Whether holding a key place in your heart or inconsequential to your experience in the game, the popularity of all of the various formats of fantasy football continues to exponentially expand on an annual basis. And a particular blessing to my way of life is the dynasty format — participation in a dynasty league is an experience in general franchise management.
Are you an expert on the top talent taking the field in 2022? While that understanding will absolutely serve you well to secure the investment placed on your roster will compete for immediate dividends, a full grasping of long-term player development is a must toward ensuring continual success over the lifespan of your league.
One can find countless sources of dyno inspiration littered across the web, some good and some very bad. An approach grounded in process over groupthink investment, marrying film with analytical study is a path to success. One of the trusted tools in the arsenal is a tiered approach toward pre-startup player differentiation. And it is a part of the process that should have its infancy set prior to free agency, the combine, and the NFL Draft. Developing a baseline evaluation of the talent will alleviate some of the overreaction that comes following each event. These tiers will require adjustments as the calendar advances, but this early assortment will set us up to track those adjustments.
Tier 1 Notes: Far from rocket science here. Sans super-flex formats, if you are eyeing a QB in the first five rounds, the list begins and ends right here.
Tier 2 Notes: All QBs in this tier are a monster season away from joining Tier 1. Dak Prescott finishing eighth-best in FP/dropback must be counted as a regression compared to the blistering numbers he registered in 2020 prior to breaking his ankle. Three factors portend a return to form in 2022: (1) a good amount of the responsibility falls on Amari Cooper after failing to live up to expectations as a true WR1, (2) Prescott’s unwillingness to scramble and the lack of efficiency when he did – both entirely natural following that horrific injury, and (3) injury-riddled campaigns from Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Gallup.
Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow could make strides in their already outrageously impressive resumes if their teams address O-line quality. Deshaun Watson obviously needs to have his multiple and serious sexual misconduct charges settled before we can even come close to confidently investing in his future. But cynical as this may be, the market for a QB of Watson’s talents will be off the charts.
Tier 3 Notes: This trio, in addition to Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, make up the most dangerous non-rookie rushing QBs in the game. And all three could work themselves into Tier 2 by the end of the ‘22 season.
Tier 4 Notes: They may each be approaching their mid-30s but, with some of the top wideout talents in the game at their disposal, they are nearly guaranteed to return five-or-more seasons of Hall of Fame-type numbers — more than the vast majority of NFL starting QBs. Should Russell Wilson or Kirk Cousins be dealt to another team, it should not get in the way of their success since their acquiring team will most certainly have heavily invested in them leading a talented roster.
Tier 5 Notes: Kenny Pickett and Sam Howell have the potential to develop into cornerstone QBs. They are both also very dangerous on the ground. It seems Tua Tagovailoa has survived efforts to oust him from the roster, appearing to have been the ivory tower of Brian Flores.
Seeing some Malik Willis mocked as the first QB off the board headlines out there. First off, Willis is going to be a dyno stud if he is able to translate the best of his skills to the next level. No QB in the class can come remotely close to his rushing ability. However, from the film that I’ve watched to this point, his ball placement is a definite step down to Pickett and Howell’s. It will come as quite a surprise if Willis is drafted within the top-10 with definite accuracy concerns.
Tier 6 Notes: The secondary tier of post-30 QBs. Ryan Tannehill easily submitted the worst statistical performance of his Tennessee career. That said, in the final four games after A.J. Brown returned from IR, Tannehill returned to form, completing 71% of attempts, eight TDs vs. three INTs, and a 108.7 passer rating. Tannehill desperately needs the front office to address the O-line since he is not equipped with the elite three-fold wideout arsenal that made it possible for Joe Burrow to overcome a pitiful O-line toward his Super Bowl LVI appearance.
The odds that Aaron Rodgers will retire to hobnob with stars went way down after we learned that his celebrity engagement has been called off. Without the opportunity to settle down with a family, the impression is that we could be reaching a near 100% chance of his return for at least another season. But he does not come without risk until we see him sign a multi-year deal.
Tier 7 Notes: Let’s begin by discussing the elephant in the room: Mac Jones. Is his long-term upside truly inferior to Davis Mills, Daniel Jones, or even Carson Wentz after reportedly already falling out of favor in Indianapolis? It’s extremely important that we separate upside in fantasy from that of the real game. Jones’ value to the Patriots is infinitely more substantial in the actual world. But his fantasy potential is greatly handicapped by possessing one of the weakest arms in the league.
One detail, in particular, from his post-playoff critique that continues to resonate was his inability to complete throws from sideline-to-sideline. Forget about the vertical game, it was reported that Jones has zero confidence in making those horizontal throws. Yes, an NFL field is 53 1/3 yards wide but, taking account of the typical eight-to-ten step drop a QB will take when targeting deep, it’s clear Jones is completely out of his depth – pun intended – when attempting throws of 35-or-more air yards. And the numbers from his rookie season back that up. On throws of at least 35 air yards, Jones completed four-of-14 attempts, zero TDs vs. two INTs, and earned a 38.7 passer rating. A reminder that a QB receives a 39.6 passer rating for simply spiking the ball into the ground. Combine that with zero rushing ability whatsoever, and we have our explanation for this placement among his QB peers.
Don’t sleep on Mills. An argument could be made that he registered a superior rookie season to Jones when the talent level on the two rosters has been factored. And we may even be able to extend that even further. Over his final eight games, Mills generated a 99.9 passer rating, completed 68.2% of his attempts, and connected on 11 TDs vs. three INTs. During those exact same weeks, Jones posted a 78.0 passer rating, 58.3 completion percentage, and six TDs vs. five INTs.
Admittingly, the future for Danny Dimes received an upgrade with the signing of Brian Daboll. Arizona’s was the only offense to annually compete with Daboll’s Bills in usage rate of 10 personnel. It may not seem like much, but do not make the mistake of discounting the role that will play in Jones’ fantasy upside – provided he’s able to stay healthy. The Giants may need to add an additional receiving threat, but it’s of monumental importance to the offense that NYG has made the decision to step forward into 21st-century football.
Tier 8 Notes: The project tier. Watching Jordan Love lead his version of the Green Bay offense against Kansas City did not invoke any confidence. Should Rodgers move on from the Packers, Love will need far more than his legs to maintain the starting job. His college tape fell well short of spectacular marks, and it’s unlikely GB will manage to re-sign Davante Adams if Rogers departs.
Zach Wilson’s rookie season was a complete disaster… on every imaginable level. The Jets are at serious risk of adding to their decrepit history in drafting QB flops. At one point in the season, the locker room began to chant Mike White’s name. The most alarming issue from Wilson’s rookie season was his deficiency in reading coverages. As the season wound down, the combination of Wilson losing all confidence and the coaching staff installing considerable playbook restrictions nearly eliminated the passing game entirely.
At this stage in the process, the separation between Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral is wider than some may realize. Trusting in the process, the expectation is that Ridder will be the first off the board, and Corral will run the risk of waiting to hear his name called until Round 2.
Tier 9 Notes: How far the mighty has fallen. Watching Matt Ryan throw five TDs vs. six INTs over his final nine games did not offer compelling evidence toward success during the golden years of his career. Whether tapping into loyalty for previous season’s served or being confronted with the reality of the situation, Atlanta may have no choice but to ride Ryan for at least another season, independent of his play. They had their chance to select Justin Fields and passed. Unless you have a devotion toward trusting in mock drafts, the Falcons will be extremely fortunate if either Kenny Pickett or Sam Howell are still on the board at the eighth pick. And no QB in the class has stood out as offering the upside of Fields.
Washington appears to be 100% committed to upgrading the QB position. It’s miles away from a vote of confidence in Taylor Heinicke. That said, Heinicke’s ‘21 season was marred by relying on a single developed receiver (Terry McLaurin) to drive the passing game. If the Commanders fail to see the issue rooted in that fact, another QB-needy team will step forward to put him on the field.
Jameis Winston will likely find an immediate opportunity to be the QB-of-the-now for an NFL team only waiting for his signature. His ‘21 season with the Saints was a far cry from a disaster with 14 TDs vs. three INTs and a 102.8 passer rating over eight games played. He also completed four-of-eight throws of 35-plus air yards, three found the house, and he created a 135.4 passer rating. He would be a dynamite addition to a Steelers’ offense with an exciting stable of receiving talents. But that would be a best-case-scenario. The worst case, from a dyno perspective, would be to sign on with a team, and later watch that franchise select a QB early in the ‘22 draft.
Those two scenarios are precisely what Jared Goff may have to endure. However, should the Lions choose to select an outside WR talent they desperately lack on the current roster, Goff’s tenure as Detroit’s starter could be extended longer than expected. An important factor in the long list of teams desperate for a QB-of-the-future, with Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Max Johnson, and Tyler Van Dyke all potentially declaring for the 2023 draft, several franchises may ultimately settle on a stop-gap option for the coming season. That’s a scenario where the Lions will already be ahead of the curve.
Tier 10 Notes: In order for Taysom Hill to gain clearance, he will need to complete his rehabilitation from primary surgery, and then from a future secondary surgery that will remove the hardware implanted from the initial Lisfranc surgery. It’s going to be awhile. Gardner Minshew II could skyrocket up the board if he lands with a staff that believes he offers long-term potential.
Tyler Huntley dug himself a hole with zero TDs vs. three INTs over the final two games. But we must consider the fact that he did so while facing the Rams and Steelers. His ultimate projection is dependent upon the status of Lamar Jackson. Should Jackson depart Baltimore or succumb to another injury, Huntley will have a talented collection of receivers to aid his career in taking off.
Tier 11 Notes: You won’t find another QB with the potential to catapult higher than Tom Brady. If The GOAT ultimately longs for another two to three years on the field to conclude his career, his floor would be Tier 6, and joining Tier 4 his ceiling. Teddy Bridgewater chose to set aside the characteristics in his game that made him a player to watch early in his career in favor of a cautionary approach toward padding efficiency. He took the game manager tag to a level that should never be approached. Never go full game manager.
As an impending free agent, Marcus Mariota could become a hot ticket in free agency. Location will rule the day, but Mariota is equipped with a set of impressive tools that should never have languished on the sidelines. How can we not tack a touch of value onto Ryan Fitzpatrick? Just set that expectation bar extremely low.
Tier 12 Notes: It’s extremely unlikely that Tampa Bay will ever settle on Kyle Trask as the starter heading into a season. But he would hold value as long as the Bucs’ keep their current receiver talents on the roster. The jury is mostly out on Sam Darnold. The one factor that we’ve yet to see him supported with during his career is a competent O-line. Should Carolina piece together quality protection, perhaps we’ll see the best version of Darnold emerge.
Kellen Mond should not be forgotten about. If Kirk Cousins refuses to take a pay cut after this or the following season, Minnesota will likely want to see what they have in Mond before looking outside of the organization. Mond is obviously not a first round-level talent, but he would be an immediate fantasy consideration due to his elite speed.
Bryce Perkins really impressed during the ‘21 preseason. He is completely buried by the shadow of Matthew Stafford. However, he certainly fits the mold of a lottery ticket at the very end of deep drafts with what appears to be a strong arm tacked onto salivating rushing intangibles.