Earlier this week, I finished off the first look at my 2023 rankings with my attempt to break down what the first two rounds of a draft should look like, and on Monday, we just happened to do our first 2023 mock draft. I know, I know, the playoffs haven't even started, but that's how this thing works -- we're a year-round shop here.
In Monday's newsletter, I said that there would certainly be plenty of differences between my top-24 rankings and the first two rounds in any given draft, and that was certainly the case in this one. Among players I had ranked inside my top-24, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Chris Godwin, and DeAndre Hopkins all fell out of the second round -- Hopkins all the way to Round 4 in the aftermath of reports that he's likely to get traded from Arizona this offseason.
Those aren't necessarily surprising, since I'm usually higher on wide receivers and quarterbacks than my colleagues, though it was a bit of a surprise to see Tony Pollard fall to me in the third round with the 28th overall pick. That feels like it could be close to Pollard's floor after the season we just saw, with a path to first-round value if he lands in the right spot as a free agent.
There's plenty of time for all of that to settle, and my colleagues have their own rankings available this week for you to check out if you want to see where else and why we disagree. Jamey Eisenberg has written about our collective rankings all week, covering quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end here.
I wrote about that mock draft in today's newsletter, but, of course with the playoffs set to kick off tomorrow, we can't focus solely on 2023. Kind of. I also have one key storyline for you to keep an eye on in every playoff game from the wild-card round, and I'll have some winners and losers from the first round when we get back from the holiday weekend. You can also scratch that DFS itch by heading over to SportsLine and checking out Saturday slate and Sunday slate picks from DFS millionaire Mike McClure. It's not all about the 2023 season ... yet.
What to watch this weekend
Here are the key storylines to keep up with this weekend:
Seahawks @ 49ers -- What does a fully-healthy 49ers offense look like with Brock Purdy?
Because of injuries, we really haven't seen the 49ers offense as Kyle Shanahan intended it to look for more than a few quarters at a time over the past few seasons. Brock Purdy's time as the primary quarterback overlapped with a healthy Deebo Samuel for little more than one full game before Samuel suffered his knee/ankle injuries in Week 14, and while Samuel (and Elijah Mitchell, don't forget!) was healthy for Week 18, the 49ers won so easily over the Cardinals that it's hard to take much from it. Will Shanahan trust Purdy to open the offense up enough for Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle to thrive? Will Samuel get enough carries to make up for it if Shanahan decides not to trust Purdy? Will Mitchell be enough of a factor to limit Christian McCaffrey's usage, something we saw when both were fully active. There are a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, and it's tough for everyone to live up to expectations for Fantasy. What we see in the playoffs could certainly impact how we view this offense next season. Sia Nejad and Mike McClure break down the DFS angles for each game on the FFT DFS Podcast in 5. Check that out here.
Chargers @ Jaguars -- Can Trevor Lawrence get back on track?
From Weeks 10 through 15, Lawrence looked like he made the leap, passing for 13 touchdowns with just one interception as the Jaguars made a furious push for the playoffs. But he had just one passing touchdown over 84 attempts over his final three games to close out the playoff push. The Jaguars won, so mission accomplished, but Lawrence is going to see a big bump in Draft Day cost next season, almost entirely based on that five-game run -- he had just three games with multiple touchdowns in his other 12 games. A big playoff performance could help justify that price increase, but if he flames out, it'll be easier to view that good month-plus as a bit of a fluke.
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Dolphins @ Bills -- How does the Buffalo backfield split work out?
It might be hard to learn much from this game if Miami's offense doesn't show some life with Skylar Thompson expected to start again, but the Bills backfield split is one potential storyline to watch in this playoffs. The Bills have expanded rookie James Cook's role as the season has gone on, and with Devin Singletary heading into free agency, we could see an unofficial changing of the guard here. On the other hand, if Cook's role shrinks when the stakes are highest, it could be a sign that the Bills aren't sold on him as their long-term answer. Of course, after Miami managed just 11 points against the Jets with Thompson starting in Week 18, the stakes may not be very high in this one just yet.
Giants @ Vikings -- Can Saquon Barkley turn it around?
After topping 100 rushing yards in four of his first nine games, Barkley hasn't reached that plateau in any of his past seven. He's made up for that somewhat with an expanded role in the passing game, but his overall efficiency has taken a hit and seen his perceived Fantasy value decline as a result. The Vikings defense is very exploitable, and it'd be nice to see another big game from Barkley before the Giants season ends.
Ravens @ Bengals -- Can Baltimore's offense show any life?
The Ravens are in a very tough spot with Lamar Jackson still likely out due to his lingering knee injury, and that makes it tough to take much away from them, and we know what to expect from Cincinnati's offense, so there isn't much to watch here. However, it'd be nice to see J.K. Dobbins and Mark Andrews have big games before their expected one-and-out showing.
Cowboys @ Buccaneers -- How do the backfield splits work out?
It's easy to stick to a split backfield when things are going well, but will that remain the case when these teams are facing a win-or-go-home situation? Are the Cowboys really going to run Ezekiel Elliott into the backs of the line 15 times for 35 yards if Tony Pollard is breaking big runs routinely? Will rookie Rachaad White continue to alternate drives with Leonard Fournette if the Bucs are moving the ball better with the veteran? Both teams could move on to the younger guy in 2023, and how they handle this game could give us a hint of where they are leaning.
Mock draft thoughts
We did our first 2023 mock draft earlier this week, and it didn't take long to have our first shocker, as Adam Aizer took Travis Kelce No. 1 overall. I have Kelce ranked fifth in my way-too-early top-24, but I do think there's a clear first two of five, so I actually don't think it's a bad decision. Kelce gives you such a massive edge over the competition at the thinnest position in the sport that taking him first overall is a perfectly defensible decision. The question is, when you look at the rest of the team he drafted, was it the right one?
Here's the rest of Adam's team in a three-WR, full-PPR league:
- Travis Kelce, TE, KC
- Nick Chubb, RB, CLE
- Jaylen Waddle, WR, MIA
- Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA
- Joe Burrow, QB, CIN
- J.K. Dobbins, RB, BAL
- Jahan Dotson, WR, WAS
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
- Darnell Mooney, WR, CHI
- Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, CLE
- Alexander Mattison, RB, MIN
- Samaje Perine, RB, CIN
- Daniel Jones, QB, NYG
- Juwan Johnson, TE, NO
It's not how I would build my team, but I think there's certainly logic to it. In grabbing Kelce and Burrow, he's locked in what should be a pretty strong edge on most of the league at those two positions, which makes it a bit easier to swallow what might be disadvantages elsewhere -- especially at wide receiver. I know Adam is high on Dotson as a breakout candidate, and if you're with him on that, it becomes easier to live with the relatively weak WR corps.
If I'm going to go with a TE and a QB early -- and there's a pretty good chance I'm going to in a lot of drafts -- I'm almost certainly going to go with a zero-RB build, so I definitely would have a different looking roster than Adam, but the thought process here is sound enough. Every draft strategy is going to leave you weak somewhere, but that's especially true if you're going to prioritize QB and TE. I'm more willing to take a relative hit at running back than wide receiver, given the volatility at that position, but you must know going in you're going to have some part of your lineup that doesn't feel up to snuff and you have to be OK with that.
Of course, it's easy to criticize other people. I also took part in this mock draft, and frankly, I didn't love my own results. I picked fourth, so I got one of my top tier players, but I waited too long to grab a quarterback or tight end, and ended up with a team that doesn't exactly fit my preferred team-building strategy either. Here's my squad:
- Austin Ekeler, RB, LAC
- Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, DET
- Tony Pollard, RB, DAL
- Aaron Jones, RB, GB
- Terry McLaurin, WR, WAS
- Diontae Johnson, WR, PIT
- Brandon Aiyuk, WR, SF
- Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAC
- Rondale Moore, WR, ARI
- Skyy Moore, WR, KC
- Alec Pierce, WR, IND
- John Metchie III, WR, HOU
- Chase Claypool, WR, CHI
- Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, TEN
In fairness, I was trying to see how far my colleagues would let the elite quarterbacks slip, otherwise, I would have drafted Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes in the second or third round, where I had him ranked. However, knowing how long quarterbacks tend to last in our drafts, I wanted to see if I could wait until the fourth round to get one of them.
And it almost worked! No quarterbacks were taken in the first three rounds, and Mahomes was still sitting there when Dave Richard was on the clock just ahead of me in the fourth round. Unfortunately, Dave made the right call, taking Mahomes at 44th overall, leaving me on the outside looking in. Lesson learned -- I'll take a quarterback in the third round next time.
I don't hate my team, but it's kind of generic, and a lot rests on what happens to Pollard and Jones' status this offseason. If Pollard ends up as someone's No. 1 RB and Jones returns to Green Bay, this will be a very good team, though tripling up on running backs in the first four rounds was probably overkill -- Christian Kirk and Keenan Allen went right after I took Jones, and I'd probably feel better about either of them.
But there's one thing I have to keep in mind when we're doing drafts this early in the offseason, and it's something you need to keep in mind anytime you're looking at rankings or draft results right now: The player pool is far from finished. Rookies will obviously get added come NFL Draft time, and free agency will create all kinds of shifting values -- players who are currently seemingly buried on depth charts will rise, while others will fall.
We're so far away from next season that these early drafts serve mostly to establish a baseline for what to expect for 2023. We'll be able to look back and see whose value rose and fall, and potentially identify values that way -- if a player's situation doesn't change but their perceived value does, we might be able to look back at their early cost as an inefficiency in the marketplace.
You can check out the rest of our first 2023 mock draft, with full results for every round and every team, along with Jamey Eisenberg's thoughts, right here.