Fantasy Football cheat sheet for last-minute draft strategy tips for 2023 NFL season

This is it, the biggest fantasy football draft weekend of the year. Your fall happiness depends on what happens in the next 72 hours or so. I’m here to help.

General strategy and advice

Any tips are to be taken with a grain of salt. Most things are not one size fits all. It’s all contextual.

Any strategy can win if you pick the right players. And any strategy can lose if you pick the wrong players.

There are some common mistakes that fantasy managers, even good ones, often make. I’ve generally thought planning for Week 17 before the season is somewhat of a fool’s errand. I’ll start looking to the money weeks in the middle of the season, but my goal right now is to be good in the short-term, to win September. I play fantasy football with a microscope, not a telescope.

If a league requires at least three wide receivers, I want to have the best wideout room in the league, or pretty close to it. If a league requires just two starting wideouts, then my early running-back build will be equal to my wide-receiver build.

In those leagues that are more receiver driven, I probably will look to have one anchor running back, and then I’ll circle back to that position later. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at how sturdy the RB2/RB3 tier is, in part because we’re not expecting those slots to carry as much weight as they did in prior seasons. The bell cow is almost dead in the NFL, and although you might think that makes running back picks more stressful, it actually has the opposite effect. There are more right answers as we are content with less production.

I’m not a manager who drafts into injured players. Injuries will find you, don’t go looking for them. If the discount isn’t significant on draft day, I’ll avoid those already likely to miss time. Sometimes it’s no fun playing fantasy football like an actuary, but it’s a prudent thing to do.

The longer I play fantasy football, the more I understand the importance of having a young team. You want as many players as possible who are still on the escalator, who haven’t had their best season yet. Ascending talents.

Early in the draft cycle, I thought I might be open to chasing the top tier of quarterbacks, where Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts will go. I’ve walked away from this idea. I don’t like the deficit it creates at running back or receiver, and I see many other paths to landing a possible top-five quarterback. This remains one of the biggest differences between real life and fantasy football — the NFL is all about the quarterback, but it’s not the most important position in fantasy football (even as the quarterbacks do score the most points). It’s not a stressful position to fill in our games.

If you're looking for additional help after reading this piece, check out our draft kit, which is full of great advice, and Matt Harmon's Draft Day Blueprint.

In the end, listen to everyone you respect and consider their advice, but it’s your team. Own your final decisions. Do what you think is right.

Player-specific leans and advice

Wide receiver

Garrett Wilson was an instant star last year when the Jets had nothing at quarterback; now they have Aaron Rodgers. It’s unlikely to be MVP-contending Rodgers, but that doesn’t matter — Rodgers and Wilson showed chemistry in the summer, and Rodgers has a history of feeding his best receiver. Wilson is likely headed to the moon.

I thought Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson were close to a wash before the summer ended — remember, they were dead even for the final five weeks of 2022 — and then McLaurin came down with a turf toe injury. McLaurin, a longtime favorite, becomes an auto-fade now, and even with Dotson’s ADP rising, he’s someone I’d like to roster.

Somehow Patrick Mahomes won an MVP last season without a significant wide receiver in fantasy. I suspect someone in that receiver room will at least crack the Top 30, but I don’t see a clear signal to who that is. If you have an angle, share it with me.

You’d rather be a year early than a year late when it comes to players on the back nine of their career, like DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals were pass-happy last year; the Titans are always run-heavy. Hopkins has little ceiling for 2023 and is an obvious fade for me.

Anthony Richardson’s first year is going to be mixed with athletic splash plays and more than a few puzzling throws and downfield mistakes. Michael Pittman is a good receiver unlikely to hit his ceiling this season.

When it comes to the Denver passing game, I can’t believe it but I’m back in on Courtland Sutton. Most of his competition in this target tree got hurt this summer.

Upside is the key word for most of your picks, especially as a draft moves along, but I suspect Adam Thielen has one more boring volume grab season in him. You don’t want him as one of your starters, but you can probably land him as a WR5 in a lot of rooms.

I understand the excitement over new Jaguars wideout Calvin Ridley, even as I can’t chase that excitement into the second round. But I’m also fine targeting Christian Kirk, last year’s splash player, at cost. Ridley is set to be the alpha, but they’ll find plenty for Kirk to do.

Running back

It’s encouraging to see Javonte Williams back on a football field, but I can’t draft him proactively until he’s another year removed from the physical problems. I don’t see much difference between Williams and Samaje Perine, and Perine is the much better value.

The Lions changed their backfield but pretty much everything else in the offensive infrastructure is the same — including a strong line and respected OC Ben Johnson. We should assume the D’Andre Swift/Jamaal Williams usage pattern from last season is likely to continue with Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery. Gibbs is the flashy pick, a first-round rookie, but Montgomery’s value at his 77.3 ADP is far greater.

Travis Etienne is a good NFL player who was probably overdrafted in the first round. I’m concerned he might lose too many high-value touches to Tank Bigsby.

I’m comfortable taking Nick Chubb in the second half of any first round, and if he slides into the second round, that’s a snap call.

It’s hard to know how much Justin Fields will block his own backfield, but Khalil Herbert is set to return a profit on his reasonable 98 Yahoo ADP.

Relatively speaking, Alexander Mattison and A.J. Dillon both strike me as JAGs, ordinary talents. But Mattison’s likely workload can make him justify a fifth-round pick. Even at the cheaper cost, Dillon isn’t someone I’m interested in; without an Aaron Jones injury, there’s no ceiling.

Tight end

T.J. Hockenson wasn’t a splash play darling when he joined the Vikings, but the volume was through the roof. Solving usage is always a huge part of fantasy success.


Daniel Jones is priced to beat his ADP even if his receiver room is the same as last season. If anyone emerges — or if TE Darren Waller is a smash — Jones can sneak into the top five at quarterback.

We can’t say Geno Smith has zero pumpkin risk, but I see the risk as very low. I’ve drafted DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett proactively all summer.

I wanted to see Deshaun Watson display some sharpness this summer, and it never happened.

Kenny Pickett improved as the 2022 season went along, with signature moments in December. And this summer has been impressive — five touchdown drives on five preseason possessions. There are several possible right answers in this passing game, and backup RB Jaylen Warren is also a destination pick.

General team notes

If you want to proactively go after Lamar Jackson or Mark Andrews, excited about the Ravens offense and new OC Todd Monken, I’ll sign off. But I didn’t feel comfortable proactively chasing any of the options in the wideout room, and J.K. Dobbins also feels like an overdraft.

Everything about the Raiders makes me nervous.

The Cardinals don’t look like they’re trying. Stream against these guys whenever possible, starting with the Washington defense in Week 1.