Fantasy Football 2022: Hidden Gems to Target Late in the Draft
Savvy fantasy football managers look for late-round gems at running back or wide receiver rather than draft a kicker or a backup tight end with their final picks. With that strategy, you pick up a couple of lottery tickets.
In some cases, you’re looking to fill potential gaps for wild swings early in the draft. Perhaps your roster isn’t strong at a certain position, and it needs a reliable starter who consistently provides a decent level of production. Those guys don’t have a high ceiling, but they’ll fill a void in your lineup.
What should you look for in an underrated fantasy player who’s not on everyone’s radar?
Among the quarterbacks, pick up a player who will likely use his legs to pick up yardage. He’s probably a young signal-caller behind an unsettled offensive line.
Managers in point-per-reception leagues should consider backup running backs who have a pass-catching role out of the backfield.
Also, in the fantasy world, target volume matters. Take a look at wide receivers and tight ends who play in unexceptional offenses but list atop their team’s depth charts. They’re going to see a lot of action, which gives you a chance to capitalize on an offensive unit that exceeds expectations.
Weeks into training camp with two preseason games complete for most teams, we’ve combed through game action and reports to highlight seven late-round draft gems. Each selection is listed with his average draft position (an ADP of the 10th round or later) for 12-team PPR leagues, which is provided by Fantasy Football Calculator.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears
Justin Fields may not throw for 250-plus yards in many games for the upcoming season, but he’ll probably use his legs a lot behind the Chicago Bears offensive line, which is good news from a fantasy perspective.
Last year, Bears quarterbacks took a total of 58 sacks. For the upcoming campaign, Chicago’s offensive line could feature rookie fifth-rounder Braxton Jones at left tackle and incoming 11th-year veteran Riley Reiff on the right side. Second-year pro Larry Borom could play either position on the perimeter.
In 2021, Fields recorded 72 carries for 420 yards and two touchdowns through 12 games (10 starts). He finished fifth among quarterbacks in rushing yards. If Fields can stay healthy, those rushing numbers should go up with another shaky offensive line group.
Of course, Fields may have some good weeks with wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who caught 81 passes for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns last year, but you’re banking on the quarterback’s rushing production to give you QB1 value.
Jamaal Williams, RB, Detroit Lions
This year, the Detroit Lions can play a physical style of football because of their stable starting offensive line, which doesn’t feature any new faces.
Running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams could have a standout year on the ground. The latter recorded a career-high 601 rushing yards and three touchdowns for the 2021 campaign.
Swift wants to rack up 1,000 yards as a ball-carrier and receiver in the upcoming season, which indicates his probable involvement in the aerial attack. With him in the slot or split out wide, Williams could see 10-12 carries per game.
Compared to Swift, Williams isn’t as explosive with the ball in his hands, but he’s a three-down back who can run and catch out of the backfield. The sixth-year veteran has accumulated 2,586 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground along with 148 receptions for 1,118 yards and eight touchdowns in five seasons.
If the Lions offensive linemen avoid significant injuries, Williams should reap the benefits primarily as a ball-carrier and haul in some passes to satisfy PPR league managers.
Brian Robinson, RB, Washington Commanders
As Antonio Gibson’s stock falls, Brian Robinson’s rises.
On Saturday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, Gibson started the game with a kickoff return, and Robinson handled the first few carries of the Washington Commanders’ opening series.
Robinson finished the contest with eight carries for 31 yards, while Gibson recorded two rush attempts for three yards in addition to three receptions for 37 yards. The latter likely had an expanded role on third down because pass-catching back J.D. McKissic sat out.
If you’re into trends, Robinson’s stock is on the rise after Saturday’s outing, and Gibson’s ADP (4.08) will likely fall in the coming weeks.
Last week, head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that the team will ride the hot hand at running back, which bodes well for Robinson heading into the regular season.
Managers should grab Robinson while he’s available in some leagues or draft him in the latter rounds because he could see his role expand as the season progresses. Secondly, the rookie third-rounder would probably handle the bulk of the rushing workload if Gibson battles an injury.
Marvin Jones Jr., WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence could make a second-year leap under new head coach Doug Pederson, who helped develop Carson Wentz into a productive starter and fantasy asset between the 2017 and 2019 seasons.
As the Philadelphia Eagles' lead skipper and offensive play-caller, Pederson fielded a top-13 passing attack (one ranked seventh) in three of five seasons.
Coming off a disastrous rookie campaign under former head coach Urban Meyer, Lawrence should improve with a new coaching staff, which bodes well for his pass-catching group.
As a productive playmaker in the 22nd-ranked passing offense, Marvin Jones Jr. caught 73 passes for 832 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Jacksonville Jaguars in all three receiving categories for the 2021 term. The team signed Christian Kirk (four-year, $72 million deal), Zay Jones (three-year, $24 million contract) and tight end Evan Engram (one-year, $9 million deal), but Jones’ rapport with Lawrence will likely keep him in the mix for a steady number of targets.
Because of Laviska Shenault Jr.’s possible involvement on special teams, Jones will likely have a decent role in the passing attack as part of three-wide receiver sets. Because of the additions at wideout and tight end, Jones doesn’t have a ton of upside, but Lawrence has a trustworthy connection with him.
Jones has recorded at least 62 catches and 779 yards in each of the last three seasons with 22 touchdowns in total during that span.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders
Jahan Dotson has excited people within the Washington Commanders organization. According to Sam Fortier of the Washington Post, “buzz has been building” around the rookie first-rounder.
In his preseason debut Saturday, Dotson only hauled in two targets for 23 yards, but managers shouldn’t dismiss his potential upside. The Commanders desperately need a No. 2 pass-catcher to complement wideout Terry McLaurin. Last season, running back J.D. McKissic finished second on the team in receptions (43) and receiving yards (397).
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel hasn’t been able to stay healthy since the Commanders signed him last offseason, as he only played five games in 2021. Whether he’s able to shake off the injury bug or not, Dotson will likely play significant snaps because of his ability to line up on the boundary and in the slot.
Thanks to quarterback Carson Wentz’s tendency to take shots downfield, Dotson can rack up points in bunches as a top pass-catching target for Washington's offense.
Nico Collins, WR, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans’ passing offense isn’t Brandin Cooks or bust on the perimeter.
On Friday, against the Los Angeles Rams in preseason action, quarterback Davis Mills connected with Nico Collins on four completions for 48 yards and a score within the first half. He capped his final drive of the game with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Collins, who had a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone.
As a rookie last year, Collins started to find his way in December, recording at least two receptions in every game between Weeks 13 and 18. He had his most productive outing in Week 14 against the Seattle Seahawks (five receptions for 69 yards) and scored his first NFL touchdown in Week 16 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Collins should open the 2022 season in a starting role as a complement to Cooks. As he demonstrated against the Rams, the 6’4”, 215-pound wideout can become a reliable red-zone threat.
Though Cooks has racked up at least 1,037 receiving yards in a season with four different teams through eight seasons, he’s yet to score double-digit touchdowns in a year. Over the last two terms, the speedy wideout has recorded 12 touchdown receptions.
When the Texans move the ball deep into the opposing team’s territory, we shouldn’t be surprised if Mills looks toward Collins to finish those drives. As a bigger pass-catching target than Cooks (5’10”, 183 lbs), he could lead the Texans in touchdown catches for the 2022 campaign.
Austin Hooper, TE, Tennessee Titans
Compared to what the Cleveland Browns agreed to pay two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper ($42 million on a four-year contract), the Tennessee Titans signed him at a bargain on a one-year, $6 million deal. Based on his ADP, fantasy managers should consider the seventh-year pro a late-round gem.
According to ESPN’s Turron Davenport, Hooper has immediately clicked with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“The revamped tight end room will be a big part of the passing game,” Davenport wrote. “Hooper will likely get most of the targets and has already surfaced as one of Tannehill's preferred options in the passing game.”
With wide receiver Treylon Burks working his way through rookie growing pains, per Mike Herndon of PaulKuharsky.com, the Titans may have to rely on wideout Robert Woods and Hooper early in the season. Keep in mind that the former is coming off a torn ACL from November of last year.
Hooper, who caught 71-plus passes for the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, finished as TE6 in fantasy points for both of those terms. Now, he's primed to become a top target in the Titans offense this year.
Fantasy football statistics are provided by fantasypros.com.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.