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NFL Rookies Most Likely to Make Fantasy Football Impacts (And Those Who Won't)

Dameon Pierce - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

With the popularity of dynasty leagues growing and the fantasy impact of the last few rookie classes, fantasy managers seem to be flocking to NFL newbies at far higher rates than before. Our expectations increased, oftentimes to unrealistic levels. Guys like Ja’Marr Chase and Najee Harris have spoiled us. They were also drafted into picture-perfect situations with high-end talent. That’s a rare circumstance. The top-tier talent usually gets drafted early and the earlier they go, the worse the situation is.

Over the last two seasons, there have been 23 receivers drafted in the first two rounds combined. Just four of them have finished in the top-24 in half-PPR PPG in Year One. Plenty of rookies have excellent seasons in Year One, but it just doesn’t translate to fantasy success. Take Michael Carter from the Jets last season. He had 964 total scrimmage yards, 36 receptions, and 4 total touchdowns. Definitely a very good showing from a rookie, but the problem is it resulted in just an RB32 finish in half-PPR PPG. That’s a good player to have on your bench and he’s an excellent bye week or injury fill-in, but he’s also not moving the needle and it’s certainly a stretch to call him an “impact” player. Even Javonte Williams last season. He finished with 1,219 total yards, 43 receptions, and 7 touchdowns. That’s a crazy-good rookie season, but unfortunately, it was just RB25 in half-PPR PPG. In fact, he had 11 games with less than 9 points and 14 with less than 12 points. That is not moving the needle.

The bar for rookies to be truly impactful is really high. As good as a lot of these players are coming out as rookies, it rarely translates to immediate fantasy success in Year One. Fantasy managers need to be cognizant of that when they’re eyeing up “the next big thing”. That’s all well and good in dynasty – that’s the name of the game – but in redraft, fantasy managers don’t have time to wait around for that breakout to happen. If you’re thinking there’s any rookie in this class who is a lock to finish top-24 at their position, it’s probably because you’re too high on them.

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Impact NFL Rookie Quarterbacks

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers

There is virtually no chance Pickett is an impact player in Year One unless you’re playing in a Superflex league, and even then, the chances are not good.

Pickett is going to be 24 by the time the season starts and he has four years of starting experience at Pittsburgh. There’s a very good chance fantasy managers are going to see Pickett behind center sometime this season for the Steelers. Recent reports are indicating Pickett is making a late surge for starting duties. This kind of news likely means Trubisky, even if he does get the Week 1 start, will be on a short leash.

While they signed Mitchell Trubisky in the offseason, that was prior to the draft and feels more like an insurance signing than anything else. A just in case a quarterback we like doesn’t fall to us sort of move and look, it was a good idea, but when Pickett was available at No. 20, Trubisky’s chances of playing a full-season dropped significantly.

It's somewhat of a question how this offense will operate post-Ben Roethlisberger, but there’s no denying the high rate at which Pittsburgh has passed the ball in recent seasons. The Steelers ranked fourth in 2021, first in 2020, 26th in 2019, first in 2018, and second in 2017.

That kind of possible passing volume combined with weapons such as Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris gives him a chance – not a great one – but a chance at being a dependable starter in Superflex leagues in his rookie season. The most likely scenario for Pickett is that he's a streamable QB2 in Superflex leagues.

He was not an elite rusher in college, but his 9.52 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) demonstrates that he has the speed and ability to make some plays happen with his legs.

Fantasy managers shouldn’t be expecting Kyler Murray or anything, but he’s not Mac Jones either. His athleticism and a questionable offensive line could result in him providing fantasy managers with around 15 rushing yards per game. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing either.

 

Impact NFL Rookie Running Backs for Fantasy Football

Breece Hall, New York Jets

Draft capital speaks volumes. As well as Carter played as a rookie, at the end of the day, he was a fourth-round pick and those players are always at risk of being upgraded. This brings us to Breece Hall.

We know Hall is going to handle the vast majority of early-down and short-yardage situations in New York. Given his size and rushing pedigree from Iowa State, that seems like a given. He’s fresh off of back-to-back 1,400 rushing seasons and a total of 41 touchdowns. Hall is an elite athlete with the size to handle goal-to-go situations and the speed to hit the home run.

As far as rushing the football, Hall can do it all and for the Jets, based on the investment they just made in him, fantasy managers should absolutely expect that. The Jets' upper management indicated Hall was a top-20 player on their board, so yeah, they really like him.

Fantasy managers may be expecting Carter to still be the pass-catching back even with Hall in town and that is possible, but he wasn’t even the undisputed pass-catcher last season. No, Carter and Ty Johnson pretty much split the passing-down work right down the middle.

They each finished with 55 targets, although Johnson was the one who finished with more yards and routes run. Maybe the more interesting tidbit is that in three years at Iowa State, Hall actually has more receptions and receiving yards than Carter had in four years at North Carolina.

If Hall is able to acclimate to pass protection schemes as a rookie, he could very well be the Jets’ three-down back by mid-season.

At worst, Hall should see a role similar to Antonio Gibson in Washington. He’ll be the primary rusher, the goal-line back, and he’ll mix in a few targets as well. Gibson finished as the RB18 in half-PPR PPG last season and the Jets’ offense looks like it’s ready to take off if Zach Wilson can take a step forward in Year Two.

At best though, Hall could do to Michael Carter what Jonathan Taylor did to Nyheim Hines. It is within Hall’s range of outcomes that he pushes Carter to the bench and makes him nothing more than a backup as opposed to the change of pace he’s currently viewed as right now.

Out of all the rookies selected, Hall has the best possibility of finishing in the top-24 this season and it's fairly close to "lock" status.

If you're looking for a more in-depth analysis of other Day Two and Three prospects and their chances of becoming fantasy football contributors in Year One, you can read more about that here.

 

Impact NFL Rookie Wide Receivers for Fantasy Football

If you're looking for a more in-depth piece about what NFL rookie receivers could be impact players in 2022, click the link and read my other piece.

Drake London, Atlanta Falcons

The receiver depth chart is barren in Atlanta. It includes names like Auden Tate and Olamide Zaccheaus. The Falcons have over 280 vacated targets last season with the loss of, most notably, Mike Davis, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst, and Tajae Sharpe.

They combined for just under 1,800 receiving yards in 2021 and just under 200 receptions. It’s reasonable to expect second-year breakout player Kyle Pitts to soak up some of that volume, but he already had 110 targets and over 1,000 yards last year. He can’t handle everything.

While the perception might be the Falcons will run the ball more, the question is will they be able to? There’s no doubt head coach Arthur Smith would like to slow the game down with Marcus Mariota likely starting behind center, but they allowed the fourth-most points defensively last season.

They also averaged the second-fewest rushing yards. This will likely create a fairly fantasy-friendly environment for London to make a name for himself in Year One.

London left USC with a 27.3% target share according to PlayerProfiler, which ranked in the 82nd-percentile and he had a breakout age of 18.1, 99th-percentile. His numbers as a junior look like something out of a video game.

His averages per game were absolutely ridiculous – 15.5 targets, 11 receptions, 136 yards, and just under one touchdown. Like I said, video game numbers. Even as a true freshman, despite fighting with future NFL standouts in Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman, he earned 54 targets and turned them into 567 yards and 5 touchdowns.

He dominated in college and is walking into a situation where the expectation should be 115-120 targets in Year One, but the upside is much higher. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see London challenge for 130 targets as a rookie just because of how non-existent the target competition is after Pitts.

If you’re looking for the second-best bet for a top-24 finish at their respective positions, it’s Drake London. It may not be the most pretty ride, but the potential of a very healthy target share is undeniable. London injured his knee in their first preseason game and he hasn't returned since, but there's been nothing to suggest this will impact his Week 1 availability.

 

Treylon Burks, Tennessee Titans

A.J. Brown was traded during the first round of the NFL Draft and the Titans immediately selected his replacement, who just so happens to be someone many people is a clone of himself, Treylon Burks.

The Titans also signed Austin Hooper and traded for Robert Woods. The former Ram is working hard to be ready for the 2022 season after tearing his ACL in the middle of last year. At this time, it’s fair to expect Burks to be the primary option in the receiving game.

This was the role Brown found himself in for three seasons and he never once hit 110 targets in a season. In the past five seasons, the Titans have never ranked higher than 26th in total pass attempts. The volume is a legitimate concern.

Head coach Mike Vrabel has built an old-school type of football team and to his credit, it’s worked. They play good defense, they run the football at an elite level, and they control the clock. That philosophy is not going to change.

It didn’t even change last season when Derrick Henry got hurt. It’s certainly not going to change this season with Brown in Philadelphia. Brown has finished just one season in the top-24 in half-PPR PPG and it took elite efficiency to do it.

If Woods isn’t healthy to start the season, Burks has a better chance to see the kind of target share he needs to be an impact player for fantasy managers as a rookie. Brown averaged just 5.83 targets per game as a rookie, which would leave Burks with just 100 on the season. That will not be enough.

He’ll need to get up to seven targets per game, which would leave him with 119. If he’s able to reach that mark, he has the potential to break into the top-24.

After London, Burks has the next best chance of being a top-24 player as a rookie, and the drop-off after these three – Hall, London, and Burks – is fairly substantial in terms of their likelihood of providing fantasy managers with that type of top-24 season. Burks has, by all accounts, struggled throughout training camp, but fantasy managers shouldn't lose hope. He's an immensely talented player and there's plenty of opportunity in Tennessee. It may be a slow start, but there's no reason he can't turn it on late.

 

Possible Impact NFL Rookies, But Not Probable

Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons

Fantasy managers should expect Marcus Mariota to start under center and be given a few games to cement himself as the 2022 starter, but if things go south in a hurry, there’s the possibility Desmond Ridder gets to play earlier than expected.

It’d be foolish for the Falcons not to give him some playing time in 2022, the question just becomes when that happens. The earlier it is, the better for fantasy managers.

Ridder is an explosive athlete for a quarterback and scored a 9.62 RAS. His 4.52 forty-time, 2.59 20-yard-split, and 1.54 10-yard split are all elite numbers for a quarterback. He averaged over 500 yards rushing in four seasons as a starter with Cincinnati and found the end zone 28 times on the ground.

If he does get to start in 2022, his athleticism and dual-threat ability give him a chance to make some noise in Superflex leagues right away. Running quarterbacks are the great equalizer and Ridder has that ability.

Having two big targets in Drake London and Kyle Pitts will also make a rookie’s job a bit easier because he won’t need pinpoint accuracy. These two towering receivers will be able to go up and get it.

 

Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks

Full disclosure, the chances of Walker being an impact player as a rookie in any PPR scoring league is extremely low. He registered just 19 total receptions in three seasons in college and the Seattle offense has targeted the running backs at a clip of just 88 targets per season the last nine seasons. The possibility of Walker becoming an impact player as a rookie exists only in standard-scoring leagues.

The Seattle backfield has four primary components to it this season: Walker, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, and DeeJay Dallas. Penny has averaged just 0.8 targets per game in his four-year NFL career. Walker averaged just over six catches per season in college.

Expecting either of these two backs to be involved in the passing game is extremely optimistic. The most likely scenario is that Penny and Walker share the early-down work, while Dallas and Homer handle the passing-down situations.

This leaves everyone in a timeshare-timeshare. Not only is Walker unlikely to be involved in the passing game, but fantasy managers should be prepared for Walker and Penny to split the carries fairly evenly. If Walker is able to secure a 60-65% rushing share and the goal line work, he has an outside chance at finishing in the top-24 in standard-scoring leagues.

Still, this offense figures to be very bad in 2022 with Drew Lock or Geno Smith behind center. This lowers his touchdown upside. Walker is, unfortunately, more likely to be a better NFL player than a fantasy one.

There is potential in Year Two assuming Penny is let go and Walker can take on a bigger percentage of the early-down work. It should be noted, however, that Penny has missed 43% of his NFL games in his career, and with his injury history, there’s always the possibility Walker could find himself handling almost all of the rush attempts in Seattle.

This would certainly improve his chances of finishing as a top-24 player, but even in that scenario, he’s unlikely to have a big role in the passing game. However, it's Walker that is currently struggling with an early-season injury. He had hernia surgery and his availability for Week 1 is completely up in the air. At this time, fantasy managers need to be figuring that Penny gets the starting nod and the vast majority of carries early, even when Walker returns. He'll have to earn work once he returns, but he stays here because his injury isn't season-ending and Penny has never played a full season.

 

James Cook, Buffalo Bills

James Cook entered the 2022 NFL Draft as the best pass-catching back in this class. In an offseason where the Bills attempted to sign J.D. McKissic away from the Commanders, it made sense they targeted Cook.

They clearly want to upgrade the receiving ability out of the backfield. In full-PPR leagues, Cook could be someone who could sneak into the top-30, but there are a few things standing in his way.

He wasn’t given more than 100 carries in any season at Georgia until he was a senior. He finished with just 230 carries, which likely means he’ll need to do almost all of his damage through the year.

Especially in 2022, with Devin Singletary still in Buffalo and Josh Allen always a threat in the ground game too. The Bills, because of Allen’s ability to run with the football don’t target their running backs a lot.

Last year, the running backs only received 91 targets and it was at just 76 in 2020 and 73 the year before that. If the team’s offseason moves of attempting to sign McKissic and drafting Cook is a sign that they plan to target their running backs more in 2022, Cook has some potential in full-PPR leagues.

He’s unlikely to receive enough carries or touchdowns for him to make much of an impact in half-PPR and especially standard leagues. The ceiling for Cook is developing into something similar to Austin Ekeler, although that type of outcome would certainly be an outlier.

 

Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans

Pierce is an okay, but not great, athlete. He scored a 7.04 RAS and ran the forty in 4.59 seconds. He’s got good size at 218 pounds, but he never had more than 600 yards rushing in any of his four seasons at Florida.

He finished with just 1,806 rushing yards and 23 scores during his collegiate career. He was used sparsely in the passing game, finishing with just 45 receptions and 422 yards. So why is he being listed here?

Because of his opportunity. He was drafted by the Texans and he’ll be fighting for snaps against the 31-year-old Rex Burkhead and Marlon Mack who has just 32 carries the past two seasons after tearing his Achilles.

The Texans are a young team in the midst of a rebuild and they favor giving the young guy a shot to determine if they lucked into a long-term starter. Pierce is highly unlikely to be a top-24 player, but if he ends up getting more run than expected in this likely committee-backfield, Pierce could become an interesting flex piece in 2022.

Fantasy managers should temper expectations, however, this is still a lackluster prospect on a below-average offense. If he’s to become a fantasy-relevant player, volume will likely have to carry the day and it seems unlikely he’ll get enough of that to matter in Year One. Recent reports indicate Pierce will be the starter for the Texans and that increases his ability to make an impact early. Does he have a shot at being a top-24 player? If he's a true lead back, he does. The question will be what happens on pass-catching downs. If Burkhead continues to operate on third-downs, it's incredibly difficult for a running back, on a below-average offense, without a pass-catching role to break into the top-24.

Pierce should absolutely be climbing the ADP ranks and should be someone fantasy managers have on their radars in the later rounds. Any starting running back in the league deserves recognition in fantasy football, but it's important to recognize what that upside realistically looks like. Treating Pierce as an RB3 makes a lot of sense and it's how he should be valued based on what we know now, but can he be a true impact player in Year 1 if he doesn't earn a three-down role on what is likely to be a bad team? That's questionable. Will he be someone that provides value at his current ADP? Absolutely, yes. Will he be a true impact player? That's more debatable, but the chances look better today than they did three weeks ago.

 

Tyrion Davis-Price, San Francisco 49ers

What’s there to say here? He’s a third-round running back drafted by Kyle Shanahan. Raheem Mostert is gone. Trey Sermon may still be in the doghouse, this much is unknown. That leaves only Jeff Wilson Jr. and Elijah Mitchell on the depth chart.

Mitchell missed six games as a starter last season and Wilson missed seven of his own. Fantasy managers should still be expecting Mitchell to lead this backfield.

Trey Lance and Deebo Samuel have the potential to be thorns in this backfield’s side as they are both expected to get their own fair share of work in the ground game, but we know San Francisco is going to have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.

Davis-Price projects as nothing more than an Elijah Mitchell handcuff at this time, but after his injury issues in Year One, fantasy managers would be wise to keep an eye on the LSU rookie.

He finished with over 1,000 yards rushing as a junior and has averaged just under 10 receptions per season in three years. He also displayed home run speed with a 4.48 forty.

 

Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With Ronald Jones signing elsewhere in free agency, White has officially become the de facto No. 2 in Tampa Bay. It’s an excellent place to be for a young running back. Fournette was one of the best fantasy running backs last season.

He was extremely involved in the passing game and that was something White excelled in at Arizona State. This past year, he racked up 43 catches and 456 receiving yards. He entered the NFL Draft as arguably the second-best pass-catching running back behind James Cook.

Unlike Cook, however, White rushed for over 1,000 yards on just 182 carries – good for a 5.5 yard per carry and found the end zone 15 times on the ground.

If the Bucs decide to limit Fournette’s touches a little bit after a heavy workload in 2021, White is the most likely beneficiary of that. If Fournette gets injured, White will be the guy stepping into that role. At this stage of his career, Giovani Bernard is just a scatback and one who isn’t going to carry a heavy load.

White could have some stand-alone value in full-PPR leagues during the week, but fantasy managers should target him as one of the better handcuffs in fantasy football.

 

Isaiah Spiller, Los Angeles Chargers

Speaking of handcuffs, Isaiah Spiller looks like another rookie with league-winning upside should the starter ahead of him, Austin Ekeler, get injured. Spiller’s combine performance was a bit of a disappointment, which is what likely caused him to fall down draft boards a bit.

A slow forty-time at the running back position can be a draft day killer. Still, Spiller put up three straight seasons of 1,100+ scrimmage yards at Texas A&M and finished with a yard per carry average of 5.5.

He also finished with an impressive 74 receptions and 585 receiving yards in three seasons displaying some three down potential in the NFL.

Last season, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree, and Joshua Kelley combined for 165 total touches. Jackson is no longer on the roster. Kelley and Rountree had just 75 of those 165. They averaged 2.4 and 3.1 yards per carry.

They received just 8 total targets. Spiller has a fairly easy pathway to being the No. 2 running back on a high-scoring offense. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Spiller soak up 85-90% of those 165 touches from last season and it’s certainly possible the Chargers limit Ekeler’s touches a bit in 2022, which could mean even more work.

All in all, Spiller could have stand-alone value during bye weeks and as an injury replacement running back, and in the event of an Ekeler injury, Spiller is likely the running back you’ll want to roster and he’ll come with league-winning upside in such a scenario.

 

Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints

Chris Olave entered the NFL Draft as one of the better deep-ball threats in his class and one of the most NFL-ready route runners. His college yard per reception average was 15.4 and has had the most deep receiving touchdowns among collegiate receivers since 2019, according to PFF.

Olave scored 8.61 on the RAS scale with a blazing 4.39 forty-time. That kind of speed combined with his elite-level route running could make him a viable deep-ball threat on day one. If you combine that with Jameis Winston and you have the potential for a DeSean Jackson-type rookie season.

Jackson finished with just 62 receptions as a rookie but had 912 yards. His two receiving touchdowns held him back, but the potential was there, which is all we’re looking for – potential.

The last time fantasy managers saw Winston play a full season, he led the NFL in air yards. He’s never had a season in his entire career where he’s finished lower than fourth in average depth of target.

With Michael “slant boy” Thomas likely back on the field in 2022, defenses will have to focus on how to stop him and superstar, Alvin Kamara. This could leave Olave in a lot of single coverage. If he’s able to take advantage and with a little good luck, Olave could surprise in Year One.

He’s in an excellent situation to do so. He’s got a quarterback who loves throwing the ball deep, he’ll be a full-time starter, and the receiver depth chart is wide open behind Thomas.

Olave could walk into around 100 targets with the upside for a little more. While his targets will likely be further down the field, increasing the volatility, if he’s able to come down with enough of them, he could be a back-end WR2.

The most likely scenario is he’s more of a boom or bust player, but if the efficiency comes faster than we’d normally expect, fantasy managers might have a breakout player in New Orleans.

There are concerns regarding how many targets there will be to go around in New Orleans, however. Michael Thomas is officially off the PUP list and all reports indicate he has looked excellent throughout the preseason.

The addition of Jarvis Landry who has also demonstrated a strong ability to earn targets further complicates matters. Even at running back, Olave will have to contend with Alvin Kamara. Thomas, prior to his injury had been a 28% or higher target share earner. Landry has always been around 23% and Kamara has hovered around 18%.

That is a lot of competition for a rookie to deal with. If Father Time catches up to Landry or Thomas isn't close to his former self, Olave may have a chance, but otherwise, he's best in best-ball leagues and unlikely to make a ton of noise as a rookie.

 

Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers

Between Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown, these three players left behind 241 targets, 158 receptions, 2,081 yards, and 14 touchdowns. The leading receiver from 2021 still on the team would be Allen Lazard who finished with 40 receptions and 513 yards.

Watson will be competing with Lazard, the ghosts of Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb, the one-hit-wonder Robert Tonyan recovering from a torn ACL, and Amari Rodgers who was a third-rounder in 2021 and is fresh off of one of the more disappointing rookie seasons of any player in the 2021 draft. Not a whole heck of a lot of competition.

According to RAS, Watson is the second-most athletic receiver since 1987 to come out, trailing only Calvin Johnson. His quarterback is back-to-back MVP, Aaron Rodgers.

He’ll be playing inside an offense that has finished top-10 in total yards, total points, passing yards, and passing touchdowns each of the past two seasons. His coach is one of the best in the NFL and is the only coach in the history of the league to win 13 games in each of his first three seasons.

However, he’s coming from an FCS school in North Dakota State. Most of the competition he went up against – pretty much all of the competition he went up against – will never play in the NFL.

The competition gap from where he was to where he’ll be playing is astronomical. Due to insanely high pass-run splits at North Dakota State, Watson averaged just 181 routes run per year in college for a total of 726.

To put that in perspective, Jameson Williams ran 500 in 2021 alone. Fellow Packer draftee Romeo Doubs ran 1,493 routes in his four-year career at Nevada – more than double what Watson did.

Not only will Watson be facing off against competition he’s never seen before, but he’s got significantly less time than other receivers in his class to work on his craft. That wasn’t his fault, but it is true all the same.

If he’s able to get up to speed on the NFL game and the nuances of playing receiver faster than expected, he could very well surprise. The reality is Green Bay is most likely to use a receiver-by-committee approach, which will limit his target share too much for him to become an impact player in Year One.

The concern for Watson is that he had offseason knee surgery and has been unable to practice for the entirety of training camp. For a player who is coming from the FSC and a college system that rarely passed the ball, Watson needs as many reps as he can get.

It's possible he's looking at somewhat of a red-shirt rookie season as he gets over a slight injury and gets accustomed to the NFL game. Still, he's walking into a wide open receiver room in Green Bay and their quarterback is still Aaron Rodgers, so he's got a shot for a second-half breakout.

 

Garrett Wilson, New York Jets

Wilson was an electric player from day one for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He finished his college career with 2,213 receiving yards despite ample target competition as a true freshman and Covid-19 shortened sophomore season.

He found the end zone 23 times. In his final season at Ohio State, he averaged 15.1 yards per reception and 3.0 yards per route run. It was a dominant performance and it lead to him being selected at No. 10 by the New York Jets.

Fantasy managers should love Wilson’s potential moving forward, but immediate Year One production may be tough to come by. For starters, the Jets’ offense appears to be loaded. They have Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, Breece Hall, and Michael Carter.

Joe Douglas has done an excellent job of giving Mike LaFleur plenty of personnel options this season. Even though Wilson certainly looks like the part and is very likely going to end up with a better NFL career than most of those players, earning a target share big enough as a rookie with that level of competition is going to be difficult.

Then there’s the Zach Wilson question. There’s plenty of potential surrounding him based on the remake of the offense and his high draft capital, but fantasy managers still haven’t seen Wilson carry an offense. He’ll need to take a step forward to be able to support 2-3 weekly fantasy starters.

 

Jahan Dotson, Washington Commanders

Dotson’s selection so early was a bit of a surprise, but it’s the Washington franchise, so really nothing should come as a surprise anymore. Dotson is a four-year player who didn’t break out until his junior year.

He’s a smaller player, listed at below 185 yards. He put up an exceptional senior season when he racked up 91 catches, 1,182 yards, and 12 touchdowns. On the surface, Washington looks like a great landing spot. What else is there behind Terry McLaurin anyways?

Well, there’s Curtis Samuel and Logan Thomas. Now, a lot of people forgot about them because they missed all of last season for the most part, but they’re two quality players. In 2020 with Carolina, Samuel earned 97 targets and caught 77 of them for 851 yards and 3 touchdowns.

In 2019, he earned 105 targets and pulled down 54 of them as he was generally working as more of a deep-ball threat. Thomas was something of a 2020 breakout player at tight end for fantasy managers. He finished that season with 110 targets, 72 receptions, 670 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

If these two players are healthy, Dotson will have ample competition for Carson Wentz’s attention behind McLaurin. He might be the No. 2 target some weeks and the No. 4 the next. That’s saying nothing of running backs, Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic who will also be involved in the passing game.

 

Skyy Moore, Kansas City Chiefs

There’s no denying the potential in an Andy Reid offense when you’re catching passes from Patrick Mahomes. Many fantasy managers are expecting or at the very least, are hopeful Skyy Moore will simply walk into Kansas City and become the No. 2 to Travis Kelce.

I’d reckon using a lot of caution with that idea. Many analysts had Moore as the fourth to sixth-best receiver in this class. He was selected as the 13th receiver. That at least begs the question, were we, as draft analysts, too high on him? The answer is probably.

Even still, fantasy managers see a golden opportunity for Moore with Tyreek Hill now in Miami, but how accurate is that assessment?

Hill generated 159 targets last season. In 2020, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s last full season, he received 128. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 55 in just 11 games last season and was pacing for 85 targets of his own.

Between MVS’s 17-game pace and JuJu’s 2020 total, they combine for 213 targets. That’s to say nothing of the 83 targets Mecole Hardman received in 2021. Expecting Moore to jump all of those players to become a dependable weekly fantasy starter in Year One is unlikely.

It’s not impossible and the quarterback and offense give him plenty of potential, but fantasy managers should temper expectations. There are several guys he’ll have to leap-frog to become a regular in starting lineups for fantasy managers.

 

Jalen Tolbert, Dallas Cowboys

Michael Gallup, who is the presumed No. 2 starter behind CeeDee Lamb, tore his ACL in Week 17 of the 2021 season and it sounds unlikely he’ll be ready to play in Week 1.

James Washington is expected to miss 8-12 weeks after his training camp injury, which puts Tolbert firmly in the driver's seat to be a Week 1 starter.

The Cowboys lost Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson in the offseason and these two players combined for 165 targets, 113 receptions, 1,467 yards, and 14 touchdowns. That’s a solid amount of opportunity that is up for grabs.

Gallup has proven to be a solid NFL player, but he may struggle coming back from a torn ACL, especially during a season where he’s going to miss all of training camp and the preseason. Gallup is not expected to be ready for Week 1, so Tolbert's status as the Cowboys No. 2 wide receiver could very last well into the 2022 season.

Dallas has ranked fifth in 2021, second in 2020, and tenth in 2019 in pass attempts per game, so there will be ample opportunity for Tolbert to make a name for himself. In his last two seasons at South Alabama, he racked up more than 2,500 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

Tolbert is unlikely to break into that top-24 range, but he could be a surprising WR3 fantasy managers shouldn’t forget about.

 

Romeo Doubs, Green Bay Packers

Romeo Doubs gets mentioned here because the Packers' depth chart looks rather pathetic at the receiver spot. Christian Watson is an athletic freak, but how much will that translate in Year One after playing at North Dakota State?

Allen Lazard is the only established starter. Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb look like players who are likely destined to play only in certain packages.

Doubs has over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns the past two seasons and has played regular minutes since being a true freshman. He's one of the more seasoned rookies and that experience could get him on the field earlier than expected.

No one else has risen up the ADP ranks like Doubs has this offseason. Sammy Watkins and Allen Lazard are still listed as the No. 1 and 2 receivers, but Watkins hasn't been fantasy relevant since 2016. He has been the star of the camp and the receiver room in Green Bay is wide open.

He's a player every fantasy manager should be targeting late because he could very well become Rodgers' No. 2 target this season.

 

George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers

George Pickens broke out as a true freshman at Georgia and has the speed and size NFL general managers covet. He looks the part. That's great, but it doesn't mean much unless you could put that all to use.

It's unlikely that happens in Year One. With established starters Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris, it's unlikely Pickens will be able to generate enough targets fantasy managers can depend on in Year One.

There are also questions surrounding the quarterback play with Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett getting the start. Certainly, those two signal-callers can support one fantasy receiver, but two?

Trubisky never has and it's a big ask for a rookie quarterback. There have been reports that Pickens has shined at training camp and with a recent Chase Claypool injury, Pickens could be someone that pops a bit in the second half of the season if he's able to firmly supplant Claypool as the primary No. 2 receiver in this offense.

However, with the quarterback play a big question mark and the number of pass-catchers he'd be competing with, it seems unlikely he's going to become a fixture in any fantasy lineups this season.

David Bell, Cleveland Browns

Bell has more top-24 than most fantasy managers realize and he might just be one of the more sneaky and underrated picks in 2022. For starters, the dude is insanely good at football.

He finished with 2,934 receiving yards at Purdue in three seasons and to be fair, his sophomore was cut down to six games only because of Covid-19. As a true freshman, he earned 128 targets and caught 86 of them for 1,035 yards. All he did was produce first-round numbers for three seasons at a Power-5 conference.

His NFL combine performance was a disaster, running just a 4.65 forty. This is most likely what caused his tumble down draft boards.

While a high RAS score is always fun and it’s certainly a nice thing to have, the truth is it’s not required at receiver. Plenty of receivers such as Jarvis Landry, DeAndre Hopkins, Calvin Ridley, Cooper Kupp, Diontae Johnson, Antonio Brown, and Tee Higgins all scored a 5.0 or lower on the RAS scale.

It’s not a death sentence, so there’s no reason to treat it like one. Bell is a damn good football player, period. He’s proven that over three years in the Big Ten.

The situation couldn’t be much more friendly either. The Browns lost Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper. They traded for Amari Cooper, but their No. 2 receiver is currently slated to be Donovan Peoples-Jones.

He has just 901 yards in two seasons in the pros and he never had more than 650 yards in any of his three seasons at Michigan. He was drafted in the sixth round. There’s no reason to believe Bell can’t beat him out.

With Watson's 11-game suspension, Bell will have to deal with Jacoby Brissett behind center. That won't do him any favors, especially if he's fighting for targets with Cooper and Njoku. The most likely scenario is that Cleveland leans very heavily on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, which will minimize the number of pass attempts to go around.

It could be a very slow start for Bell, but he was an incredibly productive college player. If he's able to earn the No. 2 receiver role by the time Watson returns in Week 12, he could become an impact player in deeper leagues just in time for the fantasy playoffs.

 

Don't Count On It for 2022 Fantasy Football

Malik Willis, Tennessee Titans

Over the past two seasons at Liberty, Malik Willis has gained 1,822 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. That's it. That's his fantasy value in a nutshell.

If he gets to play as a rookie, which looks like a long shot with the Titans competing for a playoff spot and a veteran entrenched behind center, but if he does, he'll make his fantasy value on the ground.

The giant leap in competition will things extremely difficult as a passer, but if he can run the ball, he'll have a shot at being a starter in Superflex leagues.

 

Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons

Tyler Allgeier rushed for 2,731 yards at BYU the last two seasons and found the end zone 36 times. He's a big back at 220+ pounds and finished his college career with a 6.4 yard per carry average.

He also chipped in 42 receptions and 373 receiving yards the last two seasons. The depth chart in Atlanta is wide-open, especially with the news that the coaching staff plans to use Cordarrelle Patterson more as a receiver this season.

There's a decent chance Allgeier could earn early-down work with Patterson working as the third-down and hurry-up receiving back. That could lead to him getting 200 or so touches as a rookie.

Unfortunately, without a clear pathway to targets or high touchdown potential, those touches are unlikely to carry much value. Still, the opportunity he has in front of him makes him someone to keep an eye on.

 

Jameson Williams, Detroit Lions

This is simple. Williams suffered a late-season torn ACL injury and won’t be ready for training camp, most likely. Detroit is not competing for a playoff spot this season and it’d be silly to rush Williams back after the kind of investment they made in him.

Even if he does play this season, Jared Goff is not the quarterback to bring out his best skill, the deep ball. In fact, Goff was one of the most check-down happy signal-callers last season.

It’s a terrible pairing and the lack of practice time is a concern. With D.J. Chark, T.J. Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and D’Andre Swift, it’s highly unlikely Williams generates enough targets to be a difference-maker in Year One.

 

Alec Pierce, Indianapolis Colts

This was such an excellent pick for the Colts. Pittman is more of a possession receiver and they need more speed to their offense. Pierce brings that in bunches.

It’s a perfect X’s and O’s draft selection and it will likely pay the Colts more dividends than it will your fantasy team. With Jonathan Taylor and a solid defense, the Colts are once again to play through their running game.

This will limit the passing volume they have to go around and fantasy managers know it’s going to be Michael Pittman leading the way. Pierce is likely going to end up in something of an MVS role.

The Colts will work in a lot of play-action with their running game and Pierce will be there to hold defenses accountable for the long ball. He’ll hit on a few of them, especially with Matt Ryan at quarterback, but the consistency won’t be there to be anything more than a boom or bust bye week replacement receiver.

 

Khalil Shakir, Buffalo Bills

Shakir is most likely going to end up fighting with Jamison Crowder for slot duties in Buffalo and fantasy managers should expect the veteran to win out.

Crowder has been a dependable player in his seven-year career and it would be a big ask to expect a Day Three rookie to out-play a solid veteran.

However, Crowder has struggled with injuries the past few seasons and if Crowder misses time, Shakir would immediately be the starting slot receiver for the Bills. Cole Beasley has been, at times, a fantasy starter the past three seasons in full-PPR leagues.

 

Trey McBride, Arizona Cardinals

McBride is nothing more than a tight end handcuff. He'll be starting behind Zach Ertz this season in Arizona, but if the nine-year player and 31-year-old gets injured, McBride would likely step into the starting role where he could become a tight end streamer on the right matchups.

 

Jelani Woods, Indianapolis Colts

Jelani Woods is just about the most athletic and physically imposing tight end the NFL has seen in years – maybe ever.

He'll be competing for snaps with Mo Alie-Cox who has proven to be an excellent blocker and in the Colts' offense, that is going to keep him on the field. It's possible Woods could develop into the pass-catching tight end for the Colts, although rookie production from tight ends is extremely rare.

Still, someone with his physical attributes is someone to be mindful of. The Colts' passing attack is wide open after Michael Pittman and Woods has the size to develop into a red-zone weapon fairly early. Fantasy managers saw Freiermuth do that last season and almost finish as a backend TE1 almost entirely on touchdowns.

Cade Otton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Otton is listed here because Rob Gronkowski hasn't resigned – yet. Most still expect Gronk to come back to Tampa Bay now that Tom Brady un-retired. If that happens, Otten becomes entirely irrelevant.

If by surprise Gronk doesn't play this season, he becomes a bit more interesting. Chris Godwin had a late-season torn ACL and could be held out early. O.J. Howard left in the offseason for Buffalo and Otton would be competing for Cameron Brate for targets and playing time.

Brate has been a solid tight end in his career, but it would leave the door open – ever so slightly – for Otton to become a tight end streamer should Gronk not lace them up in 2022.



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