By Andrew Kremp
San Francisco 49ers: Elijah Mitchell (RB23, ADP 50)
Last season, Mitchell ranked 16th in average points-per-game-played in PPR leagues and 10th in non-PPR leagues. He received over 17 carries in 9 of 11 games played last season and consistently picked up production as a receiver over the course of the season. Now entering his 2nd year, Mitchell has established himself as the clear RB1 in San Francisco, and with dual threat QB Trey Lance taking over as starter, expect the 49ers to lean even harder on the running game. This should lead to even more rushing opportunities, yielding top 10 upside for Mitchell.
Chicago Bears: Darnell Mooney (WR26, ADP 62)
With the departure of Allen Robinson to the Rams, Mooney is the only established wide receiver on the Chicago Bears roster. QB Justin Fields seems to have established a strong connection with Mooney, targeting him 7+ times in 12 of 17 games last season, with three 13+ target games in the final eight of the regular season. On paper, the Bears roster is even worse than last year, and thus they figure to be coming from behind in most games this season. Expect a lot of passing attempts from Fields and thus a lot of opportunities for Mooney, putting him firmly in the low-end WR1 discussion this year.
Cincinnati Bengals: Hayden Hurst (TE23, ADP 190)
Coming into 2022, Hurst is set to replace CJ Uzomah as the clear TE1 in Cincinnati. As teams started to prioritize star Bengals receivers Jamar Chase and Tee Higgins in their coverage plans coming down the stretch last season, QB Joe Burrow started to lean a little more on underneath options like Uzomah. In fact, Uzomah received 6+ targets in 4 of the final 5 games last season, and, as a more natural receiver, expect those targets and more to transition smoothly over to Hurst this season. With the TE position figuring to be light again this year, Hurst has easy top-10 potential.
Buffalo Bills: Gabe Davis (WR29, ADP 71)
Everyone remembers that insane Bills-Chiefs Divisional Round playoff game where Davis put up a whopping 201 yards and 4TDs. Those gaudy numbers may be out of touch for Davis on a consistent basis, but as the now firm WR2 in a figured-to-be lethal Bills passing offense, Davis is primed to have a significant step up in consistent target share from 2021. This, coupled with his deep-threat ability and big body in the red zone (6’2” 210lbs), should result in Davis being a rock-solid fantasy starter throughout the season. He is definitely worth a roster spot.
Denver Broncos: Jerry Jeudy (WR28, ADP 70)
Plagued by the injury bug and poor quarterback play throughout his young NFL career, Jeudy is finally in a position to showcase his true potential this season. New star QB Russell Wilson loves the short-to-intermediate range passing game (with a career 7.8 yards-per-target), which is exactly where Jeudy excels. An elite route-runner with an accurate quarterback is a potentially lethal combo, and with fellow WR Tim Patrick now out for the season with a torn ACL, Jeudy is really only competing with WR Courtland Sutton for targets. Keep your eye on this guy, as he could scare top 10 production at the position should he be able to stay healthy.
Cleveland Browns: Amari Cooper (WR25, ADP 61)
The Cleveland Browns QB situation is a tricky one, with forecasted starter Deshaun Watson being suspended 11 games by the NFL. This makes way for newly acquired Jacoby Brissett to take command of the offense. Although Brissett is a definite downgrade from Watson, Cooper will be the CLEAR WR1 in Cleveland, which should allow him to garner enough targets to make up for the occasional Brissett misfire. In fact, it is likely that, due to the lack of experience at the receiver position, Cleveland coaches will set up their passing scheme specifically to get Cooper the ball as much as possible. Even though Cleveland is a run-first offense, Cooper figures to get pretty much all meaningful targets amongst the Browns receivers, and, if nothing else, he is a guy to stash early who could step up in a big way for you at the end of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin (WR24, ADP 56)
The fantasy situation in Tampa is a tricky one. As has been the case ever since QB Tom Brady arrived, the Bucs’ offense figures to be high-powered again this year. Unfortunately, the Bucs suffer from “too-many-weapons” syndrome: having so many weapons that none can maintain fantasy relevance. That being said, Brady has always zeroed in on a short-to-intermediate range go-to target over the course of his career (Wes Welker and Julian Edelman particularly come to mind), and Godwin appears to have established himself as that guy in Tampa. To that end, he hauled in a whopping 24 more receptions than anyone else on the roster last year (98 receptions to Mike Evans’ 74). This, coupled with the fact that the other top receivers on the roster, Mike Evans and Julio Jones, are primarily deep threats, expect Godwin to dominate the short-to-intermediate receptions again this year, which could make him the most valuable Bucs weapon, especially in PPR leagues.
Arizona Cardinals: Darrel Williams (RB55, ADP 160)
When it comes to the Arizona Cardinals, it would be smart to stay away from their receivers at all costs in fantasy. There are far too many mouths to feed (especially once Deandre Hopkins returns from suspension) in a primarily run-first system. Therefore, if looking for a player on the Cardinals, Darrel Williams could be a great option as a late-round stash at running back as he will likely play the role RB Chase Edmonds played last year. In the four games starting RB James Conner missed last season, Edmonds averaged 16.75 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, putting him firmly in the top 10 at the position over those weeks. These absences are certainly not a fluke for Conner as he has never once had a fully healthy season. In fact, last season, in which he missed those four games, was the second-healthiest season of his career. Unfortunately for Conner, it is likely he will go down again at some point this year, which would make Williams an instant top-15 RB.
Los Angeles Chargers: Gerald Everett (TE19, ADP 161)
A pretty solid receiving tight-end the first few seasons of his career in Seattle, Everett enters the Chargers offense as the new TE1. He will likely take over a workload very similar to that of former Chargers TE Jared Cook, who finished as TE15 last season. Everett is faster and a better route-runner than Cook, which could make him a more of a consistent target than Cook outside of the red zone. QB Justin Herbert’s passing numbers will be very solid again this season, and, with the plethora of opportunities, look for Everett to find himself as a top-10 fantasy TE come season’s end.
Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman (WR63, ADP 152)
Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs also suffer from “too-many-weapons” syndrome. Their receiving room is quite crowded at the moment, but if there’s one guy best set up for fantasy relevance, it’s Mecole Hardman. Look for him to assume the Tyreek Hill speedster role in Kansas City, to a certain extent, as he possesses a skill-set and build eerily similar to that of Hill. With no established WR1 in Kansas City to this point, someone will eventually have to take the reins as QB Patrick Mahomes’s go-to target. Should Hardman be able to step up in that position, the sky’s the limit for a guy with his elite-level speed who is liable to take any touch to the house.
Indianapolis Colts: Paris Campbell (WR83, ADP 223)
This pick comes with a lot of risk, as Campbell has amassed only 15 games played in his three-year career. However, if Campbell can manage to put a complete season together this year, adding him to your roster could make you look like a fantasy genius come season’s end. The Colts passing offense relies heavily on the play action deep shot to stretch the field, and Campbell is the only receiver in the rotation with enough breakaway speed to be a downfield threat. Although he doesn’t have as much arm strength as last year’s QB Carson Wentz, newly-acquire QB Matt Ryan rated as the 2nd-best deep ball thrower in the league last season, with a passer-rating of 107.7 on said deep throws. As such, Campbell has a chance to pop in a top-10 level receiving performance any given week.
Washington Commanders: Brian Robinson Jr. (RB54, ADP 152)*
Let’s be honest, the Commanders are a team in shambles. However, more than most teams, the Commanders have shown a commitment to the run even when down big in games, illustrated by starting RB Antonio Gibson finishing 4th in the league in carries last season. Reports from training camp are that third-round rookie Robinson Jr. has been very impressive, and it appears as though Washington might take a similar approach to that of the Carolina Panthers from the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. In those years, Carolina formed a formidable 1-2 punch with running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who both had over 1000 yards rushing in 2009. The GM who drafted Stewart to form the duo is now working for the Commanders, and head coach Ron Rivera served as the in Carolina towards the tail end of their stint. As such, expect Robinson to get his fair share of carries throughout the season, and if Gibson were to go down, which is very possible given his shaky injury history, Robinson would vault right up to being a top-15 RB.
Dallas Cowboys: Jalen Tolbert (WR64, ADP 158)
With last season’s WR3 Michael Gallup still working his way back from a serious knee injury and last season’s WR1 Amari Cooper no longer with the team, rookie Jalen Tolbert has been given a prime opportunity to establish himself as the WR2 in Dallas behind Ceedee Lamb. Tolbert played for the University of South Alabama in college where he put up nearly 1500 receiving yards last season. He is a big-bodied receiver who should see plenty of looks in the red zone, and with Dallas figuring to be a high-powered offense again this year, look for Tolbert to be a breakout rookie in fantasy, similar to Lamb a couple years ago.
Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa (QB16, ADP 121)
This list was initially going to consist of only skill position players, but in the case of the Miami Dolphins, an exception had to be made. QB Tua Tagovailoa is currently being selected as QB16 and you would have to be CRAZY not to take him if he’s available anywhere near that terrority. Let’s not forget who this guy was the last time he had competent play-calling and a semblance of an offensive line. If he could have managed to avoid some injuries throughout his college career at Alabama, there is a very strong argument to be made that he would be a two-time Heisman Trophy winner. He set four FBS career passing records including all-time passing efficiency and touchdown percentage. He posted a career TD-to-INT ratio of 7.9:1, which is by far the greatest of any college QB in recent memory. Throughout his first couple years in Miami, Tua had a bottom-five offensive line, little-to-no weapons (barring Jalen Waddle last year, who had an impressive rookie season with Tua at the helm), and a two offensive coordinator system that at best could be described as incompetant. Over the offseason, Miami brought in elite WR Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs, elite LT Terron Armstead from the Saints, and hired new coach Mike McDaniel whose offensive scheme is likely derived directly from that of Kyle Shanahan, one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the league. All signs point to the Dolphins having drastically improved the offense around Tua, so expect Tua to be a top-10 QB in fantasy all season long, with a ceiling even higher than that.
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders (RB29, ADP 75)
Although he has been a fantasy letdown in the past, at RB29 Miles Sanders is definitely worth the pick. Regardless of his previous pitfalls, Sanders is still the starting running back in a top-3 rushing offense that will provide him 15+ touches every game. If he can manage to stay healthy, the offensive scheme coupled with a rock solid offensive line should allow Sanders to approach top-15 RB territory.
Atlanta Falcons: Cordarelle Patterson (RB33, ADP 82)
It feels like the fantasy community has completely forgotten what Patterson was able to do last season. He is currently going as RB33, meaning he is currently being taken behind multiple backup RBs. Patterson finished 3rd on the Falcons in both targets and receiving yards last season, and finished 1st in receiving touchdowns. Oh, and he also led the team in rushing yards and TDs last season. The addition of rookie WR Drake London and former Chiefs/Bears RB Damien Williams have led certain individuals to believe Patterson’s touches will go down, but it is more likely that London will simply take the touches of the departing WR Russell Gage who was the leading WR for the team last season, and Williams will fill the role of the departing RB Mike Davis behind Patterson. Thus Patterson should see very similar production to last season, making him a lock-it-in starter at RB again this season.
New York Giants: Kenny Golladay (WR51, ADP 129)
The New York Giants offense has been a bit of a mess ever since current QB Daniel Jones was drafted 4 years ago. However, for the first time in a while, there is hope in New York with the hiring of new head coach Brian Daboll from Buffalo. Many credit Daboll with transforming Buffalo Bills superstar QB Josh Allen from a fringe starter to top-5 QB and believe he can do something similar with Jones. If Jones can become even half the QB Allen has become, the Giants passing attack should take a serious step up. Remember, Kenny Golladay had multiple 1000-yard seasons with Matthew Stafford in Detroit, and he is still a very talented WR that New York paid a lot of money to be their WR1. If anyone is set to have a fantasy-relevant season in New York outside of Saquon Barkley, it’s him.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk (WR43, ADP 104)
Christian Kirk reset the wide receiver market when he signed a four-year $72 million deal with the Jaguars this offseason. With QB Trevor Lawrence entering year two, expect the Jaguars passing offense to take a step up and for Kirk to be the primary beneficiary. Clearly the Jags didn’t sign him to that bonkers contract to just be one of the guys this season. He is the clear WR1 ahead of an aging Marvin Jones Jr. and a relatively unproven Zay Jones. Expect Kirk to put up some eye popping numbers this season, similar to what his AFC South counterpart Brandon Cooks (WR20 in 2021) was able to do as the clear number one guy on the Houston Texans last season.
New York Jets: Garrett Wilson (WR48, ADP 113)
As the number 10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Garrett Wilson is expected to hit the ground running with the New York Jets. He faces little competition in the wide receiver room other than Elijah Moore, and with the Jets expected to be coming from behind a lot again this season, expect Wilson to put up respectable numbers particularly during garbage time. This is not to mention QB Zach Wilson is entering his second year in the system, and reports from training camp indicate he has taken a significant step up throwing the ball in the offseason. At the very least, expect Wilson and Moore to dominate target share in an offense that will be forced to throw the ball 40-50 times a game, giving Wilson clear WR2 upside.
Detroit Lions: Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR21, ADP 55)
The darling of last season’s fantasy playoffs, Amon-Ra St. Brown comes into his second NFL season as the clear WR1 in Detroit. St. Brown posted an absurd 25.2 FPTS/G in PPR leagues over the final six games of the 2021 season. These numbers were partially aided by injuries to star TE T.J. Hockenson and pass-catching specialist RB D’Andre Swift, but over those final six games St. Brown saw no less than 10 targets in any game, scored a TD in five of the six games, and even saw some action as a runner (at least one carry in five of the six games). He may not be able to quite replicate that pace, but he and QB Jared Goff have established a clear connection, so expect St. Brown to put up at least 15 FPTS/G in PPR formats, which would have made him a top-10 wide receiver over the course of the season last year.
Green Bay Packers: Allen Lazard (WR49, ADP 115)
It feels as though people are overthinking it when it comes to Green Bay Packers WR Allen Lazard. The greatest receiver in fantasy over the past few seasons, Davante Adams, just left 123 receptions and nearly 170 targets up for grabs in Green Bay by departing for the Las Vegas Raiders. Lazard has been consistently progressing year over year in the Packers system, posting career highs in receptions (40), targets (60), yards (513), and touchdowns (8) last season. Star QB Aaron Rodgers and Lazard are building a strong rapport as indicated by Lazard’s place atop the receiving depth chart. He may not turn into Davante Adams overnight, but expect Lazard to take the lion’s share of Adams’ vacated targets, which puts him firmly in low-end WR1/high-end WR2 territory simply because of the system he finds himself in and the guy throwing him the ball.
Carolina Panthers: Chuba Hubbard (RB64, ADP 199)
Super-sub RB Chubba Hubbard is once again being overlooked as one of the best backup stashes in the fantasy market. Reports indicate that superstar starting RB Christian McCaffery is set to retake his high-volume role in both the running and passing game in Carolina. If the past two seasons are any indication, this high usage rate is taking its toll on McCaffery. Unfortunately, he has had four significant injuries over the past 2 seasons to his right leg/foot, and, as such, it is highly likely that he will suffer another injury at some point during the season. However, the NFL is a game of “next man up”, and should the injury bug bite McCaffery again, Hubbard is once again in line for 15-20 touches a game, including critical touches at the goalline. If you have the extra roster spot, he is definitely worth a stash late in your draft.
New England Patriots: Rhamondre Stevenson (RB37, ADP 99)
Ever since QB Mac Jones took over in New England, the Patriots have shown a commitment to a run-first scheme. To that end, they finished 7th in the NFL last season in percentage of run plays per game. It’s always hard to tell in New England, but it appears as though they have a firm starting running back duo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson established heading into this year. Harris received more carries last year, but both had nearly identical YPC and receiving stats. Stevenson showed more explosiveness and power as a runner than Harris, and as the season progressed, it appeared as though Coach Belichick was becoming more and more confident in using Stevenson. Expect Stevenson to take a substantial workload this season, and if Harris were to go down, Stevenson would vault right up to top-10 RB territory.
Las Vegas Raiders: Zamir White (RB63, ADP 195)
Continuing the trend of great backup RB stashes, enter Zamir White. Current Raiders starting RB Josh Jacobs has been top-10 in total snaps played at the running back position each of the last two seasons, which is likely to start taking its toll sometime soon. Though he often plays through them, Jacobs has seen his fair share of injuries in his first few NFL seasons, and should Jacobs go down, rookie RB Zamir White would likely be in line to take over most if not all of Jacobs’ workload. Historically, teams love to abuse running backs while they are on their rookie contracts in terms of rushing attempts, which means should Jacobs miss any time this season, White could easily see top-10 RB production similar to that of Jacobs.
Los Angeles Rams: Tyler Higbee (TE22, ADP 184)
Starting Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee saw 5+ targets in 12 of 15 games played last season including in each of the final seven games of the regular season. In his first year in LA, QB Matt Stafford showed increasing faith in Higbee as both a safety valve and red zone target over the course of the season. In fact, Higbee finished third amongst tight ends in red zone targets last season. There is nothing to indicate that this production will decrease anytime soon, so expect Higbee to push top-10 territory again at the fantasy-weak tight-end position.
Baltimore Ravens: J.K. Dobbins (RB24, ADP 52)
Baltimore Ravens starting RB J.K. Dobbins is one of the handful of guys on this list that is being taken criminally low at RB24. The fact that he missed the entirety of last season with a torn ACL is slightly concerning, but reports indicate that he should be full-go once the season starts. Assuming that is the case, one has to remember that Dobbins averaged 6.0 YPC on 134 attempts in his rookie season, nearly 0.5 YPC more than anyone else with a similar number of attempts. Remember, in 2020, the last year Dobbins played, the Ravens were a clear first in rushing plays per game with Dobbins having established himself as the clear RB1 come season’s end. Oh, and he also scored a TD in each of his last six games played. All signs point to Dobbins taking back those RB1 reigns behind a great offensive line in arguably the most run-first offense in the league. Barring any injury issues, he will yield top-15 RB production at a minimum with top-5 upside.
New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas (WR31, ADP 73)
He’s back folks. Former number one fantasy wide receiver in 2019 (by almost 100 points in PPR leagues) Michael Thomas finally appears to be healthy after missing the entirety of 2021 with a lingering ankle injury. Reports last year seemed to indicate that his relationship with former head coach Sean Payton had deteriorated to a point where even if the ankle was fully healed, Thomas wasn’t overly concerned with coming back to play for the team last year. That relationship is no longer an issue with Payton retiring at the end of 2021, and, fortunately, the extra time off means his ankle was seemingly able to fully heal. As such, expect Thomas to resume his former role as WR1 for the Saints. He has seen a bit of a downgrade at QB going from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston, and as such it is a bit unrealistic to expect him to match his 2019 production. However, Winston led the NFL in passing yards in his last full season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and therefore it isn’t unrealistic to expect Thomas to put up top-20 fantasy numbers this year.
Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Lockett (WR37, ADP 90)
Put quite simply, the Seattle Seahawks are going to be coming from behind A LOT this season. Even when they aren’t down big, the coaching staff knows that their offensive line is among the worst in the league, and as such running the ball isn’t going to be too much of an option. Whether they want to or not, the Seahawks are going to be forced to throw the ball more than they have in years past, and even though star QB Russell Wilson departed for Denver at the end of last season, there should be enough targets available to Lockett to allow him to maintain fantasy relevance. He still possesses game-breaking speed and could very well see himself as one of the most productive garbage time receivers in the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers: George Pickens (WR56, ADP 136)
Arguably the most hyped player in training camp this season, rookie WR George Pickens already finds himself third on the Steelers receiving depth chart behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Due to some of Claypool’s struggles last season, the WR2 spot alongside Johnson is firmly up for grabs, and if offseason reporting is any indication, Pickens has thrown his name firmly in the ring to be that guy. At 6’3” 200lbs, many experts believe that Pickens could be the next great wide receiver to come out of Pittsburgh. He is definitely worth a late round flier due to his sky-high ceiling.
Houston Texans: Brandon Cooks (WR24, ADP 60)
Not entirely sure what the fantasy community has against Cooks, but all signs indicate that he may find himself in an even better fantasy position than he was in last year. The skill position players on the Texans have most certainly gotten worse, the team is projected to have the fewest wins in the league this year (meaning they will likely be passing from behind more than anybody else), and QB Davis Mills has had a full offseason to further enhance his already strong connection with Cooks. In Layman’s terms, Cooks is going to get A LOT of targets this season in all parts of the field, so expect him to be an easy top-15 receiver with top-10 upside.
Tennessee Titans: Treylon Burks (WR38, ADP 92)
Although he has struggled a little bit early on in training camp, the Titans very clearly drafted Treylon Burks to replace departing WR A.J. Brown, who they traded to the Eagles mere seconds before drafting Burks. He is the only receiver on the roster with similar size and speed to Brown, and, as such, it would make a lot of sense to simply transition Brown’s routes to Burks. Aging Robert Woods seems to be the only real threat to Burks in terms of targets, and it shouldn’t be long until Burks has overtaken Woods as the go-to guy for QB Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee is a run-first offense which will hurt Burks’ fantasy prospects to a degree, but even with that he has clear top-20 upside at the position.
Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen (WR30, ADP 72)
After a lackluster 2021 season largely due to a few lingering injuries, Theilen returns to the Minnesota Vikings for another season primed to re-establish himself as a strong fantasy option at WR. The emergence of WR Justin Jefferson definitely took some targets that have traditionally gone to Theilen over the past few years, but, fortunately for Theilen’s fantasy value, by having such a great 2021, Jefferson has painted a bright red target on his back for defenses this season. It is highly likely that defenses will primarily focus their coverages in Jefferson’s direction, which should free up Theilen to see a lot of one-on-one matchups over the course of the season. He is still an elite route-runner and has elite hands, so, barring any injury aggravations, expect Theilen to return to top-20 fantasy status again this year.
*Editor’s Note: This article was written before Washington RB Brian Robinson was wounded as a victim of an attempted robbery. All of us at UVA Sports Business wish Robinson good health and as speedy a recovery as possible.