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10 to Avoid in the First 5 Rounds of 2023 Fantasy Drafts

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Nick Makowitz

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Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned vet, scanning the draft board can be intimidating. There’s so much research to do, so many things to know and so many players to choose from. And when we’re dealing with the early rounds, they’re good players.

 

One way to navigate the draft board more easily is through the process of elimination. If you can say “If Player A is being drafted in Round X, I don’t want him,” then you can better outline a plan – and a backup plan – for yourself on draft day. 

Here, we’ll identify 10 players to avoid in the first five rounds of fantasy drafts. These are the ones you can cross off based on their current ADP through the process of elimination. Of course, there’s still a long offseason ahead, so as ADP shifts, so too should your outlook on each player.

10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds: Round 1

Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers

(Current ADP: RB1, 1.02 overall)

Let me start by saying that I’d be happy to have Christian McCaffrey on my team. This isn’t a complete fade of CMC, just a fade at the 1.02. As incredible as he was at times in San Francisco last season, he’s still susceptible to the Kyle Shanahan method that involves a heavy dose of multiple running backs.

According to our Splits Tool, in 13 games with the 49ers last year (playoffs included), McCaffrey averaged 10 fewer fantasy points per game when Elijah Mitchell was active than when Mitchell was sidelined (14 PPG vs. 24 PPG). Of course, he could easily average more than 14 points per game, but I’d rather take an elite wide receiver and wait on the strong running back options that present themselves in later rounds.

Davante Adams, WR, Las Vegas Raiders

(Current ADP: WR6, 1.12 overall)

Picking first-round-fades is always tough because of how talented they are, and Davante Adams is as good as they come. In his first season with the Raiders, Adams reignited an old flame with college teammate Derek Carr en route to a WR3 finish. So, why avoid him at a WR6 ADP? 

The switch from Derek Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo is baked in a little as he’s going off the board as the WR6, but the first round is too rich for my blood. Jimmy G supported Deebo Samuel’s WR2 finish in 2021, but Deebo did most of his damage with YAC and added over 80 fantasy points on the ground. Other than that, Garoppolo hasn’t helped any wide receiver produce elite fantasy output. 

Similar to McCaffrey, I’m not avoiding Adams at all costs, but I am in the late first round.

10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds: Round 2

Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

(Current ADP: RB6, 2.04 overall)

With Kareem Hunt gone, Nick Chubb should climb up draft boards, right? I’m not so sure about that. Chubb is being drafted a bit higher than he was in years past, but why? He had the most rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns of his career last season, plus his best receiving season since 2019 en route to an RB5 finish. Where does he go from here?

Hunt only averaged 10 opportunities per game last season, so it’s not like he’s freeing up a massive workload. Without a drastic improvement in the receiving game, Chubb’s ceiling will always be limited. He’s a fine option because he’s been the model of consistency, but upside is king in fantasy football, so I’ll pass in the early second round.

Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

(Current ADP: RB7, 2.07 overall)

Sorry, Raiders. This one is less backed by data and more by a rule of thumb that our own Nelson Sousa hit on in his Fade List article. Josh Jacobs is coming off a career year, and it’s hard to envision him repeating that performance with a new quarterback on a bad team in a good division.

Last year marked the first time that Jacobs played a full season as well, something fairly uncommon for running backs. Expecting another full season and equal production behind what is still one of the league’s worst offensive lines would be foolish. Plus, the three running backs going immediately after him in drafts are Tony Pollard, Derrick Henry and Rhamondre Stevenson, all of whom I’d take over Jacobs.

10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds: Round 3

DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

(Current ADP: WR13, 3.03 overall)

DeVonta Smith Philadelphia Eagles Fantasy Football 10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds

This spot where DeVonta Smith is being drafted is basically the land of elite WR2s. Alongside Smith in a five-pick radius is Jaylen Waddle (2.11) and Tee Higgins (3.03). Smith finished as the WR9 overall last season but the WR15 in points per game. Now, he’s being drafted ahead of that WR15 finish despite minimal positive change to his situation. 

If anything, one could argue the addition of D’Andre Swift might eat into all of the Philly pass-catchers’ opportunities. Even if it doesn’t have a significant impact, Smith remains second fiddle to A.J. Brown in a run-first offense. He’s an elite talent, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much more room to grow from a fantasy perspective unless he overtakes Brown and proves to be a top-five receiver in the NFL. I’ll bet against it.

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

(Current ADP: QB4, 3.11 overall)

In 2022, Joe Burrow finished a clear step behind the top-three quarterbacks but a clear step ahead of everyone else. That said, he makes sense as the QB4 off the board, but it’s difficult to justify drafting a comparatively stationary quarterback in the third round, especially when he’s clearly chasing those top-tier guys.

There are so many good starting position players in the late third round, and there are plenty of high-upside quarterbacks sitting in the later rounds as well. Taking Burrow here feels a bit like a chalky, low-risk, low-reward move. He’s going to be very good, but are you potentially gaining anything on the rest of your league by grabbing him instead of Deebo Samuel, DeAndre Hopkins or any of Aaron Jones, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon

 

10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds: Round 4

Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions

(Current ADP: RB15, 4.01 overall)

Jahmyr Gibbs’ draft capital is the biggest argument for his fantasy prospects at this point and rightfully so. First-round rookie running backs tend to perform very well for fantasy football, but the Lions’ unwillingness to commit to a workhorse and the David Montgomery signing make me hesitate. 

Montgomery will likely be the one toting the rock near the end zone, and he’s shown year after year that he’s a more-than-capable receiver. In other words, there isn’t a clear-cut part of the offense where Gibbs can make Montgomery obsolete. Even if he’s better at certain things, Montgomery is going to get valuable touches. This is close to the spot where Travis Etienne and Breece Hall were going last year, and those guys had much clearer paths to a big workload.

T.J. Hockenson, TE, Minnesota Vikings

(Current ADP: TE3, 4.04 overall)

If you aren’t getting one of the elite tight ends, wait. T.J. Hockenson was targeted quite a bit after being traded to the Vikings, but those targets resulted in almost nothing from a fantasy perspective. The former Lions tight end had just two double-digit fantasy games with Minnesota and averaged slightly fewer points than he did with Detroit earlier in the season.

Part of the excitement was also the fact that he had established himself as the second option behind Justin Jefferson, but the Vikings drafted wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round. Without a knack for the end zone or a clear path to huge volume, drafting Hockenson in the fourth round is an unnecessary risk especially when he’s surrounded by the same guys as Joe Burrow.

10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds: Round 5

Michael Pittman, WR, Indianapolis Colts

(Current ADP: WR23, 5.04 overall)

Michael Pittman Indianapolis Colts Fantasy Football 10 to Avoid in the First Five Rounds

This one is a matter of not overthinking. Anthony Richardson could very well be the lovechild of Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson, but that still wouldn’t make him an elite passer, especially in year one. The last several years, Michael Pittman has thrived with pocket-passers who trust the 6-foot-4 wideout and can put the ball where it needs to be. 

Based on his collegiate resume, I’m not confident that Richardson will be able to do the same thing for Pittman. Plus, the offense will most likely feature Jonathan Taylor again and cater even more to the running game than it has in years past. That means there will be fewer receiving yards and touchdowns to go around. Drafting Pittman as a WR2 or WR3 feels uncomfortable.

Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers

(Current ADP: WR24, 5.06 overall)

Christian Watson’s rookie season was essentially divided into three unequal parts. For the first nine weeks, he was either hurt or awful. Then, for four weeks, he was the greatest football player to ever live. Then, from Week 15 on, he was somewhere in the middle but really not that good. 

Now, he loses Aaron Rodgers and will have to build off of that sporadic first season with Jordan Love. Trying to assess Watson’s upcoming second season is tough overall, but that’s why the early fifth round is too early. With second-year receivers, it generally makes sense to draft them ahead of where they finished as rookies since they tend to develop a lot in the offseason. If Watson still had Aaron Rodgers, I would be the conductor of that hype train, but the upside takes a big hit with Love at quarterback (I think). 

With Love also being a relative unknown, there are too many variables for me to want any part of this equation.

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