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Nine riskiest NFL players to pick in 2023 fantasy football drafts

As you prepare for your fantasy football drafts, figuring out who is reliable will be key, but it's equally important to determine who you can't count on. Taking chances on players with high upside is, of course, part of the game. But there are some players every year who simply carry too much uncertainty for me to stomach relying on them as weekly contributors.

With that in mind, here's my list of the nine riskiest players to pick in 2023 based on their average draft position (ADP) in 12-team leagues right now.

Austin Ekeler
Los Angeles Chargers · RB

ADP: Top 5 overall

No running back has averaged more fantasy points per game than Ekeler since 2021, so you might ask, How in the world can he be a risky pick? There are two reasons: touchdowns and target regression. Ekeler has scored 18+ scrimmage touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, and just two RBs in NFL history have scored 16+ touchdowns in three straight seasons. Plus, with new OC Kellen Moore calling plays, I expect Justin Herbert’s disappointing touchdown rate to improve greatly from last season. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams dealt with nagging injuries throughout most of 2022, which played a part in Ekeler being heavily involved in the passing game (he saw an absurd 127 targets last season!). If both Ekeler’s touchdown rate and target share drop, as I suspect they will, it is hard to envision he will be worth the top-five overall price tag he's currently carrying in 2023 fantasy drafts.

Breece Hall
New York Jets · RB

ADP: Round 3

A brutal knee injury in Week 7 robbed us, and Hall, of what had been a promising rookie season. Prior to his injury, Hall was the RB8 in fantasy points per game, showing flashes of greatness while breaking off several long gains. While it's possible he can regain his pre-injury form in 2023 -- Tuesday's news that he's been activated off the PUP list and is returning to practice (albeit in a limited capacity) is encouraging -- his draft price is just way too high for someone carrying that much uncertainty. Plus, even when he is back to 100 percent, he'll be sharing touches with four-time Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook. There are much safer RBs going at a draft cost similar to Hall's who also have high upside. Personally, I'd go with one of them.

Tee Higgins
Cincinnati Bengals · WR

ADP: Round 3

After finishing the 2022 season with the 18th-most fantasy points per game among wide receivers, Higgins' price has skyrocketed to WR13 in 2023 fantasy drafts. Fantasy football is very inconsistent ... but you know what isn’t? The number of targets and touchdowns Higgins receives in any given year:

  • 2020: 108 targets, 6 TDs
  • 2021: 110 targets, 6 TDs
  • 2022: 109 targets, 7 TDs

For Higgins to be worth his early Round 3 ADP, he will need to see a significant uptick in targets and/or touchdowns in 2023. It’s also worth noting that Higgins’ best stretch of fantasy games last season came when teammate Ja’Marr Chase was out with an injury. Higgins is a high-risk, low-reward pick in the third round of fantasy drafts, especially considering the other great options that should be available in that range (RB Najee Harris, WR Chris Olave and TE Mark Andrews immediately come to mind).

Calvin Ridley
Jacksonville Jaguars · WR

ADP: Round 4

Despite showing plenty of upside throughout his career, Ridley has only topped 900 receiving yards in a season once (2020). Ridley was the Falcons’ clear-cut top receiver in '20, posting 143 targets, 1,374 receiving yards and nine receiving TDs. He might be the No. 1 target in the Jaguars' offense this season, but even so, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram have proven they deserve a decent size of the pie, as well. Ridley, who hasn't played in a regular season game since Week 7 of the 2021 season, could end up being a touchdown-or-bust type of fantasy asset in 2023 and that makes him a risk in the fourth round.

George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers · TE

ADP: Late Round 4/early Round 5

Kittle is undoubtedly one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL, but his current draft cost is too pricey considering his history of very inconsistent fantasy production on a weekly basis. Kittle scored fewer than 8.0 fantasy points in seven of his 15 games last year. He had fewer than 30 receiving yards in eight of the 15 games he played last season. There are too many mouths to feed in the 49ers' stacked offense, and Kittle’s target share is too sporadic from week to week, making him a risky draft pick in the fourth/fifth rounds.

Kyle Pitts
Atlanta Falcons · TE

ADP: Round 5

After a historic rookie season, Pitts' production plummeted in Year 2 prior to the knee injury that ended his 2022 campaign after 10 games. He went from averaging more than 60 receiving yards per game in 2021 to averaging just 35.6 yards last year. In fact, Pitts scored fewer than 5.0 fantasy points in a whopping 60 percent of games played in 2022 ... barf. That seems impossible for such a talented player. And with the Falcons likely to remain a run-heavy team in 2023, especially after they selected RB Bijan Robinson eighth overall in April, I am begrudgingly out on Pitts in 2023 fantasy drafts.

Christian Watson
Green Bay Packers · WR

ADP: Round 5

Watson scored fewer than 10.0 fantasy points in eight of his 14 games during his rookie season, including five games with fewer than 5.0 fantasy points. He had an amazing four-game fantasy stretch from Weeks 10 to 13, when he hauled in seven receiving touchdowns, but those were his only receiving scores all season long. Investing in a receiver entering Year 2 can certainly pay off with a breakout campaign. However, Watson's current price is just too steep given the riskiness of banking on a spike in production as the Packers transition from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love at quarterback. There are other second-year wideouts with similar upside who should still be available a few rounds later (e.g. Jahan Dotson in Round 8).

J.K. Dobbins
Baltimore Ravens · RB

ADP: Round 6

There might not be a player with a steeper draft cost whose fantasy points have been so dependent on touchdowns. Not once in his career has Dobbins scored more than 13 fantasy points in a game without rushing for a touchdown. In games Dobbins hasn't found the end zone, he's averaged a measly 6.7 points. Not only are the Ravens expected to be a heavier passing offense this season under new OC Todd Monken, but Dobbins will be competing for goal-line carries with Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards. The 24-year-old finally came off the PUP list and returned to practice on Monday, which is great news. It's just not enough to move him out of major-risk territory.

(P.S.: Draft Alexander Mattison instead.)

Kadarius Toney
Kansas City Chiefs · WR

ADP: Round 10

If you can’t stay on the field, does it really matter how talented of a player you are? In 19 career contests, there have been just nine instances in which Toney hit a meager 20+ offensive snaps in a game. Toney has recorded 50+ receiving yards in just four games and scored 10+ fantasy points in just five games. Toney is currently recovering from knee surgery after suffering the injury on the first day of training camp practice. It's not yet clear if he'll be ready to play come Week 1. Toney is a risky player to add to your roster, even if he falls in your draft.

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