2022 Fantasy Football Blueprint to Win Your Draft and the League

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVAugust 10, 2022

2022 Fantasy Football Blueprint to Win Your Draft and the League

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    The NFL preseason is about to begin in earnest. In just about a month, the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams will kick off the 2022 season. And when they do, another season of fantasy football will begin with it.

    We're smack in the thick of the best time of year in fantasy football—draft season. Hope springs eternal for every fantasy manager, regardless of how last season unfolded. Everyone has aspirations of winning a championship.

    However, those championship dreams can be derailed quickly by a bad draft. In order to prevent that doomsday scenario, it's important to prepare for the big day—to consider which strategies will help construct the most competitive team and identify some potential targets of value and busts that are best left alone.

    As it happens, this column does both. It offers a position-by-position guide to a successful fantasy draft strategy and identifies players at each spot set to exceed (or fail to meet) expectations in 2022.


    Unless otherwise noted, average draft position courtesy of Fantasy Pros. PPR fantasy scoring data courtesy of FFToday.

Quarterback Strategy: Patience Is a Virtue

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    Set Number: X163914 TK1

    There's no question that quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. A team isn't going anywhere if they don't have a quality signal-caller to guide the offense. Quarterbacks are the highest-scoring players in most fantasy leagues.

    However, highest-scoring and most valuable are not the same thing.

    In most fantasy leagues, each team only starts one quarterback. Just 12 of the league's 32 starters at the position will be in starting lineups each week, as opposed to 24 running backs and 24 or even 36 wide receivers.

    Will elite fantasy quarterbacks like Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs score a boatload of fantasy points in 2022? You bet. But a player's value in fantasy football isn't just tied to how many points they score. It's tied to how many points that player scores relative to the other players at that position.

    The scoring difference between the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 12 quarterback isn't as significant as the gap between the No. 1 weekly starter and the No. 24 starter at running back. The same goes for the No. 1 wide receiver and No. 24 (or No. 36) wide receiver. The "edge" gained by drafting a high-end quarterback isn't worth the hole it digs at another position.

    This isn't to say that you should never consider selecting a high-end quarterback. If everyone in your league fades the position and quarterbacks drop on draft day, that's a much different story.

    But assuming they come off the board at close to ADP, the smart play at quarterback is to wait and grab one of the veterans coming off the board in lower-end QB1 territory that has top-five upside. You could even wait longer and grab a couple of quarterbacks you can platoon based on matchups.

Quarterbacks to Target (and Avoid)

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    GO GET HIM!

    Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos (ADP: QB9, 77th Overall)

    Wilson is playing for a new team this year and coming off an injury-marred season, but those circumstances have led to him being undervalued. Two years ago, Wilson was the QB5, and the Broncos have the skill-position personnel to propel him to a big-time bounce-back year in 2022.

    Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: QB10, 87th Overall)

    Yes, Brady is 45 years old. But last year, he led the NFL in both passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43) on the way to scoring the second-most fantasy points at the position. There is no indication that Brady is slowing down, and the addition of Julio Jones gives Brady and the Bucs arguably the most fearsome foursome of wideouts in the league.

    Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: QB15, 108th Overall)

    Cousins is the quarterback that fans and fantasy managers alike love to hate. But the 33-year-old has finished among the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks in three of four seasons in Minnesota, and new Vikings head coach Kevin O' Connell just coaxed a top-five season from Matthew Stafford as the offensive coordinator for the Rams last year.


    STEER CLEAR!

    Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (ADP: QB1, 25th Overall)

    The difference between the No. 1 quarterback and No. 12 quarterback in 2021 was 7.8 fantasy points per game—less than the gap from No. 1 to No. 24 at running back (9.5) and from No. 1 to No. 24 at wide receiver (10.0). It has also been well over a decade since the quarterback drafted first in fantasy leagues actually finished the year in that spot.

    Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: QB2, 35th Overall)

    Mahomes is a great player, no doubt. But fantasy managers hoping for him to peel off a repeat of his historic 2018 season are setting themselves up to be disappointed. Last year, Mahomes was fourth in fantasy points among quarterbacks. The year before that, he was sixth. And both those seasons came with Tyreek Hill on the team. Drafting a player at his ceiling is never a good idea.

Running Back Strategy: Long Live the King

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    Want to know how you can tell that even in these days of pass-wacky offenses and three and four-wide receiver sets that running backs remain the kings of fantasy football?

    Just about every danged fantasy draft strategy out there has "RB" right in the name.

    There's Robust RB, which advocates filling both starting spots in the backfield (and any flex spots) before addressing any other position.

    There's Hero RB (or Anchor RB), which advocates drafting one running back, hitting the wide receiver position and then circling back for a second starter later.

    And then there's Zero RB, which calls for avoiding running backs altogether until the draft's later rounds.

    For my money, the wiser course of action is to lean closer to the first two strategies than the last one. There's no denying that the bust rates at running back (as a whole) are higher than at wide receiver.

    But there's also no denying that the wide receiver position is deeper than at running back or that the gap in bust rates between the two positions is widest from about Round 4 or 5 through the eighth round or so.

    There's a name for that portion of the draft, too—the "RB Dead Zone."

    This isn't to say that your first three picks should always be running backs, that you can't draft an elite wide receiver or tight end early, or that any running back drafted in the middle rounds is doomed to failure.

    But making two of your first three picks running backs ensures both that you can land a couple of workhorse backs whose workload offers a higher fantasy floor while also giving you a chance to select a top-10 wide receiver or elite tight end.

    Unfortunately, I don't have a catchy nickname for that strategy.

    Maybe just call it effective.

Running Backs to Target (and Avoid)

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    GO GET HIM!

    Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: RB13, 24th Overall)

    All summer long, fantasy drafters have been trying to come up with reasons not to draft Fournette, whether it's the arrival of rookie Rachaad White or Fournette showing up to camp out of shape. But Fournette has already shed his added weight, and Tampa head coach Todd Bowles called last year's RB6 in PPR points a "three-down" back.

    JK Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: RB23, 50th Overall)

    Dobbins isn't a pick without risk after missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL. But the third-year pro has emphatically stated he'll be ready for Week 1, and prior to his injury quite a few fantasy analysts had Dobbins pegged as a breakout candidate after he averaged six yards per carry as a rookie. The Ravens are going to run the ball—a lot. And Dobbins is set to lead the Baltimore backfield.

    Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: RB30, 79th Overall)

    Is Patterson going to back up last year's breakout campaign that saw him top 1,100 total yards, score 11 touchdowns and post top-10 numbers in PPR leagues? Probably not. But there's still an excellent chance that the veteran will lead the Atlanta backfield in touches, and Patterson could rack up tons of short dump-offs out of the backfield as a bad Falcons team plays catch-up.


    STEER CLEAR!

    Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (ADP: RB4, 5th Overall)

    There's no denying that when he's healthy and on top of his game, Henry is one of the game's best running backs. But Henry is 28 (the age when many running backs start to decline), he missed over half the 2022 season with a foot injury and the ridiculous workload Tennessee gave him last season (219 attempts in eight games) just isn't sustainable.

    Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos (ADP: RB11, 19th Overall)

    Talent isn't a question with Williams, who was impressive sharing carries with Melvin Gordon as a rookie. The problem is that Williams is being drafted like he's set to be a featured back in his second season. But the Broncos re-signed Gordon, who had the same number of carries last year and actually averaged more yards per carry.

Wide Receiver Strategy: Plumb the Depths

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    The NFL in 2022 is all about throwing the football. Last season, nearly half the league's teams threw the ball over 59 percent of the time. Ten quarterbacks eclipsed 4,000 passing yards, and a pair went over 5,000 passing yards.

    Given all that passing, it shouldn't surprise that quite a few wide receivers had big seasons, highlighted by Cooper Kupp's "Triple Crown" campaign of 145 catches, 1,947 yards and 16 scores—numbers that made him fantasy's highest-scoring non-quarterback and a top-five player overall.

    A whopping 23 wide receivers last year had over 1,000 receiving yards. Fourteen wide receivers had at least 90 receptions. Twenty averaged at least 15 PPR points per game.

    Long story short, wide receiver is easily the deepest offensive position in fantasy football. So use that depth to your advantage.

    This isn't to say that there isn't a place of fantasy rosters for elite receivers like Kupp, Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings or Ja'Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals. But there are players available in the sixth round who have top-12 fantasy upside, and your odds of finding a startable player at wide receiver in the double-digit rounds is exponentially higher than at running back or tight end.

    You can have success in fantasy football by basing a team around a core of reliable, high-end fantasy receivers. But there's more value available later in drafts at the position than in the backfield.

    Draft one receiver relatively early who you can anchor the position around. Use your other early-draft capital on running backs. And then circle back later for some upside plays and late-round dart-throws.

    Where the latter is concerned, focus on youth. Low-ceiling veteran picks won't hurt your team, but they also won't help it that much. If you're going to buy a lottery ticket, aim for one with a big payoff.

Wide Receivers to Target (and Avoid)

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    GO GET HIM!

    Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (ADP: WR25, 65th Overall)

    To date, Sutton hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had back in 2019, when he topped 70 catches and 1,100 receiving yards. But that was with quarterback play that was, um, ungood. Now Russell Wilson is in the Mile High City, and in his last healthy season Wilson turned Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf into top-10 fantasy options.

    JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: WR34, 86th Overall)

    Smith-Schuster joined the Chiefs in free agency after an injury-marred final season with the Steelers. The 25-year-old isn't going to suddenly become the next Tyreek Hill, nor is he likely to repeat his 111 catches and 1,400 receiving yards from 2018. But Smith-Schuster is a good bet to lead the Chiefs' new-look wide receiver corps in targets—and that's something.

    Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers (ADP: WR45, 110th Overall)

    Is Lazard going to duplicate the kind of gonzo fantasy numbers that Davante Adams had in Green Bay? Of course not—the two are in different stratospheres from a talent perspective. But Lazard remains the No. 1 wide receiver for the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers has long been a quarterback who targets receivers he has a comfort level and rapport with.


    STEER CLEAR!

    Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins (ADP: WR8, 19th Overall)

    Last year, Hill posted a 111/1,239/9 line playing for a Chiefs team that had the second-most pass attempts in the league. That's going to change in Miami in 2022—Mike McDaniel brings in an offense from San Francisco that ranked 20th or worse in pass attempts in three of the past four years. Meeting this ADP is a best-case scenario for Hill in 2022.

    A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: WR11, 28th Overall)

    Brown is an immensely talented wideout who has topped 1,000 receiving yards twice in three years. But he has never posted top-12 fantasy numbers in terms of PPR points, and now he goes from a Titans team that didn't throw the ball a lot to an Eagles team that throws the ball even less. Posting WR1 numbers without much in the way of target volume is a tough ask.

Tight End Strategy: Haves and Have-Nots

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    The tight end position has become one of the trickier in fantasy football in recent years. But it boils down to one of three choices—just like the final contest on Let's Make a Deal.

    Behind Door No. 1 are the elite options, headlined by Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs. Kelce's productivity and consistency cannot be questioned—the 32-year-old has topped 1,000 receiving yards in six straight seasons and hasn't finished lower than second in PPR points at the position since 2015. But that productivity and consistency carries a high price tag—Kelce isn't making it out of the top 20 picks on draft day.

    If the elite tight ends are too rich to for your blood, there's a second tier at the position anchored by players like Dalton Schultz of the Dallas Cowboys and T.J. Hockenson of the Detroit Lions. They don't quite have the upside of the tier above them, but they should serve as a reliable weekly starter.

    Once you get past that second tier, there's a giant, muddied morass of maybe. You can wait until late in the draft to select the likes of Mike Gesicki of the Miami Dolphins or Hunter Henry of the New England Patriots. But they will likely be hit-or-miss from week to week.

    The best value at the position this year appears to lie with the back end of Tier 1 or top of Tier 2. You can get a player with a legitimate shot at top-five fantasy numbers multiple rounds after Kelce and Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens come off the board.

Tight Ends to Target (and Avoid)

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    GO GET HIM!

    George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: TE4, 43rd Overall)

    Among the top-tier tight ends, Kittle offers the best combination of production and price tag in 2022. Kittle's receptions and receiving yards dipped a bit last year relative to his big seasons in 2018 and 2019, but the 28-year-old set a career high with six touchdown catches and finished fourth in PPR points at the position. Backing those numbers up shouldn't be especially difficult.

    Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: TE6, 63rd Overall)

    If spending one of your first handful of picks on a tight end isn't a plan that appeals to you, then Schultz should absolutely be on your radar at the position. Last season he was third among tight ends in catches, sixth in receiving yards, second in touchdowns and fifth in PPR points per game. He should once again be a big part of the Dallas offense in 2022.

    Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears (ADP: TE13, 122nd Overall)

    For fantasy managers who punt the tight end position until late, Kmet is an interesting player. In 2021, Kmet was eighth among all tight ends in targets and 12th in receiving yards, but his fantasy numbers were depressed by his lack of a single touchdown grab. He's not going to catch 60 passes and get shut out of the end zone again.


    STEER CLEAR!

    Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: TE2, 22nd Overall)

    Andrews had a great 2021 to be sure, finishing as fantasy's No. 1 tight end. But that huge season came in a year when the Ravens attempted the ninth-most passes in the NFL. In both 2019 and 2020, the Ravens ranked at the bottom of the league in that category, and prior to last year's 153 targets, Andrews had never garnered even 100 looks in a season.

    Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: TE8, 84th Overall)

    Goedert isn't a bad fantasy option. But he isn't an especially good one either. With A.J. Brown now in Philadelphia, it's hard to imagine Goedert seeing a big bump in targets on a run-heavy Eagles team. He probably isn't going to average almost 15 yards per catch again in 2022, either. Last year's ninth-place finish in PPR points is closer to Goedert's ceiling than his floor.

Defense and Kicker Strategy: Hurry Up and Wait

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    The correct strategy where kickers and defenses are concerned is simple—wait to draft them until the last two rounds of your draft.

    It can be tempting to consider adding a high-end defense like the Buffalo Bills or an elite kicker like Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens. But there are a couple of reasons why that's not a great use of draft capital.

    For starters, the advantage gained by rostering a highly ranked defense or kicker isn't all that significant. Last season, the difference in scoring between the No. 1 defense (the Dallas Cowboys) and the No. 12 defense (the San Francisco 49ers) was just 2.2 fantasy points per game. At kicker, the difference between No. 1 (Daniel Carlson of the Raiders) and No. 15 (Harrison Butker of the Chiefs was just over one point per game.

    It's just not worth passing on depth or late-round dart throws just to buy one extra point per week.

    There's also the matter of how unpredictable defenses and kickers can be from year to year. Last year's top defense in terms of ADP (the Pittsburgh Steelers) wound up finishing the season 15th in fantasy points. The year before that, the 49ers went from being the top-drafted defense to 24th in points. Go back another year, and the Chicago Bears went from No. 1 before the year to 25th at season's end.

    Kickers aren't any easier to predict—Butker was last year's leader in ADP but finished outside the top 12. In fact, if your fantasy league allows waivers before the season, the smartest play is to pass on drafting a kicker altogether. You can always grab one off the waiver wire just before Week 1.

    On defense, it's all about matchups—target a team late that has a favorable schedule, even if it's only for Week 1. When those juicy matchups dry up, kick that defense to the curb and grab another off the wire.

Defenses and Kickers to Target (and Avoid)

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    GO GET HIM!

    New England Patriots Defense/Special Teams (ADP: D/ST8, 210th Overall)

    If you're interested in an every-week starter on defense but don't want to pay retail to land one, the Patriots should be on your radar. Only the Buffalo Bills allowed fewer yards and points per game last season, and the Patriots have cracked the top 10 in fantasy points in three of the past four seasons. It's almost as if Bill Belichick knows something about defense.

    Cleveland Browns Defense/Special Teams (ADP: D/ST16, 278th Overall)

    Most of the offseason storylines in Cleveland have centered on the offense, but the Browns were quietly fifth in the league in both total defense and passing defense. Even better, beginning with the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, the Browns have a highly favorable September schedule that includes three of the top six teams in terms of fantasy points allowed to defenses in 2021.

    Nick Folk, PK, New England Patriots (ADP: PK9, 255th Overall)

    Folk connected on over 92 percent of his field-goal attempts last season and ranked third in field goals made and second in fantasy points at the position. The Patriots also possess the sort of offense that fantasy managers should target kickers on—good enough to move the ball, but no so dominant that all Folk does is kick extra points.


    STEER CLEAR!

    Buffalo Bills Defense/Special Teams (ADP: D/ST1, 192nd Overall)

    The Bills are an excellent defensive football team that allowed the fewest yards per game and points per game in the NFL In 2021. Buffalo was third in takeaways as well. But the Bills were just 11th in the league in sacks and finished outside the top 12 in fantasy points in many scoring systems. Don't fall prey to overpaying for a name.

    Justin Tucker, PK, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: PK1, 166th Overall)

    Tucker is one of the best kickers the NFL has ever seen—he has connected on over 91 percent of his career attempts, hit on 35 of 37 field-goal attempts last year and owns the NFL record for the longest successful kick in league history. But while the 32-year-old has been a fixture in the top 10, he has never finished a season as the No. 1 kicker. Not once.


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

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