2022 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Rankings: QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs We’re Targeting
Getty Images. Pictured: Trey Lance (left) and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Jalen Hurts: Hurts is part of my overall draft strategy in all formats.
For me, it’s about when you take a QB in the draft. Hurts is going at the ideal time. He allows you to load up on skill positions at the start of the draft as the QB7.
With Hurts’ massive rushing upside and elite offensive line, as well as his improved weapons, he might be the most likely QB not named Josh Allen to finish the season as the overall QB1. DeVonta Smith should improve in his second season, and adding A.J. Brown is obviously a big boost.
Hurts finished as a top-12 QB 73% of weeks last season, which was the highest rate at the position. I’m targeting him at QB7 so I can make sure the rest of my roster is set.
Trey Lance: Lance did about as well as expected last season in his limited action, and he should be better in Year 2 as the established starter in San Francisco.
Lance is obviously going to offer a ton of rushing upside. He may be limited as a passer, but there have been some encouraging reports out of training camp and he should only improve in that aspect of his game.
The former No. 3 overall pick has strong weapons in the passing game in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, as well. Also, Elijah Mitchell offers a steady presence in the rushing game as long as he stays healthy.
Jameis Winston: Winston is one of my favorite sleeper targets this season.
Winston infamously threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his final season for the Buccaneers and finished as the QB4 for fantasy. Last season, a torn ACL prematurely ended his season. He was the QB14 on a per-game basis in his seven starts in what was a watered-down, conservative version of Winston.
This year, the former No. 1 overall pick will have significantly upgraded weapons this season as well. Michael Thomas, who we haven’t really seen since 2019, is on track to return, and he’ll be joined at wide receiver by first-round rookie Chris Olave. Running back Alvin Kamara is obviously high on the pass-catching depth chart, as well.
Winston is being drafted as the QB23, according to FantasyPros. This feels much closer to a floor than median outcome for a player I could see finishing in the top 12 at the position.
Baker Mayfield: Mayfield, 27, is coming off of a disappointing 2021 campaign in which he completed 60.5% of his passes for a career-low 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. That prompted a public fallout with the Browns. His season was marred by injuries, however, including a knee contusion and partially torn labrum which had a significant impact on his throwing abilities.
I am cautiously optimistic that the change in scenery and personnel could reignite his career. Cleveland deployed a run-heavy scheme last season, limiting his fantasy value significantly. Carolina also has solid weapons, namely pass-catching running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver D.J. Moore, both of whom should boost Mayfield’s stock significantly.
My primary concerns about Mayfield are his health and the Panthers’ offensive line, which ranked 31st out of 32 according to Pro Football Focus’ rankings, though the team did make some much-needed additions this offseason.
Mayfield is being drafted as the QB25, according to FantasyPros, which is dirt cheap for a quarterback who will likely start 16+ games if healthy. I expect him to finish as a high-end QB2 with QB1 weeks sprinkled in.
Mayfield is a solid sleeper target in two-quarterback/Superflex leagues and even as a weekly streamer in bye weeks or positive matchups for one-quarterback leagues
Trey Lance: If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that we should fade the noise surrounding a young QB with questionable passing ability but high-end rushing ability.
In 2019, people weren’t sure if Lamar Jackson could throw; he posted the overall QB1 finish at an ADP of QB12. In 2020, it was Josh Allen’s turn to have his passing chops doubted, keeping his ADP in check at QB11; he too finished as the overall QB1. And last season, Jalen Hurts didn’t have enough believers to vault him past QB12 in ADP; he posted QB7 numbers on a per-game basis.
Sure, Lance’s throwing motion looks funky, but so what? He averaged 12 carries for 60 yards in his two starts. While he struggled as a passer in his first start (15-of-29, 197 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) he was fine in his next one, going 16-of-23 for 249 with 2 TDs and 1 interception en route to a QB9 finish.
Lance will give you those sweet, sweet points on the ground that are almost essential for fantasy QB success unless your name is Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. And Lance’s floor and ceiling as a passer is raised by having two of the best weapons in the league at their respective positions in WR Deebo Samuel and TE George Kittle.
Lance also has one of the best offensive minds in the game in Kyle Shanahan. Jimmy Garoppolo, also known as the quarterback Shanahan just discarded for Lance, averaged 8.4 yards per attempt in this offense. Heck, even Nick Mullens nearly averaged 8.0 YPA in this offense, finishing with 7.9 on a not-insignificant 600 attempts. And Lance himself, despite not always inspiring confidence as a thrower, averaged 8.5 YPA last season in a small sample.
But if for some reason Shanahan isn’t able to coax the same success out of Lance that he has with other QBs, it wouldn’t matter in fantasy because he’d just use him even more as a runner. Lance is antifragile. I have him ranked QB10. At an ADP of QB13, he’s the lowest-drafted QB with legitimate overall QB1 upside.
Running Back Sleepers
There is a theme with my four choices. I’m targeting players who might not be their team’s RB1, but they have standalone value when the starter is healthy and immense upside when that player is out.
A.J. Dillon: Dillon may look like it, but he’s not just a bruiser. The third-year man offers pass-catching upside, with four games of four or more receptions last season. If Aaron Jones misses time, he becomes an instant RB1.
Melvin Gordon: New Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett comes from Green Bay, where his offense utilized both Jones and Dillon well last season. He limits Javonte Williams from reaching his full potential and offers RB2 upside if the second-year man misses time. I like targeting him at RB37 in drafts right now.
Kareem Hunt: After five games last season, Hunt was the overall RB5 — and that was with Nick Chubb healthy! Hunt has RB2/flex value when Chubb is healthy, and he becomes a top-10 option if Chubb misses time. His floor/ceiling combination makes him a great value at RB33.
Tony Pollard: With a limited WR corps, the Cowboys may get creative in how they use Pollard this season. He’s a proven receiver and could be lined up out wide more often in 2022-23. If Ezekiel Elliott misses time, Pollard becomes an instant top-5/10 option at running back.
James Robinson: Writing off Robinson has practically become a fantasy football pastime over the last three seasons. The former undrafted free agent came out of thin air and burst onto the scene in 2020, recording the most scrimmage yards of any undrafted free agent rookie and finished as the RB4 in half-PPR.
Robinson was once again thrust into the spotlight after first-round pick Travis Etienne Jr. suffered a Lisfranc injury last year in the preseason. In spite of an injury-shortened campaign, he still ended up as the RB23 in 14 games and was just shy of 1,000 scrimmage yards.
It’s understandable why the 23-year-old Robinson would be somewhat of an afterthought after suffering a torn Achilles in December and with Etienne returning. He shockingly avoided the PUP list, however, and could be ready for Week 1.
Etienne is being drafted as the RB23 in half-PPR according to FantasyPros, but I would much prefer getting Robinson nearly five rounds later at RB38. I think the most likely scenario is that this backfield becomes a committee, which gives Robinson a clearer path to finish as a viable fantasy asset.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Lots of strange things have happened in fantasy last season, but I do not think anyone had a Year 9 Cordarrelle Patterson breakout on their bingo card.
Patterson, 31, was largely disappointing and forgotten until he was switched to running back in 2021, when posted career-highs in receiving and rushing, tallying 205 touches for 1,166 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns.
Many have been quick to dismiss Patterson’s 2021 season as a fluke. For one, the dual-eligible WR/RB did slow down toward the end of the season, but he still finished as the RB8 in half PPR. He will also have a less appealing quarterback situation going from Matt Ryan to Marcus Mariota, who has not started since 2019. The Falcons made only minor additions to their backfield in Tyler Allgeier and Damien Williams.
I do not expect Patterson to replicate his whirlwind breakout season. However, he has carved out a niche role in this offense, which has a dearth of weapons. Drafting him at RB43 — his half-PPR ADP, according to FantasyPros — imparts minimal risk and significant reward, especially for any PPR formats.
Brian Robinson Jr.: Almost all of the offseason rookie running back hype involved Breece Hall and Ken Walker, but Brian Robinson Jr. could be a sneaky name for deep leagues and best-ball.
Robinson, who ran 271 times for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns last season for Alabama, is part of what Ron Rivera hopes is a three-pronged approach. J.D. McKissic will remain in his niche, pass-catching role, but Antonio Gibson’s workload could be in jeopardy with Robinson in town.
The big-bodied, bruising Robinson is an interesting foil for Gibson, who has elicited criticism for usage and durability. The rookie could siphon away precious goal-line carries.
Robinson’s ceiling remains at least somewhat capped on a relatively low-upside offense led by Carson Wentz. The team’s time of possession and run-friendly game scripts could be limited if Wentz cannot keep games competitive.
James Conner: Conner isn’t a sleeper in the traditional sense, but he is undervalued at his RB18 ADP. Conner finished as the RB5 last season despite Chase Edmonds playing 12 games and averaging 13.3 touches in those contests. In the five games Edmonds missed, Conner averaged 21.6 touches, which he parlayed into 96.6 scrimmage yards and 1.4 total TDs a game.
While it’s certainly possible that backups Eno Benjamin, Darrel Williams and/or Keaontay Ingram inherit some of Edmonds’ snaps, it’s highly unlikely they get anything close to 13.3 touches per game. Conner averaged 13.6 touches per game in the 12 games Edmonds played, so a reasonable outcome would be to expect somewhere in the range of 17-18 touches per game this year. That’s great value in this part of the draft, as every RB going after him is likely to be involved in a more prominent committee.
Wide Receiver Sleepers
JuJu Smith-Schuster: It’s crazy that Smith-Schuster is still only 25 years old. It feels like a decade ago that he and Antonio Brown were running the Steelers offense. JuJu is younger than Terry McLaurin!
This change of scenery should help Smith-Schuster, who’s the safest bet of any receiver in Patrick Mahomes’ arsenal. My only concern is that his route tree might overlap Travis Kelce’s a bit, but I’m still high on Smith-Schuster with the Chiefs.
Gabriel Davis: I was super high on Davis entering last season before Emmanuel Sanders was signed. Now, he’s in position to be the No. 2 option in a pass-heavy Bills offense with Josh Allen under center.
Without Sanders last season from Weeks 14-18, Davis was the WR22 in 0.5-point PPR leagues. His ADP is down to WR28, which means his hype is gaining steam.
Allen Lazard: Lazard is one of my favorite WR targets later in drafts. His ADP is still WR46 and could go down throughout the month.
Lazard is still only 26 years old and already has chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. There’s a chance he ends up as the four-time MVP’s favorite target this season, giving him potential 10-touchdown upside.
He’s not the most talented receiver in Green Bay, but he has a ton of upside given his situation.
K.J. Osborn: Osborn should see a boost in new head coach Kevin O’Connell’s new offensive scheme, which I’m guessing will implement more 11 personnel. Osborn’s routes run rate could go from 70% last season up to 90% under the new regime.
In Weeks 13-18, Osborn was the WR16 and at 90% routes run when Adam Thielen was out. He has a high floor at his WR74 ADP.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: It feels odd to call JuJu Smith-Schuster a sleeper, but he enters this season as a perfect zero-to-hero candidate.
Smith-Schuster is coming off of a disappointing, injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just five games and caught 28 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown. He’s in an excellent bounce-back spot with a titanic upgrade at quarterback and a clear path to a significant target share with Tyreek Hill traded to the Dolphins.
Patrick Mahomes offers sky-high upside to his pass-catchers, of which there are fewer in Kansas City. Last season, Smith-Schuster was competing with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth for a paltry number of targets. He’ll likely compete to be Mahomes’ No. 2 target with 2022 second-round pick Skyy Moore. Given how high-volume the Chiefs’ passing game is, I’m fairly certain there will be enough targets to go around.
Smith-Schuster is currently being drafted as the WR33 in half-PPR. I see that more as his floor than a median outcome. Grab him at a discount while your leaguemates are still bitter about his 2021 season.
Robert Woods: Once a fantasy darling, Woods has fallen out of favor due to age and injury history. He’s recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last November and is on the wrong side of 30. Prior to that, Woods had posted two top-12 WR seasons in the last three years and three straight in the top-20.
While going from Matt Stafford to Ryan Tannehill is a downgrade, Woods has a clearer path to targets on the Titans. His primary competition for targets was projected to be first-round rookie Treylon Burks, who drew immediate hype based on his landing spot and attractive build. However, Burks may not be progressing on schedule and is not taking reps with the first team. I try to not overreact to training camp reports (remember how Ja’Marr Chase allegedly couldn’t catch a football last summer?), but it warrants a bit of concern.
Setting training report scuttlebutt aside, it seems fair to say that the Titans’ WR1 spot remains very much up for grabs. Woods offers great value at WR40, especially if Burks does indeed get a slow start.
Christian Kirk: Kirk was quietly the Cardinals’ top receiver last season with 77 catches for 982 yards and five touchdowns. He finished as the WR24, his best fantasy season to date.
The Jaguars have major post-hype sleeper appeal on the heels of a three-win season. Lawrence remains ridiculously talented and should be partially absolved based on the events surrounding last season. He won’t offer the same upside as Kyler Murray, but I would not be so quick to write Lawrence off completely.
Competition for the Jaguars’ WR1 spot remains wide open, and Kirk could be the one to seize the opportunity. His half-PPR ADP of WR42 is far too low in light of his previous production and positive situation.
Tyler Lockett: If you’re not rushing to buy the dip on Tyler Lockett, we can’t be friends. It’s true that Lockett lost one of the league’s top QBs, but it’s also true that Lockett is one of the best WRs in the league at getting open. In fact, he averaged more targets (8.0) and catches (5.3) in three games without Wilson than he did in 13 games with Wilson (7.0, 4.4) last season.
Lockett is entering his age-30 season, but showed no signs of slowing down last season. In fact, he posted career-highs in yards per route (2.35) and receiving yards per game (73.4) while posting the second-highest PFF receiving grade of his career at 82.1 – mere tenths of a point away from his career-high 82.5 mark set in 2018.
Lockett finished as the WR13 last season and hasn’t finished outside the top 15 WRs in half-PPR since 2017. His numbers will take a hit without Wilson, but his WR39 ADP essentially removes all the risk. You always want to bet on good players, and Lockett is proven to be nothing but.
Drake London: Best-ball drafters have caught on to London’s sleeper appeal – he ranks 33rd on Underdog – but redrafters haven’t caught up yet, as he’s WR45 in FantasyPros’ half-PPR ADP. His appeal is simple: He was the top WR in the draft and is locked into the WR1 role for his team. Sure, the Falcons don’t project to exactly be a passing juggernaut with Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder atop the QB depth chart, but that’s why London comes priced as one of the cheapest WR1s.
Given London’s size and contested catch ability, it’s easy to worry about his ability to separate. But according to London’s Reception Perception charting, London had no issues getting open, ranking in top-third at getting open against every coverage type, including the 93rd percentile against zone coverage.
Robert Woods: Woods is somewhat risky going to a new team and coming off a torn ACL, but the risk is priced appropriately at WR40.
At this point in the draft, there are a lot of enticing players who could have big weeks here and there, but there’s not much consistency to be had. Woods is expected to not only be the Titans No. 1 WR, but also their top target. And the more Treylon Burks struggles, the more likely it is that Woods remains in that role for the entire season.
Woods is not only one of the cheapest WR1s by ADP, and also one of the cheapest players who projects as their team’s most targeted player, as the likes of London and Rashod Bateman are expected to play second-fiddle to Kyle Pitts and Mark Andrews, respectively.
Tight End Sleepers
Dalton Schultz: Schultz represents an important spot at tight end entering draft season. He’s the last player in terms of ADP before there’s a significant drop at the position. That’s why he’s listed as a sleeper here.
Schultz is now the clear No. 1 TE in Dallas, and his role could increase with Amari Cooper gone and Michael Gallup potentially not ready for the start of the season. He should be one of Dak Prescott’s top-two or three targets every week.
Pat Freiermuth: Freiermuth wasn’t as exciting as Kyle Pitts in 2021, but he certainly showed glimmers of greatness amid a suboptimal situation.
I was super high on Freiermuth (also known as “Baby Gronk”) as a late-round sleeper last season. He far exceeded expectations and finished as the TE14 in half PPR, all while catching passes from an extremely watered-down Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers’ QB situation is unlikely to improve drastically with Mitch Trubisky likely under center, though Freiermuth has already proven capable of outperforming his situation. His half-PPR ADP according to FantasyPros is TE12, which he could outperform his paltry draft price. The second-year man could end the season in the top five at the position.
Hunter Henry: Henry joined the Patriots during the 2021 free agency frenzy and quickly built a rapport with Mac Jones. Henry tallied 50 catches for 603 yards and nine touchdowns, good enough for a TE9 finish in half-PPR leagues. It was Henry’s fourth-consecutive top 12 finish in fantasy in his five-year NFL career, a trend I expect to continue given the Patriots’ relatively shallow pass-catching depth chart.
Henry isn’t as flashy as some of his other tight end counterparts and draws criticism for being touchdown-dependent. He’s a great best-ball target and a solid overall sleeper with an ADP in half-PPR of TE16, which feels very low for a player who could easily finish inside the top 10 at tight end.