Fantasy football: What 2023 stats mean for 2024 drafts, more

Why this fantasy football season might be more challenging than ever (1:48)

Tristan Cockcroft breaks down the ins and outs of the 2024 fantasy football season. (1:48)

Fantasy football is a numbers game.

That's not intended to simply state the obvious: the numbers themselves determine our teams' outcomes in weekly matchups or final standings. It refers every bit as much to the fact that numbers provide us insight into -- and often tell compelling tales about -- the players we select and the game as a whole. They even reveal critical information regarding our drafts and in-season roster decisions.

At the same time, numbers can mislead, as most statistical facts can be put in a context that supports a specific claim. We can examine the numbers in whatever way we wish; it's knowing these important facts that helps provide a path to whatever decision you wish to make regarding a player, team or the like. We'll give you the facts, but you should judge their relevance yourself.

As 2024 approaches, let's stroll through some of my favorite numbers, collected during my preseason research period. Take them for however you judge their worth: to help make close calls between similarly valued players, to get you started on your own research and draft preparations, to formulate your own bar bets, or even simply as "Well how about that?" trivia factoids to stump your friends.

Elite numbers

Tyreek Hill scored 25-plus PPR fantasy points in a game on nine occasions in 2023, each of them earning him a place among his position's top five scorers for the week. Hill is only the third wide receiver in history with at least that many 25-point games, joining Randy Moss (10, 2003; and 9, 2007) and Justin Jefferson (9, 2022), and he had three more top-five positional weekly finishes than any other wide receiver (CeeDee Lamb was next closest with six).

Puka Nacua set wide receiver records with his 46 receptions, 572 receiving yards and 115.6 PPR fantasy points through the first five games of his NFL career, four of which had Cooper Kupp absent. That said, Nacua scored 168.8 PPR fantasy points over the next 12 weeks, which ranked 10th best at his position, all of which were games in which Kupp played.

Over his first two NFL seasons, George Pickens has caught 43 passes on targets which had less than a 50% chance of completion, per NFL Next Gen Stats, tying Jefferson for the league lead.

Taysom Hill might have finished 2023 as fantasy's No. 12-scoring tight end, but make no mistake, his appeal in our circles is as the ultimate weekly dice roll. In the past two seasons, neither of which featured him making a start at quarterback, he had a combined 20 rushing attempts plus targets, resulting in eight touchdowns, in goal-to-go situations. Travis Kelce (26 and 11) was the only tight end with more of either.

Rookies by the numbers

Tank Dell's 165.0 PPR fantasy points were eighth best in history by a wide receiver through his first 10 career NFL games, a feat he accomplished with fellow rookie C.J. Stroud throwing him the football. Stroud scored 191.98 points in his first 10 career games, coinciding with Dell's, and they are the first quarterback-wide receiver pairing in history to score 150-plus points for the same team in their first 10 career contests.

Speaking of Stroud, he became only the eighth player in history to score 20-plus points in at least six games of his rookie campaign. Just as Stroud did (276.02), each of the previous seven scored at least 275 total points. If you're worried about any possible "sophomore slump," bear in mind that the previous seven averaged 15.4 games played and 292.45 fantasy points as rookies ... and 15.4 games played and 287.93 points as sophomores.

Over the final eight weeks of 2023, Jordan Love scored a quarterback-leading 168.50 fantasy points. That was good for a 21.1 per-game average, third best behind only Lamar Jackson's 24.7 and Josh Allen's 24.0.

Among the nine running backs -- excluding fullback Kyle Juszczyk -- who started at least 16 games last season, Bijan Robinson amassed easily the fewest rushing attempts and total touches per offensive snap played, averaging one per 5.1 and one per 4.0, respectively. His 10 goal-to-go rushing attempts, too, were worst among that group. It was entirely out of character with his college and draft prospect profile, as he averaged one carry per 2.43 and one touch per 2.19 offensive snaps played during his three-year career at Texas, and handled 20-plus carries in goal-to-go situations in each of his final two seasons there. Chalk it up to head-scratching management by former coach Arthur Smith, who is now in Pittsburgh as the Steelers' offensive coordinator, with Raheem Morris replacing him in Atlanta.

Brock Purdy had a 66.7 completion percentage on passes that traveled at least 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, easily the best in any of the 18 seasons for which that statistic has been tracked. His 13 touchdown passes on such vertical throws led the league and accounted for 38% of his fantasy production. Unfortunately for Purdy, this category has exhibited quite a bit of year-over-year fluctuation. The only quarterbacks to ever post consecutive seasons with at least a 50% completion rate and 10 passing touchdowns on vertical passes were Drew Brees (2008-09, 2011-13, 2018-19), Philip Rivers (2010-11) and Deshaun Watson (2019-20).

Before getting hurt last season, Anthony Richardson averaged 0.45 fantasy points per offensive snap played, easily the best rate by any starting quarterback in the league. To put that into perspective, the closest full-time quarterback in the category was Josh Allen, who averaged 0.36.

Dalton Kincaid settled nicely into a prominent role with the Buffalo Bills as a rookie, especially while Dawson Knox nursed a wrist injury around midseason. From Week 7 forward, Kincaid played on 65% of the team's offensive snaps, saw 75 targets and scored 121.5 PPR fantasy points, ninth best at the position.

Jalin Hyatt's 20.2 yard average depth of target was the second highest in any season of at least 40 targets, among the years for which we have that data (2006-23). He accrued 274 of his 373 receiving yards on throws that traveled at least 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Keaton Mitchell, still recovering from December surgery to repair a torn ACL, finished last season with 201 more actual than expected rushing yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats, fourth best among running backs. And he did it in only six games (he did not have a carry in his first two). To underscore his blazing raw speed, his 8.4 yards per carry was tops at his position (minimum 40 attempts), as was the fact that 44.7% of his attempts were clocked with him at a 15-plus mph maximum speed. Mitchell even had four runs clocked at a 20-plus mph maximum speed, behind only De'Von Achane and Breece Hall, who each had six.

We expected more ...

Stefon Diggs played all 17 games last season, but had the game's largest decline in fantasy production over the second half. He averaged 21.7 PPR fantasy points in the season's first nine weeks, but only 9.8 points over its final nine weeks, for an 11.9 point decline. Diggs scored fewer than 10 points in six of his final eight games.

Diontae Johnson snapped a 21-game streak without a receiving touchdown last season, which was remarkable as he averaged 5.2 receptions during the drought. Further underscoring the categorical flukiness, he has 25 scores in his other 56 career games.

Davante Adams is the only player in the league to have seen at least 20 red zone targets in each of the past three seasons. But here's where having the right quarterback can make all the difference: In 2021, his last season with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, he scored 10 touchdowns in those situations, matching his total red zone conversions from the past two season combined. In fact, Adams had 10-plus touchdowns on red zone throws in three of his final four years in Green Bay.

Running the numbers

Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts each set a new NFL record with their 15 rushing touchdowns last season. For Hurts, it was the third consecutive season in double digits in the category, matching Cam Newton for the most total years in double digits (Newton did it in 2011, 2015 and 2020), and extending his own status as the only quarterback in history to score 10 or more rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons.

To put Hurts' rushing dominance into perspective, he scored a position-best 142.5 fantasy points with his legs alone last season, giving him at least 130 fantasy points on rushing plays in each of the past three years. His 432.9 total rushing fantasy points from 2021 to '23 are 60% of the way to the total scored by running back Najee Harris, who started all 51 Pittsburgh Steelers games in that span.

Jim Harbaugh returns to the NFL as the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, which might spark concerns about quarterback Justin Herbert's productivity, considering Harbaugh will implement a run-heavy offense in 2024. Fantasy managers considering members of the Chargers' passing game should bear in mind that, when Harbaugh last coached in the NFL, from 2011 to '14 with the San Francisco 49ers, his teams attempted a rushing play 50.0% of the time, second most in the league over those four years, and had a 50%-plus such rate in three of those seasons. Granted, having the mobile Colin Kaepernick handling 63% of the quarterback snaps during that span influenced those numbers, but even extracting only running back rushing attempts, the 49ers' 1,569 during those four years was the ninth most in the NFL.

Harbaugh could squeeze some sneaky-good value out of his backfield, especially with Greg Roman as his offensive coordinator, the same role Roman occupied for the 2019-22 Baltimore Ravens teams that led the league in rushing twice while finishing at least third all four years. Two of Roman's former Ravens running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, are reunited with him in Los Angeles. Bear in mind that in eight games in which either absorbed at least one-third of the team's rushing attempts, Dobbins averaged 14.5 PPR fantasy points across all eight games, while Edwards averaged 12.4 across seven, for Roman's Ravens teams.

Najee Harris is one of two running backs to have played all 51 of his team's games the past three seasons (Ameer Abdullah is the other). Harris has 11 games of 20-plus PPR fantasy points, and he played at least 79% of the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive snaps in seven of them. Unfortunately, with Jaylen Warren's role on the rise, Harris played just 52% of the snaps during the final nine games of 2023, during which time he was held to fewer than 10 points four times.

In each of the past three seasons, Joe Mixon has scored at least 75 of his PPR fantasy points inside the red zone, the only running back who can claim that. It's a testament to his excellence in scoring position, as are his league-leading totals of 34 attempts and 17 touchdowns on goal-line carries.

Kyren Williams had at least 20 touches every game during Weeks 12-17 of last season, the only player with a streak that long in 2023. The next most recent player who could claim that within the course of a single season was Josh Jacobs (seven straight games in Weeks 9-15 of 2022).

Looking for more numbers? Check out the 2023 fantasy football scoring leaders or look ahead with our 2024 fantasy football projections and outlooks.