Fantasy football takeaways – top targets, sleepers, rookies


We hope you have read a bunch of our ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Guide content this month, or are just about to dig in as you prepare for your upcoming drafts.

While we know you like your cheat sheets and reading about our favorite sleepers, busts and breakouts, there are tons of storylines that emerge during the preseason that are worth highlighting.

So we asked our fantasy analysts to share their biggest takeaway from this summer, one that had an impact on their rankings and/or draft strategy as we head into peak draft season.

Matt Bowen: Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs will have an immediate impact in the pass game. Both rookie running backs should be viewed as offensive playmakers, with dynamic ability in the route tree and big-time PPR upside.

Tristan H. Cockcroft: Never sleep on rookie wide receivers any year, as seven of the 29 best rookie seasons in history (by PPR fantasy points) have come in the past three years. But let this preseason serve as a reminder not to sleep on those who snuck past the NFL draft’s first round, either. Marvin Mims Jr., Jonathan Mingo and Jayden Reed had solid preseasons that have them already pressing for starting roles, while Tank Dell is perhaps a Robert Woods injury away from fantasy relevance.

Stephania Bell: Every year there are short-term injuries in the preseason, and the trick when drafting is gauging whether they will linger into the season and/or rear their heads again later. Teams offer few clues, often opting to hold players out of all preseason action as a precaution, even if they could have returned otherwise. While there are no guarantees as to how these scenarios play out during the season, here are the players whose health status I’m more confident about heading into my fantasy drafts: WR Cooper Kupp (hamstring), QB Joe Burrow (calf), WR Allen Lazard (AC joint), TE George Kittle (adductor), TE T.J. Hockenson (back), RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder surgery), WR Jaylen Waddle (abdomen) and WR Mike Evans (groin).

Eric Karabell: I can’t be alone here, but each summer I lose more faith in running backs. This summer was quite a doozy with more contract holdouts, big names moving into timeshares, injuries and suspensions, and, by the way, it isn’t even done yet! We still lack clarity! This all leads me to becoming even more risk-averse, investing in even more WRs early in drafts, then throwing a bunch of RBs on my roster later and hoping I can get through a season with playable ones. It’s not a no-RB strategy, but we’re getting there.

Eric Moody: Sun Tzu’s quote, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity,” reminds me of the running back position in fantasy football. There have been a couple holdouts. A few talented players are still free agents. Because of this, managers can prioritize wide receivers or quarterbacks early in drafts and still put together great teams. There are a lot of proven running backs available in Rounds 3 through 6, depending on your league size: Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, Miles Sanders, James Conner and David Montgomery. You can also draft intriguing breakout candidates, such as Rachaad White or James Cook.

Daniel Dopp: This year, after hundreds of mock drafts and extensive draft strategy research, I’m deploying the hero-RB draft strategy. I love the way the board is falling when I grab a top 10-RB in the first three rounds, then load up on pass-catchers, an elite QB, a top TE and even my first bench WR before I grab my second RB. I’ll take someone in the Rachaad White/James Conner/Alexander Mattison range, then go RB heavy for the next 2-4 rounds. Every year the board falls a little different, but this has been my go-to draft model for the year. I hope it serves you well!



Where does Darren Waller rank among TEs?

Mike Clay discusses where fantasy managers should draft Darren Waller in their leagues.

Mike Clay: My instinct was to talk about the changing RB landscape, but that has been covered by my incredibly savvy colleagues throughout this piece. Instead, I’ll simply settle on something that happens every year: My rankings evolve throughout the offseason until they settle into a nice place during the summer and, in turn, my favorite value targets reveal themselves. This year, that list includes the likes of Garrett Wilson, Travis Etienne Jr., Christian Watson, Dameon Pierce, Rachaad White, Deshaun Watson and Darren Waller. These are the players who will make or break my 2023 fantasy season.

Liz Loza: The Kyle Pitts Dilemma™ has made a strong case for avoiding rookie tight ends. Dalton Kincaid, however, has me testing the theory once again. The Utah product, admittedly, isn’t commanding the same draft capital that Pitts did back in 2021, which certainly eases the apprehension around rostering him. Kincaid might not produce immediately, but I believe he’s on track to finish the season as Josh Allen’s second-most-targeted option in the passing game. Kincaid is expected to line up in the slot and figures to shine as a midrange security blanket on a pass-happy offense with little receiving depth. His 12th-round ADP is well worth the risk, given the potential reward.

Field Yates: At the outset of training camp, my preferred Ravens wide receiver to leave a draft with was Odell Beckham Jr., as the veteran is motivated and close to 100% after a season off the field in 2022. My updated preference is Zay Flowers, the first-round rookie out of Boston College who has been the toast of the town at Ravens training camp. Flowers is the rare small receiver who plays big and has absolutely exceptional footwork and route running. He’s going to make a legitimate impact on this offense right away.


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