Every NFL season brings many different things to the table — especially player-driven storylines. Some players even go on to be the defining figures of the season, and that is both true in fantasy as well as reality. Here are the 11 players Matt Harmon believes are destined to make a resounding, long-lasting impact in 2023.
Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are fully handing Brock Purdy the keys to this Ferrari offense. It remains to be seen if those keys will be in the hands of a talented, stable driver or more akin to a rowdy teenager we’re all concerned might drive off the road.
Purdy’s 2022 end-of-season run was quite inspiring but it would hardly be the NFL’s first flash in the pan if he’s unable to sustain that level of play.
Even in a crowded offense that will lean toward run-heavy, there’s enough efficiency on the table for all of Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel to be smash players this season. That reality requires a strong performance from the player under center. As fascinating as the experiment may seem, we don’t want to enter Sam Darnold territory.
Purdy’s performance will go a long way to determining fantasy leagues — and the NFC playoff race.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
The best player in the league is going to be a huge part of telling the story of every season. That’s how it works.
As if the Chiefs didn’t ask enough of Mahomes, they’ll need to put more on his shoulders early in the season. We got word that Travis Kelce’s status for Week 1 (at least) is in doubt after a practice knee injury. If Kelce isn’t a part of this offense, Mahomes will need to do even more elevating than normal.
Noah Gray would enter the fray at the pass-catcher position for the Chiefs. The wide receiver room is already a scraped-together unit, led by veteran boom/bust field-stretcher Marquez Valdes-Scantling and second-year breakout hopeful Skyy Moore. Kelce was the rug that brought the room together.
Mahomes’ greatness is undeniable. If the Chiefs offense is going to maintain its high level of performance, another vintage year from the reigning MVP will be a requirement.
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks made out like bandits in the Russell Wilson trade, and Geno Smith was a big reason for it. Smith was rightly rewarded with a nice contract extension this offseason.
Now Seattle will ask for an encore from Smith, and then some. The front office added Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Zach Charbonnet to an offense that was already quite good last season. JSN joins a receiver corps led by one of the league’s premier duos in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Charbonnet will enter the season as a solid second-fiddle to Kenneth Walker, who was one of the more explosive backs in 2022.
While Pete Carroll certainly has eyes on improving the defense from its 2022 form, this is likely to be an offensive-first team. Everything about Geno Smith’s play last year showed he has sustainable skills you can bank on. They’ll need him to run that level of play back.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
It’s a new era in Baltimore. Gone are the heavy-personnel groupings and run-centric ways of Greg Roman. Enter Todd Monken and a likely up-tempo and spread-the-field, modern passing game.
It was past time for the change. While Roman’s offense may have been the right unit for Lamar Jackson to grow up in as a fledgling prospect, we needed to graduate to something more advanced to get the Ravens out of the mud.
Monken’s vertical and spread pass looks will obviously help the Ravens improve as an aerial unit, but it could help the run game, too. Getting another defender out of the box will clear lanes for the backs and perhaps more importantly, for Jackson as a scrambler.
Everything is laid out for Jackson to have a dominant season in an offense better suited to the modern game. While we all love this in theory, it will be a new task for the former MVP. It will require him to do things we haven’t seen full-time in the league yet. If he’s up to the challenge, the Ravens will be a huge factor in the AFC playoff race.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons bet big on Bijan Robinson by taking him with the eighth overall pick. The running game was already good without him. Arthur Smith and Co. are banking on Robinson being an explosive multi-dimensional threat in both phases.
Of course, we’ve heard plenty of that rhetoric for prospects coming into the NFL. Oftentimes, it’s just post-draft bluster. But if any coach can pull it off with a special talent like Robinson, it’s Smith. He’s quietly one of the best offensive designers around and knows how to deploy players in creative ways.
If Robinson hits and brings more big plays to this efficient ground game and impacts the offense as a receiver, Atlanta has the potential to make noise in the NFC playoff race.
Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase can have the type of season this year that Justin Jefferson just enjoyed in 2022. The kind of year where a receiver is the defining figure of their offense, leads the position in fantasy points and vaults himself to the elite category — even if he already belongs in that group.
A small narrative exists that Chase can’t have that type of season because he has to compete with other players. While Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are good players, Chase is the clear alpha in this offense. Chase led the Bengals last season with a 37.3% share of the Bengals' first-read targets, per Fantasy Points Data. Higgins was at 21.1% and Boyd wasn’t even close. Much of that came from a 13.4% “designed target” rate for Chase. The team knows it needs to get the ball in the hands of its best playmaker.
The Bengals are already a good team, but if they can scrape even more meat off the bone with Chase that makes them more dangerous. I just can’t help but think we’ll look up at the end of this year and remember it as the season Chase solidified himself as something different.
Calvin Ridley, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars went after Calvin Ridley because he’s the perfect fit for what the 2022 offense lacked. He’s a vertical ISO receiver who can beat press and man coverage consistently outside. No one on the team did that last season. Ridley was one of the best at it last we saw him play.
I’ve talked all offseason about what an ideal marriage this is, and how Ridley was a player on the Stefon Diggs trajectory from 2018 to 2021. If he drops into this offense and can play the Diggs to Trevor Lawrence’s Josh Allen, the Jaguars can do more than just win a hapless AFC South. And Lawrence will get himself into some MVP discussion.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
I don’t think the equation is quite as simple as, “If Tua plays, then the Dolphins offense will just easily be as great as it was to start last year.” There needs to be some evolution that takes place after this unit got stuck in the mud down the stretch before Tua was lost for the year.
That only increases his standing on this list.
Tua can become one of the defining players of the 2023 NFL season not just by staying healthy and playing well but by taking another leap as a player. If he launches himself into the upper tier of quarterbacks, this offense will be a massive problem for opponents and more consistent wire-to-wire.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
So much of the digital ink about the Browns is spilled about their quarterback. And still, it’s likely that this team goes as Nick Chubb goes.
Chubb is one of the best rushers in the league and a dynamic force. A whopping 15.6% of his carries went for 10-plus yards last year, the highest rate among the top 30 rushing-yard leaders. He’s a steady and fantastic player who is a great grinder back while also being a true field-flipping runner.
Chubb should be considered the odds-on favorite to lead the NFL in rush yards in 2023. If Deshaun Watson bounces back, it’s likely because Chubb made his life easier. You can also argue that as Cleveland adjusts the offense to spread things out to complement Watson’s style, it’ll empty out the box for Chubb, similar to the discussion with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
Garrett Wilson, New York Jets
If you look at the Jets offensive roster, outside of Aaron Rodgers they have only one above-average starter who is entering the year without an injury question. That player would be Garrett Wilson and lucky for the Jets, there is no more obvious candidate league-wide ready to enter the superstar club.
Wilson proved to be an excellent separator who is dominant off the line of scrimmage and a dangerous player in the open field. He’s a do-it-all threat whom you can build an offensive identity around. The Jets will have to do that given the state of their roster.
Rodgers to Wilson can be a special connection. It will have to be for the Jets to achieve their goals.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
The Lions are in a similar boat as the Jets but will be relying on even more young players. Two of their three top target-earners figure to be a rookie running back and tight end. Even if those guys are good players, there will be moments when they’re struggling to tread water with the pace of the NFL.
Detroit’s offensive roster construction leads you to believe they think their top offensive player can make a leap into the elite category in 2023. I understand their optimism. Amon-Ra St. Brown was an excellent zone-beating slot receiver as a rookie. Then he took a step against man coverage in his second season, especially in tight, confined areas. He doesn’t win downfield like many traditional No. 1 wide receivers but is near the peak of the power slot archetype.
I’ve been calling St. Brown "Bud Light Cooper Kupp" since before he was drafted by the Lions. Detroit will need something closer to the full-ABV version if they hope to achieve the lofty goals set out for them by the betting markets.