Fantasy Football 2022: 7 Sleepers to Keep An Eye On in Training Camps

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVJuly 8, 2022

Fantasy Football 2022: 7 Sleepers to Keep An Eye On in Training Camps

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    SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 02: Seattle Seahawks Running Back Rashaad Penny (20) running with the ball during an NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings on December 02, 2019, at Century Link Stadium in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Michael Workman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Workman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The calendar has turned to July, which means NFL training camps will soon be underway in earnest. That means fantasy football draft season isn't far away.

    In fantasy football, preparation is the key to determining potential values to target, busts to avoid and sleepers who could go from obscure in August to critical in December. One of the keys to identifying that last group is to keep an eye on what's transpiring in training camp.

    During camp, you can see whether a young quarterback is ready to take the reins of his offense. Some running backs will either hold off competition or rise above it to claim a significant offensive role. It may also become clear which pass-catchers on new teams or in new offenses are poised to have career years.

    Figure out which players fit into those categories, and you'll know which players available outside the top 85 overall in PPR average draft position (ADP) at FantasyPros are set to vastly outperform their asking price in 2022.

    That will put you one big step closer to winning your league this year.

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 09: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Trey Lance (5) warms up during the NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams on January 9, 2022, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    ADP: QB13, 108th Overall

    The fantasy community will be watching no quarterback more intently during training camp than Trey Lance of the San Francisco 49ers.

    In fact, as Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group wrote, fantasy managers aren't the only ones who are curious to see what Lance can do. On some level, the 49ers are as well.

    “I feel really good about what I think we have,” general manager John Lynch said. “But the answer is I don’t even know, because he hasn’t gone out there and done it as ‘the guy.’ We’re all sitting back and waiting. We think we have a real good idea of what we have in Trey but everything else is just talk.”

    There has been nothing to indicate that Lance will be anything but "the guy" in 2022. Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the team as of now while he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, but just about everyone expects him to be traded or released. That leaves Lance as the team's presumptive starter this season.

    Lance's limited action in 2021 left fantasy managers with as many questions as answers. But he has the combination of a huge right arm and the ability to pick up yardage with his legs that managers covet under center.

    In wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle, the Niners aren't hurting for passing-game weapons. And San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan may be the best offensive play-caller in the NFL.

    If Lance impresses in training camp and during the preseason, his ADP could climb into low-end QB1 territory.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 02: Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball against the Detroit Lions during the third quarter at Lumen Field on January 02, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    ADP: RB33, 88th Overall

    After an injury-marred first three seasons in the NFL that included playing in only three games in 2020, the light finally appeared to come on for Rashaad Penny in 2021. Over the last five games of the season, Penny topped 100 rushing yards four times. Over that span, no running back had more PPR points among running backs than he did.

    No one.

    Penny's reward for that outburst? He'll spend the summer fighting for his starting job after the Seahawks used the 41st overall pick in the 2022 draft on Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III.

    The 5'9", 211-pound Walker is a physical, downhill runner who appears to be an excellent fit for what Seattle head coach Pete Carroll likes to do offensively. Fantasy managers appear to believe it's only a matter of time before he becomes the team's No. 1 back. On average, he's coming off draft boards ahead of Penny.

    However, as Corbin Smith wrote for All Seahawks, Penny isn't giving up his job without a fight—and for once, he's actually healthy as training camp looms.

    "I never had the chance to run around and actually get an early jump to training camp for the next six weeks," Penny said in June. "I think it's just made it more special for me to come out here and just run around and get in shape early instead of waiting until training camp to figure out my body or whatever. But I feel amazing, and this is the best I've ever felt. I'm excited about this year and I can't wait to get going.”

    Meanwhile, Walker missed most of OTAs with a balky hamstring. The longer that injury lingers, the more opportunity Penny will have to remind Seattle's coaching staff about his late-season outburst in 2021.

    That should only increase the odds of Penny being the Seahawks' lead back, at least early in the season.

Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans

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    MOBILE, AL - FEBRUARY 02: American running back Dameon Pierce of Florida (27) during the Reese's Senior Bowl practice session on February 2, 2002 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.  (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    ADP: RB47, 134th Overall

    There isn't much fantasy enthusiasm surrounding the Houston Texans offense in 2022. They don't have a single player with a top-60 ADP at FantasyPros. Only one Texans player (wide receiver Brandin Cooks) is being selected inside the top 100 on average.

    However, there still may be value in Houston, especially if the Texans can get their league-worst rushing attack from last season going this year.

    The Texans spent a fourth-round pick this year on Florida running back Dameon Pierce. A Day 3 pick might not appear to be a sizable investment, but the Texans apparently liked Pierce enough to give him a record contract for a fourth-rounder.

    Per Mark Lane of Texans Wire, veteran running back Marlon Mack said that Pierce was a bundle of energy at OTAs.

    “You know young guys, man,” Mack said. “Young guy, bring that college energy, fresh, don’t know what to expect. But he’s a young guy, he’s learning, energetic, happy. Smile on the face every day, and that’s one thing you need in your room and you’re always going to enjoy.”

    There is no shortage of questions about Pierce, who never carried the ball more than 110 times in a season at Florida and had only nine games with 10 or more carries.

    But Mack has only 32 total carries over the past two seasons combined and more Achilles tears (one) than touchdowns (zero) over that span. Rex Burkhead, Houston's leading rusher from last season, is a 32-year-old scatback who had never hit even 75 carries in a season until 2021.

    Someone is going to emerge as Houston's lead back in training camp. And whoever that is should have some fantasy value.

Christian Kirk, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 23: Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) during Jacksonville Jaguars OTA Offseason Workouts on May 23, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    ADP: WR44, 105th Overall

    It's rare for a team's projected No. 1 wide receiver to fall outside the top 100 fantasy draft picks, especially after he signed a contract worth $18 million per season. Such is life for Christian Kirk of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    On some level, it's easy to see why there isn't a stampede to acquire Kirk's services.

    Despite playing from behind most of the 2021 season, the Jaguars were only 22nd in the league in passing. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed only 59.6 percent of his passes and threw just 12 touchdown passes all season long. And while Kirk set career highs in receptions and receiving yards last year with the Arizona Cardinals, he has yet to have a 1,000-yard season or crack the top-30 PPR receivers in points per game.

    With that said, the Jaguars certainly appear to be believers in Kirk's talent, and Nolan Murt of The 33rd Team shares that belief.

    "From his threatening speed to his savvy separability to his excellent ball skills, Kirk owns all the tools to be a quarterback’s dream," Murtt wrote. "As the featured receiver in this offense, his new contract may have started the conversation about him in 2022, but his production this season will continue that conversation for years to come."

    Lawrence's development under new head coach Doug Pederson in 2022 will be important for fantasy managers to track throughout camp. But it will be equally important to keep tabs on the rapport (or lack thereof) between Jacksonville's quarterback and his new top receiver.

    If the pair clicks, there's significant value to be had with Kirk at this ADP.

Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 09: Allen Lazard #13 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on January 09, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)"n
    Nic Antaya

    ADP: WR49, 118th Overall

    After the offseason departures of Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the Green Bay Packers are short on proven commodities at wideout. However, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains confident the room can get the job done on Sundays, per Matt Schneidman of The Athletic:

    “I like production over potential. We have some production. We have a lot of potential. So we need to temper expectations and heighten the accountability. I think that’s the most important thing for those guys. There are guys who’ve done some things in the league and there are guys that haven’t and they’re going to get opportunities, so reasonable expectations for those guys and then high expectations and accountability for the entire room.

    Excited about Randall. We’ve played a lot of football together. Excited about Sammy. Excited about Allen Lazard. He’s been our dirty-work guy for most of his career here, now he’s getting an opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver, so I’m not worried about him at all stepping into that role.”

    Lazard took his time signing his restricted-free-agent tender, but the 26-year-old put pen to paper in mid-June. That should leave Rodgers' comments echoing loudly in fantasy managers' heads.

    Lazard's career numbers to date haven't been especially impressive. Last season's 40/513/8 line and WR47 finish represent career highs across the board. But Lazard is being drafted relatively close to that finish this year, and his circumstances have changed drastically.

    With Adams and Valdes-Scantling gone, more than 220 targets from last year's offense are now up for grabs. Rodgers has a long history of eschewing young receivers for veterans with whom he has a relationship.

    If Lazard emerges as the Packers' No. 1 receiver in training camp, he will be fantasy larceny at this meager asking price.

Tim Patrick, WR, Denver Broncos

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    DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 08: Tim Patrick #81 of the Denver Broncos reacts after a non penalty call during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field At Mile High on January 08, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    ADP: WR64, 167th Overall

    As soon as the Denver Broncos traded for Russell Wilson, their fans and fantasy managers alike have been doing cartwheels. Third-year wide receiver Jerry Jeudy said he expects the Denver offense to explode in 2022, per Troy Renck of ABC 7 Denver.

    "Every detail matters with (Wilson)," Jeudy said at his youth football camp. "You learn a lot, just how hard he works and how focused he is when he's on the field and on the board. You realize how locked in he his. I've learned a lot. He's a great quarterback. I am excited to play with him. I mean it's going to be very exciting. I feel like we are going to be a very explosive team. I feel like we've got all the pieces we needed, so we've just gotta put it together. And I am excited that is going to happen."

    Just about everyone expects that explosion to feature Courtland Sutton and Jeudy as the top two receivers. Sutton is getting run as a potential league-winning value play this year, while Jeudy has been slapped with the "breakout" label.

    But Tim Patrick might wind up as the biggest value of the lot.

    Yes, Jeudy was injured for a substantial portion of last season. But that doesn't change the fact that Patrick outperformed him in several statistical categories, including a team-leading five receiving scores. The targets per game and receiving yards per game between the two were nearly identical.

    In addition to being a Denver-area radio personality, Cecil Lammey of Footballguys also happens to be a fantasy analyst. So when he said during OTAs that Patrick could finish ahead of Jeudy this season, wise fantasy managers paid heed.

    However, far too many others are fixated on the fact that Jeudy was a first-round pick, while Patrick was an undrafted free agent. But draft slot doesn't matter now. Snaps and targets do.

    If Patrick shows a strong relationship with Wilson in training camp and really does go on to out-point Jeudy, he could be one of 2022's biggest steals at his position.

Cole Kmet, TE, Chicago Bears

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 20: Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) looks on during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on December 20, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    ADP: TE13, 129th Overal

    Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet didn't have a bad season in 2021, especially when you consider the sorry state of the Chicago offense in head coach Matt Nagy's final year. The Notre Dame product ranked second on the team in targets (93), receptions (60) and receiving yards (612).

    However, Kmet was somehow shut out of the end zone despite those 60 catches. That relegated him to a PPR finish outside of the top 20 at his position.

    The Bears now have a head coach in Matt Eberflus and a new offensive coordinator in Luke Getsy. And after watching what tight ends like Green Bay's Robert Tonyan and San Francisco's George Kittle have accomplished in similar schemes, Kmet is all kinds of excited about what his third season might hold, per Josh Schrock of NBC Sports Chicago:

    "You kind of see how the tight ends involve in the run scheme and off of that, the play-action movements and all those type of things can be really advantageous for tight ends. You see guys around the league in similar offenses, whether it was Tonyan a couple years back with Green Bay. Or you look at what George has done in San Francisco. You even look at some things with Minnesota and how they've used tight ends the past five years or so. You see those things and you can see how tight ends can get really involved in this offense."

    The Bears may have revamped their coaching staff, but their wide receiver corps remains among the weakest in the NFL. Kmet has a legitimate chance to show the new coaches in camp that he's the second-most important pass-catcher in town behind 1,000-yard wideout Darnell Mooney.

    If he can add a handful of touchdowns to last year's receiving totals, he could be a legitimate TE1, and perhaps even a top-10 fantasy option.

    Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writer's Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks