By John Paulsen, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
I just finished my annual task of writing fantasy football draft blurbs for most of the fantasy-relevant players in the league heading into the 2022 draft season, so I thought I’d once again share some of the more interesting stats and splits that I ran across during the time spent researching each position.
Here’s a link to last year’s article for those who want to view the receipts. There are always a few duds but I think for the most part the stats were pretty actionable in 2021.
So let’s jump right in …
Mitch Trubisky isn’t a death knell for the Pittsburgh passing attack. He might actually improve it.
Since he’s likely back in the starting lineup, I decided to give Mitch the first stat. In 2020, his fantasy points per pass attempt (1.35 FP/PA) that he provided to his receivers was higher than Ben Roethlisberger’s in both 2020 (1.28) and 2021 (1.16), so while it may take some time for Trubisky to build a rapport with his receivers, this passing attack might be more productive on a per-attempt basis.
Diontae Johnson is a value in early drafts.
Johnson finished WR20 in 2020 and WR8 last year but is going off the board WR19 this year thanks to his new quarterback. He saw 10.2 targets per game with Roethlisberger over the last two seasons versus 8.5 targets per game in the two games in which Big Ben didn’t play. However, in those two games, he averaged 90 yards per game compared to 66 per game with Roethlisberger. Johnson always charts very well at Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception and can basically get open at will. Quarterbacks tend to like that.
David Njoku may break out, with or without Deshaun Watson.
Some may question Njoku’s upside as he hasn’t cleared 500 yards receiving since 2018 (when he posted 56-639-4), but his very promising career was derailed by a wrist fracture in 2019 and this will be the first time since ‘18 that he’ll be a full-time player. He posted the 11th-highest yards per route run last season, which highlights his efficiency. He also checks in at 81st percentile or higher in all of the athletic metrics at Player Profiler. The Browns are pretty weak at WR2/WR3 as well, so there’s the chance that he establishes himself as the team’s No. 2 option after Amari Cooper. If/once Watson takes over at quarterback, Njoku will shoot up the rankings.
The Ravens’ backfield might be a headache all year.
J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are both very talented runners. When last we saw them (2020), Dobbins was gaining 6.0 yards per carry and scoring nine touchdowns in a part-time role. Meanwhile, Edwards averaged 5.0 yards per carry and actually carried the ball more (144 vs. 134) than Dobbins did that year. Neither player was particularly involved as a receiver: Dobbins had 18 catches while Edwards had nine. Both players are coming off torn ACLs and the team has indicated that they plan to bring both players along slowly. So while a run-heavy approach is theoretically good for both players, it looks like they’ll start the season playing limited snaps and will of course be sharing the rushing load with Lamar Jackson. The other worry is that the offensive line took a significant step back (in terms of Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards) from 2020 to 2021.
Expect a bounce-back season for Lamar Jackson.
Jackson was the QB8 in 2020. He finished as QB15 in 2021, but that was due to injury. He was QB8 on a per-game basis, QB7 when his 10-snap Week 14 is removed. The Ravens are reportedly planning to go very run-heavy (a la 2019) this season, and that was the year that Jackson was the overall QB1, finishing nearly 100 points ahead of QB2 Deshaun Watson. He rushed for 1,206 yards that year while throwing for 36 touchdowns. He probably won’t hit that passing mark in 2022, but 1,000 rushing yards are within reach.
Expect even bigger things from Ja’Marr Chase.
Chase broke Justin Jefferson’s rookie receiving record, posting 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns on 81 catches, finishing as the WR4. He’s one of five rookie receivers to gain more than 1,300 yards. The other four were Jefferson, Odell Beckham, Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin. All but Boldin were actually able to increase their receiving yards in their sophomore season, and Boldin was able to bounce back and set a new career-high in his third season. Chase is a rock-solid first-round pick for fantasy managers looking to start their draft with a receiver.
A breakout season is incoming for Gabe Davis.
It has been interesting to watch the debate surrounding Davis and his late-season/playoff surge into fantasy relevance. Detractors point to his low target share (10.1%) in the regular season and his inability to garner consistent snaps until very late in the year. But when he did play big snaps–whoo boy. He finished the season with receiving lines of 5-43-1 (8), 5-85-2 (7), 3-40 (3), and 3-39 (14) in the regular season, and then 2-41-1 (3) and a mind-boggling 8-201-4 (10) in the playoffs. Those were the only six games where he played at least 70% of the snaps all year. In the 14 career games where he played that snap share, including the postseason, he averaged 3.6 catches (on 6.2 targets) for 58 yards and 0.79 touchdowns. That’s a 61-991-13.4 pace, or 12.3 fantasy points per game (half-PPR). That’s about what Hunter Renfrow and DK Metcalf averaged as the WR19 and WR20 last season. So Davis’ WR24 positional ADP seems entirely reasonable considering he’s an up-and-coming receiver attached to one of the best quarterbacks in the league and should see a snaps/targets promotion from WR4 to WR2 after the departure of both Cole Beasley (112 targets) and Emmanuel Sanders (72 targets). His yards per route run (2.03) was 13th amongst receivers last season and, when the playoffs are included, he saw the 12th-most red zone targets (34) in the league over the last two seasons. A sixth- or seventh-round ADP is ideal, but if he’s on the board in the fifth round, he’s worth a long look.
Josh Allen is once again the best bet to be THE QB1 in 2022.
After back-to-back seasons finishing as THE QB1, Allen is once again the odds-on favorite to finish as the top fantasy quarterback thanks to the Bills’ pass-heavy attack and his propensity to run the ball, especially in the red zone. Allen has 31 rushing touchdowns in four seasons and has averaged 38.1 yards per game in his career. His late-second-round ADP is a steep price for a quarterback in today’s NFL, though he’s an extremely safe pick among the elite quarterbacks.
Damien Harris is entrenched as the team's RB1, but Rhamondre Stevenson has the most upside of the Patriots’ backs at his ADP.
Stevenson is one of the most talented real-world RB2s in the league. He was fourth in yards after contact per attempt (2.7) and was second in broken tackles per attempt (0.55). He can also catch the ball, which may earn him snaps in 2022 since James White (12 catches) and Brandon Bolden (41 catches) are no longer with the team (White retired). Stevenson should have an every-week role and top-10 upside if anything were to happen to Harris. If White isn’t able to get healthy, Stevenson could have a much bigger weekly role than expected.
Chase Edmonds jumps out as a great value in the later rounds.
4for4's own Connor Allen wrote a great breakdown about why Edmonds is a “massive” value in early drafts this season. The Dolphins gave him six times as much money as their next biggest free agent signing (Raheem Mostert) and Edmonds is particularly effective in a zone-blocking run scheme which is what new HC Mike McDaniel is likely to run after working for Kyle Shanahan the last few years. Per Allen, “He led the league in yards per attempt (5.8) and was second in EPA per play on his 68 carries with zone blocking.” Edmonds may not see the goal line work (though it’s a possibility) but should see the vast majority of the backfield receptions since his primary competition is Mostert. Throw in an improved offensive line and Edmonds should significantly outperform his 8th-round ADP.
It’s not all bad news with Tyreek Hill’s move to Miami.
Hill was the WR6 last season and the WR2 the year before. As the WR9 off the board in early drafts, managers obviously believe most of his production is going to carry over to Miami. The good news is that the Dolphins’ HC Mike McDaniel has a great reputation and could potentially utilize Hill the way the 49ers used Deebo Samuel in the second half of the 2021 season. Hill is faster than Samuel but doesn’t break tackles at nearly the same rate, so I don’t think he’ll see more than a handful of carries this season. Hill is seeing a quarterback downgrade from Patrick Mahomes to Tua Tagovailoa, but Tua’s deep ball accuracy (55.2%) was the best in the league in 2021, per PFF. Hill should be able to post WR1 numbers, but he’s not a shoo-in for that sort of production given the change in offense/quarterback.
Elijah Moore looked the part as a rookie.
Moore was one of Matt Harmon’s favorite route-runners from the 2021 class and he didn’t disappoint as a rookie. He got off to a slow start, but finished the season with 34 catches for 459 yards and five touchdowns in his final six games. A quad injury forced him to miss the team’s final five games. While Moore should lead the Jets in receiving, the team added another Harmon favorite, Garrett Wilson, in the first round of the draft. Unfortunately, most of Moore’s production came with Zach Wilson sidelined midseason. Moore had 4-46 (8) and 6-77-1 (12) in Wilson’s first two games back, which equated to a 32.3% target share. So that bodes well.
Derrick Henry should continue to see a monster workload.
In eight games played, Henry owned a league-leading 23.0 point per game average and still finished RB14 despite missing half the season. Henry returned in the playoffs to face the Bengals and ran for an inefficient 62 yards and a score on 20 carries. At the time of his injury, his YPC (4.28) was as low as it's been since his second season (2017), but he was on pace for 38 catches, which would have been twice as many as his career-high 19 in 2020. There is some concern that Henry’s body may be starting to break down, though his return for the playoffs bodes well for 2022.
Michael Pittman Jr. should finish as a WR1 if the Colts open up the passing game.
As a sophomore, Pittman had a breakout season, catching 88 passes for 1,082 yards and six touchdowns despite so-so quarterback play from Carson Wentz. He’s entrenched as the team’s WR1 and should enjoy a quarterback upgrade now that Matt Ryan is in the fold. The Colts averaged 30.6 pass attempts in 2021 but averaged 34.5 with Philip Rivers at quarterback in 2020 and 40.3 with Andrew Luck in 2018. Ryan averaged 32.9, 39.1, and 41.1 pass attempts in his past three seasons. If HC Frank Reich opens up the passing game now that he has a good quarterback (again), then Pittman and the other pass-catchers will surely benefit.
Pittman’s route-running fared well in Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception charting. Harmon wrote, “Pittman fits the bill of a true No. 1 wide receiver ready to rocket up league-wide rankings. He’s a do-it-all player who doesn’t present any real weaknesses in his game. Not only is he in line for a huge 2022 season but should be set for an excellent career as an underrated great wideout.”
Brandin Cooks is a great value in the fifth or sixth round of fantasy drafts.
Fantasy managers shouldn’t fear Davis Mills and the Texans when it comes to Brandin Cooks. Mills played pretty well as a rookie and targeted Cooks on 28.3% of his attempts in 12 games. ... Cooks averaged 6.2 receptions for 65.5 yards and 0.42 touchdowns in that span, which translates to 105 catches for 1,113 yards and 7.1 touchdowns over the course of a 17-game season.
Don’t write off Trevor Lawrence after a poor rookie season.
Lawrence finished his rookie season as the QB24, but his per-game average (11.3 PPG) was even worse (QB39). He did add 19.6 yards per game as a runner, so he does have that “Konami Code” rushing floor that we look for in a fantasy quarterback. The good news is that the Jaguars as a franchise should be less dysfunctional now that Urban Meyer is no longer around, and Doug Pederson should offer the stability and the guidance to help Lawrence to develop.
Pederson’s last five offenses in Philadelphia finished in the top 13 in pass attempts in five straight seasons, so Lawrence should see plenty of opportunities to throw the ball. The Jaguars lost D.J. Chark in free agency but added Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram, increasing the team’s depth at receiver and tight end. As a rookie, Lawrence fell into a category of “bad rookies” who, on average, improve their points per game by ~25% in their second seasons. In his sophomore season playing for Pederson, Carson Wentz increased his points per game by 60.7%. A similar jump for Lawrence would put him in the fringe QB1 conversation.
Travis Kelce’s efficiency stats dropped in 2021, but volume should drive another elite finish.
Kelce has been the best fantasy tight end in the history of the league, dominating the position like no other player has been able to. Kelce had five straight TE1 finishes before a TE2 finish last season, and it’s possible that his age (33 in October) may be catching up to him a bit. His receiving yards per game (a still-excellent 70.3) were his lowest since 2017, and his yards per catch (12.2) were his lowest since 2015, while his yards per target (8.4) was a career-low. His yards per route run (1.84) was his lowest since 2015. (He is typically over 2.0 yards per route run.) With Tyreek Hill no longer with the Chiefs, Kelce will surely remain an integral part of the offense, especially in the red zone. Volume alone should keep him in the running to be the overall TE1.
Davante Adams’ production may take a dip with a new quarterback, but don’t expect a big dropoff.
Adams has averaged at least 92 receiving yards per game in three of the last four seasons. Of the first eight receivers off the board in early drafts, Adams is the only one who is changing teams and/or undergoing a quarterback change, which adds an element of uncertainty regarding his 2022 role and production. However, he’s rejoining his college quarterback, Derek Carr, and even though Carr is not as good as Aaron Rodgers–yeah, I said it–he should pepper Adams with enough targets to justify his WR5 positional ADP.
Mike Williams finally put it all together in 2021.
For the last couple of years, I’ve lamented the fact that Williams had been unable to combine his 2018 scoring (10 touchdowns) with this 2019 yardage (1,001) and he finally broke through with 76-1,146-9 on 129 targets in 2021. That was good enough for a WR15 finish in his fifth season. He’s entrenched as the WR1b next to Keenan Allen in a great passing game directed by Justin Herbert. He’s a solid pick in the third round.
Russell Wilson will produce in Denver, though his rushing upside is a bit of a mystery.
I’m not worried about Wilson changing teams, as good quarterbacks tend to drive their own fantasy value, and he’s walking into a great situation. He has a good receiving corps and a sharp offensive mind (new HC Nathaniel Hackett) leading the way. Wilson finished QB6 in 2020 and QB16 last season, though he had the 13th-highest per-game average. He was QB4 in 2019 and QB8 in 2018, so he has a long track record of production and is likely to play in a pass-heavy offense for the first time in a while. The big question with Wilson is how much he’ll run. In the past four years, he has rushed for 23.5, 21.4, 32.1, and 13.1 yards per game. It’s not ideal if he’s running for less than 20 yards per game, but if the Broncos are more pass-heavy, it should lead to more scrambles.
Javonte Williams likely remains in a committee, but if the Broncos make him the lead back, look out.
I’m pretty low on Williams relative to consensus (RB10) and ADP (RB14), but the Melvin Gordon signing leads me to believe this will be a committee again in 2022. Williams’ snap share may tick up, but I don’t think the Broncos re-signed Gordon to stand on the sideline. Williams averaged 14.4 touches per game as a rookie and posted some nice advanced stats. He was 9th in yards after contact per carry and first in broken tackles per carry. (Gordon was 16th and 6th in those metrics, respectively.) We know Williams is good, but the RB1 workload isn’t likely to be there.
Ezekiel Elliott should bounce back, but Tony Pollard continues to loom.
Elliott was really rolling prior to his Week 4 knee injury. He had a tough Week 1 against the stingy Bucs’ rush defense (39 total yards) but racked up 97 total yards and a score against the Chargers, 116 total yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles, and 143 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Panthers in Week 4, and that included a 47-yard run, the third-longest of his career. He posted 112 total yards and two touchdowns in Week 5 and 119 total yards in Week 6. In those five games, he averaged 117 total yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game and was the fantasy RB3 heading into his Week 7 bye. After the bye, he didn’t gain more than 76 total yards in a game until Week 18.
Before the bye, he averaged 19.7 touches (and 5.11 YPC) and just 15.1 touches (and 3.55 YPC) after the bye. Interestingly, Dallas wasn’t utilizing Tony Pollard more — he averaged 12.7 touches before the bye and just 10.4 touches after — so the Cowboys were using their running backs at a lower rate after the bye. Per his head coach, the 27-year-old Elliott is “completely healthy now” and is probably too young to be hitting the wall, making him a nice value in the early fourth round of fantasy drafts. It doesn’t hurt that the Cowboys still have a solid offensive live even with the injury to Tyron Smith.
The Eagles’ offensive approach will drive Jalen Hurts’ production.
Hurts finished as the QB8 last season but had the seventh-highest per-game average. The Eagles came out of the gates pass-heavy, but after going 2-5 in their first seven games, they took a run-heavy approach over the final 10 weeks. How did this impact Hurts’ scoring? He was the fantasy QB2 through the first seven games, averaging 24.4 points per game, which was third-most behind Josh Allen and Tom Brady in that span. From Week 8 to Week 17 — he sat out Week 18 — he was the QB11 with the 10th-highest per game average. So the big question facing fantasy managers is whether the late-season passing swoon is going to carry over to 2022.
The Eagles made a huge trade to acquire A.J. Brown, which gives Hurts one of the best receiving corps in the league. He has Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert, plus a couple of capable pass-catching backs and an exciting WR3 in Quez Watkins. This certainly indicates that they want to throw the ball more than they did in the second half of the season. But the Eagles went 7-3 down the stretch, so one wonders if they regress to their run-heavy ways if Hurts gets off to a slow start. As it stands, Hurts has immense upside, but should at least provide low-end QB1 numbers if the Eagles elect to go run-heavy.
Aaron Jones could have a career year, though A.J. Dillon caps his ceiling.
In 2021, Jones finished 21st in touches per game (14.9) but finished 17th in points per game (13.5). He averaged 3.5 receptions per game last season, but that number may spike since Davante Adams is no longer in the fold. Since 2018, in the seven games that Adams missed, Jones’ usage rose to 19.5 touches, including 5.1 receptions per game. We’ll probably see more formations featuring both Jones and A.J. Dillon, with Jones lined up as a receiver. He’s a threat for 70 catches and 700 yards receiving, and he’ll continue to see 10-12 carries a game.
Adam Thielen looks like a screaming value in the middle rounds.
Through the first 12 weeks prior to injuring his ankle, Thielen had racked up 63-686-10 on 90 targets and was the fantasy WR7. That’s right, WR7. And he’s going off the board as the WR28 in the eighth round. The Vikings look like they’re going to throw the ball more in 2022 which should offset any loss in efficiency that Thielen experiences due to age–he’s turning 32 in August.
Baker Mayfield represents a big upgrade for D.J. Moore and the Carolina passing game.
Moore finished WR20 last season after a WR21 finish the year before. He has gained at least 1,100 yards in three straight seasons, but he hasn’t been able to catch more than four touchdowns thus far in his career. The arrival of Baker Mayfield should open up the passing game quite a bit. Sam Darnold and Co. threw for 3,573 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Mayfield’s career averages equate to 4,002 yards (+12.0%) and 26.1 touchdowns (+86.2%). Wheels up for Moore.
John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, and has finished in the Top 10 in ten of the last 12 years, including eight finishes in the Top 5. Cumulatively, John has been the most accurate expert from 2010-21 while also winning various draft rankings accuracy competitions (2011, FSTA and 2019, Fantasy Nation).
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