The 2023 NFL football season is finally here. As much as I love crunching numbers and building spreadsheets all offseason, I am excited for real football games to happen again. Partly because I just love football but also because brand new data is about to be born.
This season, I will be writing a weekly article for In-Between Media (IBT), giving you my takes on the fantasy football “winners and losers” after each week of NFL action. This will be an exciting topic to cover, and I will include my reasoning behind the judgments, along with actionable analysis when possible.
My goal and basic format each week will involve presenting my winners and losers for each skill position (QB, WR, RB and TE). There will be plenty of well-known players on both ends of the spectrum, but in striving for a modicum of originality, I will mix in some players with less obvious and more subtle reasoning. That is where I believe some of the actionable advice will lie.
This first installment looks back on the offseason and recently completed 2023 NFL Preseason. And since many of the NFL’s fantasy-relevant players see limited action (if any) during the exhibition games, offseason winners and losers can be based on what didn’t happen just as much as on what did happen.
Fantasy Football Winners & Losers: 2023 NFL Preseason
Anthony Richardson (QB, Indianapolis Colts)
Anthony Richardson is one of the more interesting and exciting QB prospects in recent memory. The Colts selected the 6-foot, 4-inch QB out of the University of Florida with the fourth-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Oozing with talent and athleticism, Richardson is still relatively raw. Even his high draft capital was no guarantee the starting job would be his in Week 1.
And his preseason statistics alone do not indicate a major step has been taken toward alleviating the concerns with his rawness. Richardson played in two preseason games and completed only 44.8% of his pass attempts, averaging just five passing yards per attempt. Those numbers are bad, but in the preseason, statistics can mean very little. In this case, the numbers mean essentially nothing. Richardson is a big fantasy football winner, as he was named the Week 1 starter and a team captain for the Colts. At this point, the likelihood of Richardson starting all 17 games (when healthy) is higher than him getting benched for Gardner Minshew.
Tony Pollard (RB, Dallas Cowboys)
Tony Pollard did not play in the preseason, along with two other foundational offensive pieces, Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb. I mentioned that players can be fantasy football winners and losers based on what didn’t happen, and that is exactly why Pollard is a winner of the entire offseason. Ezekiel Elliott was not re-signed. The Cowboys have yet to sign one of the veteran free agent RBs still on the market, namely Kareem Hunt or Leonard Fournette. They did draft Deuce Vaughn, a running back who showed flashes during the preseason, but Vaughn was a sixth-round pick and is not a major threat to Pollard’s workload.
Since coming into the league in 2019 as a fourth-round pick out of the University of Memphis, Pollard has played in a complementary role behind Elliott. The seeds of change were planted in 2021 and grew into a forest in 2022. Elliott still was still the “lead back” based on rushing volume, but Pollard exploded onto the scene, finishing as a top 10 fantasy RB. With only RBs Rico Dowdle and Vaughn currently on the depth chart behind him (Ronald Jones is a Cowboy, but he’s suspended and he’s Ronald Jones), there is every indication that Pollard will have close to a bell cow role in the Cowboys offense. He is my Points Per Reception (PPR) RB5 in redraft formats.
Jordan Addison (WR, Minnesota Vikings)
One of my two “All-In” picks this year for IBT (Chris Olave is the other), Jordan Addison, is an offseason winner due to the combination of talent and landing spot. One of the better 2023 WR prospects, Addison joins a Vikings team that threw at a 62.3% pass rate in 2022 (third-highest) and whose defense got worse over the offseason. A high pass rate team with a bad defense is a good recipe for a talented WR, even one in his rookie season.
There will be competition with fellow Vikings’ WR K.J. Osborn for the WR2 spot, but Addison should be on the field early and often in 2023. Lining up with a WR like Justin Jefferson should mean more single coverage for Addison. He should see a hefty volume of targets as the Vikings slug it out in what looks to be a competitive division.
Evan Engram (TE, Jacksonville Jaguars)
In 2022, Evan Engram delivered a TE1 (top-12) season for the first time since his rookie year in 2017. After five years playing with the New York Giants, Engram signed with the Jaguars in 2022. He went on to set career highs in receptions (73), receiving yards (766) and catch percentage (74.5%), becoming one of the primary weapons for Trevor Lawrence.
Engram is an offseason fantasy football winner because he was finally recognized and rewarded for being one of the better TEs in the NFL. As a free agent during the 2022 offseason, Engram signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars for $9.2 million. It was not an insignificant dollar amount for a TE, but it was still only a one-year “prove-it” deal. The Jaguars are an ascending team with an offense that looks to be more high-powered with each passing year, and they view Engram as a key piece. This offseason, the Jaguars signed him to a new three-year contract worth $41.25 million, with $24 million guaranteed. Engram is now the sixth-highest-paid TE in the NFL after what seems like only a few years since he was being buried and labeled as a bust because of a few dropped passes.
Trey Lance (QB, Dallas Cowboys)
Trey Lance has been a common topic over the offseason, and I hesitate to add another shovel of dirt onto his near-term career. But this is a fantasy football winners and losers piece, and Lance perhaps lost the most this offseason. The 49ers tried to tell us earlier in the offseason that Brock Purdy, if healthy, was their guy. But many people, including myself, chalked this up to “coach speak” and thought Lance had a shot to start Week 1.
Not only will Purdy be the Week 1 starter, but the embarrassment of the Trey Lance saga in San Francisco (embarrassing for the team and how they handled the situation, not Lance) ends with him being traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2024 fourth-round draft pick. Two years after trading up to draft Lance at fourth overall in 2021, a day-two draft pick is all they get in return. Lance does get a fresh start in Dallas, but he will be, at best, Dak Prescott’s backup in 2023. Prescott is signed through the 2024 season, but the Cowboys do have a potential out after the 2023 season. There is a scenario where Prescott moves on after his contract, and Lance takes over the starting role. Still, Lance is a clear loser of the 2023 offseason.
The entire 49ers franchise would be fully in the loser category had they not lucked into a solid QB with the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft in Brock Purdy. But if Purdy and backup Sam Darnold are not enough to bring this team (with very few holes outside of QB) a Super Bowl Ring, that day-one trade the 49ers made in 2021 will live on as one of the worst trades in NFL history.
Kendre Miller (RB, New Orleans Saints)
I’m not the biggest fan of deeming a player an offseason loser due to injury, but with Saints’ rookie RB Kendre Miller, it’s fitting. Miller was picked up by the Saints in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, knowing that he was recovering from a knee injury suffered at TCU during the previous season. Although the Saints also signed veteran RB Jamaal Williams this offseason, the stars were beginning to align for a path to immediate fantasy impact for Miller in 2023.
Recovered from his knee injury, Miller’s value shot up once fellow Saints RB Alvin Kamara was officially suspended for the first three games of 2023. This would have Miller leading the rushing charge with Williams over the first three games, providing an opportunity to vie for significant playing time even after Kamara returns. Unfortunately, he may not get that chance, as he now is questionable for the start of the season with a hamstring injury.
While it has historically been more difficult for rookie WRs to hit their stride after missing time early with an injury, this would still be valuable time missed for Miller with a dreaded soft tissue injury that could linger or get re-aggravated. With vagueness surrounding the timetable of this injury, there is still a chance that Miller is good to go by Week 2. In that case, we’ll get two weeks of potential Miller time, but this is looking more like a “what could have been” in the short term for the rookie.
Terry McLaurin (WR, Washington Commanders)
Full transparency: I am a Terry McLaurin believer. I have been since his rookie season. I think he is one of the better WRs in the NFL, but my confidence that he will break into the top-20 fantasy WRs by points per game is waning. McLaurin is one of the many WRs who has suffered from a lack of QB talent, and the jury is still out as to whether that will change in 2023 with second-year QB Sam Howell.
Add to that the toe injury he recently suffered, which has his Week 1 status in jeopardy, and it has not been an ideal offseason. And McLaurin’s career arc has also been trending in the wrong direction.
On the left are McLaurin’s finishes by points per game from 2019-2022 compared to his preseason Average Draft Position (ADP), courtesy of My Fantasy League, as well as the difference between the two and his target share for each season.
You can see that 2020 was McLaurin’s peak season (so far) and that the market (including myself) significantly overcorrected with his 2021 ADP. His target share has also decreased since that 2020 season. McLaurin remains a borderline top-24 WR, and with the toe injury, QB questions and the potential breakout for Jahan Dotson, that isn’t likely to change.
Thanks for reading my preseason fantasy football winners and losers. As always, find me on Twitter, talking fantasy football, joking around, posting GIFs and lending my support where it’s needed @MunderDifflinFF.