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Fantasy Football Lessons Learned From The 2023 Season

Sam LaPorta - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Fantasy football season has come and gone. We spend so much time preparing for the season and once it ends, so many people turn the page. Whether it be to NFL playoffs, fantasy baseball, or already planning for the next fantasy football season. I get it, we always are chasing what’s next. 

What good is planning if you are not first looking back to see what can be learned from this past season? To put it into sports terms, a team would not move on to their next game without watching the tape. While fantasy players do not have film, they could go back and watch (if you do, keep that to yourself), and we do have draft boards, strategies, ADP, and a whole bunch of yearly narratives we can reassess.

That is exactly what I came here to do! It's one of my favorite articles to write each year. Here are the takeaways from the 2023 fantasy football season.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:

Target Players on Good Offenses

This one may sound simple, but it works. To put it in simple terms, better offenses produce more yards and touchdowns. That gives a player on these teams a higher chance to rack up yards and score touchdowns. Even if they have to share with another talented player. To quote from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank, “Would you rather own 100 percent of a grape or 10 percent of a watermelon?”

Often there is a fear of taking a player with other talented players around them because there are “too many mouths to feed.” But, on the flip side, that lone talent on a not-so-great offense has to deal with extra defensive attention and has to have a higher percentage of the yards and touchdowns to make up for the lack of production in his offense.

Just look over the leader board at every position. Sure, there are some outliers like Breece Hall on the Jets and D.J. Moore on the Bears. Many of the fantasy leaders played for offenses like the Bills, Eagles, Cowboys, Ravens, 49ers, Dolphins, and Rams.

There were breakout offenses such as the Texans and Browns, which could be hard to predict. I am not saying to completely ignore the other offenses as they have talented players who will see lots of volume, but we usually can identify those players. If you are ever debating between two closely ranked players, go with the one whose offense you believe will be able to move the ball more consistently. 

 

Play-Callers Matter a Ton

As stated above, you want to target good offenses, but sometimes those offenses come out of nowhere. Think about the Houston Texans or Green Bay Packers. It would have been difficult to envision those offenses being this good back in August. Still, it goes to show how important offensive coordinators and play-callers are for fantasy football purposes. The Texans were this year's breakout, last year was the Miami Dolphins. So maybe the lesson is to target players on offenses led by play-callers who have worked with Kyle Shanahan. 

There are certain play-callers we know we can trust and some we know we cannot. One huge mistake that the fantasy community made this season was overlooking Sean McVay and his playmakers. Outside of Cooper Kupp, there were not many big names or even proven commodities. But McVay, for all but one year, has shown us he can elevate his players. Not only that, but he will force-feed his RB1 and we know Matthew Stafford is a wide receiver's best friend. Targeting players on offenses where we know we can trust the play-caller -- especially if there is not much change, is still a brilliant strategy.

Want to know what is not smart? Expecting play-callers to change. For instance, I and many others thought that Arthur Smith wouldn’t go full Arthur Smith again. “There is no way they drafted Bijan Robinson eighth overall to not give him all the volume,” was said often last summer. Except, Smith has shown us he will ignore high-end draft picks for whatever reason. It is not a mistake, with Smith, and other unfavorable play-callers, I plan on making it again in the future. 

 

Injury Prone is a Lie

If you have followed me for a bit, you know this is a strong stance of mine. My argument continues to be if a player is injury-prone until they are not. Then all the term injury-prone does is point out players that have missed time in the past. It is a reactive term and not one that helps predict future outcomes. 

For example, Christian McCaffrey was once labeled injury-prone after he missed time due to an ankle, a shoulder, and a hamstring. Last I checked, none of those injuries are related. Keenan Allen was once labeled injury-prone because he tore his ACL and then his spleen ruptured in back-to-back seasons. But Justin Jefferson had never missed a game to injury before 2023. How did that work out?

The truth of the matter is football is a violent game. All players are at a heightened injury risk. All it takes is one play and that is just the unfortunate truth in this game. Now I am not saying there are never times to avoid injuries. For example, if a player suffered an injury late in the season that could impact his early-season availability, avoid paying up for them. If a player has a history of suffering the same injury (Christian Watson and his hamstring injury), then you can avoid them or lower them on your board. Or if a player is coming off a major injury and there are concerns if they can return to their pre-injury form (that could have warned us of Tony Pollard). 

Context always matters and the term injury-prone just puts all injuries in a vacuum. It is my least favorite term in fantasy but it can lead to getting players at a discount. 

 

Rushing QBs Remain the Kings

Speaking of injury prone being a lie, there is a narrative that rushing QBs are at a heightened injury risk. This season proved that to be extremely false. The QBs left standing were the mobile ones who could protect themselves by avoiding pressure; meanwhile, the pocket passers dropped like flies. That is not the only reason to draft rushing QBs. 

The top three QBs in fantasy PPG? Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, and Lamar Jackson -- the three best dual-threat QBs in the NFL. Of the top 10 fantasy QBs in total points last season, only Jared Goff ran for less than 140 yards. To finish as a top-five fantasy QB, you needed at least 240 rushing yards. The top two each ran for 500-plus yards and 15 touchdowns. 

In most leagues, you get four fantasy points for a passing touchdown and six for a rushing one. Plus, 10 rushing yards is equivalent to 25 passing yards. Rushing ability raises both the fantasy floor and ceiling. A QB who can put up big numbers as both a passer and runner is almost a cheat code. Allen, Hurts and Jackson gave fantasy managers a huge edge at the QB position. 

For a QB to finish as the QB1 without much rushing upside, they need to be able to put up video game numbers. This means it's pretty much just Patrick Mahomes and even he has a lower percent chance of finishing as the QB1 overall because he cannot match what some others do with their legs. Rushing QBs continue to be king in fantasy football. 

 

Target Rookie Receivers 

Puka Nacua just had the greatest rookie receiver fantasy season ever. Jordan Addison was a very reliable WR2, which is what Jayden Reed developed into in the second half of the season. Zay Flowers and Rashee Rice were startable for much of the year and came to life late, surely helping people win championships. And that is exactly what Tank Dell was going to do before he was injured. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was solid, but limited opportunity held him back a bit. Quentin Johnston wasn’t very good. 

Still, that is a highly productive fantasy rookie class. This is funny because all the talk in last year's draft was that it was a down year at the receiver position. Rookie receivers have been making larger and larger impacts for a while now and this year's NFL Draft receiver class is loaded with talent.

While you may have to pay up for the premier names like Marvin Harrison Jr., you likely will not have to pay the ceiling price. Those rookies that go in later rounds of fantasy drafts are worth a shot. View them like lottery tickets and those that hit can change your season. 

 

Rookie TEs Can’t Produce is No Longer True

Speaking of targeting young players, do not shy away from drafting young tight ends. There is always talk that rookie tight ends take time before they become productive for fantasy purposes. For a long time that was true, but this is not the case in the current NFL. 

Sam LaPorta just scored the most fantasy points ever by a rookie tight end. He is behind only Mike Ditka for most fantasy PPG ever by a rookie tight end. He is not alone. Kyle Pitts’ rookie season was the fifth-most ever. Dalton Kincaid scored the 12th- most fantasy points ever for a rookie tight end. Since 2017, we have seen five of the top 12 fantasy seasons by a rookie tight end. 

Coming into the season, I ranked both LaPorta and Kincaid in my top-11 tight ends. I did so because both were drafted highly in the NFL Draft to good offenses and both had a path to playing time. If there are rookies like that next season (cough Brock Bowers cough), do not hesitate to draft them.

Make sure to follow Michael on X, @MichaelFFlorio.



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