John Laghezza’s perfect eight-round ‘auto’ draft starting lineup kicks off in Atlanta

At this point in the summer, I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to podcasts while writing articles and drafting over 125 fantasy football teams. Any given year, a few players eventually rise to the top of my most-rostered list. We all have our guys. You know them — the ones we keep circled, the players we can’t get away from, who we’re even willing to reach for at times. Those special players we can’t wait to hoot and holler for, who can put an entire fantasy squad on their back and carry it to glory.

By late August, every big-shot fantasy analyst already has a “my guy” article out there, so I figured why not do it a little differently. Don’t be upset with a late draft choice, this year — I got you. Simply set this eight-player QB-2RB-2WR-TE-FLEX starting lineup into your auto-draft queue and go enjoy something cold.

Round 1 — Bijan Robinson, RB, ATL

Hitting on the top running back takes more than luck. We need a dual-threat talent supported by draft capital and set to take on maximum opportunities in the right system. You get every bit of that calculus with super-freak rookie RB Bijan Robinson. Running backs drafted in the Top 10 have historically gotten massive workloads and produced as fantasy RB1s. I’d be shocked if Robinson was treated any differently. I’m expecting Robinson, coming off a 267-touch, 20-TD season at Texas, to assume a centerpiece role in the league’s most prolific ground attack. I keep hearing the “But Tyler Allgeier had +1,000 rushing yards” argument as some kind of counter to Robinson’s potential, but I’d assert that’s a feature and not a bug. If that’s what the Falcons got from Allgeier, what can they expect from Robinson? Install a 215-pound apex predator into all down and distances behind a quality offensive line hellbent on running the ball and you have the ideal set of inputs. If Robinson stays healthy, we’re talking about parallel stat lines every week with a rational pathway to the top overall player in the game.

Round 2 — Garrett Wilson, WR, NYJ

Wilson’s case for the best second-round pick on the board has as much to do with the Jets’ putrid passing game as his own talent. In 2022, New York was dead last in Passer Rating (75.0) and Completion% (55.9), 31st in Passing TDs (15), and 30th in EPA/Dropback (-0.09). Despite an objectively terrible offense that was also 30th or worse in Points Per Game (16.8), Time Of Possession Per Drive (2:33), and 1st Downs Per Drive (1.5), Wilson excelled to the tune of 1,100 receiving yards. Now, the tides are turning for the QB play in New York. Quite literally emerging from the darkness is a Hall Of Fame quarterback, one with a brand new attitude and a propensity for hyper-targeting an alpha WR wearing No. 17. Wilson ranked 12th in the NFL last year with 19 red zone targets. Of course, only three were converted for scores so some regression was already on deck for Wilson before hooking him up with Aaron Rodgers. Preseason reports for the battery’s rapport couldn’t glow any brighter and I’m preparing for a Top 5 finish at the position for Wilson.

Round 3 — Lamar Jackson, QB, BAL

No point or topic was beaten more to death this draft season than the rising price and value of running quarterbacks. You don’t have to buy into it wholesale, but you do need to realize you’re playing with fire by ignoring it altogether. So why not get the best of both worlds? Draft the cheapest of the elite QBs who can still finish as the top-scoring overall player. Lamar Jackson has a ridiculous 42 TD, 415 fantasy point season (265/3127/36/6; 176/1276/7) on the ledger already. Oh, and besides Marquise Brown (who missed three games that year), that wide receiver room of Miles Boykin, Seth Roberts, Willie Snead, and Chris Moore had nowhere near the play-making ability of this year’s revamped WR corps. Basically, I’m telling you to draft the best player with the most talented surrounding cast and the brightest offensive mind at the helm of his career.

Round 4 — Christian Watson, WR, GB

We play to win the game. The best way to do that is to roster players who create separation (pun intended). Watson has all the traits — 96th percentile 40-yard time, 98th percentile speed score, 96th percentile burst score, and 97th percentile catch radius. It’s as if the drafting public has forgotten that Watson was a rookie last year and injuries prevented any semblance of regular play until Week 10. From that point on, however, Watson was fourth among all WRs in Yards Per Route (2.58), third in Team Air Yard% (40.3), and eighth in Red Zone Targets (11). Watson finished as a Top 10 WR three times in a four-week span last season and I think 2023 will bring a new level of consistency. He’s healthy and spent the offseason training and getting repetitions rather than rehabbing an injury, trying to get accustomed to game speed from the sideline. Camp reports regarding Jordan Love are glowing and, frankly, I think Watson has the profile to elevate a QB.

Round 5 — Darren Waller, TE, NYG

Waller’s the lone tight end oasis in a bone-dry desert of positional sadness. Unless you want to shell out a Top 25 pick for a TE (which I do not), the only legitimate option to compare with Travis Kelce on a per-game basis is Waller. Injuries have made people forget just how dominant this man can be. Not only does he have an absurd 107/1,196/9 season on the ledger, but his 4.43 40-time and 131.6-speed scores are both 100th percentile at the position (data per For reference, that same 2020 campaign I described above would’ve made him the No. 8 overall WR/TE last year. Already named a team captain, Waller’s going to compete for the lion’s share of targets for Big Blue. And if his preseason usage is any indication, there’s a Pro Bowl season in store. Waller ran a total of eight routes, was targeted on four of them and, best of all, half were out of the slot. You may hear summertime drafters hemming and hawing on podcasts over the rise in Waller’s price, and I’m telling you to ignore them.

Round 6 — Jordan Addison, WR, MIN

Addison earned a Biletnikoff Award with a 100-reception season at Pittsburgh before transferring to USC and eventually earning first-round draft capital as 22nd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Now he’s being installed into the ideal situation. Minnesota plays indoors, throws the ball nonstop because the defense is so poor, and just vacated maximum opportunities. Only two wide receivers ran more than 642 routes last year — Justin Jefferson and brand-new Carolina Panther Adam Thielen. Addison is running with the first team in practice and earning stellar reviews from head coach Kevin O’Connell all throughout camp. He projects to be the every-down WR2 for the Vikings with unlimited contingency upside. I truly believe it will be Addison, and not T.J. Hockenson. who immediately earns the majority of intermediate targets from Kirk Cousins this year.

Round 7 — Cam Akers, RB, LAR

Akers had sharp skeptics coming into last season off a pretty serious Achilles injury. His utilization throughout the early parts of the season was spotty, validating that hesitancy. In fact, Akers did not see a +50% snap share until Week 13. From that point on, Akers put in bell-cow work for an objectively bad football team with John Wolford and Baker Mayfield under center. The former second-round draft pick exploded down the stretch as a Top 5 RB in Touches (115), FAN PPG (17.9), Rushing Yards (512), and +100 Rushing Yard Games (3). Show a skill and you own it. Akers has Top 5 RB upside from the seventh round of your draft board.

Round 8 — Skyy Moore, WR, KC

Narrative time. Actually, I have a few of them in my back pocket so you can take your pick. First off, we have the fact rookies, (especially from smaller schools) rarely succeed within the complexity of Andy Reid’s offense in their first year. It’s something that’s been talked about for almost two decades at this point, occurring again last year. Then we have the significant capital spent on Moore when the Chiefs used the 53rd overall pick on him in the 2022 draft.

Of course, we can’t forget Moore gets to play with walk-in Hall of Fame QB Patrick Mahomes. Or that Kansas City vacated 101 targets at Moore’s position when veteran WR JuJu Smith-Schuster left for New England. JJSS led the Chiefs last year in slot routes (221), slot targets (39), slot receptions (29), and slot receiving yards (389), with Moore in line to take over that role. Andy Reid’s also been vocal the entire offseason regarding Moore’s growth. Said Reid, “I think he’s taken a good jump. Most of all, the quarterback trusts him. The quarterback’s not going to throw it to you if he doesn’t trust you.”

Without stretching our imagination whatsoever, we’re looking at a floor of 100 targets of the highest quality in the eighth round. Add in the potential for a ceiling case with maturation in the offensive system and you have a potential league winner.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @JohnLaghezza where I have a link pinned to my podcast with colleague Michael Salfino as well as inexpensive off-site ranks that also include formatted cheat sheets with a free downloadable .CSV.

(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

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