Fantasy Football: Players to target using PFF's fantasy projections

WTPB85 Arlington, Texas, USA. 8th Sep, 2019. Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard prior to the NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Shane Roper/Cal Sport Media/Alamy Live News

  • Sam Howell is the perfect late-round QB for drafters punting the position: Even with questions regarding the Washington Commanders‘ offense and Howell’s development as a passer, his ability and willingness as a rusher holds upside for fantasy managers in 2023.
  • Tony Pollard is a value among the “elites”: Despite Pollard’s ADP as the RB9 in drafts, his projected top-five finish could make him a value among fantasy’s elite running backs.
  • Christian Kirk is the value among the Jacksonville Jaguars receivers: All eyes are on new Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley in training camp. However, Kirk should be able to maintain a significant target share given his heavy usage in the slot, making him a potential value based on his current draft cost.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Welcome to Week 1 of the 2023 NFL preseason. That’s your queue — you’d better be prepared for your fantasy football drafts because they’re just around the corner. Here at Pro Football Focus, our team is on their grind to provide you with the best analysis, tools, and data for you to do your fantasy research. 

Too busy to grind out the data on your own? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered, too, with our 2023 fantasy projections, where you can select your league’s scoring setting for customized fantasy rankings. Here, I’ve taken a look at the projections from PFF’s model to identify the best values in your fantasy football drafts based on average draft position (ADP).

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Editor's note: All fantasy football ADP data referenced comes courtesy of ESPN as of Tuesday, August 8. PFF projections based on full-PPR scoring.

QB Sam Howell, Washington Commanders

  • Current ADP: QB32
  • Projected EOS rank: QB15

The Commanders seem to have wavered slightly in their commitment to Howell as the starter since adamantly declaring it earlier this offseason. Though reports have been shaky regarding the offense’s performance through training camp this far, one thing remains clear — if Howell is starting at quarterback, he’s bound to return dividends on his fantasy value, specifically thanks to his upside as a rusher. In his final season at UNC, Howell ranked third in the FBS with 1,104 rushing yards in the regular CFB season (third most), ranking only behind Malik Willis (Liberty) with a 90.9 rushing grade.

Projected rank Bye Games Projected points passComp passAtt passYds passTd passInt passSacked rushAtt rushYds rushTd
QB15 14.0 17.0 255.4 303.2 486.5 3315.0 17.9 14.4 47.7 88.8 477.9 3.5

In his lone career start in Week 18 of the 2022 season, Howell posted a disappointing stat line as a passer, completing just 57.9% of pass attempts for 169 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Still, he managed to finish as the overall QB8 on the week. Thanks to an additional 35 rushing yards and a score on the ground, his 0.77 fantasy points per dropback tied for the most among all quarterbacks. Howell surrounds himself with a generally underrated receiving corps in Terry McLaurin, second-year wideout Jahan Dotson and veteran Curtis Samuel, who’s been a viable threat when healthy. Look no further for a viable late-round quarterback with upside.

RB Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

  • Current ADP: RB9
  • Projected EOS rank: RB4

Pollard’s breakout 2022 season yielded him a finish as the overall RB7 in half-PPR scoring despite working as the “backup” behind veteran Ezekiel Elliott. Now, he heads into the 2023 season as the far-and-away RB1 in this Cowboys offense (now led by HC Mike McCarthy) that has seen an increase in total rush attempts in each of his three seasons as head coach.

Projected rank Bye Games Projected points rushAtt rushYds rushTd recvTargets recvReceptions recvYds recvTd
RB4 7.0 17.0 273.8 271.4 1292.5 8.2 58.8 47.4 363.5 2.0

Pollard’s projected finish versus his current draft cost might not seem like much… until you remember that he’s being drafted about a full round after other top-tier running backs like Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor and Breece Hall. Pollard’s 91.0 PFF rushing grade ranks second among running backs over the last two seasons, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt and a 21% missed forced tackle rate (13th) and 3.7 yards after contact per attempt (third), which has earned him a title as one of the league’s most elusive backs.

RB Pierre Strong, New England Patriots

  • Current ADP: Undrafted
  • Projected EOS rank: RB49

Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson has been endlessly hyped this offseason thanks, in part, to the lack of depth behind him. Backing him up are RBs Ty Montgomery (yes, he’s still in the league), Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris, but that’s not to say that the Patriots seem satisfied with their options. In fact, the team’s shown plenty of interest in the big-name veterans on the market, including hosted workouts for free agents Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott. The interest alone is enough to have me out on Stevenson, but considering Belichick’s history of rotating backs, it’s certainly worth taking a look at the rest of the depth chart… just in case.

Projected rank Bye Games Projected points rushAtt rushYds rushTd recvTargets recvReceptions recvYds recvTd
RB49 11.0 17.0 112.5 121.4 575.4 3.8 20.2 16.2 123.6 0.6

PFF’s projections have backup Strong projected for an RB49 finish, which makes him worth a glance for fantasy drafters as a late-round selection with upside. Strong absolutely shined in his (very) limited opportunities as a rookie in 2022, averaging a stunning 10 yards per attempt, with 0.3 missed forced tackles per attempt (tied for ninth) and an 83.8 rushing grade that ranked 17th among all RBs — just four spots behind Stevenson himself. 

The former fourth-round product out of South Dakota State, currently listed at 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, offers elite top-end speed and athleticism. It’s also worth noting that Strong’s draft capital isn’t all that different from Stevenson’s, having been drafted 127th overall (2022) and 120th overall (2021), respectively. 

WR Christian Kirk, Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Current ADP: WR34
  • Projected EOS rank: WR18

All eyes have been on Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley through training camp, but if our PFF projections are to be trusted (they are), we might need a reminder that 2022 breakout Christian Kirk hasn’t gone anywhere. Kirk enjoyed the first WR1 finish of his career on the back of his 1,133 receiving yard-8 TD performance, but drafters have, so far, allowed him to fall down draft boards. Why?

Projected rank Bye Games Projected points recvTargets recvReceptions recvYds recvTd fumbles fumblesLost
WR18 9.0 17.0 204.5 109.0 72.5 919.0 5.7 0.4 0.2

Though fantasy managers may have some concerns about the addition of Ridley into the mix, it seems likely that Kirk should be relatively unaffected considering his role working primarily from the slot. Kirk saw 92 targets from the slot in 2022 (second-most among WRs), which accounted for nearly 75% of his total target share. Compare this with Zay Jones, who saw just under 25% of his targets from the slot, and suddenly, Jones is the receiver projecting on the outside looking in. PFF projects Kirk to (once again) lead the team in targets, and despite a projected drop in touchdown production, it’s still enough to make him well worth his current price at WR34.

TE Hayden Hurst, Carolina Panthers

  • Current ADP: TE25
  • Projected EOS rank: TE12

The Panthers signed Hurst to a three-year, $21.75 million contract this offseason, and though he’s entering his age-30 season this fall, he could be up for his most productive season to date. Following the Panthers' trade of D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears in pursuit of rookie QB Bryce Young, it wasn’t especially clear which receiver would become his favorite target. With a depth chart of WR1s that are questionable at best (Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall Jr.), it’s easy to envision Hurst carving out a role as a receiver in this offense from the jump.

Projected rank Bye games fantasyPoints recvTargets recvReceptions recvYds recvTd
TE12 7.0 17.0 127.8 74.5 55.6 503.0 3.7

Hurst has yet to exceed 600 receiving yards or more than six touchdowns in a season, but even a decline in efficiency over each of his career seasons so far could be overcome with a bump in target share. PFF projects Hurst with just under 75 targets on the season (11th among tight ends), for 503 receiving yards and 3.7 touchdowns. However, that projection could appear modest depending on how much Thielen contributes in his age-33 season.

HC Frank Reich’s history with tight ends also adds to the potential opportunity for Hurst, having had a history of featuring the tight end in his offenses historically (Zach Ertz with the Philadelphia Eagles, Eric Ebron with the Indianapolis Colts). With minimal risk at his current draft cost, Hurst could provide fantasy managers with a lot of upside as a late-round value in a scarce tight end landscape.


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