The 2023 fantasy football season is wrapping up. Some of you are super focused on this year’s fantasy playoffs and which defense you should stash for a deep playoff run. Others are, unfortunately, on the outside of the playoff picture and are already itching to get into your first 2024 best ball draft.
If you’re a degenerate like me and love to strategize for the next season — I got you! Obviously, many things will change between now and the end of this season. Even more will change in free agency and the draft. However, there’s never any harm in taking an early look ahead.
TIER 1: FANTASY CHEAT CODE
1.01: CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
As a general rule, you should be focusing on future expectations rather than the previous year’s numbers. A common mistake is that everyone assumes last year will translate to the same this year, which just doesn’t work. If it were just as easy as cutting and pasting the previous year’s top 12, then we wouldn’t need to prep.
That said, I think Christian McCaffrey has to be the first pick in drafts next year based on his performance in San Francisco. Some wide receivers would make sense here, too, but running back has turned into a wasteland, and McCaffrey is head and shoulders above the rest.
The same concerns that have always existed for McCaffrey still do. He’s an injury risk and kind of always has been. However, he’s been mostly healthy and available this season, so we have to consider that he may just stay upright. Otherwise, he’s the heart of the San Fran offense, and there’s no reason to expect he can’t do it again for another year next year.
TIER 2: CAN’T MISS, ALPHA-WR1s
1.02: JA’MARR CHASE, WR CINCINNATI BENGALS
This is the first of eight straight receivers in my first round. Realistically, the separation at tight end is no longer worth a first-round pick, with Travis Kelce looking like he’s on the back end of his career. As established with CMC, the RB position is also a one-man race right now. Wide receiver is the only logical place to plant your first-round flag for most picks.
You can make a solid case for any of 1.02 through 1.05 being taken in any order based on personal preference. I’m leaning Ja’Marr Chase with 1.02 for a couple of reasons:
- I think Joe Burrow is a stud, and this was just a lost season with all of the health issues.
- The Bengals will have to make decisions, but it is very likely that at least one (or both) of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will not be on this team next year.
- The Bengals could end up being last in their division this year, giving them a more manageable schedule next year.
I think the career year is still coming for Chase, hopefully, it’s 2024!
1.03: TYREEK HILL, WR MIAMI DOLPHINS
This is the early pick that I have the most trepidation about. Tyreek Hill is obviously a freak. The system in Miami is also great for highlighting his abilities. He will easily end up being the most valuable fantasy WR this season. That’s what scares me.
Every year, a guy pops off then everyone expects them to repeat it the next year. Almost without exception, they never do. Tyreek Hill is having a record-breaking season this year. Some fantasy managers will absolutely take him at the 1.01 next year. However, what are the odds that he will repeat this season again?
As a general rule, record-breaking seasons are usually followed up with big drop-offs. It makes sense, there’s really only one way to go after you’ve hit the top. My endorsement of Hill at 1.03 is based on the fact that he has freakish talent and that he can drop off from his current level and still be super valuable. The guys after him have some question marks, too. Still, I caution to expect a reduction in numbers from this year.
1.04: JUSTIN JEFFERSON, WR MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Many would say it has been a terrible year to roster Justin Jefferson, but I think it depends on your perspective. When healthy, Jefferson has been every bit of the top WR we hoped he would be. However, he obviously just missed a big chunk of the season due to injury. I don’t necessarily think his injury changes his outlook for next year in any way. He’s still arguably the most talented WR in the league.
The only reason I have Jefferson at No. 4 instead of No. 1 or No. 2 is the uncertainty at QB for the Vikings. It’s possible that Kirk Cousins returns. It’s also possible that Cousins has already played his last snap for the team. The Vikings do not have a QB on their roster (if Cousins leaves) that would support Jefferson being the top pick in the draft, as he was in many leagues this year. Joshua Dobbs is a fine backup, but that’s what he is — a backup. Backup-level QBs don’t generally lead to career years for their wide receivers, even if the receiver is as talented as Jefferson.
His stock will rise above this spot if the Vikings bring back Cousins.
TIER 3: CONSISTENT ALPHA-WR1s
1.05: CEEDEE LAMB, WR DALLAS COWBOYS
In my opinion, this is the start of the next tier of receivers. Much like with 1.02 through 1.04, you can make a case for any of 1.05 through 1.09 being interchangeable. I think CeeDee Lamb offers the best chance for consistent, limited-risk production, so he’s my pick for No. 5.
Lamb is currently on a huge heater, but about five weeks ago he was having a solid but unspectacular year. There’s obviously high-end talent here and he’s Dak Prescott’s top weapon, but he has been prone to not maximizing his skills in past years. If his recent explosion is real, then 1.05 will end up being too low, but I have to hedge in case he proves inconsistent again.
I also think Dallas will bring in a running back to pair with Tony Pollard, which may cut down on the passing attempts somewhat next year. Lamb is an excellent play in the middle of Round 1 with some upside but also a lower possible floor than the guys before him.
1.06: AJ BROWN, WR PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
As a guy who grew up watching He-Man, I admit I have a certain “type” regarding my vision of what a warrior and a man should be. AJ Brown is a grown-ass man. It’s 2023, men do not have to be muscle bound badasses in order to be “real men” anymore. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t still respect the man’s hustle when we see it.
I love AJ Brown, if I was picking just based on my personal fandom, AJ Brown would probably be my No. 1 receiver. That being said, he plays in Philly, where there are some obstacles to his fantasy value:
- DeVonta Smith is also a really good football player (and the direct opposite in terms of physique).
- Jalen Hurts runs in touchdowns, which limits some of the scoring through the air.
- The overall team benefits from extending drives based on using the “Brotherly Shove” which there are rumblings of banning before next year.
Obviously, I still think Brown is a stud. He wouldn’t be at 1.06 for me if he wasn’t a stud. However, there are fewer targets to go around for Brown than for the other guys I chose above him, and a realistic possibility that the Eagles step back a little offensively next year. Still, no hesitations on my end to grab Brown.
1.07: AMON-RA ST. BROWN, WR DETROIT LIONS
Amon-Ra St. Brown has had a great year. This was mostly expected when he was being taken towards the back end of the first round/early part of the second round in 2023 drafts. The big thing for Amon-Ra has been the consistency. Few receivers have consistently put up the numbers that he has every single week.
There’s no real reason why The Sun God can’t continue this level of production. The one knock on him in the past has been health and pedigree (he wasn’t an overly hyped player coming into the NFL draft). I think by now, we can say that the pedigree questions are put to rest. This kid is a great player. I do think health is always going to be a bit of a concern but, he’s shown enough toughness this year that I’d still back him as a first-round pick next year.
1.08: STEFON DIGGS, WR BUFFALO BILLS
Like I was saying earlier, Stefon Diggs could just as easily be a higher pick than this. He’s been a consistent top-five WR every year since he’s been in Buffalo. There were some concerns about him maybe wanting out of Buffalo earlier this season but those were more brought up by his brother than by him.
It is certainly possible that Diggs does want out of Buffalo. It is also certainly possible that Diggs ends up in a worse situation in terms of QB if he goes elsewhere. Yet, there is always the high likelihood that he just stays where he is and keeps killing it as Josh Allen‘s top target in a solid offense.
Based on the information we have right now, I feel fine taking Diggs here at No. 8. It isn’t exciting and it isn’t sexy, but sometimes a boring pick is what you need to build the structure of your team.
TIER 4: PROJECTING ELITE UPSIDE
1.09: GARRETT WILSON, WR NEW YORK JETS
This is the first of my projected upside picks. Basically, with 1.09 through 1.12 I’m taking some chances on some guys who maybe haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I think are on their way to being a first-round pick in 2024.
This pick is all about the fact that Garrett Wilson was a popular pick towards the end of Round 1 or start of Round 2 this year, and has done nothing personally to change the thought process that he’s a great player. He has been only serviceable this year, but that’s entirely due to some of the worst QB play in the league.
We don’t know if the Jets will make changes to their coaching staff (they should). However, I do feel confident that we’ll get more than a few minutes out of Aaron Rodgers next year. To be fair, Rodgers is getting older and is overrated anyways, but I’ll take him over Tim Boyle and Zach Wilson all day every day.
I’m taking a chance here that Wilson rebounds to where we thought he would be with more competent supporting play. It’s possible that the Jets are just doomed to always suck, but there’s just too much talent here to not want to take the chance on the wideout.
1.10: DE’VON ACHANE, RB MIAMI DOLPHINS
This is my big homerun-or-bust pick for next year’s first round. There is a good chance I’m way too high on De’Von Achane right now. I accept that. The majority of his value has come from explosive plays or garbage-time touchdowns. Those kinds of things don’t always repeat. He is also vulnerable to injury because of his lack of size.
Mike McDaniel has shown no reluctance to use Achane at the goal line or to give him a decent workload in games he has played, however. McDaniel’s usage of Achane, combined with Raheem Mostert’s age, gives me reasons to believe that we might see enough of a workload for Achane next year to make him an absolute stud.
I fully recognize there are probably about eight other running backs who could just as easily be the second RB off the board, but I’m going for high-end upside here with this pick.
1.11: BIJAN ROBINSON, RB ATLANTA FALCONS
Admittedly, Bijan Robinson is a bit of a reach as we sit here in Week 14. Arthur Smith is a certified dog turd (a white dog turd for my Step Brothers people). I am hoping that the Falcons collapse over the next month and Smith will lose his job. However, even if that does not happen, we’ve seen a much better usage for Bijan since that game where he completely disappeared with a “headache.”
There was a reason many people were excited about Bijan coming into this year. He’s one of the most talented RBs in the league, and anybody who has seen him play would likely agree. Robinson was selected in the first round of a lot of drafts this year, which I’m sure some people regret.
Next year is a new year though. If his recent trends continue and he finishes the season hot (ala Jonathan Taylor a few years back), there is no reason why Bijan couldn’t be a first-round selection next year. In fact, he probably belongs above Achane. I just couldn’t stomach putting a guy who plays in the mundane Falcons offense over a home run back in the Miami offense.
1.12: CHRIS OLAVE, WR NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
I struggled with the 1.12 to be honest. It could have been a number of guys. At least at this juncture, I would not be overly excited to have a late pick in the first round as I feel like after the first half of the first round, we’re looking at a lot of the same level that we’ll be seeing in the second round too. That’s actually pretty similar to how this year’s drafts felt, as well.
I strongly considered Breece Hall and Kyren Williams here. Ultimately, I couldn’t justify two Jets in the first round. I also couldn’t justify taking Kyren Williams, as his numbers may be just inflated by the touchdown scoring and insane usage rate. I am higher than most on Williams, he’s a guy who will be firmly on my second-round radar next season. The first round, though, just felt too high.
So what about Chris Olave? Why am I this high on him? Through Week 13 of this season, he is currently below many other names like DeVonta Smith, Brandon Aiyuk, Puka Nacua, and Michael Pittman in terms of fantasy points.
Again though, we’re looking at next year not this year. Smith, Aiyuk and Nacua all have issues where they are debatably not even the top target on their own teams. Pittman seems like the top target for now, but the Colts have been trying to acquire another WR for a bit and we haven’t seen enough of Anthony Richardson to really know how to value Pittman for next year.
Olave, however, offers that great combination of young receiver who is also the top target on his team. Derek Carr has been subpar because he’s afraid to throw the ball more than five yards. As of this moment there seems to be a chance for Jameis Winston to possibly play this week. Winston airs it out, which is great for Olave’s fantasy value. I have no idea what the Saints will do in the offseason but if there is any kind of QB change off of Carr, it probably helps Olave’s value.
I view this as similar to the Garrett Wilson pick. A highly talented young WR who needs a bit better QB play to go from very good to great. This may be a bit of a reach but, frankly, I think everyone is a reach at the end of round 1.
WHO DID I MISS?
So, who did I miss? I contemplated lots of guys towards the back end of Round 2. There are roughly a dozen players that could be in the mix at the bottom of the first round. Overall, it’s still early and we have no clue how the 2024 NFL Draft and free agency will impact fantasy football next season. Not to mention, the coach speak and buzz that will undoubtedly happen during training camp. We’ll get back to the drawing board over the next few months, but this is how I stand today.