Actionable Game Theory in Best Ball for 2023 NFL Season

“Draft your wide receivers early and your running backs late.” – Every Single Best Ball Analyst (correctly).

This article will explore a few simple thought experiments to help you understand the lack of depth at the wide receiver position and the uncertainty at the running back position. Exploration will be done by comparing running backs and wide receivers at similar best ball ADPs on Underdog Fantasy.

All ADPs are included in parentheses

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Best Ball Game Theory

Thought Experiment 1

Are we sure Jahmyr Gibbs (40) outscores Devon Achane (111)?

DK Metcalf (29) will outscore JuJu Smith-Schuster (103).

Jahmyr Gibbs likely is taking on a higher-volume version of the D’Andre Swift role for the Detroit Lions. I say most likely because he’s about 15 pounds lighter than Swift. Still, Gibbs’ draft capital is significantly better than Swift’s. 

Gibbs will be contending with David Montgomery for goal-line touches, and Montgomery is about 25 pounds heavier, making him the current favorite for those high-value touches.

Devon Achane is on a potent Miami Dolphins offense, and while he’s only around 190 pounds, neither Raheem Mostert nor Jeff Wilson is a large back. Achane’s third-round draft capital hints at decent rookie season usage, while his speed is a touch better than Gibbs’. 

Gibbs and Achane could finish the season with 150 carries and 65 targets.

DK Metcalf has scored at least 13.3 PPR points per game each of the past two seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, with at least 129 targets in both. JuJu Smith-Schuster has scored seven and 11.6 PPR points per game in the past two seasons, respectively. 

Despite playing in an ultra-high volume Kansas City Chiefs offense for 16 games last year, he only reached 101 targets in 2022. Smith-Schuster is on a below-average New England Patriots passing attack coming off a season where his target share was 50 percent lower than Metcalf’s. 

Smith-Schuster is not out-scoring Metcalf in fantasy points per game in 2023.

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Thought Experiment 2

Are we sure Tank Bigsby (151) scores fewer points than Alexander Mattison (82)?

Diontae Johnson (72) will outscore Van Jefferson (157).

Alexander Mattison is a career backup, and there’s still a real chance Dalvin Cook restructures his contract to stay with Minnesota. Even if Cook leaves, there’s no guarantee Mattison gets handed Cook’s workload. 

Mattison has never reached 500 rushing yards in a season, and it’s tough to envision the Vikings giving him more than 10-15 carries per game with some pass-game usage.

Tank Bigsby is a third-round draft pick who joins a high-powered Jacksonville Jaguars offense. Even with Travis Etienne locked in as the lead back, coach Doug Pederson has been adamant about trimming Etienne’s workload. 

If this becomes a 1A/1B situation, Bigsby can easily have a comparable workload to Mattison on what may be a better overall offense.

Both Mattison and Bigsby can finish the 2023 season with 175 carries and 25 targets.

Diontae Johnson had a 27 percent target share last season but let fantasy managers down by scoring zero touchdowns on 147 targets. That is by far the highest target volume without a touchdown in NFL history. 

Still, Johnson averaged 10.6 PPR fantasy points per game. Van Jefferson had only a 15 percent target share in 2022, but he caught three touchdowns on just 43 total targets — if Johnson had a similar touchdown pace, he would have finished with 10 touchdowns in 2022. 

Yet, despite massive differences in touchdown rate, Jefferson still finished with just 7.2 PPR points per game, far below Johnson.

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Thought Experiment 3

Are we sure James Cook (96) outscores Jerome Ford (177)?

Rashod Bateman (89) will outscore Rashid Shaheed (167).

As a rookie, James Cook handled just 5.6 carries and two targets per game for Buffalo. He was competing with Devin Singletary for touches. Now, Damien Harris is in the fold, and he’s a much better pure runner than Singletary with a much bigger body than Cook. 

Jerome Ford is the likely direct backup to Nick Chubb in Cleveland, and Kareem Hunt had 7.2 carries and 2.6 targets per game in 2022. There’s a strong chance Ford’s workload is less than Hunt’s, but Chubb turns 28 in December and is coming off a 329-touch season. It’s not unrealistic to expect Ford to garner a similar amount of per-game usage to Hunt.

Rashod Bateman had a 17 percent target share but a 24 percent target rate in 2022 at an average target depth of 13.1 for the Ravens. Rashid Shaheed had a 10 percent target share and a 19 percent target rate in 2022 at an average depth of 11.4 yards for the Saints. 

Bateman commands more targets farther downfield and plays in a better offensive environment than Shaheed. There’s a chance Shaheed is a backup receiver as 2023 moves along, as rookie A.T. Perry is a much bigger-bodied deep threat with a far better college profile.

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