Fantasy: Bold predictions for 2022 - AFC Edition
theScore's Justin Boone delivers some of his bold predictions for the upcoming fantasy season.
Fantasy Bold Predictions
AFC | NFC
Ravens: Jackson is the only Raven to crack 1,000 rushing yards
Lamar Jackson broke the 1,000-rushing yard mark in 2019 and 2020, and he was well on his way to doing it again last year had he not been sidelined for five games. The early-season statuses of Baltimore's top two backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, are unknown as they work their way back from torn ACLs. That means Jackson will have to handle an even bigger load than usual. A committee approach is likely once Dobbins and Edwards return to the lineup, limiting the overall totals for both players.
Bills: Davis is a top-20 fantasy WR
Buffalo was aggressive about replacing Cole Beasley in the slot, electing to sign veteran Jamison Crowder and draft rookie Khalil Shakir to go along with internal candidate Isaiah McKenzie. However, the Bills didn't bring in any competition for Gabriel Davis on the outside. That's a great sign that the team has faith in him as their No. 2 receiver behind Stefon Diggs. As we outlined in our 2022 breakouts column, Davis played at least 50% of the snaps in six games last year, scoring four touchdowns and averaging 59 yards per contest. Though it's a small sample size, those numbers would have put him on pace to finish just outside the top 20. He has the potential to improve on those stats as an ascending young talent moving into a full-time role in one of the best passing attacks in the league.
Bengals: Higgins outproduces Chase
Let's make one thing clear - both Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins will be excellent fantasy options this year. This isn't an anti-Chase argument as much as it's a pro-Higgins point. After missing time with an early-season injury, it took Higgins a few games before consistently seeing the field on over 75% of the snaps. However, once he did, his numbers were slightly better than Chase's. During a nine-game sample from Week 8 to Week 17, Higgins posted a stat line of 49-835-4 compared to Chase's 44-675-7. The result was Higgins averaging the seventh most fantasy points (14.7) among qualified receivers during that time, slightly ahead of Chase (14.6). As long as he's healthy, don't be shocked if Higgins has the edge in 2022.
Browns: Njoku becomes a fantasy star
Whether Deshaun Watson receives a lengthy suspension or not, David Njoku is positioned to finally make good on the first-round pick the Browns spent to draft him in 2017. We know tight ends take time to develop in the pros, and the front office believes the 26-year-old is ready to take the next step since they rewarded him with a new four-year, $56.8-million extension this offseason. With Austin Hooper now in Tennessee, Njoku will be the unquestioned starter in an offense looking for pass-catching playmakers behind top wideout Amari Cooper. Don't forget, prior to the 2019 season when he missed most of the year with a wrist injury, Njoku finished as the TE9 with 56 receptions, 639 yards, and four touchdowns.
Broncos: Patrick emerges as team's No. 2 WR
Editor's note: This section was written before Tim Patrick's injury in training camp.
Tim Patrick is another player whose team committed to him financially in the last year. His three-year, $30-million deal was an eyebrow-raising amount for a depth piece but could be a sign he'll see more volume than people project in the Broncos' new offense. As outlined in our sleepers column, Patrick has taken advantage when Courtland Sutton and/or Jerry Jeudy have been sidelined with injuries. Patrick was a top-30 fantasy wideout for most of the 2020 campaign thanks to seven games with 100 yards and/or a touchdown. He followed that up by totaling 85 yards and/or a score in eight of his 16 games last season. Until we know who Russell Wilson favors throwing to in Denver, Patrick has a chance to establish himself as a bigger part of this passing attack moving forward.
Texans: Pierce shines as starter down the stretch
Projecting a fourth-round running back to rise to the top of a team's depth chart isn't a bet you want to make very often. But in Dameon Pierce's case, the lack of competition should give him ample opportunity to take over as the Texans' lead runner during his rookie campaign. Though his college coaching staff elected to limit his usage, the skills, instincts, and physicality are there for him to succeed in the NFL. Marlon Mack will likely open the season as the starter, and Rex Burkhead will play a role, but Pierce has the highest upside in the group.
Colts: Campbell stays healthy and is a top-40 WR
The only thing holding Parris Campbell back has been his availability. Injuries limited him to just 15 of a possible 49 appearances over his first three seasons. It's tough to keep going back to a player who hasn't provided much value. However, the 25-year-old was once again singled out by beat writers as someone who stood out in offseason practices and was featured heavily during those sessions. It's also worth noting that he had a pair of 50-yard games before a foot ailment sent him to injured reserve in October. With a depth chart that lacks a proven receiver behind Michael Pittman and doesn't have a tight end expected to command heavy volume, Campbell should be on your late-round radar.
Jaguars: Etienne leads team in receptions
The buzz around Travis Etienne was turned up to a blaring level as he returned to the field this offseason after missing his rookie year due to Lisfranc surgery. Despite obvious concerns about a running back coming off a serious foot ailment, Etienne appears to be excelling in practice, showcasing his speed and leaving defenders in his wake. Nearly every beat writer has acknowledged him as the most impressive skill position player in Jacksonville at the moment. The Jaguars' receiving corps doesn't have a true No. 1 target and fellow running back James Robinson is still working his way back from an Achilles tear. That means we could see Etienne become a safety net for his college teammate and current quarterback Trevor Lawrence, leading to a team-high reception total. He's also our top RB breakout candidate this year, so don't hesitate to draft him as frequently as possible.
Chiefs: Ronald Jones scores double-digit TDs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire's inability to solidify himself as the Chiefs' lead back during his first two campaigns and his shrinking goal-line role give Ronald Jones a chance to become a short-yardage weapon for Andy Reid and Co. It's easy to forget, but Jones is just 24 years old and one season removed from rushing for 978 yards and seven touchdowns while adding another 165 yards and a score on 28 receptions. Beat writer Nate Taylor of The Athletic went as far as to suggest Jones could steal the starting job outright with a spectacular training camp and preseason. We still see that as a long shot, but Jones working his way into a committee and handling the bulk of the goal-line work is not an unreasonable outcome. Kansas City's backfield accounted for 13 rushing touchdowns last season, and Jones is poised to vulture most of them.
Raiders: Adams vaults Carr into fantasy QB1 mix
Derek Carr has finished higher than QB17 in average fantasy points per game only once in his eight NFL seasons - when he was the QB10 in 2016. However, the arrival of his college teammate Davante Adams and offensive-minded head coach Josh McDaniels brings hope for a career year for the 31-year-old passer. With the all-world Adams, star tight end Darren Waller, and slot-specialist Hunter Renfrow, Carr will have his best supporting cast in years (maybe ever). While his paltry rushing numbers make cracking the top-12 QBs difficult, a likely increase in passing yards and touchdowns will elevate him to new fantasy heights in 2022.
Chargers: Williams takes leap into top-7 WRs
We're pushing fantasy managers to draft Mike Williams for the second straight year, and this season he made our list of players who will lead you to a fantasy title. None of this should be surprising considering he's coming off his best season in terms of targets (129), receptions (76), and yards (1,146) while finishing as the WR12 in points per game (half PPR). He accomplished that feat playing through a knee injury suffered in Week 5. With teammate Keenan Allen turning 30 this year, the 27-year-old Williams should continue to assert himself as Justin Herbert's new top target. If Williams stays healthy, a top-10 fantasy campaign awaits him.
Dolphins: Tua proves doubters wrong
Between our offseason articles and theScore Fantasy Football Podcast, we've spent a lot of time defending Tua Tagovailoa. Fortunately, we won't have to do it much longer since Tagovailoa is back on the field and can show what he's capable of with a quality offense around him. As a sophomore, he returned from injury in Week 6 to average the 17th most fantasy points among quarterbacks the rest of the way. He's now armed with Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson, Mike Gesicki, Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, and an improved offensive line led by stud left tackle Terron Armstead. With those weapons, Tagovailoa will be in the conversation as a borderline fantasy QB1 this season.
Patriots: Parker returns to fantasy relevance
DeVante Parker has been a fantasy afterthought in the two seasons since his fifth-year breakout (72-1, 202-9) in 2019. However, if the early returns out of the Patriots' camp are any indication, Parker might be ascending to the top of the team's receiving depth chart. Several beat writers remarked on his red-zone abilities in practice, and tight end Hunter Henry told reporters that Parker's presence "takes a little pressure off everybody." In an offense desperate for a No. 1 wideout, a big-bodied outside threat like Parker could be the answer. With an average draft position in the 12th round, there's nothing holding fantasy managers back from taking a chance on him and his top-36 upside.
Jets: Hall is top-10 fantasy RB as a rookie
Breece Hall profiles as a future RB1 in fantasy. The only question is whether that type of production comes immediately or whether we have to wait a season or two for the Jets' offense to put him in a position to succeed. The 21-year-old has the collegiate numbers, averaging 1,763 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Iowa State. He also has the athleticism, producing the seventh-best relative athletic score for a running back since 1987. Hall is the complete package, with the right blend of explosiveness, physicality, and adequate pass-catching skills to be a fantasy star. Now we need to find out if quarterback Zach Wilson is up to the challenge of making this Jets' attack a prolific unit. If Wilson comes through, you should expect several members of this young corps to break out.
Steelers: Pickens an instant difference-maker
Everyone who's watched a Steelers practice this offseason has commented about second-round rookie wideout George Pickens. Between his acrobatic catches and fierce my-ball mentality, it looks like Pittsburgh's front office may have drafted another future star receiver. Fantasy managers might have to wait until 2023 to see Pickens earn enough volume to be a consistent option. But a player of his caliber with the traits of an alpha No. 1 target is all but guaranteed to make noise the moment he steps on an NFL field. If Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool miss time this season, Pickens will be an automatic fantasy start.
Titans: Hooper a waiver-wire star at TE
A.J. Brown is gone, Robert Woods is returning from a torn ACL, and first-round rookie Treylon Burks is experiencing some early career growing pains. The Titans may have no choice but to rely on Austin Hooper as a key cog in their passing attack. It's not a stretch to envision Hooper becoming a volume-dependent fantasy starter because he's done it before. During his final season with the Falcons in 2019, Hooper was the top-scoring fantasy tight end in all formats before spraining his MCL in Week 10. His 75 catches, 787 yards, and six touchdowns had him on pace for 104 receptions, 1,182 yards, and 10 scores had he stayed healthy the entire year. He won't come close to those stats in Tennessee's low-volume pass scheme, but he could turn into a back-end TE1 for fantasy managers searching for a cheap late-round option or an early-season waiver wire add.
Fantasy Bold Predictions
AFC | NFC