Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: 5 bold predictions for 2023

2RHRYTH Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) warms up before the first half of an NFL preseason football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • Bijan Robinson is worth the first-round pick: The Atlanta Falcons will rely on the eighth-overall pick in the draft behind an excellent run-blocking offensive line.
  • Michael Thomas will rebound after barely playing the last few seasons: What Thomas does best matches up well with what his new quarterback Derek Carr does best.
  • Fantasy draft approaching? Use PFF’s AI-powered Live Draft Assistant to win the draft and dominate your 2023 fantasy football league.
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The fantasy football season is only a few days away. Most fantasy drafts are done, but it’s not too late for some bold predictions.

These statements aren’t the most likely outcome, but each is more likely than you might suspect.

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1. Bijan Robinson will lead all running backs in fantasy points

Landing with the Atlanta Falcons was the best-case scenario for the top running back prospect in years.

  • Robinson is the first running back selected in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley in 2018. Barkley finished as the overall RB1 as a rookie.
  • The four other running backs picked in the top 10 in the NFL draft also finished as top-10 fantasy running backs as rookies.
  • The Falcons were the only team to run the ball on more than half of their offensive plays last season, which included maintaining the run even when playing from behind.
  • They ran 48.8% of the time while losing, which was five percentage points more than any other team.
  • Those rates remained similar when Desmond Ridder took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
  • The Falcons' depth was a talented Tyler Allgeier and 32-year-old Cordarrelle Patterson. Allgeier can give Robinson a rest at times, but that shouldn’t stop Robinson from seeing 20 touches per game.
  • He will be running behind right guard Chris Lindstrom, who was the highest-graded run-blocking guard last season with a 93.1 grade, as well right tackle Kaleb McGary, the highest-graded right tackle last season at 91.6.
  • Falcons running backs have a 21.0% targets per route run over the last two seasons, which ranks eighth among teams.
  • Robinson is a well-rounded player who the Falcons will design more passes for than past running backs on the roster.
  • The Falcons have the eighth-best schedule for running backs in terms of the strength of their opponent over their first 16 games.
  • They also have the easiest schedule according to our power rankings, which should keep them in games and keep them getting the ball to Robinson.
  • This all adds up to what could be the first of many RB1 seasons.

2. Jaylen Warren will outscore Najee Harris in PPR points

Warren ended last season as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-down back. He could see more snaps on early downs this season.

  • He was an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State last season but was able to emerge as the primary backup by the end of the preseason. He was the Steelers' only backup running back to see any playing time in Week 1, with 23 snaps.
  • Warren averaged 0.464 avoided tackles per reception last season, which ranked first out of 62 running backs with at least 110 pass routes.
  • He wasn’t as good in the run game but still solid with 0.247 avoided tackles per rushing attempt, which ranked 16th out of 80 running backs with at least 35 rushing attempts.
  • Compared to Harris in the run game, Warren had a higher yards-per-carry figure, yards-after-contact-per-carry figure, avoided tackle rate, first-down rate and explosive play rate, plus a lower rate of being stuffed in the backfield.
  • Before the Steelers' last preseason game, the NFL Network pregame show talked at length about how the Steelers said this would be more of a running back duo this season — like a classic thunder-and-lightning running back pair — and that the team would restrict Harris’ playing time.
  • We began to see this transition late last season when he was the clear third-down back but also saw playing time on first and second downs.
  • Harris took 30 first-down snaps on the first drives of games from Week 1-14 last year, compared to two by Warren and two by other backups.
  • This changed over the last four weeks, with Harris taking 13 compared to Warren's four. Over the preseason, Harris has played eight and Warren has played four.
  • Harris will likely remain the leader in early-down work when healthy, but Warren has slowly but surely cut into his playing time.
  • If Warren continues to take all of the passing-down work and a third of the early-down work, he could have standalone value this season while Harris won’t be worth one of the top-20 running back spots.
  • We saw examples last season of a passing down back outsourcing the early down back on the same roster, such as the Washington Commanders and Kansas City Chiefs backfield. This could be another one of those cases.

3. Kenneth Gainwell will lead the Philadelphia Eagles backfield in fantasy points

Gainwell remains one of the top three backs in one of the NFL's best offenses.

  • Gainwell is known as a receiving back, but he’s scored a rushing touchdown on 7.5% of his rushing attempts, leading to 0.906 rushing fantasy points per attempt. Both marks ranked as the best out of 80 running backs with at least 35 rushing attempts last season.
  • Philadelphia lost Miles Sanders but added D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny.
  • Gainwell has received plenty of praise over training camp and more work with the first team than any other running back.
  • He and Boston Scott were among the veterans who had the first preseason game off. Swift received that treatment in the second game, with Gainwell starting over Scott and Penny.
  • It’s clear he is currently among the top two on the depth chart. It was thought, at best, he’d be a receiving back while Swift or Penny take early-down snaps, but it’s starting to look like Gainwell could be the early down back this season. At worst, it seems like he would be Swift’s backup.
  • Miles Sanders was RB15 last season taking the early-down back role, so this is what Gainwell or anyone else is capable of in the Eagles' high-powered offense.
  • Swift and Penny have dealt with several injuries in their careers, so even if he’s not the starter in Week 1, it’s possible Gainwell will be the starter at some point this season.
  • The Eagles have the top offensive line in the NFL, which would be a huge help to Gainwell or whoever in Philadelphia is running with the ball.

4. Michael Thomas will finish as a top-20 fantasy wide receiver

Thomas has been one of the top wide receivers in the NFL when healthy.

  • Thomas ranks top-three over the last five seasons in targets (9.6), receptions (7.9), yards (89.0) and PPR points (19.6) per game among wide receivers.
  • Thomas' big problem is most of those accomplishments occurred closer to five years ago than the present day.
  • The one basic statistic where he wasn’t elite was touchdowns, as he recorded 0.5 receiving touchdowns per game, which was still tied for 12th out of 139 wide receivers with at least 40 games.
  • Thomas dealt with a high-ankle sprain and hamstring injuries throughout 2020, and a setback in his rehab for his ankle injury cost him all of 2021.
  • He played the first three games of 2022 before suffering a pedal toe dislocation, which cost him the rest of the season.
  • He still played well in those games, averaging 17.0 receiving PPR points per game, which ranked ninth on the small sample size.
  • Thomas was healthy throughout training camp, and consistently played 100% of his team's offensive snaps with the starters in the preseason.
  • Thomas will need to develop chemistry with his new quarterback Derek Carr. There is reason to believe Thomas can thrive with Carr.
  • In Carr’s long NFL career, he’s proven he’s worthy of being a starter in the NFL but isn’t among the top quarterbacks in the league.
  • His strengths match up with what Thomas does well while his weaknesses could be a bad sign for the other wide receivers.
  • Carr has a 94.0 PFF grade over the last five seasons when throwing a crossing route — the fourth-highest for a quarterback with at least 200 crossing attempts.
  • Similarly, he has the second-highest passing grade when throwing slants at 92.8.
  • Carr has 4,445 passing yards over the last five seasons on slants and crossing routes, ranking third behind Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.
  • It’s hard to imagine Thomas being as good as he was with Drew Brees throwing him the football, but the dropoff from Brees to Carr shouldn’t be as dramatic as it appears on the surface.

5. Dalton Kincaid will finish as a top-6 fantasy tight end

The Buffalo Bills selected Kincaid with the 25h overall pick in the draft.

  • Kincaid is the second-highest-rated tight end prospect from the past five seasons, behind Kyle Pitts.
  • He is a little undersized as a tight end, but he could basically be treated as a slot receiver in the Buffalo offense.
  • The Bills haven’t typically used 12 personnel, but that should change this season, as Kincaid is best suited to take the slot role for Buffalo.
  • Buffalo receivers have 419 receptions while lined up in the slot over the last three years, which ranks fourth among all teams.
  • Three Bills had double-digit catches from the slot last season — Isaiah McKenzie, who is no longer on the roster, Stefon Diggs, who plays all over, and Dawson Knox.
  • The Bills already indicated in the preseason they would be using Kincaid in more two-tight-end sets.
  • Kincaid took 20 snaps in line, 18 snaps in the slot, four out wide and one in the backfield during the preseason.
  • The last preseason game is when we saw the Bills use Kincaid and Knox the most.
  • Kincaid ran a pass route on 10-of-15 pass plays and Knox on eight-of-15 while the two were still playing.
  • It’s at least possible for someone to be a top-10 fantasy tight end running a route on 66% of pass routes, but it’s difficult.
  • New Orleans Saints tight end Juwan Johnson ran a route on 69% of the Saints' pass plays last season and was TE8 in part thanks to his seven touchdowns, which ranked third among tight ends.
  • Kincaid can follow a similar route of catching a lot of touchdowns and being a headache for fantasy managers each week. Knox had consistently been among the best fantasy tight ends at touchdowns per reception, but those touchdowns should be going to Kincaid.
  • He can finish as a top-10 tight end in the role we saw in the last preseason game, but he can be even higher if the Bills have him see more playing time as the season progresses, which is relatively common for a rookie.

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