The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted nine new members during Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
The Class of 2023 features DeMarcus Ware, Darrelle Revis, Zach Thomas, Joe Thomas, and Ronde Barber, as well as Joe Klecko, Ken Riley, and Chuck Howley in the seniors category and Don Coryell in the coaching category.
Revis, Ware, Zach Thomas, and Joe Thomas all donned their gold jackets before revealing their busts that will be immortalized inside the Hall of Fame. Here are some highlights from Saturday’s event:
Offensive tackle; Cleveland Browns; 2007-17
Thomas poked fun at the 20 quarterbacks he blocked for over the course of his illustrious NFL career.
Cornerback; New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs; 2007-17
Jets fans showered Revis with cheers and chants, emphasizing the home-crowd environment.
Linebacker; Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys; 1996-2007
Thomas delivered an emotional tribute to former teammate and fellow Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau during his enshrinement speech.
Linebacker/defensive end; Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos; 2005-2016
In one of the more emotional moments during the enshrinement ceremony, Ware said he reserved seats for his former teammates Demaryius Thomas, Ronnie Hillman, and Marion Barber, all of whom died in the last two years.
Cornerback; Cincinnati Bengals; 1969-1983
Cornerback/safety; Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 1997-2012
Defensive end/defensive tackle; New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts; 1977-1988
Klecko delivered one of the funnier moments of Saturday’s ceremony when he shared his wish to continue playing today – but only for the money.
Linebacker; Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys; 1958-1973
Coach; St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Chargers; 1973-1986
COWBOYS AND SAFETY MALIK HOOKER AGREE ON A $24 MILLION, 3-YEAR CONTRACT EXTENSION
OXNARD, Calif. (AP) The Dallas Cowboys and safety Malik Hooker agreed Saturday on a $24 million, three-year contract extension.
Hooker was entering the final year of a two-year contract he signed with the Cowboys after a disappointing four-year career with Indianapolis, which drafted him 15th overall in 2017.
Hooker’s time with the Colts was marred by injuries, but he has stayed healthy since joining Dallas. Hooker has played 31 games over the past two seasons after being limited to 36 games with the Colts.
The 27-year-old tied Trevon Diggs for second on the club with three interceptions last season. Diggs, who led the NFL and tied a team record with 11 interceptions in 2021, just signed a $97 million extension.
Hooker, Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse have teamed to give the Cowboys their best group of safeties in years. Wilson is expected to miss most of training camp after straining a calf in the first practice.
FALCONS EXPECT CORNERBACK JEFF OKUDAH TO RETURN FROM ANKLE INJURY EARLY IN SEASON
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jeff Okudah is expected to return early this season after suffering a right ankle injury in Friday’s practice.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Saturday the team received “very positive news” on Okudah.
“We think he has a great chance to be back in the early part of the season,” Smith said. “We feel really good for Jeff, all things considered.”
The report from Smith was good news after Okudah had to be carted off the field on Friday, unable to put weight on his foot.
The Falcons acquired Okudah, the No. 3 overall NFL draft pick in 2020, from Detroit for a fifth-round draft pick as part of their offseason overhaul of the defense.
Injuries have hindered Okudah early in his career. He was limited by hamstring and shoulder injuries to nine games as a rookie with Detroit. The former Ohio State standout suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury one game into his second season.
Okudah started 15 games for the Lions in 2022 and had an interception, which he returned 20 yards for a touchdown, and a forced fumble with 73 tackles.
Okudah was working with A.J. Terrell as Atlanta’s first-team cornerbacks. Smith expressed confidence in the team’s depth at the position on Friday. Among candidates to fill in for Okudah are Tre Flowers, Mike Hughes, rookie Clark Phillips III, Dee Alford and Darren Hall.
BEARS SIGN 39-YEAR-OLD TIGHT END MARCEDES LEWIS TO 1-YEAR CONTRACT
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears signed veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis to a one-year contract on Saturday.
The 39-year-old Lewis – entering his 18th season – gives the Bears a blocking tight end to complement Cole Kmet and help protect quarterback Justin Fields. He spent the past five years with Green Bay after playing his first 12 with Jacksonville.
The 6-foot-6, 267-pound Lewis has 432 receptions for 5,084 yards and 39 touchdowns over 251 games and 221 starts. He is one of three tight ends, along with Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten, with at least 200 regular-season starts and 400 receptions.
JAGUARS OL TYLER SHATLEY RETURNS TO PRACTICE DAYS AFTER DEALING WITH AN IRREGULAR HEARTBEAT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Tyler Shatley is back at practice three days after dealing with an irregular heartbeat.
Coach Doug Pederson said Saturday that Shatley went into atrial fibrillation — a rapid heartbeat — following a hot and humid practice Wednesday.
“We got him right away, got him treated,” Pederson said. “He’s fine. He’s OK. He’s with the team. Everything’s calmed down. He’ll be out there today. He’ll be in uniform, but until he’s cleared, he’ll just work on the side and all that.”
Shatley was in full pads Saturday and doing some light work with the second-team offense. He sat out 11-on-11 drills.
The 32-year-old Shatley is Jacksonville’s longest-tenured player. He’s played in 128 games, with 45 starts, since making the roster as an undrafted rookie from Clemson in 2014.
SAINTS RB ENO BENJAMIN RUPTURES ACHILLES
New Orleans Saints running back Eno Benjamin ruptured his Achilles during Saturday’s training camp practice, coach Dennis Allen said.
Benjamin, who had to leave the field on a cart, will have surgery to repair the injury.
The news involving Benjamin comes one day after fellow Saints running back Alvin Kamara received a three-game suspension for his role in a nightclub altercation at Las Vegas in February 2022 that left a man injured. Offseason acquisition Jamaal Williams and third-round draft pick Kendre Miller are expected to pick up the slack in Kamara’s absence.
“Any time you lose one of your better players for any period of time, it’s disappointing, but I think a three-game suspension is a pretty good outcome for us,” Allen said of Kamara. “We’ll adjust accordingly and move forward.
“… The great thing about it is we know what it is and we know we’re going to have Alvin for 14 games and he’ll still be a big part of what we’re doing.”
Unfortunately for the Saints, the same cannot be said for Benjamin. He likely will miss the upcoming season.
Benjamin, 24, rushed for 313 yards and two touchdowns and had 25 catches for 193 yards while playing in 15 games last season split between the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans and Saints.
He has totaled 431 rushing yards and three touchdowns and 31 catches for 235 yards in 24 career games (three starts) with the Cardinals, Texans and Saints.
RANKING THE TOP NFL RUNNINGBACKS
Tier 1: Elite Fantasy RB1s
1. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers
Christian McCaffrey was second among running backs with 108 targets and 85 receptions last season. McCaffrey also carried the ball 244 times — no other running back with 75 or more receptions carried even 205 times in 2022.
In short, McCaffrey has the most unique and fantasy-relevant role in the NFL on one of the league’s most efficient offenses. Assuming the 49ers’ starting quarterback is Brock Purdy or Sam Darnold, both of whom will check the ball down frequently, McCaffrey is the running back to select at the top of fantasy drafts.
Because he was traded from Carolina to the 49ers midseason, there’s a chance McCaffrey will be even more integrated into this offense’s playbook in 2023. While Austin Ekeler’s reception uptick occurred due to injuries to the entire Chargers’ receiving core, McCaffrey always played with at least two of WRs Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and TE George Kittle.
Still, he averaged more than five receptions per game in the nine games played with at least a 50 percent snap share. That includes removing his partial performance from his first game with the 49ers (29 percent snap share) and his brief appearance in Week 18 when the 49ers demolished the Cardinals.
2. Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
After being selected at Pick No. 8 in the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s hard to see Atlanta doing anything other than giving Bijan Robinson a similar workload to rookie year Najee Harris (381 total touches).
Unlike Harris, Robinson is explosive, shifty and an excellent pass-catcher. The Falcons have a premium offensive line and should keep defenses honest with WR Drake London and TE Kyle Pitts in the receiving game. However, QB Desmond Ridder is not the archetype to check the ball down frequently to running backs. This team is unlikely to be near the top of the league in total touchdowns.
Additionally, Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson are competent enough that there’s a chance Robinson gets only 250-300 efficient touches as a rookie and finishes as a mid-to-low-end RB1.
Still, the floor is a top 10 RB, and the ceiling is RB1 overall. He’s the safest running back pick in fantasy football. He is arguably the best talent at the position in an above-average situation.
3. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Ekeler is the only running back to post at least 21 PPR points per game in each of the past two seasons. Part of the reason is that his 38 total touchdowns since 2021 rank first at the position by a margin of 12. James Conner is second with 26 in that span.
There are a few concerns with Ekeler, keeping him as my RB3. He’s 28 years old, with a smaller frame (5-foot-10, 200 pounds), and is coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 204 carries and 94 targets. That workload catches up to most running backs, particularly smaller ones like Ekeler.
New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore comes from Dallas, where they routinely employed a running back committee. Whether that’s Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller or bringing in a veteran like Dalvin Cook or Ezekiel Elliott, there’s a moderately high chance Ekeler is splitting some of those valuable goal-line opportunities.
Finally, while Ekeler’s league-leading 107 receptions from last season demonstrate his elite receiving ceiling, it occurred due to multiple receiver injuries. The Chargers drafted Quentin Johnston in Round 1 to provide additional depth and play-making ability, so Ekeler’s receiving upside should be lower than in 2022.
Despite those concerns, Ekeler is a pass-catching back with a decent run game role, playing on one of the NFL’s best and fastest-paced offenses, which keeps him near the top of these rankings.
4. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley has a better role than nearly every running back in fantasy football, with last year’s 295 carries and 76 targets reaffirming he’s one of the NFL’s last true bellcow backs.
While Barkley had the third most touches per game among backs, his 10 total touchdowns last season ranked 10th at the position. The Giants offense should be better in Year 2 of the Daniel Jones-Brian Daboll era, so we could see improvement from Barkley’s 17.8 PPR points per game last season, which ranked fifth.
5. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb has averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in all five seasons. Now he has mobile QB Deshaun Watson, a replenished offensive line, and no Kareem Hunt to share the backfield with.
Chubb has two seasons with around 1,500 rushing yards and three seasons with double-digit touchdowns. He’s in for a strong season, with last year’s 1,764 total yards and 13 TDs as a nice expectation if he plays 17 games again.
While Chubb will never be a strong pass-catcher for fantasy football, he’s in a good spot to put up his first season above 300 receiving yards to complement his elite rushing profile. A realistic stat line that could cement Chubb as the RB1 overall is 1,600 rushing yards, 45 receptions for 300 receiving yards and 12-15 total touchdowns.
6. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry has at least 1,500 rushing yards in three of the past four seasons, an unreal rushing stretch. He’s reached double-digit rushing touchdowns each of the past four seasons, too.
Henry even emerged as a surprising pass-catching option in 2022. His 398 receiving yards were nearly double his previous career-high. Superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins will help keep defenses honest, providing Henry with more favorable running lanes.
However, the already patchwork offensive line suffered another blow when starting right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere was suspended for the season’s first six games due to gambling. Henry will turn 30 before the season ends and plays behind one of the league’s worst blocking units.
Fortunately, he has made a career out of proving skeptics wrong, and based on his contract, this looks like the last time the Titans will employ Henry as their starting runner. He should comfortably average more total touches per game than every other back in 2023. He has a soft fantasy playoff schedule, too.
In Weeks 15-17, he faces the Texans twice, along with the Seahawks. Both units were top-four in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season.
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Tier 2: Low-End RB1 Types
7. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Pollard has never reached 200 carries in a season, dating back through college. He’s an explosive runner and slick pass-catcher, but it’s an uphill battle for him to see the volume that the surrounding running backs in these rankings are likely to see.
While Dallas’ depth chart is currently barren, it’s almost a certainty the Cowboys will sign a veteran to take some of the workload off Pollard. Pollard was the RB8 per game last year, averaging 15.6 PPR points despite only running 12 times per game and catching 2.4 receptions per game.
Those numbers likely tick up in 2023 now that Ezekiel Elliott is gone and Pollard is on the franchise tag. Pollard should be one of the NFL’s most efficient backs, and the Cowboys had the No. 1 and No. 4 scoring offenses during the past two seasons, so the touchdown upside is evident. However, unless he sees pass-game usage on par with Ekeler, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine Pollard as a top-3 fantasy running back.
8. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
While Jonathan Taylor has demanded a trade, it’s hard to picture which team would take on the final year of his rookie contract and give up draft capital. For now, the assumption remains Taylor will stay with the Indianapolis Colts.
All Taylor analysis should start with new quarterback Anthony Richardson rather than the back’s injury-riddled 2022 campaign. Taylor is not unique; most backs have injury concerns when they’re getting 20 touches per game.
With Richardson, a highly mobile quarterback, there will be far fewer checkdowns to running backs because he’ll scramble for 5 yards instead.
Think of 2022 Miles Sanders as the parallel. He was given 15 highly efficient carries per game, with almost nothing in the receiving game. Sanders finished with 11 rushing TDs, and averaged just 12.2 half-PPR points per game, finishing as the RB16.
Taylor should get closer to 18-20 carries, which makes it difficult to project anything more than 15-16 points per game. With minimal pass-game usage and Richardson vulturing a few at the goal line, Taylor does not look like a first-round pick in fantasy football.
9. Breece Hall, New York Jets
If we knew Breece Hall would be healthy for Week 1 and that Dalvin Cook wasn’t signing with the Jets, Hall would have a good case to be in the Robinson range of these rankings.
Hall’s ACL recovery is ahead of schedule, according to every major media outlet. Even if he’s eased in to start the season, Hall still put up 16.4 PPR points per game last year despite averaging only seven carries per game through September.
In fact, Hall only reached a 60 percent snap share in three of his seven games and was below a 30 percent snap share in two of them. Hall has plenty of margin for error with his workload and recovery for fantasy football.
A healthy Hall with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback should result in top-three fantasy numbers by the fantasy playoffs, where all the money is won.
The injury adds risk to his profile, but we are trying to finish first out of 12 teams rather than fifth or sixth, so we want to chase the ceiling outcomes with these players rather than the most likely.
10. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Travis Etienne is the workhorse back in one of the NFL’s best offenses, and he carries premium Round 1 draft capital with him. Once James Robinson was off the team after Week 6, Etienne reached a 70 percent or higher snap share in eight of 11 games.
He topped 100 rushing yards in five of those contests, and despite having a smaller-than-expected receiving role, still finished the season with a respectable 316 yards through the air.
He’s a home run hitter with the ball in his hands, yet he only scored five total touchdowns on 255 touches. There’s serious untapped touchdown upside.
While third-round pick Tank Bigsby is joining this backfield, Etienne is better in every way. Bigsby most likely will be relegated to a breather-back role.
Advanced metrics also back up Etienne’s rushing prowess. Next Gen Stats had Etienne as the fourth-best runner in rushing yards over expected per attempt in 2022. He was only the RB19 per game from Week 7 onward — when he took over as the starter — but that was mainly due to his lack of touchdowns. Bet on the Jaguars offense and Etienne’s talent this season.
11. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon is the clear workhorse on an elite Bengals offense. He set career-highs in targets (75), receptions (60) and receiving yards (441) in 2022. He averaged at least 15 carries per game in the past five seasons.
Yet, he was out-snapped in two of the Bengals’ three playoff games last season by Samaje Perine. Mixon restructured his contract to remain with the Bengals, and he’s surrounded by three largely unproven backfield mates.
There is still a chance the Bengals sign another back to ease Mixon’s workload. He lacked a consistent ceiling in 2022, with only two games above 19 fantasy points. Yet, he had five games below 12 PPR points.
Mixon has put up back-to-back seasons with at least 17 fantasy points per game, is coming off career-high receiving usage and remains on a Joe Burrow offense. Mixon’s talent is concerning, but he should not be faded due to the situation.
12. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs had a borderline historic 2022 season. His 393 total touches were the fifth most of the past decade, and his 2,053 scrimmage yards were the ninth most through the past 10 seasons.
Unfortunately, there are red flags with Jacobs for 2023 that prevent me from sliding him in as my RB3, despite his RB3 per game finish in 2022 (19.3 PPR points per game).
To begin, Jacobs isn’t practicing with the team and is threatening to hold out and miss games due to his lack of a longterm contract. New Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is mediocre and will be playing behind the worst offensive line of his career. He’s struggled with injuries throughout his career, and facing constant pressure in 2023 will not do him any favors.
Non-elite running back talents like Jacobs usually struggle in the season after a massive workload, and his league-leading 393 touches certainly qualify.
13. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Our own Ryan Reynolds has labeled Harris as “this year’s Josh Jacobs.” Harris often is passed over in fantasy drafts due to a lack of upside, yet he has most of the pieces in place for an elite fantasy season.
He has Round 1 draft capital to insulate him, a much improved Steelers offensive line and a quarterback in Kenny Pickett who could make a leap forward entering Year 2.
Harris led the NFL with 381 touches as a rookie with 74 of those coming through the passing game. Last year, he struggled with a foot injury before the season, which could have hampered him early on. Harris rounded into form down the stretch. He reached 80 rushing yards in six of his final nine games.
We’ve seen him put it together as both a runner and receiver before, but it’s looking increasingly likely Jaylen Warren will cut into his workload enough to prevent an elite fantasy outcome. The Steelers offense should be better than last year, but it’s almost certainly not a top unit yet.
Harris likely will put together a 2023 season somewhere behind his stellar rookie season (RB7 per game) and his disappointing 2022 campaign (RB18 per game).
14. Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
Rhamondre Stevenson was given 210 carries last season behind one of the NFL’s better offensive lines. Because Mac Jones is a stationary quarterback surrounded by below-average receiving talent, many pass plays ended in dump-offs to Stevenson.
His 17.3 percent target share ranked fourth among running backs last year. The Patriots once again have among the league’s worst receiving corps, so a high target share is likely once again.
While there is currently minimal competition for touches in this backfield, the Patriots have been bringing in veterans for tryouts. I’d expect someone like Leonard Fournette or Ezekiel Elliott to sign here.
Stevenson had 279 touches but only managed six total touchdowns, a number that should rise due to more competent coaching — Matt Patricia was severely underqualified to lead this offense as a play-caller last season. The overall workload should decrease from last season, but a few more touchdowns should mostly balance it out.
15. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions
The Lions selected Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th pick in this spring’s draft. He will be playing behind a top offensive line alongside a statuesque quarterback in Jared Goff, who has a penchant for checking the ball down.
While Gibbs is undersized (roughly 199 pounds), he put up strong counting stats in college. He was second at Georgia Tech in total receiving yards as a freshman and came just 24 receiving yards behind the team’s leader in his sophomore season. He transferred to Alabama as a junior and immediately led the team in rushing yards and receptions while ranking third in receiving yards.
Think of him as a slightly smaller Alvin Kamara with better long speed. Or, a faster Ekeler. Either way, Gibbs should be highly fantasy-relevant in Detroit, even if he cedes the majority of the goal line carries to the much bigger David Montgomery.
The Lions had the most PPR fantasy points per game among all NFL backfields in 2022 despite D’Andre Swift missing significant time.
McCaffrey’s rookie season saw him command 117 carries and 113 targets (RB10 finish). I’d anticipate Gibbs’ rookie year to be similar but slanted more toward rushing work. An efficient 125-175 carries, 55-75 receptions and several long touchdowns should propel Gibbs to a low-end RB1-type fantasy finish.
Tier 3: One Red Flag Holding Them Back
16. D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles
While many view Swift changing teams as a positive because he’s on the Eagles — the team that led the NFL in rushing touchdowns by a considerable margin — I’m concerned the Lions gave up on him.
Talented players changing teams isn’t usually a positive for their fantasy outlook. Detroit was clearly tired of Swift’s injuries and inconsistent play. Still, Swift delivered spike weeks with three games above 21 PPR fantasy points in 2022.
Turning back toward the trade, there’s a lot to like for Swift in Philadelphia. Running back competition is minimal. The oft-injured Rashaad Penny, pass-catching backup Kenneth Gainwell, undersized Boston Scott, and 49ers flameout Trey Sermon comprise the remainder of this backfield.
Jalen Hurts has never targeted running backs at a high rate, but someone with Swift’s talent likely will shift that calculus, at least slightly. Swift always mixed in for goal-line carries and red zone targets in Detroit, so there’s significant scoring upside for him in an Eagles offense that scored 32 rushing touchdowns in 2022 — eight more than any other team. The Eagles have a great offensive line, allowing Swift to remain efficient on the ground and demonstrate his big-play abilities.
Swift is tough to project, as he could find himself in a timeshare that lacks target volume. There’s also a real possibility he gets 200 carries and 45 receptions on the NFL’s top-scoring offense. He’s a risky but tantalizing pick in the middle rounds.
17. Kenneth Walker, Seattle Seahawks
Kenneth Walker began his rookie season behind Penny and took off once Penny missed time due to injury. As the starter from Week 5 onward, Walker paced for 302 carries, 1,405 rushing yards and 30 receptions in a 17-game season.
He has home run speed and above-average vision while playing in a surprisingly strong Seahawks offense. The line is a strength, helmed by two offensive tackles who performed well as rookies, for Walker.
The massive thorn in his side is new Round 2 rookie Zach Charbonnet. Charbonnet is the better pass-catcher and is a threat to Walker’s goal-line role. This is one of the more frustrating situations for fantasy, and Walker almost certainly needs a Charbonnet injury to have true fantasy upside.
While Walker’s groin injury and Charbonnet’s shoulder are concerning, until more information with a concrete timetable is released, I’ll assume both will be ready for Week 1.
To learn more about why Walker’s archetype often struggles in fantasy football, this research piece provides context into the fantasy points scored by non-pass-catching workhorse backs.
18. David Montgomery, Detroit Lions
This is likely the highest you’ve seen Montgomery in fantasy rankings. His track record is stellar. Through four seasons, he’s averaged 229 carries, 39 receptions, 1,212 total yards and 7.5 touchdowns.
He’s never had fewer than 235 touches in a season, showcasing his durability. The Lions signed him to a three-year deal with $11 million in guarantees, a true investment in him.
While Gibbs is the better player, Montgomery has 25 pounds on him and is the favorite for goal-line work. Gibbs weighing 199 pounds will also cap his total volume, so Montgomery projects for around 250 touches heading into this season.
The Lions have a top offensive line, and the immobile Goff should target Montgomery often whenever he’s on the field. Montgomery likely provides low-end RB2 production each week, but should anything happen to Gibbs, Montgomery would be a locked-in top-8 fantasy option.
19. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
There is a stat floating around showing James Conner averages 22 fantasy points per game in non-Kyler Murray starts. Please don’t use that tiny sample to reach on Conner in fantasy drafts.
The Cardinals have a problematic offensive line, and Murray won’t return until midseason at the earliest. This offense will struggle to score touchdowns and matriculate the ball downfield.
Fortunately for Conner, he should see ample opportunities in the passing game, and his pure usage could very well be top-10 at the position. Conner might not be a starting option early in the season, but when Murray returns, I’ll be interested in this fast-paced offense that will be routinely playing from behind.
Conner’s career-high 55 receptions from 2018 are within play for 2023, and he managed 46 receptions through 13 games last season.
Conner is 28, and there will be injury concerns each season, but he could surge late in the season and become a key piece for those winning fantasy championships. He is also one of the few running backs where I’m comfortable projecting heavy volume, hence his inclusion in the top 20.
20. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
There is uncertainty with Kamara’s suspension, though most indications are it will happen sometime during the season. At times last season, Kamara had one of the best roles in all of fantasy.
He averaged 15 carries and nearly four receptions per game. However, he’s 28, and the Saints brought in veteran Jamaal Williams and drafted Kendre Miller in Round 3 of the draft.
New quarterback Derek Carr could elevate this offense, and the offensive line still looks strong on paper. The Saints also have the easiest schedule according to our own internal metric, so they could blow out many of their opponents, leading to Kamara touchdown spikes.
If you’re worried about his suspension and the enhanced backfield competition, I wouldn’t fault any low-volume drafter for avoiding him in their main home league. However, he’s the latest running back in fantasy drafts with a clear top-12 upside.
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COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS
2022 Record: 11-3 overall, 8-2 in Pac-12
Head Coach: Lincoln Riley, 2nd year: 11-3, 7th year overall: 66-13
All things considered, what Lincoln Riley has done is come up with one of the best head coaching starts in the history of college football.
Except for the not winning anything massive thing.
It’s easy to forget that Riley is still so young – he’s going to turn 40 just as the season starts – and yet he already has five double-digit win seasons in his first six – and it would’ve been 6-for-6 but for 2020 going 2020 in a 9-2 campaign.
He has four Big 12 Championships, three College Football Playoff appearances, and there was an outside chance he could’ve had a fifth conference title and another CFP trip if his Heisman-winning superstar quarterback didn’t have to play on one leg in last year’s Pac-12 Championship.
No, really. Find the coach in the modern era with this kind of a consistent six-year run to start a career.
Barry Switzer. His first eight years were legendary, and there’s Chris Petersen at a slightly lower level, and Ryan Day is on his way after walking into a powerhouse. Other than that, when it comes to double-digit win seasons … Joe Paterno? 5-5 in 1966. Nick Saban? Michigan State. Bobby Bowden? No. Dabo? John Robinson? Phil Fulmer? Urban? Close, but not quite. Bob Stoops? Yeah, but after a 7-5 first season.
We can keep going – there are more – but you get the idea. Even without a national title, Lincoln Riley has been a fantastic so far with as much pressure as anyone could walk into at two separate places.
All he did was take over for Stoops – who’s still among the most underappreciated head coaches of all-time – and make Oklahoma stronger. All he did was walk into USC – no expectations there – and take the program from meh to amazing in a snap.
And people complained about the 2022 USC defense?
This wasn’t a given. It wasn’t obvious that just anyone could’ve stepped into the job and restored the glory. And what’s most amazing is how it all actually worked according to plan.
There’s no school – even Notre Dame or Alabama or Michigan – with the mixture of history, expectations, media market, national recognition, money, facilities, weather, bright lights, coolness, EVERYTHING that better fits the modern era of the sport.
Coaching staff, top-flight college, transfer portal, NIL, palm trees, and next year, a seat at the table in the biggest conference going business-wise- USC has a perfectly crafted college football program.
All that’s missing are the national championships.
USC Trojans Preview: Offense
Well thatworked. In came Lincoln Riley, in came offensive coordinator Josh Henson, and in came a college football all-star team of transfers that meshed together better than anyone could’ve dreamed of – seriously, don’t take for granted that there was zero continuity from 2021 – and KABOOM. If that wasn’t enough, now the attack has Kliff Kingsbury hanging around as a quarterbacks coach and offensive analyst.
No. 3 in the nation in total and scoring offense and passing. No. 1 in fewest turnovers. No. 2 in third down conversions, and it all came together by having the No. 1 player in college football.
Caleb Williams stepped into the Oklahoma offense in the middle of the Texas game two years ago, and that was it. He’s been brilliant ever since with a fascinating mixture of athleticism, smarts, cockiness, drive, and ultra-efficient passing that could make him Riley’s best quarterback ever.
Now the almost certain No. 1 pick in the 2024 – collapse for Caleb – he has to stay healthy after throwing for 4,537 yards and 42 touchdowns and five picks with ten touchdown runs. Star recruit Malachi Nelson and sophomore Miller Moss will battle it out for the No. 2 gig.
Yeah, there’s a chance the the USC receiving corps could be even better despite losing Jordan Addison to the Minnesota Vikings. Kyle Ford defected to UCLA, but four of the top six wideouts are back to go along Arizona transfer Dorian Singer – he isn’t Addison talent-wise, but he’s not terribly far off.
Veterans Tahj Washington, Mario Williams, Brendan Rice, and Michael Jackson are still in place, terrific prospect Duce Robinson is in the tight end mix with Lake McRee, and they all have a guy who should be starting for the Carolina Panthers pitching to them.
It’s hard to keep running the ball when 13 has a shot to make things happen, but the Trojans need to keep on getting their backs consistent work. Travis Dye is done, but Austin Jones and South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd should provide a killer 1-2 punch. Williams will add at least 300 rushing yards, but the less he has to take off, the better.
The big overall stats for the offensive line are a bit off. With a playmaker like Williams there will be more sacks and more tackles for loss, but there were times when the line did its job by lining up and blasting away. Now it needs to do that a bit more, even with a ton of turnover up front.
Jarrett Kingston (Washington State) and Emmanuel Pregnon (Wyoming) are ready-to-roll guards coming in, and the pressure is on Michael Tarquin (Florida) to step in and protect the Heisman quarterback’s blind side.
USC Trojans Preview: Defense
Here was the task. Go out into the transfer portal and find the defensive parts to do for that side what all the new guys did last year for the offensive side.
It’s not like the D didn’t get its share of transfers last year, but that was more of a mish-mosh of guys than collection of killers like the offense had.
However, for all of the problems against the run, and the melt down against Tulane, and the major issues on third downs, the USC defense did two things really, really well: get to the quarterback, and take the ball away. It might have allowed a bazillion yards, but the defense was fifth in the nation in takeaways.
Now the big plays have to keep coming while becoming more than a speed bump for opposing ground attacks, so …
Welcome to the transfer portal. The defensive front isn’t totally starting over, but for all intents and purposes, it is. The overall production could change instantly if the tackle combination of Kyon Barrs (Arizona), Jack Sullivan (Purdue) and Bear Alexander (Georgia) does what it’s supposed to.
Barrs and Sullivan would’ve been the best players on their respective lines, and now they’re Trojans. The ends aren’t quite as good, but the scheme – and the work done but the terrific new tackles – should get Jamil Muhammad (Georgia State), Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M), and Solomon Tuliaupupu into the backfield.
The line should be better, but the biggest overall production improvement should come from the linebacking corps. Shane Lee was second on the team with 78 stops, Eric Gentry was third with 71, and coming in to eat up everything is Oklahoma State’s Mason Cobb. Flip a coin between Barrs and Cobb for who’s going to be the guy who takes over and becomes the new star of the Trojan D.
Outside of Arizona CB Christian Roland-Wallace, the USC secondary is mostly full of in-house talent from last year. S Max Williams led the team with 79 stops, and the combination of Bryson Shaw and Calen Bullock will be among the best in the Pac-12.
The corners are hardly a concern, but Roland-Wallace has to be the terrific four-year playmaker he was for the Wildcats, Tre’Quon Fegans (Alabama) is a big-time talent, and there are a ton of young corners on the other side led by sophomore Ceyair Wright.
USC Preview 2023: Keys To The Season, Top Players, What Will Happen
Stop the run, stop the run, stop the run. You don’t think defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is making sure everyone in the room feels haunted daily by the Cotton Bowl? The Trojans gave up over 300 rushing yards on nine yards per carry in the loss to Tulane, and that was after the D couldn’t help out the O and its injured quarterback by getting steamrolled by Utah for 223 yards in the Pac-12 Championship.
The Stanford game was a bit tougher than it should’ve been, and the UCLA game was a 48-45 fight. Those were the two other times the run defense allowed over 200 yards.
Overall, the Trojans allowed 4.9 yards or more per pop eight times. This year the stats will be there early – there’s no one on the slate who’ll be able to run at a high level over the first seven games – and then comes Notre Dame and Utah. Everything has to be working by mid-October.
USC Trojans Top Transfer, Biggest Loss
LB Mason Cobb in from Oklahoma State, OT Courtland Ford gone to Kentucky. USC is winning the transfer portal game so hard that it can all but pick and choose two good prospects for every one that leaves, but it’s still not a plus to lose a left tackle with high-end NFL upside who’s about to start for an SEC team. The 6-6, 305-pound Ford can play inside or out, and now he’s trying to come back after a star-crossed 2022 after a slew of health issues kept him on the sidelines.
Cobb might not be the most talented new Trojan, but he’s a terror. After two years of being a small part of the Oklahoma State rotation, 96 tackles, two sacks, 13 tackles for loss – he’s a big-time all-around producer in the middle who’ll hit everything and get behind the line when needed. He’s big for the improvement of the run D, but not quite as vital as …
USC Trojans Key Player
Kyon Barrs, DT Sr. Several transfers are about to make a big impact – seriously, get ready for a whole lot of Cobb – but the most important might be Barrs. For a run defense that has to be night-and-day better, a fifth-year guy who came up with over 100 tackles with five sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss at a high level at Arizona is exactly what the Trojan D needs.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: OREGON DUCKS
2022 Record: 10-3 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12
Head Coach: Dan Lanning, 2nd year: 10-3
Well this all changed in a hurry.
Just when it seemed like Oregon was going to settle in and get ready to make a big run in the Pac-12 season, the Big Ten swooped in and changed the narrative. The national focus will be on the conference move in 2024, but this year’s team will make a whole lot of noise, too. So, before leaving …
How does Oregon take that one extra step?
The program was seven points away from playing for the Pac-12 Championship for the fourth straight season, and with a shot at the College Football Playoff – and yes, had Oregon somehow pushed past both Washington and Oregon State, and then USC in the title game, at 12-1 with a Power Five title it would’ve been in over Ohio State and/or TCU despite the 49-3 loss to Georgia to open the season, and …
Ask 2022 Alabama, Clemson, and USC about the what a close call loss or two gets you in the College Football Playoff chase.
Oregon won ten games or more in three of the last four years, and it won the 2020 Pac-12 title despite finishing 4-3 in the outlier year. It won ten games or more in ten of the last 15 seasons, nine in two other seasons, played in two national title games, six conference championships, played in another, and yet it still seems like the program is taken for granted.
Part of it is location. Part of it is the annual biff-the-national-title-hopes-away-against-a-mediocre-team confounding loss. And part of it is because the team tapped out of the CFP chase well before the finish line in every season since losing to Ohio State for the national title in 2014.
The talent has been there, the recruiting has been great, and the coaching has been more than good enough. And then there’s an odd performance at Stanford in 2021 – all but neutralizing the win at Ohio State earlier in the year – and the misfire at Arizona State in 2019, and the way it loses when people are watching like 49-3 to Georgia, like the 2019 collapse to Auburn, like the problems against Utah in 2021.
So what does Oregon need to do to go from amazing to that other unrealistic level reserved for the Georgia and Alabamas and Ohio States of the world? Besides wait until 2024 when it has an easier path to win the Pac-12 title and get into an expanded CFP, it has to keep growing with its rising star head coach and do what it did last year, only with a little more defense.
Dan Lanning was nine years old when Rich Brooks took Oregon to the Rose Bowl in the 1994 season. He was working as a position coach at a Missouri high school when Chip Kelly almost pulled off a BCS Championship against Cam Newton and Auburn, and he was a secondary coach at Sam Houston when Zeke Elliott and the Buckeyes were running and rolling in the first College Football Playoff National Championship.
He’s still a very young coach – he’ll be 38 this October – going into his second season ever as a head man. He and his staff figured out the transfer portal in a hurry, he’s at a school with what should be a built-in NIL pipeline, and he won ten games last season with an offense that finished sixth in the nation and a D that … let’s just say could use some improving.
However, the offense has one big issue …
Oregon Ducks Preview: Offense
The Duck attack was amazing last year – sixth in the nation overall, fifth in passing efficiency, tenth in scoring offense, and No. 1 in sacks allowed. Now the production has to be repeated even with a slew of replacements on the offensive front.
The experience might not be there on the line, but some of the decent 2s – like Steven Jones and Jackson Powers-Johnson for the inside – will be great with former Texas star recruit Junior Angilau taking over one guard spot. The tackles, though, should be the real stars. 6-4, 300-pound Josh Conerly was a huge get for the program last year and now should shine at left tackle, and 6-5, 310-pound Rhode Island transfer Ajani Cornelius could’ve gone to any team in America.
The running backs didn’t get to see much of the spotlight with everything the passing game did, but Bucky Irving, Noah Whittingham, and Jordan James combined for over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in a rotation, and all of them can catch. Irving is the best of the bunch – four 100-yard games in the last seven outings – but the most dangerous runner is …
Bo Nix. Seriously, last year at this time you couldn’t get any SEC snob to stop snickering at the idea of Nix – who was good in three years at Auburn, but nothing amazing – being a legitimate Heisman candidate and NFL Draft prospect. That’s exactly what he is now after hitting 72% of his passes for 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns to go along with 510 rushing yards and 14 scores. The receiving parts are there to do even more.
Troy Franklin has first round draft pick upside coming off a breakthrough 61-catch season for 891 yards and nine scores, TE Terrance Ferguson has All-Pac-12 upside after making 32 grabs with five scores, and ready to roll are a slew of high end transfers. Tez Johnson (Troy), Traeshon Holden (Alabama), and Gary Bryant Jr. (USC) will all make a whole lot of noise.
Oregon Ducks Preview: Defense
The defense should’ve been a whole lot better with the talent it had – no pass rush, the third round stops weren’t there, a few disastrous meltdowns – and now it’ll give it another shot thanks to the transfer portal. Oregon lost a ton through the portal, but it’s bringing in some fantastic new parts for what should be an overall upgrade.
It starts with a secondary that lost CB Christian Gonzalez to the New England Patriots, but Trikweze Bridges is back after making 49 tackles with three picks at one corner spot. The transfers will take care of the rest. Kyhree Jackson (Alabama) and Nikko Reed (Colorado) will fill in at corner, and safeties Evan Williams (Fresno State) and Tysheem Johnson (Ole Miss) are going to be statistical stars.
The line couldn’t do much of anything in the backfield. This year there’s no excuse with All-Pac-12 performer Brandon Dorlus on one side and South Carolina transfer Jordan Burch about to be a terror on the other. Popo Aumavae and Taki Taimani will hold their own on the nose, and Casey Rogers is a big veteran who’ll be great again returning to his tackle spot.
The linebacking corps loses Noah Sewell to the Chicago Bears, but it gets back Jeffrey Bassa on the inside and Mase Fun on the outside. Now it’s up to Iowa transfer Justin Jacobs to be another Sewell – the NFL talent is there, but he wasn’t able to stay healthy for the Hawkeyes last season.
Oregon Preview 2023: Keys To The Season, Top Players, What Will Happen
Oregon Ducks Key to the Season
Get the pass rush going again. It’s been a few years since Oregon was great at getting into the backfield. With Kayvon Thibodeaux leading the way, the Ducks generated 41 sacks in 2019, and that’s part of the reason why the defense allowed offenses to convert just 33% of their third down chances. The 2020 pass rush struggled – averaging 1.7 sacks per game – and the third down stops slowed. The same went for 2021 when the D averaged a mere 1.64 sacks per game.
In 2022, Oregon averaged just 1.39 sacks per game, came up with a mere 18 on the year, and shock of shocks, the defense allowed teams to convert a whopping 46% of their third down tries. And that’s why …
Oregon Ducks Top Transfer, Biggest Loss
DE Jordan Burch in from South Carolina, LB Justin Flowe gone to Arizona. Burch is more of a big end than a pure pass rusher, but for a team that needs both, he might be exactly what the D needs. He made 105 stops with 12.5 sacks in his three years at South Carolina, and now it’s his job to shine on the other side of Brandon Dorlus.
A whole lot of former Ducks are about to play big roles on a whole lot of other teams, but none of them have the intriguing upside of Flowe. The one-time super-recruit had injury problems early on and was never able to put it together, making 50 tackles in three seasons. There’s a shot it doesn’t work at Arizona, but if he’s healthy and finds his game, he could be an All-Pac-12 star with a limitless ceiling.
Oregon Ducks Key Player
Ajani Cornelius, OT Jr. The great offensive production last year started with a veteran line that was supposed to be among the best in college football, and it was. Stars Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, Alex Forsyth, and TJ Bass are gone, but talent-wise there’s a shot the Ducks just upgraded up front. Josh Conerly has every tool in the bag at one tackle, and getting Cornelius for the other side was massive.
The 6-5, 310-pounder over of New York City started his football career late in high school life, but the late bloomer still received offers from a slew of HBCUs and FCS schools. He ended up at Rhode Island, needed a year to get his feet wet, and turned into a whale of a pass blocker over his next two seasons. Oregon needs him to be ready for prime time right away at right tackle to help fill out the reworked line.
ALL-AAC PRE-SEASON TEAM
QB Frank Harris, UTSA
RB Jermaine Brown Jr., UAB
RB Larry McCammon III, FAU
WR De’Corian Clark, UTSA
WR Joshua Cephus, UTSA
WR Luke McCaffrey, Rice
TE Oscar Cardenas, UTSA
T Marcus Bryant, SMU
T Donovan Jennings, USF
G Gabe Blair, North Texas
G Justin Osborne, SMU
C Sincere Haynesworth, Tulane
DI Roderick Brown, North Texas
DI Fish McWilliams, UAB
Edge Trey Moore, UTSA
Edge Eyabi Okie, Charlotte
LB Jordan Magee, Temple
LB Kobe Wilson, SMU
CB Mac McWilliams, UAB
CB Nicktroy Fortune, UTSA
S Kam Pedescleaux, Tulane
S Kendarin Roy, Tulsa
Flex Keondre Swoopes, UAB
K Collin Rogers, SMU
P Joe Doyle, Memphis
RS Lawrence Keys III, Tulane
QB Michael Pratt, Tulane
RB Blake Watson, Memphis
RB Kevorian Barnes, UTSA
WR Jha’Quan Jackson, Tulane
WR Roderic Burns, North Texas
TE David Martin-Robinson, Temple
T Makai Hart, UTSA
T Rashad Green, Tulane
G Davion Carter, Memphis
G Prince Pines, Tulane
C Branson Hickman, SMU
DI Nick Booker-Brown, UTSA
DI Patrick Jenkins, Tulane
Edge Mazin Richards, North Texas
Edge Darius Hodges, Tulane
LB Colin Ramos, Navy
LB Myron Morrison, Rice
CB Charles Woods, SMU
CB Jarius Monroe, Tulane
S Armani-Eli Adams, FAU
S Rashad Wisdom, UTSA
Flex Gabriel Taylor, Rice
K Valentino Ambrosio, Tulane
P Lucas Dean, UTSA
RS Kaylon Horton, North Texas
QB Seth Henigan, Memphis
RB Ayo Adeyi, North Texas
RB Ikaika Ragsdale, North Texas
WR LaJohntay Wester, FAU
WR Jordan Kerley, SMU
WR Amad Anderson Jr., Temple
TE Jordan Smith, Temple
T Kaci Moreka, North Texas
T Clay Servin, Rice
G Febechi Nwaiwu, North Texas
G Terrell Haynes, UTSA
C Brady Wilson, UAB
DI Elijah Chatman, SMU
DI Evan Anderson, FAU
Edge Drew Tuazama, UAB
Edge Jaylon Allen, Memphis
LB Jamal Ligon, UTSA
LB Geoffrey Cantin-Arku, Memphis
CB Ridge Texada, North Texas
CB Jalen McMurray, Temple
S Kelechi Nwachuku, UTSA
S Jonathan McGill, SMU
Flex Jarron Morris, FAU
K Seth Morgan, Memphis
P Ryan Bujcevski, SMU
RS Chris Carpenter, UTSA
ALL-CONFERENCE USA PRE-SEASON TEAM
QB Austin Reed, Western Kentucky
RB Anwar Lewis, Jacksonville State
RB Marquis Crosby, Louisiana Tech
WR Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky
WR Smoke Harris, Louisiana Tech
WR Tyrin Smith, UTEP
TE Sean Brown, Jacksonville State
T Steven Hubbard, UTEP
T X’Zauvea Gadlin, Liberty
G Elijah Klein, UTEP
G Justin Mayers, UTEP
C Andrew Meyer, UTEP
DI Marley Cook, Middle Tennessee
DI Keenan Stewart, UTEP
Edge Praise Amaewhule, UTEP
Edge JaQues Evans, Western Kentucky
LB Tyrice Knight, UTEP
LB Devyn Curtis, Middle Tennessee
CB Willie Roberts, Louisiana Tech
CB Upton Stout, Western Kentucky
S Rome Weber, Western Kentucky
S Tra Fluellen, Middle Tennessee
Flex Jamal Potts, FIU
K Jacob Barnes, Louisiana Tech
P Joshua Sloan, UTEP
RS Smoke Harris, Louisiana Tech
QB Hank Bachmeier, Lousiana Tech
RB Lexington Joseph, FIU
RB Ron Wiggins, Jacksonville State
WR Ife Adeyi, Sam Houston
WR Michael Mathison, Western Kentucky
WR Cyrus Allen, Louisiana Tech
TE Josiah Miamen, FIU
T Mark Goode, Western Kentucky
T Zuri Henry, UTEP
G Clay Webb, Jacksonville State
G Quantavious Leslie, Western Kentucky
C Abraham Delfin, Louisiana Tech
DI Jordan Guerad, FIU
DI Kendy Charles, Liberty
Edge Jaylen Swain, Jacksonville State
Edge Chris Hardie, Jacksonville State
LB Donovan Manuel, FIU
LB Kolbi Fuqua, Jacksonville State
CB Teldrick Ross, Middle Tennessee
CB Daijahn Anthony, Liberty
S JoJo Evans, FIU
S Jakobe Thomas, Middle Tennessee
Flex Cecil Singleton Jr., Louisiana Tech
K Zeke Rankin, Middle Tennessee
P Daton Montiel, FIU
RS Shedro Louis, Liberty
QB Gavin Hardison, UTEP
RB Deion Hankins, UTEP
RB Frank Peasant, Middle Tennessee
WR Sterling Galban, Jacksonville State
WR C.J. Daniels, Liberty
WR Noah Frith, Liberty
TE Jacob Jenkins, Liberty
T Carson Bruno, Louisiana Tech
T Shiyazh Pete, New Mexico State
G Vincent Murphy, Western Kentucky
G Brendan Schlitter, Liberty
C Canaan Yarro, New Mexico State
DI Terrion Thompson, Western Kentucky
DI Sterling Webb, New Mexico State
Edge Zaylin Wood, Middle Tennessee
Edge Aakil Washington, Liberty
LB Kavian Gaither, Sam Houston
LB Drew Francis, Middle Tennessee
CB Kobe Singleton, Liberty
CB Hezekiah Masses, FIU
S Jeremiah Harris, Jacksonville State
S D’Verick Daniel, FIU
Flex Brandon Bishop, Liberty
K Ethan Albertson, New Mexico State
P Tom Ellard, Western Kentucky
RS Lexington Joseph, FIU