AFC East 2023 fantasy football preview: Top draft day targets and deep sleepers

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New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) puts on his helmet before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)

The AFC East profiles as one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, which is what we want for fantasy football since there’s lots of talent spread throughout.

We’re going to break down the fantasy outlooks at each position for the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and New England Patriots followed by a list of top draft day targets and deep sleepers.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills should once again have elite quarterback play with Josh Allen leading the way, but there are some question marks throughout their group of skill players. The running back room will need James Cook to step into a lead role, and the depth behind him appears somewhat shaky after Nyheim Hines suffered a season-ending injury. Stefon Diggs will once again lead the receiving corps, with Gabriel Davis a potential bounce-back candidate since there’s not much else behind him. The tight end room was upgraded with first-round rookie Dalton Kincaid, who should make an immediate impact alongside Dawson Knox.

New York Jets: The addition of Aaron Rodgers makes this offense much more fantasy relevant, and there’s plenty of talent for the future Hall of Famer to work with. Rising star running back Breece Hall is coming off a torn ACL, so the running game is somewhat in flux behind him with rumors of free agent Dalvin Cook being signed soon. Garrett Wilson is coming off a strong rookie season and should be able to ascend to top 10 wide receiver status, as he’s the clear top target with new additions Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman set to serve in complementary roles. The receivers should be able to produce enough to where tight ends Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah won’t be asked to catch many passes.

Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa’s health has become a serious question mark, but he proved that he can perform at an elite level last season and appears fully healthy heading into 2023. The running game could be upgraded by adding Dalvin Cook, but it should be improved regardless with speedy rookie Devon Achane alongside veterans Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. The elite wide receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will be back and should continue to dominate the target share with not much depth behind them. Mike Gesicki’s departure opens up the tight end room, but Durham Smythe and company aren’t expected to have much involvement in the passing game.

New England Patriots: This is the only offense in the division that looks to be below average, but new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien should help Mac Jones and the passing game improve. The running game will still be the bread and butter of this attack, and Rhamondre Stevenson should be able to come close to repeating his strong production from last season as the clear leader of the backfield. The receiving corps looks weak after failing to sign DeAndre Hopkins, but free agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster should see enough involvement to be fantasy relevant. The tight ends were upgraded with the addition of Mike Gesicki, who could be in for a nice bounce-back season in O’Brien’s offense next to Hunter Henry.

TOP DRAFT DAY TARGETS

Garrett Wilson, Jets WR: Wilson is the clear alpha in the Jets wide receiver room, and he’s already displaying strong chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. While Rodgers normally doesn’t lean on young receivers, Wilson is a different breed, and he’ll likely be targeted heavily like Davante Adams was during Rodgers’ back-to-back MVP seasons.

Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots RB: Stevenson’s breakout season was no fluke, as he received plenty of volume and was also efficient to where he should once again be the workhorse in this backfield. Backups Pierre Strong nor Ty Montgomery don’t project to see enough involvement for us to be worried about Stevenson losing touches.

Gabriel Davis, Bills WR: Davis didn’t live up to the high expectations that many set for him last season as Josh Allen’s No. 2 receiver, which makes him easy to acquire cheap in 2023 drafts. The Bills didn’t do much in the way of adding receiver competition, so Davis should get plenty of opportunities to redeem himself in an elite offense.

Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins QB: Tagovailoa’s health makes him a risky choice to be a starting quarterback, but he’s well worth a shot in single quarterback leagues since he’s a top 10 option if healthy. While the chance of injury is higher than most, there are plenty of other options in single-quarterback leagues to make Tagovailoa worth rolling the dice with.

DEEP SLEEPERS

Devon Achane, Dolphins RB: Achane’s got serious speed and could still have a significant role in the offense even if the Dolphins sign Dalvin Cook. Achane will be used creatively and should see his involvement increase throughout the season, making for a nice dart throw toward the end of drafts.

Dalton Kincaid, Bills TE: Kincaid being drafted in the first round means that he’ll likely be more involved in the offense than a typical rookie tight end, and there are targets up for grabs in the Bills’ offense behind Stefon Diggs. Kincaid’s frame makes him an excellent red zone threat who could also have a slot presence and a somewhat consistent target share.

Mike Gesicki, Patriots TE: Bill O’Brien plans to run plenty of two-tight end sets this season, and Gesicki will likely be the most involved as a receiver. The Patriots receiving corps doesn’t have many talented options, so the tight ends should be targeted enough to where Gesicki could return to being a fantasy-relevant player at the position.

Zonovan Knight, Jets RB: The Jets running back situation is very much in flux with Breece Hall coming off an injury and Dalvin Cook still a free agent, with Knight looking like the next man up if neither is available in Week 1. Knight passed up Michael Carter on the depth chart last season and is well worth a late-round flyer in case he starts.

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