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Players to Target Pre-Free Agency and NFL Draft (2022 Fantasy Football)

Players to Target Pre-Free Agency and NFL Draft (2022 Fantasy Football)

The NFL is a year-round league. Fans and gamers always have something to look forward to. Now, more than ever, gamers are drafting at all points of the year. This period of the offseason is prime for speculation. According to Sporting News, the legal tampering period for free agency is from March 14 through March 16, and the start of free agency is 4:00 p.m. ET on March 16. Then, the NFL Draft runs from April 28 through April 30. There will be tons of player movement over the next two months, and the average draft position (ADP) for players changes drastically. As a result, I love participating in best ball drafts and making educated guesses about which players will rise and fall up and down draft boards. Below, I highlight four players that I expect to benefit from their team’s activity or inactivity in the coming months.

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Gabriel Davis (WR – BUF): 66.3 ADP Underdog Fantasy Pre-Draft Best Ball, WR32

Gabriel Davis has been the talk of fantasy gamers and analysts since his eruption in Buffalo’s Divisional Round playoff loss to the Chiefs. Predictably, recency bias from torching Kansas City for eight receptions, 201 receiving yards, and four touchdowns on 10 targets has made him a polarizing player. His proponents see an ascending young receiver in a high-octane offense. His detractors see a player that spent a significant chunk of 2021 behind Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Emmanuel Sanders in the receiving corps, saying nothing of Dawson Knox‘s emergence at tight end.

Yes, Davis’s playoff outburst was clearly an outlier. Nevertheless, he ascended the pecking order late in the year. Now, Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie are free agents, and Beasley was granted permission to seek a trade. Further, Beasley is a cap-casualty candidate if the Bills cannot find a trade suitor.

Do I expect the Bills to ignore the receiver position if Sanders, McKenzie, and Beasley aren’t retained? No. That’s silly. They’ll obviously address the position. Still, there are entirely logical and reasonable paths to Davis being Buffalo’s No. 2 receiver behind Diggs. First, the Bills could sign a veteran in the Sanders mold after taking a one-year flier on him in 2021.

Second, they could invest a pick after the first round on the position, something that wouldn’t be shocking given the opinion of many draft pundits the position is deep, and Buffalo’s track record with Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott as the general manager and head coach. McDermott was hired before the 2017 NFL Draft, and Beane was hired after it. Buffalo picked Zay Jones in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Yet, since Beane joined the fray, Davis was their earliest-picked wideout in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. Instead, they’ve signed veterans like John Brown, Beasley, and Sanders and traded their first-round pick in the loaded receiver class of 2020 for Diggs. I don’t think that means they’ll never spend an early pick on a receiver, but it might indicate they prefer veterans and mid-round investments at the position.

But, of course, the Bills had a meeting with one of the top receiver prospects, Jameson Williams, at the combine. In the linked article, Williams indicated he’s aiming to return by training camp. Nevertheless, he tore his ACL in the National Championship Game on January 10, 2022. So, despite Williams’ optimism, the timeline is murky for an immediate impact in 2022. The Bills could also draft a receiver that profiles better for the slot, leaving Davis and Diggs to man the perimeter.

Regardless, according to Pro Football Focus, out of 72 receivers targeted at least 40 times, including the postseason, Davis was 13th in Yards per Route Run (2.03 Y/RR). In addition, according to our red zone stats, Davis was tied for 13th among receivers with 18 red zone targets, despite his rotational role. The soon-to-be third-year pro is a weapon in the scoring territory at worst and a burgeoning No. 2 receiver in an uptempo, pass-happy offense led by one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks. If you think his ADP is crazy now, wait until you see what happens if Buffalo invests minimally in their pass-catching corps in the next two months.

Leonard Fournette (RB – FA): 78.4 ADP, RB25

I have a lengthy history of criticizing Leonard Fournette. Still, it’s best to reassess players regularly with new data. Fournette has distanced himself from an eight-game sophomore campaign, improved his receiving chops, and become more efficient. According to Pro-Football-Reference, his 5.1 yards per touch in 2021 were the highest mark of his career.

He’s a free agent. However, he’s still on the right side of 30, turning 27 years old back in January. Beyond the surface stats, Fournette looked sharp last year. According to Pro Football Focus, out of 58 running backs with at least 75 rush attempts, including the postseason, Fournette was 20th in Yards After Contact per Attempt (3.11 YCO/A), 23rd in missed tackles forced (30), and tied for 21st in 15-plus yard runs (seven).

Further, according to Pro Football Focus, out of 66 running backs with at least 20 targets, including the postseason, Fournette was 27th in Yards per Route Run (1.26 Y/RR). Moreover, he had Pro Football Focus’s 26th pass-blocking grade out of the same sample of running backs. Essentially, he has proven his chops as an every-down back. But, obviously, it’s unclear where he’ll land as a free agent. Nonetheless, he no longer profiles as an inefficient two-down banger with below-average pass-catching skills. On the contrary, he can do everything at an average or better level, making him a strong candidate for a bell-cow role on any team he joins. As a result, I think he’s currently priced closer to his floor than his ceiling.

Joshua Palmer (WR – LAC): 131.2 ADP, WR59

Donald Parham (TE – LAC): 226.3, TE28

I want pass-catchers with the potential to be integral parts of a Justin Herbert-led offense. Joshua Palmer and Donald Parham fit the bill, with receiver Mike Williams and tight end Jared Cook free agents. Williams is a candidate to be franchise tagged even if the team can’t agree on a long-term deal with the big-bodied wideout. Meanwhile, Cook is 34 years old, and his 6.8 yards per target and 1.18 Y/RR were his lowest marks since 2015 and in his career, respectively. Therefore, I expect the Chargers to move on from the veteran tight end.

According to Spotrac, the Chargers have the second-most projected cap space. So, they could make splashes at wide receiver or tight end in free agency. Additionally, they could add to either or both position groups in the draft. However, the Chargers invested a third-round pick in last year’s draft on Palmer, and he flashed his potential — which I noted when calling him an undervalued player in early February.

According to our Fantasy Football Leaders tool, in half-point point-per-reception (PPR) leagues from Week 14 through Week 18, Palmer was WR34 and WR40 in per-game scoring among the receivers that played more than two games. As a result, even if Williams is a Charger again in 2022, there’s room for him to generate a profit at his current ADP.

Finally, Parham is a low-cost, Dawson Knox-inspired dart throw. According to Pro Football Focus, Cook ran a tight-end-room high 477 routes. Meanwhile, Parham ran only 154 routes. However, Parham’s 1.23 Y/RR and 76.9 reception% were better than Cook’s 1.18 Y/RR and 60.8 reception%. So, if the Chargers don’t make a significant investment at the position, Parham should do more than Cook if he inherits the vacated routes. Further, Parham is only 24-years old with a tantalizing athletic profile, leaving reason to believe he has room for improvement.

Circling back to Knox, he broke out in his age-24 season in Buffalo’s high-octane offense led by a strong-armed quarterback. In 2020, 26-year-old Robert Tonyan was a surprise performer in Green Bay’s high-octane offense. Are you noticing a theme? When in doubt, roll the dice on young or young-ish tight ends in high-scoring offenses. Knox and Tonyan burst into the top-10 tight ends with nine touchdowns and 11 touchdowns as favorites in the red zone of talented quarterbacks leading elite offenses.

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If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.

Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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