One of my favorite sayings in fantasy football:

“Don’t hate the player, hate the ADP (average draft position).”

Even the worst player to ever grace an NFL field was paid a pretty penny to play the game; floating negative vibes toward any professional footballer is not cool and should be avoided on social media.

Of course, fantasy football is a game built around scoring as many points as possible, so we need to take stands on players in order to fulfill the goal of taking home first place.

What follows are 12 players who I have ranked higher than consensus ahead of 2023 and accordingly have made a major habit of drafting them all offseason long. All scoring referenced is full point-per-reception (PPR) unless otherwise noted.

As always: It’s a great day to be great.

Deshaun Watson, QB - Browns

Watson is my single favorite QB target in fantasy football if fading the true early-round options. He presents the same sort of alien-level dual-threat upside as guys like Jalen HurtsJosh Allen and Jackson — re-finding pre-2021 form could quickly enter the ex-Texans QB into the Round 3 conversation this time next year.

After all, Watson is one of just five QBs to *ever* average at least 20 fantasy points per game even when including last year’s dumpster fire.

So why is Watson this cheap? Most likely because:

  1. He was horrendous last season. Literally tied Zach Wilson in EPA per dropback (-0.09).
  2. Some drafters understandably don’t want to take Watson given all of his off-the-field issues.

The Browns have added newfound pass-game weaponry and reportedly are willing to turn Kevin Stefanski’s typically run-first offense into the Watson show.

If you ask yourself, “What can I get in this round that I can’t get later?” The answer in Round 8 is Watson.

Tony Pollard, RB - Cowboys

The Cowboys have only asked Pollard to play more than 60% of the offense’s snaps on three occasions since taking him in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft:

  • Week 15, 2020: 12-69-2 rushing, 6-63-0 receiving, 90% snaps
  • Week 7, 2022: 12-83-0 rushing, 2-26-0 receiving, 87%
  • Week 10, 2022: 22-115-1 rushing, 3-13-0 receiving, 65%

It’s not a coincidence that free agent Ezekiel Elliott was injured or ruled out in all three instances: Dallas has been reluctant to fully feature Pollard over the years, but they were far more willing to give him a true every-down role when Zeke was out of the picture.

The Cowboys might not quite view Pollard as the sort of grinder worth feeding 20-plus carries up the middle every week, but that sort of role isn’t as valuable as one featuring the soon-to-be 26-year-old’s rather awesome talents in the passing game anyway.

This has also been a top-12 offense in terms of expected backfield PPR points over the past three years: Pollard combines elite talent with plenty of fantasy-friendly opportunity — don’t be surprised if he becomes the latest RB playing under the franchise tag to receive a monster-level workload.

Brian Robinson / Antonio Gibson, RB - Commanders

There are three key variables that have caused me to draft Gibson time and time again this offseason:

  1. Newfound pass-game opportunity: Longtime scatback J.D. McKissic remains an unrestricted free agent. He trailed only Austin EkelerChristian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in targets per game from 2020 to 2022. New OC Eric Bienemy helped oversee a Chiefs offense that fed Jerick McKinnon 71 targets last season.
  2. Lack of incoming competition: Washington only added sixth-rounder Chris Rodriguez to the RB room. The grinder caught just 20 passes in five seasons at Kentucky and is a far bigger threat to Brian Robinson’s early-down work than anything.
  3. Steady drumbeat of good news: Last August, Gibson truthers were forced to stomach updates that the former third-round pick was suddenly facing a new reality as a return specialist. Suddenly, head coach Ron Rivera can’t stop finding different good things to say about the team’s 25-year-old back.

The floor for Gibson is as a PPR-friendly RB3 inside of a bad Washington offense.

The ceiling if Robinson misses time is as a poor man’s CMC — except this time Washington might really mean it.

Of course, drafting both Gibson and Robinson to the same team usually isn’t necessary, although their differing skill-sets doesn’t make the strategy a complete no-go.

One of my bold takes for 2023: Washington produces *two* top-24 RBs in PPR points per game, a feat which has been achieved 1.9 times per season over the past 10 years.

Credit to Robinson for his awesome big hats finishing his debut campaign strong — it makes sense that it took a while to fully recover from a freaking gunshot wound — and his status as one of just nine RBs who faced eight-plus defenders in the box on at least 30% of their carries (Next-Gen Stats) didn’t help matters.

And yet, the only newfound competition is sixth-round RB Chris Rodriguez. Robinson himself has called the difference between this year and last “night and day” thanks to his improved health. His pass-game usage in the Commanders’ first preseason game was also encouraging.

Pretty much the cheapest no-doubt starting RB in all of fantasy football, Robinson presents excellent half-PPR value and is readily available when the top-50 WRs, top-eight TEs and top-12 QBs are already off the board.

Jaylen Warren, RB - Steelers

Warren made more out of his opportunities than Najee Harris all season long in 2022, ultimately earning more chances down the stretch with at least a 30% snap rate in six of his seven healthy games following the team’s Week 12 bye. This wasn’t the norm under Tomlin previously: Seven of Harris’ 12 least-used games in terms of offensive snap rate occurred during the final nine weeks of 2022.

It’s tough to blame the Steelers for making this usage change; the rookie back was out-performing Harris in every facet of the game.

Harris (40.4%) and Warren (40.3%) faced eight-plus defenders in the box on a nearly identical percentage of carries last season. The idea that Harris dramatically improved after getting a steel plate in his cleat removed has also been overstated.

It’s unreasonable to expect Warren to straight up take over this backfield… although their Week 1 preseason usage with the starters was pretty, pretty, pretty encouraging.

Even without much standalone value: Warren is one injury away from rocketing up draft boards and stands out as arguably the most valuable handcuff in football considering the Steelers’ history of leaning on one workhorse back. I LOVE drafting Warren at this point in the draft when the WRs and TEs are rather gross.

Calvin Ridley, WR - Jaguars

We haven’t seen Ridley play football in a while.

Friendly reminder: He’s really good.

The former No. 26 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft provided efficient borderline WR2 production during his first two seasons in Atlanta while splitting targets with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The departure of the latter receiver led to a breakout 2020 campaign, while 2021’s step back is rather easily explained by Ridley attempting to play through a broken foot.

  • 2021: 14.2 PPR points per game (WR24)
  • 2020: 18.8 (WR4)
  • 2019: 15.2 (WR18)
  • 2018: 12.9 (WR26)

While it’s possible the target discrepancy between Ridley and Christian Kirk as well as Zay Jones is closer than the public thinks, the potential for the ex-Falcons talent to re-find his pre-2021 form could also result in him joining the Round 1 gang of WRs this time next season considering the upside attached to being Trevor Lawrence’s top pass-game option.

Ridley is becoming a Round 2 pick in sharper high-stakes leagues, but remains an absolute bargain in more typical home league formats like Yahoo and ESPN. Run, don’t walk, to hit draft on the Jaguars’ likely No. 1 WR at the Round 3-4 turn.

Jerry Jeudy, WR - Broncos

Jeudy quietly ended 2022 on quite the tear.

  • Week 14: 8 receptions-73 yards-3 TD, PPR WR1
  • Week 15: 7-76-0, WR22
  • Week 16: 6-117-0, WR14
  • Week 17: 7-38-0, WR28
  • Week 18: 5-154-0, WR3

Of course, head coach Sean Payton’s new offense doesn’t guarantee to feature Jeudy ahead of Courtland Sutton. It also remains to be seen if Russell Wilson will rebound from his career-worst 2022 campaign, or if the reigning 32nd-ranked scoring offense will once again function as one of the league’s least fantasy-friendly environments.

Jerry Jeudy

Dec 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) runs after a reception in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good news: The former concern is at least somewhat mitigated by the loss of Tim Patrick (Achlles, IR), while Vegas sure seems to think the latter issue will improve in a meaningful way in 2023.

Ultimately, I’m in on Jeudy at his WR20 (pick 37.9) ADP. He’s going alongside fellow WRs with offensive environment questions like Christian WatsonDrake London and Terry McLaurin

Don’t be afraid to bet on the 24-year-old talent finally booming in a major way ahead of his first professional season in which he’ll get to play with the same starting QB as he did the year before.

Diontae Johnson, WR - Steelers

You might have heard Johnson didn’t score a single TD in 2022. His 147 scoreless targets are 38 more than the next-closest tally since the metric began being tracked in 1992.

Attempting to discern whether Johnson’s 2022 was simply terribly unlucky, or more so the result of him simply not being a great football player, is one of the more important questions of the offseason.

A few pieces of evidence that scholars (me) have compiled in an effort to prove that Johnson is in fact good at football:

  • Johnson’s scoreless 2022 campaign didn’t provide high-end counting stats, but his first read target share and overall WR score (ESPN) put him in the company of guys like Stefon DiggsTyler Lockett and Tee Higgins.
  • One only needs to go back 12 months to find a rather awesome 107-1161-8 campaign (WR8 in PPR points per game) that featured plenty of borderline erotic route-running ability.
  • The Steelers signed up to pay Johnson $18.355 million per year — more than all but 13 players at the position.

There are plenty of similar upside WRs in this range who I wouldn’t have a huge problem with others preferring. Either way: Failure to draft at least four (ideally five) WRs by the end of Round 9 leaves the squad awfully short on upside at a position that requires three starters in plenty of high-stakes formats.

Credit to George Pickens for his dope preseason TD, but it was Johnson who caught three passes on Kenny Pickett’s only drive — reminding everyone that who the undisputed No. 1 pass-game option in this (hopefully) ascending offense really is.

Darren Waller, TE - Giants

The ex-Raiders veteran finds himself inside of a passing game in dire need of a true alpha receiver considering their current starting trio is tentatively expected to feature Isaiah HodginsDarius Slayton and Parris Campbell.

Maybe Waller won’t have the same chemistry with Daniel Jones as he did with Derek Carr, but offensive coordinator Mike Kafka certainly learned a thing or two about featuring his TE in the passing game during his time as the Chiefs QB coach and passing game coordinator from 2018 to 2021.

Betting on Waller is betting on the soon to be 31-year-old TE keeping on keeping on as one of the position’s single-best producers.

Early Fantasy Life Projections have Waller leading the Giants in targets and it’s not particularly close. I believe Waller is fully deserving to join Mark AndrewsT.J. HockensonKyle PittsDallas Goedert and George Kittle in a big upside TE1 tier after Kelce — his status as often the cheapest option of the group has him sitting pretty as one of my favorite players to draft of the offseason.

Gerald Everett, TE - Chargers

The six-year veteran enjoyed career-best marks in targets (87), receptions (58) and receiving yards (555) alike in 2022, and that doesn’t even include his sterling 6-109-1 performance in the Chargers’ ill-fated Wild Card loss to the Jaguars.

And if you do include the playoffs for every TE? Everett finished last season as the TE10 in PPR points per game. Not too shabby!

It’s hard to overstate just how impressive that latter performance was. Everett demonstrated some truly ridiculous YAC ability on multiple occasions during the performance, looking like a juiced-up WR with the ball in his hands.

Yes, Everett benefited from both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams missing time in 2022, although neither has exactly been a model of good health during their respective careers.

Also yes, Everett was regularly forced into playing a suboptimal part-time role in an offense that made sure to keep the likes of Donald ParhamStephen Anderson and/or Tre’ McKitty (meow) also involved under ex-OC Joe Lombardi.

My second most-drafted TE of the offseason: Everett is a full-time role away from vying for weekly top-eight treatment at the position, and even without one he’ll be tough to slide too far down the TE2 ranks thanks to his ability to provide true boom weeks inside of this loaded offense.

Isaiah Likely, TE - Ravens

The only TE handcuff in all of fantasy football, Likely showed what he is capable of achieving in just three games with a snap rate north of 50%:

  • Week 8: 6 receptions-77 yards-1 TD (7 targets), PPR TE2
  • Week 9: 1-24-1 (5), TE9
  • Week 18: 8-103-0 (13), TE3

Of course, the presence of Mark Andrews limited Likely’s weekly role and made him a non-viable fantasy asset for the rest of the season. Fun fact: It’s impossible for players to score fantasy points if they aren’t on the field.

Still, Likely profiles as one of, if not the only, player available outside of the top-200 picks certifiably *one* injury away from working as a potential weekly top-six option at their position. Drafting players purely because of contingency value isn’t ideal, but it’s more okay when using literally the last pick of your entire draft.

The plethora of WR additions in this offense has many envisioning new offensive coordinator Todd Monken centering his passing game around them, although the Georgia Bulldogs did make a habit of featuring both Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington under his tutelage.

Look — you aren’t drafting Likely to be your No. 1 TE anyway, so why not sign up for a lottery ticket? Guys like Michael MayerJelani Woods and Noah Fant are each probably multiple injuries away from even beginning to sniff the position’s top-12 options — let alone from being someone who needs to be in your starting lineup like Likely.

Saints DST

A ridiculously easy schedule to start the season allows drafters to keep the Saints defense until a Week 7 matchup against the Jaguars:

  • Week 1: vs. Titans (19.25 implied points)
  • Week 2: at Panthers (21)
  • Week 3: at Packers (21.75)
  • Week 4: vs. Buccaneers (17.75)
  • Week 5: at Patriots (22)
  • Week 6: at Texans (19)

Hell, even that game is in the Superdome — and then the team gets two more theoretically great matchups against the Colts and Bears before having a tough road trip to Minnesota and a Week 11 bye.

The league’s reigning ninth-ranked scoring defense managed to perform rather great in 2022 despite inconsistent offensive performance and injuries to high-priced secondary starters CB Marshon Lattimore (7 games played) and S Marcus Maye (10).

It’s not guaranteed the group simply keeps on keeping on after losing defensive linemen Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle and Kentavius Street in free agency; just realize the schedule Gods have done the Saints some SERIOUS early-season favors. The Saints deserve to be the first DST off the board after the 49ers and Eagles.

You can start loading up on Ian's “My Guys” this season on Underdog Fantasy, where you can also get a 100% deposit match of up to $100 when you sign up with promo code LIFE! Click below to sign up and start drafting today!

Ian's My Guys
Ian Hartitz
Ian Hartitz
Ian is a senior fantasy analyst at Fantasy Life and he truly believes every day is a great day to be great. He's spent time with Action Network, NBC Sports and Pro Football Focus over the years, writing and podcasting about all things fantasy football along the way. Ian's process relies on a mix of film analysis and data study; whatever is needed to get the job done (job done). There's no reason fun can't be had along the way — we do live on a rock floating around a ball of fire after all. Outside of football, Ian enjoys MMA, his dachshund Lilly and candles.