Fantasy Football 2022: Players You Need to Watch In Preseason
While some NFL fans would prefer to skip the preseason, fantasy football managers should watch these games and draft accordingly.
In the practices leading up to the first full week of exhibition games, beat reporters and analysts have shared nuggets from those sessions that deserve some attention. Over the past two weeks, young players have made noise at training camp, and some coaches want to see them go against other teams in a game setting.
With a little bit of summer buzz, several players can further boost their fantasy stock with impressive exhibition performances as they compete for regular-season roles.
If you’re looking for draft gems, you may pick up cues from the preseason. We’ll highlight eight players to watch in the coming weeks because of their early flashes at camp or opportunities to move up the depth chart.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears wide receiver corps isn’t going to attract you to Justin Fields. Aside from Darnell Mooney, the group features a rookie third-rounder in Velus Jones Jr. and castoffs who served as backups on other teams last season.
No matter what Fields says about the wideout group, Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown have a lot to prove without 50 catches or 600 receiving yards in a single season on their resumes. N’Keal Harry, whom the team acquired from the New England Patriots a few weeks ago, suffered a high ankle sprain over the last weekend.
Despite all of that, Fields has some sleeper appeal.
According to Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke, Fields finished top 12 in fantasy points among quarterbacks in the last four games that he started and finished in 2021. In those outings, he played against the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings (three playoff teams) and scored no fewer than 16.9 points in all those contests, per FantasyPros.
Fields’ ability to run the ball can balance his struggles in the passing game, which puts him on the QB2 radar with a 12.12 ADP. He recorded 72 carries for 420 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Head coach Matt Eberflus told reporters that he wants his starters to “get a good amount” of snaps in the preseason. Keep a close eye on how the new coaching staff uses Fields, and his rapport with Jones, whom NBC Sports’ Peter King believes the Bears have big intentions for this year.
Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Arguably the most talked about young quarterback this offseason, Trey Lance goes into his second year as an unknown fantasy commodity. According to Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed, the San Francisco 49ers don’t even know what to expect from him.
“The 49ers believe Lance can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but they’re entering this season with a degree of uncertainty about how he’ll play,” Kyed wrote.
Lance hasn’t played a full season of football since his collegiate 2019 term at North Dakota State. Last year, he appeared in six games, started in two, throwing for 603 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions with a 57.7 percent completion rate.
As a rookie, Lance also rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries, which makes him a high-upside fantasy option at quarterback. Right now, in 12-team leagues, he’s a QB2 with a 9.09 average draft position (ADP).
If Lance knocks off some rust and looks sharp in the preseason, expect him to move up draft boards by a round or two before September. Because he’s paired with one of the league’s best play-callers in head coach Kyle Shanahan, a lot of fantasy football managers will give him the benefit of the doubt and roll the dice on his potential.
Tyler Allgeier, RB, Atlanta Falcons
In terms of the pecking order, the Atlanta Falcons have a wide-open backfield.
Atlanta released running back Mike Davis, who registered 138 carries for 503 yards and three touchdowns last season. In 2021, Cordarrelle Patterson led the club in rushing with 618 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, but The Athletic’s Josh Kendall thinks it’s “overly optimistic” to believe the hybrid wide receiver-running back carries a full workload in the run game this year.
Per NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, the Falcons believe Tyler Allgeier can “be the bell cow” out of the backfield.
Most teams employ a two-man ground attack or use a committee with three or four backs, so Wyche’s use of the word bell cow should catch your attention.
As the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans between 2019 and 2020, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith featured Derrick Henry in a run-first offense. Compared to Henry, who’s 6’3”, 247 pounds, Allgeier (5’10”, 224 lbs) has a smaller, stockier frame, but Atlanta could adopt a similar offensive philosophy if the rookie can handle the load.
Over his last two years at BYU, Allgeier rushed for 2,736 yards and 36 touchdowns. With a solid preseason showing, he can claim the top spot on the Falcons' running back depth chart and handle a sizeable portion of the carries every week. Fantasy managers may want to get ahead of the curve and pick him up late in the draft while he has an 11.02 ADP.
James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills’ backfield may frustrate fantasy managers. In the second round of this year’s draft, they added James Cook. He’ll attempt to carve out a role with Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in the mix.
Last week, head coach Sean McDermott highlighted Cook as a standout at practice.
“A young player that’s opened some eyes here a little bit in the run and pass game,” McDermott said to reporters.
Because of his playmaking ability, Cook could see the field on all three downs. He accumulated 2,233 yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage through four collegiate terms at Georgia.
However, The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia added some context to Cook’s performances and suggested that the rookie has to clear one important hurdle before he can take on a decent role out of the backfield.
“Cook’s pass protection remains a work in progress as the safeties and linebackers have been giving him some trouble in those one-on-one drills,” Buscaglia wrote.
Buscaglia also believes that Moss will have a role within the offense.
“To this point, the 2020 third-round pick has worked in with the Josh Allen-led offense every day, which shows he is still very much a part of the running back discussion for 2022,” he wrote.
Cook will draw interest from managers in point-per-reception leagues, which explains his 8.09 ADP despite the possibility of a three-man backfield rotation in Buffalo.
Fantasy football managers don’t watch preseason football to break down a running back’s pass protection, but that could be the deciding factor in whether Cook has a decent workload or falls back into a distant third spot on the depth chart behind Singletary and Moss.
Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans
Last season, Rex Burkhead led the Houston Texans in rushing with 122 carries for 427 yards and three touchdowns. He’s headed into his age-32 term. The team hasn’t re-signed David Johnson, and Mark Ingram II went back to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
Houston signed Marlon Mack, who told reporters that he's “there again” in terms of his health.
With the Indianapolis Colts, Mack tore his Achilles in the 2020 season opener. Over the last two years, he's recorded just 32 carries for 127 yards along with five receptions for 38 yards.
Mack will likely have to battle rookie fourth-rounder Dameon Pierce for touches out of the backfield.
ESPN’s DJ Bien-Aime thinks Pierce “looks like the Texans’ best running back,” citing the Florida product’s “vision, footwork [and] explosiveness for his assertion.
Pierce should have an opportunity to prove that he’s the top running back on the depth in exhibition action. As a collegian, he racked up 2,228 yards and 28 touchdowns from scrimmage in a rotational role.
If Pierce gets at least 40 percent of the touches out of the Texans’ backfield, he’s a potential late-round steal with a 10.03 ADP.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders
Among rookie first-round wide receivers, Jahan Dotson may have generated the most buzz.
According to Zach Selby of the Washington Commanders’ official website, Dotson turned heads early in the team’s offseason program.
“There's no other way to say it: Jahan Dotson has been electric this offseason. From the first time he stepped on the field during rookie minicamp, Dotson has been one of the Commanders’ best offensive players. All the traits that enticed Washington to draft him -- specifically his route-running and hands -- have been on full display, and he's received heaps of praise from [Carson] Wentz for it.”
Through the spring, Dotson had ample time to build a rapport with Wentz while fellow wide receiver Terry McLaurin missed organized team activities in a contract dispute with the club.
NBC Sports Washington’s Bijan Todd noted that Wentz “loves” targeting Dotson. They’ll have a chance to showcase their connection in the preseason. Head coach Ron Rivera said the quarterback will “definitely” play in Saturday’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
Rivera expressed some concern about Curtis Samuel’s “overall football conditioning and shape.”
Last year, Samuel missed 12 contests. The sixth-year wideout may need to get back into game shape before he can contribute on offense. In the meantime, Dotson can continue to make a strong impression and work his way into a big role. His 14.02 ADP seems a bit low right now.
Romeo Doubs, WR, Green Bay Packers
After trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, the Green Bay Packers signed Sammy Watkins and drafted three wide receivers, Christian Watson (second round), Romeo Doubs (fourth round), and Samori Toure (seventh round).
Watson and Watkins have spent time on the physically unable to perform list. The former is still recovering from knee surgery, and the latter probably won’t play significant snaps (or any at all) in the preseason.
Doubs has stood out as one of the stars in the Packers’ offseason program.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s known for slowly warming up to wide receivers, praised Doubs for his early development in camp and compared him to some of the top Packers wideouts.
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky wrote that Doubs looks “NFL-ready” and called him the star of the second training camp practice with impressive touchdown grabs against 2021 first-round cornerback Eric Stokes and All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
NBC Sports’ Peter King thinks Doubs will “have a prominent role early.”
Coming from three different sources, Doubs has definitely had a strong offseason and seems like a potential early contributor in the post-Adams era for Green Bay’s wide receiver group.
If Doubs continues to shine in the preseason, he’s someone to add at the end of your bench. The Nevada product has an ADP of 13.11—barely on the draft radar.
Jalen Tolbert, WR, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have a big void to fill at the No. 2 wide receiver spot.
Following the departure of Amari Cooper, via trade to the Cleveland Browns, CeeDee Lamb will likely become the go-to option in the passing game. Dallas needs a reliable target behind him. Keep in mind that Cedrick Wilson Jr. signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency.
Michael Gallup told reporters that “it’s not a reasonable possibility” for him to suit up in the season opener. He’s only seven months removed from a torn ACL. Per ESPN’s Todd Archer, James Washington broke his foot and could miss six to 10 weeks of action.
Nevertheless, Dallas isn't in a rush to add outside help.
“There is no urgency to get a veteran receiver,” owner Jerry Jones said to reporters.
The Cowboys may want to see rookie third-rounder, Jalen Tolbert, on the field for live snaps before they hit the panic button.
Over the last two years, Tolbert racked up 146 receptions for 2,559 yards and 16 touchdowns at South Alabama. He’ll have a golden opportunity to open the season in a starting role as Gallup and Washington recover from their injuries.
College football statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.