2023 Fantasy Football Recap, Awards, and Data

Jan 2nd 2024

Hayden Winks

Welcome to 2024, ladies and gentlemen. Before we start working out again, let's review the 2023 fantasy football season while it's fresh on our minds. I'll be using a fantasy points over replacement metric that I like to call "Better In Best Ball Points" for today's discussion.

The methodology is here, but it's basically taking the weekly scores for every player and comparing it to the average QB12, RB24, WR36, and TE12 (plus the Underdog Fantasy flex). For example, the QB12 each week average 18.5 points this year. When Lamar Jackson scored 33.3 points in Week 17, he gets 14.8 points over replacement. That way, we can better compare players across positions.

I also have "Usable Weeks" in the table below. Those are how many weeks a player scored more than the average QB12, RB24, WR36, or TE12 (plus the flex spot). This is a consistency metric, where Better In Best Ball Points are a better representation of the upside value that Underdog Fantasy drafters should care more about.

2023 Fantasy Points Over Replacement

2023 Fantasy Football Awards

MVP: Christian McCaffrey ... He scored 50.1 more points over replacement than the next most valuable asset (CeeDee Lamb), and CMC did it with consistency, too. McCaffrey had 16 usable weeks while tying the NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown. He was the lone consistent asset in a 49ers offense that scored at borderline generational rates, and he'll be the consensus 1st overall pick in 2024 despite his age. It's impossible to find his combination of skill, environment, and volume.

Best Value: Kyren Williams ... If we want to properly weigh the value of fantasy playoff scoring, then Kyren would be the fantasy MVP after he finished as the RB1 overall in Week 17. He led AMEEN0811 to a $3 million check in Best Ball Mania IV and likely led your home league champion to the trophy, too. On a closing Underdog Fantasy ADP of 207.8, Kyren immediately dusted Cam Akers in Week 1, then managed a usable week in 10-of-12 games. If not for a midseason injury, Kyren would've competed with CMC for total fantasy points. Instead, he settles for a 2nd overall per game finish. We'll have all summer to debate the stickiness of his breakout season, but I'll be arguing for Kyren as a top-5 overall pick right off the bat. He's trusted by Sean McVay, who changed his scheme to add more power runs which happen to be Kyren's rushing specialty, and he's trusted by Matthew Stafford in pass protection and in finding the soft spots for check downs. The overall burst isn't at Todd Gurley levels, but the fantasy production might not be far off.

Best Fantasy Football Rookie: Puka Nacua ... He didn't have the typical draft profile of a league-winner, but Nacua's tape from Week 1 was incredible. It's rare to be trusted immediately, especially by Super Bowl winners McVay and Stafford, but that's exactly what Nacua earned: trust. His physicality made him a zone threat over the middle where Stafford loves to missile in throws, and his feet are highly underrated for a big guy near the sideline, too. Nacua operated as a fantasy WR1 without Cooper Kupp and then maintained WR1 status when Kupp returned to the lineup, ultimately settling in as the WR9 and 14th overall player per game across the entire year on 11 usable weeks. Don't be surprised if he's a borderline 1st round pick in 2024. He's that dude.

Best QB Value: Dak Prescott ... Coach Mike McCarthy was commonly mocked by the fantasy community after getting rid of ex-OC Kellen Moore, but he had Dak cooking again. Dak welcomed Brandin Cooks on the perimeter, Jake Ferguson after the catch, and most importantly a fully-charged version of CeeDee Lamb, who was used downfield depending on the matchup. The Cowboys played with pace and passing aggressiveness, and for most of the season, nobody saw the field better from the pocket than Dak. On an Underdog Fantasy ADP of 107.1, he finished 51st overall in points over replacement per game with 9 usable weeks, finally earning the trust of the football universe. He's a real life top-8 QB in my eyes in the same tier as Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts.

Best TE Value: Sam LaPorta ... The Lions needed someone to step up after trading T.J. Hockenson late last season, and LaPorta immediately was an upgrade despite being a rookie. The Iowa alum smashed the rookie record for half PPR points (184.9 to 1988 Keith Jackson's 160.4) and broke the narrative that rookie TEs don't have fantasy upside. LaPorta had 9 usable weeks and was the 49th overall player in points over replacement per game after scoring the 4th and 6th most points at the position all year in Weeks 13 and 15, despite being drafted 135th overall on Underdog Fantasy. He's a candidate for TE1 overall considerations next year even if elite OC Ben Johnson leaves town. After all, LaPorta was the TE1 overall in better in best ball points in 2023.

Best Early-Round Stack: Lions ... This didn't have to include Jared Goff (QB11 in points over replacement), but he certainly was good enough to make Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, and Sam LaPorta great values. The Sun God was the WR3 overall only trailing CeeDee Lamb and Tyreek Hill after being an early 2nd round pick in drafts (and he was on the Best Ball Mania IV winning lineup). Gibbs was up-and-down but finished as the 17th overall player thanks to some monster games, some with and some without Montgomery. The largely written-off veteran was the foundation of a balanced offense, leading Monty to a 19th overall finish on a 78th overall Underdog Fantasy ADP. And LaPorta was the TE1 overall as a rookie while being drafted even later than that. There's a reason why OC Ben Johnson is about to be a very, very rich man and future head coach. His diverse rushing attack paired with spacious route combinations in the pass game was a beautiful thing to watch every week. It didn't hurt to have a certified top-5 OL and the elite vibes Dan Campbell brings to the city of Detroit.

Best Late-Round Stack: Texans ... Things weren't always consistent because of the overall inexperience, but wow, the highs were high in Houston. C.J. Stroud was the all-time QB4 in adjusted net yards per attempt as a rookie, only trailing Dak Prescott, RGIII, and Ace Venture actor Dan Marino. The offense majored in downfield throws over the middle often coming off play action. 3rd-year breakout Nico Collins was the most consistent player throughout the entire season, finishing as the 20th overall player per game on 10-of-14 usable weeks. His running mate is about half his size, but Tank Dell lived up to his name as a rookie. Dell was the 22nd overall player per game before a tragic run blocking rep led to a broken leg. This pass-game trio all are on their rookie contracts and will be a fun stack once again in 2024, this time much earlier. Also, shoutout to Devin Singletary's 100th overall per-game ranking after straight up beating my guy Damien Pierce for lead-back duties. Singletary is a free agent:

Fantasy Bounce Back Player: Mike Evans ... Age cliffs are a real thing, but when they are already baked into cost, there's room for a profit in the new era of fantasy football. Look no further than contract-year Mike Evans. Reports from training camp were extremely strong, yet ignored. Then he stepped up in big spots all season long. On tape, his speed was still 95% of his peak and that catch radius is never going to regress. The difference was Baker Mayfield loves a full send. Evans caught his passes 12.1 yards downfield on average, the highest that's been since 2019 in the infamous 33-30 TD-INT Jameis Winston season. Evans finished as a WR1 then and once again in 2023. Both Mayfield and Evans are free agents technically. There's no way the Bucs let them walk.

What Changed My Mind Most: Small RBs ... The research was true (see below), but things in the NFL are changing and it's time to adjust. Most teams are using very effective committee backfields with one speedster specialist and one thumper up the gut. Well, when those small speedsters play in elite offenses, their relative value is now good enough to move the needle because there are fewer full bellcows at the top of the RB1 lists. This year was an extreme run out for the new wave of medium volume lightning backs. De'Von Achane (5'9/188) was 5th overall in better in best ball points per game. Raheem Mostert (5'10/205) had 13 usable weeks. Jahmyr Gibbs (5'9/200) was 17th overall in per-game stats. James Cook (5'11/190) was 37th overall. And Kyren Williams (5'9/194) was the best value in all of fantasy. All of these backs are attached to QBs and OCs that know how to use these types properly. We haven't seen that often throughout NFL history.

Best New Best Ball Strategy: Radicalized Zero RB ... My full post from 2022 is here, but the short version of the strategy is to stop drafting the position you draft early. In this case, draft some stud WRs early, then maximize their value by only drafting 5-6 of them in total. Instead, draft more RBs, WRs, or QBs later in the draft because we don't have studs at those positions. Complicated? No. Effective? Yes. This year, the Best Ball Mania IV winner spent his first 5 picks on WRs then drafted his final 6th WR in Round 15 (Jayden Reed) while drafting a 3-6-6-3 team. The third place finisher spent his first 6 picks on WRs then didn't draft another WR on a 3-7-6-2 team. And the fifth place team was a 3-8-5-2 team after going WR-WR in the first two rounds. Watch this video if you'd like to know more about this.

Worst Old Best Ball Strategy: Elite TE ... This was a brutal year for the old guard of the position. Travis Kelce lost a step despite staying healthy, finishing 56th overall in points over replacement per game. Mark Andrews was 61st overall, while missing the second half of the season. T.J. Hockenson was very consistent thanks to Justin Jefferson's injury but still was 70th overall before tearing his ACL. And Darren Waller couldn't stay healthy, nor was he effective. The thing all these TEs have in common is they are past their prime. We won't see a top-30 overall pick from the position in 2024, and if we do, it'll be from the new wave. Sam LaPorta (47th overall), David Njoku (82nd), and Trey McBride (110th) will battle George Kittle (49th overall) for the pre-season TE1 overall honors next year. I bet they settle into Round 4 or so, and I find that price with this group's age far more appealing.

Rookie ADP Report Card: B+ ... Bijan Robinson finished 32 spots lower than his Round 1 ADP. Jahmyr Gibbs was a +13. Jaxon Smith-Njigba was a -95 (yikes). Jordan Addison was a +13, thanks to Justin Jefferson's injury. Zay Flowers was a +1, thanks to Mark Andrews' injury. Quentin Johnston was a negative million. Anthony Richardson was injured but looked like a solid pick if he would've stayed healthy. Zach Charbonnet was a -100 because Kenneth Walker stayed healthy. Dalton Kincaid was a -31. Marvin Mims was a -37. De'Von Achane was a +125 (stud). Sam LaPorta was a +88. Rashee Rice was a +61. Roschon Johnson was a -23. Jonathan Mingo was a -146. Tyjae Spears was a slight loss. Jalin Hyatt was a nothing. Jayden Reed was a +106 and on the winning lineup, partially because Christian Watson and rookie Luke Musgrave were injured. Kendre Miller never saw the field. Tank Dell was a +156. Bryce Young stunk. Michael Wilson was fine. Michael Mayer was a bust. C.J. Stroud was a total stud. And Puka Nacua won you your league. As usual, the rookies are often the best and worst picks in fantasy, especially now that their upside is more priced in. In general, dart throws on the rookies are better than taking singles on Round 15 veterans.

Week 17 Guy You Need: CeeDee Lamb ... A broken play 92-yard TD was the thing you needed in particular (shout out Dak), but even before his 33.7-point Week 17 performance, Lamb had taken a leap. It wasn't just a statistical leap either. Lamb looked stronger and more importantly, he played more outside (read: more schemed-up downfield attempts). Lamb was the WR2 per game, only trailing Tyreek Hill, and nothing really changes in 2024. There's an argument for Lamb as the WR1 overall both in best ball and dynasty right now, knowing Dak Prescott is under contract long-term unlike Justin Jefferson's QB situation.

Round 1 Guy You Definitely Didn't Need: Austin Ekeler ... The Chargers were worse offensively than expected, partially because of injuries. Mike Williams was the first to drop, followed by multiple linemen including stud C Corey Linsley, and finally Justin Herbert just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Even if they all stayed healthy, things were looking tough for the former fantasy game breaker. Ekeler only had 7-of-13 usable weeks, leading to a 45th overall finish per game. By the end of the season, he ranked a lot lower than that, too. Ekeler was impacted by an ankle sprain and other issues, but it's hard to ignore the combination of his age, previous volume of touches, and his smaller frame. What makes fantasy football a tease is that CMC was the most valuable player in fantasy with a very similar profile. Things just went perfectly in San Francisco and he stayed healthy.

Round 2 Guy You Definitely Didn't Need: Jaylen Waddle ... The hype was real, and it certianly could've worked out if Tyreek Hill didn't look like Tyreek Hill all season long. But Waddle was a distant second or even third option in the offense after the ground game went crazy. He finished 68th overall in fantasy points over replacement per game while having a usable week in 9-of-14 contests, and the spike weeks were far less available. Waddle only had 2 games over 16.0 half PPR points, one of which came in the game Tyreek Hill missed. Was this a case of bad luck or hype gone too far? Waddle hasn't been worthy of a Round 2 fantasy selection in his career ... yet. Tyreek will be 30 years old next season.

Round 3 Guy You Definitely Didn't Need: Patrick Mahomes ... Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts mostly held up their side of the bargain at the Round 2-3 turn, but Mahomes flopped despite rushing more than ever. The problem was he ran out of necessity. Travis Kelce was worse both after the catch and at the catch point. Rashee Rice had moments in the schemed up part of the offense, but even he didn't offer the reliability of what JuJu offered Mahomes in the year prior. The result? Disaster. Mahomes was the 129th overall player and QB12. His completed passes were caught just 4.1 yards downfield, too, so the availability of a spike week was drained out of him. He'll return to fantasy stardom once the Chiefs get serious at the skill group, especially when Kelce announces retirement to travel the world with a super star billionaire. Someone has to be able to win on 3rd down and down the field in 2024. Rumor has it, it's a great draft to need a WR.

My Worst Take: Not Drafting The Dolphins RBs ... It was undersized rookie De'Von Achane versus $2M per year Raheem Mostert versus $2M per year Jeff Wilson, but there was speculation that the Dolphins could trade for Jonathan Taylor. I was spooked by that. I was wrong by that. Even if there were 30% odds of a trade, the discounted prices were worth the dice roll. Most likely, someone was underpriced, and with Mike McDaniel adding a new style with pitches, end arounds, and misdirection, there weren't one but two league winners here. Wilson getting hurt helped, but it's clear the Mostert and Achane are in tiers above anyway. The result: Mostert finished 5th overall in points over replacement and Achane was 5th overall per game. Already tilted on the matter, now we have to decide if we like 1) oft-banged up Achane going into his second season or 2) 32-year-old Mostert coming off a truly elite season more. They both have the potential to be league winners or busts at what'll likely be top-40 ADPs. Get ready to debate.

A Good Take From Me: The Late Round 2 WRs Didn't Belong ... I love these players in real life, don't get my wrong, but Jaylen Waddle (19th in ADP), Chris Olave (20th), DeVonta Smith (23rd), Calvin Ridley (24th), and Tee Higgins (26th) hadn't produced and didn't project like where they were being drafted. They finished 68th, 58th, 48th, 54th, and 62nd in points over replacement per game. Meanwhile, Saquon Barkley (26th overall finish), Derrick Henry (23rd), Jalen Hurts (38th), Josh Allen (25th), Breece Hall (18th), and even Josh Jacobs (40th) were objectively better picks. This RBs in this range have a very volatile projection but we can't ignore the reality of this tier of WRs' production either. I expect tiers like this to occur often now that WR prices will continue to get more and more expensive.