100 Questions: The Pressing Fantasy Football Issues Entering 2023
Remember Ask Jeeves? It was my favorite search engine, because I enjoyed performing my searches by typing an actual question. (I know nothing and assume it was a sad little rudimentary AI that just keyed in on certain words, but whatever.)
Anyway, I like to know the question before I get the answer. That’s true in life, and it’s true in fantasy football. Our quest to build a fantasy football roster is really our quest to find the answers, but how can you find the answers if you don’t know the questions?
Every year, I try to hone in on the 100 top questions for fantasy football and take my best stab at answering them. That’s 100 questions — three per team, plus four about the state of our game.
100 Questions for 2023 Fantasy Football
They key fantasy football questions around the league, asked and answered:
- Tuesday, July 18: AFC North
- Wednesday, July 19: NFC North
- Thursday, July 20: AFC South
- Friday, July 21: NFC South
- Saturday, July 22: AFC East
- Sunday, July 23: NFC East
- Monday, July 24: AFC West
- Tuesday, July 25: NFC West
The First Four Questions
Before I launch into the team-by-team look at the top questions, I want to use my first four questions on the overarching things worth wondering about for the 2023 season.
1. First Thing First — Who Is the 1.01 in 2023?
Our own Tyler Loechner covered this early in the offseason, but the universal question every fantasy season is who warrants the first overall pick. Generally speaking, over recent fantasy football history, the answer has been “a running back, duh.” To wit, a running back has been first overall in ADP each of the last six years and every year I can find ADP data for (back to 2007) except 2016, when Antonio Brown burst through to be the 1.01.
The reason for this is easy to divine: The bell cow-est of running backs score a lot. Among the top 50 PPR points totals among flex players since 2000, 37 are running backs (including the top six and 12 of the top 13) compared to 13 wide receivers:
All that said, the tide is shifting this year. By current ADP, not only is a receiver going first, but four of the top five players off the board are receivers, and we don’t get RB2 until seventh overall, RB3 until 10th. The top receivers are more predictable these days than the top running backs, who all have holes you can poke in their games and more and more find themselves in committee backfields.
And then of course there’s Travis Kelce, who performs like a wide receiver but does it at a much less productive position, meaning his performance is that much more valuable.
Somehow, Cooper Kupp has gotten underrated. I highlighted this in our Vikings Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions, but to reiterate — there are six non-QBs who have averaged at least 20 fantasy PPG over the last two seasons combined. Only two of them have topped 21. Kupp is over 24:
|PPR PPG Leaders, 2021-2022
(And that’s without cutting out the game where he got hurt last year. Without that, he’d have been at 25.5.)
Assuming Kupp and Matthew Stafford are healthy, there’s no reason to think Kupp won’t fly above a 30% target share in 2023, given the mediocre running game and sub-sub-sub-mediocre offensive line in Los Angeles and the now-awful defense.
I think the overall consensus that wide receivers should go first this year is a bit of a “the next hot thing” phenomenon — there aren’t really more holes in the games of, say, Christian McCaffrey or Austin Ekeler than there were in Jonathan Taylor last year or McCaffrey in 2020 or 2021, and it’s not like Josh Jacobs’ big 2022 has completely eradicated the mere concept of the RB dead zone. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to take McCaffrey or Ekeler (or Kelce, it’s just an entirely different needle to thread). But if you’re going with the popular course of action this year and taking wide receiver, then I think Cooper Kupp is the choice. Sorry, Justin Jefferson fans. He’s excellent! It’s just that, for fantasy, Kupp’s better.
2. Are We All In on Early-Round QB Now?
A year ago in this space, I wrote that, for many reasons, the late-round QB strategy had started to become less useful and encouraged drafters to move earlier on the position. That worked out well, with QB13 (the first non-starter in most leagues) putting up only 57.3% of the points of the QB1, the lowest percentage since 2011 and second-lowest since Tom Brady broke scoring in 2007. Last year’s QB1 was the highest-scoring QB1 of the last decade, last year’s QB2 was the highest-scoring QB2 of the last decade. Some of that can be credited to the extra game over the last two years, but still — things were good.
Last year’s QB3 and QB4 were third best of their cohort in the last decade, and QBs 5-12 were all between third and fifth. QB13 was the second lowest-scoring QB13 since 2013. You know how they say a rising tide lifts all boats? Well, that’s been true as far as ADP for quarterbacks (see below), but not for their scoring.
You see how the blue line really differentiates itself from its recent-year counterparts in the QB3-6 range? That’s my issue. The best QBs are better than ever, but the second-tier QBs are basically the same, and that has been where we’ve seen the most notable impact on drafts.
If you want to be the first, maybe second person in your draft to take a quarterback, knock yourself out. Generally speaking, that has worked out. But if you aren’t the first one to get in there — say, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes or Jalen Hurts, maybe Lamar Jackson — chill. There’s more difference between the QB13 and the QB1 than there has been in a long time. But there is not more difference between the QB13 and the QB5. In this instance, the rising tide has only lifted a few boats.
3. What Will We Be Talking About at This Time Next Year?
It’s great to answer questions that are before you. It’s so much harder answering them before they even come up, and if you can do that, you’re ahead of the game. So let’s give it a shot.
Maybe the biggest conversation around fantasy this year is how to handle Bijan Robinson. He’s a top-10 pick, one of the top RB prospects in a generation, on a run-first offense. On the other hand, he’s a rookie. We saw him in college. He’s never played an NFL snap. Can you really justify ranking someone that raw as RB3, RB4, RB5?
There’s nothing like Robinson in next year’s draft class (right now at least; things can change, but it seems unlikely Blake Corum suddenly becomes generational). But we do have one of the best wide receiver prospects I can remember heading toward the NFL. We’ll see what Marvin Harrison’s season looks like in Columbus this year, but absent him replacing his hands with steak knives and welding snowshoes to his feet, he’s going to be at least the highest-drafted receiver since Ja'Marr Chase in 2021, maybe since Calvin Johnson went second in 2007.
Clearly, a running back and a wide receiver bring different things to the table, and the positions call for different things out of a player. So whether Bijan Robinson succeeds or fails doesn’t really matter vis-a-vis Marvin Harrison. The argument about Robinson is whether he’s a top-five RB; the argument about Harrison will be about whether he’s … I don’t know, WR18 or something.
I’m not saying I know how Harrison will be as a rookie. (But he’ll be good.) I am saying that the conversations we’re having about Bijan Robinson right now? We’re going to be having the exact same ones in a year about a wide receiver.
4. What Could Still Change Between Now and the Season?
This question looms over this exercise more than it has in some time. There are a pair of huge names on the free-agent wire, and unlike some years, when the remaining free agents are guys who were at their best five, eight years earlier, this year we have Dalvin Cook out there waiting for a team (had DeAndre Hopkins too when I first wrote this, but Nuk just couldn't wait until I published this to sign; thanks man). Maybe Cook isn't the absolute peak version of himself, but he was just the RB11.
And that’s not all! Last year’s RB12 (Leonard Fournette) and RB22 (Ezekiel Elliott) are out there, as are Kareem Hunt and other big(-ish) names. Our Michael Dolan highlighted remaining free agents who could still offer fantasy value after the draft, and all still remain on the market.
Even absent free agents, though, we have:
- Suspensions: The only notable suspension looming (at least that I’m aware of) is Alvin Kamara’s. The Saints running back reached a plea deal earlier in July, which paves the way for the league discipline. Knowing his status will certainly affect his fantasy stock, as well as that of Jamaal Williams and Kendre Miller.
And of course that’s just what we know of. The league has hit several players with gambling suspensions this offseason; it only takes one frustratingly placed suspension to incite a fantasy panic.
- Trades: Last year a potential Jimmy Garoppolo trade loomed over the league right up until he completely wasn’t traded. It wasn’t that Garoppolo mattered that much in himself, but a competent quarterback can make a world of difference for his weapons. This year, there’s no obvious trade piece out there, but a trade piece doesn’t have to be obvious.
- Injuries: The big one, and the depressing one. Most years, we have at least one or two dramatic injuries in training camp/the preseason that shake up fantasy drafts. (Remember Jordy Nelson’s torn ACL? Remember when the Ravens lost anyone who had ever taken a handoff from Lamar Jackson in like a week’s time?) The most influential injuries last year actually happened in-season (think Javonte Williams, Breece Hall, Matthew Stafford), but it’s a safe (and sad) bet that someone we’re drafting highly right now will be lost for much or all of the season before Week 1 even starts.