2022 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards This Preseason

Alex BallentineAugust 16, 2022

2022 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards This Preseason

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    Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

    The kickoff of the NFL preseason means that fantasy football draft season is officially here.

    Sure, there are drafts in dynasty and best ball formats throughout the summer, but your average fantasy league probably holds its draft at some point during the preseason or even during Labor Day weekend.

    The advantage to a later draft is that you'll get a more complete picture heading into the season. The preseason offers insight into how players are going to be used within their offense, how guys coming off injuries are looking and which players are going to start the season on IR.

    We're already starting to see some guys working their way up draft boards. The following players are among those who have seen their average draft position move up the most over the last week in ESPN live drafts, which is driven by training-camp buzz and preseason performances.

WR Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

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    AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez

    Last year, Brandon Aiyuk hurt managers that drafted him at his ADP, which landed around the fifth round of 12-team PPR leagues, per Fantasy Football Calculator.

    His role in the 49ers offense was nearly non-existent early in the season, and he didn't pay dividends until the second half of the year. He ultimately finished as WR34, as he was WR12 in PPR formats from Week 9 to Week 17.

    This year, he doesn't quite have the same hype. He's going around 116th overall in ESPN drafts, which is a far cry from his price last season.

    Two things are likely going to continue to drive up his stock as we approach the season. First, the reports that continue to come out that Aiyuk has been a training-camp standout.

    Quarterback Trey Lance is the latest to heap praise on him.

    "I've been saying it this whole spring and summer: He was locked in this offseason," Lance said, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic. "He had a goal of separating himself and becoming kind of a different player. And he's done that."

    Then there's the progression of Lance. The quarterback went 4-of-5 for 92 yards and a touchdown, including a deep ball to rookie Danny Gray that showcases the arm talent the 49ers believe makes Lance a higher-upside option than Jimmy Garoppolo.

    That could unlock a focused Aiyuk and allow him to become closer to the receiver everyone thought he would be last year.

RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Travis Etienne has all the factors in place to continue to rise up draft boards throughout the preseason.

    The second-year running back missed his entire rookie season because of a Lisfranc injury. However, managers should feel good about drafting him after watching his debut against the Cleveland Browns. The numbers weren't great, as he only had 23 yards on nine carries, but the usage is what stands out.

    According to Establish the Run, Etienne was on the field for all six of the third downs the team had during his time on the field. He also played all possible snaps inside the 10-yard line.

    The yardage might not be there for Etienne to be an RB1 in his first season. But if he's going to be the third-down back as well as the short-yardage runner, he'll be the go-to guy in all of the situations that weigh heavily in fantasy football scoring.

    He also has the pedigree of an elite back. He was chosen just one pick after Najee Harris in the 2021 NFL draft, and Harris finished as RB4 in PPR leagues last season.

    Of course, James Robinson's progress in his return from a torn Achilles last season could limit Etienne's ceiling. Robinson has yet to play in the preseason, but he did avoid the PUP list at the beginning of camp.

    Regardless, Robinson's inefficiency as a receiver last season (including a catch rate of just 67.4 percent) should leave the receiving duties to Etienne and thus make him the better fantasy option to have in PPR leagues.

QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

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    AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn

    Trey Lance is starting to creep up draft boards, and if he excels in extended action in Week 2, expect him to get much more difficult to snag in drafts.

    As previously mentioned when talking about Brandon Aiyuk, Lance looked strong in his first preseason performance. It was a brief appearance, but it did feature the touchdown toss to rookie Danny Gray and a little sampling of what he can do with one rush for seven yards on the night.

    The Athletic's David Lombardi has kept a running log of quarterback stats at 49ers training camp. Lance's completion percentage of just 50.5 percent is a worry, but the fact that he looked as good as he did in the preseason game should help quell concerns for fantasy managers.

    Lance has league-winning upside as a quarterback currently being taken with the 115th pick.

    He also has the rushing upside that can make him valuable even if he isn't setting the league on fire with his passing. Jalen Hurts, for example, finished as QB8 in fantasy despite mediocre passing stats. Lance, meanwhile, rushed for over 1,000 yards in his only full season as a starting quarterback in college.

    Then add in the fact that he's going to be at the helm of a Kyle Shanahan-coached offense with Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Aiyuk at his disposal and Lance could easily outperform his surging ADP.

RB Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans

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    AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    At the risk of falling into preseason hype, Dameon Pierce might have established himself as the Houston Texans' best running back in their first preseason game.

    That's not necessarily a hard contest to win. His biggest competitors are Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead. Mack has 32 carries in seven games over the last two seasons. Burkhead is a 32-year-old back who rushed for a career-high 427 yards last season.

    So when Pierce had 49 yards on five carries in his preseason debut, it meant something.

    The fourth-round draft pick looked explosive and made some impressive cuts that should have him in the starting lineup soon.

    The opportunity alone should have him on fantasy managers' radar. However, it's important to temper expectations here. Burkhead is still likely to take away some target share in the passing game, and the Texans aren't necessarily slated to be an offensive juggernaut.

    Their offensive line was ranked 22nd in PFF's preseason rankings. Davis Mills is unproven, and Brandin Cooks is the only receiver who's going to scare secondaries.

    Pierce's ADP has risen to 160.4, still in the 13th round of a 12-team PPR league.

    That's a good value given his upside. Just keep in mind the low ceiling of the Texans offense could keep him from reaching his potential in year one.

RB Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Bill Belichick has caused many a fantasy manager headache with his usage of running backs in the past. But drafters are lining up for the heartache again thanks to Rhamondre Stevenson's upside and a little trade chatter regarding Damien Harris.

    Harris represents Stevenson's biggest hurdle toward becoming a starting-caliber fantasy option.

    For those hoping to draft Stevenson and get Harris out of the way, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated gave them a glimmer of hope. Responding to a question about the possibility of New England trading Harris before the season, the NFL scribe didn't rule it out.

    "Yeah, I think it'll depend on how the young backs are coming along. Rhamondre Stevenson, as I see it, has established himself as a starting-level player," Breer wrote.

    Breer also mentioned Patriots rookies Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris as factors. However, Breer's opinion was written before James White's retirement.

    Even if Harris remains in the picture, Stevenson has the potential to emerge as the top back by the time the season is over. Stevenson was the more efficient back last season with more yards after contact and a higher broken tackle rate than his counterpart.

    As more drafters dive into the numbers from last season, Stevenson is going to continue to gain steam.

WR Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

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    With the arrival of Russell Wilson, fantasy football managers are going to have a difficult decision to make between Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy if they want a stake in the Broncos' passing attack.

    Both are getting their first opportunity to play with an elite quarterback. Both have also struggled with injuries, inconsistency and poor quarterback play up to this point.

    They also happen to both be moving up draft boards right now. The tandem has experienced nearly identical movement in their ADP over the last week. Sutton has moved up 3.7 spots for a new average pick of 70.4, while Jeudy is going nearly 10 picks higher at 60.8.

    Neither played in the first preseason game. However, if the Broncos decide to let their key players suit up in Week 2 against the Bills, don't expect their ADPs to fall anytime soon.

    Jeudy might be getting drafted higher, but Sutton could wind up being Wilson's favorite target. The quarterback is among the most aggressive risk-takers in the game, as he led the league in intended air yards per attempt last season, per Next Gen Stats.

    That plays right into Sutton's game. Even with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater playing quarterback, he had a 34.5 percent share of the team's air yards, according to Next Gen Stats. His ability to go up and make contested catches is a big part of his game and something Wilson enjoyed with DK Metcalf in Seattle.

    If they show off that chemistry in the preseason, Sutton might get much closer to Jeudy's ADP.

WR Robert Woods, Tennessee Titans

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    AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

    One man's struggles can mean a bump up in value in fantasy football. Look no further than Robert Woods. He's moved up four spots over the last week in ADP, but it doesn't really have to do with anything he's done.

    It's likely a direct reflection of Treylon Burks, as the rookie receiver has fallen nearly an entire round over the last week.

    The Arkansas product has made some negative headlines going back to the spring. He struggled at rookie minicamp because of conditioning and asthma issues, and then he didn't come down with the only target he saw in his preseason debut.

    It's all enough to wonder what kind of role he'll play in his rookie season, especially after head coach Mike Vrabel spoke of Burks' inconsistency after his first game action.

    "Being able to take the progress and the improvements that we saw in practice and carry them over to the game, I don't think that happened enough," Vrabel told reporters.

    The doubt surrounding Burks only serves to ramp up Woods' stock. The veteran receiver shouldn't be overlooked, as he saw 7.6 targets per game with the Los Angeles Rams last season before an injury ended his season.

    Between the departures of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones alone there are 153 vacated targets in the offense. Woods should get the lion's share of those if Burks doesn't live up to the hype as a rookie.

    That makes him a steal, even with a rising ADP.

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