NFL fantasy football 2023 awards: Season recap, key stats and look ahead to 2024

Why Jonathan Taylor should return to elite form in 2024 (0:35)

Matt Bowen explains why Colts RB Jonathan Taylor should be a top fantasy running back next season. (0:35)

The 2023 fantasy football season was filled with ups and down, with some players stepping up and others failing to live up to the preseason hype.

So who earned the fantasy awards this season? And which players received "A" and "F" grades?

Matt Bowen and Tristan H. Cockcroft offer their analysis, and Seth Walder provides his grades.

2023 fantasy awards

Fantasy MVP: Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Though a calf issue -- not to mention the team's having already clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed -- kept him out of Week 18, McCaffrey finished third overall on the fantasy leaderboard for the season, scoring 391.3 PPR fantasy points. His 100.8 point advantage over the No. 2 back, Breece Hall, was the third-largest "victory margin" for a running back all time, trailing only his own 156.4 margin in 2019 and Emmitt Smith's 110.6 in 1995. McCaffrey managed a top-seven positional weekly finish a league-leading 12 times, and a top-21 finish in each of his 16 healthy games (he is the only skill-position player who could claim that), and he was by far the player found on the largest number of ESPN finalists' teams (58.9% of leagues). He remains the best all-around force at his position, at least when healthy.

Others considered: Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins. -- Cockcroft

Rookie of the year: Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions

With apologies to C.J. Stroud, De'Von Achane and Jahmyr Gibbs, this award was a razor-thin, two-man race. Why LaPorta? Simple: His 239.3 PPR fantasy points were the most in history by a rookie tight end, breaking Mike Ditka's previous mark of 235.6 in 1961 (two years before the earliest-reported fantasy football league), and he became the first rookie to lead tight ends in scoring since Keith Jackson in 1988. LaPorta was also the rookie most commonly found on both ESPN playoff (60.4% of leagues) and finalist (37.6%) rosters.

Others considered: Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams. -- Cockcroft

Biggest disappointment: Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

Drafted as the RB3 in ESPN leagues, Ekeler's play speed and production declined this year in a Chargers offense that drastically underperformed. He averaged just 13.2 PPG (RB18) while scoring fewer than 10 points in five of his final eight games. It's a big drop-off after Ekeler finished as the RB1 in 2022, with 372.7 points.

Others considered: Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys. -- Bowen

Waiver-wire wonder: Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams

An almost completely undrafted player in ESPN leagues -- 91 wide receivers were selected in a greater percentage of fantasy drafts than his 1.6% during the preseason -- Nacua scored the most PPR fantasy points of any player selected later than 180th overall in drafts (298.5).

Others considered: Kyren Williams, RB, Los Angeles Rams; Baker Mayfield, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans. -- Cockcroft

Breakout of the year: Kyren Williams, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Williams finished second among running backs with 21.1 PPG while producing 15 total touchdowns in 12 games. A very decisive and instinctual runner who can handle heavy volume in Sean McVay's system, Williams is a top-three back in 2024.

Others considered: Nico Collins, WR, Houston Texans; Trey McBride, TE, Arizona Cardinals; Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. -- Bowen

Value pick of the year: Raheem Mostert, RB, Miami Dolphins

With an average ADP of RB37, Mostert led the NFL with 21 total touchdowns (18 rushing) and finished as fantasy's RB5 with 267.7 points. At age 31, Mostert still displays his explosive traits as a runner. He can go. And head coach Mike McDaniel set him up in scoring position, as Mostert's 18 red zone touchdown runs tied for the league lead with McCaffrey.

Others considered: Jordan Love, QB, Green Bay Packers; Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers; Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. --Bowen

Best single-game performance: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals, 52.2 PPR fantasy points, Week 5 at the Arizona Cardinals

Next-closest scores: Amari Cooper, WR, Cleveland Browns, 51.5 points in Week 16; De'Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins, 51.3 points in Week 3.

Surprise performance: De'Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins, 51.3 PPR fantasy points against the Denver Broncos in Week 3

Drafted in only 28% of ESPN leagues during the preseason, Achane totaled two touches and 1.9 PPR fantasy points in Week 2 after sitting out the opener, drawing an RB48 ranking entering Week 3. He then played a huge part in the team's 70-20 manhandling of the Broncos, his first of what would be five 20-plus-point performances in his final nine healthy games.

Others considered: Noah Brown, WR, Houston Texans, 27.1 points in Week 9; Sam Howell, QB, Washington Commanders, 30.98 points in Week 8. -- Cockcroft

Comeback player of the year: Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets

Hall tore his ACL in Week 7 of the 2022 season, yet he still finished as RB2 in scoring this year. Think about that. Pretty impressive there. A home run hitter who also caught 76 passes, Hall produced seven games with 20 or more points, including the 43.1 he dropped on Washington in Week 16.

Others considered: Baker Mayfield, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. -- Bowen

Fantasy playoffs MVP: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Lamb put on a receiving clinic during the fantasy playoffs, averaging 29.9 PPG from Weeks 15 to 18 while producing 35 or more points in each of his final two games. To put it in perspective, Lamb caught 39 of 47 targets for 496 yards during the playoffs, with a touchdown reception in three of four games. He was the best player on the field.

Others considered: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions. --Bowen

Stack of the year: Dak Prescott, QB, and CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

They became only the fifth quarterback-wide receiver combination from the same team to each score 340-plus PPR fantasy points, joining the 1994 49ers' Steve Young and Jerry Rice; 2007 New England Patriots' Tom Brady and Randy Moss; 2011 Lions' Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson; and 2020 Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Additionally, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings all had both a quarterback selected sooner than Prescott and a wide receiver selected sooner than Lamb on average during the preseason. -- Cockcroft

In retrospect: hits, misses and sleepers

Bowen's 'hit': Jayden Reed, WR, Green Bay Packers

I watched Reed down at the Senior Bowl workouts last January, and you could see his dynamic ability on the field. He jumped into my weekly streamers column early this season, and he quickly found his way onto fantasy rosters. Reed scored 10 total touchdowns in his rookie year while logging 15 or more fantasy points in eight games. The arrow is pointing up here.

Cockcroft's 'hit': Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams

One of my eight preseason deep sleepers -- though, in retrospect, I wish any of the other seven did much of anything -- Nacua was also a $1 acquisition of mine in a six-league, 10-teams-per-league, keeper promotion/relegation format, one of only 32 players selected across only one of those six leagues. Sadly, that team wound up as the first team out in the playoff race, but Nacua, whose 298.5 PPR fantasy points were third most among rookie wide receivers in history, behind only Randy Moss' 306.7 (1998) and Ja'Marr Chase's 304.6 (2021), should be a fantasy star for years to come.

Bowen's 'miss': Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

I rostered Jones in multiple leagues because of his anticipated rushing volume, plus his dual-threat ability as an underneath outlet for new starting quarterback Jordan Love. After logging 26.7 points in Week 1, however, Jones missed seven games because of injuries and exceeded 15 points in just three games. That hurt.

Cockcroft's 'miss': Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

I had him as QB8 entering the season, and despite the barrage of injuries at the position -- of which he dealt with his share -- he finished just 12th in quarterback scoring. Seven of Lawrence's 16 games resulted in fewer than 15 fantasy points.

Bowen's 2024 sleeper: Roschon Johnson, RB, Chicago Bears

Playing in a backfield rotation in Chicago, Johnson produced 561 total yards in his rookie year. He's a north/south hammer in the run game, with the receiving skills and ability in pass protection to play a three-down role. If Justin Fields is back in Chicago next season, Johnson has the profile to emerge in this offensive system as the team's No. 1 back.

Cockcroft's 2024 sleeper: Marvin Mims Jr., WR, Denver Broncos

Mims couldn't break through on a roster led by Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, who both are again under contract for 2024. Yet despite his limited role, he entered Week 18 sixth in yards per target (11.4), 13th in average depth of target (14.9 yards) and 20th in percentage of catches that went for 20-plus yards (27%) among receivers with at least 200 routes run. If either of those wideouts gets moved during the offseason, and/or the Broncos bring in a proven quarterback (Kirk Cousins, anyone?), Mims could be in line for a major breakthrough.

Cockcroft's observations, takeaways and stats

  • On quarterback injuries: If you thought this season was brutal on the quarterback position as far as injuries, you're not wrong. The top 20 in average draft position (ADP) this season totaled 252 games played, the second fewest by the top 20 in ADP in any season this century behind only 2006, spanning all years for which we have such data available (2000-23). Remember, the schedule is now 17 games long, whereas from 2000 to '20 it was 16 games.

  • More QB durability: Taking that a step further, the top four quarterbacks in ADP this season -- Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson -- all played in each of their teams' first 16 games, with Allen and Hurts playing all 17. By contrast, the Nos. 5-20 quarterbacks in ADP totaled 186 games -- that's 11.6 per quarterback -- the fewest by those selected in those spots in any season this century.

  • Tony Pollard's disappointing season: His miserable performance near the goal line had a lot to do with it. On 26 carries in goal-to-go situations, Pollard scored a touchdown only four times, for a 15.4% conversion rate. Since 2000, only Matt Forte (9.1%, 3-for-33 in 2009), Willis McGahee (12.5%, 4-for-32 in 2005), Cedric Benson (14.3%, 4-for-28 in 2011) and Nick Chubb (14.3%, 4-for-28 in 2019) had a worse percentage in those situations (minimum 25 attempts).

  • 'Mr. Irrelevant' no more: Brock Purdy's 295.60 fantasy points were fifth best in history by any quarterback either selected 262nd overall or later or completely undrafted, trailing only Jeff Garcia's 340.52 in 2000, Warren Moon's 327.06 in 1990, Kurt Warner's 319.32 in 1999 and Garcia's 296.92 in 2001.

  • What a year for rookies: A record nine different rookies scored 200-plus PPR fantasy points, exceeding the previous mark of seven, set in 2020.

  • Josh Allen's dominance: Allen became only the second player in NFL history (Marshall Faulk), and first quarterback, to score at least 360 fantasy points in four consecutive seasons.

  • Was Travis Kelce really a disappointment? His fantasy-playoffs swoon was a big talking point, but Kelce nevertheless finished with 219.4 PPR fantasy points, third best at his position. It was his eighth consecutive season with at least 200 points, a record for a tight end.

Bowen's eight players who impressed him most this season

  • Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins: The scariest offensive player to face since Randy Moss, Hill logged 30 or more points in five games. And Hill did that in a system under Mike McDaniel that maximized his explosive traits with motion, formation and matchups.

  • Jordan Love, QB, Green Bay Packers: Love, who averaged 18.8 PPG (QB5), has the arm talent and mobility to produce numbers. We know that. But let's not forget about his field vision in Matt LaFleur's system. Love sees it fast, reading the late coverage rotation to find his targets.

  • Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Detroit Lions: An offensive playmaker in Detroit's offense, Gibbs scored 16.1 PPG (RB6). His dual-threat ability jumps, and I thought Gibbs played at a different speed on the tape. He's a rapid accelerator.

  • Jake Ferguson, TE, Dallas Cowboys: An ascending player, Ferguson posted top-10 tight end numbers as a multilevel target for quarterback Dak Prescott. He stretches the seams, finds open turf as an underneath outlet and produces after the catch. Ferguson is a competitive, rugged mover with the ball in his hands, and he played a defined role in Dallas this season.

  • Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens: An easy fit in Todd Monken's offense, Flowers recorded 19 or more points in four of his final five games. He's a dynamic player, with inside/outside alignment flex, and the Ravens set him up on manufactured touches, too. It's about talent and scheme here.

  • C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans: A natural passer who plays with incredible poise in the pocket, Stroud averaged 18.4 PPG (QB7) in his rookie season. And let's give credit to Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, as he put Stroud in positive positions to target the second and third level of the field.

  • Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The veteran reminded us he's still one of the prototype boundary X receivers in the league. Evans, who finished seventh at his position in fantasy scoring, stretched defenses vertically while also working the intermediate voids and producing in the red zone.

  • Jaylen Warren, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Playing in a rotational role with Najee Harris in Pittsburgh, Warren posted 1,154 total yards, logging double-digit fantasy points in 10 games. When I turn on the tape, it's the play speed and versatility that stands out with Warren. He brings some juice to the Steelers' offense.

Who earned an 'A' this this season?

Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears

As we have all year, we're focusing on players who have performed extremely well (or extremely poorly!) regardless of whether they literally score fantasy points themselves. And Johnson epitomizes that: Players who faced Johnson struggled to put up major yardage totals all year long. Entering Week 18, Johnson allowed a mere 0.6 yards per coverage snap as the nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats -- the lowest rate for any outside corner with at least 250 coverage snaps by a healthy margin and less than half the average for the position. -- Walder

De'Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins

Forgive the obvious selection, but Achane's production, even his advanced production, was off the charts. The Dolphins running back produced 2.9 rushing yards over expectation per carry, per NFL Next Gen Stats, entering Week 18. In other words: Every time he received a carry, Achane earned an average of almost 3 yards over expectation based on the positioning and movement of every player at the time of the handoff. For context, Christian McCaffrey averaged 1.3 rush yards over expectation per carry, the next highest among RBs with at least 50 carries. -- Walder

Micah Parsons, Edge, Dallas Cowboys

I don't know if he'll win Defensive Player of the Year, but Micah Parsons deserves a serious shoutout for the incredible disruption he caused in 2023. Entering Week 18, Parsons had recorded a 37% pass rush win rate that, if he holds that number, would break the all time record for the metric (dating back to 2017). -- Walder


Who earned an 'F' this season?

Marco Wilson, Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots

Wilson was one of the friendliest corners to opposing wideouts, allowing 702 yards on 304 coverage snaps. That averages to 2.3 yards per coverage snap -- the highest by any outside corner with at least 250 coverage snaps. One play that stood out: a 40-yard touchdown by Tank Dell when he pulled a double-move on Wilson to get free and score in Week 11. Wilson was cut by the Cardinals in December and then signed by the Patriots. -- Walder

Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

When Jacobs had his huge 2022 season, it wasn't just volume. He produced 158 rushing yards over expectation, too, which put him in the top five among running backs. This season was a completely different story: Jacobs recorded negative-86, which put him in the bottom 10. While some backs with poor efficiency bailed out their fantasy managers with touchdowns, Jacobs had only six. -- Walder

Allen Lazard, WR, New York Jets

Lazard's mess of a 2023 season wasn't just a result of Aaron Rodgers' injury. Lazard didn't play well at all, either. In addition to recording just 311 receiving yards, he ranked last among all players in ESPN's receiver tracking metrics overall score entering Week 18. He had below-average scores in all three facets: open score, catch score and YAC score. Lazard was a healthy scratch in Week 18. -- Walder