- Run Forest Run: Justin Fields, Daniel Jones and Marcus Mariota all vastly outperformed their preseason ADP, demonstrating that dual-threat quarterbacks remain a cheat code of sorts in fantasy land.
- Bad offenses are no fun: Wide receivers like D.J. Moore, Brandin Cooks and Diontae Johnson struggled to overcome their porous offensive environments and emerged as some of the position’s biggest underperformers.
- Throw darts at QB and TE: Both positions boasted multiple players inside of their top-12 scorers who weren’t drafted with a top-120 pick while Jamaal Williams was the only running back or wide receiver to finish inside the position’s top-24 with an ADP outside of the 10th round
Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
The 2022-23 fantasy football season has come and gone. Normal fantasy awards to honor the best players have been handed out, the unluckiest players and “all-sheesh” team have been named, so now it’s time to pinpoint the season’s premiere over-and under-performers based on their production relative to where they were drafted before the season.
A few rules to help accomplish this:
- FantasyPros consensus ADP will be used as the source of every player’s average draft position.
- Fantasy scoring is full-PPR.
- Ranks refer to the player’s fantasy points on a per-game basis, as overall would wind up being more of a conversation on which players stayed fully healthy and which didn’t.
- Minimum eight games played because availability is still an important ability (some might even argue the best!).
- Players with higher ADP will be highlighted before those with lower in order to spend more time on the bigger names. There's no need to overly break down the intricacies of why a wide receiver with WR90 ADP wound up finishing as the WR71 on a per-game basis.
- No touching of the hair or face.
- Justin Fields (QB5 per game, QB17 ADP)
- Daniel Jones (QB8 per game, QB25 ADP)
- Geno Smith (QB9 per game, undrafted ADP)
- Jared Goff (QB13 per game, QB26 ADP)
- Marcus Mariota (QB17 per game, QB29 ADP)
- Jimmy Garoppolo (QB19 per game, QB33 ADP)
Lesson No. 1: Dual-threat quarterbacks remain a cheat code in fantasy land.
Fields (160-1143-8 rushing), Jones (120-708-7) and to a lesser extent Mariota (85-438-4) demonstrated just how much of a cheat code high-end rushers can be in fantasy land. Digging into the history books reveals the position’s most run-heavy outliers have regularly dominated on the stat sheet even after controlling for per-game production:
There will be duds like Malik Willis and Sam Ehlinger, who are too incompetent throwing the ball even to keep the job long enough to tap into their theoretical fantasy-friendly rushing upside, but just realize the dual-threat quarterback, while still relatively rare, remains one of fantasy’s closest things to a living, breathing cheat code.
Lesson No. 2: Pocket passers better have multiple high-end weapons to work with.
Geno, Goff and Jimmy G each managed to overcome their lesser fantasy-friendly skill sets and emerged as some of the league’s most productive passers. Of course, each had the benefit of continuity with their team and most of the important coaches involved as well as talented skill-position weapons largely all over the field.
A closer look at the NFL’s supporting cast rankings supports this idea. Overall, Garoppolo (No. 3), Goff (No. 8) and Smith (No. 12) boasted top-12 offensive environments in terms of their team’s PFF run, receiving and blocking grade — basically everything other than passing.
The Seattle Seahawks certainly managed to surprise many with their immediate offensive success in the post-Russell Wilson era, but having a tandem like D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett was a big hint that Smith’s early-season success wasn’t a complete fluke. The offensive weapons were far more obvious in San Francisco and Detroit: Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to throw a dart at stupid cheap quarterbacks who have all sorts of places to go with the football.
- Matthew Stafford (QB29 per game, QB12 ADP)
- Aaron Rodgers (QB22 per game, QB10 ADP)
- Russell Wilson (QB18 per game, QB9 ADP)
- Tom Brady (QB16 per game, QB8 ADP)
- Justin Herbert (QB14 per game, QB3 ADP)
Lesson: The quarterback dead zone was a real thing in 2022.
The signal-callers who made up the low-end QB1 to high-end QB2 tier in terms of preseason ADP wound up dooming those who invested. This tier also included Trey Lance (injuries suck), Derek Carr (sheesh) and Kirk Cousins (strong finish sure helped), but in general, drafters were far better off waiting out the middle-class signal-callers in favor of later-round gems, such as Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence and Daniel Jones (among others).
Don’t hate the player; hate the ADP. Each of these top underperformers provided some rather awesome fantasy goodness as recently as 2021, although in hindsight, the gap between Jalen Hurts (QB6 ADP, pick No. 50) and Derek Carr (QB14, pick No. 106) being less than that of Carr and Jared Goff (QB25, pick No. 163) as well as Daniel Jones (QB27, pick No. 179) should have been a bigger red flag.
Late-round darts at quarterback were far more likely to produce elite production in 2022:
- Average ADP of top-12 QB: 110.5.
- Average ADP of top-24 RB: 40
- Average ADP of top-24 WR: 44.9
- Average ADP of top-12 TE: 80.6
It’s not rocket science to find out that good fantasy quarterbacks can be had more cheaply than any other position – by far – but the extent is pretty wild. Consider that five different quarterbacks (Fields, Jones, Smith, Tua, Lawrence) were available outside of the top-10 rounds of drafts while one running back (Jamaal Williams) and zero wide receivers boasted an ADP outside of pick No. 120. Two tight ends (Evan Engram and David Njoku also accomplished this feat.
It’s possible that the quarterback dead zone is pushed up even higher in 2023 with many (understandably) infatuated with the performance of the position’s top-scoring stars, but just be careful about also paying up for the less certain crop of signal-callers behind them.
- Josh Jacobs (RB3 per game, RB20 ADP)
- Tony Pollard (RB8 per game, RB33 ADP)
- Rhamondre Stevenson (RB10 per game, RB36 ADP)
- Kenneth Walker (RB16 per game, RB38 ADP)
- Jamaal Williams (RB18 per game, RB49 ADP)
Lesson: Talent evaluation, at least in terms of the ability to command a three-down role, still matters in the fantasy process.
Workload is king at running back in fantasy football land. Just ask well-known long-time stars Zonovan Knight and D’Ernest Johnson — it typically doesn’t take more than a pulse to get behind any running back expected to see upward of 20 touches per game in fantasy land.
That said, running backs do indeed need to earn that workload in order to prosper with it, and each of our overperforming backs at least exhibited the tools to theoretically be a good three-down back if given the opportunity before their 2022 campaign played out. Injuries played a role (they always do), but seriously:
- Jacobs had already established himself as a stud on the ground. The trick was new head coach Josh McDaniels tapping into the former first-round pick’s passing-game ability, which was apparent even if you had to look hard.
- Pollard boasted legitimate top-five efficiency numbers at the position even before this season’s breakout.
- Stevenson boasted the most complete skill set of any Patriots running back inside of a once-crowded backfield that wound up dwindling down to just him at certain points.
- Walker was the NFL draft’s 41st overall pick and checked pretty much every box in his pre-draft evaluation, other than proven pass-catching chops. His 11 receiving yards per game didn’t exactly break the game, but a path to 200-plus carries was always on the table.
- Williams was one of my favorite pre-draft picks thanks to his potential to be the 2022 version of James Conner. While he didn’t take over the backfield when D’Andre Swift was injured, it’s clear the veteran had the role that drafters were perhaps overly optimistic rookies like Isaiah Spiller, Rachaad White and Tyrion Davis-Price could have.
Most running backs drafted in this range need at least one thing to break their way in order to earn a fantasy-friendly workhorse role, so try to prioritize backs who at least have the on-paper skill set to make the most of the role should it come to fruition.
- Jonathan Taylor (RB17 per game, RB1 ADP)
- Najee Harris (RB19 per game, RB6 ADP)
- Cam Akers (RB36 per game, RB18 ADP)
- Kareem Hunt (RB48 per game, RB31 ADP)
- Chase Edmonds (RB57 per game, RB34 ADP)
Lesson No. 1: Bad offenses can tank a good running back quickly.
The Indianapolis Colts (30th in scoring offense), Los Angeles Rams (27th), Pittsburgh Steelers (26th) and Cleveland Browns (18th) struggled to consistently put up big-time points in 2022. This accordingly made it awfully difficult for all parties involved to consistently ball out in fantasy land without the benefit of a three-down workload.
Taylor did possess this sort of every-down role after Nyheim Hines was traded, but the injury gods work in mysterious ways. However, Harris went from having more expected PPR points than any running back other than Derrick Henry in 2021 to tying as the RB12 in 2022 due to Jaylen Warren‘s emergence. It took until December for Cam Akers to emerge as the backfield’s clear-cut starter while Hunt put forward the worst season of his career and worked as the clear No. 2 back behind Nick Chubb for large portions of the year.
Obviously, it was tough to predict that Taylor would get injured, but this does serve as a good reminder that the idea of players being more “injury prone” than others is largely a lie. Harris and Akers were both rather bad with their 2021 opportunities while Kareem Hunt hit the typical running back dropoff age (27) in August before the season.
Far less talented running backs than anyone involved in this group have won on volume before, but spending a premium pick on any running back at risk of being in a bottom-tier scoring offense is risky business – especially if they aren’t certain to handle a true workhorse role.
Lesson No. 2: Be careful about overestimating exactly how well we know the pecking order in a new backfield.
This one mostly just applies to Edmonds, who was going even higher than that ADP after some borderline erotic first-team usage in the preseason. There was reason to believe that Edmonds could seize the starting job, but confidence was perhaps overblown considering head coach Mike McDaniels’ previous ties to Raheem Mostert as well as Kyle Shanahan, whose family basically invented the idea that running backs don’t matter (don’t ask me why Kyle continues to spend so much money and draft capital on them anyway).
- DeVonta Smith (WR14 per game, WR37 ADP)
- Tyler Lockett (WR16 per game, WR38 ADP)
- Christian Kirk (WR18 per game, WR41 ADP)
- Zay Jones (WR31 per game, WR90 ADP)
- Rookie wide receivers: Chris Olave (WR26 per game, WR44 ADP), Garrett Wilson (WR30 per game, WR50 ADP), Christian Watson (WR33 per game, WR70 ADP) and Jahan Dotson (WR40 per game, WR61 ADP)
Lesson: Careful about over assuming the discrepancy in targets between a team’s No. 1 and No. 2 receivers if we know that all parties involved are ballers based on a combination of proven production, draft capital and money.
This applies to all parties involved. Three good rules of thumb to consider when identifying a wide receiver as a “baller”:
- Stud rookie receivers in terms of PFF receiving grade usually go on to achieve pretty awesome things.
- The heavy majority of top-performing fantasy players are drafted inside the top-three rounds regardless of position.
- High-priced free-agent additions have historically at least gotten oodles of opportunity, even if there have been plenty of busts along the way.
Ultimately, Smith and Lockett proved their discrepancy in ADP between A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf was far too wide while the same was true for Kirk and Jones – even if both wound up being quality values based on their cheap price. There was plenty of competition for Olave, Wilson, Watson and Dotson, but each commanded a top-34 draft pick for a reason and were accordingly featured as such.
- D.J. Moore (WR34 per game, WR15 ADP)
- Brandin Cooks (WR38 per game, WR20 ADP)
- Diontae Johnson (WR41 per game, WR16 ADP)
- Courtland Sutton (WR42 per game, WR21 ADP)
- Allen Robinson (WR58 per game, WR24 ADP)
- Darnell Mooney (WR59 per game, WR30 ADP)
- Elijah Moore (WR94 per game, WR36 ADP)
Lesson: Sometimes volume isn’t even enough to overcome a dismal offensive environment – and extra competition sure doesn’t help matters.
I wrote the following in my Seahawks team preview last offseason:
“On average, the top-scoring wide receiver from a bottom-10 scoring offense has finished as the WR32 in full-PPR scoring over the last five years. There have been 20 instances of these low-scoring offenses producing a top-24 wide receiver, but also 20 of them not enabling anybody ranked higher than 35th.”
The Seahawks wound up being anything but a bottom-10 scoring offense, but this phenomenon certainly did a good job of sinking all parties involved on this above list. At a minimum, Moore, Cooks, Johnson, Mooney and Moore were being treated optimistically based on their bad offensive environment while, in hindsight, drafters should have been a bit more worried about the pecking order inside of the new-look Denver Broncos and Rams offenses.
This isn’t to suggest you should never draft players from potential bottom-10 scoring offenses – Garrett Wilson and Jahan Dotson literally just made our list of biggest overperformers – but at a minimum, drafters should think twice about paying a premium for a top receiver in any clear-cut bottom-tier offense, especially if there are major continuity questions either under center or for the player themself.
- Evan Engram (TE7 per game, TE22 ADP)
- David Njoku (TE8 per game, TE16 ADP)
- Taysom Hill (TE12 per game, TE25 ADP)
- Greg Dulcich (TE17 per game, undrafted ADP)
Lesson No. 1: Don’t throw late-round darts at overly crowded passing games.
I managed to correctly identify Njoku as an underpriced tight end who had a good chance to work as his offense’s No. 2 passing-game option while tiering the position last offseason. Engram also seemed to at least have a chance considering his cozy deal and head coach Doug Pederson’s status as a tight-end whisperer.
Similar to quarterback, tight end stands out as the sort of position to not chase in the late-middle rounds if you didn’t manage to get your top-five or-six guy. It wasn’t unfathomable for anyone to rank Dawson Knox (TE10, pick No. 91) or Cole Kmet (TE12 ADP, pick No. 117) as top-12 options at the position, but the discrepancy in their overall rankings and Njoku (TE17 ADP, pick No. 157), as well as Engram (TE20 ADP, pick No. 186), was the true red flag.
Lesson No. 2: Taysom Hill is an enigma, and it’s wild the government lets us use him as a tight end.
Seriously. Can we stop with this charade? Hill spent far more snaps at both quarterback (148) and wide receiver (101) than he did as an inline tight end (51) last season. Literally zero of his 13 targets on the season came with him lined up as a true inline tight end.
I’m pretty sure Alexander Hamilton was talking about Hill’s fantasy football positional designation when he said “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” Stand with me in pushing against the ongoing atrocity that is Hill boasting tight-end eligibility in fantasy football land.
- Kyle Pitts (TE22 per game, TE3 ADP)
- Hunter Henry (TE27 per game, TE14 ADP)
- Mike Gesicki (TE30 per game, TE13 ADP)
- Albert Okwuegbunam (TE48 per game, TE18 ADP)
Lesson: Volume does matter.
This applies to the latter three players. Pitts’ placement here simply sucks more than anything. The second-year talent easily led all tight ends in unrealized air yards (411.2) this season, but many of his incomplete targets were of the uncatchable variety, which is especially annoying when you consider Pitts boasts the largest measured wingspan of any NFL tight end or wide receiver of the last 20 years. No offense had a lower rate of catchable passes than the Falcons and accordingly, no tight end finished with more fantasy points below expectation per game.
And then there was Henry, Gesicki and Okwuegbunam. All three were in offenses expected to feature multiple tight ends on a consistent basis based on extra parties involved (Jonnu Smith), Gesicki’s status as a wide receiver who we insist on calling a tight end, and head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s history of not featuring one specific tight end during his time with the Green Bay Packers.
None ever coming close to nailing down a full-time receiving role despite the general absence of injuries. My biggest takeaway is again similar to the quarterback position: Don’t be afraid to wait well into the double-digit rounds before throwing multiple darts, as the overall pick disparity between the middle- and lower-class at the position was badly overblown in 2022.