Now that the 2023 NFL draft is behind us, the time has finally come to …


OK, wait. Maybe not quite yet. We have post-draft work to do.

Then — and only then — can Field Yates get back to posting shirtless photos from Nantucket beaches.

In the meantime, I — Mike Clay — am sitting here writing this introductory paragraph for a fun little article you’re about to read, in which Field and I are going to discuss our favorite 2023 fantasy football breakout players.

You might be wondering why I’m writing this — and not Field — and there is a good reason for that: Field is lazy.

OK, not really. He’s the opposite of lazy. In fact, I actually don’t know what he’s doing right now, but it’s probably something like hosting “NFL Live.” Or playing with his toddler. Or updating his ranks. Or memorizing every current NFL punter’s alma mater (their high school alma mater — he obviously knows their colleges). Or perhaps he’s drinking a terrible IPA. Or flexing in a mirror. Or slicing golf shots into literally every body of water in range and blaming his … oh wait, here he is now!

We can finally get this thing started. So here’s what we’ll do: I’ll kick things off with one of my favorite non-rookie breakout players for 2023. Then Field will go, then back to me, then back to Field, etc. You get it. So let’s do it … and then Field can get back to sipping tea or playing polo or whatever it is they do where he’s from.

Mike: I decided to kick things off with Packers WR Christian Watson because, if you tuned into the “Fantasy Focus Football” podcast a few weeks ago, you might recall Daniel Dopp giving me a hard time for liking him. I enjoy making Daniel look silly, so what better place to start? The Packers traded up to select Watson with the 34th pick of the 2022 draft. He didn’t see the field much early on during his rookie season but stepped into an every-down role in Week 10. From that point on, he was fantasy’s No. 10 wide receiver. Yes, his TD rate is unsustainable (nine TDs on 48 touches), but he looked like the real deal, finishing near the top of the WR leaderboard in notable efficiency metrics, including yards per target, yards after the catch and yards per route run. I know, I know: Aaron Rodgers is gone. But Watson has very little competition for targets, with the likes of Romeo Doubs, a handful of rookies and perhaps Kyle Soppe among those next up on the depth chart. Watson is 6-foot-4, 24 years old and positioned for a massive workload after an impressive rookie season. He’ll be on a lot of my rosters this season.

Field: First off, Mike, let’s start with the important stuff. You can question my taste in beers, my Instagram habits and my obsession with knowing that Corey Bojorquez played his college ball at New Mexico, but no one — and I mean no one! — dunks on my golf game. I shot 79 last week. Admittedly, I played only 12 holes, but that’s neither here nor there! More seriously, there’s no one I’d rather talk fantasy shop with than the engine of ESPN’s fantasy content. Let’s dive in on Jets WR Garrett Wilson, who finished 30th in points per game among wideouts as a rookie in 2022, a season in which he also won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The fact that Wilson accomplished that with arguably the worst quarterback play in the league is reason enough to be optimistic about his outlook, but even more so given that he’ll graduate from a carousel of bad quarterbacks to one who has won four NFL MVP awards. Seems good. Wilson saw an outstanding 147 targets last season, a figure I’d love to see him sustain this year, even with new additions such as Allen Lazard now in the fold. But even if that number dips a little bit this season, his efficiency and touchdown production should pick up (he had just four touchdown catches, in part because the Jets were the fourth-worst scoring offense in the league). With Aaron Rodgers in the mix, Wilson has a real shot at a top-10 wide receiver season. Who else catches your eye, Mike?

Mike: What catches my eye is that I said all those nasty things about you and your response was to say something superkind about me. You’re such a sweetheart! And perhaps Steelers QB Kenny Pickett will be a fantasy sweetheart in 2023. (See what I did there? That’s a device us TV folk call a “segue.” I hope you’re taking notes.) Anyway, Pickett was the only QB selected in the first round of the 2022 draft, and Year 2 has been the breakout season for high-pedigree QBs. Recent examples? Patrick Mahomes (2018), Deshaun Watson (2018), Lamar Jackson (2019), Josh Allen (2019), Joe Burrow (2021), Justin Fields (2022) and Trevor Lawrence (2022). Many of the players on that list struggled with production and/or efficiency as first-round rookies, but all made a leap to the fantasy QB1 mix as sophomores. Pickett wasn’t a fantasy option during the 10 games in which he played 100% of the snaps as a rookie (in fact, his best weekly finish was 12th), but the Steelers’ offense was more effective than the scoreboard suggested (14th in offensive EPA during his 10 games), and don’t overlook the added value from his legs (55-237-3 rushing line), either. Set up with a good group of targets led by Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson II and Pat Freiermuth, Pickett is primed for a big leap.

Field: I’m a little cooler on Pickett in my preseason rankings (QB21), but I do think he’ll be a more effective player this season. My eyes will be on his vertical throws, as that’s an element the offense lacked, in my opinion, during his rookie campaign. Let’s peel the curtain back on this one, Mike, as the truth about this piece is that it was almost entirely written before the draft actually began. This was what I had written about a certain Seahawks running back:

I’ll start by acknowledging that the term “breakout” is subjective, so my pick of Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III might not qualify as a breakout in everyone’s book. He was objectively awesome last season once he took over as the starter following an injury to Rashaad Penny, but 2023 represents the full-year KW3 experience, which is why I’m fired up about what’s in store. Walker has a real shot to see 300 carries this season, up from 228 last year. What will determine the ceiling for Walker is whether he sees an increased receiving role, as while he’s a capable pass-catcher, he totaled just 27 receptions for 165 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie. Walker doesn’t need to double that catch output to make that quantum leap, but if he pushes for 275-300 carries and 40-ish receptions, a top-eight running back season is within range.

And then the draft happened! The Seahawks used a second-round pick on UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet — a really good player — and then a seventh-round pick on Georgia RB Kenny McIntosh — a really good receiver — and next thing you know my thoughts on Walker are a little less emphatic, as I see him being used similarly to how he was used in the second half of last season. So back to the drawing board I go to make my next pick.

Mike: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Your time is up, Rob Brzezinski. No takesy-backsies. My turn! And I’ll be going a little further down the ranks for my running back breakout: Chiefs RB Isiah Pacheco. Same as Walker, Pacheco is a second-year back who looked great as a rusher but was a nonfactor as a receiver during his rookie season. A seventh-round gem, Pacheco quickly earned a role and was playing a substantial role by midseason. In fact, he was the league’s fifth-leading rusher during the final nine weeks of the regular season. He was only 27th in fantasy PPG during the span, however, because of the limited receiving work (10 targets in nine games). Handling the majority of the carries in this high-scoring Chiefs offense would be enough to keep Pacheco in the RB2 discussion, and a boost in receiving could vault him even higher. He’ll be on my radar in the middle rounds. OK, back to you, Field. Who is your next favorite breakout player, and why is it Gardner Minshew II?

Field: Fun fact: Pacheco was going to be my next pick (as in next-next after Minshew)! Just behind Pacheco in my running back ranks is the Buccaneers’ Rachaad White, who has a favorable outlook due to a couple of factors: The Bucs are thin at running back as things presently stand, as White’s co-starter from last year — Leonard Fournette — was released and the team has added only Chase Edmonds since then. Detractors of White will point to two prominent factors: poor rushing efficiency last season (just 3.7 yards per carry) and an unlikely-to-repeat receiving role because of Tom Brady’s departure. White saw a robust 58 targets last season, as the Bucs’ woeful offense was essentially Dink ‘n’ Dunk City behind a porous offensive line and needed to get the ball out quickly. I’m less concerned about the rushing efficiency, as I think the offensive line will be much improved this year and am impressed by White’s skill set. He has the tenacity as a runner to gain tough yards and the breakaway speed (4.48) when he finds space. Chalk this one up to my belief in the player and the chance to be on the field closer to two-thirds of the snaps this season. We’re more than halfway through this exercise and you still haven’t named an Eagle yet, Mike. Your anti-Philly bias shines through again. SMH.

Mike: In my defense, were there any Eagles who didn’t break out during last season’s Super Bowl run? That offense was *fire emoji*, as the cool kids say these days (or do they? I don’t know — I’m not cool — *frown emoji*). Back to football — tight ends are people, too, so how about some love for Titans TE Chigoziem Okonkwo? The 2022 fourth-round pick barely saw the field as a rookie (he played 37% of the snaps), but the Maryland product made his presence felt when his number was called, finishing no lower than second at the position in yards per target, yards per reception and RAC. Believe it or not, Okonkwo was fifth among tight ends in receiving yardage from Week 9 on. And that was with Austin Hooper ahead of him on the depth chart. Hooper moved on to Las Vegas during the offseason, which opens the door for Okonkwo and his 4.52 wheels (that’s fast for a tight end) to play a substantially larger role in a TE-friendly Tennessee offense that’s lacking at the WR position. Speaking of which, what’s your 40 time these days, Field? The Titans may need you opposite Treylon Burks this season.

Field: The context is important when assessing my 40 time these days. I’m not currently at full strength (I pulled a core muscle folding laundry last month), so there’s a chance I might be hovering around a 5.78. At 100%, I’m likely more of a 5.77 guy. You know, Mike, as we get further and further along in this piece, I am starting to realize that we sound: (A) super-uncool and (B) super-unathletic. Which is fairly accurate, so let’s keep it rolling. And I’ll do what I know both of us have been tempted to do sooner in this piece: mention Atlanta Falcons TE Kyle Pitts. Is it fair to call a tight end who had the second-most receiving yards by a rookie at his position in NFL history a breakout? I’d argue it is after Pitts hit fantasy rock-bottom last season. Pitts’ ADP soared last preseason as we all figured he’d marry his yardage production with touchdown production (he scored just one touchdown as a rookie in 2021). Wrong, as Pitts fell victim to regrettable quarterback play (he caught 28 of his 59 targets last season) and then a knee injury shelved him for the final seven games. You’re now getting Pitts at a discount compared to last year but, more importantly, I think this offense will be dramatically more functional this season. While the jury is still out on Desmond Ridder, I believe he represents an upgrade under center over Marcus Mariota (Pitts did not play in any of Ridder’s four starts last season) and we’re still talking about arguably the most athletic tight end ever. If I’m going to go down swinging on a tight end, I’ll take the one who isn’t even 23 yet and who averaged more than 15 yards per catch in a season that began when he was 20 years old. Mike, I’m throwing back to you. Hopefully more accurately than passes thrown Pitts’ way last season.

Mike: I’m glad that you acknowledged Pitts’ rookie season, because you’re right: He did already have somewhat of a breakout campaign. How quickly we forgot that he put up 1,026 yards and was fantasy’s No. 6 TE as a 20-year-old rookie. I’m totally buying him as a post-hype breakout in 2023. Your other point — the one about us being unathletic and uncool — is also valid and, in related news, this article is getting long, so I need a nap. That said, it’s time to wrap this up. I’m going back to a wide receiver position well overloaded with breakout candidates and singling out Commanders WR Jahan Dotson. The Penn State product’s rookie season was a bit overlooked because he missed five games, but he finished the season strong. He handled a target share of at least 21% in each of the team’s final five games, which helped him to 344 yards and three TDs. He was 17th at WR in fantasy points during that stretch. Dotson’s 11.3% TD rate (highest at WR) isn’t sustainable, but the 2022 first-round pick has the look of an explosive vertical target. Am I worried a bit about Washington’s QB situation? Sure, but Dotson looks like the real deal, and the late-season boost in usage and production is reason for optimism. OK, Field. It’s been fun. Bring us home, my friend.

Field: What a ride this has been. I learned a lot from you and am fired up about the season ahead! While I’d like to cover my bases a bit more and say “a Chiefs wide receiver,” I’ll be more specific in my guess and offer up Skyy Moore. The second-year pro figures to take on more responsibility following the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency, and while the Chiefs do not need to have a top-20 wide receiver to still be one of the best offenses in the NFL, any player working alongside Patrick Mahomes has a real shot to be successful. Moore was a second-round pick in 2022 and the team has spoken this offseason about the expectation that he’ll take on an expanded role this season. The trick with Moore is that there is an equally reasonable case to make for Kadarius Toney, the ubertalented 2021 first-round pick acquired via trade last season, or even this year’s second-round pick Rashee Rice, a player the team traded up for. But given Toney’s durability concerns in his first two seasons and Moore’s extra year of experience over Rice, I give the edge to Moore as the pick. Between Smith-Schuster (Patriots), Mecole Hardman (Jets) and Jerick McKinnon (currently unsigned), the Chiefs have 206 vacated targets from last season that are headed elsewhere. I’ve got Moore as my final pick in part because he’s the one about whom I feel the least conviction; not because he lacks talent — he’s got the goods — but because there are others who could also step up in this KC offense. But given the price you’re paying to acquire Moore (a late-round pick), he’s a worthwhile flier.

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2023 fantasy football breakouts – top 10 players