It’s been more than 20 years since I started accounting for all the lessons learned from a completed fantasy season, and it’s been a volatile couple of decades starting around the turn of the century, when The Greatest Show on Turf took off.
I was in my fifth season as a fantasy analyst in the summer of 1999, and up until that point, the NFL was predictable and straightforward. When I submitted articles that May for a few preseason magazines I contributed to, I hadn’t even heard of this Kurt Warner person who had attempted just 11 passes in the NFL up until that point (4-of-11 passing for 39 yards). But I was a big Trent Green guy, and I was very high on the Rams offense, and I remember writing that Warner would “be OK” after Green went down for the season in a preseason game. Obviously, Warner was a lot more than OK and had one of the most shocking (and greatest) seasons in NFL history.
The league’s been chaotic ever since, so it’s been cliche to say an NFL season was “wild” or “unpredictable” because they’re all wild and unpredictable.
Knowing this, I’ve been trying to focus on the big trends I’m seeing out there, and it’s been tough to separate meaningful lessons we can carry into future seasons from whatever randomness or mayhem occurs in a given season. Last year’s version of this article held up pretty well, but the 2022 season was a little weirder than even I’m used to, so this year, I’ve changed things up with this article and with the results in the books at season’s end, I went back and reviewed everything I said preseason to see what lessons can be had. I focused on my Draft Plan article and all my targets and fades, but I looked at everything I did.
This year’s article is a little more of my lessons learned, but they can certainly also be your lessons learned.
I was leery to dead-set against taking the top guys Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Justin Herbert, and I specifically said I was not targeting Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Matthew Stafford. Allen was fine, but he was not a great draft value for the first time ever, Mahomes did better than I expected, and Dak had his moments, but that was a strong hit rate. I deviated from my plan only once all summer, taking Herbert in the fifth in an FFPC draft, and I didn’t make the playoffs at 7-6. Sure, I opened that draft with Cooper Kupp, Javonte Williams, and Breece Hall, giving me no chance to compete vs. high-stakes players, but it was still annoying that I made a quick decision to overpay for a guy I wasn’t even targeting. I’m not even sure what prompted the pick because I haven’t been a huge Herbert supporter, but it could have been hair envy.
My QB plan was all about Joe Burrow, and I took him everywhere. He had a slow start, but I/we had the ADP QB7 as the preseason QB4 with 354 FP, and he was the QB4 with 365 FP. He only improved by 24 FP from 2021, but keep in mind scoring was down across the league, and this year’s average of 1.38 receiving TDs per game was only the 35th-highest total in history. To put that into perspective, there were 17 seasons before 1970 with more receiving TDs per game than we saw in 2022, which is pretty crazy. So while Burrow’s numbers were nearly identical to his ‘21 season, Burrow did exactly what I expected him to do, which is to join the truly elite at the position in his third season. The only other QBs to maintain their aristocracy from 2021 this past season were superstars Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, along with Jalen Hurts, who was my #2 QB target behind Burrow. I also had some pretty good calls with my other QB targets, listing Kirk Cousins, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, Daniel Jones, and even my guy Kenny Pickett was serviceable as a rookie (despite his team’s horrible offense).
My big failure at QB this year was Derek Carr, who I ranked as my third-favorite QB target behind Burrow and Hurts. Now, a big part of Carr’s appeal was his affordable price tag, which made his potential ROI appealing, but Carr was a case of you-get-what-you-paid for. I made the same mistake with Mac Jones. I was concerned about Mac’s new offensive coaching situation, but he was dirt cheap with an ADP of around 200. You often get what you pay for in the late rounds with these econo-buy options, but then again, Danny Dimes’ ADP was the same as Mac’s, and he was the QB9 in total scoring. So one thing I learned this past season is that if you don’t use your legs for yards and touchdowns, you might not be a value even if your ADP is infinity. All three QBs were in new offenses, along with Fields, Cousins, and Tagovailoa, so the lesson isn’t to avoid QBs in new offenses, it’s to be very careful and selective when drafting QBs with new coaches and systems. I felt good enough about Jones despite a poor receiving corps because I believed in new HC Brian Daboll, and I also believed that Mike McDaniel would unlock Tua, which he did. Most of Cousins’ key stats, like completion rate, YPA, and TD percentage, were down this year, but it was easy to be optimistic about him due to HC Kevin O’Connell’s coaching background in a fantasy-friendly offense, and Cousins had experience in the system (and also Justin Jefferson).
Sure, it was a nightmare season for Carr’s slot man Hunter Renfrow and his TE Darren Waller, and Carr’s driven me and his coaches crazy by being too protective of the ball while also refusing to use his legs, but I think the biggest problem was the complexity of Josh McDaniels’ offense. I saw Renfrow talking about the arduous task of learning the offense in the preseason, and it did scare me, but I still kept Renfrow and Carr on my target list. I was also very down on Waller due mostly to his “hold-in” for much of the summer, but I got enthralled by the potential of Carr-to-Davante Adams, knowing that Carr also loved Waller and Renfow. Carr did have one more TD pass than he had in ‘21 in two fewer games, and he was the QB15 in scoring for his 15 games, which wasn’t awful, but I was way too optimistic.
As for Mac, I should have known better given the crappy situation Bill Belichick put him in. I even covered the situation in August in my Good Vibes/Bad Vibes article, where I wrote the following: “the vibes aren’t great with the Patriots offense, probably thanks to Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, who both suck,” so I can’t say I’m shocked that Jones took a step back. But it was jarring how massive the step was. I’d expect Mac to rebound with new OC Bill O’Brien, who comes from the same place Jones came from (Alabama).
Other QB lessons learned in 2022
The cheat code is great, if it’s affordable — I had Justin Fields as a target, along with Daniel Jones, and their rushing production/potential was a big reason why, so the cheat code is still a fantasy life hack. But as I warned in this article last year on this topic, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray, both with top-60 ADPs, failed to deliver a strong ROI for the second straight year, and it’s not a stretch to assume their injury woes were a residual effect of their frequent running. Jalen Hurts has been incredible for fantasy these last two seasons, but he was the QB20 for the fantasy playoffs this year because he played in only one game Weeks 15-17. The year before, he was only the QB7 for the fantasy playoffs after being the QB2 Weeks 1-12, once again due to an injury. So with Hurts likely commanding a top-30 pick in 2023, I expect to be passing on him. As I wrote last year, I’m ideally drafting a pocket QB who has the potential to add 40-50 fantasy points to his fantasy output with his legs, like Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, and Trevor Lawrence this year.
The cheat code for some players may not be real, or it may be fleeting — Last year in this article, I described my perfect QB for fantasy: a guy who wins from the pocket and has 35+ TD potential but who also has about 300/2 rushing each season. I mentioned my guy Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes as great examples, along with Justin Herbert. I dubbed Burrow as a cheaper version of Herbert, but he was also a way better version because Herbert didn’t run in 2022. I’m sure his Week 2 rib cartilage fracture was a factor, but Herbert’s rushing production dropped from an average of 268/4 his first two seasons to 147/0 this past year. Herbert had some other issues due to his OL injuries and since-fired OC, and he did hang in there most weeks and had respectable totals, but his margin for error plummeted with no rushing production to speak of. In other cases, the perceived rushing production was a mirage, like with Russell Wilson. I had Wilson with 55/240/2.5 rushing, and he came very close to that with 55/277/3. But on a week-to-week basis, his rushing was unreliable, as he put up 2 points or fewer with his legs nine times. Wilson’s just not as elusive as he used to be, and I feel similarly about Dak Prescott, who was only 17th at the position in rushing attempts. Maybe Herbert will get back to his running ways in 2023, but I don’t think we can count on it, and we need to monitor many of these QBs annually to make sure we can still count on their rushing production.
QB lessons re-affirmed in 2022
Offensive coordinators matter, and continuity is ideal — I was out on Josh Allen this past year, due to his increased cost but mainly due to the loss of OC Brian Daboll. And while Allen’s numbers were almost exactly the same as 2021, there was definitely a drop-off in the eye test. Allen threw for 297 or more yards in five of his first six starts, and then only four more times in his final 12 starts, as they tried to run the ball a little more with the passing game struggling a bit. Back in 2021,
I was not a big Joe Lombardi person, and I was skeptical he could get the most out of Austin Ekeler. Turns out, utilizing Ekeler was the best thing Lombardi did, and the OC’s actual deficiencies were evident with Justin Hertert struggling to get the ball down the field. They did have protection issues, but Herbert was a buzzkill and Lombardi was relieved of his duties, so he was a problem.
I was down on Tom Brady and the Bucs this summer, and one of the factors for me was the loss of Bruce Arians. Arians protege Byron Leftwich clearly represented a downgrade as the play-caller and offensive maven. Obviously, Mac Jones was destroyed after losing a top coordinator in Josh McDaniels and being forced to play without a legit QB coach and a savvy play-caller. No one cared much about opinions on Davis Mills in Houston this summer, but I fully expected a step back from his solid rookie season because new (and since fired) OC Pep Hamilton’s track record running an offense was bad, and sure enough, Brandin Cooks ended up being a bad fantasy pick.
On the positive side, I wasn’t a big Doug Pederson guy heading into 2022, but you can’t deny the positive influence he had on Trevor Lawrence, and the stability he brought to Jacksonville as a former QB with a solid track record of offensive success. We all knew it would be an addition-by-subtraction situation with the horrible Urban Meyer gone, but Pederson exceeded my expectations by being a lot more than that.
In Miami, while the addition of Tyreek Hill was certainly huge, Tua Tagovailoa’s upside soared because he not only had Tyreek and Jaylen Waddle, but he had an offensive mind in Mike McDaniel designing an offense that made their passing game indefensible at times. Previously, the Tua-led Dolphins were very “defensible.”
And of course, the best example of an OC truly moving the needle for a unit and its players was Brian Daboll, who coaxed a breakout season out of Daniel Jones despite Big Blue having one of the least-talented groups of receivers in the league. Daboll’s influence was evident in many ways, and Jones was able to both “let it rip” more while also protecting the ball better. As far as I’m concerned, Jones is now the model when we look at young QBs who have the talent to seriously move the needle but desperately need to be coached hard and to play in a system that is well-designed with optimal play-calling.
Sometimes, we just don’t know if a rising offensive coach is going to be good if he doesn’t have a meaningful track record, like Ben Johnson in Detroit this past year, so analyzing all 32 coaching staffs can still be a guessing game. But if a new offensive-oriented HC or OC has a meaningful track record — good or bad — we should react to that. Unfortunately, for Kenny Pickett fans like me, that means expectations have to be tempered because, barring a dramatic shift in 2023, it looks like OC Matt Canada stinks.
QBs aren’t a dime a dozen, and it’s not easy to get a league-winning type late in drafts or on the Waiver Wire — It can certainly be done — look at Daniel Jones this past season, as I’ve already mentioned multiple times. But despite finishing as the QB9, he had 12 games with fewer than 20 FP, so his fantasy standing was boosted by four big games. Geno Smith did finish at the QB5 and he was rock solid for three months, but he was also only the QB15 the final four weeks of the season with a lame 15.3 FPG and 5 TD passes total. My approach over the last 3-4 years has been to pass on the truly elite and pricey options and to target second or third-tier players who have the potential to be elite, and Joe Burrow ensured that my strategy will not change in 2023, given the strong value he delivered as my top guy. I’ll probably be high on Burrow once again, but new candidates for 2023 include Justin Herbert coming off a down year and Deshaun Watson coming off a down two years.
As usual, I’m about ascending players, and I’m generally out on descending players — I called Russell Wilson a “declining player” all offseason in 2021, so he was off my board. I liked Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady a lot in 2021, yet coming off big seasons with plenty of issues around them, I avoided them like the plague, and they both fell off with Stafford suffering a full cliff dive. It wasn’t a good year to be an older player, as Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Ryan Tannehill also flopped. Geno Smith was an obvious exception, but stories like his occur about once every 20 years. With most of these situations last year, I just added up the positives and the negatives, and I went with the side that had more meaningful entries. Like with Brady, I felt the loss of Bruce Arians plus their OL injuries and Chris Godwin coming off an ACL were a lot to overcome, and it was.
If you’ve stunk in the past, you’ll probably continue to stink — I can live with overselling WR DJ Moore this past summer because he’s a stud, but I was wrong in thinking Baker Mayfield would be an upgrade over Sam Darnold. He was not. People were drafting Jameis Winston as the QB20, but I’ve basically given up on Jameis years ago, and I thought his 8.7 TD percentage in 2021 was a major fluke, and it was down to 3.5% in 2022. I figured Carson Wentz was worth a shot on the low end with a throwaway ADP of 215, but he had been stinking for years, and he still stunk. I projected Mitchell Trubisky to get only three starts in our projections this summer because I was expecting much of the same from Mitchie (stinkage), and he was pulled at halftime in their fourth game. These are lower-end guys, but it’s worth noting in deep or 2-QB leagues, and it’s also worth remembering if you somehow convince yourself that a veteran QB with a checkered past is someone to look at. For every Geno Smith, there are 20 Trubiskys.
The RB position has been the toughest position for me to project and predict this past decade, and injuries have never been more prevalent, which has prompted more teams to use multiple backs. I was already in this job for a decade when I covered Curtis Martin’s 2004 season when he led the NFL in rushing attempts (371) and yards (1697) at 31 years old. But Martin is officially a fossil (he will be 50 in May), and he was the last of a dying breed that, with only a few exceptions, has officially gone extinct here in the 2020s.
That’s why I’ve been heavily focusing on youth at this position for over a decade, but I have probably taken things too far. In an FFPC Best Ball draft in the early summer, I was completely out of control with my ageism at this position. I took Javonte Williams (2nd), Breece Hall (3rd), Kenneth Walker (8th), Dameon Pierce (11th), and Brian Robinson (16th) as my top-five RBs. These guys are all really good, with a few of them being absolute studs, yet I got my ass kicked in this league and finished in 11th place. I also had Joe Burrow, CeeDee Lamb, and some other impactful young players, and I loved the draft approach of going young while drafting, but it didn’t work.
I’ve been targeting young RBs specifically to avoid injury woes and to try to capture some breakout upside, so it was ironic that my RB group — average age of 22 and no one older than 23 — had a ton of injury problems (of course, Robinson’s tragic situation was a fluke). I’m still going to be an ageist at this position, and I’m still going to actively target young talents, especially when I believe them to be borderline special or better because I still believe there’s a buying opportunity in many cases, especially with rookies. For example, Hall was the RB19 off the board per ADP this summer, yet he was the RB6 after six weeks, so he was a steal before his injury in Week 7, just as I said he was in the summer.
But clearly, I had a blindspot at this position in 2022, and I think most of us did. I got a little carried away with what I call the “sexiness of the unknown” with rookies and second-year players, and I did go overboard in my quest for upside by devaluing what I deem as “boring” picks, like David Montgomery. Typically, when a RB’s been in the league for two to three years but hasn’t noticeably distinguished himself, I’m not targeting him, and that was the case with Montgomery, Miles Sanders, and Josh Jacobs. All three players had a solid pedigree as third-round picks or better, and the 24-year old Jacobs was even a former first-round pick, yet most fantasy managers weren’t particularly interested in him. He was only the RB25 per ADP, so technically Jacobs wasn’t even being drafted as an RB2. It was a new offense and coaching staff, so we didn’t exactly know what Jacobs’ role would be, plus there was the oddity of him starting the Hall of Fame Game, but Jacobs finished as the RB3 in scoring with an incredible 393 touches on the season.
What’s ironic about this ‘22 trend at RB is I’ve been wary of players on their second or third contracts, especially post-COVID, because, while it’s impossible to quantify, I’ve sensed some “quiet quitting” out there in the NFL workplace lately, especially from players who got paid with a post-rookie contract.
I’m mad at myself for not considering the possible inverse of this situation, which would be dudes balling out in their contract year. And especially in Saquon Barkley’s case, somehow finding excellent durability a year before they’re able to (save for the Franchise Tag) control their own destinies as free agents. Barkley’s a great pro, and he worked his ass off to return to form, and I was actually feeling great about him as a pick for most of the off-season. I was ahead of the markets on Barkley for most of the spring, but fell off when the hype rose — so my ranking of Barkley ended up being one of my bigger mistakes in 2022. The overall vibe was good with Brian Daboll, but the preseason vibes weren’t amazing, so I wasn’t comfortable drafting him in the first round. I still have questions about Barkley’s overall game, and it was a fairly strange season because he didn’t have a receiving TD, had fewer catches (57) than Joe Mixon (60), and he was inefficient on the ground in about half of his games and too reliant on long runs. But the dude suited up for all 16 of their meaningful games, and he delivered an RB5 season with 352 touches. Maybe I’ll view the contract year theory as a fantasy cliche again in a couple of years, but it worked at RB in 2022. One thing’s for sure: if there’s any position and age range in which the contract year bump should be enforced right now, it’s for RBs in the 25-26 age range with expiring rookie contracts. Most of the time, since RBs don’t matter much, these guys are like B-Rabbit (Eminem) in 8 Mile in terms of having only one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything they ever wanted by getting paid.
What’s even more ironic about this RB lesson learned in 2022 is I actually had a guy who fit a similar profile as Jacobs and Sanders that I actually did like, and he crapped the bed: Clyde Edwards-Helaire. CEH was not in the final year of his rookie deal, but it was the next-to-last year, and I felt like his time was running out. It was, and I still don’t know exactly what happened, but they clearly soured on him. In my defense, it worked for 28% of the fantasy regular season, as Edwards-Helaire was the RB4 through Week 4. Sure, it was TD-dependent, but so was league-winner Jerick McKinnon, who was the RB2 (!) when it mattered most from Weeks 13-17. Given the loss of Tyreek Hill and my low opinion of their veteran receivers, I felt a Chiefs RB could emerge as a great fantasy asset, and I wasn’t wrong, as KC RBs scored 22 TDs in 2022 compared to 17 in 2021, up 23%. I thought CEH, in a great offense, was a calculated risk as a high-pedigree 23-year-old who might finally blossom with a larger role and chances running out, but it didn’t materialize. McKinnon went undrafted this summer, which was fair because he had missed two whole seasons in 2018-2019 and could handle only 25 total touches in the 2021 regular season (although he did come on majorly for the 2021 playoffs). If anything, my CEH failure was also a function of me underrating rookie Isiah Pacheco. I still don’t think he’s very good, but few backs ran harder than Pacheco last year, so I have to give it up to my fellow South Jerseyan because I definitely underrated him for 2022. Sometimes, sheer will can offset some deficiencies in an RB’s game.
Otherwise, I thought it was a pretty good year of RB calls, mostly because I backed only young players. Unfortunately, there were too many good calls that were ruined by injuries, and to an extent poor coaching. Other than CEH and D’Andre Swift, there weren’t any bad RB calls, and I did back some good values and producers in Travis Etienne, Breece Hall, Dameon Pierce, Rhamondre Stevenson, Rachaad White, Brian Robinson, and Tyler Allgeier. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have pushed my guy Javonte Williams as hard as I did, given how unproven and, ultimately, horrible, their new coaching staff was. In that case, I just couldn’t pass on a potential breakout for a 22-year-old stud talent, and it’s not like the offense was void of talent. We’ll never know, but I believe HC Nathaniel Hackett’s unpredictable RB rotation, which maddeningly often included a third back, may have ruined both Javonte and Melvin Gordon. Gordon was not the same player as he was in 2021, but I expected that. He did still have some really solid runs early in the season — until Hackett’s rotation likely precipitated his fumbling implosion. As for Williams, I could see an RB pressing if his snaps and touches were being limited, and it sure seemed to me like Hackett and friends did everything they could to keep Javonte out of rhythm before his devastating knee injury, so it may not have been a coincidence.
As for Swift, I don’t know what to tell you. Sure, his ankle sprain from early in the season was a factor, but his was perhaps the most unusual RB season I’ve ever covered because he’d practice all week and then get like seven touches in the game, and this went on for weeks and weeks. To be fair, it’s not like Swift didn’t show some negative warning signs. He’s not an efficient runner, and his work inside leaves a lot to be desired. Essentially, he’s a space player, and he’s had some injury problems, but ADP had him priced as a top-12 overall pick. Swift fluctuated in the 10-15 range all summer on our board, but he was 10 overall on our final cheat sheet, so I was slightly worse than the markets. I’m usually about young, versatile, and durable players, and Swift generally met the criteria, but he did also have some flaws, so the lesson for me was that I should have bumped him down the board at least a little bit to the 15-20 overall range.
Other RB lessons learned in 2022
We’re writing guys off too early — Or at least I’m writing guys off too early. But a quick review of last summer’s ADP reveals the marketplace as a whole has been too quick to lose confidence in some players. Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders were the clear-cut top examples, and it’s crazy to think Jacobs was drafted after AJ Dillon and Sanders after Kareem Hunt. But we also learned during the season to never say never if a player is talented. Granted, Cam Akers looked like a dead man walking in part because he had yet to return to form from his 2021 Achilles injury. But then the Rams had no choice but to feature Akers, whose effectiveness improved dramatically seemingly overnight, and who ended up being a league winner. Most fantasy players know the RB is a position where opportunity can be the most important component for success, so we should be careful not to write off a relatively young player after a year or two of futility if his team needs him.
Boring works too — I fully admit I have an affliction that precludes me from drafting “boring” players, especially at the RB position, and the fact is, it’s not good business. I’m pretty set in my ways, so I’ll probably keep passing on these types in my own drafts, but I definitely need to be a little more inclusive when I isolate my RB targets, as opposed to focusing almost entirely on ascending players. This past summer, we had James Conner as the preseason RB18 (ADP RB16), and he was the RB19, but I view his ranking as a failure because he was the RB10 in PPG in his 13 games. I assumed he’d miss time, which was obviously one of my problems with Conner, and he did. But he was still the RB5 from Weeks 10-17, so he was a league-winner. I had no interest in Jamaal Williams this summer after I thought he’d be a solid mid-to-late-round depth pick in 2021 (he was not). Luck was involved, since D’Andre Swift was a shell of his former self, but a rock-solid veteran with a significant role like Williams is probably more likely to pay off than a rookie like Zamir White, whose ADP was very close to Williams’ this past summer.
RB lessons re-affirmed in 2022
Father Time’s winning percentage is still high — If a RB is getting on in years and his overall health is starting to fail him, then he’s immediately landing on the boring side of the ledger for me, and that’s why I did not list the incredible Alvin Kamara as one of my targets this summer. I did like Dalvin Cook as a pick, though, and Cook and Kamara are the exact same age with about the exact same number of touches in the NFL. Cook did okay as the overall RB10, but he was only the RB15 in PPG, so his strong top-10 finish had a lot to do with him playing all 17 games. Cook was in a new offense, but he did also seem to lose a bit of juice. Kamara’s advancing age and career workload wasn’t the only problem, but he’s clearly a declining player. I could also argue that RBs Derrick Henry and Joe Mixon, top-20 picks like Kamara and Cook, were also declining players, and their fantasy outputs, while strong at times, wasn’t exactly commensurate with the draft capital it took to acquire them. I was actually more WR-centric than usual in 2022, ranking five wideouts in my top-12, but generally speaking, I think the stud WRs under 25 need to slot higher than most of the stud RBs over 25. Sure, youngsters Jonathan Taylor, Javonte Williams, and D’Andre Swift were disasters, but injuries at this position can strike anyone at any time. But when it comes to aging RBs with 4-5 active seasons under their belts, the trends clearly show that you’re better off getting out a year too early than a year too late.
Complementary players are usually fool’s gold — I’ve managed to minimize my interest in these types lately, which is good because for every Jamaal Williams, there are 10+ secondary backs who simply don’t get or aren’t in line to get enough touches to consistently produce, like Chase Edmonds, Kareem Hunt, James Cook, Nyheim Hines, Michael Carter, and Kenneth Gainwell this past year. Even higher-end players like Devin Singletary and AJ Dillon were rarely reliable with unstable roles. Almost anyone can be a value if they drop far enough in a draft, but there’s no question we need to be careful with RBs who really don’t have any bell cow potential.
But some complementary types can come through — Another lesson related to complementary players is that we can find breakouts among these types, as long as we target the right ones. There are those who have excelled in the past in secondary roles and are set to see an increase in snaps and touches, like Tony Pollard and Rhamondre Stevenson in 2023. I was not high on Zeke Elliott this summer, but I was not particularly excited about Pollard and felt comfortable pricing him right in line with the markets, and that was a missed opportunity, especially entering the final year of his rookie season. As for Rhamondre, I was high on him and we were all over his ascension and massive role in the passing game.
Another type of complementary player who we saw hold solid value at some point this past year, is #2 RB on a team’s depth chart who can hold standalone value no matter what, but also present a big upside if the top guy misses time. I was very high on Bucs rookie Rachaad White last summer and thought his ADP of 125 was a very fair price to pay for a guy with a three-down skillset and bell cow potential. I also figured Leonard Fournette was going to fall off, which he did despite missing only one game. White was the RB9 with 19.9 FP despite not scoring in the game Fournette missed, so it was easy to see his upside if Lenny missed more time. It didn’t happen, but due to White’s high-end skillset, he was able to hold decent standalone value for the majority of the season. I also liked Khalil Herbert as a pick this summer with an ADP around 135 because I felt he had a chance to hold some standalone value with David Montgomery remaining the top back and also had the potential to be fantasy RB1 if Montgomery missed time or got benched. Montgomery essentially missed two games with an injury early in Week 3 and an inactive Week 4, and Herbert was the RB6 those two weeks. I did like Kenneth Gainwell this summer, and while he came on very late, I’m not sure his role would have increased a ton if Miles Sanders was out of the mix, so Gainwell was a good example of overrating a complementary player.
Forget the timeshare concerns if a young stud is involved — Things didn’t go well for my guy Javonte Williams last year, but I don’t think I was wrong to discredit Melvin Gordon as a serious problem for Javonte. It’s tough to confirm, given the coaching ineptitude, but Gordon was down to 3.5 YPC from 4.5 and his TD% dropped from 3.9% to 2.2%. A healthy Javonte would have likely separated from Gordon, and under a competent staff, Gordon would have been a 35% snapshare guy at best. But the perfect example of this lesson affirmation was in the Jets' backfield. If you recall this past summer, some people bought into the notion that Michael Carter was still the “starter” and that it was a problem for Breece Hall. That narrative helped push Hall’s ADP down at least one round, but there was never any doubt the Jets drafted the stud Hall to be their lead guy.
My season of WR prognosticating was similar to the other positions in that I clearly backed some good players and more often than not pointed people in the right direction, but I also got a little carried away with the sexiness of the unknown with those damn rookies.
Similar to my RB calls, most of “my guys” in the 2022 draft class proved to be quite good at football — like George Pickens, Jahan Dotson, Romeo Doubs, Alec Pierce, and Wan’Dale Robinson — but none of them truly moved the needle for fantasy. Of course, it’s not like anyone else of note with comparable ADPs did, either, like Chase Claypool, Russell Gage, Tyler Boyd, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Unfortunately, while I loved Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave as prospects and had both in my top-3 for dynasty in the preseason, I did underrate both a tad for 2022. It wasn’t exactly easy to envision how things played out for both players and their teams, but at the very least they were another example of betting on talent, even rookie talent, if it’s high-end enough.
In grading myself at this position in 2022, it was a year of many minor preseason wins, and a fair share of preseason losses. I pushed WR early in drafts harder than usual, dubbing our top-7 wideouts as “The Magnificent Seven” because I felt they represented an elite top tier at the position that was more appealing than usual, and they were just that, as Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, Ja'Marr Chase, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and CeeDee Lamb were all in the top-6 in PPG. Kupp got hurt, of course, but Deebo Samuel was the only one of the seven who didn’t put up elite numbers, and he wasn’t bad at WR28 in PPG (13 games).
I was definitely higher on DJ Moore than most, and my mistake was believing that Baker Mayfield would represent an upgrade over Sam Darnold. (In my defense, Baker actually was an upgrade over Darnold — once he became an LA Ram.) Moore’s a baller who had three games with 100+ yards and a TD and was the WR6 in the fantasy playoffs Weeks 15-17. But in retrospect, given the shaky QB situation, I was a little too high on him, ranking him 27 overall (34 ADP). Moore had the huge role I expected, but given the poor QB play, they had the fifth-fewest attempts in the league, which added to Moore’s downside.
Back in 2021, Darnell Mooney was the WR24 with a huge role but a weak QB situation in Chicago with rookie QB Justin Fields, so it was fair to believe he could increase his output in Fields’ second season. I actually projected him to score only ONE more fantasy point in 2022 than the year before, but backing Mooney was one of my worst WR calls this past year. It was a new coaching staff, but that was baked into what I thought was a relatively modest projection for Mooney of 77 catches, which was five fewer than the year before. Mooney’s season ended 18 snaps into his Week 12 game, but from Weeks 4-11, a decent sample size of seven games, Mooney was the WR22 with a solid 12.9 YPR and 72% catch rate. It wasn’t pretty, but he got it done just as I expected. I thought they’d do what they said they’d do, which is play to Fields’ strengths and get him on the move. But they attempted to play with Fields winning mostly from the pocket the first three games of the season, and Mooney was a miserable 75th in targets (11) and 116th in yards (27) Weeks 1-3.
The Bears set the modern passing game back a couple of years in those first three games, with Fields attempting only 45 passes for a miserable 297 yards, and the Panthers weren’t much better with Baker Mayfield, who put out some of the worst tape in recorded history last year. So my lesson is to pull back from even my favorites like Moore and Mooney if I’m not totally convinced they're in good hands at QB. I’ll also be on the lookout for future passing attacks that might end up being remedial, like the Fields-led Bears, because that was some repugnant shit early last season.
Other WR lessons learned in 2022
I need to look closer at teams that don’t use a third wideout — I finally figured out why I’ve been underrating Seahawk WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and I feel a little dumb for this one. Granted, everyone underrated them and Geno Smith this past season, but they don’t have an impactful third wideout, and they haven’t for years. Few teams play with two and three TEs on the field more than Seattle, and they do throw to all of their TEs, but they also funnel most of the targets to DK and Lockett. Most of the time, teams that run a lot of 12 are run-heavy, but when you have talents like DK and Lockett, they don’t need to be bombarded with targets. And if the team is playing from behind and forced to abandon their running game, these guys are in business.
In Philly, the Eagles had two players finish in the top-8, which is surprising because the Eagles were only 23rd in pass attempts this season and had a top TE in Dallas Goedert. Their other wideouts Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal totaled only 48/504/3, which was only 3 catches for 29 yards per game.
In Miami, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle crushed it, and every other receiver on the roster crushed fantasy managers who actually drafted them because, other than some unpredictable TDs for TE Mike Gesicki, no one else did crap.
Alphas can change teams and not miss a beat — I was with the markets on AJ Brown, Davante Adams, and Amari Cooper, but I did underrate Tyreek Hill a tiny bit. But all four of these lead dogs maintained their statuses from the prior year, if not improve them. On the other hand, we know transitioning to a new team can be a challenge and a serious adjustment for other players, so we need to handle these guys on a case-by-case basis. Allen Robinson had a very bad year with the Bears in 2021, so we should have been wary of him on his new team, even though it was (well, on paper at signing) a good situation. In most cases, the secondary wideouts changing teams in 2022 had a negligible impact, like Robert Woods, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Russell Gage, and DJ Chark.
However, it’s possible to build a complete receiving corps overnight — It was a rarity, but what happened last off-season in Jacksonville was absolutely perfect. Not only did the former QB Doug Pederson have a large role in Trevor Lawrence’s leap in Year Two, they were also able to hand-pick Lawrence’s receivers in free agency, and they took players who fit Pederson’s scheme, starting with TE Evan Engram, who was a glorified slot receiver in Pederson’s heavy 11 personnel offense. I prematurely wrote Engram off after four rocky seasons from 2018-2021, but the lesson there is to pay attention when a new coach specifically targets a new player who is a good fit and who fills a big need for his offense. I did like Christian Kirk as a pick this summer for this reason, and I also liked Zay Jones as a pick due to his inside/outside versatility (and dirt-cheap price).
Patience is needed with young breakout candidates — Last year, I made this point with Elijah Moore, who was worthless for over a month, and then he was a WR1 for almost two months. It’s hard to spot noticeable trends in a league where players can have multiple “seasons” within a season, but that phenomenon is a trend itself, and it was very prevalent in 2022 at all positions. For example, I really liked Christian Watson as a long-term prospect, but I figured he was raw and would need time, which he did. The rookie was probably available in 99% of fantasy leagues coming out of Week 10, but he went off that week and was basically a league-winner after that. The Packers needed him, he was playing with a Hall of Famer at QB, and Watson had a lot of physical tools to work with, but he was a great example of why we should bet on talent because it can surface at any time even if a player seems relatively hopeless, as Watson did for over two months.
WR lessons re-affirmed in 2022
Beware of the “Super-Spreaders” — Similar to my point about teams that don’t actively use a third wideout, one of my biggest takeaways from the 2022 season is that I need to seek out players on teams with a high concentration of targets. This is an obvious point, and I’ve been complaining about the fragmentation of offensive production for years, but we can’t just assume that all teams are spreading the ball around liberally. But there are clearly some coaches and staffs out there that love to do it, and it drives me nuts. In New England, DeVante Parker opened the season as a starter, but he had only four targets and only 1 catch for 9 yards total in their first two games. Then he dropped 5/166 on 10 targets in Week 3. And then he put up only 2/24/1 on four targets in Weeks 4 and 5 combined. I actually call Frank Reich the “Super-Spreader” because he shies away from truly featuring anyone, which is why he typically has three TEs involved and zero TEs in fantasy lineups. Based on last year and recent track records, we may have super spreader problems with the Jets, Titans, Broncos, Panthers, Saints, to name a few.
I don’t have anything earth-shattering here from 2022, other than Travis Kelce inching closer to fantasy G.O.A.T. status at the position with his seventh straight 1000-yard season. Kelce fell out of the first round this past summer, which was technically wrong, but I can’t begrudge the markets for dropping the 33-year-old out of the top-12 overall, since most TEs are clearly on the downside of their career by the time they’ve logged a decade in the NFL.
Otherwise, it was a typical season for fantasy TEs with a lot of frustration and performances that were underwhelming. I'm proud of myself for not listing Kyle Pitts as a target, since I wasn’t convinced his poor situation would improve dramatically — the markets disagreed, as his ADP was pricey around 35 overall. I also opted against listing Mark Andrews as a target for the first time since his rookie season because I suspected his ‘21 season would be impossible to replicate in such a limited passing offense, and it was.
Speaking of frustrating, I tabbed Bears TE Cole Kmet as my top breakout player at TE — and I was right. But also really wrong for a while. I/we had Kmet as the preseason TE8 (TE11 by ADP), and he was, in fact, the TE8 in scoring. My Kmet interest was mostly about the red zone love I thought he was going to get, and he was tied for third at the position with 7 TDs. Kmet had only two TDs on 88 catches his first two seasons, but I thought he showed some good chemistry with Justin Fields the year before, and a team source in the summer told me he was going to be a major red zone threat, which he was. But I won’t be adding Kmet to my list of all-time TE calls because I had him catching 65 balls, and he managed only 50. For almost two months, my Kmet call looked like a bad evaluation, as he was the TE39 through seven games with a miserable 3.8 FPG. Of course, he was the TE5 from that point on his final 10 games with 38/396/7. Kmet wasn’t the only player to have multiple seasons within the 2022 season, but while it was a good call overall, it was also a little dangerous. I wasn’t feeling particularly good about Fields coming out of his rookie season, and it was a new offense, so I should have accounted for that more. I was right about the TD love, but it’s dangerous to rely on TDs in fantasy. Just like my lesson on Darnell Mooney this year, the overall lesson is to be wary of offenses that could prove to be remedial, or just really bad, with a QB who isn’t ready for prime time.
My other targets were T.J. Hockenson, Dawson Knox, Pat Freiermuth, and Dalton Schultz, which is typical for me because I prefer to wait 4-5 rounds before taking a TE while targeting the second-tier guys. All four were top-12 TEs on the season, so I don’t have any riveting thoughts, but these guys were hardly perfect. Knox got off to a slow start, likely due to his personal family tragedy from the summer, and some injury issues, but he was the TE3 in PPG Weeks 14-18 with a TD in his final four regular season games. Schultz had that knee injury that really messed him up, but I was correct in my belief that their WRs were weak heading into the season. Patty F was fine, but it was a rookie QB and a bad offense, so he wasn’t all that.
And finally…some quick hitters
If they tell us they’re going to spread the ball around, believe them — I was not buying into whatever JuJu Smith-Schuster love there was this summer, and I wasn’t into their other new free agent, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, either. I wasn’t about to back Mecole Hardman as anything more than a potential WW guy. So I wasn’t surprised to hear Patrick Mahomes talk about spreading the ball around this summer because I didn’t think any of these guys were particularly good. Of course, I did believe that rookie Skyy Moore was good, and I still do. But I seriously over-ranked him this summer. I didn’t account for the complexities of Andy Reid’s offense, and I thought Moore had a chance to emerge as one of their best receivers in the second half of the season. Moore did flash several different times, and his snap counts were very respectable, but he never seemed to gain the trust of Mahomes, so he was just a role player. In retrospect, while I believe I was correct to trash the trio of JuJu, MVS, and Hardman, they were the veterans Mahomes understandably leaned on, and I had unrealistic expectations for the rookie Moore (but get him in 2023!).
If we have concerns about the loss of an offensive coach or skepticism surrounding a new one, we’re probably right — As mentioned elsewhere in this article, and while you wouldn’t know it comparing Josh Alen’s numbers from 2021 and 2022, the Bills clearly missed Brian Daboll, and new OC Ken Dorsey wasn’t quite as sharp in terms of coaching Allen up and directing the offense. In New England, we all had serious reservations about the direction of their offense once Josh McDaniels left, and we were 100% correct to have concerns. I also had concerns in Houston about new OC Pep Hamilton, whose track record showed a good offensive/QBs coach, but a poor play-caller and coordinator, and he’s no longer in Houston’s plans. While the NFL world was pretty darn optimistic about Russell Wilson in Denver, I was not, and part of that was my uncertainty about new HC Nate Hackett, whose father never impressed me as a coach (no offense). In Carolina, they hired Ben McAdoo to be their OC, but despite having a decent reputation in NFL circles, I’ve always focused on the fact that he has shown up for press conferences wearing clothes that don’t fit him, so I’ve never taken him seriously. He’ll be looking to join his fourth team in four years after another one-and-done season in Carolina last year. Conversely, while I haven’t been much of a Doug Pederson supporter, it was clear he was going to be an upgrade for the Jags, and he certainly was.
There are times when we have no idea if a new coach is going to excel or not, like Ben Johnson in Detroit, who was only their TEs coach just two years ago in 2020. But if a coach has a track record from holding an important coaching position in the past, more often than not, the coach’s credentials and his pedigree/coaching tree will give us a feel for whether they’ll be successful or not. For example, given his long history with Kyle Shanahan, I was optimistic that new HC Mike McDaniel would work out, and he did.
The one exception this year may have been McDaniels (the plural one in Vegas), whose offense didn’t exactly light it up. Then again, they went from 22nd in points scored in 2021 to 12th in 2022, so it wasn't bad. Based on this lesson learned (or reaffirmed), I already have a good feel for this year’s changes. Former head coaches like Sean Payton (Denver) and Frank Reich (Carolina) should be positives for their teams, and Bill O’Brien back in New England should be a huge win for Mac Jones. But we shouldn’t expect anything special from Brian Schottenheimer with the Cowboys, and we should expect Kellen Moore showing to be decent, but spotty, for the Chargers. As for Hackett, he did get the HC job in Denver based on his success as an offensive coach, so focusing solely on that side of the ball could work out for him and the Jets (especially if he gets his boy Aaron Rodgers).
NFL beat writers aren’t helping up like they used to — I believe I wrote about this a few
years ago, but it’s worse than ever. I was building relationships with NFL beat writers as far back as the 90s, and I was one of first people in the fantasy biz to truly shine the spotlight on them and their value (my top guy was Adam Schefter back when he covered the Broncos only, and he was dialed in on that team). But these days there are too many beat writers who seem to be “dialed out” and they’re relying on the same person I relied on back in 2003 — Schefter. There’s not much we can do about this trend, other than acquire Schefty’s phone number.
Groupthink is real — It may not be taking over fantasy football, but with more and more people entering the fantasy industr” under 30 years old and more connected than ever due to social media, it does seem like the “Markets” are driving narratives and guiding people more than ever to think in similar terms. Granted, when everyone is out on a player, there’s usually some serious reasons why, and we’re usually right. But most of us got the Seattle QB situation wrong, so we underrated WRs DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Most of us slept on those contract-year RBs, since we collectively got sick and tired of Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders. A lot of us also wrote off Derrick Henry, which wasn’t a bad call overall, but was for the early part of the season. I’ve had the old “zig when they zag” point in this article multiple times over the years, but I do think right now an advantage can be had if you’re able to leverage incorrect groupthink into draft day steals, like Jacobs.