Young Fantasy Football Sleepers Poised to Break out in the 2022 NFL Season
Fantasy football enthusiasts are always seeking an edge. Whether playing in season-long leagues, keeper leagues or dynasty formats, managers are continually trying to uncover the next great sleeper or breakout star.
This is why paying attention in the NFL offseason—even when organized workouts aren't actively taking place—can pay big dividends.
We're at a quiet point between mandatory minicamps and 2022 training camp. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't fantasy-relevant information to be gleaned. Here, we'll dive into some of the offseason buzz surrounding young NFL players potentially poised to be potent fantasy options in the coming season.
Which second- and third-year players are looking at expanded roles and/or improved supporting casts? What are teammates and coaches saying? What sort of value will they have in 2022? Let's take a look.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Position Rank: 96
We'll kick things off with a deep sleeper who has been drawing attention at Arizona Cardinals practices this offseason.
Eno Benjamin, a seventh-round draft pick in 2020, carried only 34 times for 118 yards and a touchdown last season. However, the Cardinals have seen growth from the former Arizona State standout and appear set to expand his role.
"He had to learn how to pass protect," guard Justin Pugh told the Dave Pasch Podcast (h/t Jess Root of Cards Wire). "And that was really the only thing. You can't trust a guy to be in the game if you can't trust him to pick up pass protection, and he's gone night and day from last year to this year, so I think he's going to have a big jump."
Benjamin should also see fresh opportunities with the free-agent departure of Chase Edmonds. James Conner will be Arizona's starting back this season, but he'll be complemented heavily by Benjamin and offseason addition Darrel Williams.
Last season, Edmonds split time with Connor and still compiled 592 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 311 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. If Benjamin can overtake Williams as Conner's top backup this season, he could potentially have even better numbers than his former teammate.
Benjamin is worth targeting in drafts as a solid flex option with points-per-reception (PPR) upside and quality handcuff value.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos
Position Rank: 24
Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy is not a deep sleeper, but he still appears undervalued as the 24th-ranked receiver in PPR formats.
The third-year pro out of Alabama had just 1,323 receiving yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons. However, he also missed seven games last season with a high-ankle sprain and was saddled with poor quarterback play.
Enter Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson. The Broncos acquired Wilson in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, and the future Hall of Famer could make Jeudy a legitimate fantasy steal this season.
The arrival of new head coach Nathaniel Hackett—who helped Aaron Rodgers win back-to-back MVPs as the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator—further boosts Jeudy's potential.
"Jerry is going to have a heck of a year," safety Justin Simmons said, per Jon Heath of Broncos Wire. "I can't wait to watch him play and just to be let go. Just run free and do what he does best. He's one of the best route runners I think I've consistently gone up against over and over."
Jeudy is currently trending behind receivers like Amari Cooper, Marquise Brown and DK Metcalf—who now faces his own uncertain quarterback situation—but he shouldn't be. With Wilson under center, Jeudy should be a high-end WR2 and perhaps even a low-end WR1.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Position Rank: 18
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a massive fantasy disappointment as a rookie last season. The Clemson product threw for a mere 3,641 yards with 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
However, there was a lot working against Lawrence in 2021, including a lackluster supporting cast and the poor guidance of head coach Urban Meyer. Jacksonville worked to resolve these issues in the offseason.
The Jags brought in new pieces like wideout Christian Kirk and guard Brandon Scherff. They also added a seasoned—and Super Bowl-winning—head coach in Doug Pederson. Entering Year 2, Lawrence is poised to be a more efficient quarterback.
"The last couple of days through the OTAs, you see some of the checks that he's made the line of scrimmage," offensive coordinator Mike McCoy told reporters during organized team activities. "He's making quicker decisions now."
With better protection, players like Kirk and a healthy Travis Etienne Jr. at his disposal and with competent leadership, Lawrence may finally perform like the generational quarterback Jacksonville believed it was getting at No. 1 overall.
While Lawrence may not make the sort of second-year jump that Joe Burrow did in 2021, he could emerge as a quality starter. Right now, he's barely trending as a fantasy backup.
Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Position Rank: 13
Like Lawrence, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance wasn't fantasy relevant as a rookie last season. However, this is because he rarely saw the field and spent the majority of the year behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
The dynamic in San Francisco is expected to change in 2022, and assuming Lance is the Week 1 starter, he's undervalued as QB13.
There are two big reasons for this. The first and most obvious is Lance's dual-threat ability. In most fantasy formats, quarterbacks who can run are extremely valuable. Last season, Lance averaged roughly six carries and 28 yards per game. In his two starts, though, he carried 24 times for 120 yards.
The second reason is Lance has weapons like George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel—if Samuel's contract/trade-request situation is resolved—with which to work.
One San Francisco legend believes that Lance is ready to take advantage.
"Trey Lance, I think he's ready to go," Hall of Famer Jerry Rice told Drea Blackwell of KSBW. "And I think he's incredible because he has that one aspect that Jimmy doesn't have, and that's the threat of running with the ball and stuff like that. So his mobility, his strong arm, and this guy, he's before his time."
Lance isn't being valued as a starter in 10- and 12-team formats, but he should soon join the likes of Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Kyler Murray as a weekly dual-threat option.
Rondale Moore, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Position Rank: 56
Arizona Cardinals receiver Rondale Moore has a prime opportunity to be a key contributor early in the 2022 season. The Cardinals parted with Kirk and added Marquise Brown, but they will also be without No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games.
Hopkins was suspended six games for violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Even with Hopkins out, Moore will be part of a committee. Arizona also has tight end Zach Ertz and A.J. Green to chip at the target share. Still, the second-year Purdue product is undervalued as WR56.
A year ago, Moore flashed as a part-time receiver and gadget player. He caught 54 passes for 435 yards and one touchdown. He also carried 18 times for 76 yards. He should see a much bigger and more consistent role this season.
"He's a dynamic route-runner," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said, per Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic. "I think that's what people are going to see. He's really good getting out of his cuts, good at the top of routes, so I think people are going to see a different side of him."
Managers should view Moore as a solid PPR flex option—especially early in the year—with the potential to be much, much more than that. The 22-year-old caught 84.4 percent of his targets as a rookie and could quickly emerge as one of Kyler Murray's most-trusted options.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Cleveland Browns
Position Rank: 78
Cleveland Browns wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones is another deep sleeper who could reward managers in a big way this season. The third-year Michigan product showed glimpses of what he can be in 2021, despite playing most of the season with an injury-hampered Baker Mayfield at quarterback.
Peoples-Jones finished with 597 yards, three touchdowns and an impressive 17.6 yards-per-catch average.
The 23-year-old is still evolving as a receiver and has a terrific opportunity with both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry gone. Peoples-Jones should slot in as Cleveland's No. 2 receiver opposite Amari Cooper with rookie David Bell in the mix as a slot specialist.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has praised the growth of Peoples-Jones this offseason.
"I do see his game growing," Stefanski said, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. "...In and out of breaks, some of the things we're asking him to do are maybe a little bit different than he's done in the past, and he's done a great job. I think the quarterbacks like throwing to him, and that's important."
Cleveland's quarterback situation will play a huge role in Peoples-Jones' upside. Deshaun Watson, who the Browns acquired this offseason, faces potential league discipline stemming from 24 lawsuits by women who alleged sexual assault or misconduct from when he was a member of the Houston Texans. Two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against him.
Watson is an elite signal-caller, but if he's suspended, the Browns will likely turn to journeyman Jacoby Brissett. Mayfield is still on the roster but recently said he believes he and the Browns are both ready to move on.
A lot will hinge on the decision of Judge Sue L. Robinson, who oversaw Watson's disciplinary hearing last week. However, Peoples-Jones should be considered, at worst, a late-round flex target with the potential of 1,000-yard production.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions
Position Ranking: 30
Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown went on a tear to finish the 2021 season. Over his final six games, the USC product caught at least eight passes in each contest and found the end zone in five of them.
For the season, St. Brown provided a quarterback rating of 104.0 when targeted.
Yet, St. Brown is trending as the 30th-ranked receiver in PPR leagues. This is likely because the Lions added DJ Chark Jr. in free agency and traded up to get Jameson Williams in the 2022 draft, and those two receiving options could eat away at St. Brown's targets.
Williams, though, is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in January. While Chark will have an impact on the offense—and is a potential fantasy sleeper himself—St. Brown remains Detroit's top target for now.
"We brought DJ in, we brought Jameson, but Saint's the guy," wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle-El said, per Benjamin Raven of MLive. "That's the dude, in terms of he gets it, continues to get it, and it's good to see."
Thirtieth is far too low for a No. 1 receiver with Pro Bowl potential like St. Brown. Expect the 22-year-old to outperform his draft status this season.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins
Position Rank 17
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is yet another signal-caller who is being ranked outside of starter range. However, the pieces are in place for him to make a significant jump in fantasy production.
The knock on Tagovailoa—and it's not unwarranted—is that he lacks consistency and has struggled to push the ball downfield. However, the Alabama product is an extremely accurate passer who completed 67.8 percent of his passes last season.
Over the past few months, Miami has added head coach Mike McDaniel, who made Jimmy Garoppolo a fantasy-relevant quarterback last season, and human highlight reel Tyreek Hill.
These are two big factors that give Tagovailoa top-10 positional potential. Tagovailoa can get the ball to his receivers consistently, McDaniel knows how to put them in space and Hill can turn short passes into long gains with ease.
It certainly won't hurt that Miami improved Tagovailoa's protection by bringing in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams this offseason.
New Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds sees big things ahead for Tagovailoa.
"I'm going to say that you're going to see the Alabama version of Tua that people remember," he said at the Play By Play Sports Broadcasting Camp, per Marek Brave of SBNation. "So I just think he was put in some unfair situations his first two years."
Tagovailoa threw just 27 touchdown passes in his first two seasons while averaging a mere 6.6 yards per attempt. Expect him to improve dramatically in both categories this season.