As we enter into the heart of fantasy football draft season, the ESPN Fantasy Football experts are here to bring you their latest sleepers, busts and breakout players for the 2023 campaign. Interpretations of the terms can vary for each, but for our purposes, they are defined here:
Sleeper: A player who is being overlooked and will outperform his average draft position (ADP) in 2023.
Bust: A highly regarded player who will underperform in 2023, relative to his ADP/ranking.
Breakout: A player (rookies included) who will put up career-best numbers in 2023 and make a huge impact.
Each analyst named a sleeper and a bust for each of the major offensive positions, as well as one breakout candidate. You can find their picks below and their analysis and insight on a selection of players they felt most passionate about in each category.
Why Mike Clay can see Kenny Pickett as a top-12 fantasy QB
Mike Clay breaks down why he sees a big season for Kenny Pickett in his second year.
Stephania Bell: Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
Matt Bowen: Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Mike Clay: KENNY PICKETT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Year 2 is the breakout age for QBs selected in the first round, with Carson Wentz (2017), Patrick Mahomes (2018), Lamar Jackson (2019), Kyler Murray (2020), Joe Burrow (2021) and Trevor Lawrence (2022) recent examples of the trend. Pickett was the only QB selected in the first round in 2022 and, while his rookie season production wasn’t impressive, that’s not uncommon for rookie QBs who eventually become stars (including the aforementioned players). Adding to Pickett’s appeal is his rushing ability (he ranked seventh among QBs in rushing yards during his 10 full games last season), as well as an improved offensive line and a good group of targets led by Diontae Johnson, George Pickens (also in Year 2), Allen Robinson and Pat Freiermuth. Pickett is well worth a late-round flier in your draft.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Daniel Dopp: Kenny Pickett
Eric Karabell: GENO SMITH, Seattle Seahawks
It is sensible that few expect Smith to deliver quite the same statistics as his stunning breakout last season, when he was the No. 5 QB in fantasy, but he should remain productive and valuable. It seems to me he is slipping too far in drafts. Smith was a great story last year. He doesn’t need to top his numbers to remain a worthy fantasy starter yet again, but with talent around him and health, he might do that.
Liz Loza: Kenny Pickett
Eric Moody: Kenny Pickett
Field Yates: Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
Stephania Bell: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Bowen: Kirk Cousins
Mike Clay: Anthony Richardson
Tristan H. Cockcroft: GENO SMITH
His breakthrough year was great and all, but history is not on his side. Smith became only the 18th quarterback since the merger to score 300-plus fantasy points in what was both a career year for him in the category as well as the eighth year or later of his NFL career. The previous 17 to do it all saw their point totals decline the following season, with 14 declining by 50 or more points and the group averaging a 136.7 point drop-off. NFL scouts invest a good amount of their offseasons cracking the codes of unexpected performers like this, and they’ll have their teams more prepared for Smith, whose accuracy last season was out of character with his NFL past, in 2023. I need to see him be that accurate again before I’d trust him anywhere near my positional top 10.
Daniel Dopp: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Eric Karabell: Kyler Murray
Liz Loza: DAK PRESCOTT, Dallas Cowboys
Forget the injuries and even the 15 INTs, the biggest obstacle to Prescott’s fantasy stock is his playcaller. Mike McCarthy has been transparent about his disinterest in “lighting up the scoreboard,” and, instead, wants to run the ball so his defense can rest. Dallas was 27th in pass rate last season … and that doesn’t figure to change with Kellen Moore out of the building. Between middling volume, limited talent behind CeeDee Lamb and a lack of rushing upside (outside of the top 25 in rushing yards per game in back-to-back seasons), Prescott’s days as a top-12 fantasy QB are behind him.
Eric Moody: Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Field Yates: Dak Prescott
Running back sleepers
Cam Akers has immense upside if the Rams rely on him as their top RB.
Eric Karabell reminds fantasy managers that Cam Akers has big statistical potential coming off a strong finish to the 2022 season.
Stephania Bell: DAMEON PIERCE, Houston Texans
Pierce isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this season — not after snagging the starting role in training camp last year as a rookie and posting more than 900 yards from scrimmage in 13 games — yet he still doesn’t flash RB1 status. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the limited offensive star power in Houston, perhaps it’s the addition of Devin Singletary to the RB room, or maybe it’s the uncertainty of a new head coach combined with a rookie quarterback, but Pierce should only be better with a year of experience under his belt. For a runner who has already proven he can make defenders miss, his biggest challenge might be staying healthy, especially if defenses hone in on him because there’s little else to fear. But if the Texans can put together enough of a passing game to keep defenses honest, Pierce’s talent could launch him into a surprisingly big year.
Matt Bowen: RASHAAD PENNY, Philadelphia Eagles
Penny’s injury history has to be discussed here. He has played in just 18 games over the past three seasons. But given his current ADP (RB40) and the offensive fit in Philly as a zone runner with big-play juice, Penny is an ideal sleeper candidate. If healthy and available on game days, Penny could emerge as an early-down back for a run-oriented Eagles team behind one of the league’s top offensive fronts. And that means rushing volume with scoring opportunities inside the low red zone area of the field.
Mike Clay: Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Devon Achane, Dolphins
Daniel Dopp: Samaje Perine, Broncos
Eric Karabell: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Liz Loza: Kendre Miller, New Orleans Saints
Eric Moody: Samaje Perine
Field Yates: James Conner, Cardinals
Running back busts
Stephania Bell: Kenneth Walker III, Seahawks
Matt Bowen: Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers
Mike Clay: Kenneth Walker III
Tristan H. Cockcroft: D’Andre Swift, Eagles
Daniel Dopp: KENNETH WALKER III
After being drafted 41st overall in the 2022 NFL draft, Walker wrapped up his impressive rookie season with more than 1.200 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns, a finish that earned him runner-up honors for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Not too bad, right? So how did the Seahawks thank Walker for his services? They drafted another running back in April, taking UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet in the second round. Charbonnet enters this running back room as the pass-catcher out of the backfield. But at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, he is more than just a receiving back. Charbonnet adds true three-down ability, if the opportunity presents itself. Add in first-round WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba into this offense — and the fact that we’re trusting Geno Smith to repeat his first top-10 QB fantasy season in his 10-year career — and there’s reason for concern here. Walker is still an incredible talent, but the situation isn’t nearly as enticing as we had hoped. I have him as RB19.
Eric Karabell: Javonte Williams, Broncos
Liz Loza: Breece Hall, New York Jets
Eric Moody: JOSH JACOBS, Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs showcased his talent last season, leading the Raiders with 393 touches and averaging an impressive 19.3 fantasy points per game, greatly outperforming his average draft position. However, heading into the 2023 season, his circumstances have changed, with an injury-prone Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, Darren Waller now with the Giants, an unimproved offensive line and one of the league’s weakest defenses. Jacobs might encounter frequent stacked boxes and be exposed to negative game flow scenarios, ultimately limiting his fantasy potential.
Field Yates: Alvin Kamara, Saints
Wide receiver sleepers
Why Mike Evans is so difficult to rank in fantasy
Daniel Dopp and Mike Clay reflect on Mike Evans’ rough 2022 fantasy season.
Stephania Bell: CALVIN RIDLEY, Jacksonville Jaguars
Ridley didn’t take long to make his mark as a star receiver in the NFL, scoring six touchdowns in just four games in his 2018 rookie season, but he remained second fiddle to a talented guy named Julio Jones until 2020. As a top receiving target that year, Ridley posted double-digit targets in more than half of the games he played and double-digit fantasy points in all but two of them. Now, making his return to the league after a nearly two-year hiatus, the fresh-legged Ridley has a good chance to become the top pass-catcher in a hurry playing alongside Christian Kirk (with Marvin Jones Jr. departed and Zay Jones and Evan Engram not posing huge threats). His versatility as a route runner and ability to line up inside or out makes him quarterback friendly; as he and Lawrence build rapport, his fantasy potential could skyrocket.
Matt Bowen: Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
Mike Clay: Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Kadarius Toney, Kansas City Chiefs
Daniel Dopp: Jameson Williams, Detroit Lions
Eric Karabell: JERRY JEUDY, Broncos
Now entering his fourth NFL season, Jeudy just needs competent quarterback play to become a fantasy star. Russell Wilson, believe it or not, remains capable of excellence, especially with different coaching, and Jeudy seems primed for his first 1,000-yard season and perhaps double-digit touchdowns. Seriously, this Alabama product is so talented. His time is now.
Liz Loza: Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
Eric Moody: Jahan Dotson, Washington Commanders
Field Yates: JORDAN ADDISON, Vikings
The stars have aligned for what could be a massive rookie season for Addison, the sizzling route runner whom the Vikings used a first-round pick on to fill their most pressing offensive need. Playing opposite Justin Jefferson, Addison is staring at an opportunity for favorable looks on a play-in, play-out basis in what should again be one of the league’s best offenses. The production won’t be the same, but Addison’s role could be what Jefferson took on as a rookie, replacing the traded Stefon Diggs opposite Adam Thielen in 2020; Addison now replaces Thielen with a chance to sail past 100 targets this season. He’s my top rookie wideout.
Wide receiver busts
Stephania Bell: Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Matt Bowen: Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Mike Clay: Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
Tristan H. Cockcroft: MIKE EVANS
It’s as much about his going from Tom Brady to Baker Mayfield at quarterback as it is his own game-over-game volatility. Evans has thrived when working with quarterbacks willing to throw to him deep — his 2016 and 2018, working with strong-armed (albeit inaccurate) Jameis Winston, were his best fantasy seasons — but Mayfield showed a marked downturn in vertical-attempt accuracy last season. Additionally, while Evans finished 17th in PPR fantasy points at his position, a whopping 29 other wide receivers had more top-25 weekly point totals than he did, underscoring his inconsistency. That’s probably not going to improve with an erratic passer slinging him the ball, especially not with many mouths to feed in the Buccaneers’ receiving game.
Daniel Dopp: Michael Pittman Jr.
Eric Karabell: Odell Beckham Jr., Ravens
Liz Loza: MIKE WILLIAMS, Los Angeles Chargers
Williams has dealt with lower back issues since before his rookie season officially began. He most recently suffered a spinal fracture in Week 18 of last year. Back problems don’t just go away. That’s probably part of the reason the Chargers spent a first-round pick on Quentin Johnston, who profiles as a deep threat and averaged 18.8 yards per reception over his college career. Given Williams’ lack of consistency in tandem with a potential dip in volume, the 28-year-old should be ranked outside the top 30 fantasy players at the position.
Eric Moody: DEEBO SAMUEL, 49ers
Drafting Samuel at his current ADP is hard to justify when considering his decreased production last season, averaging 12.9 fantasy points per game compared to 21.2 in 2021. Despite a 25.4% target share, Samuel’s fantasy ceiling was hampered by a lack of deep targets, decreased rushing attempts and the presence of Christian McCaffrey in San Francisco. With an average of 7.2 targets per game, Deebo falls slightly behind Brandon Aiyuk, who averaged 6.7 targets and 13.4 fantasy points per game, making Aiyuk the more favorable choice in terms of value when considering their ADPs.
Field Yates: Mike Evans
Tight end sleepers
Why Field Yates likes a post-hype breakout from Kyle Pitts
Field Yates details why Kyle Pitts could be in line for a breakout season in 2023.
Stephania Bell: Tyler Higbee, Rams
Matt Bowen: Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills
Mike Clay: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Trey McBride, Cardinals
Daniel Dopp: Sam LaPorta, Lions
Eric Karabell: Chigoziem Okonkwo
Liz Loza: Sam LaPorta
Eric Moody: Juwan Johnson, Saints
Field Yates: CHIGOZIEM OKONKWO
It can be tough to find sleeper tight ends given that history has shown us a lack of depth at the position is a consistent theme, but Okonkwko is a good one. While his raw rookie numbers might not catch the eye (32 catches, 450 yards, 3 TDs), a deeper dive underscores just how athletic he is; his 14.1 yards per catch led all tight ends in 2022, while over 20% of his catches (seven) went for at least 20 yards. The per-catch metrics suggest he just needs more opportunity, something he should be afforded with Austin Hooper departing in free agency. I love Okonkwo’s game.
Tight end busts
Stephania Bell: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Bowen: Zach Ertz, Cardinals
Mike Clay: GEORGE KITTLE, 49ers
I’m totally fine with Kittle as a fantasy starter, but I think he’s more likely to be a mid- to back-end TE1 than he is to return to elite status. Kittle got very lucky in the TD department last season (his position-high 12.8% TD rate was three times his prior career rate), and that bailed out a concerning 16% target share (4.2 per game) and 10.2 fantasy PPG (would’ve ranked eighth over the full season) during nine full games with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Kittle also has some durability concerns, having completed one full regular season (2018) in six tries.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Pat Freiermuth, Steelers
Daniel Dopp: Evan Engram, Jaguars
Eric Karabell: Zach Ertz
Liz Loza: George Kittle
Eric Moody: Mark Andrews, Ravens
Field Yates: Evan Engram
2023 breakout players
Can Garrett Wilson be a top-3 WR in fantasy this season?
Daniel Dopp breaks down why he could see Garrett Wilson finishing as a top-3 fantasy receiver.
Stephania Bell: Bijan Robinson, Falcons
Matt Bowen: KADARIUS TONEY, Chiefs
I see breakout potential for Toney this season. The target volume will jump in ’23, and Toney has the motion/movement traits to be deployed in Andy Reid’s offense on screens, fly sweeps and backfield touches. Playing with Mahomes in one of the league’s most explosive offenses, Toney should be viewed as a dynamic playmaker — with fantasy upside.
Mike Clay: Bijan Robinson
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Chris Olave, WR, Saints
Daniel Dopp: ALEXANDER MATTISON, RB, Vikings
After relying on Dalvin Cook for the lion’s share of work the past four seasons, the Vikings now have fewer “cooks” in the kitchen and have given the lead role to Mattison. Mattison’s yearlong numbers are less than exciting, having never hit more than 500 rushing yards or topping five rushing TDs, but we’re reading between the lines to specifically look at his production while Cook was out. In seven career games with 15-plus touches, Mattison has averaged 16 fantasy PPG. That would have been RB8 last season! And in those seven games, he averaged 123.3 total yards, which showcases why they let Cook walk. Those are highly productive numbers, and it saves the Vikings some cap space at the position. Mattison isn’t a sure thing, as we haven’t seen this type of production across a full season, but there is reason for optimism. Mattison comes in as my RB16.
Eric Karabell: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions
Liz Loza: Alexander Mattison
Eric Moody: Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets
Field Yates: Garrett Wilson