7TH OVERALL: RB, SAQUON BARKLEY (NEW YORK GIANTS)
Prior to 2022, many doubted that Saquon Barkley could return to the form that we saw during his rookie season. Barkley proved every doubter wrong last season, finishing as the RB6 overall and RB5 in points per game. He was the featured weapon in the Giants’ offense, accounting for over 1,600 total yards and 10 touchdowns. There is no doubt that Barkley is one of the league’s best ball carriers and should be one of the first running backs off the board this year.
Barkley is a rare breed in the modern NFL. He is one of the very few workhorse running backs in the league. Barkley received an 80 percent snap share, the highest of any running back. Barkley is able to stay on the field due to his ability to run the ball efficiently, pass protect, and turn check downs into chunk plays. In the era of running back by committee, Barkley has found a way to stay on the field for nearly every play, allowing him to rack up fantasy points.
The primary thing that held Barkley back from an even more explosive 2022 was the overall quality of the Giants’ offense. New York’s three leading receivers were Darius Slayton, Richie James, and Isaiah Hodgins. None of these players eclipsed 750 yards. On top of this, the Giants’ offensive line was one of the league’s worst. Regardless, Barkley was able to find success by ranking fourth in yards after contact and sixth in evaded tackles. Barkley truly had to put the team on his back for this offense to succeed.
Fortunately for Barkley, the 2023 New York offense will feature Darren Waller, Parris Campbell, Jalin Hyatt, Sterling Shepherd, and the previously mentioned names besides Richie James. With more talented pass catchers within the offense, I believe the field will open up for Barkley, he will face fewer stacked boxes, and there will be more opportunities to score. If this offense can take a step forward, RB1 is well within Barkley’s range of outcomes.
8TH OVERALL: WR, COOPER KUPP (LA RAMS)
Cooper Kupp is the (half) PPR king and there’s no debate. In 2021, Kupp set the fantasy world on fire. He caught 145 passes for nearly 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was the fantasy MVP of 2021 and it wasn’t even close. In 2022, Kupp showed no signs of slowing down until he was injured in Week 10. Just look at what he was doing through his first eight games:
Kupp was pacing to absolutely dominate fantasy football once again. I believe Kupp is capable of doing this once again. There is only one thing holding him back: injuries. In November of last year, Kupp underwent surgery to repair a severe ankle sprain. Kupp is now 30 years old which creates concern for whether or not he could return to full form. On top of his own injury, his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, has been dealing with a slew of injuries. These injuries include concussions, a spinal cord bruise, and an elbow that never seemed to fully recover following surgery before last season. While both players could return to 2021 form, both are getting older and these injuries are a legitimate cause for concern.
9TH OVERALL: RB, BIJAN ROBINSON (ATLANTA FALCONS)
While I may be a bit more cautious with Bijan Robinson than others, I think he is still worthy of a first-round pick. In his final season at Texas, Robinson proved that he could truly do it all. Bijan racked up nearly 1,900 total yards (6.8 yards per touch) and found the endzone 20 times. Not to mention the fact that Robinson was PFF’s second-highest-graded RB in all of college football.
Throughout his time in college, Robinson proved that he has the ability to be a three-down back. He displayed raw power but also the balance and quickness to make defenders miss:
What’s exciting about Robinson’s outlook this season is the role he will play in the Falcons’ offense. All reports coming out of minicamp and OTAs are glowing. The expectation is that Robinson will be lining up all over the field and doing everything for the Falcons’ offense. Robinson proved in college that he has the skill set to produce at any level. If he can keep Tyler Allgeier off the field and find a large snap share, Bijan could have a rookie season as Barkley did in 2018.
10TH OVERALL: WR, STEFON DIGGS (BUFFALO BILLS)
It’s safe to say that the arrival of Stefon Diggs was a major contributor to the turnaround in Buffalo. He has been nothing short of exceptional in his three seasons with the Bills. In 2022, Diggs finished as the WR4, scoring 15.7 points per game.
While many expected that Gabe Davis would have a breakout season and take away from Diggs, this was simply not the case. Diggs proved he is still the top dog, finishing with 1,429 yards and 11 TDs. He did this on the back of high volume and elite efficiency, finishing the year with 155 targets (5th) and 2.87 yards per route run (3rd).
Another interesting aspect to Diggs’ 2022 season has to do with his quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen suffered a partial tear in his throwing elbow in Week 9. Diggs’ fantasy production took a serious hit following this injury.
Prior to Allen’s injury, Diggs was putting up Cooper Kupp-level numbers. While I don’t think these numbers are sustainable for Diggs across a full season, they certainly create some intrigue. With a fully healthy Allen returning in 2023, it will be exciting to see what they can do together.
11TH OVERALL: RB, JONATHAN TAYLOR (INDIANAPOLIS COLTS)
After being the near consensus first-overall pick in 2022, Jonathan Taylor was nothing short of a disappointment. Taylor finished as just the RB34 overall, averaging 11 fantasy points per game. Taylor’s overall fantasy performance slipped, and so did his overall effectiveness. Taylor averaged 4.6 yards per touch (37th), ranked 27th in juke rate, and 40th in yards after contact per attempt. In 2021, he was among the league’s best for these metrics.
Much of this decline can be attributed to a high ankle sprain that Taylor suffered in Week 4. Following this injury, Taylor never truly looked the same. With a full offseason to recover, the hope is that Taylor will look like his former, dominant self.
Over the offseason, the Colts added Florida product Anthony Richardson. Richardson is a freak athlete who is capable of escaping the pocket to create big plays. Richardson’s ability to run will certainly take away volume from Taylor, especially at the goal line. Still, Taylor will remain the featured weapon of this offense and the team will provide him with ample opportunity.
12TH OVERALL: WR, CEEDEE LAMB (DALLAS COWBOYS)
Before last season, many pegged CeeDee Lamb as a player primed to break out. And, he absolutely delivered. Lamb scored 248 fantasy points and finished as the WR6. Lamb benefitted from being the alpha in one of the league’s most potent offenses. Dallas scored 27.5 points per game, the fourth-best in the league. Lamb was able to turn this into nine touchdowns. On top of this, Lamb accounted for just over 36 percent of the Cowboy’s offense through the air.
Lamb has all you want in a fantasy WR. He receives plenty of looks (4th in targets), he finds the endzone, he’s efficient (6th in yards per route run and 9th in yards after the catch), and he’s overall a phenomenal athlete. Barring an injury, Lamb is a surefire fantasy stud who will certainly return on investment. The only reason Lamb should not go before some of these other receivers is that he has a lower overall ceiling than those listed ahead of him.
OTHER PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Over the course of the offseason, news comes in, and player outlooks change. Here are some players that may have jumps in their ADP and could be first-round picks: Josh Jacobs, AJ Brown, Davante Adams, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, Jaylen Waddle, Breece Hall, Rhamondre Stevenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Garrett Wilson