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Who are the must-have players for 2022?
These are guys that you have ample opportunity to pursue regardless of draft position. They represent value picks deeper down their respective positional rankings, that have the upside to outperform their ADPs. While the first few rounds are the flashiest, the late round steals are what can propel you to fantasy success.
Let’s take a look at the must-have picks to target in your upcoming drafts!
Russell Wilson (DEN) – Wilson will now be calling Mile High Stadium home, after being shipped out for essentially Noah Fant and a handful of early picks in 2022 and 2023. After being limited by the run-first Seahawks under Pete Carroll, Wilson is guaranteed to have full control of the offense in Denver under first-time Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett. When Wilson was given the freedom to sling it in the first 8 weeks of the 2020 season, he was the QB1 in that span, at 30.1 PPG. His ADP (84.1) is currently sandwiched between Tom Brady and Trey Lance, and he has a chance to produce big with all the young talent around him. Wilson’s an obvious boost to Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, which should be mutually beneficial in a potentially high-powered Broncos offense, that also boasts an intriguing pair of RBs in Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
Tom Brady (TB) – The Goat lead all QBs with 45 TDs and a career-high 5,316 passing yards, finishing as the QB3 in 2020. In mid-July, his ADP is 92.7, making him the 12th QB off the board. The delayed return of Chris Godwin (projecting to start on the PUP) and the alleged retirement of Gronk, are the main factors keeping his ADP this low. The departures of Antonio Brown and O.J. Howard should have a minimal impact on TB12, after combining for just 56-680-5 last season on 83 targets. They should be easily replaced by the addition of Russell Gage, who enters 2022 with a ton of sleeper potential. Brady’s a clear value at the moment for Zero QB strategists who will be loading up on FLEX plays early on.
Derek Carr (LV) – Perhaps the biggest offseason news was Davante Adams’ arrival in Las Vegas, reuniting with his old college QB Derek Carr. Carr now gets the luxury of arguably the top overall WR talent in the NFL, to mix in with Pro Bowlers Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. A top concern of fantasy owners for 2022, is the amount of weapons in the Raiders offense, which threatens to dilute the everyone’s value across the board. But this certainly doesn’t pertain to Carr, who’s sitting on a gold mine that should equate to career-highs. I’m not overhyping Carr’s abilities by any means here, but his supporting cast is just absurd, and at an ADP of 105.7 he represents a ton of value as the QB14.
Cam Akers (LAR) – Akers was a 2nd-rounder of the Rams in the 2020 NFL Draft, and despite an up and down rookie year, he shined in the playoffs with 272 scrimmage yards and 2 scores against the Packers and Seahawks. Heading into Year 2, Akers suffered a torn Achilles a week before training camp and was sidelined for the majority of the season. A rocky start to his NFL career, but there’s plenty of optimism around former Seminole in 2022, as he should finally be back to full strength with the opportunity to blossom into the dynamic playmaker that we’ve seen glimpses of. Akers carries more risk than most at the RB position, but is a dual-threat back in a great offense who projects to get a ton of quality touches.
Travis Etienne Jr. (JAX) – After being selected out of Clemson with the 25th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Etienne Jr. suffered a Lisfranc tear in Week 2 of the Preseason that would shelf him for the entire year. He should slide into an immediate RB1 role for the Jaguars in 2022, with James Robinson still working his way back from an Achilles injury. Etienne Jr. is primed for a major role in the passing game and will have significant standalone value in PPR leagues even when Robinson returns. After being college teammates from 2018-2020, Etienne J.r and Trevor Lawrence will finally play a meaningful game together on the NFL stage in 2022. Get on board here before the Etienne Jr hype-train gets out of control.
James Conner (ARI) – The grass was truly greener for Conner in Arizona, who reached the endzone 18 times for the Cardinals despite starting only 6 games in 2021. Conner parlayed his 1-year prove-it deal into a lucrative 3-year extension with the Cardinals after toting the rock 202 times while also establishing himself as a difference-maker in the passing game. The Cardinals were bullish enough on Conner that they let Chase Edmonds walk in Free Agency, and as long as Conner’s healthy he has minimal competition for RB touches. Conner really projects to be an undervalued commodity in a high-flying Arizona offense that should put up a ton of points.
Mike Evans (TB) – Despite missing the bulk of 2 games to a hamstring injury, Evans finished as the WR9 with 263 PPR points ,on a slim 16.9% target share. In a Buccaneers offense that also featured Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown in 2021, Evans hauled in 14 of Tom Brady’s NFL-best 43 passing TDs. With Brady returning for an encore in Tampa Bay, Evans is primed to reach single-season career-highs with Godwin recovering from a December ACL injury, Gronk “retiring” and AB gone. Evans has been Mr. Consistent since entering the league, exceeding the 1,000-yard receiving mark in EACH of his 8 NFL seasons. 2022 looks especially bright with the goat back at the helm and a hefty target share on the horizon.
Tee Higgins (CIN) – Higgins is often overlooked when taking a first glance at the Bengals offense, but he really shouldn’t be. Higgins outproduced teammate Tyler Boyd last season, and topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark despite missing 3 games. Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase were one of 3 tandems to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in 2021, joining Tampa’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and LA’s Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. As the biggest body in the Cincinnati passing game, it’s only a matter of time before Higgins produces double-digit TDs in his young career.
Darnell Mooney (CHI) – With Allen Robinson joining the Rams, Mooney becomes the undisputed top dog in the Bears receiving room. The Tulane product went over 1,000 receiving yards in his sophomore campaign, despite dealing with an underwhelming mix of Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and Justin Fields. Matt Nagy was clearly hindering the growth of Fields, and a new coaching staff around the former first rounder should aid in his development. Mooney and Fields trained together in Atlanta back in March, and the improved chemistry could unlock a major leap for Mooney in Year 3. Mooney might be the biggest “my guy” tag for me this season, and I can’t get enough shares of him.
Michael Pittman Jr. (IND) – In Year 2, Pittman Jr. vowed to double every line he posted as a rookie and did just that, finishing with 88-1,082-6. Despite Carson Wentz being held under 200 passing yards 8 times last season, Pittman Jr. emerged as a true #1 taking on a 25.9% target share for the Colts. Matt Ryan taking over for the Colts is a clear boost to everyone in the passing game, but Pittman Jr. is the biggest beneficiary. He’s primed for a huge leap in Year 3, especially as defenses load up the box to stop the Colts’ potent run game, which should yield substantial big play opportunities in 2022.
Drake London (ATL) – London cashed in on being the first WR off the board at 8th overall in this deep, talented WR class and should be an immediate contributor for the Falcons. London and Kyle Pitts have the ability to be a prolific tandem for years to come in Atlanta, and will both showcase an elite catch radius. The Falcons duo will become matchup nightmares for opposing defenses in the redzone. The biggest question mark here is at QB, as the Falcons will be rolling with 2 QBs who profile quite similarly, with 40s in the 4.5 range, in Marcus Mariota and incoming rookie Desmond Ridder.
Dalton Schultz (DAL) – After finishing as the TE3 last year with 209 PPR points, Schultz is being disrespected at his current ADP of 78.5, which lands in the TE8 spot. Schultz finished 2021 tied for 2nd in team targets (104) with Amari Cooper, which propelled him to career-highs in all receiving categories. Turning 26 in July, his best football looks to be ahead of him, especially with Cooper now in Cleveland and Michael Gallup likely to start on the PUP. Schultz should easily exceed 120 targets in 2022 with Dak Prescott returning to health, which would vault him into the Top 3 once again.
Pat Freiermuth (PIT) – The former Nittany Lion was the 2nd TE taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, selected 51 spots behind Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts, who was taken 4th overall. Freiermuth outscored Pitts to close out his rookie year, finishing as the TE9 between weeks 11-18 with 70 PPR points. He produced effectively from the jump, despite Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph combining for a pedestrian 85.3 QB rating. It will be a fresh start for the Steelers under center in 2022 after signing Mitch Trubisky and drafting in-state standout Kenny Pickett. There’s certainly some risk in projecting future chemistry with Trubisky and Pickett, but on paper it seems like a clear upgrade. There are plenty of reasons to be bullish about Freiermuth in Year 2, as a focal point of the offense alongside target-hog Dionte Johnson.