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DBro’s Middle Round Fantasy Football Draft Strategy & Top Targets (2023)

DBro’s Middle Round Fantasy Football Draft Strategy & Top Targets (2023)

We have a brand new season of fantasy football peeking over the horizon for 2023. After a wild NFL offseason and draft cycle, the dust has settled, and we have a shifting NFL landscape that appears ripe for the picking for fantasy. The attack plan for fantasy titles starts with the early rounds of your drafts.

These early selections will build the backbone of your teams and influence how you approach the rest of your draft. Whether you love RB heavy, Zero RB, or somewhere in between, I’ve outlined my approach and targets for the middle rounds that can be tailored to fit any fantasy palate. Enjoy, and let’s have a banner year.

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DBro’s Middle-Round Draft Strategy (2023 Fantasy Football)

*Unless otherwise specified, All data utilized in this article courtesy of FantasyPros, PFF, Football Outsiders, and Playerprofiler.com.*

Derek Brown’s Middle-Round Draft Strategy & Top Targets

Approach to Round 5

  • Justin Herbert: Herbert is in a fantastic spot to reclaim his top-five fantasy quarterback status this year. Herbert suffered in 2022, watching his passing touchdowns, rushing yards, and yards per attempt all drop off the map. Kellen Moore can help all of those areas rebound this year. Under Moore, expect the Chargers to push the pace and throw downfield, which Joe Lombardi was allergic to. Moore has never directed an offense that ranked outside the top two in neutral script pace. Dak Prescott has ranked inside the top-13 quarterbacks in the NFL in air yards per attempt in three of his last four seasons. If Keenan Allen and Mike Williams stay reasonably healthy, Herbert could post career-best numbers this season.
  • J.K. Dobbins: J.K. Dobbins is set to put the split backfield worries and the cap on his production in the past. Todd Monken gifted top-10 opportunity shares to Nick Chubb and Peyton Barber in his last two years leading an NFL offense. Bye-bye, Greg Roman. This couldn’t come at a better time as Dobbins’ health should be back to 100%, allowing him to shoulder the load and make some money in a contract year. Dobbins’ talent has never been a question. Last year operating one healthy leg, he ranked 22nd in yards after contact per attempt, sixth in breakaway percentage and 24th in PFF elusive rating (minimum 90 carries per PFF). During his rookie season, he was top 12 in each of these metrics (eighth, second, 11th). In most cases, Dobbins will be drafted as a mid to low-end RB2, but he offers RB1 upside.
  • Trevor Lawrence: After a lost rookie season under the buffoonery of Urban Meyer, Trevor Lawrence entered 2022 as a giant question mark. Would he ever fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon him? Would Doug Pederson be the coach to unlock his potential? After Week 8 last year, the light finally came on for Lawrence, and he put all those worries to bed. In Weeks 9-18, Lawrence was second in passing grade, second in adjusted completion rate, and tenth in yards per attempt as the QB7 in fantasy points per game. Once Lawrence flipped the switch, Pederson leaned on his young franchise quarterback, bumping up their neutral passing rate to tenth and throwing in the red zone at the 11th-highest clip in the NFL. With an already talented supporting cast surrounding Lawrence and Calvin Ridley added to the mix, Lawrence has an intriguing top-five upside this year.

  • Dameon Pierce: Pierce should be the straw that stirs the drink for Houston in 2022. The coaching room for the Texans is littered with former 49ers staffers, so we shouldn’t be shocked if the team lives and dies by the run game this year as they ease C.J. Stroud in. In his rookie season, Pierce was the RB16 in expected fantasy points per game with 19.8 touches per game in the 12 games he played at least 50% of the snaps. Pierce was also ninth in yards after contact per attempt and 16th in breakaway percentage. Devin Singletary will spell him at times on early downs, but this is Pierce’s backfield. He’s an RB2 with an RB1 upside.

Approach to Round 6

  • Cam Akers: If Akers continues steamrolling opponents in 2023 in a similar fashion to the final few games of last year, he’ll earn himself a nice payday after the season. I love targeting contract-year running backs. When motivation and talent align, it’s a beautiful thing. If you question whether Akers is fully back from the Achilles tear, you must be blinded by take lock. In Weeks 10-18 last season, he was 21st in yards after contact per attempt and seventh in PFF elusive rating (per PFF). In Weeks 13-18, Akers averaged 19.1 touches, 101.8 total yards and was the RB6 in fantasy points per game. He handled 100% of the team’s carries inside the ten-yard line during that time frame. Akers should be the Rams’ workhorse.
  • Tyler Lockett: Tyler Lockett kept trucking along in his age-30 season last year, finishing with another stellar stat line. He was the WR16 in fantasy points per game, drawing a 22.8% target share (26th) and 30.5% air yard share (24th). Lockett showed little signs of slowing down, ranking 25th in PFF receiving grade and 24th in yards per route run (minimum 50 targets per PFF). He was also second in open rate behind only Diontae Johnson (per ESPN analytics). Lockett should have at least one more WR2 season left in the tank, but adding Jaxon Smith-Njigba could hurt his raw target volume. Lockett is a borderline WR2/3.

  • Diontae Johnson: There’s only one explanation for Diontae Johnson’s 2022 season. After an offseason workout in rainy Pittsburgh, he entered his house with an umbrella still drawn and tripped over his black cat, which sent him hurdling into his full-length entryway mirror, thus shattering it into a million pieces. This unlikely yet possible turn of events is the only possible explanation for his wretchedly unlucky season. Despite ranking 13th in target share, tenth in red zone targets, and the WR20 in expected fantasy points per game, Johnson finished the season with zero touchdowns as the WR39 in fantasy points per game. Kenny Pickett‘s play was a factor, but Johnson simply had a terrible run-out. Regression is coming for Johnson and this offense. Johnson still ranked 11th in total route wins, so no skill dropoff is involved here. It’s just a case of legendarily bad luck. Johnson is a WR3 with top-15 upside.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

Approach to Round 7

  • Darren Waller: Waller will likely be my highest-rostered tight end this year in all formats. The upside case for Waller is worth going overweight for because it isn’t being priced into his average draft position (ADP). Is injury risk present? Sure, but that fear is what is pushing him down draft boards. If you don’t want to follow me down this road, I get it, but if Waller stays healthy, he will be one of the best value picks of 2023. Waller’s talent hasn’t diminished, and his situation could create a perfect storm for him to rival Travis Kelce. Last year Waller was 13th in receiving grade, 12th in yards per route run, and first in yards per route run against man coverage (per PFF). The last time we saw Waller flanked by league-average wide receiver talent, he was first in targets (145), first in target share (28.7%), and the TE2 in fantasy points per game. Waller the baller returns in 2023.
  • David Montgomery: David Montgomery might not be the sexiest name to click during a draft, but he’s set up nicely. I love Jamaal Williams‘ swag just as much as the next person, but we need to accept that he’s a replacement-level running back. Montgomery is easily the more talented back and, hands down, the better receiver. Last year Montgomery was 26th in yards after contact, 12th in elusive rating, and 22nd in yards per route run (per PFF). Jahmyr Gibbs is an incredible talent, but his size doesn’t make him the favorite for goal-line duties. That role probably goes to Montgomery. Williams led the NFL in rushing attempts inside the five-yard line, and while that number could regress this year, this offense should still offer Montgomery plenty of goal-line plunges. Detroit was second in red zone scoring attempts per game last season, behind only Kansas City. Montgomery could post an RB2 season in 2023.

  • James Cook: James Cook was explosive with the ball in his hands last season. He has the talent to take over the backfield of one of the best offenses in the NFL this year. That is a player worth betting on, especially at his modest ADP. Last season he ranked 28th in yards after contact per attempt, first in breakaway percentage, and 19th in elusive rating (per PFF). Damien Harris and Latavius Murray are looming goal-line sloths, but Cook has the talent to own the passing downs and eat into the early downs.
    Cook ranked ninth in yards per route run and sixth in targets per route run last season (minimum 30 targets). Devin Singletary produced RB30 and RB24 fantasy points per game finishes over the last two years with 58-59% opportunity shares. Cook could produce similar (if not better) results on less volume. Cook has RB2 upside at an RB3 price tag.

  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba: Since Jaxon Smith-Njigba was announced as the Seahawks’ pick in the NFL Draft, worries have been circulating about Seattle’s usage of three wide receiver sets and his target share with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. These are valid concerns, but before I push back against them, let’s discuss Smith-Njigba as a talent. In 2021 he was first in yards per route run and first in PFF receiving grade (minimum 50 targets per PFF) while drawing a 22.7% target share alongside Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Smith-Njigba gets typecast as a low aDOT player, but he has also shown the ability to win downfield. In 2021 he was ninth in yards per route run and tied for first in PFF’s deep receiving grade (minimum 15 deep targets per PFF). Smith-Njigba is an elite-level prospect. With that said, I have a hard time believing the Seahawks burnt a first-round pick on a player they don’t plan to feature, so I believe they will run a ton of 11 personnel in 2023. Regarding the subject of target share, Smith-Njigba can put those concerns to rest quickly and hit the ground running as the second option in this passing attack. While I don’t want to take anything away from Tyler Lockett, he hasn’t been a high-end target earner. Over the last four seasons, he’s never ranked higher than 36th in target per route run rate. The addition of Smith-Njigba can allow Lockett to return to stretching the field. Since 2019 he’s ranked top-12 in deep targets twice. Last year he logged the second-lowest aDOT of his career and the lowest YAC per reception mark. Smith-Njigba should garner targets early and often in 2023. Draft him and enjoy.
  • Jordan Addison: Adam Thielen earned a 17.0% target share and 107 targets last year. He did this while ranking outside the top 55 wide receivers in yards per route run and route win rate (per Playerprofiler.com). Why can’t a talented first-round wide receiver match (or easily exceed) these volume numbers in his first season? Addison can. He absolutely can. Addison has ranked 22nd or higher in yards per route run and PFF receiving grade in each of his last two collegiate seasons (minimum 50 targets per PFF). The Vikings were third in neutral passing rate and second in red zone passing rate last season. I don’t see them dropping outside the top 5-10 teams this season in either category. Addison could be a WR2 in fantasy if he can pass T.J. Hockenson in the target pecking order.

Approach to Round 8

  • Daniel Jones: Last year Jones was the QB10 in fantasy points per game with a pathetic group of receiving talent around him. This offseason, the front office continued to add talent to this roster. Is the Giants’ receiver room one of the best in the league? No, but the front office has taken a Kansas City Chiefs-like approach to building out their passing game. Darren Waller will operate as the clear number one option for Jones, with the rest of the group fitting in as role players. Brian Daboll can mix and match wide receiver talents again this year with a deeper and more diverse group to choose from. Jones’ top-five finishes last year in red zone carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns are all replicable in 2023. The big area where Jones can continue to show growth is in the passing department. With more competent weapons in-house from the start of the season, we should see this offense tilt to more passing. After Week 10 last season, the team was tenth in neutral pace, 14th in neutral passing rate, and 11th in play success rate. Jones is a QB1 with a top-five upside if his passing numbers creep up this year.
  • Quentin Johnston: Ok, deep breath. Here’s the list of injuries that Mike Williams has sustained since entering the NFL: herniated disk, knee strain, back spasms, hamstring strain, hip flexor strain, high ankle sprain (twice), and transverse process fracture. I bring this up because Quentin Johnston could be operating as the Chargers’ WR2 sooner rather than later. That type of upside in his rookie season shouldn’t be ignored in an offensive system that could challenge for the league lead in passing attempts and play volume. Even if he doesn’t supplant Williams this season, Johnston offers this offense a different element as a RAC specialist. Last year, he ranked sixth in YAC per reception and 11th in missed tackles forced (minimum 50 targets per PFF). Kellen Moore can design looks for Justin Herbert to get Johnston the ball in space and let him do his thing.
  • Tua Tagovailoa: I know this is a BIG if, but if Tagovailoa can stay upright this year, the Dolphins will be one of the best offenses in the NFL. In the games in which he played at least 70% of the snaps, Miami was fifth in pass rate over expected, fourth in EPA per play, and fifth in points per game. If that comes to fruition, Tagovailoa will be a QB1.
    Last year Tagovailoa was the QB9 in fantasy points per game while sitting near the top in almost every passing efficiency metric. He was first in deep ball completion rate, eighth in fantasy points per dropback, and third in QBR. Tagovailoa’s injury risk is included in his depressed ADP, but if he stays healthy, the upside isn’t.

  • Anthony Richardson: Rushing. Rushing. Rushing. We all know the ceiling and floor-raising ability this skill can have for fantasy quarterbacks. This leads me to kneel at the altar of Anthony Richardson later in fantasy drafts. Expect Shane Steichen to utilize his legs a ton in the design of the Colts’ offense. Last year Jalen Hurts led all quarterbacks in rushing attempts and red zone rushing attempts per game. Richardson could come close to matching that in his rookie season. Richardson is regarded as a raw passer, but Steichen’s system should highlight the best parts of his aerial game while covering up some flaws. Steichen will feature play-action and deep shots in this passing attack, making Richardson’s transition to the NFL easier and offering explosive upside on the field. Last year Jalen Hurts was seventh in deep passing attempts and fourth in play-action passing attempts (per PFF). Richardson is a hand and glove fit with both of these wrinkles. In his final season at Florida, he was fifth in play-action passing grade, 19th in play-action yards per attempt, and 20th in PFF’s deep passing grade (minimum 150 dropbacks or 20 deep pass attempts per PFF). Rushing quarterbacks with cannon arms are my ultimate weak spot.

  • Jahan Dotson: Dotson’s overall rookie season numbers don’t jump off the page. He was the WR38 in fantasy with a 15.9% target share (56th), a 24% air yard share, and 1.50 yards per route run (50th). All of these figures paint an inaccurate picture of his true upside. After he returned from injury, the season’s final five games offered a clearer view of what a breakout sophomore season for Dotson could look like. In Weeks 13-18 of last season, Dotson ranked 20th in target share (24%), third in end zone target share (50%), 17th in weighted opportunity, and 13th in yards per route run. Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett at the helm in 2023 doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but Dotson is a skilled wide receiver well-versed from his college days in dealing with pitiful quarterback play. Dotson is a WR4/5 that could take a huge leap in his second season. I won’t rule out him giving Terry McLaurin a run for his money for the team lead in targets this season. Investing in talented second-year wide receivers are strong bets to make.
  • Courtland Sutton: Courtland Sutton is coming off a disappointing season, but when we peer at deeper efficiency metrics, it’s easy to see the problem wasn’t him. Sutton dipped to 50th in yards per route run and 65th in fantasy points per route run, while he saw a 23.1% target share (25th). This paints the picture that the blame rests upon Sutton’s shoulders until we also see that he was 16th in total route wins and 12th in open rate (per ESPN analytics). Only 72.5% (71st) of his targets were catchable, and he ranked 42nd in target quality rating. With a new head wizard in Sean Payton directing this passing attack, there are reasons to buy in on a big Sutton bounceback in 2023. Sutton was 11th in deep targets and 22nd in red zone targets last year. Sutton is an upside WR3.

  • Brandin Cooks: Last year, Cooks saw his fantasy value crater as Pep Hamilton tried to pigeonhole him into a low aDOT role early on, which crushed his productivity. After Week 8, Hamilton returned to his senses and transitioned Cooks to his field-stretching role. Once the switch was made, his yards per route run jumped from 1.39 to 1.86. His aDOT climbed from 8.6 to 15.3 during this time. Cooks might not be a young pup anymore, but his top-25 rankings in route win rate and win rate against man coverage last year dispel any notion that he’s turned to dust. With Dalton Schultz gone and Michael Gallup being JAG, Cooks should return WR3/4 value with room for more if he gels quickly with Dak Prescott. Another 1,000-yard season with a new team is possible for Cooks in 2023.

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