Evaluating Players on New Teams: AFC (2022 Fantasy Football)
The 2022 NFL offseason was one of the wildest in recent memory, if not all-time. A handful of big-name stars changed teams during the tumultuous period, with many of those moves carrying significant fantasy football ramifications.
Let’s look at the most prominent faces who found new places within the AFC and gauge their fantasy outlooks for the 2022 season:
AFC Quarterbacks on New Teams in 2022
In an offseason filled with some seismic shifts across the NFL landscape, Russell Wilson’s arrival in Denver could go down as the most significant shakeup in the AFC. The Broncos have a playoff-caliber roster, but were dragged down by the play of Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock under center. Wilson adds immediate legitimacy to an offense that has some intriguing pieces.
Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot of gray area when gauging Wilson’s fantasy value this upcoming season. On the one hand, Wilson was probably held back by Pete Carroll’s stubborn, old-school ways. But let’s not assume he’ll be joining a pass-heavy system in Denver under new coach Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett comes from Green Bay, where he served under Matt LaFleur, who runs a system similar to Kyle Shanahan’s offense in San Francisco. That system is predicated on using the run to set up the pass.
That system is also predicated on scheming receivers open in the middle of the field, giving them free space to rack up yards after the catch (see Deebo Samuel‘s 2021 campaign). Wilson should have plenty of open windows to throw into, which is refreshing. Seattle’s offense was a rudderless unit last season, and Wilson’s production too often relied on him connecting for big plays with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
The move to Denver should give Wilson a nice floor, but I wonder how high his ceiling can be with a noticeable downgrade in weaponry. Going from one of the top receiving duos in the league to a group headlined by Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick matters.
Wilson is the QB10 in our Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR), and he’s a solid option for those waiting to draft a quarterback.
Matt Ryan escaped the sinking ship that is the Atlanta Falcons when traded to the Indianapolis Colts in late March. The former MVP is coming off a miserable final campaign in Atlanta, but the circumstances were bleak. Ryan has shown he can succeed when he’s got stability around him, and that’s exactly what he’s getting in Indianapolis with Frank Reich as his play-caller and the league’s best running back.
Fantasy Impact: Ryan has an excellent opportunity for a rebound season. The best-case scenario is he winds up as this season’s version of Matthew Stafford. He heads to a quarterback-friendly system led by Reich, who helped Carson Wentz finish as the QB14 in 2021. He has Taylor in the backfield and a rising star at receiver in Michael Pittman. Indy’s receiving depth chart isn’t plush with proven talent, but Parris Campbell, Alec Pierce, Mo Alie-Cox and Jelani Woods offer some intrigue.
The question is whether the change in scenery can help change Ryan’s conservative, check-down mindset. He finished 19th in the league with an average of 6.8 air yards per pass attempt last season. That’ll have to change if he’s to deliver any fantasy value this season. Perhaps playing behind one of the league’s best offensive lines will give Ryan more time to throw, enabling more opportunities downfield.
According to our experts, Ryan feels a bit undervalued right now as the QB20. He finished as the QB20 in 2021 in a much worse situation. I’m not sprinting to overdraft Ryan, but he could be a solid backup to pair with a riskier passer like Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence or Trey Lance. There’s upside here.
Deshaun Watson has been nothing but a headache for the Cleveland Browns since they traded for him. Frankly, nobody knows what will happen with his legal situation. Watson recently settled 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him. But there’s no telling whether the league will suspend him after concluding its investigation. For now, let’s operate under the impression that he’ll play a full season.
Fantasy Impact: Watson’s on-field situation has improved dramatically. Cleveland’s offense is loaded with talent, and Watson will finally have a worthy offensive line blocking for him. He’ll be backed by one of the league’s best rushing attacks. He’ll have a No. 1 wideout in Amari Cooper and intriguing depth options like Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Bell. Watson will also work with one of the best offensive minds in the league in Kevin Stefanski.
In the last full season Watson played, he finished as the QB5. And there’s no doubt he has the upside to finish as the QB1 and help the Browns reach their potential as an offensive juggernaut. But the threat of a looming suspension has scared off the market, and rightfully so. A year-long suspension probably isn’t realistic. But it’s enough of a threat to keep me away from Watson entirely. Hopefully, we get more clarification before drafts get underway.
AFC Wide Receivers on New Teams in 2022
Has anyone admitted they’d rather play with Derek Carr than Aaron Rodgers? Davante Adams did, and the Packers granted his wish by trading him to the Las Vegas Raiders, where he’ll become the lead receiver on a talented offense.
Fantasy Impact: Adams should be careful what he asks for, as the days of 1,300-yard and double-digit touchdown seasons aren’t as much of a certainty anymore. Carr isn’t a bad quarterback, but he’s not Rodgers. He’s pretty far from it. Maybe chemistry will overcome Carr’s deficiencies, but I’m skeptical.
The Raiders also have more talent around Adams. He’s no longer competing with the magnificent Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown for targets. He has Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow to contend with for targets. The presence of Waller and Renfrow isn’t all bad, as Adams could avoid double teams. But a top-five finish isn’t a given for Adams like in Green Bay.
If the Adams trade was shocking, Tyreek Hill’s trade to Miami was jaw-dropping. Hill will undoubtedly enjoy better weather moving from Kansas City to South Beach, but he won’t enjoy better quarterback play.
Fantasy Impact: When healthy, Tyreek Hill was a given. But his move to Miami comes with so many unknowns, which is why he’s the WR8 in our expert rankings.
Let’s start with who’s throwing him the ball. It’s no longer Patrick Mahomes. That in itself is worth a downgrade. Instead, it’ll be Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa hasn’t been given a fair shake, but it’s fair to say that he does not have the arm strength of Mahomes.
Mahomes has averaged 8.7 air yards per attempt over his career. Tagovailoa is averaging 6.4. We don’t know for sure, but Tagovailoa doesn’t seem built to chuck the ball deep downfield with regularity. And that’s a massive part of Hill’s fantasy value.
The good news is Hill could be going to a receiver-friendly scheme with new coach Mike McDaniel taking the helm. McDaniel is also a Kyle Shanahan disciple. That scheme, combined with Hill’s speed, could make him a lethal weapon in a different way. Instead of gashing defenders on deep routes, Hill might do more work gaining separation over the middle and racking up yards after the catch.
Hill’s move to Miami doesn’t doom him in 2022. But he isn’t the lock WR1 that he once was on a weekly basis.
While Cooper’s time in Dallas fizzled out, he wound up in a pretty good landing space. He’ll be the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in Cleveland, which doesn’t have a reputable No. 2 receiver to challenge him for targets. But of course, Cooper’s value is tied to his quarterback.
Fantasy Impact: If Watson is under center for the entire season, Cooper could finish as a top-12 wideout. His talent is undeniable. He should have a dominant target share. And part of his inconsistent play in Dallas could be tied to Dak Prescott.
But the floor is extremely low. Cooper is inconsistent. He’s constantly dinged up. He might be catching passes from Baker Mayfield, or worse, Jacoby Brissett. And he could command a ton of attention from opposing defenders if he doesn’t get any help from his supporting cast.
That said, Cooper’s current rank as the WR20 makes sense. He’s a high-risk, high-reward WR2.
If you were to ask me the player who could benefit the most from a change of scenery, it’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. Maybe his 2018 season was a mirage. But I’m willing to believe that with good health, Smith-Schuster can bounce back in a big way now that he’s in Kansas City.
Fantasy Impact: Smith-Schuster signed a one-year “prove it” deal with Kansas City this offseason. And there’s no better QB to help you prove your worth than Mahomes. With Hill gone, I could see Kansas City turning to a more intermediate passing game. And while Travis Kelce will be the primary target down the middle, Smith-Schuster could carve out an adequate role for himself as Mahomes’ most trusted target.
Just look at the rest of the depth chart. Mecole Hardman hasn’t been able to put it together yet and could serve more as the deep-ball replacement. Skyy Moore is a rookie. Valdes-Scantling is… Valdes-Scantling. There’s an opportunity for Smith-Schuster’s talent to manifest into a really strong season. He’s a buy-low WR3 for me.
Robert Woods has been the definition of a safe starting receiver for several years. But he’s coming off a disastrous 2021 season. He’s also coming off a torn ACL at age 30 and joining a new team late in his career.
Fantasy Impact: It’s tough to take a chance on Woods. He was always a high-floor player, to begin with, but that floor is lower than ever, given the circumstances. It’s hard to get excited about Ryan Tannehill, and rookie Treylon Burks could emerge as the team’s WR1 in his first season. Tennessee’s offense seems content with riding Derrick Henry even more in 2022, and this team looks to be taking a step back.
I think the days of rostering Woods and feeling good about it are over.
Did you know Christian Kirk is now the 10th-highest-paid receiver in the NFL regarding total contract value? I know; that shocked me too. But the Jaguars believe in Kirk, who will get a chance to be the team’s leading wide receiver.
Fantasy impact: Kirk could go down as the biggest overpay during this year’s free agency cycle. He isn’t a great separator, and his production primarily comes from a knack for finding soft spots in zone defenses. His 982 yards in 2021 were a career-high, but Kirk struggled to produce when DeAndre Hopkins wasn’t out there garnering attention.
Maybe Kirk pairs up with Lawrence and becomes an outstanding duo. Maybe just sheer target volume makes Kirk a more relevant fantasy option than we expect. But Kirk’s ranking as the WR45 sort of says it all. Not many are buying the hype.
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