• Taking a running back first will help in the long run: If you draft a running back first, you can pick up several talented wide receivers down the stretch and get value at quarterback and tight end.
Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
The perfect 2023 fantasy football draft series combines current average draft positions from expert and casual drafts to see which players should be available at each pick, and then we make the best picks given that information.
To try out a draft strategy for specific picks in different league sizes, check out our new mock draft simulator. For help in other formats, rankings or for more details about the players, check out the rest of my summer content below.
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Last updated: 7:15 a.m. Saturday, September 2
Round 1, Picks 1-3: Draft a running back or wide receiver
An argument could be made for drafting a wide receiver such as Justin Jefferson, but it is harder to find depth at running back than it is at wide receiver when great options will be available at quarterback and tight end in early picks.
Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler have clearly been the top two fantasy running backs in recent seasons, thanks to their rushing and receiving abilities. Injuries are always a risk, but a team that starts with a running back ends up being better than one that starts with Jefferson, based on how drafts are currently playing out.
However, if you have the third pick and McCaffrey and Ekeler go Nos. 1 and 2, picking Jefferson makes the most sense.
Top Target: Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey was nearly unstoppable last season after getting traded to the 49ers, averaging 23.0 PPR points per game once he became a starter in San Francisco.
- He has averaged 9.8 rushing and 11.3 receiving PPR fantasy points per game since 2020, which ranks seventh and second, respectively, out of 79 running backs with at least 25 games in that span.
- The 49ers retained the majority of their offensive line this offseason, outside of losing right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The unproven Colton McKivitz is expected to take his place. McKivitz has played 145 offensive snaps over the past two seasons.
- McCaffrey is the definition of an every-down back, but the 49ers were OK with giving him rest whenever they were ahead late in games. His playing time dipped below 59% when San Francisco led by a touchdown or more in the second half of games.
- He is, by far, the safest bet to be an elite fantasy back this season while playing with the same coaching staff around him with similar backups.
Possible Targets: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jefferson
Round 2, Picks 22-24: Draft a quarterback
Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes are easily the best quarterback options in fantasy football this season regardless of format, thanks to their various combinations of passing and rushing production.
In past seasons, all 12 fantasy managers could get a quarterback they could be happy with, but that’s no longer the case after Tom Brady retired and Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill all took steps back at 34 years old or older.
You will hold an advantage if you draft one of the top options, especially considering how consistent young quarterbacks are in fantasy football from one season to the next. Recently, Hurts is the only quarterback falling to this point, making him the ideal pick.
If all three quarterbacks are gone, pivot to running back.
Top Target: Jalen Hurts
- The Eagles signal-caller is known for his rushing ability, and his 0.87 rushing touchdowns per game were second-most among all players regardless of position last season.
- He put up plenty of big plays in the passing game but also limited bad plays. His 2.0% turnover-worthy plays per rate ranked second-best among quarterbacks.
- The main concern keeping him from the top spot is the loss of offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who left for the Indianapolis Colts, and his team's investment in running backs Rashaad Penny and D’Andre Swift, who could take some of Hurts' rushing production.