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Target Hogs to Trust in 2022 Fantasy Football

We're talking about fantasy football here, and in fantasy, football volume is the key to rostering and fielding a winning team. While everything boils down to that concept, seeking volume calls for looking deeper than just the name and reputation of players. Put a wide receiver or tight end in a stacked offense (one featuring multiple top-tier pass-catchers and one or two great rushers) and his volume – and thus his fantasy outcome — will drop without question. The opportunities will go down and with them the chances of scoring fantasy points.

With that in mind, it makes sense to chase WRs/TEs with a clear and very well-defined No. 1 role without other receivers threatening their target share. Even if the players in those offenses are not top-tier options, they will get all of the opportunities they can handle, which will ultimately benefit them. Those players might not be that good, but they will compensate for it just on pure volume. The exact opposite is also true: great pass-catchers can rack up points even on low volume, separating themselves from the pack.

Today, I will explore some offenses that enter the 2022 season with very few high-caliber receivers to throw passes to, making their top options great draft picks for the upcoming year.

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Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears

If Darnell Mooney's 2020 season caught you a little bit by surprise, that's understandable. Mooney was getting drafted with an ADP of WR88 and 300+ OVR prior to that year, so he was a legit afterthought back then and the truth is that he wasn't that great posting 152.1 PPR points over 16 games (9 starts). That said, Mooney already got targeted 98 times in 2020 and we were all licking our chops in advance of a 2021 season in which the Bears were about to debut rookie-QB Justin Fields. We were pretty much right about the expectations, even with Fields missing time here and there.

Mooney got peppered with targets for the second year in a row and finished the year with 140 targets (11th-most, 87th percentile among WRs) and 81 receptions. Of course, another down year by Allen Robinson helped Mooney's upside, but that's not a thing Mooney could control or will into existence. More encouraging is the fact that, even if Mooney's teammates next season improve on A-Rob's putrid year, the Bears will be coming off an offseason in which they just let go four of their top-five WRs (and TE Jimmy Graham) into free agency.

You would think Chicago did an effort to fix the offensive depth, but you'd be partially wrong. The only two additions prior to the draft and as I'm writing this are Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. There is no way Mooney loses targets because of the competition at the position, full stop. Even more, Mooney proved capable of doing a lot of damage from the slot while getting into the 60th+ percentile in all Yds/Route, YAC/Target, and Red Zone Catch% which bodes more than well for him going forward.


Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans

Cooks extended his contract with Houston for a couple of years, which should keep him donning Texans' threads until he hits UFA in 2025. Cooks was a good target hog to trust next year no matter what, but this news only boosts his upside and value as he's clearly off the trade market now. You gotta love that for fantasy purposes, as the Texans' offense is one of the thinnest around the whole NFL and the roster has so many flaws that I really doubt Houston is in a position to target any offensive skill-position player early in the draft.

With the Texans probably targeting any of an EDGE/OL/S/CB/DL in late April, the current receiving corps feature Cooks at the top, and then a middling group of names in which second-year man Nico Collins and/or Chris Conley are probably the second-best options for QB Davis Mills. That's just no competition for Cooks, no matter the stat leaderboard you try to knock him down. Cooks has posted 221+ PPR points in six of his last seven years in the league – in other words, all of his seasons except his 10-game rookie year and a down 2019 campaign with the WR/TE-loaded Rams.

Cooks has played for four franchises and he's finished with 114+ targets in at least one season playing from each of those teams. Most recently, in Houston, he's posted 119 and 134 targets to go with 81 and 90 receptions respective (67.5% catch rate). It's been back-to-back 1,000+ yard years for Cooks in Texas and that should change any time soon. The ceiling is a little bit cut down because of the doubts at the QB position (is Davis Mills for real?) but other than that Cooks is a lock to finish into the high-end WR2 realm with upside for a low-end WR1 season. Incredibly high floor, reasonable ceiling.


Terry McLaurin, Washington Commanders

Can't say McLaurin has had to endure the worst quarterbacking in his three years as a pro, but he's been more on the wrong side of things on that front than on the right one. Keenum and Haskins started in 2019 and finished as QB33 on average, Alex Smith/Kyle Allen/Haskins split the 2020 starts evenly and pretty much sucked, and Taylor Heinicke was the QB19 of 2021. Again, bad-not-worst. With I wanted to convey with all of that is that even though the Commanders will hand the pocket to an oft-labeled mediocre QB in Carson Wentz next year, that's quite a jump up in terms of quality for McLaurin to work with.

Oh, and then there is that receiving corps' depth chart...  Washington's WR2 in the past three years have been Steven Sims, Cam Sims, and Adam Humprhies most recently. Sims is barely playable and Humphries is still weighing his options in free agency. Yes, Curtis Samuel is the actual WR2 of the Commanders if health respects him, but that didn't happen last season, so we'll see.

Anyway, T-Mac has racked up 93, 134, and 130 targets in the past three seasons. Even in games in which both McLaurin and Samuel played together, the former got 8+ targets per game while catching 3+ of them. No competition for McLaurin on offense other than a shaky Samuel/returning-from-injury TE Logan Thomas and a better quarterback in Wentz should be enough for fantasy GMs to consider Scary Terry a bona fide WR2 with an easy path toward WR1 production.


Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Pittman's case is very very similar to that of Terry McLaurin (read above). Indy has gotten rid of Carson Wentz just after having him for a year while the Colts are now going to start veteran Matt Ryan at the QB position. On top of that, Indy has lost WRs T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal while also waving goodbye to TE Jack Doyle. No additions at all have been done to the Colts offense prior to the draft, which means profit for Mike Pittman getting into the 2022 season.

Pittman wasn't incredible as a rookie in 2020 as he appeared in just 13 games while getting full-time usage in just eight of those. All in all, he finished with a low 61 targets but was really efficient catching 40 of those passes for 503 yards and one TD. Of course, Indy believed in that brief glimpse of good play and trusted him last season, handing him the most targets among their pass-catchers with 129 over the whole 17-game season. The volume didn't stop Pittman for getting another marvelous amount of receptions as he topped his rookie figure of 65.6% catch rate raising the bar up to a 68.2% mark last year.

The Colts, of course, were most often relying on RB Jonathan Taylor to carry their offense, and that (reasonably) limited the passing game a bit. Even then, this offense is so barren of talent that Pittman will keep getting all of the work he can handle next year with a very phenomenal QB throwing him the rock. Maybe Pittman doesn't improve on last year's 238 PPR tally (WR17) but there is no legit reason not to think he can finish 2022 into the WR2 realm for the second year in a row with good chances at a top-15 finish.


Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

Kyle Pitts is coming off a year in which he bucked history-long trends. He became the third-ever tight end drafted at age-20 and the second one after Aaron Hernandez since 2010. He became, of course, the highest-drafted TE ever in the NFL getting picked with the 4th OVR pick. Even in a rookie season that some might arguably see as disappointing, Pitts still was good to post the second-most PPR points (176.6) in the past 21 seasons only 0.6 points behind Travis Kelce's 2014 freshman year.

Pitts has just started to scratch the surface of his career-iceberg. And if you ask me, he is in the perfect position to keep racking up fantasy goodies whether that is good or not for the real-life Falcons or Pitts' own winning expectations. Atlanta is going nowhere any time soon. Other than Cordarrelle Patterson (just imagine...) this team has nothing to bring a little burning flame of hope to its fans out there. Ryan was replaced by Marcus Mariota, Russell Gage bolted the hell away to Tampa Bay, and Atlanta's WR1 is Olamide Zaccheaus these days. Uh, oh.

With 110 targets as a rookie, Pitts got the third-largest workload ever for a player at the TE position in his first year (only two other topped 87 targets in the past 21 years). Most encouragingly, as I wrote in the first paragraph, is that Pitts could have actually underperformed last year. He posted the only rookie-TE 1,000+ yards season, sure, but he also caught "only" 61.8% of his targets while scoring a measly single touchdown over 17 games played. He was, still, the TE6 of the year. Bake some positive regression into Pitts equation, add the fact that Mariota isn't the worst possible QB, and an absolutely depleted offense with no capable hands other than Pitts' and there you have your surefire-trustful TE for the 2022 fantasy campaign.

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