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2023 NFL draft fantasy football winners and losers: Lamar Jackson's awesome offseason continues

2023 NFL Draft Round 1 Winners

Lamar Jackson

Not sure anyone had a better 24 hours than Lamar Jackson. The contract saga around the former MVP quarterback finally came to its natural, logical conclusion when he and the Ravens agreed to a deal similar to Jalen Hurts’ new contract, just with a touch more money. A long, drawn-out episode ended in the most predictable fashion.

The Ravens followed it up by taking one of my favorite receiver prospects, Zay Flowers, out of Boston College. Flowers is an explosive player who, despite his size, was excellent against press-man coverage in college. He brings separation ability and juice this team has lacked. I loved this pick.

Frankly, it’s been a great offseason for Jackson despite the negotiation stalls and the media obsession to frame him as some kind of victim. The Ravens made an inspired hire in offensive coordinator Todd Monken, a proven passing-game innovator, and made a swing for the fences by signing Odell Beckham Jr. The theme of this offseason could have been called, “Make Lamar’s life better.” The Flowers pick and the contract were just more building blocks.

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Jackson has never had a wide receiver corps like this one. When healthy, Beckham can still dominate one-on-one coverage and win contested catches. Rashod Bateman has also been a good player when he’s been available. He’s an excellent route runner and it’s no coincidence Jackson’s stats tailed off the moment Bateman started dealing with injuries. Flowers can get downfield the best of the trio and is the superior YAC option. I could see all of these guys playing any of the three receiver positions — X, flanker, slot — and I wouldn’t be surprised by any of them being the top receiver by season’s end. This is a good group.

Five months ago the Ravens were stuck in the mud of Greg Roman’s 1990’s offensive system with Devin Duvernay as their second-best pass-catcher. Now, Monken is set to jump this offense into the modern era with a deep receiver corps and one of the best tight end rooms in the NFL featuring Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely.

These are not the same old Lamar-era Ravens. I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t have his best career passing season in 2023.

Geno Smith

Geno Smith also has to be feeling pretty good about his setup right now. He’s fresh off a Pro Bowl season, a life-changing contract extension in his 30s and, in a draft where some pegged the Seahawks as a potential quarterback destination, the Seahawks did the opposite of replacing Smith.

They got him some more help instead.

The Seahawks started the wide receiver run by taking Jaxson Smith-Njigba at the 20th overall selection. If JSN is the player I think he can be, the Seahawks might already have one of the best wide receiver trios in the league.

That sounds like a scorching hot take but DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were already in the conversation as the best one-two punch at wideout. This is just icing on the cake. Smith-Njigba brings yet another dimension as the team’s primary slot.

He’s a dominant route runner in man-to-man coverage when working the intermediate and will set himself up for YAC opportunities with his advanced understanding of zone coverage. JSN, Metcalf and Lockett all win in different ways at the position. It’s hard for me to come up with three wide receivers who would fit better together.

Smith now has an extremely diverse and complementary stable of receivers at his disposal. He could be even better this year and that’s including his fantasy outlook.

No one ever wants to get excited about non-high-volume rushers but Smith gives you a little something on the ground too, and with this receiver room, he’s a candidate for 40-plus passing touchdowns.

Bijan Robinson

One of the biggest misconceptions in fantasy football circles is that Arthur Smith is a bad offensive coach. All because people still have their feelings hurt about Kyle Pitts' disappointing 2022 season.

Smith is not the man to blame there; that would be Marcus Mariota who simply couldn’t execute the well-designed plays Smith was dialing up for Pitts and others. It’s no coincidence that Drake London immediately had his best stretch of the year when Desmond Ridder entered the lineup and merely played at a capable level.

The Falcons were 32nd in neutral pass rate overall last year but jumped to 24th in the final four games when Mariota was benched. Atlanta ranked 14th in neutral pass rate in 2021 — people seem to conveniently forget we have more than one season to go off of here! When Smith has a real quarterback behind center, he doesn’t resort to simply playing “boomer ball” in an overly run-heavy approach.

I’m sure you are confused as to why I’m talking about opening up the passing game so much in a “Bijan Robinson: Winner” section. We want our running backs tethered to good offenses with efficient passing games. With Smith’s strong play designs, a legitimate No. 1 receiver in London and Pitts back healthy, the Falcons have that. We don’t want Robinson just slamming run plays in an ancient attack. Despite the prevailing narrative, that’s not what you’re going to get in Atlanta.

In terms of projectable opportunity and the upside to grow with a young unit, the landing spot could not have been better for Robinson.

Quentin Johnston

There were rumors Johnston was going to slip out of the first round altogether. Not only did that not even come close to happening, but he also ended up in a good landing spot for long-term value. While a limited prospect, the routes where Johnston shined at TCU occur in the exact areas of the field Los Angeles needs to open up.

He can help unlock the downfield passing game that’s been so stagnant the last year with Justin Herbert. He also brings the fluidity to quickly get open against man coverage on slants. His YAC ability is not shared by any of the other Chargers pass-catcher.

Johnston can immediately usurp Josh Palmer for the third receiver gig and bring the juice this passing game needs. In the long term, he could take over Keenan Allen’s spot across from Mike Williams. I have my questions about Johnston’s developmental curve but overall, he’s a good prospect who landed in an ideal spot to get the best out of his strengths.

Jordan Addison

I love post-draft analysis of players way more than scouting them. When I think of Jordan Addison as a player, there are definitely holes I can pick in his game. However, when I’m applying him as the long-term running mate to Justin Jefferson in Minnesota, I suddenly don’t care about any of those concerns.

My worries about Addison going against tough press corners as a vertical X-receiver don’t really matter anymore. Not when he’s playing with Jefferson. Addison carries the profile of an almost perfect NFL No. 2 receiver. And that’s exactly what he’ll be asked to be in Minnesota.

By the way, he’ll get to hold that job as a pro-ready route runner on a Vikings receiver depth chart that is wide-open after Jefferson. I won’t be shocked if Addison is the most productive rookie receiver in 2023.

Colts upside

No offense played with a roof over its head more than the Matt Ryan-led 2022 Colts. Anthony Richardson is the ultimate ceiling-breaking quarterback.

His arm will unlock areas of the field the Colts couldn’t even fathom exploring last year. His rushing ability will add another headache for teams to prepare for when facing an already strong ground attack.

Jonathan Taylor has been a career 5.1 yards per carry player. What do you set the over/under at for Taylor’s YPC average now that he has Richardson to work as an option threat? Taylor was already the most obvious bounce-back candidate around in fantasy. I might rank him second overall.

You can’t watch Richardson’s college film and not want to excuse his low completion percentage in the context of his receiver’s play. While not a deep group, I like the Colts starting duo. Michael Pittman is a fantastic separator on crossing routes, slants and digs. His ability to win over the middle will help Richardson develop. When the big-armed passer wants to heave it deep, Alec Pierce is a ball-winning vertical X-receiver. Hopefully, one of the hulking tight ends like Jelani Woods finally breaks out.

Richardson is an inexperienced player with some questions in his profile. But there is no doubt the Colts' offense is far more interesting right now than it was 24 hours ago. The entire unit has some holes and possible weak points. Richardson can cover up many of those sins simply because he is, objectively, the most athletic quarterback prospect we’ve ever seen. Players like that create offense on their own even while working through their flaws. The Colts needed that.

It will be hard to justify leaving Richardson on the bench with this ecosystem and a play-caller who just helped develop Jalen Hurts, who carried similar questions as a passer, in the fold. I don’t think Gardner Minshew starts one game for this team, outside of injury.

Texans sanity

I have nothing more to add other than I'm glad we live in a world where all the pre-draft nonsense about the Texans not taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall was nothing more than that. Utter nonsense. C.J. Stroud brings a pro-ready game to a team that could not call themselves a serious operation if they passed on him.

Round 1 Losers

DeAndre Hopkins

There were rumors that DeAndre Hopkins was going to be the first post-contract gift the Ravens sent to Lamar Jackson. They went for Zay Flowers in Round 1 instead — the better move if you ask me.

The Cardinals general manager indicated that not only was Hopkins not moved in Round 1, but he also doesn’t expect him to get traded at all.

Hopkins was openly fantasizing about catching passes from Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes in a CBS interview a few weeks ago. Now he might be catching passes from Colt McCoy for half the season.

I still think Hopkins has a lot left to offer. Maybe a contender agrees and decides to figure out a way to make the big salary work. If not, and he’s really back in Arizona on a team so clearly looking toward 2024, that’s a bad break.

Will Levis

The Kentucky quarterback falling out of the first round was a true stunner. I never would have believed that heading into Thursday night and yet, there Levis sat in the green room for all 31 selections. Levis has his flaws as a player but for no team to take a shot on him in Round 1, especially with the fifth-year option component — didn’t see that one coming.

The odds of him finding a Day 1 starting job as a Round 2 pick are much longer. Non-first-round quarterbacks also have a long road to travel to hold down gigs long-term.

Dawson Knox

I like the idea of the Dalton Kincaid selection in Buffalo. I’m guessing they view him as their jumbo slot receiver and will have him work the middle of the field, which was such a problem area for Josh Allen last year.

It’s a little odd though, considering this team just handed Knox a contract extension and he’s also a bit of the move tight end archetype. The two tight-end offenses typically never go as well as we hope in terms of fantasy projections. Even when they hit, you don’t want to be the in-line guy over the split-out, slot-heavy option. If I had to guess as to who the former will be in this rotation, it’s Knox.

D’Andre Swift

The current Lions coaching staff and front office were not a part of the group that drafted Swift out of Georgia a few years ago. They have reminded us of that over and over again with their actions. No measure has been more resounding than making Jahmyr Gibbs a top-12 selection, one of the shockers of Round 1.

Gibbs is a great receiver and will bring more to the table than traditional running backs. Really, he’s just the actualized version of what people want Swift to be. The Lions simply don’t view him as a reliable enough player medically and don’t value his talent as well as the fantasy community. That’s been obvious for a while. Swift could be traded at some point over the next two days. If he’s not, I don’t know how he cracks this rotation after the team also added David Montgomery as a free agent.