Fantasy Football can be hard to perfect, but we’re here to help. Read our guide on which players to avoid drafting in the 2023 fantasy season here.
What NFL Players Should You Avoid To Draft in 2023 Fantasy Football?
Fantasy football players are like stocks – it’s not the names that matter, but the value. So knowing which players to pick and which to avoid is crucial.
There’s an old saying that can be applied to any sport of your choice, but I think it originated in baseball.
“You can’t win the World Series in April, but you can lose it.”
The meaning? If you start out well, you still have to sustain that performance all year. But if you start poorly, you run the risk of digging a hole that’s too deep to later recover.
Well, your first-round pick alone isn’t likely to win your fantasy football league. Everybody knows who the stars are. But the WRONG first-round pick can submarine your championship chances before you even get to the later rounds.
With that in mind, here are two first-round picks (plus several others) to avoid in fantasy football for the 2023 NFL season.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Starting this column with the consensus No. 1 running back is a perfect opportunity to explain the thinking behind this piece.
No one’s saying Christian McCaffrey is a bad running back, or that you shouldn’t pick him for your team. But at the point he’s going in most drafts when he should be one of the players to avoid. First or second overall – there are some reasons for concern.
McCaffrey turned 27 this offseason, and while I’d love to be that ‘old’ again the fact is that NFL running backs age differently than the rest of us.
Need proof? Ezekiel Elliott, only 10 months older than McCaffrey and every bit as statistically accomplished, has been without a team for the past five months. Salary concerns are a big part of that, but Elliott’s team found a cheaper, younger alternative in Tony Pollard and never looked back… which bring us to…
DraftKings Sports SPECIAL OFFER
But he’s done neither since 2019, making him of the players we suggest you avoid this year.
After coming to San Francisco at the trade deadline last season, McCaffrey’s carries and receptions dipped significantly when Elijah Mitchell was healthy (and he is right now). McCaffrey averaged 360 touches in his prolific 2018 and 2019 seasons – numbers he’s unlikely to repeat in 2023 (or ever).
This time last year, the versatility of 49ers WR Deebo Samuel was all the rage in the NFL. Samuel’s superb 2021 season had 31 other teams looking for their multi-dimensional star who could change the game as a pass target, a runner, a kick returner, etc.
Then injuries and defensive game plans turned Samuel into merely another good player last season.
Samuel’s been quite vocal this offseason about regaining his 2021 form, and the 49ers plan to give him every opportunity. Meanwhile, tight end George Kittle is out to prove his 11-TD performance last season was no fluke, and WR Brandon Aiyuk emerged as a top pass-catching threat last season and now enters a contract year.
Bet365 Sports SPECIAL OFFER
The point? McCaffrey’s never faced so much competition for pass-catching targets, and 100+ catches would likely require significant changes to everything we know about coach Kyle Shanahan’s approach.
To top it all off… the 49ers don’t really know what’s going on at quarterback. It’ll probably be Brock Purdy, but he is coming off major surgery and is only 16 months removed from famously being selected with the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. Think about the number of NFL teams with QB issues, then realize they all passed on Purdy multiple times. Are we sure Purdy is a good (or healthy) NFL quarterback?
One of the things that makes McCaffrey such an attractive fantasy pick is his versatility. He’s not only rushed for 1,000+ yards twice in his career, he’s also caught 100+ passes in two separate years.
2020 and 2021 were somewhat lost seasons due to injury, and last year’s trade from the Panthers to 49ers led to a slight decline (but still very good) season.
Can McCaffrey regain his 2019 form? He’s absolutely got the ability.
Is he a first-round pick in fantasy football? Yup.
Is he the No. 1 pick in 2023? Not for me.
Players to Avoid: Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
Here’s the first-round RB you probably expected to see in this column.
No one seems too high on Jacobs coming into 2023, not with the 2022 NFL rushing champion yet to report to training camp. He’s angry about receiving the franchise tag and is fast becoming the poster child for “underappreciated” running backs in the NFL.
It doesn’t seem like a story that ends with another NFL rushing title.
More strikes against Jacobs – a new quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, a career high 340 rushes last year, and while this one isn’t too scientific, he plays for a franchise with a penchant for handling these types of disputes in the worst way possible.
Recent Raiders history isn’t filled with feel-good stories. We’re not betting on Jacobs to reverse that trend.
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
This one hurts.
Burrow, to me, is one of the most likable players to come around in a while. His talent’s undeniable. A record-setting Heisman Trophy and National Championship-winning campaign at LSU in 2019, a trip to the Super Bowl in his second pro season, and a near-miss just last year when the Bengals fell to Super Bowl champions Kansas City by a field goal in the AFC Championship.
Burrow’s a bona-fide MVP candidate. But he’s hurt.
On July 27, Burrow was carted off the field at Bengals practice with a calf injury. Cincinnati, as was so rarely the case in the past, did the right thing – they declared Burrow out for the foreseeable future.
FanDuel Sports SPECIAL OFFER
We thought they were just preserving their star QB for when the games count, starting September 11. But this past Monday brought these concerning words from Burrow’s college teammate and top target Ja’Marr Chase.
“I told him, in all honesty, I don’t want him there,” Chase said of a highly anticipated Week 2 Bengals showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.
“You don’t want to cause problems later in the season. As long as you’re there after Week 5 and on, we’re good, brother.”
AFTER Week FIVE? That’s a third of the fantasy season. Chase isn’t a doctor, but he knows a whole lot more about Burrow’s prognosis than the rest of us.
It hurts to say it, but another one of the players to avoid in your picks. Look elsewhere for your starting fantasy football QB in 2023.
Players to Avoid: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, WRs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fantasy football can be unpredictable enough.
When the players give you the answers, take them.
For the past three seasons, Evans and Godwin put up strong numbers catching passes from Tom Brady.
Tampa Bay’s projected starting QB in 2023? Baker Mayfield.
Enough said. Next.
TJ Hockenson, TE, Minnesota Vikings
A day after Halloween 2022, the Detroit Lions sent Hockenson to the Vikings. Playing in the same offense as Justin Jefferson appeared to be a boon for the 26-year-old tight end, who averaged six catches per game with the Vikings (as opposed to 3.5 per game with Detroit.)
But now, Hockenson’s going as the No. 3 tight end in fantasy football (behind Travis Kelce and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews) and I’m not spending the fourth-round pick required to draft him.
Jefferson is that rare receiver who deserves 12-15 (or more) targets every game, regardless of who’s covering him. When Kirk Cousins looks away from Jefferson, this year he’ll see first-round draft pick Jordan Addison in addition to KJ Osborn, who caught 60 passes a year ago.
Dalvin Cook’s departure opens up a few targets, but his receiving numbers have declined since 2019. It’s nothing presumed starter Alexander Mattison can’t handle.
The targets and chances just aren’t likely to be there for Hockenson the way they might be for say, the Giants’ Darren Waller in his new home or Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts, selected with the No. 4 pick just two years ago.
And that’s exactly what we’ve looked for throughout this column. TJ Hockenson – like Christian McCaffrey, Josh Jacobs, and others on this list – is a fine player and could help a fantasy football team.
But in 2023, these players are unlikely to perform up to the standards of the draft pick you’ll have to use to acquire them. We suggest you avoid these players.