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Geno Smith’s Seahawks among six toughest offenses to rank in 2023

A mere four quarterbacks scored more fantasy football points than Seattle Seahawks surprise star Geno Smith last season, but one certainly would not glean this information from looking at early ESPN live draft results, or at the rankings and projections that so often influence them. Smith was hardly supposed to shine in his first season as starter since 2014, replacing Seahawks icon Russell Wilson, but then a funny thing happened. He sure did shine, certainly more than Wilson did with the Denver Broncos. Smith led the league in completion percentage, finished fourth in passing touchdowns and eighth in passing yards. Fantasy managers loved this in-season pickup.

It seems odd that Smith is going in the latter rounds of most early ESPN drafts, if he goes at all, as fantasy managers — and analysts, for that matter — struggle to define his actual value. Smith is a difficult player to rank. He barely played from 2015 through the 2022 season and then, voila, he becomes a star. Few would boldly expect an exact statistical repeat of his Pro Bowl season, but the opportunity remains there for success, as a skilled player who boasts significant talent around him. In fact, the Seahawks drafted several playmakers to aid Smith and the offense. The problem for fantasy managers is figuring out where they belong in fantasy drafts.

Welcome to the fantasy football offseason, as many of us prepare for months for the upcoming NFL season and aim to peg who does and does not deserve more or less fantasy love. While nobody would make a case to invest in Smith as a top-five quarterback again — ahead of the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and Chargers’ Justin Herbert, for example — it does feel as if he belongs somewhere in drafts, likely as a borderline starter. This is part of the reason why I patiently wait to secure a QB in 10- and even 12-team leagues. There are more than 12 statistically reliable quarterbacks for fantasy managers every season. Smith still feels like one of them.

Smith, 32, started to get on the fantasy radar against the Detroit Lions in Week 4 last season, when he threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, while running for another 49 yards and a score. That’s a cool 31.7 fantasy points. It seemed aberrant, but then he went on a run of seven consecutive games with two or more touchdown passes starting in Week 8, averaging more than 20 fantasy points per game in that span, securing his status as a stunning fantasy star. Smith stayed healthy and consistently productive for 17 games. Did your quarterback achieve this? Perhaps not, but then again fantasy football is about looking ahead, not back.

Whether Smith can represent a season similar to the past one affects not only his value, but that of WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, as well as second-year RB Kenneth Walker III. Then the Seahawks went and complicated things on draft day — in a good way for their team — by adding star Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba and UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet, each certainly skilled enough to force immediate inclusion into the offense, though it would certainly affect others. Perhaps Smith-Njigba will complement the outside receivers as a slot option. Perhaps Charbonnet, bigger and more versatile than Walker as a receiver, earns more touches. Who knows?

That’s the whole point for fantasy managers. Who knows for sure? For now, Smith feels like quite the bargain in the 13th round or later, and it’s possible he will get leapfrogged in drafts by rookies Anthony Richardson (Colts) and Bryce Young (Panthers), too, because, well, everyone loves the rookies. They’ve never failed. Few expect the 31-year-old breakouts to repeat. Metcalf seems secure as a WR2 regardless of how Smith plays, but Lockett might be surpassed by the rookie Smith-Njigba soon. Walker, barely utilized the first month of the season, handled a heavy workload the final month, and dealt with a sprained ankle. He will likely see fewer touches now.

Regardless, the Seattle offense finished ninth in scoring, with a top-five QB few expect to repeat his level of success and other intriguing fantasy stars, and now things are more crowded. Fantasy football managers seem befuddled. Covet them at your own indiscretion.

Five other offenses difficult to rank

Baltimore Ravens

Star QB Lamar Jackson was the best player in the land during his 2019 MVP campaign, but he has not finished among the top 10 fantasy scorers at his position in the three seasons since. Injuries have surely played a role, but one cannot help fantasy managers from the bench. Jackson might be a consensus top-50 pick, although that overlooks his durability concerns and inconsistent play last season. It is also not so simple for his playmakers. TE Mark Andrews statistically regressed last season, and while he might be the No. 2 TE on most fantasy draft boards, it might come far later than in 2022 drafts, with separation from Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce. Some view RB J.K. Dobbins as a clear RB2, but he barely catches passes, lessening his PPR impact. New WR Odell Beckham Jr. hasn’t performed well since 2019. While some assume a WR2 season is pending because, hey, it’s Odell Beckham Jr., others choose a more reasonable path and would not invest at all.

Indianapolis Colts

Anthony Richardson, the No. 4 pick from Florida, seems likely to get the starting nod right away, and fantasy managers dream of the next Lamar Jackson embarrassing overmatched defenses with his legs, and overlooking any faults as a passer. While it makes sense to invest in Richardson even in 10-team formats as a backup if you have a secure starter, some will assume the rookie is already a safe, reliable asset. Richardson versus Seattle’s Smith is actually a fascinating draft day choice, in some respects. Other Colts are seeing draft day indecision as well. RB Jonathan Taylor was the consensus top pick a year ago, but he struggled with health and inefficiency. He remains a first-round choice in many leagues, but not at the top, and he might fall to Round 2. WR Michael Pittman Jr. regressed in 2022 and will be viewed as a WR2 by some, and a WR4 by others.

Green Bay Packers

QB Jordan Love has waited years for his chance to replace future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, and the time is now. Few would invest in Love over Rodgers — and we cannot make the case here — but as with Smith and Richardson, how the quarterback performs certainly drives the value of the individuals around him. If only we knew in advance how things will go. Love will likely go undrafted in most ESPN standard leagues, but we are seeing young WR Christian Watson treated anywhere from a WR2 choice to a WR4 option. RB Aaron Jones has been at least a strong RB2 option for four consecutive seasons, but as with Watson and WR Romeo Doubs, an untested QB with mobility could improve the situation or hinder it.

Denver Broncos

Russell Wilson returns after a nightmare debut in Denver and with former Saints leader Sean Payton running the show and expected to fix everything. Many viewed Wilson as a QB1 in 2022 drafts, expecting excellent performance. Some of those investors will never go back again, though that is generally a mistake. Look forward, not back. Better coaching, offensive line play and wide receiver maturation and consistency should return Wilson to fantasy-relevance, but how much? He did close last season quite well, after most had moved on. Wilson is going in the range of Seattle’s Smith in drafts, which is to say not as a starter and rather late, if at all, but we know he is capable of more. Meanwhile, RB Javonte Williams is on the mend from an ACL tear, which might truncate his season and give journeyman Samaje Perine initial value, if not more. WRs Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton should be stars, but they need a productive Wilson.

Arizona Cardinals

Speaking of an injured star recovering from major injury, QB Kyler Murray tore his ACL months after Williams did, and expecting Murray to perform in September may be perilous. If the Cardinals struggle in the opening weeks, as expected, it could rearrange team priorities and delay Murray’s season even more, perhaps months. WR DeAndre Hopkins is gone, leaving Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore in an advantageous position, but perhaps not with journeyman Colt McCoy slinging the passes. RB James Conner, not the most durable fellow to begin with, can be viewed as an RB2 choice, or as someone to fade.

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