It is never too soon to start preparing for season-long fantasy football drafts. While a lot can change between now and August, some players won’t be on anyone’s radar unless you’re plugged in all offseason.
Therefore, identifying sleeper candidates — players outside the top 100 in the FantasyPros PPR Expert Consensus Draft Rankings — is critical to getting ahead and staying ahead come draft time.
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- Player Rankings & Notes: QB | RB | WR | TE
- 2023 Best Ball Draft Kit
Way-Too-Early Redraft Sleepers (2023 Fantasy Football)
Geno Smith (QB – SEA) ADP 116, QB16
One of the best stories of the 2022 season was the return of Seattle QB Geno Smith. The journeyman backup signal caller, drafted by the New York Jets in 2013, finally broke out. He led the league in completion percentage (69.9%), was fourth in passing touchdowns and was 10th in rushing yards by a non-RB (394) on his way to an overall QB5 finish.
It would be easy to view Smith’s monster performance last season as a one-off. He will turn 33 midway through his 12th NFL season, and he has never come close to the levels of efficiency and production he showed repeatedly in 2022. However, it’s also true that upon entering the league, Smith was at the helm of one of the worst offenses in the league in New York.
And since his stint with the Jets, he hadn’t been trusted in a full-time starting role. However, Seattle gave Smith something he had never had before; legitimate weapons in a dynamic offense.
If it wasn’t enough that Smith had WRs D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in addition to stand-out RB Ken Walker, the team beefed up even more in the draft. Seattle now boasts the talented former Ohio State pass-catcher Jaxon Smith-Njigba and bruiser RB Zach Charbonett. Seattle was already the ninth-highest-scoring offense in 2022 without the added firepower, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t build on that in 2023.
Smith will again be the maestro of the Seahawks’ attack, and with a loaded offense as he has, his ceiling is easily a top-five fantasy QB, with a floor likely still inside the top 10.
It’s jarring to my brain to see Smith going as the QB16. Sure, there might be some concerns about how long he can keep this up in dynasty formats. However, in redraft formats, Smith is without question a QB1 tier player this upcoming season. So getting your starting signal caller in the back half of your drafts isn’t just a steal; it’s highway robbery.
Juwan Johnson (TE – NO) | ADP 160, TE19
The wasteland that is the TE position in fantasy football doesn’t appear to be changing much heading toward the 2023 season. Outside of Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, it’s a crap shoot to try to find consistent value at the position. A few players emerged as possibly reliable targets last season, such as T.J. Hockenson, Dallas Goiedert and Evan Engram. However, one name that isn’t being mentioned enough is the New Orleans Saints booked Juwan Johnson.
Indeed, Johnson isn’t exactly a household name. If you knew who he was before the 2022 season, you are likely a rabid Saints fan or an NFL analyst. Johnson spent most of his first two seasons being overshadowed by veteran Adam Trautman or QB/TE hybrid Taysom Hill. In those seasons, he saw 30 targets, which he converted into 17 catches for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
However, this past season Johnson saw a significant uptick in opportunities. He more than doubled his snaps (821 versus 350 in 2021) and tripled his targets (61 versus 21 in 2021) in 2022. In addition, he was second on the team in receiving yards (508) and was tied for the team lead in touchdowns (7).
The Saints moved on from starting QB Andy Dalton this offseason, opting to sign former Raiders QB Derek Carr to take over. In Carr’s time in Las Vegas, the TE position was one of his favorite targets. Darren Waller was elite when healthy, finishing as the overall TE3 in 2019 and TE4 in 2021. In both of those seasons, Waller was targeted well over 100 times. The team signed former Raiders TE Foster Moreau recently, but they also shipped Trautman to Denver during the NFL Draft.
Despite the acquisition of Moreau, Johnson is still slotted as the starting TE in New Orleans. Moreau will likely take on the blocking role previously occupied by Trautman. All signs point to Johnson playing a significant role in the New Orleans passing attack. Right now, he’s falling back to the 13th round of drafts behind Lions’ rookie Sam LaPorta, the Bills’ Dawson Knox, who isn’t even the TE1 on his own team, and the Bears’ Cole Kmet.
While Johnson’s floor is low, likely in the TE30 or lower range, his ceiling is much higher than TE19. He finished 2022 as the TE15 in a bad offense with a journeyman QB. In 2023, if all goes well, he could easily be a top-10 player at the position.