How Patrick Mahomes, Amon-Ra St. Brown and 9 other players will define the 2023 season

Each NFL season brings many different things to the table — particularly player-driven storylines. Some players are even the defining characters of the season, and that’s true in both fantasy and reality. Here are the 11 players who Matt Harmon believes will make a resounding and lasting impression in 2023.

The 49ers hand Brock Purdy the key to this Ferrari offensive completely. It remains to be seen if those keys are in the hands of a talented, stable driver, or rather in the hands of a rowdy teenager we all fear is going off the road.

Purdy’s run at the end of the 2022 season was quite inspiring, but it would hardly be the NFL’s first flash in the pan if he weren’t able to maintain that level of play.

Even on a crowded offense that’s more run-heavy, there’s enough efficiency for Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel to all be Smash players this year. This reality requires strong performance from the player under center. As intriguing as the experiment may seem, we don’t want to trespass on Sam Darnold’s territory.

Purdy’s performance will go a long way in defining the fantasy leagues — and the NFC playoff race.

The best player in the league will play a big part in telling the story of each season. That’s how it works.

As if the Chiefs didn’t ask enough of Mahomes, they have even more to lay on his shoulders as the season begins. We’ve learned that Travis Kelce’s status for Week 1 is in doubt (at least) after suffering a knee injury in training. If Kelce isn’t part of that offense, Mahomes needs more raises than usual.

Noah Gray would come into play in the Chiefs’ pass catcher position. The wide receiver room is already a scraped together unit, led by veteran boom/bust field stretcher Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sophomore breakout hopeful Skyy Moore. Kelce was the carpet that brought the room together.

The greatness of Mahomes is undeniable. If the Chiefs offense is to maintain its high level of performance, another year of the incumbent MVP is required.

The Seahawks acted like bandits in the Russell-Wilson trade, and Geno Smith was a major reason for that. Smith was rightly rewarded with a nice contract extension this offseason.

Now Seattle Smith will be asking for an encore and more. 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 best duos, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Charbonnet will start the season as a solid second to Kenneth Walker, who was one of the more explosive defenders in 2022.

While Pete Carroll certainly envisioned an improvement in defense compared to 2022, it’s likely an offensive side. Everything about Geno Smith’s game over the last year showed he has sustained skills that can be counted on. You will need it to reach this level of play.

It’s a new era in Baltimore. Gone are the heavyweight groupings and run-oriented methods of Greg Roman. That’s where Todd Monken comes in with what’s likely to be a snappy, sweeping, modern passing game.

It was high time for a change. While Roman’s offense might have been the right unit for Lamar Jackson to grow up in as a youth player, we needed to move on to something more advanced to get the Ravens out of the mud.

Monken’s vertical and splayed passing look will obviously help the Ravens improve as an air unit, but it could also help the running game. Getting another defender out of the box opens up avenues for defense and, perhaps more importantly, Jackson as a scrambler.

Everything is designed for Jackson to have a dominant season on an offense that better suits the modern game. While we all love that in theory, it will be a new assignment for the former MVP. It will require him to do things that we haven’t seen as a full-time player in the league. If he’s up to the challenge, the Ravens will be a major factor in the AFC playoff race.

The Falcons bet heavily on Bijan Robinson by picking him with the eighth overall pick. The running game was already good without him. Arthur Smith and company are banking on Robinson posing an explosive multi-dimensional threat in both phases.

Of course, we’ve heard a lot of this rhetoric about potential freshmen in the NFL. Oftentimes, this is just post-draft excitement. But if any coach can pull off a special talent like Robinson, it’s Smith. Arguably one of the best offensive designers out there, he knows how to use players creatively.

When Robinson hits and brings more big plays into this efficient ground play And If Atlanta influences offense as a receiver, he has the potential to cause a stir in the NFC playoff race.

Ja’Marr Chase may have the kind of season this year Justin Jefferson just enjoyed in 2022. A year in which a receiver is the dominant figure in his offense, leading the position in fantasy points and catapulting himself into the elite category – even if he’s already in that group.

-There is a little narration that Chase can’t have such a season because he has to compete with other players. While Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are good players, Chase is the clear alpha on this offense. According to Fantasy Points Data, Chase led the Bengals with a 37.3% share of first Bengal goals last year. Higgins was at 21.1% and Boyd was nowhere near there. Much of that came from a 13.4% designed target rate for Chase. The team knows needs getting the ball in the hands of his best playmaker.

The Bengals are already a good team, but if they can scrape more meat off the bone with Chase, they’ll be more dangerous. I just can’t help but think that at the end of this year we’ll look up and remember how the season saw Chase establish himself as something different.

The Jaguars picked Calvin Ridley because he fits perfectly with the 2022 offense deficits. It’s a vertical ISO receiver that consistently beats outdoor press and gamer coverage. Last year no one on the team did that. Ridley was one of the best last time we saw him play.

I’ve been talking all offseason about what an ideal marriage that is and how Ridley was a player on Stefon Diggs’ trajectory from 2018-2021. If he falls on that offense and can play the Diggs against Trevor Lawrence’s Josh Allen, the Jaguars can do more than just win an ill-fated AFC South. And Lawrence will engage in an MVP discussion.

I don’t think the equation is quite as simple as, “If Tua plays, the Dolphins’ offense will be as good as they started last year.” There needs to be some progression after this unit got stuck in the mud on the track Before Tua was lost for the year.

That only increases its place on this list.

Tua can become one of the defining players of the 2023 NFL season not only by staying healthy and playing well, but by taking another leap as a player. If he catapults himself into the premier league of quarterbacks, that offense will create a massive problem for opponents and result in a more consistent wire-to-wire.

Much of the digital ink about the Browns is spilled over their quarterback. And yet it’s likely that this team will act like Nick Chubb.

Chubb is one of the best rushers in the league and a dynamic force. A full 15.6% of his carries were for 10 yards last year, the highest rate among the top 30 rushing yard leaders. He’s a consistent and fantastic player who’s a great grinderback while also being a real field flip runner.

Chubb should be considered the favorite to lead the NFL in rush yards in 2023. If Deshaun Watson gets back on his feet, it’s likely because Chubb made his life easier. They can also argue that if Cleveland adjusts offense to space things out to complement Watson’s style, it will clear the gameplay for Chubb, much like the discussion with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

If you look at the Jets’ offensive roster, they only have one above-average starter other than Aaron Rodgers, who’s entering the year without an injury question. That player would be Garrett Wilson and luckily for the Jets there isn’t a more obvious candidate in the entire league ready to join the superstar club.

Wilson proved to be an excellent separator, dominating off the line of scrimmage and a dangerous player in open field. He’s a jack of all trades threat to build an offensive identity around. The Jets will have to do so given the state of their roster.

Rodgers and Wilson can be a special bond. It has to be that the jets reach their destinations.

The Lions are in a similar boat to the Jets but will be looking for even more young players. Two of their top three target earners appear to be rookie running backs and tight ends. Even if these guys are good players, there will be moments when they struggle to keep up with the NFL’s pace.

The build-up to Detroit’s offensive roster suggests their top offensive player can make the leap into the elite category in 2023. I understand your optimism. Amon-Ra St. Brown was a superb zone-hitting slot receiver as a rookie. He then made a move against man coverage in his sophomore season, particularly in tight, confined areas. He doesn’t win downfield like many traditional wide receiver #1s, but he’s near the top of the power slot archetype.

I’ve been calling St. Brown “Bud Light Cooper Kupp” before he was drafted by the Lions. Detroit will need something closer to the full ABV version if they hope to hit the lofty goals set for them by the betting markets.

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