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Fantasy: 7 players who will lead you to a title in 2023 (Updated)


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No fantasy manager should rigidly classify any player as a "must-have," but it's wise to enter your draft with a short list of names.

While getting them all is probably impossible, you'll greatly increase your odds of achieving fantasy glory this season if you build your draft around selecting at least a few of the seven players on this list.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

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The advantage of having an elite fantasy quarterback was significant last season, with Jalen Hurts (25.6 fantasy points per game), Patrick Mahomes (25.2), and Josh Allen (24.2) opening a gap ahead of the next-closest QB, Joe Burrow (21.7).

While that same trio stands above the rest in 2023, fantasy managers will be forced to pay a premium to lock down their services in this year's drafts.

Jackson is on a short list of passers who could join that exclusive club this season - a place he held during his MVP campaign in 2019, when he finished as the overall QB1 in fantasy.

While injuries prematurely ended his last two seasons, Jackson was a top-five fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis prior to getting hurt both years.

The 26-year-old is entering his prime with the best supporting cast he's ever had thanks to the additions of veteran Odell Beckham Jr. and the team's top pick, Zay Flowers. They'll join star tight end Mark Andrews and former first-rounder Rashod Bateman, giving Jackson a complete receiving corps. Running back J.K. Dobbins is also healthy after battling back from an ACL tear in 2020.

However, it's the arrival of new offensive coordinator Todd Monken that really adds fuel to Jackson's fantasy outlook. Gone is Greg Roman's run-heavy system, which ranked in the bottom third of the league in situation-neutral pace of play the last four years, according to Football Outsiders.

In its place will be a quicker and more balanced attack under Monken, who was top 12 in pace of play each of his three years as Buccaneers OC. (We'll overlook his one season with the Browns, since there's a big drop-off when you're calling plays for Baker Mayfield.)

With upgraded pass-catching weapons, a faster new offense, an uptick in pass volume, and hopefully better injury luck for the team as a whole, Jackson has the best chance to challenge for a spot among the top three fantasy QBs.

Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

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The case for Chubb is simple, and the fact that you can still get him in the second round of drafts is a major value.

Kareem Hunt and D'Ernest Johnson left Cleveland in free agency and the Browns didn't bring in anyone of note, instead turning to last year's fifth-round pick, Jerome Ford, as the new No. 2 in the backfield. It's still possible the team will bring in a veteran free agent, but that doesn't appear to be a priority.

When you look back to the 2021 season when Hunt missed nine games, Chubb averaged 2.4 more fantasy points per contest with Hunt out of the lineup. Even with Hunt around, Chubb averaged the sixth-most fantasy points among running backs last year.

Expectations for the Browns' offense are much higher with Deshaun Watson getting a full offseason to prepare to be the Week 1 starter - in a system where Chubb will be the driving force. Cleveland also boasts an elite offensive line, which graded out fourth in theScore's recent rankings.

The 27-year-old back has been a top-10 fantasy RB for four straight years behind that quality line. With far less competition for touches in 2023, he might finally ascend to the running back throne and lead the position in fantasy points.

Tony Pollard, RB, Cowboys

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James Conner was originally in this spot - and remains a value in drafts - but his ceiling isn't as enticing now with the Cardinals organization appearing to lean into a rebuilding season in 2023.

While Pollard is a more expensive fantasy asset, he's an absolute steal in the second round of drafts after the Cowboys failed to add quality competition at running back.

Even while sharing the backfield with Ezekiel Elliott last year, Pollard averaged the eighth-most fantasy points at his position in half PPR formats as the coaching staff shifted its approach to feature him.

With an all-round skill set that fantasy managers covet, Pollard blew up down the stretch with only Christian McCaffrey scoring more fantasy points per game from Week 8 to Week 17.

There's a short list of names who could finish as the RB1 overall in fantasy this season, and Pollard is among them.

Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets

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Wilson was the WR31 in fantasy points per game last year with 12.7 points per outing, but that doesn't begin to tell the story of what he accomplished as a rookie.

The 10th overall pick was my top receiver prospect in the 2022 class and immediately looked like a future superstar, finishing with 83 catches, 1,103 yards, four touchdowns, and 147 targets (seventh in the league).

The reason Wilson's fantasy numbers were limited was the subpar play of quarterback Zach Wilson. In the eight contests where Joe Flacco or Mike White started, Garrett averaged 17.3 fantasy points per game - which would have put him as the WR7 on the year.

Fortunately for him, the Jets made a point to solve their QB problems by acquiring one of the best to ever play the position - Aaron Rodgers, who spoke highly of Garrett Wilson when the two teams squared off in 2022.

Even though Rodgers is on the backside of his career at 39 years old, he still represents one of the biggest improvements any team has made this offseason, and Wilson will be the first to benefit en route to a top-10 fantasy campaign.

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers

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Aiyuk has been producing ever since the 49ers drafted him in the first round three years ago, posting more than 700 yards and at least five touchdowns every season.

He was the WR15 in fantasy points per game as a rookie in 2020, and after starting his sophomore campaign in Kyle Shanahan's doghouse, Aiyuk was the WR22 (fppg) over the final 10 outings.

Last season was a true breakout effort with 78 grabs, 1,015 yards, and eight scores, finishing as the WR24 (fppg). It's worth mentioning that Aiyuk was the WR24 over the stretch of games that Brock Purdy started, since Purdy is likely to be the 49ers' top QB once again.

Everyone around the organization has praised Aiyuk's development this offseason, including Deebo Samuel, who suggested his teammate has taken his game to another level.

"You can't cover that boy in a phone booth right now," Samuel told reporters.

Talent-wise, Aiyuk could be a top-12 receiver, but whether he can do it in a crowded 49ers offense remains to be seen.

Either way, for the second straight year, his ADP of WR27 doesn't reflect his true potential as a solid fantasy WR2 with an even higher ceiling.

D.J. Moore, WR, Bears

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Moore overcame some downright awful quarterback play during the last few years in Carolina and continued to produce as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3 in fantasy. Now he heads to Chicago, where he gets to team up with a budding star QB in Justin Fields.

The Bears posted incredibly low passing attempt totals for a modern offense last year. Fields was still acclimating to the pros and Chicago didn't do enough to surround him with quality talent. Midseason acquisition Chase Claypool was a bust, and after wideout Darnell Mooney was placed on injured reserve in November, the team lacked capable pass-catchers.

Getting Mooney back healthy and drafting rookie Tyler Scott will go a long way to rounding out the Bears' passing attack, but bringing in a true No. 1 receiver like Moore is a game-changer.

We've seen the impact that players like Stefon Diggs and A.J. Brown can have on an offense; the Bills ranked 24th in pass attempts the year before Diggs arrived, and the Eagles were 32nd before Brown came to town.

The Bears have a lot further to go, but the addition of Moore brings hope that the team will make strides in that area during Fields' third season. The Athletic's Ted Nguyen did an outstanding job breaking down why he believes Fields can achieve a "dramatic improvement" this year.

For Moore, a fresh start could be exactly what he needs, and that extra motivation to prove himself on a new roster could propel him to a career year - just like Diggs and Brown delivered in the first season on their second teams.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons

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Pitts had one of the most impressive rookie seasons we've ever witnessed from a tight end, topping 1,000 yards - just 50 yards short of Mike Ditka's record. Scoring a single touchdown was the only thing that pushed him down the fantasy leaderboards to TE13.

We didn't get much of an encore in 2022 because an MCL tear ended his sophomore campaign early.

As a result, fantasy managers have started to doubt Pitts' potential, which is a mistake. The 22-year-old is in the process of ramping back up and will be ready to go in Week 1.

He also escapes Marcus Mariota, who was a big reason Pitts had the most uncatchable targets among tight ends last year. While there's no guarantee Desmond Ridder will be a noticeable upgrade in that category, the team did throw more with him under center, and there's nowhere to go but up.

The same can be said for the Falcons' offense, which now boasts three early-first-round talents at the skill positions in Pitts, Drake London, and Bijan Robinson, as well as a top-10 offensive line.

Pitts' metrics point toward a bounce-back as well: He finished first in average depth of target among tight ends and third in both targets per route run and air yards percentage.

If you miss out on the known elite options at the position, Pitts is the tight end to set your sights on in the sixth round or later.

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