100 Questions: Fantasy Football 2023 (AFC North)
(As we head toward training camp and the start of preseason, our own Daniel Kelley is asking — and attempting to answer — the most pressing questions around fantasy football for 2023. This is 100 Questions.)
Per DraftKings Sportsbook’s win total over/unders for 2023, the AFC North has (a) the highest team total (11.5, Bengals), the best team total for a last-place team (Steelers, 8.5) and the highest combined divisional projection (39, two ahead of the AFC East and AFC West). In other words, this division is projected to be really good in 2023.
The 2022 Ravens started 7-3, went 3-4 down the stretch, lost their only playoff game. The 2021 Ravens started 8-3, went 0-6 down the stretch, barely missed the playoffs. The reason behind it is pretty clear, but still …
5. What Is a Reasonable Lamar Jackson Expectation?
- Lamar Jackson’s ceiling is overall QB1, record-setting scorer
- Jackson’s floor is mid-tier QB2, especially with another injury
- Where on the slider do we place him?
I’ll give my answer in a small way by saying that I have pick 1.01 in my Scott Fish Bowl draft, and I took Jackson. I don’t expect Jackson to be the top scorer, necessarily, but I think he belongs more in the top tier than outside it. He has the best receiving corps of his career (by a lot), an offensive coordinator in Todd Monken who should let him light it up more, and if you think the contract issue played a factor in his extended absence last year … well, that’s resolved. Jackson is, for me, very clearly the QB4 — he’s behind Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen (in whatever order), but unquestionably above anyone QB5 or later.
6. How Should We Sort Out These Receivers?
- Rashod Bateman is a first-round talent who has flashed when healthy
- Zay Flowers is a first-round talent who is fresh and new
- Odell Beckham is the most talented of the group but is 30 and hasn’t played since his second ACL tear more than a year ago
- Also Nelson Agholor is here
Odell Beckham is someone I will draft essentially zero of. Two ACL tears, out a year and a half, 30, hasn’t scored more than 6 touchdowns since 2016. If you want to take him super late, have room to stash him and tell yourself you won’t start him before Week 4 at the earliest, go crazy, but it’s too many moving parts for me. Meanwhile, I love Rashod Bateman’s skills, but he missed most of last year with a foot injury (red flag) and has still been dealing with the foot at OTAs (redder flag). Too scary. Nelson Agholor is … present. If he does much for the Ravens this year, other things have gone wrong in Baltimore.
That’s over 100 words to get to “Zay Flowers is the Baltimore WR to target.” Give me Flowers, then Beckham, then Bateman, then Agholor, but there’s a bigger gap between Flowers and the rest for me than you’ll see in ADP.
7. So Is It Time for J.K. Dobbins’ Breakout?
- 5.9 yards per carry in his career (most in the league 2020-2022, RBs, min. 200 carries)
- Scored 9 times in 2020; his quarterback doesn’t rush at the goal line (11 attempts inside the 5 since 2020)
- Has played only 23 of a possible 50 career games
- Under 1.5 targets per game career
- Gus Edwards is still around
You have to be buying all the way in on Todd Monken forcing Lamar Jackson to throw to running backs more in 2023 by, like, a factor of 10 in order to believe J.K. Dobbins can finish in the RB1 range — the top 12 PPR backs last year averaged 73.5 targets, the top 24 averaged 60.3. The outliers (Jamaal Williams with 16 targets, Miles Sanders with 26) did so with massive touchdown equity. J.K. Dobbins absolutely could have that, but at his current ADP (RB19 in PPR), he has to, and you never want to draft a player where he has to hit his ceiling.
The key to football, apparently, is drafting a quarterback first overall, then having him get hurt as a rookie so you’re bad again and can pick a great receiver early the next year. I’m not saying I recommend every team try it, but the Bengals sure took advantage of the method.
8. Do We Draft Joe Mixon as a (Relatively) Sure Thing?
- PPR RB13 or better in four of last five years (including RB4 in 2021); RB15 in current ADP
- Career high in targets (75), receptions (60), receiving yards (441) in 2022, but under 4.0 yards per carry (3.9) and lowest rush yards per game since rookie season
- The rest of the Bengals backfield (Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans, rookies Chase Brown, Calvin Tyler, Jacob Saylors) have a combined 90 NFL touches for 568 yards and 1 touchdown
- Turns 27 in July and has dealt with legal issues
- Was a rumored offseason cut but recently agreed to a contract restructure
My answer to this changed completely Friday last week, because while Joe Mixon was hanging around on his old contract, a release and either signing a veteran or patching it together with the backups seemed plausible. Now? It’s hard to imagine anything other than him getting a massive workload in what will certainly be his final year in Cincinnati. It won’t be efficient or pretty, but at RB15, he’ll be more than fine.
9. Is There Still Room for Tyler Boyd Here?
- Lowest yardage total since 2017 in 2022 (762), targets and receptions similarly low
- Career-high 9.9-yard aDOT but career-low 1.36 yards per route run
- Per the FTN Fantasy splits tool, actually saw his PPR point total go down when Ja'Marr Chase and/or Tee Higgins has missed time the last two years:
If we’re talking WR handcuffs, there isn’t really a better option than Boyd — I see the screenshot above just like you do, but if Higgins or Chase were to have an extended absence, I still believe he’d be a solid WR3 with upside. But at this point in his career, that’s all you’re drafting Boyd for. Since the team is passing it to him deeper and he’s not tallying up the short receptions, his PPR value is lower than it used to be, so the days of getting him for a solid 10-ish PPR points at the back of your lineup are over.
10. Is It at Long Last Irv Smith SZN?
- C.J. Uzomah had his best year with the Bengals in 2021; Hayden Hurst had his second best with the Bengals in 2022
- Irv Smith was a combine star (4.63 40 time) and second-rounder but Kyle Rudolph, T.J. Hockenson and injuries kept him from producing in Minnesota
- The TE depth chart behind Smith in Cincinnati is pretty barren
You probably aren’t drafting someone with an ADP after TE15 or so, but if you are … Irv Smith is the guy. You saw in the previous question that Tyler Boyd’s work — especially his short work — has fallen lately, and a big part of that is more targets to tight ends. Smith is better than Uzomah or Hurst. I’m not taking him as my starter, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Irv Smith sneak into TE1 territory.
The Browns are one of only two teams that haven’t won a division title since 2002 realignment (the Lions are the other). Despite making the AFC Divisional Round in the 2020 season, they haven’t even finished as high as second in the AFC North since 2007, if you can believe it. It’s been rough.
11. Is Jerome Ford the Handcuff RB of Our Dreams?
- Nick Chubb has been RB13 or better for four straight years (Aaron Jones is the only other back on such a streak) even without a huge receiving role
- Kareem Hunt (574 touches the last four years) and D'Ernest Johnson (172) are gone now
- Jerome Ford had over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in his final college season but barely saw the field as a rookie
We’ve gone a little overboard in hyping how valuable a role the RB2 in Cleveland can be. Other than 2020 (Kareem Hunt RB12, Nick Chubb RB13), the Browns’ No. 2 back in the Chubb era hasn’t topped Hunt’s 126.8 PPR points last year, barely a top-40 total. Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson combined for 214.1 in 2021, but you’re playing fast and loose if you’re combining points like that. Ford is near the top of our handcuff rankings, and if you are drafting a stash in case Chubb goes down, sure, there’s plenty of upside there. But if you are hoping to get standalone value … move on.
12. Sooo… Deshaun Watson Bounceback?
- Six games in the last two seasons, and legitimately bad in those six games (51.6 PFF passing grade last year, 46th of 48 QBs with at least 100 dropbacks)
- One of the best quarterbacks in the league before that (third in passing grade in 2020)
- Team bolstered receiving corps with Elijah Moore and Cedric Tillman and has expressed a desire to pass more
The question of how to approach Deshaun Watson in drafts is a game-theory one: He’s QB9 by ADP right now, between Trevor Lawrence and Dak Prescott. If you draft either of those guys, you can ignore quarterback otherwise, because they are relatively known quantities. They might get hurt, but they aren’t likely to just crash and burn. Watson? He (arguably) has a higher ceiling, but if I’m drafting Watson, I can’t make that my only quarterback. So a Watson pick is a commitment to using another pick on quarterback. On shallow rosters, that’s a tough sell. Deep league? Sure, take a shot.
13. Can David Njoku Break the 4-TD Barrier?
- Six years in the league, no more than 4 TDs in a year
- PPR TE11 last year (TE9 in 2018), currently TE10 by ADP
Obviously predicting how many TDs a guy will get is guesswork, but it’s not a good sign that David Njoku is 27 now, entering his seventh season, and he’s never shown to be a reliable end-zone weapon. Add in that the best a tight end has ever fared with Deshaun Watson as his quarterback is Darren Fells’ TE17 in 2019, and I’m fading Njoku.
The fact that the Steelers started 2-6 and still managed to squeak over .500 and keep their “no losing seasons” streak alive is kind of remarkable.
14. Diontae Johnson Has to Score a TD … Right?
- 0 TD in 2022 on 147 targets after 8, 7 and 5 the previous three seasons
- Not just the record for most targets without a TD (since 1992), obliterated the record (Michael Timpson, 1996, 109 targets)
Obviously the question is a proxy for Diontae Johnson’s overall fantasy stock. I am not at all convinced Johnson is an overall great receiver (as opposed to a great target-getter, which is an important trait but not an all-important one), but he finished as WR28 last year with zero touchdowns and he’s available at WR33 now. That’s absurd. Move him up.
15. Kenny Pickett Has to Throw More than One TD in a Game … Right?
- Played 13 games in 2022, never had multiple TD passes in a game (had two different 3-INT games)
- Under 200 passing yards in nine of 13 games, highest single-game passer rating was 90.9
Well, yes, he’ll throw more than one touchdown in a game in 2023, at least once or twice. The problem is that people are extrapolating a lot from Kenny Pickett having a couple of good drives late in games to mean he’s set for an explosion in 2023. But in the aggregate, he was not a very good quarterback last year. He didn’t even run that much (20 or fewer yards in 10 of 13 games). Don’t buy on a breakout until you see it.
16. Is Najee Harris Just a Volume King? And Will Jaylen Warren Hurt That?
- Most carries over the last two years combined at 579, just ahead of Derrick Henry’s 568 and Josh Jacobs’ 557.
- Only five of the top 40 in carries 2021-2022 are under 4.0 yards per attempt — Najee Harris, Alvin Kamara, David Montgomery, Antonio Gibson, Sony Michel
- Jaylen Warren averaged 4.9 YPA on 77 carries as an undrafted rookie in 2022
Mike Tomlin’s been the Steelers coach since 2007. Barring “starter got hurt so we had to use the backup,” he hasn’t had multiple backs top 100 carries in a season since 2012, and only over 110 carries once (2008). Short answer: Unless you think Jaylen Warren is literally going to overtake Najee Harris as the starter (and I don’t), then Warren isn’t really that much of a threat to Harris’ fantasy production.