- Trevor Lawrence is set to take another big step forward in 2023: The former No. 1 overall pick looked significantly better in Year 2, so taking another leap in Year 3 should have him greatly outperforming his ADP.
- Daniel Jones’ new favorite target: Darren Waller getting traded to the New York Giants this offseason should lead to a resurgence of his fantasy value as he potentially leads the team in targets.
- Michael Thomas worth the risk: In the ninth round of fantasy drafts, Thomas offers an upside and talent that isn’t easily found in this range, making him a prime target for fantasy.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
League winners can be defined in many different ways, but for the purposes of this article, it’s the players that allow fantasy managers to focus on the true star players in the earlier rounds in addition to the players who can complement them later on. Should this strategy work out, then we’ll be seeing a lot of these players on championship rosters come Week 17.
Round 6: QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Sleeper ADP: 57.9
- Underdog ADP: 65.8
Lawrence recently finished as the overall QB6 last season thanks to five top-five weekly fantasy finishes and a big step forward in his progression as an NFL quarterback after a rookie season that didn’t go the way most expected in 2021. The former No. 1 overall pick is currently being drafted as QB8 across all platforms, which most commonly ends up being the sixth round.
Trevor Lawrence as a rookie versus Year 2:
|Season||Passing yards||Yards/ attempt||Big-time throw rate||Turnover-worthy play rate||Adjusted completion rate||Passing grade||Time to throw|
In 2022, Lawrence saw a nearly 20-point increase in his PFF passing grade, going from 58.3 as a rookie to 73.1 in Year 2, and dramatically improved many of his other passing metrics across the board. Even after taking that big step forward in his progression last season, there is potential for him to improve even further in 2023 with another full year under Doug Pederson as head coach and an improved offense that adds Calvin Ridley to a returning Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram.
Lawrence is particularly intriguing is his ability to run the ball and add value with his legs. He ran for over 1,200 yards over three seasons at Clemson and has done a nice job bringing some of that to the NFL as well, combining for 625 rushing yards these past two seasons while adding seven rushing touchdowns in that span (tied for seventh among QBs). Lawrence’s early-career rushing average of over 300 yards per season is particularly important for him to produce a top-five (or higher) fantasy finish, as 85% (17/20) of the top-five quarterbacks since 2019 posted at least 250 rushing yards in that season. Adding Lawrence as your QB1 in the sixth round of fantasy drafts while attacking top-tier options at the skill positions in the first five rounds is an excellent recipe for success in 2023.
Round 7: TE Darren Waller, New York Giants
- Sleeper ADP: 66.7
- Underdog ADP: 77.4
Health is seemingly going to be the biggest obstacle for Waller at this point in his career, as he's missed 14 games over the last two seasons and turns 31 years old early on in this NFL season. However, neither age nor injury has stopped Waller from being one of the early stars of training camp in his first offseason with the Giants. Waller has been talked about as “un-coverable” and quarterback Daniel Jones’ favorite target. While that is nice to hear, it isn’t training camp reports that are going to win fantasy managers their league this season.
Waller’s connection with Jones is certainly going to be important this season, as there isn’t really a true alpha wide receiver on the team who will command targets in the way that Waller can. Over the last four seasons combined, Waller has commanded a 23.8% target rate, which ranks third among tight ends with at least 200 routes run in that span. Also since 2019, Waller ranks fourth among all tight ends in yards per route run (2.09), which highlights how effective he can be with that heavy target rate.
Jones’ 2022 tendency as a quarterback was a lower average depth of target than almost the entire league last season (6.5), and for the most part, that would pair well with a typical tight end. Waller should certainly still thrive in those short and intermediate areas of the field. However, he also brings a skill set as a deep threat that is exceptional for the tight end position, which could allow Jones to air the ball out more and get Waller more of those high-value targets. Over the past two seasons, Waller ranks second among all tight ends in receiving grade on throws 20-plus yards downfield (92.6) with the second-most targets on such throws (30). If Waller is able to become not just a favorite target for Jones overall but a deep threat as well, his chances of finishing inside the top-five tight ends are as good as they’ve been these past three seasons.
Round 8: RB James Cook, Buffalo Bills
- Sleeper ADP: 89.4
- Underdog ADP: 91.9
As the season draws nearer and the Bills have still yet to add significant competition to their backfield to contend with Cook for touches, the likelihood of him having a true breakout season only increases. Cook is currently being drafted outside of the top-24 running backs on most platforms but could be on the rise as we get closer to the regular season. The word out of camp has suggested that he is far and away the top running back for the Bills’ offense and getting significant work as a receiver, which is the ideal scenario for his fantasy value.
James Cook’s metrics and ranks among running backs in 2022 (min. 100 snaps):
|Yards per carry||5.3||T-5th|
|Yards per reception||8.6||16th|
|Yards per route run||1.43||16th|
Even as a rookie, Cook ranked among the best rushing and receiving backs in the league in key aspects of the game, which could contribute to fantasy production. While on a smaller sample size, everything that made Cook a second-round pick last offseason was evident and should translate to Year 2. Among running backs going in a similar range in drafts right now, Cook stands the best chance to greatly outperform his ADP and provide that league-winning potential in Buffalo’s high-scoring offense.
Round 9: WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
- Sleeper ADP: 98.1
- Underdog ADP: 95.2
Thomas is on the fringes of the eighth or ninth round in ADP, but for the most part, he falls closer to the ninth when looking at consensus, which is a perfect spot to take a swing on 2019’s fantasy WR1. While 2019 was a long time ago when it comes to fantasy football, Thomas has still showcased a lot of his WR1 ability when he has been on the field. The problem is that he just hasn’t been on the field much at all. Still, there’s hope that 2023 could be the perfect bounce-back year for Thomas, especially as a player going this late in drafts.
Thomas appeared in just three games in 2022 but in those games, he averaged 17 PPR points per game, earned a 21.2% target rate and posted two top-20 fantasy finishes, including as the WR8 in Week 1. Thomas did this while ceding the lion’s share of targets to rookie Chris Olave, but that didn’t stop either player from being valuable fantasy assets. Unfortunately, Thomas missed the rest of the season after that so the sample size is small but encouraging.
With Derek Carr stepping in as the new starter at quarterback in New Orleans, there’s an opportunity for him and Thomas to develop a strong rapport given both player’s tendencies on the field. Both Carr and Thomas have been among the best in the league on slants and crossing routes, as highlighted in Nathan Jahnke’s player profile on Thomas, which should lead to plenty of connections in the short and intermediate areas of the field for PPR gold. Thomas has apparently looked good and healthy so far in camp, but will always be a risk given his injury history, however, at this point in drafts there may not be a better value given his talent and upside.
Round 10: RB De’Von Achane, Miami Dolphins
- Sleeper ADP: 113.6
- Underdog ADP: 117.3
When the Dolphins selected Achane on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, it made all the sense in the world given the speed that already exists within Miami’s offense. Adding Achane's 4.3 speed to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and the rest of this explosive offensive could be a match made in fantasy heaven. When considering the competition for running back touches in Miami, including Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson and Myles Gaskin (among others), Achane’s chances of winning the lead back role are far from astronomical, giving him a real chance to lead this group in carries by season’s end.
Achane is coming off a 1,100 rushing-yard season at Texas A&M in 2022, which also included nearly 200 receiving yards. Over the last two seasons, he also ranked among the top running backs in this draft class in rushing grade (93.7), rushing grade on zone runs (92.9) — of which Miami ran a top-10 rate of outside zone in 2022 — and receiving grade (72.3). His potential to be a home run hitter in 2023 goes hand in hand with how well his skillset matches with what Miami wants to do as an offense, and even if it doesn’t happen in Week 1 for the rookie, eventually getting to a spot where he leads this team in carries this season makes him worth the shot in the 10th round of fantasy drafts.