Not all fantasy football bold predictions are made equal. It would be a little bold to predict that, say, Najee Harris will be the top-scoring fantasy player in 2022. It would be a lot bold to say Benny Snell will. You have to decide how bold you want to be.
So I offer bold predictions on a sliding scale. Below, I’m going position by position to offer my bold, bolder and boldest predictions for each position. What does that mean?
Bold predictions are things I think are very likely to happen. They push the envelope but might not blow your mind.
Bolder predictions are things I think are fairly likely to happen. They’re not obvious, but we’re also not talking “Benny Snell is the RB1” here.
Boldest predictions are more about direction. I think the specific prediction is extremely within the range of outcomes, but the point is to make a real stand about the players involved and point you in a direction. (Continuing the Snell example, the bold prediction might say “Benny Snell is the RB1,” but the point would actually be “Benny Snell is actually going to be a big-time producer,” and then we carry it an extra notch or two to show how strongly we feel.)
OK, that’s enough Benny Snell talk, because I do not actually think Snell is going to matter this year. On to the bold predictions for fantasy football in 2022.
Lamar Jackson missed Week 11 last year with an illness. When he returned, he clearly wasn’t himself, putting up 218 yards and 2 TDs against 5 INTs in Weeks 12-13 before a Week 14 injury ended his season. But through Week 10, he was averaging 24.42 fantasy points per game, third at the position and only a hair behind Josh Allen (24.70) and Tom Brady (24.66). And he did that despite only 2 rushing touchdowns on the season (he had never scored fewer than 5 in a year before that).
Now, Jackson is by all accounts healthy and getting glowing reviews for his passing in training camp. The offensive line, which bottomed out in 2021, is much more together this year, ranking ninth in our FTN Fantasy offensive line rankings. The roster overall is much healthier than it was in 2021 (it almost had to be). And if we don’t hear contract news in the next couple weeks, Jackson will be playing 2022 in pursuit of a contract, and he knows his rushing is where he gets his attention. That’s all set up for him to rise back to overall QB1 status.
Bolder: Tua Tagovailoa Finishes as a Top-12 QB
Tua Tagovailoa will never be a Konami Code QB — he has 237 rushing yards in his two seasons. That’s why, even if everything breaks right for him in 2022, his ceiling is probably in the back end of the QB1s, not near the top of the heap.
But man, there’s a chance that’s the only black mark.
Obviously he’s not a guarantee, but no team did more to make its quarterback a success in 2022 this offseason than the Dolphins, who hired Mike McDaniel, traded for Tyreek Hill and signed Cedrick Wilson, Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, Terron Armstead and Connor Williams. It was the “If Tua isn’t the guy, we’ll make him the guy anyway” strategy. And it should pay off. After returning from injury last year, in Weeks 6-15, Tua played eight games and was a top-20 weekly finisher eight times, including four top-12 finishes and a QB1 in Week 7. Give him more time to work, probably the fastest stable of weapons in the league and a coach who should by his pedigree be good at getting his offense in space to get yards after the catch? Tua could easily sneak into fantasy starter territory.
Boldest: Trevor Lawrence Is the Top-Scoring Second-Year QB
The weaponry is not top of the league, but the additions of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram (and the quasi-addition of Travis Etienne) are upgrades over last year’s crew (which is also almost all still around, to be fair). The coaching staff could be a bad unit and would still be a massive upgrade over the disastrous Urban Meyer tenure — the fact that Doug Pederson is actually a good coach is icing on the cake. Fields is surrounded by the worst roster in the league. Lance is the biggest threat here, but he has yet to show he can pass at an NFL level. Lawrence could shoot past both.
Bold: Ezekiel Elliott Is a Top-8 RB
Ezekiel Elliott averaged 16.9 carries per game through Week 8 last year, then 11.9 the rest of the way. (If you want to draw your cutoff specifically to when he injured his knee in Week 4, the drop was 16.0 down to 13.3, but it was clear — at least to me — that the team wanted him to work through it before realizing they needed to ease off). Through Week 5, he was the PPR RB5, with four games of 95-plus scrimmage yards and 6 total touchdowns.
The rest of the season, Elliott was fine. Unspectacular, but from Week 6 to the end of the season he was still RB12. Even with his injured PCL he didn’t miss a game (he never misses to injury). Yes, he’s old for a running back at 27, but after a season to recuperate and with a need to prove himself to either stay on the team going forward or earn a contract elsewhere, I expect a 17-game Elliott to put up numbers solidly in the RB1s in 2022.
Bolder: No Buffalo Running Back Is a Top-40 RB
You know the storylines — Devin Singletary was the No. 1 PPR running back in Weeks 15-18 last year. James Cook is Dalvin Cook’s little brother and has an exciting skill set. The Bills tried to acquire J.D. McKissic and did acquire Duke Johnson before drafting Cook, so it makes sense they’d want to increase their receiving output out of the backfield this year.
The problem is … how much more is the backfield really going to score? Stefon Diggs is going to get his. Gabe Davis almost certainly is too. Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder and Khalil Shakir are going to have targets. Dawson Knox is a red-zone target. Josh Allen is one of the top goal-line rushers in the league. If Singletary and Cook (and Zack Moss, who is still around) are going to split this backfield, and it’s already a low-ceiling backfield, then drafting either one is asking to be disappointed.
Boldest: The Packers Have 2 Top-12 RBs
The fantasy community has expended energy this offseason wondering who will pop as the Packers’ WR1 in the wake of Davante Adams’ and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s departures. But what if the answer is no one?
I think Allen Lazard will mostly be fine, but it’s not really that debatable that the top two skill players in Green Bay line up in the backfield. In the lone game Adams missed last year, AJ Dillon had 16 carries for 78 yards, while Aaron Jones had 15-59-1 on the ground and 7-51 through the air on a whopping 11 targets, nearly double anyone else on the team. A full season of those two averaging 15-20 touches a game (or more) is a recipe for two RB1s in the same backfield.
You know the stat by now, but if not, I’ll reiterate — DJ Moore is one of only three players with 1,100 receiving yards each of the last three years, along with Travis Kelce and Stefon Diggs. In that span, Kelce has 37 touchdowns and 829.9 PPR points. Diggs, 24 and 826.2. Moore? He is only at 12 and 679.5. The quarterbacking is the difference. Kelce has done most of his work with Patrick Mahomes. Diggs, with Kirk Cousins and Josh Allen. Moore? The best quarterback he’s had the last three years is … Teddy Bridgewater? The remains of Cam Newton? Sam Darnold?
Baker Mayfield is not Mahomes or Allen, probably not even Cousins. But assuming he’s healthy, he’s way better than what Moore has had in his career so far. Give Moore even two more touchdowns last year and he’d have cracked the WR1 ranks. Give him 8-10 touchdowns and he’s a superstar.
Bolder: DeAndre Hopkins Isn’t a Top-30 Receiver in Points Per Game
Obviously, betting on DeAndre Hopkins to be a top-30 receiver for the season is a tough ask given he’s missing six games to suspension. But that’s also made him a popular mid-round pick under the “get a second-half WR1 at a discount” thinking, and I just cannot endorse that.
Hopkins’ suspension and injury recovery are helping people forget that when he was active last year, he was nowhere near his old self on the field. His targets per game dropped from 10.5 in 2015 to 2020 collectively down to 6.4 last year. He was far more touchdown dependent than he had ever been, getting 32.6% of his PPR points on touchdowns, easily the most of his career and only his second time over 20%. He forced five missed tackles on his 42 receptions last year after 21 on 115 receptions in 2020. He’s 30 now, increasingly a terrifying age. Marquise Brown is there now, and Zach Ertz will be on the team all season. And the Cardinals ran the ball 54.5% of the time in the red zone last year, eighth most — of the teams ahead of them, five will have a new primary starting quarterback this year (and the other two — Philadelphia and New England — were breaking in new starting quarterbacks). Stop me when I get to something optimistic about Hopkins’ 2022.
Boldest: Tee Higgins Outscores Ja’Marr Chase
This is in no way a negative toward Ja'Marr Chase, who was incredible as a rookie. It is instead praise for Tee Higgins, who if he had not debuted in the same season as Justin Jefferson and then played his second season alongside Chase would be viewed as an absolute sensation and is instead “eh, he’s pretty good.” There are only 23 receivers since 2000 who have put up 2,000 receiving yards in their first two seasons, and Higgins was exactly one yard away from making it 24.
In games both players were active last year (Higgins was hurt Weeks 3-4 and sat Week 18), Higgins was targeted 8.0 times per game compared to Chase’s 7.9, with three games of 13-plus targets compared to one for Chase. Higgins ended the season with 100-plus yards in four of his final six games; Chase did so twice in the same span. Higgins caught 17 of 27 contested targets (63.0%); Chase 12 of 25 (48.0%). Both are superstars, but Chase’s propensity for splash plays feels like something that should regress in year two, especially now that the league knows he’s always got it in his pocket and will specifically try to stop it. Higgins over Chase might be a stretch, but it’s a flag-plant.
Bold: Kyle Pitts Is a Top-3 TE … and He’s Not TE3
On the one hand, saying that a guy who was TE6 despite only one touchdown as a rookie last year climbs into the top two might not be that bold. On the other, the gap between TE2 and TE3 was 54.0 PPR points — that’s the same as the gap between TE3 and TE13. Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce were just on an entirely different level than the rest of the position last year, and this is the year Kyle Pitts joins them there.
Pitts is already going third at the position in drafts. Overall, he’s 29.1 (per the FTN Fantasy ADP tool), close to dead-centered between Andrews (20.8) and George Kittle (36.3). He bested Andrews and Kelce in yards per target last year and led the entire position (min. 5 targets) in yards pre reception, with his overall value being held in check by the lone touchdown, which can in part be blamed on Matt Ryan’s confounding propensity to limit his top target’s scoring totals (I’m not saying that has me worried about Michael Pittman this year, but it doesn’t not have me worried). Give Pitts 5 touchdowns instead of 1 (not a jarring increase) and a handful of extra receptions due to the loss of Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley and some regression from Cordarrelle Patterson, and he’s challenging Andrews/Kelce for TE supremacy.
Bolder: Irv Smith Is a Top-5 TE
If you read the intro to my 100 Questions series last month, you know that I think (a) that tight end actually is getting deeper right now, but at least as importantly, (b) the second tier at the position is where the disappointments may lie. Once you get past Kelce/Andrews/Pitts, everyone has black marks. George Kittle has QB and injury questions. Darren Waller has Davante Adams to contend with. T.J. Hockenson is … more on him later. Dalton Schultz is high-floor, low-ceiling. And so on and so forth.
Enter Irv Smith, everyone’s favorite sleeper breakout a year ago who missed 2021 to a torn meniscus. Now he rejoins a Vikings offense that let 2021 TE1 Tyler Conklin walk in free agency, that promises a more pass-heavy offense under Kevin O’Connell, and whose top red-zone offense in recent seasons (Adam Thielen) turned 32 Monday. Give Smith a handful of Thielen’s end-zone targets, bump up his targets due to the overall offense passing more and account for the second tier at the position sliding back a bit, and he could sneak into the top five.
Bolder: T.J. Hockenson Is Not a Top-10 TE
Since entering the league in 2019, T.J. Hockenson is only 12th in TE fantasy points. He’s had only three games of 20-plus PPR points, the same number as guys like Jared Cook and Austin Hooper had … just in 2019. He only got there once in 2019, when Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay were on the team. It was zero times in 2020, with Jones, Golladay and D'Andre Swift. The team’s leading wide receivers in the three games Hockenson has topped 20 points were Danny Amendola, Kalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus. In short, Hockenson isn’t entirely a product of little competition for targets in Detroit, but he’s largely a product of that.
The Lions still aren’t ready to compete in 2022, but the offense is getting better. Amendola, Raymond and Cephus would all struggle to get any targets in this depth chart, not with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams (when healthy), DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds around. We can feel reasonably safe that Kelce, Andrews, Pitts, Kittle and Waller (in some order) best Hockenson. Based on the above, give me Irv Smith as well. That’s already six. Dallas Goedert should thrive in a full Zach Ertz-less season. Ertz himself was a target monster in Arizona. I mentioned above that Schultz has a low ceiling, but his high floor makes him top 10. Basically, this prediction is a bet on all of the above, and then one or more of guys like Pat Freiermuth, Mike Gesicki, Hunter Henry, David Njoku and others topping Hockenson. I feel comfortable with that.
Daniel Kelley was a finalist for the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Series of 2019. He has worked at Pro Football Focus and SB Nation, and he has written a novel trilogy called AFTER LIFE, available now from all booksellers.