10 Early League Winners (2022 Fantasy Football)
Every year there are certain players that make there way onto a majority of fantasy football championship rosters. These players deliver values many different ways, allowing their managers to claim fantasy football glory. Let’s take a look at 10 early picks to help fantasy football managers win their leagues in 2022.
10 Fantasy Football Leagues Winners
Jalen Hurts (QB – PHI)
In his first full season, Jalen Hurts was the QB6 in fantasy points per game as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. An ankle sprain dropped his rushing numbers from 57.9 to 29.7 yards per game over his final three contests. Without that ding, his full-season numbers could have been even better. With another season in this offensive system incoming and A.J. Brown now on the roster, Hurts has top-three fantasy quarterback upside in 2022.
Melvin Gordon (RB – DEN)
Gordon is bound to be written off by fantasy draft pundits this offseason due to his age, but he proved that he still has gas in the tank in 2021. The 29-year-old running back was efficient across the board, ranking eighth in both PFF rushing grade (83.4) and forced missed tackles (45) while compiling 231 touches (16th).
Travis Etienne Jr. (RB – JAC)
Travis Etienne Jr. was a standout college football running back for the Clemson Tigers from 2017 to 2020 and was selected by the Jaguars in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft -25th overall. However, his rookie season was cut short by a preseason Lisfranc injury. Some NFL personnel reported that Etienne could have come back towards the end of the year had the Jaguars been in playoff contention instead of being the league’s laughing stock.
Etienne is expected to be fully cleared by training camp, giving him a leg up on the RB1 role as the Jacksonville Jaguars install a new offense under new head coach Doug Pederson. With James Robinson attempting to come back from a torn Achilles injury suffered on December 26th, Etienne figures to be the featured back during this spring/summer.
Do not forget what this guy did at Clemson with Trevor Lawrence (QB – JAC) as his quarterback. During his final season as a Clemson Tiger, he led the country in receiving yards and ranked second in receptions among running backs. Etienne also racked up the most rushing attempts of 20-plus yards (40) from 2018 to 2019 while only carrying the ball 20-plus times once since 2018.
Cam Akers (RB – LAR)
It’s clear that the experts and sharps are convinced that Cam 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.
Did I also mention he was never even supposed to come back at ALL last season due to his Achilles injury? If Travis Etienne came back from his injury and failed to perform, would that be held against his draft stock?
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 (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. Darrell Henderson has proven he’s nothing more than a replaceable running back that the Rams continue to try and replace.
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.
Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG)
Once a locked-and-loaded top-five fantasy football selection, Barkley is now routinely selected in the third round. His inability to stay healthy has hindered him from being able to recapture his rookie form in addition to the Giants’ h0rrible situation on offense. But under a new coaching staff and vastly improved offensive line, there’s reason to buy back in on Barkley at a massive discount. In 5 games last season when Barkley played a full snap share with Daniel Jones under center, the Giants RB averaged 16.2 PPR points per game (RB10). Backup Devontae Booker out-scored Barkley on a per-game basis in all other games played (10.0 vs 9.1).
Marquise Brown (WR – ARI)
Marquise Brown was the WR21 in weekly fantasy scoring last season, setting career-highs in targets (146), receptions (91), and receiving yards (1,008). Brown will take up the alpha role in the Arizona offense to start the season with DeAndre Hopkins sidelined by a suspension. He should have no issues leading the team in targets until Hopkins returns, with A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, and Zach Ertz being his main competition. While his volume will take a hit when Hopkins returns, he can still manufacture ceiling weeks late into the season with his role as a field stretcher. Last season he finished eighth in deep targets. He’ll enjoy the deep ball upgrade he has received with Kyler Murray. Last year Murray was third in deep-ball accuracy rating (per Playerprofiler).
Mike Williams (WR – LAC)
Mike Williams had the opportunity to take his talents elsewhere this offseason in free agency but decided to stay in Los Angeles with quarterback Justin Herbert. Hard to argue with the choice to sign a three-year deal worth $60M attached to a young superstar quarterback, especially when that quarterback fueled a career year.
He stormed out the gate in 2021 as the WR2 in fantasy through the first five weeks of the season, averaging 94.2 receiving yards and 1.2 receiving touchdowns per game.
Big Mike finished the season as the WR23 in fantasy points per game despite cooling off considerably in the later weeks in addition to leaving a boatload of touchdown production on the table.
He finished sixth in end-zone targets (16) but caught only five for touchdowns.
With positive TD regression on his side, Williams looks like a sneaky candidate to repeat his WR12 overall finish in the half-point scoring format.
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND)
Pittman got the true WR1 treatment from the Colts coaching staff in 2021, running a route on 96% of offensive dropbacks – third to only Cooper Kupp (WR1) and Ja’Marr Chase (WR4) through 17 weeks. He also finished the season tied for the league’s eighth-highest target share (24%), which was 11 percentage points higher than the next closest Colt, Zach Pascal, at 13%.
He also made 18 highlight-reel contested catches – fourth-most in the NFL. And his 31% target share from Weeks 13-18 cemented his place in Indy’s WR1 chair heading into 2022.
With Matt Ryan under center Pittman has the volume potential to be a top-12 fantasy option. Ryan has a history of fueling top-end fantasy WRs like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, making a top-five finish not all that crazy for Big Mike in 2022.
Don’t forget that last season, Ridley as the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver owned the sixth-highest target rate per route run and ranked second among all wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game (16.5).
Gabriel Davis (WR – BUF)
Gabriel Davis averaged 19.8 fantasy points per game (PPR) and 16.0 expected fantasy points per game in his last six games while running a route on 88% of dropbacks as the Bills finally emphasized his playing time in the offense.
As a strong bet to earn the No. 2 wide receiver job come opening day, Davis has a legitimate shot to be a reliable fantasy option in a Josh Allen-led offense in 2022.
Courtland Sutton (WR – DEN)
Entering Year 3, it looked like Courtland Sutton was on the cusp of true elite fantasy WR1 production, but his 2020 season was lost due to a torn ACL in Week 2. It was unclear how productive Sutton would be returning from the devastating knee injury.
But to start the 2021 season, the Broncos wide receiver looked like his old self. He averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game (17th) and had a 27% target share in Weeks 2-7 during the regular season.
It wasn’t until Jerry Jeudy‘s return from injury that Sutton – and the rest of the Broncos’ pass catchers – became obsolete in a crowded, run-heavy offense led by a combination of Lock/Teddy Bridgewater. Nevertheless, Sutton finished the season as the fantasy WR46.
Sutton has a real chance to recapture his elite form another year removed from his ACL injury. It also helps substantially that he has received an ultra upgrade at the quarterback position with Denver’s trade for Russell Wilson.
Wilson has always been an elite downfield passer – he had the sixth-highest passer rating on throws of 20-plus air yards last season – which plays heavily into Sutton’s strengths as a vertical threat.
FantasyPros Staff Consensus 2022 Redraft Fantasy Football Rankings
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