Fantasy Football: 10 vets no longer sweating after 2023 NFL Draft

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have been not so subtle in making their current feelings about Mixon known whenever they talk about him publicly. The Athletic’s Paul Dehner wrote last month that Mixon’s next steps this offseason were to resolve his legal issues and a “negotiation of a pay cut the team is expected to ask him to either accept or be let go.” Mixon would be misguided to not go with what the Bengals offer as he’s unlikely to find a bigger payday or opportunity elsewhere this late in the offseason.

However, the Bengals didn’t find the right moment to take a running back in the draft's first four rounds. They selected Chase Brown of Illinois in Round 5 and he gives them a tough and productive presence on a light depth chart. It would seem a stretch for the contending Bengals to part ways with Mixon with only Brown and a handful of unproven younger guys remaining at running back.

He’s not fully out of the woods yet but at this point, I expect Mixon to be the lead back on the Bengals offense in 2023. I didn’t expect that a few weeks ago. That makes him a post-draft winner.

Gabe Davis, WR, Buffalo Bills

I’m putting Davis in a “sort of” group for this thought exercise. The Bills did add a player who could significantly alter the target pecking order behind Stefon Diggs in Dalton Kincaid. However, Kincaid is nominally a tight end and will likely run most of his routes as a big slot. He shouldn’t overlap much with Davis’ role as a pure perimeter, vertical receiver.

Inter-positional designations really matter at wide receiver. And for Davis, one of the Round 1 wideouts like Jordan Addison, Quinten Johnston, etc. would have threatened his playing time. Adding Kincaid puts a lid on the Bills' slot options’ potential reps — not Davis.

That said, I still view Davis as a limited application player who offers too many negative plays to justify playing on 90-plus percent of the snaps. I don’t think second-year wideout Khalil Shakir is a pure slot receiver and he or free-agent big-play merchant Deonte Hardy could rotate with Davis.

But that’s just my personal opinion, not Buffalo’s evaluation. For now, post-draft, Davis looks like a nice option at WR39 in early best-ball drafts … a far more palatable range than where the extremists pushed him last year.

Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Similar discussion to the one we just had with Davis. I’ll give Moore a “sort of” designation post-draft. The Chiefs took another shot on a Day 2 wide receiver in Rashee Rice, but I don’t see him and Moore holding down the same position.

Based on my pre-draft evaluation of both players, Rice is a developmental outside WR who could get reps behind Marquez Valdes-Scantling this year and, if he’s good, take over the gig in 2024. Meanwhile, Moore is a natural replacement for JuJu Smith-Schuster’s now-vacated slot/flanker position.

Just like Rice, Moore was always going to be a developmental rookie who competed at a lower level and needed his game reworked for the NFL. That explains his slow rookie year, a campaign that shouldn’t deter us from being optimistic about his Year 2 outlook. He wasn’t bad when he played. He just barely played, so you could give him more of an “incomplete” rather than a failing grade. Regardless, that doesn’t seem to be hindering Kansas City’s enthusiasm.

Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans

At the current moment, the Titans might have the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL.

There were draft day rumors they were a DeAndre Hopkins destination but that didn’t come to fruition. Tennessee didn’t add a receiver until the 228th overall pick.

That leaves 2022 first-rounder Treylon Burks as Tennessee's far-and-away No. 1 receiver.

I have my questions about Burks’ ceiling. Regardless, they didn’t add anyone to threaten his volume projection. I’m certain he will have all the opportunities fantasy managers want in the world. I’m less sure he is good enough to hold and produce efficiently with those opportunities on a good offense. Tennessee needs him to make a big leap from the player he was on film as a rookie, and frankly as a collegiate player.

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It’s risky to walk into the season with that on-paper receiver corps. You’re counting on many guys to play above the level they’ve shown so far, Burks included. But as the depth chart stands today, Burks should moonwalk into 110 targets this year. It also adds some sleeper appeal to 2022 rookie Kyle Philips, a sleeper slot receiver prospect I liked. I’d also say it increases the odds tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo is the best pass-catcher on the team this year and his outlook as a top-10 fantasy tight end.

Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots

The New England Patriots had a boatload of draft picks. They didn’t use a single one on a running back. This team opted for specialists over adding competition to the backfield.

If you’re a Stevenson backer, you absolutely love to see it.

The gifted RB had a breakout season as an every-down player for New England. Bill Belichick has shown a ton of faith in and admiration for Stevenson, sticking with him through mistakes and minor injuries last season.

The Patriots let Damien Harris walk in free agency and only have Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris on the roster for depth. James Robinson was added but he couldn’t get on the field for the Jets after a mid-season trade and is no lock to make the team. Stevenson has a clear runaway to dominate touches in New England.

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys added a running back but it came at the 212th overall pick in the form of the 5-foot-5, 179-pound Deuce Vaughn. That is a massive endorsement of Pollard’s 2023 projection and role with the team.

Pollard was given the franchise tag after a strong season that ended with a playoff injury but it sounds like he should face a relatively smooth recovery. The Cowboys have not ruled out bringing back Ezekiel Elliott as he’s still unsigned but he would only be a depth, light complementary piece. There’s nothing standing in the way of Pollard being a first-round fantasy pick.

Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans

The new Texans coaching staff seems to be on board with Dameon Pierce as the team’s lead back. Houston didn’t take a running back in the draft and while they added Devin Singletary in free agency, he’s a No. 2 back and a mere supplementary piece.

Pierce was awesome as a rookie until he wore down late. Having Singletary as a change-up should help keep him a little fresher this year. The Texans brought in a Shanahan-style offense and that’s a proven boost to rushing efficiency.

Pierce looks like an excellent fantasy bet right now, especially if C.J. Stroud elevates the passing game.

Allen Lazard, WR, New York Jets

The Aaron Rodgers and Lazard bromance is a bit of a meme at this point but the former Packers receiver has a clear runway to finish second on the team in targets behind Garrett Wilson. Lazard is a valuable piece who can line up in the slot in three-receiver sets and operate as a strong blocker on base downs. He’s a good player and while he’s not a big-time separator, he has reliable hands and can win in the red zone.

Corey Davis is still on the roster but could be moved at some point. That’s about the only form of real competition Lazard would face for the WR2 spot on this team right now.

Van Jefferson, WR, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams traded Allen Robinson heading into the draft and didn’t take a receiver until the 177th overall pick, Puka Nacua. I like the BYU product as a rugged player who could climb the depth chart in time but he’s unlikely to push for a starting gig.

That spot as the main outside receiver along with slot/flanker superstar Cooper Kupp is wide open for Jefferson. I think Jefferson has flashed more than credited so far in the NFL; he’s just been a little stunted by injuries.

The Rams are going to be a bit of a strange operation in 2023 but Jefferson may end up being a sneaky solid producer as long as Matthew Stafford is on the field.

Irv Smith, TE, Cincinnati Bengals

We started with a Bengal, we finish with a Bengal.

Smith was added later in free agency and was a disappointment on his first contract with the Vikings. However, we’ve seen other tight ends break out later in their careers and on their second or third team. Smith had the collegiate resume to bring a ton of optimism coming into the league. Perhaps he can reclaim that path — at an often slow-developing position — in Cincinnati.

Everyone expected the Bengals to draft a tight end. They didn’t. I won’t get too excited about Smith in fantasy but he could have a similar “Joe Burrow-induced career rehabilitation” type of season as Hayden Hurst did last year.