Once you draft your workhorses and target hogs at the top of your 2023 fantasy football draft, it’s critical to dominate the mid-rounds and late-rounds by identifying these high-upside players. Winning these rounds is crucial to fantasy success, and it’s no different in 2023.
Who is your favorite mid-round QB breakout candidate? (i.e. Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence)
The Justin Herbert-Kellen Moore combo could blow up fantasy in 2023. When Dak was healthy, the Cowboys ranked:
1st, 1st, 1st, and 6th in points per game
5th, 1st, 1st, 1st in Yards per game 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th in pace
1st, 2nd, 1st, 6th in total plays
Dak rode this bonanza to QB3, QB1, and QB6 finishes while averaging 24, 32! and 24 FPPG before last year when McCarthy interfered and stalled the offense. Herbert is 10x the talent and now has Quentin Johnston added to an already impressive arsenal. I think he could threaten Peyton Manning’s single-season passing record this year.
Justin Herbert is primed for positive regression in multiple areas this season. Last season, he ran for only 147 yards and no touchdowns after putting up 302 yards and three scores the year before. The rushing production drop was likely due to a lingering rib injury, and it cost him about 2 points per game compared to 2021. Herbert also had a career-low 3.6 passing TD%, well below his 5.2% and 5.7% rates in his first two years, respectively. Better health and touchdown luck should increase Herbert’s fantasy numbers significantly compared to last year.
Justin Herbert — Things might not click right away with OC Kellen Moore, but if/when it does, this aerial attack could be special. I’ll take the gamble that it could happen as early as halfway through this season, and I believe that Herbert has the potential to outproduce Dak Prescott during Dak and Kellen’s offensive peak 2-3 years ago.
Justin Herbert is already a beast and one of the most talented throwers in the league. He’s got an insane cast of skill players around him and added even more with Quentin Johnston. The biggest addition, however, is Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator. He’ll open up this offense and take Herbert to the peak of his potential.
Trevor Lawrence has been my MVP pick since the end of last season. His progression has gone very similar to many top QBs. I expect his fantasy points to follow and him to finish at a similar level to Burrow and Herbert at a cheaper price in the draft.
Who is your favorite mid-round RB breakout candidate? (i.e. JK Dobbins, Mattison, Pierce, J. Cook, Walker, Javonte, etc)
After playing every snap with the starters this preseason, including 3rd-and-longs (something he did only 3% of the time last year), Dameon Pierce looks locked into a true 3-down role. He should also benefit from the 49ers-inspired zone scheme and gaps that it creates. A slight step forward as a whole offense under CJ Stroud will also boost Pierce’s TD opportunities. He could be in for a mammoth season that sees him going in Round 2+ next year.
I like Rachaad White’s chances of breaking out in PPR formats. He put up an insane 18.9% target share in his final year of college. Then, White had a 71.6 PFF receiving grade as an NFL rookie, 12th among all running backs, as he caught 50 passes in a part-time role last year. Targets are almost three times as valuable as carries in full-PPR, and White should step into a ton of targets this year.
I have to wonder what kind of hype JK Dobbins would be getting had he participated in the preseason. As a result, projecting his usage in new OC Todd Monken’s scheme is an enigma. The last time we saw a healthy JK, after he shook off the rookie rust, was the last part of 2020, when he got 12.83 carries-per-game, goal line work over Gus Edwards, and next to no receiving role. All those things could go up under Monken; if so, we’re talking about RB1 territory.
Last year, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley were great examples of not writing guys off due to injury history, and why we shouldn’t write off Dobbins in 2023.
In terms of a breakout, I think Antonio Gibson will have a nice re-breakout. He had a rough year in 2022 after posting two top RB13 seasons to begin his career. This guy used to be going in the third or fourth round, but now he’s living around the 7th. I love his receiving ability and upside, and I think the addition of Eric Bieniemy can open up this Washington offense and use an extremely talented playmaker.
James Cook might finally get his chance this year. At his ADP, I see him being one of the biggest steals in the draft, especially if you are running a Zero-RB strategy. He will take control of a backfield in a high-power offense– what else could you ask for? I love picking my man Jim Cook.
Who is your favorite mid-round WR breakout candidate? (i.e. Dotson, London, Diontae, Aiyuk, Watson, etc)
Sheesh, there are so many options. I saw Jahan Dotson was getting his appropriate praise in earlier replies, so I’ll pivot to Christian Watson. Despite ranking 67th in targets, Watson finished 4th in receiving TDs. He was among the league leaders in FPs per opp, one of the stickier signs of a breakout. And… I think Jordan Love may be an UPGRADE! No, not from a talent perspective, but from a floor-boosting one. Aaron Rodgers would often freeze rookies out, Watson included, if they made a simple error — look no further than Watson’s Week 10-13 stretch as THE WR3 (four straight Top-10 Weeks), and then frozen out because of a miscommunication to close 2022. LaFleur has talked about expanding Watson’s route tree as well this offseason. When targeting breakouts, go for the highest-end playmakers. That’s Watson, 100%.
I will always bet on receivers with elite target-earning ability, so I am all-in on Diontae Johnson this season. I don’t expect Kenny Pickett to be the best QB in the NFL like he was in preseason, but he should throw more touchdowns and sustain more drives than last year. Johnson finished as the WR10 in Expected Fantasy Points per game (XFP) last season, and I expect both the volume and efficiency numbers to increase in what should be a better offense this season.
The fantasy community has drooled over Brandon Aiyuk’s talent since day 1. Still, it hasn’t culminated into fantasy dominance, and that could be nothing more than the Shanahan offensive scheme not being catered to wide receivers. However, for the receivers in this question, Aiyuk edges Diontae Johnson for the highest floor, and though I wouldn’t want him to be my WR1, I’ll leave the door open that the talent is capable of winning out and worth betting on as my WR2 in the mid-rounds.
I’ve never seen a better “positive regression” candidate than Diontae Johnson, who finished the year with ZERO touchdowns. You can’t go any lower than that while still garnering 140+ targets for an improving quarterback. I think Pickett’s improvement this year will be the main reason we see Johnson start to put up WR1-like numbers again. The entire Steelers offense is being slept on.
Jahan Dotson will outperform Terry McLaurin this year. He ended last season on a tear, and with McLaurin taking away attention and an expected leap from Sam Howell, I think he’s great at his ADP.
Who is your favorite mid-round TE breakout candidate? (i.e. Hock, Waller, Kittle, Goedert)
There’s nothing like calling a Top-3 TE for five straight seasons a breakout! BUT, what’s very impressive is George Kittle achieved those totals despite never topping 6 TDs… until Brock Purdy. Without Purdy, Kittle was on pace for 65 rec (92 tgts), 802 yds, and 7 TDs– 10.9 FPPG. He had a few spikes regardless of his QB, but was very boom-or-bust.
Enter Purdy, who immediately targeted his monster TE regularly, especially in the Red Zone. Kittle’s splits leaped up to 75 rec (109 tgts), 996 yds, and a whopping 24 TDs – or 18.66 FPPG. A whopping +8 FP jump! Yes, I know the 24 TDs are unsustainable. Still, Kittle has routinely professed his love for Purdy and their deep connection. He only had 1 dud under Purdy’s watch, 6.8 FPs in Week 14 when they blew out the Bucs and took the air out of the ball early. Other than that, Kittle posted 25.3, 30, 12.3, and 18.9 FPs, with the first two his highest scores of the year. It’s not like a 6’5″ athletic freak SHOULDN’T be scoring more TDs. Kittle’s finally got the right rapport…. and his lowest price tag yet.
Darren Waller has an opportunity to command a massive target share in the Giants’ offense with no real competition around him. Health is a question mark, but you should chase ceiling rather than floor in fantasy. Outside of Kelce and Andrews, no other TE projects to be their team’s top option in the passing game.
A healthy Darren Waller can return to 2019-2020 form. I believe Brian Daboll will be able to utilize him optimally, and out of this TE group, Waller has the best shot to lead his team in targets.
Darren Waller is “my guy” this year that I want to leave every draft with. He’s extremely talented in an up-and-coming offense that lacks a true weapon at receiver. Waller will be Option A, B, and C in this passing game. I know Danny Dimes will feed this guy like you wouldn’t believe.
T.J. Hockenson may play on a team with many great pass-catchers, but he was a reception hog in Minnesota last season. In a PPR format, I love his value. An underrated part of his value this year comes with the loss of Dalvin Cook, who was a big check-down option. Mattison is not nearly as good of a receiving threat as Cook was, meaning many of those check-downs could end up in T.J’s big, safe hands.
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