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Surprising NFL Draft Winners at Wide Receiver - Fantasy Football Draft Targets

Darnell Mooney - fantasy football rankings news NFL DFS lineup picks

At this point in the offseason, all teams have had their minicamps and many teams are gearing up to begin their training camps ahead of the 2022 NFL season. Every season, early fantasy sleepers are created and destroyed throughout the process of the NFL draft. Now that we have had a couple of months to process the newest rookie class's landing spots, it is a great time to evaluate the players who were surprising winners in the NFL draft.

The players on this list are worth targeting in fantasy drafts because they should see a bigger than expected role in their passing attacks in the 2022 season. The lack of added competition in the NFL draft signals that their team has confidence in their ability to earn a greater (or similar) role in the offense as last season.

For this article, I will be looking at individual players who should see their roles grow as a result of their team not prioritizing the wide receiver position in the NFL draft. Most of the players on this list didn’t have any competition added to their receiving room on the first two days (three rounds) of the draft. In one case, the player had somebody added but still is in a fantastic situation looking ahead to the 2022 season. Check out the list below.

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Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman

Bateman not only avoided a major addition to the wide receiver room through the NFL draft, but his situation in Baltimore’s passing attack also improved thanks to a draft-day trade involving Marquise Brown. The second-year receiver will officially enter the 2022 season as Baltimore’s top receiver and likely second target behind Mark Andrews.

Bateman had a very up-and-down rookie season. A training camp core injury and surgery ultimately delayed his debut until Week 6 of the regular season. Unfortunately, a Lamar Jackson injury also forced him to play a majority of his first season with a UDFA quarterback in Tyler Huntley.

All told, Bateman averaged 5.7 targets, 3.8 receptions, and 42.9 receiving yards per game in 12 games while scoring just one touchdown. He finished with seven games of at least six targets and showed off his route running ability throughout his first year.

https://twitter.com/HaydenWinks/status/1549148863533002753?s=20&t=-E8HcOCntE7jv526uyNfvA

It is unlikely that the Ravens pass as much as they did in 2021 (611 pass attempts) when a series of injuries in the secondary forced them into shootout situations with a young quarterback. However, the Ravens talked about going to a more balanced offense heading into last season and delivered on that promise.

It isn’t unreasonable to believe that they will pass over 500 times this season. The Ravens lack proven talent in the receiving game outside of Mark Andrews, so Bateman should be poised to see a healthy target share in his first season as the WR1.

Bateman isn’t the deep threat that Marquise Brown was throughout his tenure with the Ravens, but he wins in the areas that Lamar Jackson throws well (short to intermediate routes) and has top-20 wide receiver upside in 2022. He’s an excellent target in drafts this season.

 

Buffalo Bills: Gabriel Davis

The hype around Gabriel Davis reached a fever pitch after he caught eight of 10 targets for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. Despite the huge game, there were still worries that the Bills could add a wide receiver throughout free agency and the draft.

Ultimately, Buffalo did both, re-signing Isaiah McKenzie, signing free agent Jamison Crowder, and spending a fifth-round draft pick on Khalil Shakir. However, all three of those players profile as slot receivers, which will do nothing to keep Davis off the field across from Stefon Diggs in two receiver sets.

Davis has been relatively productive in his first two seasons in the league, totaling 125 targets, 70 receptions, 1,148 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns despite having a limited role in the offense.

Fantasy managers have pounced on Davis this offseason considering his expanded role on one of the highest volume passing attacks in the NFL. Davis has been going off the board as WR24 in NFC drafts since July 1. However, there are reasons to be skeptical that he can hit that ceiling.

In the last few seasons, the Buffalo Bills have utilized a passing attack that targeted the middle of the field with Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. Diggs will once again play the role of the team’s WR1 and Buffalo added several slot receivers to the team to take Beasley’s place after they let him walk in free agency.

Davis will undoubtedly set a career-high in snap share this season, but he will be running mostly deep routes that are more difficult to complete. There is a chance he doesn’t see an immense volume increase despite an expanded role in the offense.

Regardless of the negatives, Davis will finally get his shot to become a full-time receiver in a high-volume offense tied to one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. The Bills signaled confidence in him by not adding any target competition until Day 3 of the NFL draft.

 

Chicago Bears: Darnell Mooney

Consensus believed the Chicago Bears would provide help to Justin Fields through the draft since they were armed with two second-round picks in an extremely deep wide receiver class.

Ultimately, the Bears decided to use both those picks on defensive backs and didn’t address the wide receiver position until the third round, when they took a receiver who will be 25 in his first season (Velus Jones). That makes Darnell Mooney a big winner in this year’s draft cycle.

Mooney stepped up during his second season after injuries forced Allen Robinson to miss five games. The second-year receiver caught 81 of 140 targets for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns despite functioning as the team’s WR1 in a passing offense with a rookie. Mooney had 12 games with at least seven targets and five receptions.

Additionally, he had four games with at least 100 receiving yards. The Bears added veteran target competition this offseason in the form of Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry, Dante Pettis, and Eqanimeous St. Brown, but none of them have shown the ability to produce like Mooney in their professional careers.

https://twitter.com/CPBetting/status/1548096552463245312?s=20&t=gIV6uwQl6p7eWjO4ByHrVA

The Bears fired their coaching staff and general manager this offseason, which should work to Mooney’s benefit. It is well-documented that Matt Nagy struggled to run plays that suited Justin Fields' strengths, forcing him into a pocket passer behind a terrible offensive line.

While the line won’t be much better this season, the hope is a new play caller will be able to get Fields on the move and give his wide receivers the ability to get open.

If healthy, Mooney will likely finish as the Bears WR1 in terms of targets. A new play caller combined with Fields' deep ball accuracy and ability to throw on the run, could unlock a new dimension to Mooney’s game in his third season.

It seems unlikely that he draws more targets than he did in his second season, but he could still outproduce last year’s totals with a more efficient season downfield.

 

Los Angeles Chargers: Joshua Palmer

After barely missing the playoffs last season, many predicted that the Chargers would look to add a solid third option to complement Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in the receiving corps.

Instead, the Chargers used their second-round draft pick to acquire Khalil Mack and invested in an offensive lineman in the first round. That likely means the team will go into the 2022 season with Joshua Palmer as their third wide receiver.

Palmer was a popular sleeper pick ahead of the 2021 season after the Chargers picked him in the third round. Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were able to stay healthy last year, making it difficult for Palmer to see the field. However, he was productive whenever the team gave him a shot.

The rookie finished his first season with 49 targets, 33 receptions, 353 receiving yards, and four touchdowns. Over half of that production came in the last five weeks of the season as his role grew in the offense.

Palmer will get the first opportunity to function as the team’s third wide receiver during his second season. Even with a role increase, he will still struggle to finish higher than fourth on the team in targets behind Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and Mike Williams.

Despite that, the second-year receiver will be on the field in one of the most explosive passing offenses in the NFL. Given the injury risks associated with Williams, Allen, and Ekeler, he’s worth drafting and stashing in fantasy drafts this season.

 

Minnesota Vikings: K.J. Osborn

The Vikings had several opportunities to add a young receiver to the team in the first and second rounds of the NFL draft but instead chose to use those rounds to add to the secondary (Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth) and offensive line (Ed Ingram).

Minnesota only used a sixth-round pick on a developmental wide receiver (Jalen Nailor). While this helps secure Adam Thielen’s role with the team for another season, the bigger winner on the Minnesota Vikings is arguably third-year receiver K.J. Osborn.

Back in 2020, K.J. Osborn was an afterthought in Minnesota’s offense after being selected with a fifth-round pick. However, Osborn flashed consistently in his second training camp and earned a role in the Vikings offense during his second season, especially once Irv Smith Jr. and Adam Thielen went down with injuries.

All told, Osborn finished his second year with 82 targets, 50 receptions, 655 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. From Weeks 13 to 18 (when Thielen was out), Osborn averaged 5.2 targets, 3.2 receptions, 290 yards, and scored five touchdowns. He was the WR18 in PPR leagues during that stretch.

Osborn will once again have to compete with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook for targets in 2022. Additionally, Irv Smith Jr. will have had a year to recover from his meniscus injury and will be ready to go to start the season.

However, Osborn should still have a big role in this offense with a new, offensive-minded head coach. Given his play last season and the recent injury woes for Adam Thielen, Osborn is a great draft target in the late rounds of fantasy drafts.



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