Although all fantasy football fans love seeing where the most exciting rookies like Bijan Robinson, Jaxon Smith-Njiba, and Jahmyr Gibbs end up, many of the real 2023 NFL draft winners (for fantasy football purposes) are veteran players.
NFL front offices often show their processes with actions, not words. Where they choose to spend draft capital – and which positions they also ignore during the draft – tells us a lot about how they view their current players. Here are three non-rookies who emerged from the NFL draft with higher stock.
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- Lamar Jackson has added multiple passing-game weapons and now has a coordinator with an aggressive passing philosophy.
- Rhamondre Stevenson did not receive any running back competition from the NFL draft, and projects to have among the best running back receiving profiles for 2023.
- Tony Pollard should finally have the backfield to himself after the Cowboys added no notable running backs during free agency and the draft.
After a long and drawn-out contract saga between him and the Ravens, Baltimore both signed Lamar Jackson to a long-term deal and made him an immediate fantasy football winner on draft weekend.
After signing Odell Beckham and drafting many analysts’ pre-draft WR2 in Zay Flowers in the 1st round, the Ravens are showing Lamar they are serious about putting him in the best position to succeed. 2021 1st round deep-threat Rashod Bateman also returns from an injury that cut his 2022 season short, along with an offensive line that suffered major injuries last season.
If you see the Ravens gearing up to throw the ball even more, it’s not a coincidence. After leading the University of Georgia’s offense to two consecutive National Championships (98 combined Georgia points in those two games) as their offensive coordinator, Todd Monken is back in the NFL to coordinate the Ravens’ offense. Here’s why that matters:
Todd Monken's offenses in the NFL:
2019 Browns: 539 pass attempts
2018 Buccs: 625 pass attempts
2017 Buccs: 605 pass attempts
2016 Buccs: 578 pass attempts
The Ravens under Greg Roman:
2022: 488 Pass attempts
2021: 611 Pass Attempts
2020: 406 pass attempts
2019: 440 pass…
— Jake (@Parry_FF) April 30, 2023
Remember that Monken wasn’t exactly running those NFL offenses with elite quarterbacks: he goes from a Jameis Winston/Ryan Fitzpatrick combo and Baker Mayfield to Lamar Jackson.
Gone are the days of Demarcus Robinson and Devin Duvernay. With Bateman, Flowers, and Beckham in tow along with Mark Andrews, they can spread out the field and use three-receiver sets far more often than they previously have:
the Ravens ranked dead last in usage of 11 personnel last yr
with Zay Flowers, OBJ, Rashod Bateman & Todd Monken calling shots, they should rank MUCH HIGHER next yr
CIN D & CLE D both ranked bottom-10 v 11 personnel plays
PIT D ranked bottom-10 v 11 personnel passes pic.twitter.com/CAcb9K27gJ
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) April 28, 2023
Currently going as the QB6, Lamar is basically a lock for top-five production when he is on the field. He has never finished lower than QB5 in terms of points per game and has never paced for under 63 rushing yards per game. The Ravens’ investments in their passing game and coaching changes put Jackson among the 2023 NFL draft winners.
Stevenson enjoyed a fantastic breakout in 2023, finishing as the PPR RB8 and providing major value for fantasy owners shrewd enough to draft him in the 7th round last season. With Damien Harris now in Buffalo, many expected the Patriots to draft another running back. However, the Patriots ended up drafting three offensive linemen… and zero running backs.
It may just be Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris – 2022 4th and 6th round picks – behind Stevenson this year. While the Patriots signed James Robinson, the Athletic’s Chad Graff projects Robinson will be left off the team’s 53-man roster:
#Patriots made 12 draft picks, 0 of them at RB.
And The Athletic projects James Robinson to not make final roster. Despite losing Damien Harris in free agency.
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) May 1, 2023
Stevenson was productive in the passing game last year, finishing 3rd among RBs in targets. But when Harris missed time, Stevenson got even more usage in the run game (thanks to our friends at RotoViz and their Game Splits app):
His rushing touchdowns especially have room to grow, as Harris scored 3 touchdowns inside the five-yard line last season. Indeed, the Patriots are still building their 2023 running game around Stevenson.
Stevenson will also play this season at age 25, putting him right in line for a peak running back season. It couldn’t come with a better opportunity:
How massive might Rhamondre Stevenson's role be this season?
Stevenson & Damien Harris combined for 19.0 expected half-PPR points/game last year.
If Stevenson soaks up X% of that work, he'd have finished X in expected half-PPR points/game …
70% = 13th
80% = 7th
90% = 2nd
— Jared Smola (@SmolaDS) May 3, 2023
Stevenson’s receiving numbers should, at the very least, stay stable. After Matt Patricia predictably failed as offensive coordinator, Belichick brought in old friend Bill O’Brien to run the offense. In 2022 O’Brien was running the University of Alabama’s pro-style offense, where running back Jahmyr Gibbs led a talented Alabama offense in receptions.
The Patriots could also be playing from behind much more than they are used to. Here are DraftKings’ odds for the AFC East:
Considering the Patriots passed to their running backs at the 2nd-highest rate in the NFL last season (24%), Stevenson could add some late-game receptions to pad his stats against Aaron Rodgers, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Allen. He is undoubtedly one of the biggest 2023 NFL draft winners for fantasy football leagues.
Finally, fantasy football enthusiasts got their wish in 2023: Tony Pollard emerged from behind Ezekiel Elliott and was unleashed to the tune of 1,378 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Although he broke his leg in their playoff loss, he should be ready for training camp.
More importantly, the plodding “Zeke” was released and Pollard signed his one-year franchise tag. The Cowboys could absolutely make Pollard the centerpiece of their 2023 offense as one of the most explosive backs in the NFL (note Rhamondre Stevenson as well):
RB yards after contact per carry and explosive run-play rate (10+ yards) 2019-2022. (min. 300 carries, TruMedia)
Tony Pollard and Nick Chubb are pretty, pretty, pretty good. pic.twitter.com/KjerxJINbO
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 3, 2023
It was almost a foregone conclusion that the Cowboys would draft another running back. They indeed did, but it was 5’5″, 178lb Deuce Vaughn in the 7th round – hardly workhorse competition. During the first six rounds, the Cowboys drafted one skill-position player: tight end Luke Schoonmaker in the 2nd round.
This is especially interesting, as they passed on multiple pass-catching tight ends to select the primarily-blocking Schoonmaker (35-418-3 line last year, his only season over 200 yards) as a potential Dalton Schultz replacement.
Pollard has also shown the ability to post insane efficiency even when his touch volume increases. Here are his splits in the past three seasons when receiving at least 10 carries in a game:
His high-value touch upside is through the roof. Zeke leaves behind a whopping 19 carries and 9 touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line. As a receiver, Pollard is amazing as well (courtesy of RotoViz’s AY/A app):
The Cowboys’ only notable skill position acquisition was Brandin Cooks. They’ll have a fully healthy offensive line after a myriad of recent injuries. Simply put: Tony Pollard’s ceiling is as high as the Cowboys will allow it to be.