Fantasy football rankings: Eight players with surprisingly high ceilings


Each summer, I go through my PPR rankings and focus on players with explosive play juice and overall fantasy upside. We know about the Tier 1 players, such as Justin Jefferson, Christian McCaffrey, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and more. Fantasy stars. The Round 1 picks in your home leagues, right?

However, let’s go a little deeper, with an eye on some of my favorite players who have a higher fantasy ceiling than you might think. I’ll hit on multiple position groups here. Quarterbacks with top-five upside, along with two dual-threat running backs. Plus, we’ll look at the wide receivers with big play chops and a couple of tight ends who are still lying in the weeds based on their current projections.

So, let’s get into it. Here are the players on my “All-Ceiling” team, starting with Trevor Lawrence, who is primed for a breakout season in Jacksonville.


Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Playing in Doug Pederson’s system, one of the best schemes I studied on tape, Lawrence has top-five upside in 2023. He averaged 17.3 fantasy points per game last season, with four games of 20 or more points in the second half of the Jags’ schedule. He made a jump there. Plus, don’t forget about his mobility on scrambles or designed runs. Lawrence finished the year with 291 rushing yards and five TDs on the ground. He can attack the edges of the formation with his legs.

Remember, the Jags’ passing game could get a real bump with Calvin Ridley in the mix. He’s an explosive receiver and a refined route runner, and he gives Pederson another target — along with Christian Kirk and Evan Engram — who can be schemed up in quarterback-friendly concepts for Lawrence. Add that to Lawrence’s development last season, including his tightened mechanics, and the arrow is pointing up here. He should be in line for a potential breakout season.

Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

I see a realistic path for Fields to post a top-three finish at QB this season because of his rare dual-threat ability and a more prolific passing game in Chicago. Fields averaged 19.8 fantasy points per game, with two breakout games of 39 points or more. He led all quarterbacks with 1,143 yards rushing via designed carries and scrambles, many of which were explosive plays. Fields also logged 17 rushes of 15 yards or more (tied for third most in the league).

Now, will we see a boost in Fields’ passing totals this year? He topped the 200-yard mark just twice last season. The addition of wide receiver DJ Moore helps. He’s a physical catch-and-run target with ball carrier vision on middle-of-the-field throws, screens and under routes. We should expect Fields to see things better from the pocket in his second season with Matt Eberflus and Luke Getsy. The Bears’ play-action/bootleg game will put Fields in a position to attack voids in defensive schemes with more production as a dropback passer on tap.

Running Backs

Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

The Patriots brought in Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott for visits during camp, so we need to keep an eye on potential roster moves. However, if Stevenson remains the No. 1 back for New England, he has the ceiling to make a push to the midtier RB1 ranks. Stevenson’s downhill power jumps out on tape. He has light feet to work through the wash or make defenders miss and also has upside in the passing game. Stevenson checked in at 14.6 PPR points per game last season, rushing for over 1,000 yards and totaling 69 receptions — in a Patriots offense that lacked an identity.

Stevenson does need to see more low red zone work, as he posted just 12 carries last season inside the 5-yard line and had only three red zone rushing TDs. Bet on Stevenson’s talent in a new offense under Bill O’Brien, which will use running backs in the route tree. And with his dual-threat ability, give me Stevenson over Travis Etienne Jr., Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones when I’m on the clock.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions

Maybe Gibbs is a little too obvious here but not when we talk about his breakout potential and ceiling as a high-end RB2 this year. Gibbs has home run juice, as he posted 25 rushes of 10 yards or more at Alabama last season, along with six receptions of 20 yards or more. If he gets loose, he can erase pursuit angles in the open field.

Now, let’s look at his skill set, especially in the passing game, and project that to the Lions’ offense. Gibbs can run the entire pro route tree from backfield alignments, with the flexed splits outside the formation. That is clear in his college tape, and the matchup advantages will be there in the pros. Remember, he can press the edges as a runner behind Detroit’s offensive line and totaled 104 receptions in three college seasons. I’m in on Gibbs as an offensive playmaker in his rookie season.

Wide Receivers

Jahan Dotson, Washington Commanders

Dotson flashes the big-play ability, vertical separation speed and sudden movement traits to make a real jump in his second year. He logged 35 receptions for 523 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie last season and also posted seven games of double-digit PPR production, including four of his last five games played.

There is some concern with Dotson’s knowledge of the route tree (42.3% of the routes he ran as a rookie were verticals). It is hard to create consistent fantasy production on deep-ball throws, but if we see more targets on unders, pivots, crossers and speed outs this year, Dotson has the ability to produce after the catch. That’s why I’m in on him as a WR3 with upside this season.

Brandin Cooks, Dallas Cowboys

Cooks is very undervalued at this point in the summer. He sits at WR35 in my PPR rankings, and I’m probably still a little bit too low on him. Cooks had availability issues last season because of injury, and he is not a prolific red zone target. But let’s look at the upgraded Cowboys offense Cooks jumps into this season and his explosive ability on the perimeter.

Last year, in a subpar Texans offense, Cooks still managed to grab 57 receptions for 699 yards, with seven games of double-digit PPR production (13 games played). Now, put him in the Cowboys lineup, as the potential No. 2 target opposite of CeeDee Lamb, with Dak Prescott throwing the ball. We know Cooks will stretch defenses at the third level (35.2% vertical routes run last season), but I also believe he will be deployed as a midlevel option and on quicks and screens underneath. Given the team upgrade for Cooks, I see him as WR3/Flex who should log more than 100 targets in Dallas.

Tight Ends

Greg Dulcich, Denver Broncos

I’m going a little deeper with the tight end tiers, starting with Dulcich and evaluating his college tape at UCLA, plus the flashes we saw in his rookie season as a seam stretcher. Dulcich, who had a vertical route rate of 26.4% last season, posted double-digit PPR production in five of his 10 games played in a disjointed Broncos offense.

With new head coach Sean Payton now calling the plays in Denver, look for Dulcich to be aligned as a flexed tight end/power slot to work the seams, in addition to the middle-of-field targets, unders and red zone throws from Russell Wilson. And, if you wait on drafting tight ends (like I do) or play in deeper leagues, I see Dulcich as an upside play in a Broncos offense that should be much more efficient in the passing game this season. That could translate to low-end TE1 numbers for Dulcich.

Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans

When projecting Okonkwo, let’s focus on his final six games of last season. During that stretch, he caught 21 of 25 targets, with four games of 10 or more PPR points. He’s a really easy and fluid mover on tape, which does create matchup advantages against linebackers and safeties (from multiple alignments). With veteran tight end Austin Hooper out of the mix in Tennessee, Okonkwo enters camp as the clear No. 1 for the Titans.

Like Dulcich, you are playing the upside here with Okonkwo, in an offense that will use the tight end in the passing game. Look for heavy play-action opportunities with quarterback Ryan Tannehill to open second-level voids, plus the catch-and-run targets that cater to Okonkwo’s skills. That raises the fantasy ceiling for a player currently ranked as a midtier TE2.

Source : ESPN