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Erickson vs. 2022 Fantasy Football Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR)

May 19, 2022


 
Throughout history, we have witnessed some of the world’s greatest versus matchups. Tom Brady (QB – TB) versus Peyton Manning. Man versus Food. Mayo versus Miracle Whip. But never has there been a more pressing battle of man versus machine conducted, until I decided to go mano a mano with the FantasyPros 2022 ECR rankings.

There’s a plethora of players across the three main skill positions — RB, WR, and TE — that differ drastically from the consensus ranking, putting me in a position to defend my own 2022 fantasy football rankings and lay out the argument for why this player will be a bust/value in 2022 fantasy football.

Let the battle royale commence.

Cam Akers (RB – LAR)

Starting at the top is running back Cam Akers. I have Akers ranked as a back-end RB1, while the ECR has him sitting lower at RB16. The ECR also aligns with the early best ball ADP.

It’s clear that the experts and sharps are convinced that Akers sucks at football after he averaged an abysmal 2.4 yards per carry during the 2021 season after returning from his Achilles injury — the worst mark of any running back with at least 70 carries. But his inefficient production is partially related to the juggernaut of run defenses he faced down the stretch — San Francisco 49ers (twice) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — when in fact no Rams RB ran efficiently. 95% of his rushing yards in 2021 came after contact — the highest mark in the NFL.

There’s simply too much emphasis placed on Akers’ production when touch volume is the key driver to fantasy success at running back. In the Rams’ divisional playoff win versus the Buccaneers, Akers played 81% of the Los Angeles offensive snaps and out-touched Sony Michel (RB – MIA) (signed with Miami this offseason) 27 to three.

I expect Akers to be dialed back in as the top RB next season in Sean McVay’s consistent 1RB offense, where the team’s lead back averages 20-plus touches per game.

Not to mention, Akers has a cakewalk of soft-run defenses to open the season against the Bills, Falcons and Cardinals. Won’t take long for Akers to pay off his early Round 4 ADP in a high-powered offense.

 

Ezekiel Elliott (RB – DAL)

One of the most polarizing players heading into this fantasy football season has to be Dallas Cowboys running back, Ezekiel Elliott. I was in on Elliott last year as a first-round pick and he chugged along to an RB6 finish. But that was more due to Elliott’s ability to stay healthy and play 16 games. Because on a per-game basis, he ranked as the RB16 in points per game. So it’s unsurprising to find that Elliott was voted FantasyPros most overrated player by consensus on Big D.

The Dallas Cowboys running back finished fifth-worst in PFF’s elusive rating (25.0) and averaged fewer fantasy points per game than in 2020 (14.6 versus 15.4) in a better offensive situation. Now there is a caveat with Zeke’s inefficient rushing that he reportedly played last season with a torn PCL.

And the splits before and after when he got hurt do lend some semblance that he looked closer to his spry and efficient self pre-injury.

 

However, history doesn’t necessarily indicate that Elliott is in for a major comeback in 2022 based on running backs that have had similar careers.

Steven Jackson, Walter Payton and Clinton Portis profile closest to Elliott based on their workloads and age per Stathead.com. Each running back totaled over 1,800 touches prior to their age-27 season.

But the feedback was negative with each running back seeing a dip in average PPR points per game (1.34) and total fantasy points (-18). And that came with each of them still seeing 370-plus touches on the season.

Elliott hit a career-low in total touches (284) and touches per game last season (16.7) — nearly three fewer than in 2020.

Now Dallas has every right to feed Zeke to their heart’s desire with an out in his contract at the end of the season. But they are also in the business of winning games and understand that Elliott breaking down at the end of last season did not help the offense.

Meanwhile, backup running back Tony Pollard (RB – DAL) quietly averaged 11.3 touches — three more than the year prior — and flashed elite rushing ability as PFF’s second-highest graded rusher.

I hate to be the one to bury an older running back as washed, as that burned me last season somewhat with the likes of James Conner (RB – ARI) and Leonard Fournette (RB – TB). However, I am not overly sold that Elliott is going to be a volume monster in 2022 after the team dialed back his usage while Pollard continues to impress at every opportunity he receives.

And even if Elliott’s efficiency increases slightly after a lackluster season, the Cowboys’ offensive line might mitigate any of those benefits if they take a step back with a plethora of moving pieces.

If Zeke follows in the same path as the previous backs I’ve mentioned, he’s looking at 235 fantasy points (low-end RB1 last season) if he plays a full slate of games. But his points per game fall in the back-end RB2 range at RB22 averaging 13.5 points per game.

*denotes projection

Simply put: Elliott's main fantasy appeal is the touchdown opportunity he will see in a high-powered offense. And chances are he probably will beat his ADP because he is an Iron Man and doesn't miss games.

Even the greatest Zeke stans will admit the ride for him to finish as RB10-12 hardly will feel like a winning selection when he's hanging middling RB2 production most weeks. He's finished as a top-12 fantasy RB1 in just 35% of his games the past two seasons.

I don't think he ends up being a true-difference maker at this stage in his career, and the cost of drafting him over league-winning WRs in this range is something I can't justify. Keep in mind that 13.5 PPR points per game equated to the WR29 last season.

And if the sole argument for drafting Zeke is touchdowns (valid argument) why not just draft Josh Jacobs (RB - LV) at RB23 ADP (ECR RB21) instead? Or guys like Antonio Gibson (RB - WAS), Elijah Mitchell (RB - SF), Damien Harris (RB - NE) and David Montgomery (RB - CHI), who all finished as RB1s at a similar percentage (greater than 32%) in 2021?

Marquise Brown (WR - ARI)

Marquise Brown seems slated for a massive target share in the Arizona Cardinals' pass-heavy offense, especially with DeAndre Hopkins (WR - ARI) suspended for the first six weeks of the season. The speedster has already shown the ability to command targets at a high rate after posting a top 12 24% target share last year with Baltimore.

And Brown already commanded a whopping 27% target share back in 2018 at Oklahoma -- the last time he played with his new NFL quarterback Kyler Murray (QB - ARI).

Brown's role in the offense will likely be of the Christian Kirk (WR - JAC) variety as a vertical slot player that thrives off big plays. Kirk made the most of his opportunities -- WR12 during the last four weeks without Hopkins in the lineup -- so I'd bet Brown does the same.

The Cardinals paid a premium to acquire Brown, so fantasy managers should expect them to use him plenty. Hopkins was peppered with the second-most targets after Arizona traded for him in 2020.

Brown's the perfect fit with Murray, who finished last season as PFF's highest-graded passer on 20-plus air yard throws. The former Ravens wide receiver desperately needed a more accurate downfield passer after catching just five of 30 deep balls last season (16.7%) with Baltimore.

So to see Brown at ECR WR27 makes no sense to me at all. The advantage he will give teams as he comes out the gates guns blazing with an easy opening schedule makes him worth a top-20 ranking.

Diontae Johnson (WR - PIT)

Diontae Johnson's ECR of WR13 is super aggressive. It's vastly higher than my rank (WR23) and slightly ahead of the early best ball ADP (WR15). And it's a ridiculous price to pay up even for a target hog like Johnson when he is almost surely going to see inefficient targets.

Too often last season, I was drafting WRs in the third and fourth round that projected to be target magnets with bad quarterbacks -- Terry McLaurin (WR - WAS), D.J. Moore (WR - CAR) -- and those ended up being poor fantasy selections. Johnson looks like he is in that similar ilk, so I am hesitant to get excited about drafting/ranking highly.

Let's not forget that last year's heavily-coveted rookie quarterback class produced almost zero reliable options outside of Brandin Cooks (WR - HOU) (WR20), Jakobi Meyers (WR - NE) (WR33) and Kendrick Bourne (WR - NE) (WR30). New Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett (QB - PIT) by most accounts would be drafted after all the 2021 signal-callers, so what makes the experts so confident that he can fuel a fringe WR1 season for Johnson?

Especially considering Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky (QB - PIT) have zero ties to Johnson being their primary target. Chase Claypool (WR - PIT), Pat Freiermuth (TE - PIT), George Pickens (WR - PIT) and Calvin Austin III (WR - PIT) will all be vying for targets in the Steelers' passing attack from whoever is under center.

There's also a chance that with an inexperienced and/or new quarterback, the Steelers' pass-play rates drop dramatically. Pittsburgh has ranked second in pass-play rate over the last two seasons with Ben Roethlisberger. During the 2019 season when Big Ben missed all but two games, the Steelers ranked 23rd in pass-play rate. Nobody on that offense saw more than 100 targets.

Why pay a premium for Diontae Johnson's 2021 26% target share at the top of Round 3, when you can just take Darnell Mooney's (WR - CHI) 2021 26% target share in Round 6?

Cole Kmet (TE - CHI)

It's bizarre to be so confident projecting a tight end breakout, but that's how strongly I feel about Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet.

Because no tight end should make a bigger leap in 2022 than the third-year tight end, whose upside has been capped by a lack of touchdown equity with veteran Jimmy Graham (TE - FA) rearing his ugly head the past few seasons. But Graham's currently a free agent, opening the door for Kmet to smash in 2022.

Kmet's eighth-ranked route participation and seventh-ranked target share (17%) from 2021 hardly align with his fantasy production -- no tight end finished with more fantasy points under expectation (-36.6) than the Notre Dame product in 2021.

That designation is a sign Kmet is due for a fantasy breakout. It signaled as much for guys like Zach Ertz (TE - ARI) and Dawson Knox (TE - BUF), who scored fewer points than expected in 2020 before contributing in fantasy this year. Both tight ends finished 2021 as top-10 options at the position in fantasy points per game.

The Chicago Bears hired offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to pair with second-year quarterback Justin Fields (QB - CHI). Getsy should be able to build an offense more conducive to Fields' mobility -- something he had success with at Mississippi State as its former OC.

An overall offensive boost should help fuel Kmet as 2022's breakout tight end. He has the requisite size and athleticism, sporting an 87th-percentile height, 88th-percentile vertical jump and 89th-percentile broad jump.

Kmet checks off all the boxes for a tight end breakout, and that's exactly why I have him ranked three spots ahead of consensus at TE13.

Mike Gesicki (TE - MIA)

Somebody on the Miami Dolphins is in for a rude awakening come September. Mike Gesicki (ECR TE12, ADP TE12), Jaylen Waddle (WR - MIA) (ECR WR14, ADP WR13) and Tyreek Hill (WR - MIA) (ECR WR9, ADRP WR8) are all being pushed up the rankings/draft boards with hopes that Tua Tagovailoa (QB - MIA) takes a massive step forward in Year 3 under first-year head coach Mike McDaniel.

I am not as optimistic that Tagovailoa can be the vehicle to deliver fantasy goodness to all these pieces in South Beach because this offense is going to be run-heavy. McDaniel made his way up the coaching ranks under Kyle Shanahan as a standout run-game coordinator. And should he follow in the footsteps of Shanahan as the offensive mastermind in Miami, fantasy managers should expect a lot of rushing and YAC schemes.

Neither of those helps Gesicki, who I am four spots lower on than consensus. I am concerned with limited offensive pass attempts that Gesicki will see his target numbers dip, making his 2021 production a challenge to repeat.

The tight end/slot receiver hybrid finished sixth in receptions, ninth in receiving yards, fourth in route participation (78%) and fifth in target share (17%) through 18 weeks of action. This receiving and route volume led to only moderate success in fantasy football, as Gesicki finished as TE9 (TE8 Weeks 1-17).

His efficiency metrics left something to be desired, though -- he was 13th in fantasy points per game (9.9) and 15th in yards per route run. Part of that does fall on the up-and-down quarterback play, but it just further cements Gesicki as a good, not great tight end in fantasy football.

My biggest concern is that Gesicki has always been underwhelming after the catch - which will likely be a large part of the Dolphins' new-look offense. His 3.2 YAC/reception ranked 41st of out 42 qualifying tight ends.

Gesicki did deliver worthwhile fantasy production at times, as displayed by his TE6 standing from Weeks 3-15 (11.5 fantasy points per game). And 94% of his snaps came lined up in the slot or out wide in 2021, which is another advantage for creating mismatches.

But all in all, he tends to only rise to the occasion for fantasy purposes when targets become available in the offense because of injuries to other players.

The athletic tight end will end up meeting his mid-range 2022 ADP/ECR based on his consistent play the past two seasons, but won't enter the top-tier fantasy tight end conversation without an elite quarterback or a boatload of volume coming his way.

He also seems primed to play more inline than ever before in 2022 with the expectations set by the new coaching staff that he will be assigned to block more. Makes sense that he would spend less time in the slot with both Waddle and Hill offering experience operating inside.

CTAs


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