Fantasy Football 2022: Bold Predictions see big things for CeeDee Lamb, Saquon Barkley, Brandin Cooks

On 95% of this magazine’s pages, you’ll find our best attempts to predict what’s going to happen in the 2022 NFL season. Our team of analysts have spent all offseason crunching numbers and watching film so they can put together the most accurate rankings and projections we can for you as you prepare for your draft.

That’s not what this piece is about. 

This piece is about going out on a limb – and hoping that limb can hold you up. We’re planting our flags in this piece, not on the most likely island to turn up gold, but on the one where the biggest treasure might be found.

Because, you see, you don’t necessarily win your league by correctly identifying the most likely outcomes. You win your league by being right on enough outliers to get a huge return on your investment – or to avoid the players who turn into the biggest landmines. 

Here are the Fantasy Football Today crew’s boldest predictions for the 2022 Fantasy season, beginning with three from me: 

Chris Towers’ bold predictions

No rookie RB finishes as a top-24 player at the position

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic. After all, there has been at least one rookie RB inside of the top 20 every season since 2011, so history suggests someone will get there in 2022. Breece Hall has the best chance, seemingly, but he’s tied to a Jets offense that has a long way to go before it even becomes average. And that’s the best scenario any of them find themselves in; Kenneth Walker is splitting work in Drew Lock’s offense, while James Cook is in a likely timeshare in a Bills offense that has been one of the worst in the league for RBs in Fantasy since Josh Allen became the starting QB. 

Christian McCaffrey outscores Jonathan Taylor by 100 PPR points

McCaffrey has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, playing just 10 of 33 games, which is the main reason he’s going to be taken second at the earliest in most leagues (usually later, it seems) while Taylor is the near-unanimous No. 1 pick. But to just highlight how much better McCaffrey has been, consider this: In those 10 games, McCaffrey has 24 or more PPR points in seven games, despite leaving two early due to injuries; Taylor has eight such games out of 33 in the same stretch. McCaffrey is still the gold standard when healthy. 

Seahawks don’t have a player who finishes top 20 at his position

I don’t have it ranked this way, technically, but only because Noah Fant is TE16 for me. The highest ranked Seahawks player otherwise is DK Metcalf, my WR26; Tyler Lockett is WR35, Rashaad Penny is RB35, Kenneth Walker III is RB36, while Drew Lock is QB32. But this all comes down to that last guy there, because I just really don’t have faith in Lock in this offense. Among 32 players with at least 700 pass attempts over the past three seasons, Lock ranks 31st in passer rating, 32nd in completion percentage, 30th in touchdown rate, 27th in interception rate, and 26th in yards per pass attempt. This could be the worst offense in the NFL.

Adam Aizer’s bold predictions

Christian Watson will be the top rookie wide receiver

Few rookies get the opportunity Watson is getting in 2022. He has a Hall of Fame quarterback and the Packers have an obvious need for a No. 1 wide receiver. For all of the Allen Lazard hype, he set a career high with only 513 receiving yards last season. Watson stands at 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.36 40 at the NFL Combine! He may be the most talented Packers receiver and will be the best rookie WR when it’s all said and done. 

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Dalton Schultz is the TE2

The Cowboys drafted wide receiver Jalen Tolbert in the third round but really didn’t do much to replace Amari Cooper. Schultz averaged 7.5 targets in two games without Cooper last season and saw eight or more targets in four of the last five games of the season (including the postseason). I expect him to be second on the team in targets to Lamb, and if he catches enough touchdowns, he could be an elite Fantasy tight end.

Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence will all finish top 12, one inside top five

Fields scored 19 or more Fantasy Points (six point per passing TD leagues) in each of his last four healthy starts. Lance was solid (for Fantasy purposes) in two of his three games with extended playing time, and he played the entire season with a broken finger. Lawrence struggled, but he obviously has the pedigree, a more competent coaching staff and upgrades in the passing game in Christian Kirk, Travis Etienne and Evan Engram. Year 2 is a breakout year for a lot of players, and that will be the case for these three quarterbacks. 

Heath Cummings’ bold predictions 

Jalen Hurts will finish the year as the QB1

Hurts has as much rushing upside as anyone not named Lamar Jackson, and the addition of A.J. Brown should improve his passing numbers enough to make him a top-five Fantasy quarterback with the upside to be No. 1 overall. The most obvious cases to cite when trying to figure out how much Brown could help Hurts as a passer are Josh Allen (with Stefon Diggs) and Kyler Murray (with DeAndre Hopkins). While a major leap like Allen’s may be unrealistic, even a 3.5-ppg boost like Murray got from Hopkins would make Hurts a surefire top-five QB. 

Brandin Cooks will have a career year and finish as a top-12 WR

Whether you believe this or not, Cooks should be on your Draft Day radar because he’s a screaming value available in Round 6 or later in most drafts. Now, as to why he’s going to be even better – Cooks played most of last year with a rookie quarterback, which helps explain why his efficiency suffered. His 11.5 yards per catch was his lowest since his rookie year and his 7.7 yards per target was a career low. While the Texans didn’t add anyone who I’d expect will dent Cooks’ target share, I would expect Davis Mills to make at least some improvement in his second season, as that’s what most second-year quarterbacks do. A small increase in efficiency with a similar target share will set Cooks up for the best numbers of his career.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ronald Jones will both finish as top-24 RBs

Chiefs running backs ran for 1,393 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 87 passes for 793 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. If Jones and Edwards-Helaire split that evenly and both play 17 games, that production would put them both around RB30 (11.8 PPR FP/G). But I would expect increased efficiency, with Edwards-Helaire getting more touches in a role he’s more comfortable with and Jones providing a better option as a runner between the tackles and in short yardage. The loss of Tyreek Hill should also increase target and red-zone opportunities. And continuity could mean this Chiefs offensive line is even better than it was last year.

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Jamey Eisenberg’s bold predictions

Aaron Jones will lead the Packers in receptions

With Davante Adams now in Las Vegas, Aaron Rodgers has arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. That should mean plenty of targets headed for Jones, which has worked well for Rodgers in the past. There have been eight games over the past three years that Adams was either out or left before halftime, and Jones has averaged five catches for 57 yards and 6.9 targets per game over that span, with five receiving touchdowns. It’s tough to expect Jones to average five catches a game for a full season, but if he did that would be 85 receptions if he played all 17 games. I love the setup for Jones as a pass catcher in 2022.

Russell Wilson will be the No. 1 quarterback

Wilson comes to Denver with the chance to have a career season, and I’m counting on that to happen. He should top his career high in passing yards (4,219 set in 2016), passing touchdowns (40 set in 2020) and, most importantly, pass attempts (558 set in 2020). His 2020 campaign in Seattle was his best Fantasy season when he averaged 27.4 points per game, and Wilson will likely need to be above 29 points per game to challenge for the No. 1 spot. I love his receiving corps, and I love this opportunity for him in what should be a pass-first offense. He’s headed for a monster season with the Broncos in 2022.

CeeDee Lamb will be the No. 1 wide receiver

There’s a lot to love about Lamb this season as he enters his third year in the NFL. With Amari Cooper and Ced Wilson gone, there are 165 vacated targets in Dallas. Newcomers James Washington and Jalen Tolbert should help fill the void, but we don’t know when Michael Gallup will return from his torn ACL. Last year, when Gallup (calf) was out or injured for the first eight games of the season, Lamb averaged 8.3 targets per game and had five games with at least 17 PPR points. He should dominate targets from Dak Prescott this season, and Lamb is poised for a breakout year.

Dave Richard’s bold predictions 

Diontae Johnson will not finish as a top-20 WR in any format

The Steelers figure to lean a little more on the run game and not throw as much. That’s bad news for Johnson, who ranked 20th among receivers with at least 50 catches in yards per route run (1.89), 38th in yards per catch (10.9), 41st in explosive play rate (12.1%) and 29th in catch rate (63.3%), which is wild considering his average depth of target was a short 8.52 yards. I wouldn’t be comfortable drafting him until Round 5 in full PPR and Round 6 in non-PPR.

Gabriel Davis will finish as a top-15 WR in any format

Davis is locked into an improved, unchallenged role in one of the league’s pass-friendliest offenses. Given a chance to be a regular contributor in his last six games of 2021, including the playoffs, Davis caught 26 of 45 targets for 449 yards and eight touchdowns. Obviously that includes his 201-yard, four-score jaw-dropper at Kansas City, but even without that, Davis averaged 7.0 targets per game with four scores in the other five. With Josh Allen comfortable with him (Davis saw an end-zone target once every five throws from Allen in those last six), I’m ready to take Davis in Round 6 in every draft I’m in.

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Adam Thielen will finish as a top-20 Fantasy WR

Thielen was a beast through the first 12 weeks of last season, owning a 70% catch rate on 8.2 targets per game. Then he got hurt and never recovered. Detractors will call him old, which is true. They’ll call him touchdown-needy, which is also true, but his track record with Kirk Cousins suggests it’s sustainable. When he’s been healthy over the past four seasons, his target share inside of 10 yards has been anywhere from 28% to 43%. I’m banking on that continuing, making Thielen a comfortable pick after No. 55 overall in full PPR.

Dan Schneier’s bold predictions 

Tyreek Hill doesn’t finish as a top-12 WR

Hill has on multiple occasions talked up Tua Tagovailoa and even compared his arm talent to Tyreek’s former quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the reality is that life is about to change drastically for the star receiver. Tagovailoa threw just two TDs of 40-plus yards with an average depth of target that was fourth-lowest in the NFL. That could change as the Dolphins go away from the most RPO-heavy offensive system of the last decade, but new head coach Mike McDaniel is likely to bring over a system similar to his predecessor Kyle Shanahan. That system is predicated on the run game. Volume and deep targets will be the two things holding back Hill from WR1 production in his first year in Miami.

Saquon Barkley finishes as the RB1 overall

This is a big leap of faith for a player who is coming off the board around the Round 2-3 turn and has dealt with multiple lower-body injuries over the last three seasons, but Barkley entered OTAs healthier than he’s been since after his rookie season. More importantly, he’s been the focal point of the Brian Daboll’s new system this offseason, even lining up at multiple different receiver spots. The objective is to create more layup passes for Daniel Jones, and Barkley will be the main benefactor. He could match his target total from 2018 and that combined with his breakaway ability and overall workload (the Giants didn’t provide much competition around him) gives him RB1 upside.

Devonta Smith finishes ahead of A.J. Brown

Nothing against Brown as a player, but the rapport he built with Ryan Tannehill is no longer relevant and he’ll spend the early part of the 2022 season trying to establish it with Jalen Hurts. Meanwhile, Smith, who might have been a better overall prospect entering the NFL than Brown, has looked locked in during early OTAs and has the advantage of having played with Hurts. Smith will benefit from the attention defenses pay to Brown and he’ll finish with both more total targets and points than Brown.

#Fantasy #Football #Bold #Predictions #big #CeeDee #Lamb #Saquon #Barkley #Brandin #Cooks

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