Riskiest Picks in 1st 10 Rounds of 2023 Fantasy Football Drafts
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Josh JacobsChris Unger/Getty Images
Risk is part of fantasy football. A big part.
There isn’t a player in the NFL who doesn’t carry some risk. There’s always the risk of injury, which is seemingly greater with some players than others. There are risks involved with roles for some players, and situation for others.
On draft day, those risks have to be measured against the potential reward a player can deliver. And a decision has to be made: pick or pass.
Of course, not all risks (or players) are created equally. Some players carry only a nominal risk into a season: Patrick Mahomes is expensive, but barring an injury, he’s going to do Patrick Mahomes things and put up Patrick Mahomes numbers.
However, some players are a spin of the roulette wheel. Maybe their number will hit, but it’s also possible fantasy managers who gamble on them will wind up wishing they hadn’t.
It’s those names we’re going to look at here. In fact, we’re taking it all the way, by highlighting the riskiest player in each of the first 10 rounds of fantasy drafts this season.
Round 1: Davante Adams, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
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ADP: 1.12 (12)
Last year, Davante Adams was one of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL. He ranked second in the NFL with 180 targets, seventh in the league with 100 receptions and third in the NFL with 1,516 receiving yards.
The 30-year-old also led the league with 14 touchdowns, slotted third in points-per-reception fantasy points among wide receivers and was sixth among wideouts with 50 or more receptions at 15.2 yards per catch.
However, that was with Derek Carr under center. He is throwing passes in New Orleans now and has been replaced in Las Vegas by Jimmy Garoppolo, and that could be bad news for Adams’ fantasy value.
Last year, Carr was fourth in the NFL in intended air yards per attempt (9.1), which is the average depth of a target, whether the pass was completed or not. Garoppolo was 25th in the league in the same category at 6.9 yards per attempt.
Some of that difference can be attributed to Kyle Shanahan’s offense in San Francisco, but we have seen nothing to indicate Garoppolo will (or even can) attack defenses vertically the way his predecessor did last year.
And given how much of Adams’ production came from vertical passes last year, playing with a quarterback who is more dink-and-dunk than bombs away could be a big problem.
And that also assumes Garoppolo can stay healthy. The 31-year-old has played 12 games just twice in six seasons in San Francisco.
Round 2: Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
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ADP: 2.09 (21)
It’s a toss-up for the riskiest pick of Round 2 between a pair of running backs in Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts and Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders. But we’re going to go with the latter here for a couple of reasons.
The first is that Jacobs still hasn’t signed his franchise-tag tender and reported to the team. The growing belief is that he will at some point before the season begins (the reality is that he has no leverage, and just over $10 million is a lot of cheese to leave in the fridge), but essentially missing the entire offseason is a concern.
An even bigger concern is the 25-year-old’s workload a season ago.
Last year, Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards and ranked third in PPR fantasy points among running backs. But in doing so, he also tallied a league-leading 393 touches, and that puts him squarely in the crosshairs of “The Curse of 370.”
Most fantasy managers attribute the curse to backs who tally over 370 carries in a season, but the historical data for backs who top 370 touches in a year isn’t much better. Almost all experience a substantial drop in production the following season, and many miss time.
Given everything working against him in 2023 (including the very real possibility the Raiders will see more negative game scripts) the odds of him backing up last year’s production just aren’t good.
And drafting Jacobs as even a low-end RB1 is asking for disappointment.
Round 3: Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
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ADP: 3.07 (31)
After his rookie season was wiped out by a foot injury, Travis Etienne of the Jacksonville Jaguars made his mark in 2022.
The Clemson product rushed for over 1,100 yards, averaged over five yards per carry, caught 35 passes and finished 17th in PPR points among running backs.
Quite a few fantasy managers expect Etienne to build on that success in 2023. In terms of average draft position, he’s the 12th back being selected.
However, there are also those who are skeptical that the 24-year-old’s production will increase in 2023, including Jeremy Popielarz of FTN Fantasy:
“Heading into 2023 the Jaguars added Tank Bigsby and D’Ernest Johnson to the already-rostered group of Travis Etienne, Snoop Conner and JaMycal Hasty. This paired with [Doug] Pederson’s coaching history leads me to believe we will see a split backfield, with Etienne struggling to see a 49% rushing share again. Additionally, there is a path where he loses the more valuable touches to Bigsby in the red zone. I believe Etienne can be a solid RB2 for fantasy but he will not reach the top-12 ceiling so many people are hoping for in this offense.”
Pederson has a long history of giving multiple backs substantial workloads, and Bigsby has certainly looked like a tank in preseason action. There’s a real possibility Etienne’s workload decreases and he loses goal-line work, an area where he struggled a year ago.
If that’s the case, the odds he returns even low-end RB1 value just aren’t good.
Round 4: Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
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ADP: 4.03 (39)
Two years ago, Deebo Samuel was a force of nature for the San Francisco 49ers and one of the most productive receivers in fantasy football.
The 27-year-old caught 77 passes, piled up over 1,700 scrimmage yards, scored 14 touchdowns and finished third in PPR points among wide receivers.
However, as B/R’s Zach Buckley pointed out, that 2021 campaign was much more the exception than the rule where Samuel is concerned:
“Yes, he had 1,770 scrimmage yards and 14 scores in 2021, but his other three seasons have delivered a total of 2,242 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns. His 2022 effort was entirely forgettable—864 scrimmage yards and five scores—and while his campaign was impacted by injuries, those health scares are part of the risk. Two his four NFL seasons have featured significant time missed due to injuries.”
After Christian McCaffrey arrived in the Bay Area last year, Samuel’s role as a runner all but evaporated. His yards per catch fell from 18.2 in 2021 to 11.3 last year. His yards per target experienced a similar decline, from 11.6 two seasons ago to 6.7 in 2022.
Simply put, Samuel went from a do-it-all Swiss Army knife to a dump-off target who wasn’t even the No. 1 receiver on his own team.
Fantasy managers looking to draft that first guy are chasing ghosts. He doesn’t exist anymore.
Round 5: George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
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Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images
ADP: 5.01 (49)
Believe it or not, I’m really not trying to keep picking on the same teams.
Last year, George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers finished the season third in fantasy points among tight ends, thanks mostly to a career-high 11 touchdowns.
However, all those trips to the end zone masked some concerning numbers swirling around the 29-year-old,
as Mike Clay of ESPN noted:
“I’m totally fine with Kittle as a fantasy starter, but I think he’s more likely to be a mid- to back-end TE1 than he is to return to elite status. Kittle got very lucky in the TD department last season (his position-high 12.8% TD rate was three times his prior career rate), and that bailed out a concerning 16% target share (4.2 per game) and 10.2 fantasy PPG (would’ve ranked eighth over the full season) during nine full games with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Kittle also has some durability concerns, having completed one full regular season (2018) in six tries.”
More often than not, huge touchdown spikes are followed the next year by regression to the mean. As Clay mentioned, the San Francisco passing attack is rather crowded, with Kittle competing with McCaffrey, Samuel and Aiyuk for targets.
And those durability concerns have already arisen again, after the Iowa product missed a sizable chunk of the offseason with a groin injury.
Is Kittle still a top-10 fantasy tight end. Yep.
Is he an elite option anymore? Not so much.
Round 6: D’Andre Swift, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
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ADP: 6.09 (69)
If the fantasy football community is Charlie Brown, then Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift is Lucy.
He keeps holding out the football, and despite landing on our backs time after time, we just keep trying to kick the damn football.
Swift’s talent and skill set have always tempted fantasy managers. And to be fair, when healthy, he has flashed elite elusiveness and pass-catching chops.
Now that the 24-year-old is in Philadelphia and playing behind maybe the best offensive line in the league, his potential upside is tantalizing.
However, largely because of durability issues, Swift has never really met expectations. And Dave Richard of CBS Sports doesn’t expect that to change in 2023:
“Yes, the injury concerns are obvious and is probably why he’s going after 60th overall. But unless the Eagles make a big change in how they use their running backs, he won’t have nearly as many chances to be as effective as he was in Detroit. In Swift’s three years there he earned an average of 5.1 targets per game. In Jalen Hurts’ two years as the Eagles quarterback, he’s thrown to all of his running backs at an average of 4.8 times per game. And don’t even bother to compare running back work at the goal line in Detroit compared to Philly when you know Hurts hogs the work there. There’s a very real chance Swift acts as a complementary player in Philadelphia, not as a feature back.”
In the preseason, Kenneth Gainwell has been Philly’s early-down back. If he doesn’t get the goal-line looks, Rashaad Penny likely will.
Unless Swift catches a ridiculous number of passes (highly unlikely in the Eagles’ scheme), he may have trouble being even a high-variance “flex” play.
Round 7: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images
ADP: 7.03 (75)
To be clear, I don’t hate the idea of drafting Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans in the seventh round as the 30th wideout off the board.
It’s possible fantasy managers are doing the same thing with Evans and Chris Godwin that they did with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in 2022—overreacting to a change under center.
However, as Dave Richard of CBS Sports noted, it’s also possible we, um, aren’t:
“I’m just worried that Evans without Tom Brady could be terrible. For most of his career, Evans has been a star, and we’re all aware of his nine-year streak of 1,000-yard seasons. But last year, Evans was a disaster down the stretch, and he scored nine PPR points or less in five of his final eight games. He’ll be 30 before the start of the season, and now he’s going to play with Baker Mayfield, who is a significant downgrade from Brady (duh). It might even be Kyle Trask at quarterback, which could be worse. The pass volume is likely to crater in Tampa Bay, and Evans could again have an inconsistent season. There will still be some big weeks — he did close the 2022 regular season with 48 PPR points in Week 17 against Carolina. But the frustrating weeks might mount up, and you could find yourself with Evans on your bench more than expected in 2023.”
Before that monster Week 17 game last year, Evans was 23rd in PPR points among receivers. And if you’re wondering how many top-25 wideout seasons Baker Mayfield has produced in his five professional seasons, the answer is two—in 2018 and 2019 by slot man Jarvis Landry in Cleveland.
Round 8: Marquise Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
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ADP: 8.01 (85)
We’ve reached the point in this exercise when, frankly, even if a player does bust, it’s probably not going to ruin your year. Not many seasons have been sunk by an eighth-round pick.
Wasting a fantasy draft pick is never fun, though. And there’s a good chance managers who select Arizona Cardinals wideout Marquise Brown this year will be doing just that.
With DeAndre Hopkins gone, the 26-year-old is the No. 1 wide receiver for the Cardinals. But given the sad state of the team, the uncertain status of quarterback Kyler Murray and Brown’s career to date, that might not mean as much as some fantasy managers might believe.
“Bad teams produce unstable assets,” Fantasy Pros wrote. “The Arizona Cardinals are going to be a five-alarm fire this season. Maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to run into the burning building.”
The report also noted: “Brown has finished with fewer than 800 yards in three of his four seasons. His 1,008-yard campaign in 2021 was the only time he’s averaged better than 60 receiving yards per game over a season. Brown has averaged an uninspiring 7.2 yards per target and 1.67 yards per route run for his career.”
Until Murray returns, it will be either journeyman backup Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune under center in the desert. And with little in the way of proven options around him, Brown is going to be the focal point of opposing defenses.
When it comes to the question of “what can Brown do for you?,” the answer in this case may well be “not much.”
Round 9: Jamaal Williams, RB, New Orleans Saints
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AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
ADP: 9.03 (99)
There was no bigger surprise star at the running back position last year than Jamaal Williams. He had been a late-round dart throw for fantasy managers and a “what the heck” flier.
However, his career year for the Detroit Lions in 2022 earned him a three-year deal with the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
However, the 28-year-old could be hard-pressed to approach last year’s outburst in his new home, according to Dan Fornek of FTN:
“Fantasy managers need to be careful before they slam the button on Williams in fantasy drafts this season. 45% of Williams’ fantasy scoring in 2022 came from touchdowns (17). Additionally, Williams had just one game with Detroit where he saw a snap share above 48%. Alvin Kamara will miss time due to an impending suspension, but the Saints ensured they’d keep a committee backfield by selecting TCU’s Kendre Miller in the 2023 NFL draft. Williams needs touchdowns to maintain his fantasy value, but the Saints’ offense may not be able to provide him the goal-line work he needs to replicate his 2022 performance.”
As mentioned, huge touchdown spikes almost always regress the following season. Kamara suspension (three games) also came in shorter than many expected.
Williams may have a few solid outings to start the season, but once Kamara returns, he will likely take a back seat in the backfield pecking order. His fantasy value could plummet as a result.
Round 10: Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts
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ADP: 10.06 (114)
Might as well wrap this up by giving y’all something to talk about in the comments.
Anthony Richardson has become something of hype darling among many in the fantasy football community this offseason. I’ve seen him go well before his ADP in more than one draft.
On some level, all the swooning is understandable. Running quarterbacks have more value in fantasy leagues than drop-back passers, and the No. 4 overall pick could be next-level in that regard.
The 21-year-old is built like Cam Newton, has Lamar Jackson’s speed, and he’s playing for a coach in Shane Steichen who unleashed Jalen Hurts on the league in 2022.
Having a cannon for a right arm doesn’t hurt, either.
But while Richardson is immensely talented, he’s also incredibly raw. He was just a one-year starter at Florida, with less than 400 career passing attempts. He completed less than 55 percent of those pass attempts.
Trey Lance of the 49ers was an athletic quarterback with a big arm and limited collegiate experience. Entering his third year, he may not even be the backup in San Francisco.
This isn’t to say Richardson is Lance, though. It may be that he will soon challenge Hurts, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to be the first quarterback selected in fantasy drafts. But it could also be that he struggles to read NFL defenses, his accuracy issues persist and his acclimation to the NFL is rocky.
So, if you do want to draft Richardson in 2022, you’d best have a viable Plan B like Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions or Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks at the ready.
Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks.