With the NFL season officially underway, fans ranging from elementary schoolers to dads in their mid-60s are indulging in an endeavor that raptures over 40 million people per year: Fantasy Football. Fantasy Football is a game in which fans take turns picking positional players from around the NFL for their own made-up teams, where they earn points based on how well those players perform in real life. This article will go over some must-have players for your rosters, as well as a few that aren’t looking so good for this season. The opinions in this article are based on the assumption that the league structure is full-point PPR (Point Per Reception) with 12 teams.
Let’s focus on the positives first and turn to some sleeper picks you should be targeting in your leagues. For the purposes of this piece, a “sleeper pick” will be defined as a player who should be picked higher than, and has the potential to outperform, his current ADP (Average Draft Position). The first guy that comes to mind is George Pickens, a wide receiver (WR) for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With quarterback Kenny Pickett throwing him passes, Pickens tallied over 800 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. Kenny Pickett appears to have taken a leap both physically and skill-wise after an exceptional preseason, which should spell more catches for Pickett. The Steelers also have an improved offensive line to give Pickett time to throw the ball, along with an upgraded defense to get the ball back for the offense. Currently being picked as the 31st wide receiver off the board, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pickens finish as a Top-15 WR. Other sleeper wide receivers include Jahan Dotson of the Washington Commanders, rookie Zay Flowers of the Baltimore Ravens, and Elijah Moore of the Cleveland Browns.
Switching over to the running back (RB) position, let’s take a look at Cam Akers for the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams’ offense benefits from stretching the field, having both the best slot Wide Receiver in the league in Cooper Kupp, and a Top-10 Tight End in Tyler Higbee. Head Coach Sean McVay has continually raved about Cam Akers’ skillset and potential, and in the final six games of his 2022 campaign, Akers had 115 touches (carries + receptions), six TDs, and was the sixth highest-scoring RB over that span (fifth in non-PPR). Those trends could very well continue, especially since Akers seems to have fully recovered from his 2021 Achilles tear. This is a deep RB draft, so if you’re unable to grab Akers, look for Jahmyr Gibbs of the Detroit Lions or James Cook of the Buffalo Bills.
There are also “busts” in Fantasy Football. These players may be overhyped or in a bad situation, but whatever the issue is, most of the time they should be avoided. My biggest bust for this year is Mike Evans. Evans has always been known for his incredible consistency, recently becoming the first player in NFL history to have nine straight seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. So if this is the case, why is he my biggest bust of the season? First, Mike Evans just turned 30 years old, and his body is showing signs of injury. Last year, Evans struggled with hamstring issues, and as of this week, he is dealing with a problematic groin strain. In older players, soft tissue injuries tend to become more common and tend to linger for longer, affecting Evans’ production. Evans’ new QB, Baker Mayfield, also won’t help. No hate towards Mayfield, but going from catching Tom Brady’s passes to having the extremely inconsistent Baker Mayfield throwing you the ball is a clear downgrade. The final facet is Mike Evans’ contract situation. Evans is only under contract for one more season, and his relationship with the Buccaneers has been strained as contract talks have stalled. This season will likely be Mike Evans’ last in Tampa, and it’s unclear how much effort he will give to the team this season.
Another bust for this season is Dalvin Cook. At a quick glance, Cook looks like a great value pick. He was a 4x Pro-Bowler with the Minnesota Vikings and has had over 1,000 rushing yards for four straight seasons. The newly acquired New York Jet signed a 1 year, seven-million dollar contract, and it would appear that he has a clear path to production as the Jets’ primary running back. However, Cook is in a difficult situation: immediately after Cook’s signing, Breece Hall, who suffered an ACL tear last season, was activated from the “Physically Unable to Play” list, meaning he is ready to play Week 1. Head Coach Robert Saleh has also stated that he and the rest of the team would like Hall to be the Jets main running back by the end of the season. At this point, the best-case scenario for Cook is that he gets the start in Week 1 and serves as the 1b to Breece Hall’s 1a. The odds, however, are stacked against Cook. The much more likely situation is that Cook plays a good chunk of Weeks one to four before getting faded out of the game plan entirely. Last season, Hall was a Top-10 RB before his injury, and the Jets have continually committed to using him. Cook’s contract is tough for the Jets, but the Fantasy Football decision is fairly simple.
Fantasy Football is a game of chance, but maximizing that chance can go a long way. The type of league, ADP, situation, contract status, and offense can all change a player's value, but picking a player in the later rounds and having them succeed gives your team a large advantage over others in your league.