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Surprising Fantasy Football Performances & What to Expect in 2022

by Jason Kamlowsky | Featured Writer
Jan 13, 2022
Surprising Fantasy Football Performances & What to Expect in 2022

With the rules of the NFL skewing towards favoring offenses, it should come as no surprise that 2021 was a record-breaking fantasy season. Cooper Kupp headlines things (and rightfully so) with his ‘Triple Crown’ of statistical dominance at the receiver position but among other records that fell:

  • Jaylen Waddle broke Anquan Boldin’s record for receptions by a rookie with 104
  • Tom Brady broke Drew Brees’s record for completions in a season with 471
  • Mike Evans extended his streak of consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to eight
  • T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan’s record for sacks in a season with 22.5

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The NFL is in a really healthy place with talent right now, which makes it an exciting product to be a part of. Players like Waddle headline a terrific young crop of receivers but what makes this special is that veterans like Brady are still producing at a high level as well. There are plenty of performances from the 2021 season that were memorable but with that also comes the question of whether or not they are sustainable for 2022.

I’ve outlined eight players below that had surprising performances this year, almost all of which I expect to have statistical regression in 2022. Some, like Kupp, are a victim of their own success because he had arguably the best season for a wide receiver in league history. Others, like James Conner and Zeke Elliott, are volume-based concerns for me and I would be betting against them being this productive again.

I think looking at surprise performances is a good exercise in seeing where your blinders might have been heading into this year. For instance, how did we “miss” on Kupp’s big year? Should we have seen it coming? Same with Tom Brady finishing as a top-3 QB and Deebo Samuel finishing as the WR3. As we continue to look back over the next few weeks, I’m sure we will see other places that surprised and there are some I missed. Leave yours in the comments or on Twitter so we can have some dialogue about these players and be better prepared for 2022.

Cooper Kupp (WR – LAR) wins the Triple Crown

How good was Cooper Kupp’s 2022 fantasy season? Consider this:

  • His 145 receptions rank 2nd all-time
  • His 1,947 receiving yards ranks 2nd all-time
  • His 16 receiving touchdowns rank 5th all-time

Kupp is one of two receivers in NFL history to record 100+ receptions, 1,500+ yards, and 15+ touchdowns in the same year (the other? Randy Moss in 2003). Some would view his season as a product of Bob Woods getting injured, and to an extent, that is true. In 7 games without Woods (including Week 10 when he tore his ACL), Kupp amassed 91 targets, 64 receptions, 810 yards, and six touchdowns. His volume got propped up a bit without Woods (he was averaging just over 10 targets with Woods healthy compared to 13 without him) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Kupp was scoring touchdowns with more regularity with Woods in the lineup (10 in 10 games as compared to five in the seven games Woods missed) and he was still on a 1,400-yard pace. Seeing as where Kupp’s consensus ADP in PPR leagues was around 44, making him a 3rd/4th Round selection, he one of the best bargains in fantasy this year. Either way, this is a once-in-a-decade type fantasy season for a wide receiver so we should temper our expectations going into next season.

The question we have to answer for 2022 with Kupp is how much regression he’ll face. I would have no issue with taking him in the 2nd Round in PPR leagues and maybe higher. Even if he produces at 80% of what he did this year, he’d be on pace for 111 receptions, 1,400 yards, and 12 touchdowns. That type of production would still make him the WR4 this season. Kupp will likely be drafted behind Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and possibly Ja’Marr Chase, which is something I am comfortable with. As long as you understand how historic his 2021 season was, you shouldn’t be disappointed with next year’s production.

Ezekiel Elliott (DAL – RB) was the RB6 while Tony Pollard was the RB29

Elliott finished as the overall RB6 despite having the worst statistical season of his career. Elliott finished with just 915 yards but was boosted by 10 rushing touchdowns. To their credit, the Cowboys did a great job of limiting Elliott’s overall workload to keep him healthy, and that allowed him to play 16 games. The concern here is obvious as Elliott’s massive workload over his first few seasons has already caught up with him to some degree. Elliott can’t handle 300+ touches at this point, so he will need to maintain his Red Zone role to continue to be an RB1.

The other factor here is that Tony Pollard looked tremendous this season. He averaged 5.5 YPC and went over 1,000 total yards on the season. The reason he finished only as the RB29 is that he didn’t score a single touchdown this year. If Pollard can eat into Zeke’s touchdown equity, you’ll see Elliott’s fantasy production crater while Pollard would sneak into the top-24 at the position. I’d much prefer Pollard in 2022 and would target him heavily in dynasty formats this offseason. 

Tom Brady (QB – TB) finished as the QB3

Brady is arguably the best quarterback in history but the fact he is still producing at such a high level in his age-44 season is amazing. His top-3 finish as the position showed that he still has a lot left in the tank. He attempted a whopping 719 passes this year on his way to leading the league in completions (NFL-record 471), passing yards (5,316 – also a career-best) and touchdowns (43). Tampa Bay was ravaged by injuries (Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette were all lost at some point) and the antics of Antonio Brown. Despite that, Brady led the Buccaneers to a 13-4 record and made Cyril Grayson fantasy relevant in Week 17 against the Jets. 

Betting against Brady will typically lose you money but I would be surprised if he was able to replicate his 2022 season and finish as a top-5 quarterback.

Deebo Samuel (SF – WR) finished as the WR3

This one pains me to put here. Samuel finished as a top-3 WR this season, proving to be one of the best bargains in fantasy football. Coming off an injury in the preseason that saw his ADP get nicked, Samuel came out of the gate strong with a 189-yard performance in a Week 1 victory over Detroit. He continued to produce as a receiver, but midway through the season with the 49ers depleted at running back, Samuel took on more work out of the backfield. 

Beginning in Week 11, Samuel saw only 34 targets the rest of the season. San Francisco began to lean on him in the Red Zone as a rusher and, while his touchdowns spiked, he only caught 24 passes over his last seven games. Samuels’ 115 targets ranked 20th among receivers, so despite his overall production, he got by on rushing volume and an increased touchdown efficiency. With Trey Lance set to take over next season for a 49ers offense that is already one of the more run-heavy schemes in the NFL, Samuel will struggle to finish in the top-5 at the position again in 2022.

James Conner (RB – ARZ) was a top-5 running back in PPR

Conner came into the season as the RB32 per our expert rankings behind both Trey Sermon and Ronald Jones. Chase Edmonds was expected to get the early-down and passing game work and Conner was left for dead by most in the fantasy managers. After a slow start, he seized the Red Zone role and never looked back. He ended up scoring 16 total touchdowns, a career-best, and he also benefited from a mid-season Edmonds injury. Conner was a weekly RB1 – even in PPR formats – and he ended up carrying teams for the better part of the season. He finished the season as the overall RB5, something few saw coming back in August.

Playing in the Arizona offense certainly benefited Conner this year. He is a pending free agent and could command attention on the open market, however, his best bet is to try and re-sign with the Cardinals. Either way, he won’t repeat his performance in 2022 as touchdown regression is likely to come for him. If he falls into that of a timeshare role, he will settle in more as an RB2/RB3. 

Dawson Knox (BUF – TE) finishes as TE10

Knox reminds me a little of Robert Tonyan from last year at this time. If you recall, Tonyan scored a touchdown on 20% of his catches last season. Knox is in a similar position, but with less volume as he scored nine touchdowns on just 46 receptions this year. Touchdown regression could hit Knox hard and if it does, a top-10 positional finish won’t happen again.

Hunter Renfrow (LV – WR) finished as the WR10

Renfrow finished as a WR1 in PPR on the strength of 100+ catches, 1,000+ yards, and nine touchdowns. This was due in large part to Henry Ruggs being cut and Darren Waller missing six games due to injury. Renfrow proved to be one of the lone weapons for the Raiders as he led the team with 128 targets but he also had an incredible 80.4% catch rate. 

Renfrow had an aDOT of just 6.5 yards which ranks in the bottom 10% of the position. With Waller coming back and the Raiders likely to add a receiver through the draft or free agency, Renfrow should settle in as a lower-tier WR2 in 2022. Don’t pay the freight in drafts heading into next year. 

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Jason Kamlowsky is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JasonKamlowsky.

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