Maybe I’m getting old, but more and more, I like picking either first or last in fantasy football snake drafts. This wasn’t always the case — the long wait in between picks used to drive me insane.
But now I welcome it. I get to watch other owners either make poor choices or eliminate difficult choices that I would otherwise have to contend with. Meanwhile, I’m sitting back and watching my strategy fall into place with my back-to-back picks, turn after turn.
While you don’t need to have a full-blown master plan to reap the benefits of this unique draft position, you do need to have at least a rough vision. Given your top overall choice perk, and the whole getting two picks in a row for most of the draft thing, you are able to map out your draft in more detail than other draft positions allow for. Personally, I find picking first the easiest draft position to plan for.
For me in 2023, I know I’m taking Justin Jefferson first, am targeting the best quarterback I can on the two-three turn, and missing out on the top-tier of running backs — but being comfortable with the high-upside of the ones I do end up with. The following is a mock draft where I will explain all of this in more detail.
2023 fantasy football mock draft: Picks 1.01 — 10.01
The following mock draft was for a 12-team half-PPR league with the following roster configuration: 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1RB/WR, 1TE, 1K, 1D/ST, 5BE, using FantasyPros.com mock draft simulator.
Pick 1.01: Justin Jefferson, WR (MIN)
There will be a few out there who are hell-bent on taking an RB first and who think Christian McCaffery is the way to go. He’s still my personal RB1 this season, so you won’t find me taking many shots at him, but he certainly has more risk attached to him than Jefferson, given his injury history and a talented supporting cast potentially taking away touches.
Jefferson, on the other hand, seems to be the consensus “safest pick” in fantasy football heading into the 2023 season. You can have your pick of favorite Jefferson stats to back this up, but mine is that he was last season’s WR1 in all scoring formats and only had 8 touchdowns. With that pesky TD-hound Adam Thielen out of the way, there’s a great chance of him improving on his 17.9 FPPG (half-PPR).
Picks 2.12/3.01: Garrett Wilson, WR (NYJ)/Jalen Hurts, QB (PHI)
My non-controversial strategy only lasted one round with my choice of taking a quarterback early. Maybe I’ve been too much in the industry expert bubble these past few years, but at least in these “elite” fantasy circles, it still isn’t “cool” to pick a quarterback in the first three rounds. You’ll find all kinds of arguments and stats that back this up, and that’s totally cool. But I bet all of these folks have been in friends and family leagues where Aunt Carol’s Patrick Mahomes-led squad took everyone else down with ease.
OK, everyone gets lucky sometimes, even Aunt Carol, but my point is that no rigid draft strategy works year after year. There have been recent seasons where I was totally on board with the late-QB strategy, and others in the past where zero-RB made sense to experiment with, but it always depends on the draft class, and what your draft position is.
This season, if I’m picking at the 2/3 turn, my goal is to end up with two (more) players who are the safest bets to provide elite production, and it’s one of the few draft positions where this is possible. So this means landing one of the top 3 QBs if they are available.
Here, Jalen Hurts is my guy. How can you pass on 25.6 FPPG (most among QBs in 2022, half-PPR) in round 3? Barring an injury, there’s no reason to expect any less from Hurts in 2023, given his running ability and killer receiving targets behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
For the other pick here, in most cases, I’m going with the top WR, as most of the RBs I would consider (i.e. Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris) are typically gone. Garrett Wilson fits that bill for me. I’m fully on board with him building on his impressive rookie campaign with a true breakout year, fueled by whatever Aaron Rodgers has left in his tank (my money is on it being better than last year’s Jets QB stock). To quote 5th Down’s Martin Grisko, partially quoting Michael Jordan: “I expect Wilson to catch more than the 4 touchdowns he had last year … and the ceiling is the roof for Wilson.” Amen. (I think?!).
Picks 4.12/5.01: Miles Sanders, RB (CAR)/DJ Moore, WR (CHI)
I’m not in love with Miles Sanders in 2023, given that he’s already been sidelined this preseason, but it’s pick 48 and I don’t have an RB yet, so beggars can’t be choosers. If Cam Akers or Breece Hall fell here, I’d be a bit more excited. Again, the great thing about picking here is I knew I needed RB at this turn, based on my earlier choices, so it was just a matter of deciding on who.
Despite the fact that I have Dameon Pierce ranked slightly higher than Sanders at the time of writing, Sanders was my pick. This is a good example of how the gut plays a role on draft day. Despite his preseason injury concerns, the veteran Sanders is on track for Week 1 and just feels like the safer pick overall when taking average ADP into consideration. There’s no Devin Singletary lurking in the background (no offense, Chuba Hubbard), and I see Sanders’ receiving potential in Carolina’s offense as very enticing.
I could have taken Pierce with my next pick and quieted any lingering doubts, especially as there’s a natural urge to go back-to-back on RBs here having passed on the position in rounds 1-3. But for me, I see there being more high-upside RB picks (guys like Rachaad White, James Cook, D’Andre Swift) available at the 6/7 turn than what will likely be the available crop of WRs, so my instinct is to get my WR3 here before the herd really thins out.
Enter DJ Moore. Or is it D.J. Moore? I can’t remember if he’s a period guy or not. More importantly from a fantasy perspective, Moore as a fantasy WR3 is more than legit. His numbers suffered last year due to poor QB play, but he gets an upgrade in Chicago with Justin Fields. He’s a fantasy WR2 in my book and this is a steal in the 5th round.
Picks 6.12/7.01: Rachaad White, RB (TB)/James Cook, RB (BUF)
Now I need to focus on RBs for my next several picks, and here I get two of the RBs I was hoping would still be available. I’m personally very high on White entering his second season and actually have him ranked higher than Sanders. I took a gamble that White would come back to me and that paid off (it won’t always).
White’s well-positioned to be the lead back for the Bucs throughout the season, especially given how he was used in preseason. He had over 50 receptions and 400 rushing yards as a rookie who shared touches with Leonard Fournette last season.
Cook is another back I actually like a bit more than Sanders, but given ADP trends, I waited and prayed. Cook performed well when he had the chance in 2022, but Devin Singletary stood in his way. Singletary is out of his way now, replaced by Damien Harris, who will eat into Cook’s share some, but all signs point to Cook being the top guy. But Cook has the tools, especially as a pass-catcher (noticing a pattern here?) to be a viable fantasy RB2 in the Bills’ high-powered offense.
Picks 8.12/9.01: Antonio Gibson, RB (WAS)/Khalil Herbert, RB (CHI)
Getting Gibson here makes me feel a lot better about waiting a bit on RBs. His current half-PPR ADP has him as a low-end RB3, but I think there’s a good chance he finishes as an RB2 in 2023. He was actually a low-end RB1 in half-PPR leagues in his last two fully healthy seasons (2021-22). While Brian Robinson is clearly the early-down back, Gibson has the pass-catching role all to himself this year with J.D. McKissic out of the picture. Expect him to top the career-high 46 receptions he hauled in last season.
With the next selection, I didn’t HAVE to take another back, but not much else was exciting me as potential TE1 or WR4 picks here. Kyle Pitts was a possibility, but with the likes of Evan Engram, Pat Freiermuth, and the exciting rookie Dalton Kincaid as decent options later on, I decided to add even more RB depth with Khalil Herbert.
The Bears’ backfield is crowded with D’Onta Foreman and the rookie Roschon Johnson, but at this stage in the draft, you can do worse than Herbert as your RB5 and I think he’s a better bet to emerge as the main back in Chicago, which preseason usage already supports. He is the better all-around back and has seemed to improve on his pass-catching skills this offseason.
Pick 10: Kyle Pitts, TE (ATL)
I held off on Pitts last round, but he’s still there in the 10th, so now it’s a much easier pick to make. Pitts was a major bust last season after an uncharacteristically stellar rookie campaign as a rookie tight end in 2021. After missing six games with a torn MCL, he’s healthy and has the talent to be a top 5 TE, but this is far from certain given the Falcons’ run-heavy offense. But this risk is easier to swallow as a 10th-round pick.
The thing about picking either first or last, as 5th Down’s Neil Forbord alludes to in his article on picking 12th, is that going in early on a quarterback and a tight end is not a recipe for success. The wait is too long in between picks to neglect the other key positions. If you decide to take a QB early as I did here, you should wait on TE and end up picking a couple of less prominent yet higher-upside streaming options you can rotate during the season.
The rest of the draft
From here on out, it’s a matter of adding some depth to the WR position that I’ve neglected for the past five rounds. I followed my Pitts selection up with Jakobi Meyers and Zay Jones, two guys who finished 26th and 28th in half-PPR scoring last season. They likely won’t reach the same heights this season — Meyers joining a Raiders squad where he’ll have to share the slot with Hunter Renfrow and Jones now playing second fiddle to Calvin Ridley — but both have proven their worth and should see enough action to be decent fill-ins in fantasy.
I used my final pick before the obligatory D/ST and kicker selections to back up Pitts with Dalton Schultz. I could (and probably should) have taken a flier on a deep sleeper, but this pick, more often than not, is going to be a player you end up dropping during the season playing the waiver wire anyway. Feel free to take a shot on one of your favorite deep sleepers here and see if you can strike some late-round gold.
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