The 10 Players You Must Target in Fantasy Drafts in 2023

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

The NFL preseason is now fully underway, and that means that fantasy draft season has officially kicked into high gear. We have already seen one weekend of preseason action that has altered some perceptions in fantasy circles-it appears that Devin Singletary will be little more than a true handcuff to Dameon Pierce in Houston for example.

This analyst did not see that coming. But that's fantasy football for you-for every thing we think we know, it turns out there are three things we don't. That will carry from August all the way through the fantasy playoffs in December in January.

But being wrong never stopped the best fantasy analysts, so I'm most assuredly not going to let it stop me. Because there are players I am much more confident will succeed in 2023. Players I am so confident in that I'll go so far as to say you must target those players this season.

And I will guarantee that I am 100 percent right about each and every one of these players.

Well, except for the ones I'm wrong about.

Sadly, that goes with the job.

ADP information courtesy of Fantasy Pros.


Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: QB6)

Herbert's 2022 campaign was something of a disappointment for fantasy managers-he finished the year a so-so eighth in fantasy points among quarterbacks largely because his 6.42 intended air yards per attempt were the third-lowest in the league. Blame injuries to Herbert and his wide receivers. Or a conservative offense. But whatever the reason, Chris Towers' sees the arrival of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore as the impetus for a major rebound.

"With Kellen Moore taking over as offensive coordinator," Towers said, "his teams in Dallas consistently finished among the top-12 in pace, while ranking 11th overall in intended air yards per pass attempt over the past four seasons. Moore's former boss, Mike McCarthy, criticized him for wanting "to light the scoreboard up," but we're just fine with that strategy. Light 'em up, Kellen."

In Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and rookie Quentin Johnston, the Chargers have one of the best trios of wide receivers in the league-and that's without even mentioning running back Austin Ekeler and tight Gerald Everett. Add in a top-10 offensive line and an aggressive play-caller in Moore, and if there's a quarterback being drafted outside the top-five with a chance to crack the "Big 3," of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts-it's gotta be Herbert.



Geno Smith, QB, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: QB15)

There wasn't a bigger surprise in fantasy football (or the NFL) last year than Smith. He started the season as a presumed one-year bridge option for a rebuilding Seahawks team and ended it as the Comeback Player of the Year after leading Seattle to the playoffs. Per Aidan Cotter of FanDuel, Smith may have been less a one-year wonder and more just a late bloomer.

"Last year wasn't a fluke," he said. "Geno Smith is a good quarterback. Geno didn't just outperform relative to the media's expectations; he performed well by the advanced stats, too. He led the league by a wide margin in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) and had the eighth-most fantasy points over expectation (FPOE). Per Pro Football Reference, Smith had the fourth-highest on-target percentage in the league last season at 75.7% while simultaneously having the lowest percentage of bad throws at just 11.8%. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that throwing accurate passes to good receivers is going to lead to positive outcomes."

Last year, Smith was eighth in the league with 4,282 passing yards. He was fourth in touchdown passes with 30. And he finished the season as a top-five fantasy quarterback. Now, despite adding Smith-Njigba to a passing offense that was already loaded with talent, Smith is barely being drafted inside the top-15 fantasy quarterbacks. It's one of the great fantasy mysteries of 2023.





Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: RB5)

It's pretty much settled that San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler are the top-two fantasy options at their position. From there, the waters muddy a little. However, there are pundits like Andy Behrens of Yahoo Sports who believe that Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns deserves consideration on that top tier.

"Let's open with the fact that Nick Chubb is the best pure runner in the NFL," he wrote. "He's never averaged fewer than 5.0 YPC in any season and the man always finishes near the top of the leaderboard in missed tackles (83 last year) and breakaway runs. He's genuinely as good as it gets. Chubb is set to deliver a league-winning, golden-ticket, OPOY-type season in 2023. For me, he's much closer to RB1 overall than RB3."

Chubb set career highs last year in carries (302) and rushing yards (1,525) and is on the betting favorite to be the league's leading rusher in 2023. Add to that the fact that the absence of Kareem Hunt could portend a larger role in the passing game, and if Chubb gets north of 40 receptions in 2023, he may well be in the conversation to be the overall RB1.





Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers (ADP: RB16)

With the departure of Aaron Rodgers and the skepticism surrounding Jordan Love's viability as an NFL starter, most of the skill-position players in Titletown have taken a hit in value. Aaron Jones has been no exception, but John Paulsen of 4For4 believes that in this instance at least, Jones' value drop isn't exactly justified.

"He has averaged 16.6 touches per game over the last four seasons and is typically a big part of the game plan whenever he's available," Paulsen said. "And he's usually available-he has just four missed games in the last four years. To top it off, he's really good! Last year, he was seventh in yards after contact per attempt, 15th in broken tackles per attempt, and third in PFF's rushing grade. He has the fifth-most receptions, the sixth-most receiving yards, and the second-most receiving touchdowns among running backs in the last two seasons."

Yes, Love isn't Rodgers. But the Green Bay offense probably isn't going to completely implode in 2023. And while A.J. Dillon will have a role with the Packers. Last year he took a clear back seat to Jones in the pecking order. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that as Love acclimates to his role as full-time starter, the Packers will lean on Jones, Dillon and the run game that much more where possible.





James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills (ADP: RB30)

The Buffalo Bills have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL-only the Kansas City Chiefs scored more points per game in 2022. But despite that explosive offense and the flashes he showed as a rookie, James Cook is only being drafted as a middling RB3-something that Yahoo's Dalton Del Don has a hard time wrapping his head around.

"Cook quietly impressed as a rookie last season, leading all backs in explosive run percentage (15+ yards)," he said. "He did so despite opposing defenses often knowing what was coming, something that figures to change in 2023 when Cook will be involved in all offensive packages. Josh Allen, Damien Harris and/or Latavius Murray will steal some short touchdowns (although Buffalo has already stated its desire for Allen to run less), but Cook is looking at a far bigger workload in Year Two with Devin Singletary gone and Nyheim Hines out for the season. Cook enters 2023 as the feature back on a Bills offense that ranked top-three in yards per play and points per game last season. His ADP is simply wrong."

It's not that hard to find points to back his argument up. Yes, Damien Harris will see some work, and between Harris and Josh Allen goal-line looks might not be especially easy to come by. But Cook averaged a robust 5.7 yards per carry and should see the lion's share of the passing-down work. If you're into fading running backs early, Cook should absolutely be on your draft-day radar.





Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints (ADP: WR14)

It was a good year to be a rookie wideout from Ohio State in 2022, but while Chris Olave had a fine rookie season it was former teammate Garrett Wilson who won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and enters the 2023 campaign riding an avalanche of hype. However, as Jamey Eisenberg wrote for CBS Sports, Olave has the potential for a big Year 2 jump as well.

"(Derek) Carr is an upgrade over Andy Dalton, which is a plus for Olave, who averaged 12.9 PPR points per game in 2022," Eisenberg wrote. "But he left a lot of production on the field. He was sixth in the NFL in air yards among wide receivers (1,686), seventh in targets per route run (targeted on 31.2 percent of his routes) and sixth in yards per route run (2.73). Prior to Week 13, Olave was actually No. 10 among all wide receivers in targets (92) and receiving yards (822) and 15th in receptions (56). At that time, he was on pace for 143 targets, 87 catches and 1,270 yards, but he struggled down the stretch while dealing with a hamstring injury. He will hopefully maximize his potential in Year 2, and he has top-10 upside this year."

No one is going to confuse Derek Carr with Aaron Rodgers. But then again, no one is going to confuse Andy Dalton with Derek Carr. We just saw Carr rank fourth in intended air yards per attempt last year-a number that helped propel Davante Adams to a top-five fantasy season. Calling for Olave to hit those heights might be wishful thinking. But that top-10 Eisenberg mentioned? That's another story.





Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders (ADP: WR38)

Dotson's first season with the Commanders wasn't without its' bumps-he missed five games and managed just 35 receptions. But he came on strong down the stretch, and after a full offseason with his new team some fantasy pundits see a breakout looming. In fact, Kurt Mullen of the Fantasy Footballers went so far as to outline the path to top-12 numbers for the former Penn State standout.

"One of Dotson's rookie season statistical strengths is his 13.5 average depth of target," he said. "In the last decade, Dotson ranks 12th in rookie aDOT and 13th in average yards per reception at 14.9. Better yet, Dotson was 8th in the entire last season in ADOT for players with at least 30 receptions. These numbers paint an optimistic picture going forward for Dotson's ability to make big plays consistently which are needed to end up in that WR1 category."

To be fair, the top-12 is a tall ask for Dotson-Terry McLaurin is still in the nation's capital, and there are major questions under center in Washington. But Dotson was a top-15 fantasy option last year from Week 13 on, and if Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett can provide competent quarterback play Dotson could realistically become a WR2 with a WR4 price tag.





D.J. Chark Jr., WR, Carolina Panthers (ADP: WR64)

When you reach the back end of fantasy drafts, certainty gives way to optimism, upside and occasionally blindfolds. When you draft a player outside the top-60 at the position, there are no guarantees that said player will even be on your fantasy roster come Week 5. But as Cletis Cutts wrote for the Huddle, if you're going to roll the dice on a wideout it might as well be a player was a shot at becoming his team's No. 1 receiver.

"Chark is the deep threat rookie quarterback Bryce Young needs," Cutts said. "He has averaged a touchdown for every 10 receptions in his career, yet has an ADP in the WR70 range - far too low for a player capable of being the top receiver in the Panthers offense. The reality is that the Panthers will be playing 17 games this season, and their fantasy points count just as much as more prolific offenses. Chark could be the biggest steal of the wide receiver 2023 fantasy class."

Chark's lone year with the Detroit Lions was less than impressive-30 catches for 502 yards and three scores in 11 games. But the 28-year-old remains a player who has a 1,000-yard season on his NFL resume (with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019) and the Panthers depth chart at the position is-let's go with unsettled. The opportunity to carve out a role will be there.





Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: TE7)

In a perfect world, every fantasy team would get a Travis Kelce like Oprah handing out swag on her Christmas show back in the day. Or at least there wouldn't be such a massive drop-off from Kelce to…everyone else. However, if you're looking to get the most bang for your fantasy buck from a Tier 2 option, Michelle Magdziuk of recommends taking a look at Dallas Goedert.

"Outside of Kelce, "she said, "it is very difficult to find a steady fantasy producer at the tight end position these days ... but Goedert was as consistent as it comes last season. Despite missing five games with a shoulder injury, Goedert still recorded 10 games with at least nine fantasy points in 2022, which was the second-most such games among all tight ends, behind only Kelce. The Eagles' entire pass offense goes through three guys: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Goedert. His ceiling might not be as high as those of guys like Kelce and Mark Andrews, who are the top targets in Kansas City and Baltimore, respectively, but Goedert is extremely safe to plug into your tight end spot every week."

Magdziuk (as she usually is) is spot-on about both what's good and bad about Goedert. He isn't the alpha in his team's passing game like Andrews. He probably isn't going to have the occasional massive line guys like T.J. Hockenson and even Kyle Pitts can produce. But he is going to produce-each and every week. And if you know you drafted floor at tight end, you can craft a roster and weekly lineup around that.





Dalton Schultz, TE, Houston Texans (ADP: 11)

To some fantasy drafters, Schultz is a manifestation of the danger of chasing what has already happened-they fear that the sixth-year veteran's best days are behind him after leaving Dallas in the offseason to join the Texans. But Derek Tate of Pro Football Network feels those managers may be overlooking a lot of quiet upside with Schultz's new team.

"The Texans essentially have a vacant leading role in this passing game," he said. "When you look at Schultz's track record of production, is it really that farfetched to think he could set a career-high in targets this season? His current career-high for targets in a season was 104 back in 2021, and he finished the year as the TE3 overall. It may be hard for most to get excited about a passing offense that is led by a rookie QB devoid of proven playmakers, but a reliable option at TE could equal a very reliable weekly floor at a position that is hard to find consistent producers."

OK, Schultz isn't finishing the 2023 season third in fantasy points among tight ends-if he does, he will win quite a few managers leagues. But even if a wide receiver in Hoston steps up and has a decent year, C.J. Stroud still needs a safety valve across the middle. If Schultz becomes that safety valve and does flirt with 100 targets, he's going to be a bargain at a position where that sort of thing is sorely needed.

Gary Davenport is a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. Follow Gary on Twitter at @IDPSharks.