How should fantasy football managers draft the stars of the NFL Conference Championships in 2024?


Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson

With Championship Sunday almost here, the anticipation is real for the battles between the final four teams fighting for a trip to the Super Bowl. There is also the reality that there are just three more NFL games for the next nearly eight months. The end is near, yet the 2024 NFL season will be here soon enough — football as we know, never stops.

Free agency, the QB carousel and the draft will keep us company for the next several months before OTAs and training camp take over. Can you feel the warmth of summer already? OK, maybe that’s a little too fast for those still shoveling snow.

Since these four teams — the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers — are littered with top fantasy performers, now is a good time to start asking some fantasy-specific questions that look ahead to the 2024 season.

Do the Detroit Lions have multiple first-round picks in fantasy drafts?

They already do. Sort of.

Amigo Andy Behrens made a way-too-early 2024 mock draft and had Amon-Ra St. Brown going 10th and Jahmyr Gibbs 12th. Hardly anyone would bat an eye at this, because the Lions are one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL. Jared Goff was QB7 on the season, Detroit has one of the best offensive lines in football and the Lions were fourth in the NFL with 461 points scored. St. Brown and Gibbs were two of the engines driving the train.

The Sun God hit 100 receiving yards and/or scored a touchdown in 14 of 18 games this season, and was fifth overall with 164 targets even though he missed a game. This sustained dominance is rare, especially for a 2021 fourth-round pick out of USC. Still, it’s no small wonder that he finished as the WR3 on the season and is firmly entrenched as one of the top receivers in football. He will be off the board quickly next summer.

Gibbs had some rookie lessons to learn early, but from Weeks 7 to 17 he was the RB3 with 17.5 fantasy points per game. With a blend of power running — 945 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry — a nose for the end zone with 11 touchdowns and receiving skills (he caught 52 of 71 targets for 316 receiving yards), Gibbs is a dual threat who won’t last long before being picked even while sharing touches with David Montgomery.

Another Lion who won’t last long before being selected in drafts is Sam LaPorta. The rookie from Iowa posted one of the greatest rookie tight end years ever with 86 catches, 889 receiving yards and 10 scores. From Weeks 3 to 15 he topped 15 fantasy points six times, incredible work for a first-year player at the position. There’s little doubt that he will be the first tight end off the board, but it’s hard to imagine him getting to the heights of last year’s top pick at the position. Speaking of which …

Of course, these two are having a renaissance in the real NFL Playoffs. Mahomes has been masterful in engineering two victories in bitter-cold conditions, and his main target has been Kelce. Against the Bills on Sunday, they surpassed Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for most playoff touchdowns for a duo (16).

Mahomes struggled with a wide receiver corps that led the league in dropped passes (44), and a lot of yards were left on the field for the quarterback. However, in his six years as a starter, Mahomes has thrown for 4,700-plus yards and 37 or more touchdowns four times. Some improvement in his pass-catchers will help him get back to those heights, though he’ll likely be drafted at a discount after Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts.

Maybe even after another QB we’ll talk about in a bit.

If Kelce has more performances like last week’s 5-75-2, fantasy managers will remember that more than him “slumping” to a TE2 finish with 93 catches, 984 yards and five touchdowns. He set another high bar, and while he’ll likely go later than LaPorta, the bright-eyed youngster, Kelce will still be a focal point of what is always a great offense with Mahomes under center.

Where do we slot Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews?

Another QB-TE combo that Jackson termed like “peanut butter and jelly,” the 2024 excitement could build for these two if the Ravens hold serve and win two more games. Baltimore laying waste to the Lions, 49ers, Jaguars and Dolphins before a Super Bowl run will raise expectations a little bit.

This season, Jackson perplexed fantasy managers to the point that he was in start/sit questions in the middle of the season. Not exactly where the QB3 should hear his name. While he had eight games with 20 or more points, he also posted six games with 15 or fewer points. Part of that is acclimating to a new offense, and the Ravens’ defense being so good he didn’t need to keep the pedal down in some games.

[Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for the 2024 MLB season]

His fantasy finishes in his final four games — 1, 10, 8 and 1 — will leave a good taste in fantasy managers’ mouths, as will more performances like the four-TD effort against Houston in the playoffs.

Andrews could put up some good tape when all the football world is watching, and that is catnip for fantasy managers looking for any positive signs for a player who suffered an ankle injury on Nov. 16 that ended his regular season. Over Weeks 2 to 10, when he played complete games, Andrews was the TE3 with 12.2 fantasy points per game. Yes, Zay Flowers has emerged, but the bond between Andrews and Jackson is real. With a return to action and hopefully healthy reports in training camp, Andrews could go in the range of Trey McBride and George Kittle, after Kelce and LaPorta.

This will be a fun discussion item all offseason. In 2022, McCaffrey was just six points shy from putting up the first of back-to-back RB1 seasons. After his monster season in 2019 with 413.2 fantasy points and 2018 when he was the RB3, that’s one incredible resume for someone who truly dominated football in 2023.

His offensive environment in the Kyle Shanahan system has been fantastic for him, especially his work in the passing game — third in receptions (67) and second in yards (564) among 2023 running backs. After such a dominant season, where else can fantasy managers slot him in their draft rankings than 1.01?

But there is the matter of him hitting his 28th birthday before the start of next season. Fantasy managers start to shy away from running backs in that age range. While wide receivers like CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson will also be in the discussion for the top spot, most fantasy drafts will kick off with CMC leading off. Coming off two healthy seasons where he played every game and dominated behind a great offensive line, and with his work in the passing game boosting his numbers, if he doesn’t finish at the RB1 or close it will be because he missed time. And we had enough of that this past season.



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