Players like Justin Jefferson and Patrick Mahomes are massive stars in the NFL and fantasy football alike. Everyone knows that if you draft players like them, you will have a star. Often it’s not the first picks you make that can make or break your fantasy team, but the middle picks. Let’s skip the first three rounds of 1QB drafts and discuss 7 players that will lead you to a title in the subsequent rounds.
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
Herbert’s 2022 season was a tale of two seasons. When he was healthy, he was an elite quarterback for fantasy. When he was unhealthy, he was borderline unplayable. The Chargers entered the 2022 season as one of the many hyped teams in a loaded AFC West. With the exception of the Chiefs, the entire division would go on to disappoint.
In addition to Herbert playing through a lingerie rib injury, he was forced to play the majority of the season missing one or both of his top two receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The only reliable offensive weapon Herbert had at his disposal for much of the season was running back Austin Ekeler, who he targeted early and often.
Going into 2023, Herbert looks to have more weapons than at any point in his career, In addition to Allen, Ekeler and Williams, the Chargers used a first-round pick on stud wide receiver Quentin Johnston. This gives Herbert a quartet of weapons, unlike any other group he has had in his short career.
The AFC West is shaping up to be the arms race many thought it would be in 2022. If the Chargers hope to contend with the like of Kansas City and Denver, Herbert is going to have to put up a massive season. It is not outside the range of outcomes for him to lead the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns this season.
His current draft cost of QB7 and 38.83 overall according to Fantasy Pros ADP is a steal. You get top-three quarterback production, at a significant discount.
Miles Sanders, RB, Carolina Panthers
Sanders began his career with a monster season for the Eagles. That rookie season would prove to be a career-high in receiving yards and receptions to this point and would prop up his best fantasy finish in full PPR. A change in scenery could change that in 2023.
He joins a Panthers squad with an undersized rookie quarterback who figures to check down the ball every time he gets into trouble. This is the perfect spot for a reliable tight end to target for dump-off after dump-off, but Carolina lacks that. That’s where Miles Sanders comes in.
Sanders is one of the few reliable pass-catchers on this roster that sports a trio of unimpressive receivers as the only alternatives to the newly acquired running back. This wide receiver corp is filled out by the aging Adam Thielen, chronically injured DJ Chark, and rookie Jonathan Mingo.
If one of these lackluster receivers doesn’t step up in a big way, Sanders is going to have a monster season catching the ball. That’s before we factor in his rushing numbers.
At RB20 and 45th overall, Sanders is a cheap pick and a reliable RB2 for fantasy squads, with RB1 upside.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Johnson finished outside the top-24 wide receivers in fantasy for the first time since his drop-plagued rookie season. The Steelers were a mess in 2022. Johnson was forced to battle through quarterback struggles as Kenny Pickett found his way through the league. Add in the fact that he somehow managed to score zero touchdowns on his 147 targets and it’s little surprise that he finished as WR30.
So, after a WR30 season of worst-case scenarios, Johnson finds himself being drafted as WR34, 83rd overall. We’ve seen what his floor looks like, and despite this, we continue to draft him below it.
At WR34, Johnson is the free square on the board. Outside of a catastrophic injury, there is simply no way for him to underperform this ADP. If Kenny Pickett takes even a small stride forward or he cashes in on the obvious positive touchdown regression he is in store for, he could easily finish in the top-15 receivers.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk finished last season with perhaps the quietest 1,000-receiving yard season in NFL history. He finished as WR15 in full PPR scoring, while teammate Deebo Samuel finished as WR40 in an injury-plagued season. So, if Aiyuk finished 25 receiver spots ahead of Samuel last season, why is he going off the board this year 13 receivers later than Samuel?
Aiyuk spent one season in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse and has felt the wrath of drafters even since. Conversely, Samuel had one hyper-efficient boom season and has been over drafted ever since.
There is simply no reason why these two should be three full rounds apart in fantasy drafts. Aiyuk is the better of the two options. He also showed better production and chemistry with Brock Purdy in his starts.
By all accounts, Purdy will be the 49ers starter come week one. I would be willing to bet that favors Aiyuk far more than Samuel.
With Aiyuk and Johnson going so close in drafts, in the mid 60’s, this is a spot in the draft where I love to have back-to-back picks. On the turn to scoop them both up before other managers wise up.
Darren Waller, TE, New York Giants
Once a perennial stud to target in fantasy drafts, Darren Waller has quickly fallen out of favor in fantasy circles. Darren Waller put up back-to-back top-three tight-end finishes in 2019 and 2020, before missing large periods of time in 2021 and 2022.
He is a risk certainly, but he is one worth taking as his upside at the current cost is unmatched. Waller is going off the board as TE7, 67th overall. Dallas Goedert is going as TE6, 61st overall. While those two rankings may not be a glaring mistake, they very much are.
As I mentioned, Waller has finished as a top-three tight end twice in full PPR. Goderts highest finish in his career is TE10 in full PPR. So, why is Goedert going ahead of Waller? I understand that Waller battles injuries on a regular basis, but even in his best season, Godert has never been elite.
Typically, I am very risk averse in these picks where I only draft one player at the position (tight end, quarterback), but Waller is worth the risk. He has the potential to easily finish within the top-five tight ends. Draft him as the last of the big seven tight ends off the board, and pair him late with a high-upside tight end like Chigoziem Okonkwo or Greg Dulcich.
James Conner, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Stop me if you’ve heard this, James Conner is being undervalued. He is currently being drafted as RB24, despite the fact that he hasn’t finished as lower than RB24 in any healthy season since he was a rookie.
Conner is unsexy and always risky, in an offense that projects to be low scoring. So it’s understandable that Conner would be the forgotten man, but don’t overlook him.
Conner can be drafted in the late 70s and will finish as a boring but consistent RB2. While a low-end RB2 may not sound exciting, remember that it’s great value when you realize he can be drafted as your RB4.
Pairing Conner up with some of the other players on this list can make for a boring team on paper, but the consistency of some of these players cannot be underestimated.
Greg Dulcich, TE, Denver Broncos
Greg Dulcich came into his rookie season as a trendy pick for tight-end sleepers. Sadly due to an anemic Broncos offence and injuries, his breakout never materialized. Dulcich finished as TE29 but was the definition of boom or bust. Half of his games were missed due to injury or under five PPR points, while the others were in the 12-15 fantasy point range.
Sean Payton comes to town to fix an offence destroyed by Nathaniel Hackett and that’s exactly what he is going to do. Payton turned monster athlete Jimmy Graham into a tight end to be feared in New Orleans and he is going to do the same thing here.
Dulcich is going off the board as TE15, 127th overall and is a sure bet to finish as a top-10 tight end. Dulcich is a true beast of an athlete and will easily become a big-bodied end-zone target for Russell Wilson.
He is going in a range with tight ends like Tyler Higbee, Juwan Johnson and Irv Smith Jr, and at that price is a great late-round target to pair with earlier and riskier tight ends like Darren Waller. They are the perfect 1-2 punch of tight ends with immense upside if they hit anywhere near their ceiling.
Image Credit: Robert Hanashiro – USA TODAY Sports