2022 Fantasy Football Nexus: ConnectionsIf we were to artistically model the 2021 season out of clay, what would the basis of your design be? For me, I would probably go with a Cincinnati Bengals theme and work it from there.
There are strong Fantasy tendrils that stretch into 2022 from the offense of that team. As things stand, the Bengals are arguably the hottest team for emerging Fantasy prospects.
One sneaky way to get a grasp on what is to come next season is to look at the games initially selected for Sunday Night Football when the new schedule comes out. These games merit careful examination by the network’s inner circle to present the best entertainment for a nationwide audience.
Needless to say, we will see an increase in the number of games involving the Bengals in prime time come 2022. Cincinnati had just one prime time game in 2021 – Week 4 versus the Jaguars on Thursday night.
In Fantasy, we don’t base everything around certain teams and their outlooks as a whole, of course, but we do prefer guys who play in high-octane offenses. After all, the touchdown is our “Fantasy fist pump,” which we count on to win championships.
We still have new coaches, free agency, the combine, the draft, off-season trades, and all that other stuff to sort out before we can begin to hone any serious projections. We haven’t even had Super Bowl LVI yet.
With all that in mind, I will take what we have at this point and peer into 2022 as we begin to sculpt a vision with a fresh block of clay.
2022 Fantasy Football Nexus: Connections
The selection of players I chose for this grouping have high target temperatures as we exit 2021. We expect them to have solid floors and rise to or maintain high tiers for weekly production. They say, “never chase the Fantasy points of a previous season,” but these guys saw a major surge in their Fantasy trust to go beyond that.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
He set franchise records for passing and nearly went over 1000 total yards in his final two starts of 2021. Burrow will have Fantasy managers privately deliberating whether or not they should draft him in an early round. It’s not a bad plan, providing you can circumvent the difficulties of such an unorthodox approach. Pairing Burrow with one of the studs, including Tyler Boyd, could give you a powerful “set and forget” points bloc.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Like Burrow, Herbert has a strong receiver group. Only he and Tom Brady surpassed 5000 yards in 2021. His 2021 season overall was solid enough, but with more floor than ceiling results. If the Chargers can increase Herbert’s pass protection in the off-season, then we will see him elevate to another level. Thus, his target temperature for 2022 remains red hot because Fantasy knows Herbert’s star quality upside.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Once again, Josh Allen holds his ground as the top Fantasy quarterback. For all his excellence, however, the Fantasy coattails were somewhat short for Stefon Diggs and the other downfielders on the Bills. Considering that Diggs finished with a robust 1225 receiving yards, the week-to-week production netted him only two 100+ games. Allen remains the first quarterback off the draft board, but any pairing ideas will need to go through Gabriel Davis.
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee hit 1200 yards this season, which put him fourth among running backs. More importantly, for Fantasy PPR formats, he topped the list for RB receptions with 74. With Ben Roethlisberger bidding farewell, concerns about fewer checkdown catches will undoubtedly enter the conversation. Nevertheless, Najee will continue to serve as a solid RB1 regardless, and any shift downward in receiving totals will likely be minor, if at all.
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
With Melvin Gordon entering free agency, the road for Javonte Williams looks promising as the true lead back for the Broncos. Williams and Gordon posted nearly identical ground statistics throughout 2021. Gordon came up with the higher number of touchdowns, 10-7, but Williams handled 15 more touches through the air, 53-38. We only need to see what the backfield philosophy of the new coach of the Broncos has in mind.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Would you draft Austin Ekeler ahead of Derrick Henry? I’m sure some might consider it. He led all running backs in receptions with 647 yards on 70 receptions, well ahead of Cordarrelle Patterson with 548. At age 26, Ekeler is Herbert’s go-to guy for checkdown options, and he has yet to lose a step. He also leads a solid backfield relief crew that do not overeat into his production.
Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
For obvious reasons, we’ll hear more about Ja’Marr Chase this off-season, but Jaylen Waddle also piled up a solid Fantasy stake in his own right. A new coach, a new system, may actually increase Waddle’s value in 2022. Waddle only had six touchdowns in 2021 to compliment his 1000+ yard season, but in a way, that only serves to entertain the notion of upward expectations, which seems more than likely. Definitely a high-temp target for everyone.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
People appear surprised to learn that the rookie Amon-Ra is the brother of the Packers’ Equanimeous St. Brown. He was a breakout curiosity late in 2021, and ever since his cardiac touchdown catch in Week 13, his targets never went below 10. Before Week 13, his usual share was four per game. Not only that, Dan Campbell tried to get the ball in his hands with numerous gadgetries and RPOs. A player of hot topical target debate this off-season.
Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
Mooney came into 2021 with projected Fantasy upside, and he did not disappoint, despite an often sputtering offense and patchy quarterback play. He supplanted Allen Robinson very early in 2021 as the top receiver for the Bears. Most of us expected this change in the pecking order, sort of, but now that everyone is certain of it, Mooney becomes an important Fantasy stock entering 2022 with definite draft target heat coming his way.
Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills
Although he laid a terrible egg for those starting him in their Fantasy championships in Week 17, Knox had eight finishes inside the top 12 in 2021. He will likely hover around the same draft level as TE10 next season, but in his third year he made a dramatic stat leap. Knox found the end zone nine times, and his total yardage more than doubled from 288 to 576 this year. Knox has a very real shot of joining the tight end elite in 2022.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Andrews was already among the elite tight ends entering 2021, but he even far out-performed Travis Kelce. This was Andrews’ first 1000+ yard season with heavy targets. Most owners who won a championship with him will point to his strong weekly output as a primary reason. His quarterback-proof ability stunned even those same owners. Andrews might get an inflated ADP from this by the summer, but man, it’s hard not to justify it.
Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
Could Schultz see a 1000+ yard season with Dak Prescott in 2022? You can’t dismiss the possibility. Schultz is a firm piece of the Dallas offense now and had over 100 targets in 2021. This is up from 89 in 2020. Not only that, the receptions went up, the yardage went up, the touchdowns went up, but most importantly, his field presence went up. If Schultz isn’t one of your hot targets entering 2022, he should be.
The players I selected for this list have conflicting issues regarding higher Fantasy target temperatures. Some are possible bounce-back candidates. Others barely or just mildly met their expectations. This also includes those once prominent stars developing “Fantasy Frost” in their outlook for 2022. Generally, these players have lost some of the Fantasy appeal or zest compared with those mentioned above.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson finished 2021, essentially the final four games, on the sidelines with an injury. Even before that eventuality, Lamar had just three top-5 finishes. Considering his high draft ADP of 5th among quarterbacks, Jackson continued slipping to roughly 7th and, with the injury, ended up at 14th. While getting healthy is his focus this off-season, Fantasy observers may be critical of the prospects of a bounce-back. Whatever happens, the shine has left Jackson.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
A future with the Seahawks? The messages seem just as mixed now as they were before the season. Although Wilson blasted holes in the notion that he was harming the Fantasy value of D.K. Metcalf with a late-season bonanza, it seemed like cold comfort. Recency bias doesn’t have the same glow with Wilson as it used to. He is off the Fantasy boil as long as he remains in Seattle – possibly reviewable. Another team? Definitely reviewable.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rookie busts are common at quarterback but coupled with a bad team, a bad coach, and a dubious corps of receivers, Lawrence had little chance. It’s the same old story for quarterbacks on this team. But can I say that Minshew, and yes, even Bortles, looked like better quarterbacks? The speed of pro defenders overwhelmed Lawrence; rookie QBs often remark on this aspect. But Lawrence seems to lack that youthful invention that guys like Burrow and Herbert possess.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott played through a knee injury throughout most of 2021 and wore a brace in the latter part. On numerous occasions, Tony Pollard looked like the more explosive back. Following the Dallas bye in Week 7, Zeke dropped more Fantasy duds than we’d prefer to know. Yet, he was still able to manage a respectable 1000+ yard rushing season. He will enter 2022 as a much softer Fantasy target, but at age 27, a turnaround remains entirely possible.
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
The early promise ultimately ended in collapse. A late block of games with Swift sidelined with a shoulder injury further stitched him in as a Fantasy disappointment. However, Swift’s ADP should see some interesting twists and upturns as the improving Detroit offense we saw begins to sink in. Although his target temperature may seem lukewarm to some right now, I think Swift’s upside could reap dividends in 2022.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
He was RB7 in the consensus rankings before the 2021 season. Even back then, I found it difficult to imagine Barkley could assume that spot and produce the goods at that level. Although Devontae Booker played in more games, he had fewer carries with exactly the same 593 yards as Barkley. It was a Trent Richardson 2013 type of season. Saquon will turn 25 in February, and the Fantasy lights are dimming.
D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
This one really hurt. Metcalf’s 2021 preseason ECR was WR6. His WR12 finish is deceptive and doesn’t tell the whole story. The following seven weeks, after the Seattle bye, Metcalf was darn near “rage drop” territory. We all know the Seahawks’ offensive woes this season, but we also know Metcalf is too talented to throw into the Fantasy freezer. For now, we need to look at him as a medium-temperature target option.
Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team
McLaurin just did not have enough weeks of scoring. The second half of 2021 was particularly bad for his Fantasy owners. With a game-managing quarterback, any talented receiver would endure similar Fantasy lag. When your quarterback is averaging just under 200 yards in the second half of the season, there’s not much to eat. Until Washington finds a more ideal passer, McLaurin remains adrift in Fantasy limbo.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Like his Ole Miss brother, D.K. Metcalf, Brown’s Fantasy season was also a frustrating one. In addition, a three-week injury hampered his stats, and he finished far worse than Metcalf at WR32. With Derrick Henry, we should expect Brown to be an effective play-action recipient almost every week. In games where his target-catch ratio was low, so were his Fantasy points. Tannehill’s accuracy problems, perhaps? For now, Brown goes to medium heat.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
Even before Waller’s long-term injury outage, owners knew the bust had already arrived. It started off so well, too. Waller looked like a beast in Week 1 with 10 receptions on 19 targets. Granted, no one expected that kind of weekly feasting, but it went downhill quickly. Waller ultimately looked like an average TE2 by the time of his injury. His Fantasy trust took a severe hit, but 2022 should eventually see a revival of interest and a second chance.
Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
I do not want to hear any more Heath Miller comparisons. Pat Freiermuth didn’t exactly magnetize Fantasy interest this season to match the in-season hype. Instead, Dalton Schultz of the Cowboys wins the award for best tight end uptick. The production for Freiermuth wasn’t bad for his TE2 tier, but with Ben out of the scene now, what can we expect? Freiermuth will likely have Fantasy targeting interest above freezing and that’s it.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford never really made a point of targeting tight ends in Detroit, so why should it be any different now? Higbee hit the top TE award in Week 18, but overall, his 2021 output looked much the same as in 2020. This is not to say that Higbee’s target temperature is entirely mild, but there’s just no more upside in the cupboard. Robert Woods will return, spreading the downfield target “Kupp deficiency” to not only Higbee but Van Jefferson as well.
In the Nexus to Follow
Next time I will examine more players who didn’t break any barriers in 2021 but may become topical as this off-season goes along.
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