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Fantasy Football Mock Drafts: Drafting for 2023, Ignoring 2022

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Last week, I wrote about some of the worst fantasy draft picks over the last decade. And at running back at least, the common bond was the fantasy football community overdrafting running backs who had only had a single breakout year and expecting that to continue. 

I have not (yet?) done the same exercise for best fantasy picks, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of appearances would be players coming off a disaster year that caused fantasy managers to ignore them, only for those players to rebound. 

 

In other words, a hypothesis: We lean too hard on the most recent year in our fantasy drafts. To test this, each year I do an exercise: What if I drafted for the current season using only the ADP of the previous season? What if I draft for 2023 using 2022 ADP?

I did this exercise a season ago, and full disclosure: It went really poorly. I landed Christian McCaffrey, Justin Fields and DK Metcalf, but I also spent high-ish picks on Ezekiel Elliott, Darren Waller, Allen Robinson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. So last year’s results do not support my hypothesis. But I’ve run this exercise several times, and last year was comfortably the worst set of results. So I’m running it again this season, and we’ll see how it goes.

Drafting for 2023, Ignoring 2022

At the core, this exercise is meant to require zero brainpower from me. Literally take the previous year’s ADP and go down the list, drafting for the current year. That said, it does require a few modifications:

  • Rookies: Bijan Robinson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and company obviously weren’t in the 2022 ADP, so I gave myself the option to draft them whenever it made sense to do so. (I didn’t end up taking any rookies, but I could have.) I also gave myself the option of taking Calvin Ridley for basically the same reason (and again, didn’t actually do so).
  • Retirements/injuries/suspensions: This exercise would have had me drafting guys like Tom Brady, who is retired, and Leonard Fournette, who is unemployed. That wouldn’t have really been in the spirit of the exercise. So if a player had zero role for 2023, I was allowed to skip him. And that was only if it was literally zero — a player who is on a roster but down the depth chart is still on the table.
  • Positional need: Because of how certain positions rise and fall, this exercise would have had me taking a whole lot of running backs. So I was allowed to jump around to other positions if it made sense to do so. I still had to take the next best available player, but I could skip a position if I needed to.

Other than that, this exercise didn’t require me to think at all. So let’s see how it went.

The Roster

Here is the roster I ended up with in a 12-team PPR mock, from the eighth pick:

Picks By Round   Picks By Position
1.08 Jonathan Taylor RB IND QB Russell Wilson DEN
2.05 Najee Harris RB PIT QB Matthew Stafford LAR
3.08 Deebo Samuel WR SF RB Jonathan Taylor IND
4.05 Mike Evans WR TB RB Najee Harris PIT
5.08 Dalvin Cook RB FA RB Dalvin Cook FA
6.05 Kyle Pitts TE ATL RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC
7.08 Michael Pittman WR IND RB Elijah Mitchell SF
8.05 Russell Wilson QB DEN WR Deebo Samuel SF
9.08 Courtland Sutton WR DEN WR Mike Evans TB
10.05 Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB KC WR Michael Pittman IND
11.08 Elijah Mitchell RB SF WR Courtland Sutton DEN
12.05 Matthew Stafford QB LAR WR Allen Robinson PIT
13.08 Allen Robinson WR PIT TE Kyle Pitts ATL
14.05 Dawson Knox TE BUF TE Dawson Knox BUF
15.08 Tampa Bay Buccaneers DST   K Matt Prater ARI
16.05 Matt Prater K ARI DST Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

Normally, I wouldn’t draft two quarterbacks and two tight ends, but I feel like it makes things more interesting for this exercise. So let’s look at it position by position:

Quarterback

Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos (Pick 8.05)
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams (Pick 12.05)

Virtually everyone was excited about Russell Wilson landing in Denver last year, QB9 in fantasy drafts, only for that to go disastrously. Now after a year to get acclimated, and with offensive guru Sean Payton replacing whatever it was Nathaniel Hackett was doing, Wilson’s available as QB18, and even if he doesn’t get back to Seattle Russ days, there’s potential there.

Meanwhile, the problem with Matthew Stafford is basically “Is he healthy?” If his body is fine, he’ll still have Cooper Kupp out there being the best fantasy receiver, and with the defense in the tank, Stafford will have to throw to keep up. I might not have huge upside from the quarterback group, but since both were mid- to late-round picks. I’m fine with the shots here.

Jonathan Taylor Indianapolis Colts 2023 Fantasy Football Mock Draft

Running Back

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (Pick 1.08)
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers (Pick 2.05)
Dalvin Cook, free agent (Pick 5.08)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (Pick 10.05)
Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers (Pick 11.08)

Per our FTN Fantasy projections for 2023, Jonathan Taylor and Najee Harris have two of the five highest projections for carries. Maybe Harris isn’t very efficient, maybe Taylor loses some work to Anthony Richardson, but you’re unlikely to get more total carries from your top two running backs. Add in Dalvin Cook (I went back and forth on whether he was eligible for this exercise but decided he was), and this roster has three of the top seven running backs in ADP a year ago, and I love my upside.

It falls off from there, of course. Elijah Mitchell is a very interesting handcuff to Christian McCaffrey in San Francisco, but his floor is super low. Meanwhile, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is all but off the roster in Kansas City. If he has a single week as a fantasy starter in 2023, it’ll be a mild upset. I would have preferred a sixth running back in this exercise, but I wanted to diversify the QB/TE positions. So accepting that, I don’t hate this unit, even if CEH is basically a black hole.

 

Wide Receiver

Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers (Pick 3.08)
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Pick 4.05)
Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts (Pick 7.08)
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (Pick 9.08) 
Allen Robinson, Pittsburgh Steelers (Pick 13.08)

That’s three of last year’s top 12 receivers by ADP (Deebo Samuel, Mike Evans and Michael Pittman). Samuel fell off because of injury, McCaffrey and the rise of Brandon Aiyuk; Evans because of age, team decline and the fact that his quarterback is now Baker Mayfield; Pittman because of whatever the hell happened to Matt Ryan.

Courtland Sutton might be the odd man out in Denver (but if not, I have a stack!), and Allen Robinson appears to be done-done. I don’t have a high ceiling here, but my starters should still be relevant enough for this to not be a disaster.

Tight End

Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons (Pick 6.05)
Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills (Pick 14.05)

Kyle Pitts Atlanta Falcons 2023 Fantasy Football Mock Draft

Kyle Pitts’ 2022 has been covered to death, but I do get a guy who was taken as the TE3 a year ago and had some people theorizing he could be the TE1. Yes, Drake London and Bijan Robinson and Desmond Ridder and Arthur Smith all factor into what could happen for Pitts in 2023, so it makes sense that he’s fallen in drafts, but this is still a guy who doesn’t even turn 23 until October and has a 1,000-yard season on his resume at a position where players normally take a long time to develop. No complaints.

Dawson Knox is … fine. Dalton Kincaid’s arrival probably undercuts his overall value, but he’ll still score some touchdowns. But this is really featuring Kyle Pitts, and for that, this is a high-upside, low-floor pick.

Conclusion

I don’t hate this team at all! With the arguable exceptions of Jonathan Taylor and (even more arguably) Kyle Pitts, I probably lack a bit of ceiling across this roster, but at least my starters should all offer fairly high floors. Every year I run this exercise, I come to the same conclusion: You can’t draft for one year based entirely on the previous year’s ADP … but you can get pretty close. We overweight the most recent season, and we do it every year.

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