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Who Should You Take With the No. 1 Pick in 2023 Redraft Fantasy Football Leagues?

Landing the No. 1 pick in a redraft fantasy football league is a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have the first choice of any player you want to build your team around. However, there are a handful of players that present a strong case to be worthy enough of the 1.01 pick. In Superflex leagues, I’m drafting my top-ranked quarterback with the 1.01 pick given the value and demand at the position in that format knowing, too, that the options available when my second pick comes around will be much more lackluster. When it comes to redraft leagues, though, I think there’s more of a debate to be had for players at other positions.

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Making the Case For Players to Take with the No. 1 Pick

Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers

The 2023 season will be the first full season of Christian McCaffrey operating as the lead running back for the San Francisco 49ers. In six seasons with the Carolina Panthers, McCaffrey has been regarded as the 1.01 pick in fantasy football drafts for at least half of them. As a key piece of a legitimate Super Bowl contending team, McCaffrey should be the first name in the No. 1 pick conversation.

McCaffrey holds multiple NFL records that emphasize his value in fantasy football. They include, but are not limited to; the most receptions by a running back in a single season (116), the only running back to record two seasons with 100 or more receptions, and the third player in NFL history to record over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season.

In 2019, McCaffrey averaged 29.9 fantasy points per game, more than any other player at every position. Over the following two seasons, he would play in just 10 total games but still averaged 21.79 points per game. He then entered the 2022 season with the “injury-prone” label. Those fading him missed out on 21.2 points per game with an RB2 finish. In McCaffrey’s first six games with the Panthers, he averaged 19.7 points per game, then 22.1 points after a trade landed him with the 49ers for the remainder of the season.

Drafting McCaffrey with the 1.01 pick becomes even easier if Brock Purdy is cleared to start at quarterback. In five games with Purdy under center last season, McCaffrey averaged 23 touches per game. I’m drafting McCaffrey for the safe floor he provides with volume and a massive ceiling that he can reach on an efficient offense with his high number of touches.

Austin Ekeler, Running Back, Los Angeles Chargers

Playing out the 2023 season with the Los Angeles Chargers is the best fantasy football outcome for Austin Ekeler. In the final year of his contract, Ekeler should continue to see a high number of touches. More importantly, he remains the lead back in an offense that’s expected to score a ton of points this season. Last year, Ekeler logged the third-most rush attempts inside the red zone across the entire league. Furthermore, he converted 21% of those rush attempts scoring 10 of his 13 rushing touchdowns inside the red zone.

Austin Ekeler has 38 total touchdowns in his last 33 regular season games. There is no denying how important he is to the success of the Los Angeles Chargers. After scoring 20 then 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons, it’s hard to bank on Ekeler matching those numbers again in 2023, but it’s possible, giving him the case to be the 1.01 pick in fantasy football.

With 107 receptions, Austin Ekeler led all running backs in catching passes last season. The Chargers did add rookie Quentin Johnston to their receiving corps of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. That does present more options for Justin Herbert to target, but with Kellen Moore taking over as the offensive coordinator, I think we see more deep shots downfield in 2023. Keeping defenses honest with that sort of threat could open up more opportunities for Ekeler underneath as a strong check-down option.

His only competitors in the Chargers backfield are Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, and Larry Rountree. In a contract year with little competition behind him, and obvious strengths running the ball and as a receiver, Ekeler deserves consideration with the 1.01 pick.

Bijan Robinson, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons

It may seem like a HUGE risk to draft Bijan Robinson with the No. 1 pick but hear me out. Yes, I know he’s a rookie running back that hasn’t played an NFL snap yet. Let’s see what history has taught us though when it comes to rookie running backs and fantasy football.

Since 2016, a rookie running back has finished inside the top 10 in points per game in all but one season. In five of the applicable six seasons this has happened, a rookie running back has finished in the top seven each time. Ezekiel Elliott (2016), Alvin Kamara (2017), and Saquon Barkley (2018) all finished inside the top four on a points-per-game basis as rookies. It can be done!

Zeke and Saquon each logged 350+ touches as rookies while 81 of Kamara’s 201 were receptions. It’s obvious that heavy volume, especially as a pass-catching back, will be key for Bijan Robinson to finish similarly to these players. Having Arthur Smith as his head coach should help. Smith is the former offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans from Derrick Henry’s back-to-back rushing title seasons. Henry averaged 359 touches per season on his way to achieving those titles.

As the eighth overall pick from the 2023 NFL Draft, there’s plenty of reason to believe Bijan logs a ton of touches. He’s entering the league after back-to-back seasons of at least 221 touches and 1,422 all-purpose yards at the University of Texas. Drafting Bijan with the 1.01 pick is just a fun way to approach the 2023 fantasy football season. He should remain a top pick for years to come which means this could be your only shot to have him on your roster. Especially if he plays all 17 games, he will be an RB1 based on volume alone.

For more great rankings and analysis, make sure to check out our 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!

Justin Jefferson, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

We’re seeing more and more fantasy football managers pivot from running backs to wide receivers with their first-round picks. It’s no secret that the contact running backs endure bakes in a higher level of risk with the position. An elite receiver like Justin Jefferson has a likelier chance to play all 17 games. Securing him with the 1.01 pick is a safe strategy.

Justin Jefferson continues to ascend each season. As a rookie in 2020, he averaged 16.8 points per game as the WR11. The following season, he was a top-five wide receiver averaging 19.3 points per game. In 2022, he was a top-five player among all positions with a 22.6 point-per-game average.

Minnesota’s 39.6 pass attempts per game in 2022 ranked third in the entire league. That’s head coach Kevin O’Connell’s influence. As the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2021, they ranked 10th with 35.7 pass attempts per game. The Vikings should remain one of the pass-heaviest teams in the league in 2023.

Regarding involvement in this high-passing offense, Jefferson’s 28.7% target share from last season should hold steady. Adam Thielen, second in Vikings targets last season, is now with the Carolina Panthers. Minnesota did trade for T.J. Hockenson last season and just drafted Jordan Addison in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. While both are strong options, they arguably command enough attention to keep Jefferson in a position to win his matchups.

The WR1 in fantasy football, on a point-per-game basis, has averaged 177.25 targets per season since 2019. In three of these four seasons, the WR1 led all players in targets, as well. In such three instances, those receivers averaged 186.6 targets per season. Justin Jefferson is capable of achieving this in 2023 as he did last season. Therefore, using the 1.01 pick on the most recent WR1, who has a chance to do it again, is a fantastic way to start any draft.

Ja’Marr Chase, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

One of the few legitimate contenders to dethrone Justin Jefferson as the reigning WR1 in fantasy football is Ja’Marr Chase. That potential alone puts him in the 1.01 conversation. In two seasons in the league, Chase has back-to-back top-6 finishes on a point-per-game basis at the wide receiver position. He has a handful of spectacular fantasy performances in such a short amount of time including 55.6 points in the 2021 fantasy football finals.

Ja’Marr Chase is the top wide receiver in arguably the best wide receiver group in the league. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are both strong options that can take away from Chase at any time. Still, even in just 12 games last season, Chase led all Bengals with 134 targets. That’s a 17-game pace of 189 targets. However, Chase doesn’t need a ton of volume to be effective in fantasy football. His 128 targets in 2021 rank 17th amongst all wide receivers yet he still averaged 18.8 points per game as the WR5.

Acquiring Ja’Marr Chase with the 1.01 pick is securing the most valuable piece of one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. Since drafting Chase, the Bengals have finished ninth and seventh respectively in points per game. My favorite part about drafting Chase with the top pick is the high probability you have to stack him with Joe Burrow. In a 1QB league, it’s very likely Burrow is still on the board when you’re back on the clock with back-to-back picks at the second and third-round turn. While that may seem early for a quarterback, especially Burrow, he won’t be there by your next pair of picks. I’m not waiting to draft a quarterback in 2023, either. While it all comes down to preference, you could do a lot worse than drafting Chase and Burrow with two of your first three picks.

Cooper Kupp, Wide Receiver, Los Angeles Rams

This time last year, drafting Cooper Kupp with the No. 1 pick sounded a lot more appealing. In 15 of 17 regular season games from the 2021 season, Kupp recorded 95 receiving yards and/or a touchdown. His 191 targets were 22 more than any other player. More importantly, for fantasy football, his 25.8 points per game led, not only all wide receivers, but every player’s average at every position.

Through nine games of the 2022 season, Kupp’s 22.4 points per game average was still the best of any other wide receiver from last season. That’s with 2.9 points in a Week 10 performance that would end up being his last due to an ankle injury. Kupp’s numbers from his nine games put him on pace for 141 receptions, 1,533 yards, and 11 touchdowns on 185 targets.

While Cooper Kupp does have an ACL tear in his injury history, that’s not what ended his 2022 season. The 3-6 Rams, at the time of his injury, did not need Kupp returning after suffering a high ankle sprain. Cleaning up the ankle in preparation for this season was the wiser choice for longevity’s sake. That said, Kupp may come at a discount for the 2023 fantasy football season. He will be 30 years old and coming off of an injury which may deter fantasy managers from using a high pick on him.

Kupp is still very much in play to finish as the overall WR1 in fantasy football. His competition for targets is the weakest it’s ever been. Ben Skowronek, Tyler Higbee, Van Jefferson, and rookie Puka Nacua lead the short list of those Matthew Stafford has to look for. Kupp should see plenty of volume on a team expected to be behind in most of their games this season. It’s hard to justify Kupp over some of these other options at 1.01, but if you have a pick after 1.01, don’t let him fall to your league mates.

Travis Kelce, Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs

I’m not recommending using the No. 1 pick on a tight end, but I won’t fight you on the idea. Travis Kelce is an exception and an advantage to any lineup. For starters, he has Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball. In five seasons with Mahomes under center for the Kansas City Chiefs, Kelce has claimed the overall TE1 spot in four of them. The one time that he didn’t, he finished second.

From 2018 to 2022, Kelce finished with the 8th, 11th, 6th, 14th, and 6th most targets amongst all players. While the Chiefs continue retooling their offense, Kelce remains a constant, reliable weapon for Patrick Mahomes. In two straight off-seasons, Kansas City has moved on from Tyreek Hill and Juju Smith-Schuster. Both players recorded 100 or more targets in each of the last two seasons respectively. Ahead of 2023, the wide receivers expected to fight for a chunk of vacant targets are Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justyn Ross, and rookie Rashee Rice.

The reason to select Kelce with the No. 1 pick is that he won’t be there when your second-round pick comes back around. If you were to slide Kelce’s points per game average in the wide receiver rankings from 2018-2022, he would’ve finished as the WR9, WR8, WR3, WR11, and WR5. Last season, the gap in total points (93.7) between Kelce and the TE2 is the same gap between TE2 and TE17. By drafting Kelce with the 1.01, you’re getting a massive positional advantage into your lineup. He remains the top target for the top quarterback on one of, if not the, top-scoring offense in the NFL.

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