Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
I think it will be pretty hard for Richardson to fail as a standalone fantasy football quarterback. He is going to be enough of a rushing threat to be viable with a strong floor-and-ceiling combination and get by as a QB1 or high-end QB2. You can take him if you’re one of the last folks in your league to select a quarterback. I doubt I am going to get that wrong.
Where I’m more hesitant is his ability to support pass-catchers in Year 1.
Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
I’ve made it clear that for months I’m very high on the Colts wide receiver trio of Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce and Josh Downs from a complementary skill-set standpoint. Pittman has all the requisite traits to be a No. 1 wideout and he’s played at that level for the last two seasons when isolated from quarterback play. I like all these receivers but he’s probably the only one who can turn into an every-week starter in fantasy this season and I have him ranked ahead of consensus. When he falls into that late sixth to seventh-round range, I end up taking him almost every time.
While the raw volume may come down for Pittman, the jump in average depth of target (a measly 7.6 last year) can help offset that. Richardson isn’t going to be a high-level passer as a rookie but he should be able to feed Pittman on first-read targets in an RPO-heavy offense. However, given Richardson’s small collegiate resume and some legitimate short-area accuracy concerns, I have to admit some hesitation in my conviction.
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
I hate that I am below industry consensus in ranking Keenan Allen this year but alas, here we are.
I’m skeptical of him continuing to dominate targets in an offense that, by all accounts, wants to be more vertically inclined. Allen isn’t cooked or anything but his success rate vs. man coverage rates in Reception Perception have been in steady decline — from his consistently elite finishes from 2015 to 2020 — each of the last few seasons. Even while coming back from injury last year, Allen showed he can still get open underneath and beat zone coverage but that might mean he needs to run out of the slot on a near-full-time basis.
Again, it’s tough to square a player like that owning the dominant target share he’d need to reach his top-20 WR ADP in fantasy and the Chargers offense hitting its ceiling.
But again, not only am I concerned I’m wrong about this, I’d almost welcome it. Prior to 2022, I viewed Allen as a superstar player and would have called him the most underrated elite wideout of the last decade. Maybe his Reception Perception sample from last year is simply too injury-tainted to provide the truth. When I’m passing on Allen in drafts, that fear is on my mind.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Much like Allen, this is another ranking I’d welcome being incorrect. I have long been a Chris Godwin fan and a believer in his talent dating back to his Penn State days. He’s been a mainstay on my hype list and my fantasy teams over the years.
That said, I have him ranked below industry consensus and rarely get him in Round 6 of drafts despite my belief in his talent.
There are plenty of volume-based but dubious quarterback propositions that go around Godwin in drafts. And I just prefer the upside of the unknown for the quarterback equation of Diontae Johnson, Brandon Aiyuk and Michael Pittman types or waiting a bit for second-year breakouts with that same passer variable, like George Pickens and Jahan Dotson.
I never end up targeting Godwin among that group simply because I know who Baker Mayfield is at this point.
Mayfield has stalled out the careers of No. 1 wideouts like DJ Moore and Odell Beckham Jr. previously because he can’t make difficult throws to outside receivers. This is part of where I hesitate with Godwin because we have seen Mayfield at least be able to function with a short-area flanker/slot receiver in Jarvis Landry back in Cleveland. Godwin is basically the souped-up version of that archetype.
If one receiver is able to thrive with Mayfield and overcome the incoming loss of the offense’s passing volume, it is likely Godwin. Should that happen, I’ll be thrilled to see it but my ranking will look bad — and it won’t happen on any of my teams.
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
I’ve generally been in on Alexander Mattison this draft season and am quite happy with him as an RB2.
We’ve seen plenty of the 5-foot-11, 215-pound back as Dalvin Cook’s understudy the last four years given the amount of time the starter has missed. Mattison has averaged 19.5 carries for 79.5 rushing yards and 0.5 touchdowns along with 3.8 catches and 36 receiving yards per game in the six contests Cook has missed since 2020. That’s not enough to say he’s a proven commodity but at least we’ve seen him carry the load in the NFL and be a productive player. Operating in what I think is a good ecosystem in Minnesota this year as the clear starter with a contract commitment from the team, I like betting on him as a top-18 back.
However, I fully realize fantasy regrets have been filled with backs carrying at least an adjacent profile to Mattison’s in years past. Making decisions based on contracts, projectable volume and “Who else is there?” at running back can be dicey.
I don’t think that’s all there is to bet on with Mattison. We’ve seen him produce before and overall, it’s a bet on an offense with a quality play-caller in Kevin O’Connell and featuring one of the elite players regardless of position in Justin Jefferson. I like aligning myself with environments like this when taking fantasy running backs.
If you’re on the side of the overall history of the running back dead zone on this debate, I understand it. And I’ll admit to being slightly concerned about it.
D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles
I ascribe to the idea that scrounging for upside should be the main goal of a fantasy player, as there is usually only a small selection of players who truly swing leagues in favor of the eventual champion. As JJ Zachariason has noted through the years, searching through “ambiguous backfields” has been a great place to start looking for those players over the years.
The Eagles' backfield qualifies as both an ambiguous as well as a wonderfully fruitful environment to search for production. That’s why I’m nervous I haven’t been drafting much of D’Andre Swift at all.
I have Swift as the top-ranked running back on the team, which admittedly is a change I made very recently. And he’s still well below consensus ADP in my ranks. That’s all while knowing that the Eagles apparently want this to be Swift’s backfield:
"I think the Eagles want it to end up being D'Andre Swift's backfield
... I think what's going to happen. In the end, Kenny Gainwell is going to end up playing the most. Because he is the most reliable."
- @Bo_Wulf https://t.co/nHifRWj8PW pic.twitter.com/VghTWNY0cA
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 21, 2023
Swift is a talented player but hasn’t quite hit his ceiling as an individual and has been on and off the field. Ultimately, I don’t think he has a path to the passing-down role he once owned in Detroit because of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert’s presence. Jalen Hurts will just take off scrambling before he gets that deep in the progression.
I also agree with Bo Wulf in the tweet above that Kenneth Gainwell’s reliability ends up making him the Eagles back who plays the most. But if the Eagles get their wish and Swift dominates this backfield, he’s playing in the exact right team to make me look stupid.
BONUS: Matt Canada, Pittsburgh Steelers OC
If you’ve listened to the Yahoo Fantasy Football Show, you know how high I am on the Steelers being the value fantasy passing game in 2023. Yet, long-time listeners know how skeptical I am about Matt Canada’s offensive design and basic route combinations. Should my Steelers takes age poorly, I know who I’ll be blaming as the primary culprit. But I have hope Canada can evolve this offense just enough for these pass-catchers to sing alongside a quarterback in Kenny Pickett who looks like he’s made the leap.