Everyone agrees that the best part of Fantasy Football is drafting, and if that's the case, then surely there's no such thing as "too-early" rankings, right?
OK, maybe before the previous season is even done might be too early, but, you know what? I don't really care. I have nothing to play for in Week 18 besides maybe a few DFS lineups, and I'm not quite ready to turn my attention to Fantasy Baseball just yet, anyway. So, you're getting some very early 2023 rankings.
Not full rankings, of course. Those will come in due time – I'll probably have my first really in-depth look at the rankings ready after the Super Bowl, along with the rest of my FFT colleagues. This week, I'm just sorting through the top 12 for each position. In some ways that's the easiest part of the rankings, though in going through QB and RB today, it's not that easy. Both positions appear to be going through a bit of a transition phase, with a lot of ambiguity after the top few options. I'll have WR and TE top 12s for you in tomorrow's newsletter, with my thoughts on each position heading into the offseason.
Of course, for those of you still playing into Week 18, it might actually be too early to start thinking about 2023 – you have games to win this week. Luckily, the FFT team is still at work on that. So, before we get to the rankings for QB and RB, here's what you need to know to set your Week 18 lineups:
- Week 18 Start 'Em & Sit 'Em: QB | RB | WR
- Starts, Sits, Sleepers & Busts
- Position Previews: QB | RB | WR | TE
And now, here's your first look at my rankings for QB and RB.
Too-Early QB Rankings
I think there's a clear top tier of either two or three quarterbacks, and then a second and third tier I feel pretty good about after them. Once I hit QB6-9, I'm already feeling a bit iffy about things. I'm going to be one of the first players in most of my leagues to draft a quarterback yet again this season.
1. Patrick Mahomes – In 2022, Mahomes finished as a top-six quarterback 12 times, had another top-seven finish, and four more inside the top 15. He never finished worse than QB14. And it required nothing out of the ordinary – his 6.4% touchdown rate leads the league, but it's also exactly in line with his career rate; his 8.1 Y/A was also right in line with his career numbers. What's scary is, it's not out of the question he could have a better receiving corps next season.
2. Josh Allen – If you want to rank Allen No. 1, I think that's perfectly fine – he had just three games outside of the top 12, with his worst finish in Week 11, when he was dealing with that elbow issue and had a season-low 7 rushing yards. What gives Mahomes the edge is how reliant Allen is on his rushing – he's been over 700 yards on the ground in consecutive seasons, but he'll need to make up ground as a passer if that dips to the 500 range as he gets into his late 20s. But he was just as much a cheat code as Mahomes this season.
3. Jalen Hurts – And, of course, Hurts was right there before his late-season shoulder injury. He actually had just one game outside of the top 10, besting both Mahomes and Allen. Hurts is less proven as an elite Fantasy option, and it's not unreasonable to expect some regression as both a passer and a rusher. However, Hurts is blessed with terrific weapons and a great offensive line, so I wouldn't bet on too much regression. He's a tier down from the top two, but a tier up from everyone else.
4. Joe Burrow – Burrow did exactly what we hoped he would this season, making up for slightly worse efficiency with more volume, upping his attempts per game from 32.5 to 37.6. He didn't have the highs that the top three did, with seven top-12 finishes, but he was nearly as consistent – his 11 top-12 finishes are one fewer than Allen's and two fewer than Mahomes and Hurts. Burrow falls short because he isn't as otherworldly a passer as Mahomes and doesn't have Hurts or Allen's rushing abilities, but he looks like the next best thing, even if he probably should go a few rounds after the last of the top three.
5. Lamar Jackson – I might talk myself into Jackson being ahead of Burrow by the time the summer rolls around because I'm always going to be a sucker for rushing upside. Jackson looked like he might win his second MVP early on, finishing as a top five Fantasy QB in each of the first three games, but he lost Rashod Bateman to injury in Week 4, and then Mark Andrews struggled with injuries, and then Jackson's season was ultimately derailed by a knee injury. He needs help, but when he's even decent as a passer, Jackson's upside is right there with anyone. If he gets a legit No. 1 WR this offseason, we could still see the best of Jackson.
6. Justin Fields – Fields is the first challenge we've seen to Jackson's preeminence as a rusher, but he's even more limited as a passer. How much of that is because of the lack of talent around him will be the key question to answer this offseason, but his run from Week 7 through Week 11 saw him finish as a top-eight QB in each game, so there's no questioning the upside. He's like a more volatile Jackson, but he might have QB1 overall upside.
7. Justin Herbert – In NFC leagues, Herbert ended up being QB2 in ADP, just ahead of Mahomes, which ended up being a pretty disastrous outcome for those of you who reached on him. He had a very solid nine top-12 finishes, but just three top-six finishes. The upside wasn't there, and the most concerning thing might be that the returns of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams did nothing to jumpstart his season. Herbert doesn't have a top-10 finish in his past four games with both active. Still, I'll be happy to take a discount on Herbert, if it's there. Hopefully he falls outside of the first six rounds.
8. Trevor Lawrence – I think there's another tier drop here, and it's a pretty significant one in my eyes. Lawrence had one incredible stretch, from Weeks 10-15, when he averaged 28.9 points per game, but he averaged 16.6 points per game outside of that stretch. Lawrence may have made a huge leap in that five-game stretch, and he'll likely add Calvin Ridley to what has been a very impressive receiving corps, but I'm not ready to anoint him as an elite Fantasy QB just yet. I'll probably let someone else reach for him.
9. Dak Prescott – Prescott would probably benefit from the Cowboys defense taking a step back, because volume has really been the only thing holding him back – that and truly rotten luck with tipped and dropped passes leading to an uncharacteristic interception problem. Prescott seems locked in as a mid-range QB1, but I think 2022 is closer to the floor than the ceiling for him.
10. Kyler Murray – This is another tier drop, and I genuinely could have gone with five different options here. I opted for what I think is the highest upside choice in Murray, though he'll be coming off a pretty awful season – and, of course, a torn ACL he had surgery for Wednesday. It might be a situation where you take Murray around the 100th pick with an eye on him being a must-start Fantasy option in the second half of the season. He was still a top-12 QB in seven of his 10 full games despite a tough season.
11. Kirk Cousins – Cousins is the oatmeal of Fantasy quarterbacks – it'll fill you up, it might even have some vitamins – I don't actually know, I'm not a nutritionist – but you're never exactly happy to see it on your placemat. He's fine. He had 10 top-12 finishes in 2022, the fifth-most of any QB, but only four top-six finishes. After being a model of efficiency the past few seasons, he took a step back that was covered up by increased volume. I don't think that's a coincidence. He's fine, but he's absolutely someone you settle on.
12. Tua Tagovailoa – I'll just throw my hands up here and admit I have no idea who should be No. 12. I tend to shoot for upside, which is why Tagovailoa gets the call for me – he matched Cousins in top-six finishes in just nine full games. He didn't have any other top-12 finishes, however. He's a boom-or-bust pick with serious questions about his health after three concussions in three months, but I'm not sure there's anyone else here I feel much better about.
Too-Early RB Rankings
Running back is probably the toughest position to rank nine months away from the start of the season, because so much of RB value comes from circumstances surrounding a player, and it's next to impossible to know what that's going to look like for most players at this point. Which is why I'm not sure how I feel about half of the players even inside of my top 12. The offseason will bring clarity, but for now, there's a steep dropoff after the first handful of names. You'll see where.
1. Austin Ekeler – Ekeler got off to a little bit of a shaky start, finishing as RB26 and RB20 in Weeks 1 and 3. He followed that up with two straight RB1 finishes and wouldn't do worse than RB20 the rest of the way, leading the league with 10 top-six finishes and 11 top-12 finishes. He benefited from playing without Keenan Allen and Mike Williams for much of the season, but still had three top-five finishes in the final four games with both active. Ekeler should be no lower than RB2 in any draft next season.
2. Christian McCaffrey – McCaffrey is the only player I'd even consider at RB1 besides Ekeler, and I think there's a clear and pretty massive drop off between them – both Ekeler and McCaffrey had 11 top-12 finishes at RB, while McCaffrey's eight top-six finishes were second to only Ekeler, with no other player having more than six. What gives Ekeler the edge? Well, while McCaffrey averaged a whopping 23.1 PPR points per game with the 49ers (not counting his first game where he played just 29% of the snaps), the 49ers did at least try to limit his workload when they had Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel healthy. Counting Week 14, when Samuel left early, McCaffrey averaged 25.1 points per game over the final four games. He probably won't do that all season if the 49ers are at full health, though it's certainly well within the realm of possibilities.
3. Jonathan Taylor – I'm happy to take any injury discount you want to offer for Taylor, who I still think might be the best running back in football. Sure, we don't know who the coach or quarterback for the Colts will be next season, but the guys ranked below him have pretty big question marks too, so I'll just defer to the guy who was the near-consensus No. 1 pick this time last year, who still showed huge upside despite the miserable circumstances. I don't want to say things can't get worse for Taylor, but I think 2022 was probably closer to a worst-case scenario. Betting on an elite talent at 24 years old who isn't coming off a serious injury is an easy call for me.
4. Saquon Barkley – Barkley looked like a potential contender for the No. 1 pick early on, but his second-half slide raised some real questions about how good he can be in this offense. From Week 11 on, he had as many finishes outside of the top 30 as inside the top 12 (three each), despite the fact that his target volume actually went up in that stretch. Barkley enters the offseason as a free agent for the first time, but the Giants are expected to bring him and Daniel Jones back, and I'm hoping this offense takes a step forward to help make Barkley's second-half swoon look like a mirage. Barkley had 80% of the Giants' RB Fantasy points, the highest rate in the league, so there's definitely room to grow. But there's definitely risk here.
5. Josh Jacobs – Jacobs' pending free agency is one of the most interesting stories of the offseason from a Fantasy perspective because Las Vegas ended up being the perfect spot for him with new coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels eschewed the committee approach New England grew famous for, and Jacobs ended up with one of the most concentrated workloads in the league; he had 20 touches or more in all but three games. If he returned to the Raiders without significant competition for touches, he'll probably jump up at least one spot here, but he could tumble outside of the top-12 in the wrong spot.
6. Derrick Henry – After suffering a scary foot injury in 2021, Henry showed no ill effects, which was great. He wasn't quite the same dominant force he'd been the previous three seasons, with a dip in efficiency, though he made up for that with his most productive season as a pass catcher, which is how Henry averaged just 1.5 PPR points per game less in 2022 than his 2,027-yard 2020. Henry turned 29 Wednesday, so it feels like he is a ticking time bomb. But after making it through this season largely unscathed, it's hard to run too far away from him. I'm not sure I'd want Henry to be my first-round pick, but I can't really bring myself to drop him lower than this.
7. Breece Hall – And, as you can probably tell, there's another tier drop here for me. The first five all feel relatively safe, but things are wide open after that. I'll go with Hall, who had elite prospect pedigree and then stepped on an NFL field and looked like an elite playmaker before suffering a torn ACL. He looked like a big-play machine as both a runner and a pass catcher, and he did it in an offense that, even at its best, has struggled without him. The case against him, of course, is that he suffered a torn ACL in October, so he'll be around nine months removed from that by the time training camp starts up. Hopefully he'll be good to go for the start of next season, but obviously as both Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins showed us, you can't necessarily bet on that. But, if Hall didn't have the torn ACL, he might be the No. 3 or 4 player here.
8. Joe Mixon – I do wonder if we're going to reach the point this offseason where we finally have a discussion about whether Mixon is as good as the hype. There aren't many running backs who are in better situations - he gets force-fed touches in a very good offense, including down near the goal line – only two players had more touches inside the 10-yard line than Mixon. Despite that, he was pretty much just OK for Fantasy, scoring eight total touchdowns in 13 games and actually being overshadowed by Samaje Perine in the games Mixon missed. Mixon has never been a particularly efficient player, and in 2022, it held him back from what could have been a monster season. You're drafting the role here, not necessarily the player.
9. Dalvin Cook – Cook kind of had a similar season to Mixon, where touchdown variance ultimately held him back in what could have otherwise been a very good season. Cook lost a bit of volume from last season's run-heavy game plans, but the bigger issue was that he managed to turn 24 touches inside the 10-yard line into just six touchdowns. Cook will be 28 by Week 1 of next season and has an extensive injury history, but when he's on the field, he's remained very good; the question is can he be great again?
10. Nick Chubb – Chubb is, unequivocally, great. He's a hyper-efficient runner who is a focal point of his team and routinely hits on big plays. The question is, can he ever be more than what he's been? There's nothing wrong with what he's been, which is a consistent mid-to-low-end RB1. That's a very useful player. But it probably isn't one who helps you win a lot of Fantasy championships as a second-round pick, especially this season. He didn't have a touchdown in any of his final five games, which really highlights that he just doesn't have any way to make up for that. If the Browns decide to start throwing to him next season, that could change, but based on what we've seen throughout his career, I wouldn't bet on it. It makes him an RB1 you let fall to you, and not one I ever really target.
11. Tony Pollard – Pollard enters free agency for the first time this offseason, and he could end up being one of the big winners of the offseason. If he lands somewhere like Las Vegas where he gets to be the undisputed No. 1 back, he might end up forcing his way into the top five in most analysts' RB ranks. But, if Dallas decides to franchise tag him or he re-signs, he probably comes back in this range. That would be fine, but it would be disappointing for a player we're hoping to see fully unleashed for the first time.
12. Rhamondre Stevenson – A month ago, Stevenson's spot in the top 12 seemed all but assured. He had an eight-game stretch from Weeks 5-13 where he averaged 65 rushing yards and 40.8 receiving yards per game, with 6.6 targets per game. That kind of role made him an obvious No. 1 Fantasy RB, but he dealt with a nagging ankle injury over the final month and saw his passing game usage evaporate – he had just eight catches from Weeks 14-17 combined. Patriots running backs have been notoriously difficult to predict from one season to the next, and that might be even more true than usual heading into an offseason where we expect some upheaval among the offensive coaching staff. But, if Stevenson emerges as the clear lead in New England, he might be a steal as RB12.