4.9% (26th in NFL)
  • 2022: -7.6% (28th in NFL)

Everything fantasy managers want out of a RB is there for Chubb. Our projections dictate that it’s well within reach for him to play up to the level of a first-round pick at a Round 2 value in 2023.

Our 3D projections give you a quick look at every player's fantasy ceiling.

  

Round 3: Chris Olave, WR, Saints

Olave produced a stellar rookie campaign in 2022.

He led the Saints in target share (26.7%), and air yards share (41.5%) last season, and his 2.42 yards per route run ranks fifth among all 50+ target rookie WRs over the past decade.

You might’ve heard of a few players who rank ahead of him in that last measure: Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, and Odell Beckham Jr.

That’s the type of company Olave finds himself in. And an offseason upgrade at QB named Derek Carr should help his efforts to become the next second-year breakout superstar.

Only Goes Up From Here

The bar to clear for greater QB success is pretty low.

Among the 30 WRs who saw 100+ targets last year, Olave's 86.3 passer rating when targeted ranked fifth-worst.

Assuming Carr can deliver passes better than Andy Dalton did last year, Olave should improve upon his 13.2 PPR points per game.

You don’t want to miss out on that kind of ceiling.

He's one of the highest upside fantasy football players in 2023 assuming everything clicks.

 

Round 4: Calvin Ridley, WR, Jaguars

Fantasy managers haven’t seen Ridley on an NFL field since 2021.

But let’s not forget the type of player we’re talking about…

In Ridley’s last full season in 2020, he ranked 11th in receptions (90), fourth in receiving yards (1,374), and eighth in TD catches (nine) among all NFL WRs.

Oh yeah, he was also WR4 in PPR points per game (18.8) that year.

The Rich Get Richer?

There’s an obvious risk to investing in a 28-year-old who's been away from the game for two years, but the Jaguars felt comfortable enough to deal away two draft picks before the trade deadline last season to secure Ridley.

Ridley will be joining a passing offense led by QB Trevor Lawrence that ranked fifth in Football Outsiders’ passing DVOA in 2022 without his efforts.

Assuming he can bounce back to anything close to his prior form, Ridley is the best WR on this Jags’ roster and will only help elevate the aerial attack in Jacksonville.

That reality is what makes Ridley one of the highest upside fantasy football players.

He's worth betting on in Round 4.

Curious how Ridley ranks in YOUR specific fantasy league?

 

Round 5: Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks

The Seahawks’ proverbial WR nest is a bit crowded entering 2023.

Between D.K. Metcalf and the hype surrounding rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba, it’s easy for people to forget about Tyler Lockett.

Don’t be one of those people.

History On His Side

Lockett has totaled four straight seasons with 70+ catches, 1,000+ receiving yards, and at least eight TDs. 2022 was also the fifth-straight season that he’s been a top-25 wideout in PPR points per game.

Some will point to age as a reason to fade Lockett, but our aging-curve research shows that wideouts of his caliber are likely to post 82% of their peak production.

So even if Lockett slows down a bit and Smith-Njigba carves out an excellent role in Seattle’s offense, he’s still probable to be a quality WR2 option for your lineups.

Plus, this is a potent offense we’re talking about. The Seahawks ranked eighth in Football Outsiders’ pass DVOA, 13th in passing yards per game (351.5), and ninth in scoring per game (23.9 points) last season.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Lockett on draft day.

 

Round 6: Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos

This former second-round NFL draft pick suffered a multi-ligament knee injury in Week 4 last year, prematurely ending his sophomore season.

A 2018 study on multi-ligament knee injuries to NFL players found a 55.6% return to play rate. The return to prior performance level was just 18.5%. In layperson’s terms, it’s tough for someone to immediately waltz back into being the player they were before they got hurt.

Picking him with confidence will be tough for this reason, but training camp reports have shown Williams might have a solid chance to be an outlier.

TIP

You can keep up with all camp reports and important fantasy football news here at Draft Sharks.

Not only did he avoid the PUP list to open camp, but the Broncos cleared Williams for contact from the outset, and he’s expected to play in preseason games!

That’s a pretty remarkable return arc. On top of that, we saw in Williams’ rookie season in 2021 that he’s a terrific player.

Bubbling Beneath the Surface

Among 52 RBs with 90+ carries in 2021, Williams ranked 21st in PFF rushing grade, 5th in PFF’s Elusive Rating, and 26th in PPR points per game (12.1), splitting carries with then-teammate Melvin Gordon III.

He also displayed a penchant for pass-catching, logging 43 receptions, 316 receiving yards, and three receiving TDs in his debut campaign.

The only present backfield competition Williams has to speak of is Samaje Perine, a soon-to-be 28-year-old journeyman with 0 NFL seasons of more than 603 rushing yards. A healthy Williams should carry a significant workload this year.

Additionally, we cite the Broncos’ o-line as one of the most improved units in our 2023 offensive line rankings. We talked earlier about how much a quality line impacts RBs, and managers should feel confident in the unit clearing paths for Williams this season.

At a Round 6 price tag, why wouldn’t you take a chance on the upside of Williams?

If he's healthy, it wouldn't shock us to see Williams become one of the highest upside fantasy football players this year.

 

Round 7: Jordan Addison, WR, Vikings

The Vikings finished fifth in pass rate (65%), third in pass attempts (672), and sixth in pass rate over expectation (+2.5%) last year under first-year HC Kevin O'Connell.

This is a fertile environment for multiple pass-catchers to put together fantasy viability.

Sure, superstar Justin Jefferson is going to get his, but there's plenty of room for Addison to thrive right out of the gate.

Opportunity Aplenty

Serving as the No. 2 WR opposite Jefferson, Adam Thielen saw 107 targets last season with a 70-716-6 receiving line.

That production was good enough for Thielen to finish as the WR30 overall in PPR scoring.

Assuming that as some sort of baseline for Addison, he should walk into what is objectively the best path to immediate production of any rookie WR in the class.

It also helps that he's got a solid profile, too.

Addison went off in 2021 as a 19-year-old sophomore at Pitt, winning the Biletnikoff Award (best WR in college football) with a 100-1,593-17 line. He then posted 59 catches, 875 yards, and eight TDs in 11 games at USC last season before being drafted with the 23rd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Talent + Opportunity gives Addison the upside for WR2-level production this season.

TIP

Addison is one of our favorite late-round PPR WR targets in 2023.

  

Round 8: Zach Charbonnet, RB, Seahawks

Kenneth Walker III put up awesome numbers as a rookie last year and seems likely to be the Seahawks' RB1 in 2023.

Even for as good as Walker III is, the team felt it was necessary to select Charbonnet with their second-round pick of the NFL Draft this year.

This backfield is a bit messy, but it seems HC Pete Carroll has a plan in mind.

Dynamic Duo

Per Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times, Carroll called RB Charbonnet a "complement" to Walker back in April and mentioned his ability in the passing game as a reason why.

Charbonnet tallied 61 receptions over his last two seasons at UCLA and ranked 13th in PFF receiving grade and 31st in yards per route run among 119 qualified college RBs in 2022.

He’s a solid rusher as well. The California native tallied career-highs last year with 1,359 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs on 7.0 yards per carry as a member of the Bruins.

High-pedigree rookies with paths to relevance are the type of guys that fantasy managers should look to target in later rounds of drafts.

Charbonnet fits this billing to a T.

He should see the field immediately and carry an even more significant upside should the groin injury that held Walker III out of camp for several weeks flare up again in the regular season.

Keep this in mind while you're on the clock in later rounds this year.

 

Round 9: Quentin Johnston, WR, Chargers

The 21st overall pick of this year’s draft joins a WR room with the likes of veterans Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

It's tough to say how much of an impact Johnston will have right out of the gate, but he's an intriguing Round 9 pick regardless.

There are a few reasons why managers should be excited about the former TCU wideout.

A Prime Situation

The Chargers hired new OC Kellen Moore this offseason to bring some life to an offense that ranked 17th in Football Outsiders' pass DVOA last season.

During Moore's time with the Cowboys, the team ranked top-10 in both pass attempts and yards in three of four seasons. If he can bring that magic to Los Angeles, all pass-catchers on the Chargers should tally awesome numbers.

In addition to that, the aforementioned Williams has an extensive injury history that lends itself to the potential for Johnston to elevate himself into the No. 2 WR role in a pass-happy offense.

Exciting Talent

Should he receive that opportunity, Johnston has a pretty good shot at showing what he's made of. His college production speaks to this potential.

Johnston led TCU in receiving yards (487) as a true freshman in 2020, and racked up 23 catches 20+ yards downfield for 959 yards and 11 TDs over the his three seasons in college.

The guy is a quality deep threat in an offense led by QB Justin Herbert, a player we strongly feel is an excellent fantasy option in his own right in 2023

If things break right, Johnston could be a weekly WR2 for your fantasy squad.

 

Round 10: Anthony Richardson, QB, Colts

First thing's first: Richardson might not be the finest passer as a rookie.

Among 128 college QBs with 200+ dropbacks in 2022, Richardson ranked 121st in completion percentage (53.8%). He also ranked 120th in adjusted completion rate (64.3%), 96th in passer rating (84.3), and 65th in Pro Football Focus passing grade.

2022 was also Richardson's only season as a starting QB.

His inexperience is likely to limit the fantasy upside he'll bring to the table with his arm. But the good news is that he's a potentially elite runner.

Rushing Upside

Richardson logged 65 carries for 713 rushing yards and nine TDs at Florida in 2022.

On top of that, he also recorded an insane 4.43 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine.

His rare combination of size (6'4, 244 pounds) and speed makes for one heck of a scoring profile.

New Colts HC Shane Steichen spent the last two seasons as the Eagles OC, helping to craft an offense around QB Jalen Hurts. Like Richardson, Hurts is a strong runner who propped up his fantasy success on the ground. So we know Richardson will be in an environment conducive to his skill set.

Historical Context

Our projections have Richardson slated for 156 carries and 819.2 rushing yards this season.

Only six QBs (Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick) have recorded a season with at least 800 rushing yards in the last 20 years. This phenomenon occurred eight times in that span.

The lowest fantasy finishes from that group were Vick in 2004 (QB12) and Jackson in 2020 (QB10).

All others concluded their seasons as QB6 overall or better.

That precedent makes Richardson one of the highest upside fantasy football players in 2023.

 

Find More Upside in the Draft War Room

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