Fantasy: 7 players who will lead you to a title in 2022 (Updated)
More in this series
- Breakouts to target (Updated)
- Busts to avoid (Updated)
- Sleepers to steal (Updated)
- Risky picks to gamble on (Updated)
- Super-deep sleepers (Updated)
- Players who will lead you to a title
No fantasy manager should rigidly classify any player as a "must-have," but it's wise to enter your draft with a shortlist of names you hope to add.
While getting them all is probably impossible, you'll greatly increase your odds of achieving fantasy glory this season if you build your draft around selecting at least a few of the seven players on this list.
Russell Wilson, QB, Broncos
While it's rare to see a star quarterback change teams while performing at a high level, we have a few examples in the last decade or so, with Matthew Stafford joining the Rams, Tom Brady the Buccaneers, and Peyton Manning the Broncos.
In each instance, the QB in question finished as a top-12 fantasy passer (points per game) in their first campaign with their new squad and eventually brought home a Super Bowl victory for that franchise.
Whether Wilson can accomplish the latter is up for debate, but his status as a fantasy QB1 isn't. The former third-round pick finished in that range during eight of his 10 seasons with the Seahawks, falling just short during the other two campaigns (QB13 in 2021, QB16 in 2016).
In Denver, he'll be surrounded by one of the best supporting casts of his career. The Broncos are equipped with two quality receivers (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy), two strong running backs (Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon), a pair of promising young tight ends (Albert Okwuegbunam, Greg Dulcich), and a middle-of-the-pack offensive line that's an upgrade from the porous blocking units Wilson often played behind in Seattle.
Wilson has been vocal about wanting to throw more in the past and will likely get his chance this season.
The Seahawks were among the bottom half of the league in passing attempts each of the last four years - including finishing 31st in 2021 with just 495 passes thrown.
By comparison, Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett (who'll be calling plays in Denver) dialed up 593 passing attempts in his final season as the Packers' offensive coordinator.
With reports that the Broncos are tailoring the offense around Wilson and the team playing against the fourth-easiest schedule for fantasy QBs in 2022, the 33-year-old could enjoy a productive season.
Now completely healed from the finger fracture that cost him time last season, Wilson is ready to take advantage of this new opportunity and remind everyone that he belongs in the conversation for the premier fantasy options at his position.
ADP: 7th round (QB9)
D'Andre Swift, RB, Lions
The fantasy community has identified Swift as a back who could take his game to the next level this season, evidenced by his average draft position rising into the second round.
By the time most drafts take place in late August, it wouldn't be surprising to see him flirting with a spot in the back half of the first. That's where we have him valued and likely where he'll be going for the next few years.
Unlike most 23-year-old running backs, we're not waiting for a breakout from Swift - because it already happened. However, a shoulder injury in Week 12 cost him five games down the stretch, including the ever-important fantasy playoff weeks. When he did return for the final two contests, the Lions limited his playing time and touches, not wanting to risk further injury on a team that wasn't contending.
Prior to the injury, Swift was the RB7 in fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. He averaged 5.3 receptions per outing in those first 10 appearances, which would've put him on pace for 90 catches over a full season.
Any concerns about veteran Jamaal Williams eating into his workload are overblown. In the seven games that Swift and Williams shared the field before injuries struck, the former played around 70% of the Lions' snaps and was a top-five back in fantasy points per game.
There's also reason to believe the Lions could be a much more competitive team in 2022, which would improve Swift's overall outlook.
Detroit will be getting back a healthy tight end in T.J. Hockenson to go along with a revamped receiving corps that now features last year's breakout Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Jags' former 1,000-yard receiver DJ Chark, and eventually, first-round field-tilter Jameson Williams.
Perhaps most important of all is the development of its offensive line, which deserves to be recognized as a top-five unit league-wide.
With that kind of blocking leading the way for someone with Swift's overall ability and pass-catching prowess, we're going to see him compete for a place among the game's elite fantasy backs starting this season.
ADP: 2nd round (RB9)
James Conner, RB, Cardinals
Every discussion about Conner is centered around his injury history, given he's missed 14 games over the last four years. It's a fact we can't avoid, but one that might be slightly overblown at a position where many players tend to miss time.
Conner has missed two-to-three games in three of the last four campaigns since becoming a starter in Pittsburgh. Even if he misses time again, he can be forgiven if his production when healthy is as significant as it was in 2021.
The 27-year-old was a top-12 fantasy back (points per game) over the first 14 weeks before getting banged up. When Chase Edmonds was out of the lineup from Week 9 to Week 14, Conner was the second-highest scoring fantasy RB with 25.8 FPPG - behind only Jonathan Taylor.
One of the biggest weapons in Conner's arsenal last year was his affinity for the end zone. He finished third with 18 total touchdowns, nearly matching Taylor and Austin Ekeler, the league leaders in that category.
The Cardinals clearly liked what they saw from Conner, inking him to a three-year, $21-million extension in March.
Though it might feel strange entrusting your fantasy fate to a player with durability concerns, that's a risk with any early-round running back.
It's also why you're getting a player like Conner, who offers top-five upside, in the third round.
ADP: 3rd round (RB15)
Mike Williams, WR, Chargers
The Chargers reassessed their approach with Williams prior to the 2021 campaign, which shouldn't have come as a shock to anyone since quarterback Justin Herbert revealed their plan before last season.
"He's one of those guys that you just have to find out there," Herbert said last August. "He's going to get open. He's so physical, fast, and strong that he's going to win - jump balls, deep balls, and intermediate routes. I think we need to get him more involved in the short game and the quick game because he's an incredible player."
The result was a career year in targets (129), receptions (76), and yards (1,146) en route to a points per game finish of WR14 in PPR. Williams also ended the year as the WR12 in half PPR, just ahead of teammate Keenan Allen's per game average.
While Allen's skill set should help him remain productive for several more years, the 30-year-old wideout did show some signs of decline last season.
That opens the door for Williams - who signed a new three-year, $60-million contract this offseason - to continue his ascent as the Chargers' new No. 1 target and a prolific touchdown-scorer.
Touchdowns are a volatile stat to predict, but Williams has an excellent chance of reaching double digits in 2022. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound wideout secured nine TDs last season while converting on just three of his 12 targets inside the 10-yard line, according to Pro Football Reference.
With massive touchdown potential attached to one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, Williams will remain in the mix as a fringe WR1 in fantasy.
ADP: 3rd round (WR14)
Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos
As we mentioned off the top, you likely won't be able to draft every player on this list on the same roster. However, those who decide to pursue Wilson should strongly consider pairing him with Sutton.
We still don't know which Broncos pass-catcher will benefit the most from Wilson's arrival, but according to several beat writers, Sutton has the early edge.
That makes sense for a couple reasons. Sutton is the most accomplished of Denver's receiver trio and is the only one with a 1,000-yard season on his NFL resume (72 catches, 1,112 yards, six TDs in 2019).
He's also two years removed from the ACL and MCL tears that sidelined him for most of the 2020 campaign and may have had him playing below peak form last season.
A quarterback upgrade can have a great impact on receiver production. While we're not suggesting Wilson-Sutton is this year's Stafford-Cooper Kupp, the big-bodied Broncos wideout might remind Wilson a bit of former teammate DK Metcalf.
Wilson and Metcalf were one of the most high-yielding QB-WR duos in the league over the last three seasons, and Sutton is hoping to find similar success.
As long as he can stay healthy, Sutton is guaranteed to get those chances. Fantasy managers would be wise to invest before this passing attack starts to show what it's capable of with a quality quarterback.
ADP: 3rd round (WR16)
Darnell Mooney, WR, Bears
Mooney is coming off a breakout season with 81 receptions, 1,055 yards, and four touchdowns. But there are plenty of signs pointing toward an even bigger year on the horizon.
Though the 24-year-old was limited to the 31st-most FPPG among wideouts last year, he finished 18th in average targets. That's notable when you factor in the Bears' depth chart around him.
The front office failed to replace Allen Robinson - who left in free agency - with proven pass-catching talent. Instead, it went with quantity over quality, adding free agents like Byron Pringle, Dante Pettis, Equanimeous St. Brown, and most recently trading for Patriots first-round bust N'Keal Harry.
Eight of the 10 leaders in average targets per game last year finished as top-12 fantasy wideouts. Mooney will have an opportunity to join them this season.
In order to meet that challenge, he added 13 pounds to his frame this offseason.
"Last year, I think I struggled with just being there at all times when my number was called," he told Dan Pompei of The Athletic. "I knew I was fatigued a little bit, but my mindset was not coming out of the game."
Unlike the previous regime that struggled to put players in positions to succeed, the new coaching staff plans to move Mooney around the formation to give him an advantage and make it harder for defenses to key in on him.
Between the locked-in volume, his already proven talent as a pro, and the upgraded offensive system, Mooney is poised to deliver his best fantasy season yet. He's a top-24 fantasy receiver who's being drafted as a WR3 at the moment.
ADP: 5th round (WR31)
Dalton Schultz, TE, Cowboys
If you don't spend up for one of the elite tight ends like Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, or even budding superstar Kyle Pitts, your focus should shift toward finding a player at the position who's set to finish first or second on his team in targets.
The player with the next best odds to push for a place at the table as a weekly difference-maker at tight end is Schultz, who'll make up for what he lacks in high-end skill with volume.
The Cowboys' offense went from having one of the most feared receiver rooms to being a fairly wide-open depth chart behind CeeDee Lamb entering this season. Amari Cooper is gone and Michael Gallup's recovery from a torn ACL suffered in December will likely keep him out until the second half of the season at the earliest.
Even free-agent addition James Washington will be sidelined to start the year with a broken foot.
Meanwhile, Schultz has become an integral part of Dallas' passing attack over the last two years, ending both campaigns as a top-12 tight end, including averaging the fifth-most fantasy points at the position last season.
With Gallup out, Schultz will have a strong shot to be the de facto No. 2 receiver. If that happens, expect him to repeat as a top-five fantasy tight end.
ADP: 6th round (TE6)
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