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The 2022 NFL draft has come and gone. And now that it is in the rearview mirror, many more will soon start firing up.
Fantasy football drafts.
Whether it’s rookie drafts for dynasty leagues or the redrafts that will follow after, fantasy managers are beginning the process of valuing players for the season to come. And one important factor to consider when doing so is how the latest NFL draft affected the landscape.
Some rookies landed on teams that give them a chance to make an early impact in the NFL and for fantasy managers. Others weren’t so fortunate, beginning their careers in places where early playing time could be hard to come by.
Never mind all of the veteran players whose fantasy values were affected for better or worse, whether it was by the arrival of new faces on their teams or all the wheeling and dealing that happened during the draft.
(Are there any star wide receivers who weren’t traded this offseason?)
Here’s a look at some rookies and veterans alike whose fantasy stocks received a boost as the result of the 2022 draft—and some others who were not as fortunate.
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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts was a big-time value for many fantasy managers in 2021. Heading into his second season, Hurts had an average draft position at Fantasy Football Calculator of QB12, the last signal-caller picked as a starter in 12-team leagues.
But thanks in no small part to his 784 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, Hurts finished the year seventh at the position in fantasy points per game.
Hurts isn’t going to come as cheaply this year after what happened during the first round of the 2022 draft. But there’s also an excellent chance now that he will build on last year’s fantasy success.
Hurts and the Eagles were one of the big winners of the first round, but it had nothing to do with the arrival of a rookie. Instead, it was the trade that brought star wide receiver A.J. Brown to town.
“He’s always been an excellent player since I’ve known him [before] college,” Hurts said, per Josh Tolentino of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s always had the ability to make plays with the ball in his hand, use his body, box out defenders, break tackles. He’s a great addition to a great receiver room we have now, and I’m excited.”
Fantasy managers should be excited too because a receiver room that featured DeVonta Smith and not much else last year now has a dangerous “thunder and lightning” duo in Brown and Smith.
It’s not at all unreasonable to expect a sizable jump in Hurts’ passing numbers this season. Unfortunately, it’s also likely going to come with a jump in ADP.
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Ryan Tannehill needs a hug.
The flip side of A.J. Brown joining the Eagles is that he left the Tennessee Titans. And it’s not the only change the Titans’ passing game has undergone this offseason. Last year at this time, Tannehill was preparing for training camp with Brown and Julio Jones as his top two wideouts. And there was enough enthusiasm about Tannehill’s fantasy prospects that he was being drafted as a low-end starter.
What followed was a disastrous injury-marred season for Jones and the worst statistical season of Brown’s career. And while Tannehill’s passing yardage last year was similar to 2020, his passing scores plummeted from 33 to 21, and he finished outside of the top 20 in fantasy points per game.
Now Jones is gone. Brown is gone. And while the Titans used the 18th pick of the 2022 draft on a wide receiver in Treylon Burks and acquired veteran Robert Woods in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams, the latter tore his ACL last November.
Last year’s excitement has been replaced with uncertainty. And that’s not the end of it either. The Titans used a third-round pick on Liberty quarterback Malik Willis—a selection that did not seem to sit especially well with Tannehill. The pick is probably more about the future than the present, but it doesn’t speak well to Tannehill’s long-term future in Nashville or of his value in dynasty fantasy leagues.
But other than the huge question marks at wide receiver and the real possibility that Tannehill could be headed into his last season as the Titans’ starting quarterback, everything is fine.
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Entering the draft, Iowa State running back Breece Hall was the No. 1 player at his position on most boards, including the one here at Bleacher Report.
“Hall has the size, vision, footwork and athleticism to be a productive RB in any type of run scheme, both from under center and the shotgun,” Nate Tice wrote. “He already has a lot of miles on his odometer and will need to keep refining his pass-protection technique. But his ability to be a steady, productive player who helps out his blockers on every run play and the upside to stay on the field for passing downs should appeal to most NFL teams.”
Hall was also the early favorite to be the first rookie selected in fantasy drafts this summer, and nothing has changed.
He was taken early in Round 2 by the New York Jets, and general manager Joe Douglas told reporters after that he thinks his team got a steal.
“I really wish I could tell you there’s some magic trick or special sauce. It’s just us following our board,” Douglas said. “Breece was our 18th-rated player. And it was like, this is an opportunity to get one of the more dynamic players in the draft; the best running back in the draft.”
The Jets have Michael Carter, who showed some flashes last year as a 22-year-old rookie. But Hall is a more talented and complete player, and the Jets were terrible running the ball last year with the sixth-fewest yards per game (98.1).
The Jets drafted Hall to fix that, and he should assume a featured role out of the gate. He’s not a lock to be this year’s highest-scoring rookie back, but he’s the clear favorite and an upside RB2.
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Life comes at you fast in the NFL and fantasy football. Yesterday’s hero can turn into tomorrow’s zero in the blink of an eye.
Just ask Rashaad Penny of the Seattle Seahawks.
Last year, the oft-injured 2018 first-rounder finally seemed to have his “light bulb” moment. Functioning as Seattle’s lead back down the stretch, he topped 100 rushing yards four times over the last five games. From Week 14 on, Penny was fantasy football’s highest-scoring running back. A league-winner.
That outburst got him a new deal, and as recently as the end of March, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was talking up the 26-year-old to reporters:
“I’m really excited about Rashaad coming back. The way he played at the end of the football season last year just jumped off the film. I don’t know how we were able to get him back—maybe because of his history—but he was one of the best players in the league last year finishing up that football season. The explosiveness that he generated, and the toughness and the consistency that just was so dead obvious at the end of the year, it just made it like a huge element for us to get that. We had to get him back on our club.”
All was well in Pennyville. Then the Seahawks used one of their back-to-back picks in Round 2 on Michigan State tailback Kenneth Walker III.
There will no doubt be coachspeak about competition in camp. And Penny may even open the season as the “starter” in the Seattle backfield.
But Walker is the kind of decisive, physical back Carroll loves, and the Seahawks didn’t use a top-50 pick on him so he could watch.
The best case for Penny is likely a committee attack and shared carries. The worst case is Walker beats him out and he’s rendered irrelevant in fantasy.
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When judging the fantasy value of an incoming rookie class, talent is of course an important consideration (I know, that’s some hard-hitting fantasy analysis). But especially where redraft leagues are concerned, landing spot can be just as important.
And in the latter regard, there wasn’t a running back in the class of 2022 who did better than Florida’s Dameon Pierce.
He wasn’t the first running back drafted. Or the second. Or the fifth. The 5’10”, 218-pounder never had even 600 rushing yards in a season in college and carried the ball just 100 times for the Gators in 2021. The scouting report from Bleacher Report’s Derrik Klassen didn’t exactly paint a glowing picture.
“Pierce’s profile is limited by not having any special traits. The explosive play potential is not there right now. That being said, Pierce’s balance, burst and hard-nosed rushing style, mixed with his decent skills on third down, should make him a viable rotational player right out of the gate with the potential to become a low-end starter down the road.”
Klassen’s comp for Pierce was Alfred Morris, who is hardly a superstar. But while Morris wasn’t a world-beater, he had three straight 1,000-yard seasons in Washington to open his career—largely because he logged at least 265 carries each of those seasons.
Pierce has arguably the clearest path to a lead-back role of any rookie in his class. The leading rusher for the Texans in 2021 was Rex Burkhead, a scatback on the wrong side of 30. The Texans signed Marlon Mack in free agency, but he has logged all of 32 carries over the last two seasons.
Pierce could easily be Houston’s Week 1 starter at running back. And there’s a chance he’ll challenge Hall to lead all first-year backs in fantasy points this season.
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Last season, Antonio Gibson became the first Washington running back since Adrian Peterson in 2018 to top 1,000 rushing yards. In doing so, the third-year pro finished the season 11th in PPR fantasy points.
The odds he matches those numbers in 2022 aren’t especially good.
Gibson’s fantasy numbers for the season may have been solid, but a deeper look revealed concerns. His yards per carry dropped by over half a yard relative to his rookie season, and he had fumbling issues, putting the ball on the ground half a dozen times.
The Commanders were apparently concerned as well. The team used a Day 2 pick on Alabama’s Brian Robinson, a physical 6’1″, 228-pound back. As head coach Ron Rivera told Julie Donaldson on the team’s website (h/t Bijan Todd of NBC Sports Washington), Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said he sees Robinson as a nice complement to Gibson:
“He’s going to add very nicely to what we have with Antonio Gibson in terms of a one-two punch. A lot of success that I’ve been around, a lot of success that I’ve had as a head coach was a lot to do with having a quality one-two punch. We had Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in Carolina my first four seasons, and we were very successful with that. So we feel really good about who this combination can be for us going forward.”
A two-headed running game may be all well and good for the Commanders from an NFL perspective, but it also means Gibson will cede touches on the ground. Couple that with J.D. McKissic’s return siphoning passing-game work, and Gibson’s odds of another 300-touch season have taken a hit.
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The 2022 offseason has been unlike any other in recent memory in at least one respect: There have been a staggering number of trades involving prominent wide receivers.
The Baltimore Ravens were one of the teams that sent a big name at the position packing. After logging the first 1,000-yard season of his short career, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was shipped to the Arizona Cardinals.
Per Josina Anderson of USA Today, the Ravens are doing their “due diligence” on the available veteran free agents at the position. But as things stand, Baltimore’s No. 1 wideout appears to be second-year pro Rashod Bateman.
He had a relatively quiet rookie season in which he missed several games because of a groin injury, hauling in 46 passes for 515 yards and a score last year. But as Clifton Brown wrote for the team’s website, Bateman said he’s ready to take on a larger role in the offense in 2022.
“The NFL was a big mental step for me,” he said. “Just being here now I feel way more comfortable, way more relaxed. I know what to expect. I know how to move. I’m just excited for Year 2. I’m excited to be healthy. I’m excited to do the things I know I can do.”
The Ravens won’t suddenly morph into a passing team, especially with Brown gone. Bateman also won’t lead Baltimore in targets. Tight end Mark Andrews is the top dog through the air in Baltimore.
But Brown was targeted 146 times last season, and a big chunk of those looks could be funneled Bateman’s way.
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This may seem a tad confusing, given that this column kicked off with Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts getting a bump in fantasy value with the arrival of A.J. Brown.
But what’s good for the third-year quarterback isn’t necessarily good for the fourth-year wideout.
Mind you, this isn’t a “hit the big red button and come completely unglued” situation. As Chris Towers wrote for CBS Sports, Brown has shown he can produce at a high level on an offense that doesn’t throw the ball a ton:
“We’ve seen Brown be a difference-making Fantasy WR in a low-volume pass offense before. He ranked seventh in PPR scoring per game in 2020, when the Titans had just 485 pass attempts. Brown has been a model of efficiency in his NFL career, ranking third among all players with at least 200 targets with 10.2 yards per target since entering the league. He’s also scored a touchdown on 8.1% of his targets, an unusually high number – Justin Jefferson, who is slightly ahead of him in yards per target, has a 5.8% touchdown rate.”
But expecting Brown to match that kind of efficiency in his new home is asking for trouble. No NFC team ran the ball more last year than the Eagles. Conversely, no team in the league threw the ball fewer times than Philly, with 494 attempts.
Will that number increase with Brown in town? Probably. But we have yet to see Hurts and Brown play together, and Hurts hasn’t been an especially accurate passer.
Before this trade went down, Brown was a top-10 fantasy option. In Philly, he’s more WR2 than WR1, and a finish outside the top 20 could be more likely than one inside the top 10.
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Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore had to wait until the draft’s second day to hear his name called from among a loaded receiver class. But that hardly makes Moore a second-rate talent—and after landing in one of the league’s most prolific offenses with the Kansas City Chiefs, the diminutive speedster is a name fantasy managers need to keep in mind.
At 5’10” and 195 pounds, Moore doesn’t have great size for the position. But what he lacks in height, he makes up for with 4.41-second speed and excellent change-of-direction skills.
Cynthia Frelund of NFL.com called Moore’s selection at 54th overall one of the steals of the 2022 draft:
“Moore ranked 23rd overall on my big board ahead of the draft. For the Chiefs to acquire a key player of need 31 selections later is exceptional value, and this pick makes them one of two teams to appear on both my Day 1 and 2 value lists. Pro Football Focus gave Moore a 91.8 receiving grade last season, the second-highest mark in the FBS among receivers. My models compared him to Texans wideout Brandin Cooks, in large part due to his consistency as a route runner. Moore had 262 yards after contact in 2021 (tied for ninth in the FBS, per PFF) and forced 26 missed tackles on receptions (tied for the most in the FBS).”
The Chiefs attempted to address the departure of Tyreek Hill by signing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who are more proven options in the pros than Moore. Mecole Hardman is still in town as well.
But the opportunity is there for Moore to carve out an early role in Kansas City’s high-octane offense, making him an interesting potential sleeper pick.
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Among all the memorable moments at the 2022 draft, the most awkward may have occurred on Day 2, when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool stepped to the podium to announce the team’s second-round pick.
Because the player the Steelers drafted (Georgia wide receiver George Pickens) may well be Claypool’s replacement.
Not that long ago, it seemed absurd to suggest that Claypool’s role with the team could be in jeopardy. Himself a second-round pick out of Notre Dame, Claypool burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2020, posting 62 catches for 873 yards and nine scores.
But while Claypool’s targets, receptions and yardage were all roughly the same a year ago, his touchdowns free-fell to two. For the second time in as many seasons, he caught under 57 percent of his targets. Claypool drew the ire of head coach Mike Tomlin for requesting music at practices. Was benched by Tomlin for a boneheaded penalty. And generally just committed gaffe after gaffe.
It was as if all the promise Claypool displayed as a rookie was erased. And then the Steelers used a Day 2 pick to draft another receiver in Pickens with a skill set that’s eerily similar to Claypool’s
Claypool’s fantasy value for 2022 was already on shaky ground. In addition to last year’s struggles, the change at quarterback in Pittsburgh to either Mitch Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett added another layer of uncertainty to Claypool’s prospects.
Now his target share could take a hit as well.
And given his miserable catch percentage, Claypool can’t afford to lose many opportunities to produce.