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100 Questions: Fantasy Football 2023 (NFC West)

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(As we head toward training camp and the start of preseason, our own Daniel Kelley is asking — and attempting to answer — the most pressing questions around fantasy football for 2023. This is 100 Questions.)

 

NFC West

It’s funny that, even as much of the last decade was dominated by the Patriots and Chiefs, the division with the most postseason wins over those 10 years — and not by a little! — is actually the NFC West. The 49ers and Seahawks have eight playoff wins apiece in the last decade, the Rams have seven, and even the Cardinals chipped in a win. Put another way, the 49ers and Seahawks have as many postseason wins each as the entire NFC North does in the last decade.

In other words, the division top-to-bottom might go up and down, but the teams that make the postseason out of the NFC West are primed for a run every year, for some reason:

Arizona Cardinals

In our baseball season preview, I marveled that the Oakland Athletics somehow had a winning record as recently as 2021, because they got so bad, so fast that it felt like they must have been bad for a long time. The Cardinals feel similar. We’re only a year removed from them starting the 2021 season 7-0 en route to an 11-6 finish and playoff appearance. Now, their quarterback might miss some of all of the season, they’re releasing star receivers and DraftKings Sportsbook pegs their wins over/under at 4.5, a full two wins lower than any other team.

89. If You’re Handcuffing James Conner, (a) Why, and (b) Who?

The Issue

  • James Conner averaged 15.4 PPR points per game last year, his third time in five years topping 15
  • Conner has missed multiple games every year of his six-year career (an average 3.3 games missed per season)
  • Non-Conner backs on the Cardinals roster:
    • Corey Clement: 29 in November, hasn’t topped 170 scrimmage yards since 2018, 60 targets in 72 career games
    • Keaontay Ingram: 2022 sixth-rounder, 31 touches in 12 games, 2.2 yards per carry, never had a 1,000-yard season in college
    • Ty’Son Williams: 27 touches for 187 yards in Weeks 1-2, 2021; 18 touches, 87 yards, three teams since
    • Emari Demercado: Rookie UDFA, never reached 700 yards in college, 40 receptions in five years

Best Answer

You probably don’t want to bother with a handcuff (or non-Conner) running back. This offense could be bad enough that Conner struggles, let alone any sub-Conners out there. The drafting community has understandably tepid interest, centered on Ingram (RB85) and a little on Clement (RB152). I’m not drafting any of them, but if forced, I would go … Ty’Son Williams, who is the only one here with any sort of recent history of performance. They’re all wishcasting, but at least we saw Williams finish RB9 and RB23 in Weeks 1-2 in 2021.

90. Is It Smart or Dumb to Draft Kyler Murray?

Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals 2023 Fantasy Football 100 Questions NFC West

The Issue

  • Murray’s ADP is QB23
  • Murray has averaged 20.4 fantasy points per game in his career, fifth since 2019 behind Patrick Mahomes (22.9), Josh Allen (22.8), Lamar Jackson (22.7), Deshaun Watson (21.0)
  • Murray tore his ACL in Week 14; he’s cleared to resume workouts but almost certainly won’t be ready for Week 1

Best Answer

If you could tell me Kyler Murray would return by Week 7 or 8 and resemble his old self, I could easily make an argument for taking a third-tier quarterback — a Geno Smith or a Daniel Jones — and following it up with Kyler Murray to close fast, because Murray’s legs, if he has them, will always have him as a QB1. The first obvious problem to that is betting on a player with a recent torn ACL to run like he did before is generally a losing proposition. And the second, and somehow bigger, problem is that the “Week 7 or 8” part might not happen at all — if you’re the Cardinals, and a Colt McCoy-led offense takes you to 0-6 or 1-7 or what-have-you, are you really incentivized to hurry back a franchise (or at least super highly paid) quarterback for a lost season? As happens every year, what is most likely to happen is that the team that drafts Murray and the team that gets fantasy points from Murray are likely to be two separate teams, as the drafting team can’t afford to wait around. Better to just steer clear.

91. If You Stack the Top 3 Receivers and Put Them in a Trenchcoat, Can They See an R-Rated Movie?

The Issue

Best Answer

Brown, Moore and Dortch will be the team’s top three receivers to open the season (Brown first, Moore/Dortch in either order at 2/3). But this question is my way of saying: Michael Wilson (6-foot-2) has to be interesting. Unless/until Wilson makes an impact, the only height in the Arizona target tree is Zach Pascal (6-2) and tight ends Trey McBride and Zach Ertz (who is recovering from his own torn ACL). Wilson struggled to stay healthy at Stanford, which explains why he is a 23-year-old rookie and why he fell to the third round, but he is the only unique offensive weapon in Arizona, and if he can develop, he’s a very nice lottery ticket.

Los Angeles Rams

Everything comes due eventually. Since drafting Jared Goff first overall in 2016, the Rams haven’t had a first-round pick, repeatedly mortgaging their future for their present. It yielded five straight winning seasons, division titles in 2017, 2018 and 2021, another playoff berth in 2020, two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title. But it also meant the reinforcements never really came, and that helps explain why the team collapsed to 5-12 in 2022. They’re in a mini-rebuild now, but the cupboard isn’t barren.

92. Is Cam Akers a Locked-In Fantasy Starter?

The Issue

  • Akers has 260 carries since his Achilles tear (counting the postseason)
  • His longest carry in the first 185 of those was 15 yards
  • Weeks 15-18 of 2022, he has carries of 19, 21, 42 and 32 yards and was the RB4 in fantasy

Best Answer

There are a few factors that drive a running back’s fantasy value. The first is gamescript — a team with a good defense and/or likely to lead a lot of games will give their back a lot of carries to grind the clock. Cam Akers doesn’t have that benefit, as he’s on one of the worst teams in the league with one of the worst defenses. The second is receiving upside — a target is worth much more for fantasy than a carry. Cam Akers doesn’t have that benefit, with 35 targets in 29 career games. The third is explosiveness — a handful of huge breakaway runs, you need that many fewer 2-, 3-, 4-yard runs to accumulate your points. Cam Akers doesn’t have that benefit, as you can see above. If you’re drafting Akers (RB23!), you’re betting on his last month of 2022 over almost his entire career otherwise and his situation in 2023. Count me out.

93. Can Matthew Stafford Rebound to Fantasy Relevance?

The Issue

  • Stafford missed eight games in 2022 with a head injury, and also dealt with elbow problems
  • When active, he put up 12.04 fantasy points per game (career low) after 19.39 in 2021 (second-best season of his career)
  • Other quarterbacks on the roster: Brett Rypien, fourth-round rookie Stetson Bennett, UDFA Dresser Winn (who has to be the only QB in the NFL without a Wikipedia page)

Best Answer

The Rams do have their first-round pick in 2024, which feels like a miracle. But if they were really tanking on the 2023 season for a Drake Maye or a Caleb Williams, the tear-down wouldn’t have stopped at Jalen Ramsey. At least one (probably more) of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald would have been moved. And if they were worried about Stafford’s health, there would be a better backup than Rypien, Bennett or Winn. So (a) I expect them to try, and (b) I expect Stafford to be out there pretty much all season. Given that, given Kupp’s presence, and given the disaster that the Rams defense could be (forcing them to pass even more), I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a rebound from Stafford in 2023, and that means he could be a value on his QB21 ADP.

94. So Will Cooper Kupp Get All the Targets?

The Issue

Best Answer

If you can find a book willing to take odds on target share leader in 2023, obviously you should bet Cooper Kupp. If he and Stafford are healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new NFL target record. But even at absolute peak, that’s … what, 36%? 36% would be insane, and that’s still barely over a third of the Rams’ pass attempts. Give Tyler Higbee his share, give a smattering to the team’s underwhelming running backs, and you still have 30-40% of the targets out there. Some receiver here has to do something. Allen Robinson had 5-7 targets in every game Weeks 2-11, 88-plus targets over a full season. We’ve seen Skowronek, Robinson and Atwell be not much in the NFL. Jefferson has had moments, but he hasn’t even reached a 1.5 yards per route run in a season yet. 

That leaves Puka Nacua, the Rams’ fifth-round pick in April. Fifth-round draft stock is no guarantee of performance, but he was second in his draft class in yards per route run (3.53) and PFF receiving grade (90.1) last year at BYU. With no one but Kupp really blocking him, Nacua is my pick as the top sleeper rookie of 2023, and I projected him in our Rams Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions to be a top-three rookie receiver in 2023.

 

San Francisco 49ers

A funny thing you probably don’t remember: The Bears played the Patriots on Monday Night Football of Week 7 last year to fall to 3-4 … the same record the 49ers had at that moment. And the Bears had beaten the 49ers in Week 1! The Bears were the higher-seeded team. And then, the Bears didn’t win again on the season, and the 49ers didn’t lose. They didn’t even climb over .500 until beating the Chargers in Week 10 to get to 5-4, but they won their last 10 games of the regular season and their first two playoff games. But after Week 7, they were a disappointment and their coach was getting “fraud” murmurs. How quickly things can change.

95. What the Hell, Quarterbacks?

The Issue

  • Brock Purdy: Mr. Irrelevant in 2022, came in to replace Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13, started the rest of the way, averaged 18.1 fantasy points per game, reportedly recovering well from UCL surgery 
  • Trey Lance: Third overall pick in 2021 (49ers traded up for the privilege), four career starts — two emergency starts in 2021, monsoon in Week 1 of 2022, injury game 16 snaps into Week 2
  • Sam Darnold: Third overall pick in 2018 (Jets traded up for the privilege), washed out in New York, struggled in Carolina but averaged 17.3 PPG in Weeks 13-17 last year (QB14)

Best Answer

I joked in both 2021 and 2022 that Mike White should have retired after his first game as Zach Wilson’s emergency fill-in each year, because there was nowhere to go but down. And lo and behold, he went down (way down) both times. Obviously, financially, White continuing to play made sense, but he’s not a legend now. Brock Purdy’s situation isn’t exactly the same — Kyle Shanahan can make you or me into a relevant NFL quarterback. But it’s hard to imagine he ever again achieves the level of success, at least narratively, he had in 2022, and if his injury had been so bad that he couldn’t return, that’s a legend right there.

All that said, it certainly seems like the team is rolling with Purdy to start 2023, if he’s ready. And … I mean, fine — like I said, Shanahan can make a lot out of not much. But I will say right here that Trey Lance gets at least one start in 2023. You can’t draft him, but any given week you have a vacant roster spot right before the games start, I’d pick him up on the off chance that is the week Purdy implodes and Lance’s fantasy value explodes.

96. We Know Christian McCaffrey’s Ceiling, But What’s His Floor?

The Issue

  • 24.3 PPR points per game over the last four years, first among RBs by nearly 4.0 points (Derrick Henry, 20.4)
  • 29 games of 20-plus PPR points in that time, most in the league (Austin Ekeler, 28) in only 43 games (67.4%, Ekeler has the second-best rate at 47.5%)
  • After joining the 49ers in Week 7, McCaffrey was RB1 through the end of the season with 238.4 PPR points
  • Per the FTN Fantasy splits tool, his carries dropped by 5.33 per game, his scrimmage yardage by 41.53, and his PPR points by 8.0 when Elijah Mitchell was active on the 49ers (counting the postseason):

Best Answer

It’s important to note that, despite it being 8 full PPR points per game than he scored without Elijah Mitchell, Christian McCaffrey’s PPG average with Mitchell would still have made him RB6 last year. The difference isn’t between McCaffrey being a starter and not; it’s between McCaffrey being a legend and just being really, really good. But we’re discussing McCaffrey as a 1.01 candidate, and Mitchell’s presence — and Shanahan’s insistence (likely smart) on rotating and limiting one single guy’s workload — is why I’m out on McCaffrey as the first overall pick, and why I won’t fight you if you’re going running back first and opt for Bijan Robinson

97. Is It Deebo Season or Aiyuk Season?

The Issue

  • Deebo Samuel: 339.0 PPR points in 2021 (WR3), 21.2 PPG; 168.4 in 2022 (WR38), 13.0 PPG
  • Brandon Aiyuk: 170.3 PPR points in 2021 (WR35), 10.0 PPG; 227.8 in 2022 (WR15), 13.4 PPG 
  • Samuel: 87.2 overall PFF grade in 2021, 2.98 yards per route run; 72.4 in 2022, 1.69 YPRR
  • Aiyuk: 74.4 overall PGG grade in 2021, 1.68 yards per route run; 80.3 in 2022, 1.91 YPRR

Best Answer

Brandon Aiyuk was in the doghouse in 2021. Deebo Samuel entered 2022 injured after having spent the offseason in a contract dispute (and therefore, per him, not in perfect shape). Narratively, you can make a lot of arguments about Aiyuk and Samuel and come down with just about any conclusion for 2023. And to me, that says no one really knows, and therefore the current ADP gap between the two (Samuel is WR16, Aiyuk is WR30) doesn’t really make sense. Bump Aiyuk up, bump Samuel down. And given we know that Samuel is the more common dumpoff/short-target option in this offense, the presence of McCaffrey and his elite receiving ability hurt him more than Aiyuk. So I might even go Aiyuk over Samuel, though I think both will be relevant. 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks not only weren’t pegged to make the postseason in 2022, they were tied for the fourth-worst divisional odds in the entire league (+1300, per FanDuel Sportsbook last June). The general consensus was that the Russell Wilson trade signaled a tear-down, a rebuild, a team that wasn’t going anywhere in 2022. Instead, the Seahawks went 9-8, won a Wild Card and even led the 49ers 17-16 at halftime of their Wild Card game. It didn’t work out from there, but that’s a hell of a climb from where everyone thought they were.

98. Can Geno Smith Repeat His Breakout?

The Issue

Career highs Geno Smith set in 2022 (his age-32 season):

  • Pass attempts (572, previous career high: 443)
  • Completions (399, previous career high: 247) 
  • Yards (4,282, previous career high: 3,046)
  • Touchdowns (30, previous career high: 13)
  • PFF passing grade (76.1, previous career high: 72.5)
  • Fantasy points (314.9 [QB5], previous career high: 193.7)

Best Answer

To be fair, no one really expects Geno Smith to be the QB5 again — regression is already baked in, with him currently sitting at QB15 by ADP. But while I think QB15 is a fine ADP in a “Smith could finish as the QB15” sense, it’s important to note that we play a weekly game but often look at it through yearly numbers. Smith had fine end-of-season numbers (sort of — he was QB5, but with 314.9 points, which would have been only QB10 in 2021 and QB12 in 2020), but his weekly ceiling was bad. He had fewer top-three weeks than Russell Wilson, as many top-five weeks as Jared Goff. If you want a quarterback to finish as a borderline QB1 as often as possible, sure, go for Geno. But generally, what you want from your quarterback in fantasy is a high ceiling, and Smith doesn’t have one. He might finish as the QB15 (or even better). But I won’t be drafting him there.

99. How High Can Jaxon Smith-Njigba Climb as the No. 3 Target?

The Issue

  • Smith-Njigba: First receiver off the board in the 2023 draft (20th overall)
  • Since DK Metcalf entered the league in 2019, he (WR11) and Tyler Lockett (WR5) are both top-12 in WR PPR points; the Buccaneers are the only other team with multiple top-20 receivers in that span:
Most PPR Points, WRs, 2019-2022
Player Team(s) PPR Points
Davante Adams GB/LV 1250.9
Tyreek Hill KC/MIA 1160.9
Stefon Diggs BUF/MIN 1142.8
Cooper Kupp LAR 1120.1
Tyler Lockett SEA 979.3
Justin Jefferson MIN 973.3
Mike Evans TB 969.2
A.J. Brown PHI/TEN 945.1
Chris Godwin TB 932.3
Amari Cooper CLE/DAL 931.8
DK Metcalf SEA 929.5
Keenan Allen LAC 928.4
DJ Moore CAR 878.6
Terry McLaurin WAS 858.2
DeAndre Hopkins HOU/ARI 855.2

Best Answer

The points here isn’t really that Jaxon Smith-Njigba will go off; it’s that we absolutely continue to underrate Tyler Lockett. He’s finished higher than his ADP five years in a row, including finishing as WR13 last year despite being drafted as WR37. We continue to be low on him, with Lockett currently WR28. Lockett turns 31 between Weeks 3 and 4, so the cliff is coming, but until he disappoints us I’m in. Smith-Njigba has elite dynasty value, but until we see Lockett (or Metcalf, I guess) start to decline, I’m not seeing him as a strong redraft option.

100. What Does Zach Charbonnet Do to Kenneth Walker’s Value?

The Issue

  • Walker: 1,050 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs in 2022 (most among rookies); didn’t have first start until Week 6
  • Charbonnet: 2.52 pick in April’s draft, third running back off the board after Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs

Best Answer

I wrote about this in the Seahawks Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions, but I’ll say it again here: We see what Kenneth Walker did as a rookie despite being drafted into a Seattle backfield that already had a back in place and imagine Zach Charbonnet doing something similar as a rookie despite being drafted into a Seattle backfield that already had a back in place. And that narrative is great if you forget the first month of the 2022 season. To start Walker’s career, he not only wasn’t a relevant fantasy name, he wasn’t even a relevant football name. Walker was inactive in Week 1 and had 4, 3, 8 and 8 carries on 12, 9, 25 and 30 snaps in Weeks 2-5, only getting anything resembling significant playing time after Rashaad Penny got hurt. The Seahawks might have eased Walker in eventually, but the plan very clearly appears to have been “We have out guy, our guy is the guy, the backup is insurance,” and it seems plausible to expect the same general plan this year, since the situations are basically the same. 

Walker currently sits at RB17 in ADP, Charbonnet RB38. That’s a big gap, but if my scenario is the correct one (obviously, I think it is), the gap should be even (slightly) larger.

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