Jets' Hall, Wilson Highlight Rookies in Fantasy
NFL Offseason - The New York Jets may be more fantasy-relevant in 2022 than at any point in the last decade. The Jets haven't been the same wasteland in fantasy as they have in real football since they last made the playoffs in 2010. But it's close. They have had just two top-20 fantasy quarterback seasons—from Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They have had just two-top 20 fantasy tight end seasons—from Dustin Keller and Chris Herndon. They have had just five top-20 fantasy running back seasons—from Chris Ivory, Le'Veon Bell, Bilal Powell, and Shonn Greene twice. They have had just three top-20 fantasy wide receiver seasons—from Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Robby Anderson. Marshall, the only Jets player with a finish better than 10th at his position, is more famous from his time with the Denver Broncos.
The 2022 draft seemed to change the Jets' fortunes. They earned an A not-grade from Mike Tanier for their selections of Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson, and company. And their class' fantasy prospects are similarly exciting. Football Outsiders will roll out the full KUBIAK projections in Football Outsiders Almanac 2022 and here on the site in the coming months. But in honor of the draft—and the Jets—here are the top 12 projected rookies for 2022.
The Rookie Fantasy Top 12
Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets
185.4 PPR points
Teams are catching up to the analytical wisdom of delaying their running back draft selections. But Hall's slip to the second round shouldn't discourage his selection in fantasy. He was the first back drafted, and he ranked first in his class and fourth all-time in BackCAST (behind Jonathan Taylor, Ricky Williams, and Saquon Barkley). Taylor was a positive BackCAST outlier, but he and Hall measure similarly at 5-foot-11 and just under 220 pounds with 4.39s 40 times. And unlike Taylor, who caught a pass on just 4.3% of his college touches, Hall signaled his versatility with an excellent 10.3% college receiving ratio.
In short, Hall checks every box except a perfect team fit for fantasy. Because while fourth-round sophomore Michael Carter is unlikely to pull Hall out of RB2 consideration, Carter led the position with a broken tackle every 0.24 touches in 2021. That elusiveness seems likely to earn him at least a change-of-pace role like he saw next to Javonte Williams at North Carolina.
|Most Broken Tackles Per Touch, RBs, 2021|
|Player||Tm||Broken Tackles||Touches||BT Per Touch|
|Minimum 150 touches
Data from Sports Info Solutions
Hall's projected 241.5 touches would nicely balance his short-term and long-term fantasy prospects. But they would be 139.5 fewer touches than Najee Harris saw in his rookie season as a fully featured back for the 2021 Steelers.
Treylon Burks, WR, Tennessee Titans
184.8 PPR points
Burks may have been the sixth receiver drafted, but his talent and team fit justify his jump to first among rookie receivers in fantasy this season. The Titans made it easy to decode on draft day. They traded away A.J. Brown, the No. 3 receiver in average yards after the catch (6.1) since he entered the league in 2019. And they replaced him with Burks, the No. 1 receiver in average yards after the catch (9.3) from Division I last year. Burks' numbers could suffer from the Titans' run-oriented offense. But in a similar circumstance at Arkansas, he racked up 1,123 receiving yards on just 294 team pass attempts, a target share that spurred his top ranking in Playmaker Score.
Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons
167.1 PPR points
London is a compelling foil for Burks. With just one year of standout production that still seemed modest in a USC offense that threw 500 pass attempts, London ranked fifth in Playmaker Score. But he was the first receiver drafted at eighth overall. Perhaps London and Burks will fan an always-heated public debate pitting analytics against scouting. But in fantasy, their similarities motivate similarly optimistic rookie projections. Like Burks, London is big for the position at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, size that informs a KUBIAK projection of better touchdown production in the pros than his unremarkable 9.4% rate in college. And like Burks, London landed on a team desperate for help at receiver. Tight-end-in-name Kyle Pitts is more clearly the top Falcons target than Robert Woods is for the Titans. But with Calvin Ridley suspended this season, Pitts and London can absorb more than half of Marcus Mariota's Week 1 targets and still leave a projected 27.0% target share for an uninspiring receiver depth chart of Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd, Auden Tate, and KhaDarel Hodge.
Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
158.9 PPR points
The Saints signaled a desperate want of a second receiver in the bounty of draft capital they traded for the 11th overall pick. But Olave has two concerns that pull his rookie projections below Burks and London. First, he is small for his position at 6-foot-0 and 187 pounds. And while a few smaller receivers such as Calvin Ridley, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, and Antonio Brown have been consistent touchdown-scorers in recent seasons, the bulk of the expected touchdown leaders the past few years have been 6-foot-1 or taller, 200 pounds or heavier, or both.
|Expected Touchdowns Per Game Leaders,
Wide Receivers 2019-2021
|Minimum 10 games played|
KUBIAK projects Olave to score more than Burks and London this season because he led his class with a 20.0% collegiate touchdown rate and because he has a quarterback in Jameis Winston willing to throw downfield and take advantage of Olave's deep speed. But KUBIAK also projects a lower touchdown ceiling for Olave than London despite the former's more-than-twice-as-high collegiate touchdown rate.
The second concern is target volume. While Michael Thomas has played just seven games the last two seasons with myriad ankle injuries, he had a 31.2% target share in his healthy games in 2018 and 2019. That was second-highest at the position behind just DeAndre Hopkins (31.9%) and, if rediscovered, would shepherd Olave to a more definitive second receiver role than either Burks or London will likely see.
Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets
146.6 PPR points
Wilson measured similarly to Olave at 6-foot-0 and 183 pounds with a 4.38s 40 time. And so, like his Ohio State teammate, Wilson may be more valuable to his real NFL team than to his fantasy teams. That seems especially likely in 2022 when the Jets plan to start Zach Wilson, whose -32.3% rookie passing DVOA was the worst among regular starters last season. And while Garrett is poised to immediately fill the team's No. 1 outside receiver role, the Jets are surprisingly deep at receiver overall. Corey Davis is in Year 2 of $37.5-million contract and should be better with better health in 2022. Elijah Moore is in Year 2 of his career and was better as a rookie than his average efficiencies suggest—his 56.4% catchable target rate was fourth-lowest among receivers with 50 or more targets. Fresh off his breakout for the AFC champion Bengals, C.J. Uzomah is a receiving threat at tight end the Jets did not have in 2021. Breece Hall and Michael Carter are capable receiving backs. And All-Pro returner Braxton Berrios has the quick separation skills to inherit Jamison Crowder's vacated slot role. As such, Wilson falls short of his second-highest draft position of the rookie skill prospects. But a top-five fantasy projection is no small thing.
Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks
136.6 PPR points
Walker may have less competition for touches than many expect with the Seahawks. Chris Carson suffered a neck injury in 2021 that could end his career. And Rashaad Penny has played in just 37 of a possible 65 games in his four NFL seasons. Still, the Seahawks figure to feature at least Penny when he is healthy. He finished second among regular running backs with a 27.3% rushing DVOA last year and exceled with a career 5.1 yards per carry even before an outlier 10.9% breakaway rate inflated his average to an unsustainable 6.3 yards per carry in 2021. If he is healthy in 2022, Penny could serve as the Melvin Gordon to Walker's Javonte Williams. And since he caught passes on a low 4.7% of his college touches, Walker faces two types of workload concerns that lower his short-term fantasy prospects below two tiers of rookie wide receivers.
Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers
128.0 PPR points
The Packers may have a Davante Adams-sized hole in their receiver room, but even Adams caught just 38 and 50 balls for 446 and 483 yards in his first and second professional seasons. Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase are way more exceptions than the rule. And at 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds with a 4.36s 40 time, Watson looks more like Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6-foot-4, 206 pounds, 4.37s 40) than Adams (6-foot-1, 215 pounds, 4.56s 40) in any case. Watson will likely be part of a collection of receivers that replaces Adams' 169 vacated Packers targets. Watson's projected 45.8 catches are 2.8 more than he had in 12 games for North Dakota State last season.
Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
118.9 PPR points
The Chiefs added Marques Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency this offseason, and so it should be clearer for them than for Christian Watson and the Packers that Moore won't replace Tyreek Hill in 2022—if ever. But relative to his pre-combine prospect status as a 5-foot-10 receiver from Western Michigan in the MAC, Moore has excellent rookie potential. His quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is the best in football, and demonstrated with Hill his ability to connect with undersized receivers with 4.4s speed down the field.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders
114.6 PPR points
Dotson's draft selection at 16th overall puts him in a tier with the projected rookie leaders at the position like Treylon Burks, Drake London, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson. But in their ideal scenario, the Commanders won't need as much from Dotson in his rookie season as those other prospects' teams will need from them. Washington has a No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin who is established and consistently healthy. They retained a receiving back with a top-six target share of 15.1% at his position since 2019 in J.D. McKissic. And they will hope to regain a second receiver in Curtis Samuel and tight end in Logan Thomas who both caught 70 balls in their last healthy seasons in 2020. With those proper breaks, Dotson may catch fewer than 50 passes in his rookie season. But a traditional slot option at 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, Dotson has the 4.43s speed to contribute on the outside. And that versatility makes him a fantasy sleeper that could benefit from an injury to any of those teammates, no matter their role in the Commanders offense.
Alec Pierce, WR, Indianapolis Colts
103.9 PPR points
The Colts made a somewhat surprising choice to pass on an obviously complementary receiver to top incumbent Michael Pittman in Skyy Moore for another tower in Pierce. But it's hardly a bad thing to be 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, especially since Pierce is about as fast as Christian Watson with a 4.41s 40 time. The Colts can trot out a Florida State basketball team in the red zone with Pierce, Pittman (6-foot-4), Jelani Woods (6-foot-7), and Mo Alie-Cox (6-foot-5)—who incidentally played college basketball at VCU. That diversity may limit Pierce's short-term touchdown potential. And the Colts' commitment to run the ball with Jonathan Taylor almost certainly will.
James Cook, RB, Buffalo Bills
103.8 PPR points
Cook shares top-shelf NFL bloodlines with his brother Dalvin. But at just 5-foot-11, 199 pounds, and a 27.8 BMI, James isn't his brother (5-foot-10, 210 pounds, and 30.1 BMI). And he probably isn't Alvin Kamara despite their similar draft selections of 63rd and 67th overall and college receiving ratios of 22.6% and 26.1%. Like Dalvin, Kamara is significantly bigger (5-foot-10, 214 pounds, 30.7 BMI). No, Cook looks more like Colts receiving back Nyheim Hines (5-foot-9, 196 pounds, and 28.9 BMI) with his 25.6% college receiving ratio. And probably not coincidentally, Cook looks like J.D. McKissic (5-foot-10, 195 pounds, 28.0 BMI), the receiving back the Bills tried to add in free agency who has never taken more than 85 carries in a season.
Fantasy analysts have wanted to replace Devin Singletary every offseason. But his 0.23 broken tackles per touch were second most among regular backs in 2021. His 203-pound weight belies a 31.8 BMI that lands him in the range of typical workhorse backs if at a smaller stature of 5-foot-7. And those BMI thresholds aren't completely arbitrary. Over the last five seasons, players with BMIs below 28.0 took just 7.5% of all running back carries. And those players accounted for an even smaller 5.5% of running back seasons with 150 or more carries.
Jameson Williams, WR, Detroit Lions
96.5 PPR points
Williams nearly matched Chris Olave with a 19.0% touchdown rate at Alabama in 2021 and crosses what seems like an important threshold for his professional touchdown potential at 6-foot-2. He might have been the first receiver drafted if not for his ACL tear in the NCAA National Championship Game. But that injury dropped Williams to 12th in the draft and drops him to 10th in projected rookie scoring. KUBIAK estimates Williams will make his Lions debut between Weeks 7 and 10—the same schedule as John Metchie III on the Texans. And while that delay may render him unworthy of a shallow fantasy league draft pick, Williams has top-30 wide receiver potential in the second half of the season and will at least merit a speculative in-season pick-up.
Just Missed the Top 12
Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
84.0 PPR points
Even with Leonard Fournette as an incumbent No. 1 back, the Bucs have 111 vacated carries and catches from Ronald Jones, who left for the Chiefs in free agency. Former third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn could grab that work, but his meager totals of 26 and 36 carries the last two seasons suggest he has yet to earn those opportunities on the practice field. White has a similar pedigree as a third-round rookie. But at 6-foot-0 and 214 pounds (29.0 BMI) with an 18.5% college receiving ratio, White fits the profiles of third-round sleeper hits DeMarco Murray (6-foot-0, 213 pounds, 17.1% college receiving ratio) and Kenyan Drake (6-foot-1, 210 pounds, 16.5% college receiving ratio). And BackCAST loved White, ranking him second and comparing him to Murray as well.
George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
80.1 PPR points
Pickens may not scream "fantasy sleeper" as the 11th receiver drafted—and on a Steelers team with talented receivers ahead of him in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool and possibly less talent at quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett. But Pickens has excellent measurements at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds with a 4.47s 40 time. He likely fell at least somewhat because of an ACL tear that limited him to five catches in his final junior season but that he's recovered from now. And it's difficult to ignore the just-retired general manager Kevin Colbert's incredible track record of receiver draft hits on Day 2 and 3. Since 2009, Colbert hit on Mike Wallace in the third round, Antonio Brown in the sixth, Emmanuel Sanders in the third, JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second, Johnson in the third, and Claypool in the second. That is a trustworthy track record.
Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans
79.8 PPR points
Pierce is the only Day 3 prospect that threatens the top 12 rookie KUBIAK projections. A bit of that is profile. He checks my preferred potential workload boxes at 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds (31.3 BMI) with a 12.0% college receiving ratio. But more of it comes from his landing spot. The Texans have a crowded running back room with Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, and Royce Freeman in the mix with Pierce. But those veterans combined for fewer than 200 carries in 2021 and seem more like placeholders than candidates for future roles with a rebuilding team.
Wan'Dale Robinson, WR, New York Giants
77.6 PPR points
Robinson was Playmaker Score's favorite sleeper, and the Giants supported that choice with his selection at 43rd overall ahead of more touted receiver prospects such as George Pickens, Alec Pierce, and Skyy Moore. With a modest projection of fewer than 50 targets, Robinson trails that trio for now. But a rumored Kadarius Toney trade would open a starting spot that could catapult Robinson into the top 10 in rookie projections.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons
128.7 PPR points
Expected To Start By: Week 7-13
Ridder's draft selection at 74th overall may foreshadow a career as a backup. But on a rebuilding Falcons team that looked like the worst in football even before trading Matt Ryan for Marcus Mariota at quarterback, Ridder may play for the reason Davis Mills played for the Texans last season. Why not evaluate a prospect if you can't make the playoffs? That isn't exactly a recipe for fantasy success. But Ridder could be more valuable as a rookie in fantasy than he is in real life because he can run. He may not have their twitch, Ridder's 27.8% run ratio, matched those of Kyler Murray (27.9%) and Justin Fields (27.4%) from their college days.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
88.2 PPR points
Expected To Start By: Week 7-not this season
Pickett was the lone Day 1 quarterback pick and may start in Week 1 if he impresses the Steelers in the preseason. But unlike the Falcons, the Steelers likely consider themselves contenders with their defense and a veteran quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. As such, KUBIAK projects a Pickett takeover in Week 7 or later and has him with fewer projected points than Ridder despite the two-round gap in their draft selections.
Matt Corral, QB, Carolina Panthers
61.9 PPR points
Expected To Start By: Week 10-not this season
The Panthers think they're the Steelers. But they are probably the Falcons. Third-year head coach Matt Rhule may need a playoff trajectory to keep his job and will likely make his quarterback decisions because of it. But his veteran option is Sam Darnold, whose -31.6% passing DVOA was second worst of regular starters in 2021. It's fair to bet on some late-season Matt Corral starts, either as a Rhule Hail Mary or if Rhule is fired.
Malik Willis, QB, Tennessee Titans
24.9 PPR points
Expected To Start By: Week 18-not this season
Thanks to his standout 35.9% college run ratio, Willis could be the Jalen Hurts of his class with immediate top-10 fantasy productivity. But even relative to the limited Hurts, Willis is less ready for NFL starts. He threw just 618 combined pass attempts in four seasons split between Auburn and Liberty. And scouts report that Willis either needs work with his progressions or is simply unable to read chunks of the middle of the field at his smaller stature of 6-foot-1. On a Titans team that was the No. 1 seed in the AFC in 2021, it's a recipe for a redshirt year. Willis' 42.8 projected pass attempts come from a chance of a Week 18 start—like Patrick Mahomes saw in an unimportant Chiefs finale in 2017—or a Ryan Tannehill injury.