Now that we’re deep into mock draft season and firmly into the draft prep era, it’s an apt time as ever to share an article diving deeper into my twitter namesake. This is one I’ve long thought about, and frequently discussed with those in the community both publicly and behind closed doors.
In preparation for the 2023/24 season, the typical exercises involve looking at last season’s best fantasy assets via your stat selection(s) of choice, checking out new transfers, making team and player projections, and likely doing one or twenty mock drafts.
This is all worthwhile, but it’s important to consider your personal managerial style as well. Think of your team management as a financial portfolio starting on draft day, and ask yourself a few questions:
- How active do I plan on being?
- What does my evaluation timeline look like?
- Do I prefer long-term consistency or high-potential?
It’s reasonable that you’d answer differently if it was your hard-earned money vs an imaginary roster of Premier League players. Nonetheless, figuring out your risk-appetite as a manager will give you a fantastic foundation to build upon in tandem with your additional data and opinion-driven research.
As you already may know, I have a relatively high appetite for risk. I view the draft as my best chance to nail as many weekly studs as possible. I want players who are studs in any neutral to positive matchup. I don’t have interest in drafting players to fill roster spots, and I will often refer to these players as “boat anchors.” The “boat anchor” archetype usually comes in the form of a defensive-minded midfielder, a stay-at-home defender, or a chronically impotent attacker. For some reason these players give drafters lots of comfort, because they play lots of minutes and/or score 5 or 6 points each week.
Managers who draft these players are not taking into account the heavily-weighted importance of the waiver wire in the early stages of the season. Think of the first 5 weeks as your chance to refine your draft. In the 2022/23 season alone, here are few candidates who were all scooped up within the first month:
- Solly March
- Kaoru Mitoma
- Miguel Almiron
- Alexis MacAllister
- Alex Iwobi
- Pervis Estupinan
- Kenny Tete
This list doesn’t even include summer deadline transfers, or the unfortunate, hasty drops such as Morgan Gibbs-White, Luke Shaw, or Andreas Pereira – all players who made it difficult on managers early in the season. Shortly put, there’s an inverse relationship between drafting boat anchors and having early-season waiver wire success; this false sense of security can slowly lock managers into a season wrought with posthumous regret.
Alright, that’s my spiel.
For my next trick, I’m going to draft a full team of what I consider to be exclusively upside players. I’ve been given pick #5 thanks to www.random.org and will allow myself to pick any player at or after the ADP (at the time of writing) of my current pick. Let’s get into it!
Pick 5: Bukayo Saka (ARS) - Midfielder
This one is an auto-pick for me, and this year I can understand the willingness of managers to look at spots 3-5 similarly to 1 and 2. Like I said in our newsletter’s 1st Round Mock Draft Analysis, Saka fits the mold of everything we look for in a weekly stud. He gets plenty of touch-volume, has the pace to beat anybody 1v1, will easily score double digit goals and assists, takes penalties & the odd set piece, and even gathers defensive stats – all at just 21 years old! He’s an ascending player on a team that scored the 2nd most fantasy points only to Manchester City last year, and one that I believe will be in the running next year as a top-2 pick.
Next in the queue: Trent-Alexander Arnold
Pick 20: Alexander Isak (NEW) - Forward
Also a top-12 candidate for this year in the newsletter article, I see Alexander Isak as a set-and-forget FWD1. At only 23 years old, he’s got 10 Premier League goals to his name, and should find himself in the starting lineup on a weekly basis barring injury. He’s only 0.2 PP90 behind Harry Kane on the season, in an offense where he was flanked for much of it by Jacob Murphy and company. This may be in the hot-take category, but he certainly shouldn’t make it past the middle of round 2.
Next in the queue: Darwin Nunez
Pick 29: Lucas Paqueta (WHU) - Midfielder
In his debut season with West Ham, Paqueta was able to put up a solid 11.2 Pp90 – good for second best on his team only behind Benrahma. This is an impressive feat when you consider how much West Ham disappointed in 2022/23 after finishing 7th in 2021/22. Given that Paqueta transferred after the start of last season and suffered from shoulder issues for much of the year, it’s likely we see him improve in his second season. One of the most underrated portions of Paqueta’s game is actually his ability to play box-to-box; he paced West Ham in tackles won (53) – 15 more than Declan Rice had in 9 less starts! He’s one of the few players on this list that will provide a rock-solid floor, and projects to have a higher ceiling in 2023.
Next in the queue: Reece James
Pick 44: Raheem Sterling (CHE) - Forward
The market seems to be slowly warming back up to Chelsea players this year, as Sterling was going in the 5th round not too long ago. I am personally throwing Chelsea’s prior season away, the worst season they’ve ever had in the Premier league. They have major bounce-back potential under a new, competent manager. Sterling has a fairly straightforward path into the starting XI, as the only player with proven production in the Premier League. Managers this year are quick to forget his prior 5 seasons with double digit goals, which rightly earned him a 2nd round status last year. He doesn’t need to replicate that production as a 4th round pick, but an injury ridden season in a mediocre system doesn’t paint the picture for Sterling this season.
Next in the queue: Joelinton
Pick 53: Said Benrahma (WHU) - Midfielder
Ok, I get it. How can a team with “upside” contain two midfielders from West Ham? Well for starters, he finished with a higher average WAR than either Bowen or Paqueta (courtesy of https://overthinkingfootball.com). The main issue for most drafters with him is his lack of consistency in the starting lineup. If we knew right now that Benrahma was starting 32+ games this year, he’d warrant at least a 3rd round pick. He generated the most shots on target (3 more than Bowen had in 14 less starts), finished top 20 in shot creating actions, and even took penalties. There’s a lot to like and you’re betting on talent coming through for you here. It may not be the most attractive “stack” to managers, but it’s one that could very well pay off big time.
Next in the queue: Ben Chilwell
Pick 68: Alex Moreno (AVL) - Defender
Alex Moreno only had 14 starts this year, after coming in during the January window. But don’t let this lack of data scare you away, he projects to be the clear starter this year in a much improved Aston Villa squad. Moreno finished with the 3rd highest Pp90 of all defenders with at least 10 starts at 10.76. Now add in fellow Spaniard Pau Torres to bolster the back line and a full preseason, and we are looking at a player who should finish as a top 5 defender health-permitting.
Next in the queue: Jadon Sancho
Pick 77: Mykhailo Mudryk (CHE) - Midfielder
One of the most disappointing January transfers here, and I’m not surprised he’s falling this far – following a season with next to no fantasy production. His 9 Pp90 was unimpressive to say the least, but he’s shown a few glimpses of why he demanded such a large transfer fee at only 22 years old. I believe he just needs more time under a proper manager, and if Nkunku and/or Jackson are able to get this offense out of its funk, Mudryk could be one of the best values at ADP this season. He’s a pick that could certainly just be a falling knife, but the idea of a bounce-back Chelsea stack this season is too much to pass up.
Next in the queue: Evan Ferguson
Pick 92: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (EVE) - Forward
At this point you’ve gotta wonder what it’s gonna take for DCL to go undrafted one of these years. The real frustration with him isn’t even the fact that he’s only started 30 of Everton’s last 75 matches; his lack of a clear injury timeline has really hamstrung (I couldn’t resist) managers’ ability to make an educated drop or keep decision. But, if DCL can start 25+ matches in 2023/24, you have the late-round forward punt that dreams are made of. His aerial presence fits Dyche’s play style to a tee, and there’s no reason a healthy DCL can’t finish top 12 at the forward position. If he ends up getting seriously hurt again I’m willing to just cut bait and move on with another waiver wire option at this price tag.
Next in the queue: Wilfried Zaha
Pick 101: Harry Wilson (FUL) - Midfielder
I can still remember drafting Harry Wilson last year, only to hear twitter rumors 1 week later that he suffered a devastating knee injury. Luckily I’m not the type of manager to hold player grudges, because I think he’s excellent value this year at his ADP, hence my slight reach here. This is where the midfield pool begins to dry up in my opinion, and as Fulham’s creative midfield options dry up via transfers and injury, it seems like Harry Wilson is the only answer. If Mitrovic ends up leaving for Saudi Arabia this season it would definitely hurt Wilson’s set piece upside (which he looks to have secured), but it could also open the door for Fulham to move away from a service-centric offense.
Next in the queue: Carlton Morris
Pick 116: Iyenoma Destiny Udogie (TOT) - Defender
It’s round 10 and you still have a chance at a starting wingback in what should be a top 8 team, if not better. His ability to go forward and his youth are two reasons why I think he could be a steal at ADP. Spurs don’t have a left-back with his size, speed, and skill, and that should be enough to see him win the job over Perisic or Sessegnon. I’m getting a 6 round discount when I take Udogie vs Porro this year, and that’s just too cheap to pass up for the potential boom case Udogie provides.
Next in the queue: Michael Keane
Pick 125: Nicolas Jackson (CHE) - Forward
I swear I’m a Liverpool supporter, but if I’m just going to get Chelsea players at 20% off this year my allegiances can only go so far. 12 goals and 4 assists in 16 starts for Villareal, and he’s the only viable #9 Chelsea healthy for the start of the season. There is near-guaranteed opportunity with Chelsea’s lack of depth up top. If his size and talent translates to the Premier League we could see him bag double digit goals given the surrounding talent he has in Nkunku, Sterling, Mudryk, and Madueke.
Next in the queue: Pedro Neto
Pick 140: Lewis Hall (CHE) - Defender
The 18 year old scored 10.63 Pp90 in his 9 games played last season. While I still think Chilwell is more talented and is the sure-starter, he hasn’t been the picture of health in recent seasons. If he were to miss time, Lewis Hall (now a Fantrax defender) could command at least double digit FAAB bids if he’s the starter. Cucurella had a rough first season, and it looks like Hall has leapfrogged him in the pecking order. You definitely have to tell yourself a story where Hall becomes the starter, but if he falls into the role you could have yourself one of the most desirable waiver options for free.
Next in the queue: Ian Maatsen
Pick 149: Anass Zaroury (BUR) - Forward
The Moroccan winger finished with 7 goals and 5 assists in the Championship and will likely find himself in the starting XI most games this season. You never know what you’ll get from promoted players, but it’s worth taking a swing or two to see if you struck gold. From the little I’ve watched, he’s dangerous enough to get amongst the goals if this Burnley squad ends up hitting the ground running, so he’s well worth a punt in the 13th round.
Next in the queue: Yoanne Wissa
Pick 164: Emerson Royal (TOT) - Defender
This one’s likely going to be a week 1 throwaway, but I could see him getting starting minutes if Ange determines Porro isn’t defensive enough to play in this hybrid role he’s placed on the wingbacks. Ideally I don’t want to stack Tottenham defenders because they don’t project to be the strongest back 4 (or whatever you want to call it), but Porro’s job is anything but secured. We saw Emerson take over after a few poor performances from him last season, and if it happens again you’ve got a solid DEF2 on your squad while it lasts.
Next in the queue: Cole Palmer
Pick 173: Mikkel Damsgaard (BRE) - Midfielder
He’s certainly no guarantee for starts or minutes, but when you look for who could be the late-round punt of the season he at least loosely fits the mold. He’s got a similar non-penalty xG+xA to Kevin Schade on a per 90 minute basis (according to fbref.com), should be able to get a decent share of service set-pieces & corners, in a team starved of a creative midfield option. In the absence of Toney, it’s likely that multiple players will need to step up to fill the void. We’ve seen flashes of talent from him as well, so this one is a bet on increased opportunity after lots of managers were let down in 2022/23.
Next in the queue: David Brooks
Pick 188: Kepa Arrizabalaga (CHE) - Goalkeeper
I don’t want to get too in the weeds, this is the least important pick you’ll make this year. But Chelsea in theory have a pretty decent schedule in their first 8 games, and project to be an improved defense with their wingbacks “healthy” to start the year. There are some minor CB concerns with Fofana out for the season and Badiashile out for the beginning, but I like betting the team’s defense to improve with a new manager in Pochettino.
Next in the queue: Jose Sa
Before any final thoughts, here’s the final team in a 3-5-2 formation:
I went heavy at the forward position with 5 in total. With Sterling and Isak as my locked-in starters, I only need 1 of these 3 lottery-ticket forwards to pan out for me. I will likely drop 1 or 2 of them early in the season for a chance at the waiver wire if they fail to start, get injured, or just look mediocre.
A lot of people like to go with a forward in the first round, but because I’m higher on guys like Isak and Sterling I felt safe going with the highest upside midfielder in the 1st round in Bukayo Saka. Since I am predicting positive team regression from West Ham and Chelsea it’s only appropriate to complete stacks for both of them. Benrahma frustrated managers with his lack of stability in the starting XI, and the wounds that Mudryk gave FAAB-spenders are still fresh – I’m taking advantage of those factors. Taking advantage of recency biases like these is an ageless strategy to getting a draft-day steal.
At defender I typically don’t invest too much on draft day unless there’s a screaming value, since they typically fall off quickly after the top 3-5 players on the board. Alex Moreno is one of those values to me that I’ve seen falling down the draft board due to lack of data/playing time. Beyond this, I bet on short term chaos.
All in all, this squad doesn’t scare me nearly as much as I thought it would. There was always the expectation that I’d end up dropping 3-4 players come GW1, as explained earlier. Objectively, drafting from these middle picks in this simulation format may be the most difficult; in reality, many upside targets would slide at least a few picks past ADP to me. Though I wouldn’t draft exactly like this come draft day, it serves as a great example of the archetypes of players I view as risks worth taking in 2023/24 at a draft near you.