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Fantasy Football: Positive, negative regression candidates for 2023

2M1FB35 December 11, 2022, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA: December 11th, 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) during pregame entrance at Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh, PA. Jake Mysliwczyk/BMR (Credit Image: © Jake Mysliwczyk/BMR via ZUMA Press Wire)

  • The only way is up for Diontae Johnson: The Steelers wide receiver didn’t record a touchdown catch in 2022. His talent along with the improvement of Kenny Pickett means that likely won’t be the case in 2023.
  • Can Jerick McKinnon repeat his success: The veteran running back came onto the scene hot toward the end of the 2022 season and finished as the RB20. Regression seems inevitable.

Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

The 2022 NFL season was kind to some players. To others, not so much. For the ones who played well, they’ll be looking to repeat their performances, while everyone else will be playing catchup. That impacts fantasy football scoring in more ways than one, including in the form of regression.

Regression can hit players negatively or positively, and today we’ll be walking through three positive regression candidates and three negative regression candidates ahead of the 2023 NFL season.

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Positive candidate: WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

Let’s kick off with one of the most popular bounce-back candidates heading into the 2023 season. Diontae Johnson wasn’t able to repeat his WR8 finish from 2021, ending up 20 spots lower as the WR28 in 2022. All of Johnson’s numbers dropped in tandem: He saw 22 fewer targets, which resulted in 21 fewer catches, which, again, resulted in 279 fewer receiving yards. However, his 147 targets gave him a target share of 26.8%, the 10th highest in the NFL. Johnson had more than enough opportunities but couldn’t fully capitalize. He didn’t even score a touchdown in 2022.

Inconsistent quarterback play could be one reason why it never came together for Johnson. Mitchell Trubisky started five games in 2022 before he was replaced by first-round pick Kenny Pickett, who played well in the latter half of the season, earning a 75.0-plus grade in three of his final six starts. But Pickett threw only seven touchdown passes in 13 starts — hardly enough to set the world on fire.

Johnson, meanwhile, earned a 69.6 PFF grade to rank 46th among NFL wide receivers but is a much better receiver than that grade suggests. He’s an excellent route runner and natural separator, and even though the chemistry between Pickett and George Pickens has been heavily talked about, Johnson was still targeted 32 more times in games where Pickett started at quarterback. He’s the number-one option for the Steelers.

The expectation is that Pickett will improve in his second season, too. The offensive line has been upgraded, which will make life easier for Pickett and should lead to more quality targets for Johnson.

It’s hard to envision Johnson, a player who had 20 touchdowns in three seasons before last year, having another season with no scores. Even if his receiving yards and catches stay around the same mark but he scores five touchdowns, that’s 30 extra fantasy points on the season. That would have pushed him closer to a top-20 finish in 2022. Better times should be ahead.

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