Andy Behrens and I teamed up on an episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast this week to offer up the five most interesting teams for 2022 leagues.
A great idea by our producer, I decided it might be good to unpack my top five a little further here. A lot is going to change between now and seasonal league drafts in August but this can serve as a template for what we should be thinking about as training camp approaches.
5 – Detroit Lions
I find the Lions utterly fascinating this year because this team is loaded with quality skill-position talent on the upswing of their respective careers for the first time in years.
Their intrigue begins at wide receiver. For whatever reason, it feels as if Amon Ra-St. brown has become the most polarizing player in fantasy football.
It makes no sense.
St. Brown finished his rookie season on a tear while playing in a Bud Light, Cooper Kupp-type of role for Detroit. While he received a promotion to two-wide receiver sets along with a bump in snaps and routes after their bye, his ascent also coincided with TJ Hockenson and D’Andre Swift dealing with injuries.
That seems to be a reason to shut this case according to some but it really doesn’t matter because no one is asking you to believe St. Brown maintains his 30 percent-plus target share from the close of 2021.
He’s currently the WR30 in consensus rankings, being drafted outside the top-30 receivers in early best ball contests. He’s perfectly palatable in that range. Being out on him for a strawman argument makes no sense. St. Brown is clearly a good, ascending young player and the Lions played their best football (.500 record the last four weeks) when he was the focal point of the offense.
Teams rarely put the genie back in the bottle when it leads to wins.
The rest of Detroit’s roster is immensely intriguing too. Swift looks like a back perfectly designed for a mega-season if he can stay healthy and while Hockenson might not ever put up numbers that align with his draft status, he’s a solid tight end option. Free agent addition DJ Chark is far from a special player or target monster but he upgrades the room. 2022 Round 1 pick Jameson Williams has the potential to not only put up big weekly games when he’s ready but change the way defenses approach the Lions because of his speed. The offensive line has been masterfully rebuilt.
Some of the hesitancy around buying in on the Lions likely comes back to Jared Goff. Getting run out of town by the Rams has warped his image. Goff is far from a great quarterback — he’s in the “bridge” stage of his career — but let’s not forget he’s been the provider for some really solid fantasy wide receiver seasons.
Goff shouldn’t hold you back from getting involved in the Lions’ offense for fantasy. He’s good enough to be a facilitator.
4 – Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce remain the primary figureheads of the Chiefs’ passing game but a variety of new faces will be in tow this year.
Mecole Hardman is the lone holdover beyond the Big Two looking to step into the massive void left by Tyreek Hill. Hardman has burned many fantasy managers but that should never be the basis of projecting a player moving forward.
He’s been an average player so far through his career. You might want to consider expecting nothing out of your 8th- to 10th-round draft pick more often anyway. Hardman is far from a lock to pan out as a starting-level receiver but let’s not act like the chances are zero percent.
Beyond Hardman, a trio of newcomers are angling to win jobs at receiver. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were added in free agency while Skyy Moore entered the fray via Round 2 in the NFL draft.
When you really dig into the details of the contracts for Smith-Schuster (one-year, $3.2 million) and Valdes-Scantling (funny-money deal they can get out of in 2023), the Chiefs didn’t make a major commitment to either player. That can’t really be the tie-breaker when elevating these guys. JuJu has the best pedigree among the veteran group by far, and has gone from extremely overrated to one of the most underrated big slot receivers in the game. MVS is a great blocker and lid-lifter on the outside but it would be a surprise if he suddenly commanded significant volume.
Skyy Moore was my favorite Tier 2 receiver in this year’s draft and obviously, he landed in the perfect situation. However, he’s making a massive jump in competition going from Western Michigan to the NFL. It wouldn’t be shocking if he takes some time to get rolling. However, Moore is a pristine route runner who can separate when lined up outside or inside while bringing the juice at every level none of those veterans provide. Whenever we get reports he’s earning routine playing time, it’ll be wheels up.
That just might take months.
Essentially, be open to anything when it comes to the Chiefs’ receivers. This will be a key situation to monitor over the summer and into the regular season. The starting three-wide rotation that begins the 2022 season might not be the group that ends it.
3 – San Francisco 49ers
Just what everyone wants: Another summer of me begging you to consider how important the 49ers are in fantasy football.
San Francisco would be a critical team to analyze simply because they’re transitioning to Trey Lance as the starting quarterback. The fact that 2021 starter Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster as of May makes them even more interesting. The longer he hangs around, the more we have to at least consider that Garoppolo starts Week 1 … even if that possibility remains remote.
Lance showed both high-end flashes and developmental holes in his brief playing time last season. His rushing ability is what has most fantasy heads jazzed up. However, it’s his ability as a deep-ball passer that has the potential to lift the ceiling of this entire unit. players like Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle could be taken to new heights in a Lance offense — if he’s good at the game.
An added wrinkle for this team is Deebo Samuel’s contract situation. It appears the team holds all the leverage in this situation, meaning it’s likely Samuel shows up for training camp at some point with or without a new deal. It’s worth wondering how a possible holdout will impact one of 2021’s biggest fantasy stars.
Oh, and of course, it wouldn’t be a 49ers offseason without a muddled backfield to sift through. We got zero hits from beat reporters about Elijah Mitchell‘s eventual rise up the depth chart and leap-frogging of fellow rookie Trey Sermon last year. Now we have another Day 2 rookie added in the form of Tyrion Davis Price. Logic would hold that Mitchell — pummeled with volume yet oft-injured — would be the 1A of this backfield but the Kyle Shanahan 49ers have never been shy about throwing a plot twist.
Sorry to the haters. We’ll be talking about this team on the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast quite a bit this offseason.
2 – Denver Broncos
The Broncos are going to be infinitely more watchable this season with Russell Wilson at the helm of the offense. Yet, as we sit here in May, I’m just as unsure as ever if I’m going to go out on a limb to be ahead of ADP on any of their skill-position players.
It would have been easy to go all-in on Javonte Williams as a Year 2 breakout running back but Melvin Gordon’s return must force you to take a pause. Gordon was legitimately good last season and could keep Williams off the RB1 tier.
The pass-catching corps gets an obvious bump going from the quarterback wilderness to Wilson but I find myself unable to be super bullish on one player over the other.
If you’re able to make the case that Courtland Sutton deserves to be dramatically higher than Jerry Jeudy (who recently went to jail) or vice versa, good for you. It’s hard to imagine either pushing for a dominant target share when Tim Patrick is legitimately good and will command volume. There’s also the matter of Albert Okwuegbunam looking like one of the best bets as a breakout tight end this season following Noah Fant’s exit. Even Albert O faces some degree of competition in the tight end room with Greg Dulcich added in the draft.
The Broncos’ offense is undeniably going to be better but it’s just as difficult to parse out as ever. However, Andy Behrens was right to point out in the podcast version of this analysis that one of these Broncos wide receivers could go to the moon with a new quarterback, a la cooper kupp, while the other(s) falls into the Robert Woods, solid but forgettable WR2 territory. I hope I’m feeling more conviction about this passing game come August.
1 – Philadelphia Eagles
when AJ Brown was traded to the Eagles on draft night it was en vogue to note this could be a negative for his fantasy value primarily because his new team was just about as run-heavy as the squad he left. However, you have to ask yourself if the Eagles operated this way out of desire or necessity.
It’s easy to forget that the Eagles were one of the most aggressive teams in terms of pass rate over expectation at the start of 2021. It was clear that wasn’t working due to their personnel and the coaching staff pivoted hard to a rushing-based attack.
If the Brown trade doesn’t scream in your face that the Eagles want to be more of a passing-based operation, I don’t know what to tell you.
Much has been made about Brown going from Ryan Tannehill to Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Not sure that stings as much as some want you to believe. But it feels like not nearly enough is being made about Jalen Reagor’s wasted targets going to a superstar talent like Brown.
The Eagles have a chance to be one of the most exciting units in the NFL if Hurts takes another step. He’s gotten better every season over the last four years dating back to his college days. With Brown joining DeVonta Smith in the receiver room, Hurts might have the best young WR tandem in the NFL at his disposal.
Las Vegas Raiders
Adding the best wide receiver in football will get you into this mix. The Raiders have an awesome trio of frontline pass catchers in Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller with a quarterback who is more than good enough to get them efficient volume. This also has the potential to be a shallow usage tree with no relevant third receiver or high-volume receiving back on the roster. Given that this unit should play at a high pace with Josh McDaniels calling plays, the Raiders have a ton of fantasy potential.
New York Jets
All of a sudden, the Jets are bursting at the seams with young talent. Prime 2021 free agent add Corey Davis has a chance to be an afterthought behind Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilsonthe tight end room got a complete makeover and the backfield is two-deep with Breece Hall and Michael Carter. All that looks great!
but can Zach Wilson be the distributor this team needs? That’s one of the most interesting questions to unlocking their fantasy value.
Andy nominated the Dolphins quickly for this exercise and he’s not wrong. The Dolphins took a massive swing to improve their passing game by trading for Tyrek Hill and promise to look different schematically with Mike McDaniel in the big chair. the Tua Tagovailoa-Jaylen Waddle connection remains one of the few constants between this year’s and last year’s Dolphins but how much volume will Waddle command with Hill in the fold and Mike Gesickic back?
The backfield is led by Chase Edmonds but he was far from the only new addition. Teddy Bridgewater was added as a “break glass” option if Tua fails to seize the job. There are a variety of fascinating subplots at every level of Miami’s offense.