The NFL season is quickly approaching, and with it comes countless entries into fantasy football leagues. With most fantasy drafts taking place in August, we will take a look at one potential breakout candidate for fantasy purposes in the 2022 season.
Buffalo Bills- RB James Cook (2021 Ranking: NA)
The Buffalo Bills have been sorely disappointed in their backfield efforts over the last few years, with the 2017 campaign marking the last season in which Buffalo had a backfield member rush for 1,000 yards (LeSean McCoy). Devin Singletary has been the team’s leading rusher in each of the last three seasons, but has failed to eclipse 800+ yards on the ground in two of the last three years. Zack Moss was seemingly pushed out of the offensive scheme as well, failing to record 10+ rushes past Week 4 last season.
The Bills spent a second-round selection on James Cook, the brother of Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook. As the third running back off the board in the 2022 Draft, Cook is already receiving reps as a potential receiving threat from the backfield in training camp. Someone has to succeed in Buffalo’s backfield, and I’m willing to reach on Cook at his current RB39 value.
Miami Dolphins- QB Tua Tagovailoa (2021 Ranking: QB26)
Last season was a struggle for Tagovailoa, who failed to reach 20 fantasy points in each of his final nine starts for the Dolphins. Jaylen Waddle was the team’s leading receiving, however, and should now compliment the newly-acquired Tyreek Hill in the upcoming season. Hill finished with 444 yards after the catch last season, 17th in the NFL.
Tagovailoa is more of an asset fantasy owners in mainstream leagues should consider stashing on their bench in the late rounds, but he could ultimately be the reason select fantasy owners win their respective leagues in alternative 2QB leagues.
New England Patriots- RB Rhamondre Stevenson (2021 Ranking: RB47)
The New England Patriots backfield is difficult to navigate, but second-year running backs typically improve under Bill Belichick’s system. This has been true for Damien Harris (RB53 in sophomore season), Sony Michel (RB31), James White (RB39), and Steven Ridley (RB15) in recent years.
Stevenson didn’t have an ideal beginning to his rookie season, as he was inactive from Weeks 2-4 and again in Week 7. Still, he compiled 729 total yards across 12 games, receiving 10+ carries in six games. Stevenson eclipsed 20+ fantasy points twice last season, and should see an increased role in New England’s offense this upcoming season.
New York Jets- RB Breece Hall (2021 Ranking: NA)
There isn’t a whole lot of breakout potential in the Jets offense, as they finished 28th in the league in scoring last season. Still, there is a lot to like when it comes to second-round running back Breece Hall. Among rookie running backs, he finished with the sixth-best 40-yard dash (4.39) and the best vertical (40″).
New York already has an improving running back in Michael Carter, but Hall should still see work early on. In college, he finished 14th among running backs in target shares and 8th in yards per reception, proving to be a reliable receiving threat as well.
Denver Broncos- WR Jerry Jeudy (2021 Ranking: WR85)
Given the hype of Jerry Jeudy as the 15th overall selection of the 2020 Draft, many expected his breakout to arrive by now. Appearing in just 10 games last season, Jeudy failed to record 10+ fantasy points in a single game and finished the season with no touchdowns. After previously facing potential criminal charges, there may be an outlet to stash Jeudy at the right cost in fantasy leagues.
To this point, Jeudy has played with suspect quarterback play in Teddy Bridgewater, Jeff Driskel, Drew Lock, and Garrett Rypien. Therefore, the addition of Russell Wilson this offseason could have massive benefits to Jeudy in 2022. In addition, despite a lackluster 2021 season, the silver lining is that Jeudy’s drop rate improved from dropping one pass per 6.2 catchable passes in 2020 to one dropped pass per 39 passable catches last season.
Kansas City Chiefs- WR Juju Smith-Schuster (2021 Ranking: WR133)
An underwhelming 2021 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers resulted in Juju Smith-Schuster to sign an incentive-laden deal with the Kansas City Chiefs that could pay upwards of $10 million. The Chiefs also signed Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason, but Smith-Schuster should emerge as the WR1 in this offense.
Smith-Schuster will likely play from the slot receiver position, as his slot usage sat at 82.2% just two seasons ago. Many will point to Travis Kelce hurting Smith-Schuster’s value, but that didn’t stop Tyreek Hill from compiling five consecutive seasons as a top-12 fantasy receiver. In redraft leagues, Smith-Schuster has the potential to return as a low-end WR2 in the upcoming season.
Las Vegas Raiders- QB Derek Carr (2021 Ranking: QB13)
If things fall the way I expect, Derek Carr will be a top 10 fantasy quarterback for the first time in his eight-year career. A quick start to the 2021 season resulted in four consecutive multi-touchdown games to start the year. Those numbers fizzled off, however, as he failed to record 20+ fantasy points in each of his final six starts. On the other hand, he also set career-high marks in completions (428) and passing yards (4,804).
The addition of Davante Adams certainly moves the needle, as Carr’s top wide receivers in 2021 were Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards. Another productive season from Darren Waller this season will move Carr into low-end QB1/high-end QB2 territory, making him a sneaky selection in the deeper rounds of redraft leagues.
Los Angeles Chargers- WR Joshua Palmer (2021 Ranking: WR76)
A slow start to the 2021 season ultimately turned around for Palmer, who finished with three touchdowns in his final five games. Despite only 49 targets in an offense that includes Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams, there still is room for Palmer to evolve into a relevant name in fantasy football.
The Chargers passed at the fifth-highest rate in 2021 (62.5%), but the real benefit of drafting Palmer is to handcuff him alongside Allen or Williams. Allen is entering his age 30 season, while Williams has yet to play a full season since being drafted in 2017. In an offense as exciting as Los Angeles, Palmer is already reportedly practicing with the first-team during OTAs.
Baltimore Ravens- RB J.K. Dobbins (2021 Ranking: NA)
In a 2021 preseason game against Washington, J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending torn ACL. This offseason, we have seen pure confidence from Dobbins that he will be ready by Week 1 of the 2022 season. While he hasn’t practiced to this point, he has yet to be placed on the PUP list.
In 2020, Dobbins finished with 1,025 total yards to go with nine touchdowns. In that 2020 season, the Ravens led the league in rush play percentage (55.04%) and Dobbins finished as RB24. He will likely be limited in his reps, especially early in the season, but Dobbins has sneaky potential to return as an RB2 in fantasy lineups.
Cincinnati Bengals- WR Tyler Boyd (2021 Ranking: WR31)
The Cincinnati Bengals don’t have much “breakout” potential, as each of their fantasy-relevant receivers finished inside the top 32 last season. It was a breakout season for Ja’Marr Chase, who finished the season as WR5. The 2022 season will likely cause opposing defenses to send extra attention Chase’s way, which results in an opening for Boyd to see further success.
Boyd only brought in 94 targets last season, which was his lowest total since the 2017 campaign. Still, his 12.4 yards per reception was the highest mark since 2018, while he also finished with 5+ touchdowns for the third time across the last four seasons. He is in conversations as a WR4 in redraft leagues, but Boyd’s ceiling likely places him as a high-end WR3.
Cleveland Browns- TE David Njoku (2021 Ranking: TE22)
After inking a four-year, $56.75 million extension in May, it’s hard to believe Njoku won’t see an expanded role in Cleveland’s offense. There is no clear answer on who is throwing the ball in Week 1 for the Browns this season, but there is a lot to like about Njoku’s potential in 2022.
With Austin Hooper signing with the Tennessee Titans, Njoku is no longer part of a committee at the tight end position. Outside of the newly-acquired Amari Cooper, the Browns don’t have enough depth at the wide receiver position to draw targets away from Njoku. If Watson is cleared to play during the 2022 season, Njoku should be a late consideration as a starting tight end in redraft leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers- WR Chase Claypool (2021 Ranking: WR37)
After a disappointing season in which Claypool finished with just two touchdowns, there is an opportunity for him to return to fantasy relevance in 2022. With Juju Smith-Schuster in Kansas City, that leaves room for Claypool to insert himself as a reliable fantasy option alongside Diontae Johnson and rookie George Pickens. The change at quarterback could help as well, as Ben Roethlisberger ranked 31st out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks in throws of 20+ yards.
Claypool will need to remain efficient in order to maintain his starting position in the Steelers offense. With Pickens inserted into the lineup, it could draw an unknown amount of targets away from both Claypool and Johnson. If Claypool can clean up on his one reception in the red zone from 2021, we could see him return as a high-end FLEX/WR3.
Houston Texans- WR Nico Collins (2021 Ranking: WR87)
The Houston Texans were undergoing a lot of change in 2021, but Collins had a sneaky productive second half of the season. His targets per game prior to Houston’s Week 10 bye sat at 3.67 targets per game, while it increased to 4.75 targets per game to finish the season.
The addition of John Metchie III hardly moves the needle in my eyes, but another year for experience for Davis Mills should only benefit Collins. The second-year receiver only appeared in 59% of snaps in 2021 for Houston, but that number should elevate upwards of 72% this season.
Indianapolis Colts- WR Michael Pittman Jr (2021 Ranking: WR17)
This may be a cheat, but Pittman should be poised for another productive season alongside the newly-acquired Matt Ryan. His 96% routes run on offensive dropbacks trailed only Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase last season. Fortunately for Pittman, there are no other relevant fantasy receivers in Indianapolis this season.
With the exception of the 2021 season, Ryan has produced 4,000+ passing yards in each of the previous 10 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Pittman Jr is certainly a guarantee to produce 1,000+ receiving yards in the 2022 season, inserting himself as a high-end WR2.
Jacksonville Jaguars- RB Travis Etienne (2021 Ranking: NA)
After suffering a season-ending foot injury during the 2021 preseason, there are some high expectations for Etienne to play a role in Jacksonville’s offense in 2022. James Robinson avoided the PUP list to begin training camp, but will likely be forced to share reps with Etienne in the regular season. The Jaguars coaching staff has recently praised Etienne’s speed, and the recent change at head coach should allow for stability moving forward.
Last season, Jacksonville ranked just 26th in run play percentage (38.13%), but also trailed early in a majority of cases. Since 2012, only Robinson and Leonard Fournette have produced 1,000+ rushing yards in a single season.
Tennessee Titans- WR Robert Woods (2021 Ranking: WR51)
In November 2021, the season was cut short for Robert Woods, who suffered a torn ACL. After signing with the Tennessee Titans in the offseason, Woods should emerge as the clear-cut primary receiving option with A.J. Brown now in Philadelphia. Despite playing within a run-first offense behind Derrick Henry, Woods is still a valuable asset in fantasy leagues.
Woods is currently WR42 according to Fantasy Pros, but is still being drafted behind secondary options such as Adam Thielen (WR33), Gabriel Davis (WR34), and Tyler Lockett (WR37). At his current value, I love the idea of stashing Woods at the right round.
Dallas Cowboys- RB Tony Pollard (2021 Ranking: RB28)
Tony Pollard was extremely productive from the Cowboys backfield last season, setting a career-high in rush attempts (130), rushing yards (719), and yards per attempt (5.5). With Ezekiel Elliott no longer scheduled to earn more guaranteed money past the 2022 season, could Dallas continue to groom Pollard as the eventual starter?
During his rookie season in 2019, Pollard was on the field for just 19% of offensive snaps. That figure rose to 35% this past season. With both Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson Jr now out of Dallas, the Cowboys will be desperate to involve Pollard for a change of pace.
New York Giants- WR Kadarius Toney (2021 Ranking: WR88)
In just 10 games in his rookie season, Toney totaled just 420 receiving yards from 39 receptions. Toney began to play 50% or more of offensive snaps in Week 3. In Week 5, he exploded for 10 receptions and 189 receiving yards.
Injuries ultimately derailed the rest of his season, but that wasn’t uncommon in the Giants offense. Both Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard faced injury struggles in 2021. In fact, not a single relevant fantasy player for the Giants played more than 14 games last season. Being drafted as the WR44, I’m willing to stash Toney and see what the future holds.
Philadelphia Eagles- RB Miles Sanders (2021 Ranking: RB44)
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t add another running back to their depth chart this offseason, showcasing their trust in Miles Sanders moving forward. The Eagles offense ran the ball a league-high 49.87% of plays last season, which was ultimately split between Sanders and Jalen Hurts among others.
Despite not scoring a single touchdown last season, Sanders was still running at a career-high 5.5 yards per carry. Only Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott remain on the depth chart, alongside undrafted rookie Kennedy Brooks. Drafted as RB26 currently, Sanders will remain as an RB2 with upside to finish in the top 20 this season.
Washington Commanders- RB J.D. McKissic (2021 Ranking: RB37)
Returning to the Washington Commanders, McKissic has been a top 40 running back in each of the last two seasons. During that span, he has averaged six targets and 4.9 rushes per game. His talent as a pass-catcher allows the Commanders to utilize him in third-down situations.
With Gibson facing a hamstring injury suffered during OTAs, it’s safe to assume McKissic will see opportunities in this offense in 2022. In three games without Gibson since the start of 2020, McKissic has averaged 18 fantasy points per game.
Arizona Cardinals- WR Rondale Moore (2021 Ranking: WR66)
A flashy start to the 2021 rookie season for Rondale Moore ultimately fizzled out, as he failed to record more than six fantasy points in his final nine outings. Still, there are a lot of targets to go around in the Arizona Cardinals offense for the speedy receiver.
Christian Kirk signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, while DeAndre Hopkins is expected to serve a six-game suspension to begin the new season. That leaves roughly 150 targets up for grabs. Moore needs to be on the field, however, as he played in 50% or more of offensive snaps in just half his games as a rookie.
Los Angeles Rams- RB Cam Akers (2021 Ranking: RB144)
After returning from a torn Achilles following a seven-month recovery period, Cam Akers will be running back to own in the Los Angeles Rams backfield. He wasn’t as productive once he returned to the field, but we have to remember the Rams faced potent defenses such as the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the divisional playoff game against the Buccaneers, Akers was on the field for 81% of offensive snaps. He should reclaim his spot as the top backfield option in 2022, as Darrell Henderson didn’t do enough to earn the starting spot in Akers’ absence.
San Francisco 49ers- QB Trey Lance (2021 Ranking: QB40)
The San Francisco 49ers seem fixated on the idea of moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo, which would ultimately leave second-year quarterback Trey Lance as the signal-caller. Lance played well within his two starts, averaging 20.25 fantasy points per game.
Even if Lance only throws for 3,000 yards in 2022 (24 QBs did so in 2021), his rushing upside should elevate him to being a potential top fantasy quarterback this year.
Seattle Seahawks- RB Rashaad Penny (2021 Ranking: RB42)
The Seattle Seahawks are undergoing various offensive changes, and with Chris Carson retiring due to a neck injury, it will leave an opening for Penny to take over as the featured back. Incoming rookie Kenneth Walker III will join the running back committee, but Penny will be the name to own in fantasy leagues.
Among running backs with 100+ carries, Penny’s 6.29 yards per carry marks the highest in the NFL across the last decade. Fantasy owners will likely reach on Walker to generate buzz among rookie potential, but as long as Penny remains healthy, he will exceed his projections in the upcoming season.
Chicago Bears- QB Justin Fields (2021 Ranking: QB31)
Entering his sophomore season, I expect Justin Fields to take a massive stride with the Chicago Bears. The front office addressed their offensive line woes following a season in which they gave up a league-high 58 sacks. Still, that didn’t prevent Fields from finishing seventh in red-zone accuracy.
Quarterbacks with the ability to run the ball are oftentimes the most attractive in fantasy leagues. In 2021, Fields finished fifth in rushing yards (420) and seventh in carries per game (7) among quarterbacks. Under a full 17-game stretch, Fields will be an exciting name to consider stashing.
Detroit Lions- WR DJ Chark Jr (2021 Ranking: WR129)
Many are expecting for Amon-Ra St. Brown or Jameson Williams to be the breakout receiver for Detroit this season, but DJ Chark Jr will be the name to keep an eye on. Following a one-year, $10 million deal with the Lions in free agency, Chark is coming off a season in which he only appeared in four games due to a fractured ankle.
With rookie Jameson Williams facing an ongoing ACL injury, there may be a lot more opportunities for Chark early on. Reports indicate that the Lions are working towards expanding Chark’s skillset; specifically with his route running.
Green Bay Packers- WR Allen Lazard (2021 Ranking: WR44)
The breakout player for Green Bay will come from the receiving core, considering Davante Adams’ 169 targets from last season are up for grabs. Following the departure of Adams, Green Bay attempted to fill in the void by drafting three receivers and adding Sammy Watkins in free agency.
In the four-game sample size without Adams on the field, Lazard has been extremely efficient in fantasy terms, averaging 14.8 fantasy points per game (4.5 receptions, 72.8 receiving yards per game). If he were able to maintain that unrealistic pace, Lazard would have had the third-highest fantasy points per game average in the 2021 season. At the right value, this could be a sneaky draft pick.
Minnesota Vikings- WR K.J. Osborn (2021 Ranking: WR40)
Entering his third season with the Minnesota Vikings, Osborn had an underrated 2021 season in which he posted 655 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His fantasy relevance emerged following five touchdowns in his final six games of last season.
The 68% catch rate of Osborn will need to improve entering next season, but he should be considered a WR3 in most fantasy formats. He did benefit from Adam Thielen being sidelined with injuries, but Thielen will turn 32 later this month and has missed time in each of the last three seasons.
Atlanta Falcons- WR Drake London (2021 Ranking: NA)
Despite the downgrade at quarterback, the Atlanta Falcons should remain a pass-first offense in 2022. Last season, the Falcons defense gave up the fourth-most points and seventh-most yards per game. The only thing worse than Atlanta’s defense was their run game, which ranked 31st in the league.
Drake London has the opportunity to emerge as a WR2 in fantasy leagues during his rookie season, sharing targets with only Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson. His target share will likely sit above 20% in 2022, which is a positive sign for managers willing to risk reaching on rookie receivers in hopes of massive upside. At the time of this writing, the knee injury to London from preseason action is not considered a long-term injury and he will likely sit out of practice.
Carolina Panthers- TE Tommy Tremble (2021 Ranking: TE45)
The second-year tight end will look to improve upon a rookie season in which he only totaled 180 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown across 20 receptions. Carolina re-signing Ian Thomas shouldn’t scare away fantasy managers, as he will be utilized as a blocker.
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has a history of utilizing tight ends in his offenses, and with the arrival of Baker Mayfield, it could elevate his draft stock. In 2021, Cleveland Browns tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper combined for 820 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Tremble will likely go undrafted in most fantasy formats, but keep an eye on his waiver wire status throughout the season.
New Orleans Saints- QB Jameis Winston (2021 Ranking: QB33)
Can Jameis Winston’s eighth NFL season mark a fantasy breakout performance? Absolutely. Winston was on pace for 34 touchdowns to just seven interceptions before his season was cut short last season. With Michael Thomas confirmed to return to the offense, the New Orleans Saints may even have a chance at returning to the playoffs.
With the Saints adding Jarvis Landry through free agency and Chris Olave in the NFL Draft, the offense Winston is surrounded by is considered the best case scenario. Winston was last considered a QB1 with the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a year in which he was the QB5 in fantasy. This season will include less risk-taking, but Winston is a surefire QB2.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- TE Cameron Brate (2021 Ranking: TE28)
With Rob Gronkowksi seemingly retired for the time being, I prefer Cameron Brate over anyone else in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end room, including Kyle Rudolph. Brate ranked second among tight ends in red zone targets (19) last season, but only brought in ten of those targets.
The departure of Gronkowski leaves 89 targets on the table, and with both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin dealing with injuries, it could leave an opening for Brate to find fantasy relevance.