Fantasy Football: Using PFF projections to predict passing, rushing, and receiving leaders for 2023

2ANYN10 Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs with the ball during the AFC Championship, Sunday, Jan 19, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs beat the Titans 35-24. (Photo by IOS/ESPA-Images)

  • Repeats from the elites?: Patrick Mahomes and Justin Jefferson led the NFL in passing and receiving, respectively, in 2022 and certainly have the talent to repeat. Can they live up to their QB1 and WR1 expectations?
  • Ride the rookie: Bijan Robinson has consistently made headlines as he enters his highly anticipated rookie season, and his fit in an RB-centric Atlanta offense looks like a match made in heaven.
  • Surprise contender at QB: Kirk Cousins quietly finished third in passing yards a season ago and has surpassed 4,200 yards in each of the last three seasons. Can he challenge for the passing crown this season?
 Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Fantasy is volatile year to year as numerous factors come into play over a full season, and projections can be even more volatile, but it is always worth knowing where each outlet predicts players to finish. While raw yardage outputs are not always direct predictors of fantasy success, it certainly provides solid baselines to work from when preparing for a draft and often correlate well with categories like usage and fantasy points per snap.

The last two seasons have seen this correlation come to fruition, as Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards in 2021 and came in as the QB2 overall while Jonathan Taylor and Cooper Kupp turned their league-leading yardage totals in rushing and receiving (respectively) into RB1 and WR1 finishes. Last season saw Patrick Mahomes and Justin Jefferson lead their respective positions in yards and translated that into QB1 and WR1 fantasy finishes while rushing leader Josh Jacobs parlayed his 1,653 rushing yards into an RB3 overall finish.

As we enter the thick of redraft season, it is time to take a look at who could lead these categories once again using PFF’s stat projections for 2023.

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Leader: Patrick MahomesKansas City Chiefs

Contenders: Josh AllenBuffalo Bills and Kirk CousinsMinnesota Vikings

After leading the NFL in passing yards in 2022 with 5,251 yards, Mahomes returns to the top of the projected passers again in 2023 at just a touch under 4,400 yards.  The Chiefs offense is a well-oiled machine at this point, and as long as Andy Reid and Travis Kelce are in town, Mahomes should rightfully be at or near the top of these lists. In his five seasons as the starter in Kansas City, Mahomes has the second-best cumulative passing grade (93.5), behind only Aaron Rodgers and his 93.8 grade, and has averaged 4791.6 passing yards per season, putting 4,400 yards in 2023 well within grasp. PFF projections also predict Mahomes will lead the NFL in passing TDs at 32.5, a number he has failed to reach just once since 2018.

If anyone can dethrone Mahomes, Allen must be one of the first names mentioned. His 4,3789.8-yard passing yards projection puts him just slightly in second place on this list, but a season of shootouts in the AFC East could see him usurping Mahomes to claim his first passing title. A potentially surprising contender could be Kirk Cousins, who has posted an 80-plus passing grade in four of the last five seasons and looks to have a fantastic supporting cast once again. Entering the second season with Kevin O’Connell and Wes Phillips on the headset, Cousins has the luxury of throwing to Justin Jefferson for another season while 2022 trade acquisition T.J. Hockenson, 2023 1st round pick Jordan Addison and veteran K.J. Osborn round out a strong receiving corps.


Leader: Bijan RobinsonAtlanta Falcons

Contenders: Nick ChubbCleveland Browns and Derrick HenryTennessee Titans

It is rare for a rookie at most positions to challenge, let alone lead, the league in a given statistical category, but Robinson is not your standard rookie. After an illustrious college career at Texas capped off with his 96.1 overall grade in 2022, Robinson was drafted with the eighth overall pick by Arthur Smith and a Falcons team that led the NFL in team rushing attempts and came second in rushing yards in 2022 with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson carrying the load. Projected for 1,351.7 yards in 2023, Robinson may have a bit of a timeshare to start the season, but his raw talent and the Falcons' emphasis on the ground game give him a great chance to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Ezekiel Elliott and his 1,631 yards in 2016.

There is not a closer battle at the top of the PFF projections than among the RBs, however, with veteran workhorses Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry both projected for over 1,300 yards as well. Both have regularly been near the top of the rushing leaderboards in their careers, and Henry won back-to-back rushing titles in 2019 and 2020 while finishing second last season. Chubb is coming off a career season where he ran the ball 302 times for 1,525 yards while posting an elite 90.4 rushing grade, and with Kareem Hunt no longer in the picture, he should be primed to receive a similar workload.


Leader: Justin JeffersonMinnesota Vikings

Contenders: Ja’Marr ChaseCincinnati Bengals and Cooper KuppLos Angeles Rams

Since entering the NFL in 2020, no player has more receiving yards than Justin Jefferson’s 4,825, and only Davante Adams (94.2) has a better cumulative receiving grade among WRs than Jefferson’s 92.6 in that time period. This past season saw Jefferson take the receiving yards crown by nearly 100 yards over Tyreek Hill, and there is little to suggest he cannot repeat this feat in 2023. Despite additions in T.J. Hockenson and Jordan Addison, Jefferson is an elite talent and has earned the complete faith of his quarterback while the departure of Dalvin Cook may be a bit of addition by subtraction for the Vikings passing game, as the team potentially leans less on the run game.

Projected for 1,573.9 yards, Jefferson has the best case to be the first WR taken in fantasy drafts this season, but challengers such as Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp deserve mentioning as well. Chase may be Jefferson’s only rival as a pure receiver, and his two seasons in Cincinnati have seen him post an 89.9 cumulative receiving grade while averaging 86.2 receiving yards per game, but competition in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd has the potential to limit his overall yardage output. Cooper Kupp is certainly capable as well, he led the NFL in almost every major receiving category in 2021 and is in prime position to dominate the Rams' target share again, but it will require a healthy season from himself and Matthew Stafford to return to his 2021 ceiling and push Jefferson.


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