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Before we go forward, it’s time to look back and ask the question, “What exactly did we learn playing fantasy football in 2022?”. Then we should ask, "How can we use this hard-earned knowledge to be better in 2023 drafts?" Let’s start with quarterback, a position that is becoming more important in 1QB leagues and more important in fantasy football in general as the prevalence of Superflex leagues is on the rise.
Note: All ADP data is courtesy of Underdog (Sign up with the code “Footballguys")
Patrick Mahomes II is still the king, but Tyreek Hill is a kingmaker
Mahomes was falling to the QB4 spot in many drafts after losing Tyreek Hill in the offseason. That indicated some skepticism about how well offseason acquisitions JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore could replace Hill’s production and tactical value in the offense. That skepticism was well-grounded, as none of the Chiefs' new additions came close to living up to aspirational ADPs based on Mahomes' ability to create fantasy value in the passing game. The magic trick that Mahomes (and Travis Kelce, Jerick McKinnon, Andy Reid, and the offensive coaching staff) pulled was still being a top-three elite fantasy scorer, and eventually winning his second Super Bowl (and season MVP) despite playing through a high ankle sprain.
Meanwhile, over in Miami, Tyreek Hill, with some help from Jaylen Waddle and Mike McDaniel, made Tua Tagovailoa a viable fantasy quarterback. The only problem was that Tagovailoa suffered multiple concussions and didn’t live up to the hopes created by an electrifying six-touchdown, come-back-from-21-points-down Week 2 to remember.
What We’ll Do in 2023: Mahomes is correctly being drafted in early best ball drafts as roughly co-QB1 with Josh Allen. He’s not a value pick anymore. Tagovailoa is around QB12, which accurately balances his weekly upside reward and zero-value risk for drafters who wait at the position and take multiple boom-bust options. Pass on Mahomes; consider Tagovailoa depending on your draft plan.
Jalen Hurts can grow as a passer and is unstoppable as a goal-line runner
Well, that’s not the whole picture, if we’re being honest. Hurts had a little help from his friends, namely general manager Howie Roseman, who traded for true No. 1 receiver A.J. Brown during the draft, and whoever lined up behind Hurts to help push him over the stripe. Still, it’s undeniable that Hurts made vast strides as a passer in his third season, and after the Eagles didn’t add a power back in the offseason (sorry, Jordan Howard), Hurts remained the goal line back, but now, in a much stronger offense. Hurts contended with Mahomes and Allen for the most valuable fantasy quarterback award all season and, with an ADP around QB5-6 in most drafts, a contender for the most valuable player in fantasy football in 2022, period.
What We’ll Do in 2023: Hurts is going off of the board as QB3 in early best ball drafts, which is warranted whether the "Tush Push" is legal in 2023 or not.
Running QBs get an unfair fantasy advantage, but they also got hurt more often
We just saluted the fantasy success of Hurts, but he wasn’t available for the most important weeks of the fantasy season even though his team didn’t lock up the No. 1 seed until the last week of the season. Josh Allen was the clear most valuable player in fantasy until an elbow injury took the wind out of his (and fantasy teams that relied on him) sails in the second half of the season. Lamar Jackson came out of the gate like he would contend for most valuable fantasy quarterback but ended up being unavailable for the last five games of the season. Justin Fields turned the corner and ended up being a huge win for teams that drafted and held him through a rough early-season stretch, but he missed two games during the stretch run. We won’t even mention how Trey Lance’s season came and went.
Allen was injured on a strip sack, and less mobile quarterbacks also get hurt, so we aren’t going to revert to the canard about running quarterbacks being more injury-prone. But facts are facts.
What We’ll Do in 2023: Fantasy football still hasn’t adjusted scoring enough to correctly balance a quarterback’s running and passing contributions, so we won’t avoid running quarterbacks at ADP. But we will be more mindful about who we draft as backups, especially in Best Ball leagues.
It’s getting harder to keep up if you don’t have an elite quarterback
In 2020, the gap between QB1 (among quarterbacks that played more than five games) and QB12 was about eight points per game, with five other quarterbacks within a point per game of QB12. The gap between QB1 and QB5 was two points. The gap between QB1 and QB10 was 4.5 points. In 2021, the gap between QB1 and QB12 was a mere 5.7 points, which was actually the smallest of any position!
In 2022, the gap between QB1 and QB12 was over eight points per game. The gap between QB1 and QB5 was only about a point less. Joe Burrow was the only quarterback within shouting distance of Mahomes/Hurts/Allen.
There was no way to go cheap at quarterback and consistently neutralize the advantage teams with elite quarterbacks had, with the exception of maybe Justin Fields. All three of the elite quarterbacks required a selection in the top six at the position, and only Joe Burrow bailed out teams that didn’t go early quarterback from the QB7-12 tier.
What We’ll Do in 2023: ADP has correctly adjusted to put Mahomes, Hurts, and Allen closer to their realized value in 2022, requiring a second-round pick in early Underdog drafts. This is unheard of in the post-explosion era of fantasy football. There is no right answer here, but the three top-six quarterbacks who did not deliver on investment - Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray - will all have new offensive coordinators this year, and Deshaun Watson, Trey Lance, and Russell Wilson are all cheap enough to be intriguing at ADP. The decision whether to go early quarterback may come down to how compelling you find the non-quarterback second-round options such as Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jaylen Waddle, Kenneth Walker, and Breece Hall.
Father Time is still undefeated
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan all ended up being mild to massive busts in fantasy football. Older quarterbacks had looked like savvy investments and an exception to the “better to be out a year early than a year late” rule, but the bottom dropped out in 2022.
What We’ll Do in 2023: Wilson is QB17 in early drafts, which is more than worth it for the cost, especially in best ball, when you consider Sean Payton’s history. Aaron Rodgers is QB19 and Stafford QB20, which also attractive for the bargain bin tier. The pendulum may have swung too far against the oldies after a traumatic year for the group.
Sophomore first-round picks had a wide range of outcomes, but were overall a good investment
Trey Lance was an injury bust, which was more merciful than the bleed-to-death busts around him in fantasy drafts. Justin Fields was a big hit but required exceptional patience. Trevor Lawrence was a hit at ADP and had huge games in Weeks 13, 15, and 16. Zach Wilson cost nothing but was worth less than that. Mac Jones had the same fantasy value as Davis Mills. It wasn’t a smashing success story by any means, but if you targeted second-year, first-round pick quarterbacks at ADP in your draft, you were likely happy with your decision.
What We’ll Do in 2023: Kenny Pickett is the only player who fits the sophomore first-round pick category. Matt Canada is still the Steelers offensive coordinator, so...
The waiver wire will always be there for us at quarterback
Geno Smith finished as QB8 and was rarely drafted in typical leagues. Daniel Jones wasn’t always drafted and got dropped by many teams early in the season. He was a top-10 quarterback from Week 7 on and a league winner in Week 17. Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy held down the fort for desperate teams. Even Marcus Mariota had startable value if you picked your spots correctly. On the other hand, 2021 waiver wire hero Tyler Huntley was a waiver wire zero in 2022, so buyer beware. The punishment for completely ignoring quarterback in your draft wasn’t much worse than waiting to take your quarterback after the top seven.
What We’ll Do in 2023: Only take a backup quarterback in 1QB leagues if they have significant upside. This is also a “don’t overinvest in your QB2” take in Superflex/2QB leagues.