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Rookie Winners & Losers from the 2022 NFL Draft (Fantasy Football)

May 2, 2022
Dameon Pierce

The 2022 NFL Draft is behind us, and it’s time to move on to the best part of the offseason: rookie drafts. The NFL landscape is dramatically different than it was just a week ago. How has it changed the fantasy football world? Multiple incoming rookies had their fantasy value impacted by where they landed in the draft. There were several winners and losers. Let’s take a look at my top five for both.

Winners

Desmond Ridder (QB – ATL)

Many thought Ridder would be the third or fourth quarterback drafted and a possible late first-round pick. However, he lased till the 10th pick in the third round, 74th overall. Not only was he the second quarterback drafted, but Ridder landed in an excellent situation with the Falcons. Not only did Atlanta give him Drake London with their first draft pick, but Ridder could start as a rookie.

Marcus Mariota got signed this offseason as the bridge gap quarterback. However, he likely won’t be on the team beyond this season. Furthermore, Mariota has struggled with injuries during his career, which could lead to Ridder seeing the field sometime early this upcoming season. Even if Mariota stays healthy, the Falcons project as one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2022. The coaching staff could decide to pull the plug on Mariota and make Ridder the starter at some point. Furthermore, Mariota isn’t locked in as the starter. Ridder could have an impressive training camp and start Week 1.

Dameon Pierce (RB – HOU)

The biggest rookie winner from the draft is Pierce. Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, and Isaiah Spiller were the top three names during the pre-draft process. While Hall and Walker were the first two off the board, Spiller slid to the fourth round. More importantly, the Texans passed on Spiller multiple times. Instead, they grabbed Pierce to kick off Day 3.

Currently, Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead are the top two running backs on the depth chart for the Texans. However, neither is good enough to keep Pierce off the field. Mack has 37 touches over the past two years, while Burkhead had one game with over 47 rushing yards last season. Furthermore, Mack and Burkhead aren’t locks to make the final roster. Both running backs have one-year contracts and limited guaranteed money protecting them. Pierce has an excellent chance to impress during training camp and become the Week 1 starter. He went from my RB6 pre-draft to RB3 post-draft and a borderline late first-round pick in rookie drafts.

Drake London (WR – ATL)

Not only was London the first wide receiver selected during the draft, but he was also the only wide receiver the Falcons added in the draft. London is the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in Atlanta as the rest of the players in the wide receiver room are sub-par at best. Auden Tate, Olamide Zaccheaus, and KhaDarel Hodge have a combined 145 career receptions. With that trio of wide receivers behind him on the depth chart, London will easily lead all rookies in targets this season. He might even lead the league in targets too.

Furthermore, London won’t consistently see a double-team with Kyle Pitts on the field. Last year’s first-round pick had a productive rookie season despite Calvin Ridley missing most of the year dealing with his mental health. Whether it’s Mariota or Ridder under center, London will be their go-to target right alongside Pitts. London was arguably the WR1 in rookie drafts before the NFL Draft, and now he is the clear-cut WR1.

Treylon Burks (WR – TEN)

It was a wild first round of the draft for Tennessee fans. Not only did the Titans trade away A.J. Brown without warning, but they immediately drafted his replacement with the pick they got from the Philadelphia Eagles. Ironically, many compared Burks to Brown during the pre-draft process. Now that Brown is an Eagle, Burks will step into the Tennessee offense as the new No. 1 wide receiver for Ryan Tannehill.

Last year Brown had 105 targets in 13 games and a 32.9 percent target share. While Burks won’t put up those numbers as a rookie, he is walking into a great situation for this year and the future. After watching Malik Willis slide for over 80 picks, the Titans traded up with the Las Vegas Raiders to secure their next franchise quarterback. The duo of Burks and Willis will be fun to watch for the next several years.

Jelani Woods (TE – IND)

Woods had arguably the best pre-draft process of any prospect and certainly at the tight end position. Before the combine, he projected as a mid-Day 3 pick. However, after posting a perfect 10 RAS score, Woods was the second tight end drafted. He was the ninth pick in the third round, 73rd overall by the Colts. More importantly, Woods enters a terrific situation for his fantasy value.

The Colts re-signed Mo Alie-Cox this offseason to be their starting tight end. However, Indianapolis can get out of his contract after the 2022 season. Furthermore, former co-starter Jack Doyle retired this offseason, opening meaningful snaps for Woods as a rookie in Indianapolis. Not only should Woods see the field early in his career, but he has a quarterback that favors throwing to his tight ends in Matt Ryan. Furthermore, Woods is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Don’t be surprised when Woods is the best fantasy tight end from this draft class in three years.

CTAs

Losers

Matt Corral (QB – CAR)

In the days leading up to the draft, Corral’s stock started to slip over off the field rumors. While those rumors turned out to be overblown, Corral suffered the same fate most the quarterbacks did this year. Finally, he was drafted 94th overall by the Panthers after they traded up with the New England Patriots. However, it’s not a great situation for his fantasy future.

Draft capital matters, especially for quarterbacks. Had Corral been a first-round pick, he would be the favorite to start in Carolina this season and beyond. However, as a third-round pick, Corral will have to beat out Sam Darnold for the starting role. Furthermore, the supporting cast around him is less than ideal. The Panthers didn’t add a wide receiver or tight end during the draft despite having one consistent pass-catcher last year. Furthermore, there are plenty of rumblings that Matt Rhule could get fired this season. Corral could end up with a new head coach next year that could want to replace him with “his guy” at the quarterback position.

Isaiah Spiller (RB – LAC)

Leading up to the draft, Spiller was projected as a mid-Day 2 pick after his stock had slipped due to poor testing during the pre-draft process. Yet, many were surprised to see Spiller slide into the fourth round. He was finally drafted as the ninth running back off the board when the Chargers used the 123rd overall pick to draft him. Unfortunately for Spiller, Austin Ekeler is coming off a career year and doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

That said, Spiller will have a role as a rookie. The Chargers have tried for years to add a bigger running back behind Ekeler without success. Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, and Larry Rountree were all Day 3 picks that failed to consistently fill that role. Unfortunately, fantasy players hoped Spiller would land with the Texans to start the fourth round. Instead, they drafted Pierce. While Spiller won’t provide immediate fantasy production, he is still worth drafting semi-early in rookie drafts. Not only does he become one of the top handcuffs in fantasy football, but Spiller has an outside chance of replacing Ekeler as the lead back in 2023.

Kyren Williams (RB – LAR)

After his disappointing 40-yard dash time at the combine, Williams becomes poisonous to the fantasy football world. His ADP dropped from a borderline late-first-round pick to a late-round pick or even undrafted in some mock drafts. Some NFL Draft experts even hinted that Williams could have gone potentially undrafted. Instead, Williams was a fifth-round pick. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great fantasy landing spot.

The Rams have their top two running backs locked up for next season in Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson. While Sony Michel is still a free agent, the Rams are unlikely to re-sign him. However, the door to re-sign Michel isn’t fully closed until he signs with another team. Williams will get some snaps on third down and help out in the passing game. However, his upside is vastly limited. Even if Henderson leaves in free agency next offseason, Williams won’t surpass Akers on the depth chart. Furthermore, as a fifth-round pick, Williams could easily get replaced by a rookie in next year’s draft.

Calvin Austin III (WR – PIT)

Austin wasn’t a top-tier wide receiver prospect, but many thought he could turn into a potential sleeper rookie pick. However, he landed in a less than ideal situation in Pittsburgh. While the Steelers have historically done an outstanding job developing wide receivers, Austin will struggle to earn snaps early in his career with the talent already on the roster.

Pittsburgh has their starting duo under contract for next season in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They also spent their second-round pick on Georgia wide receiver George Pickens. After losing JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency, adding Pickens makes sense. However, Austin was a late fourth-round and the 20th wide receiver drafted. At just under 5’8″ and 170 pounds, Austin doesn’t have the size to hold up at wide receiver for 50 plus snaps a game. Instead, he will replace Ray-Ray McCloud as the gadget wide receiver. Unfortunately, that won’t lead to enough consistent production for fantasy teams to value him.

Charlie Kolar & Isaiah Likely (TE – BAL)

Several teams had a terrific draft weekend, but no team did a better job than the Ravens. Not only did they draft five players with possible first-round grades, but the Ravens also made several excellent picks on Day 3. Two of those picks were Kolar and Likely. While Mark Andrews is one of the top tight ends in the NFL, the Ravens struggled with depth at the position last year. Both rookies will help out the team this upcoming season. Unfortunately, the Ravens cost the fantasy football world two potential upside mid-round options at tight end.

With Andrews locked in as the starter for the next several years, both Kolar and Likely have limited upside in Baltimore. The Ravens threw the ball last season more than any other year with Lamar Jackson under center. However, they will return to a run-heavy offense after trading away Marquise Brown and with the return of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Furthermore, Kolar and Likely will have to fight for snaps with veteran Nick Boyle and each other. The Ravens call more two and even three tight end sets than any other team in the NFL. However, the rookie duo playing on the same team will limit their fantasy value.


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Mike Fanelli is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @Mike_NFL2.

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