Top 15 Second-Year Players: Rankings, Notes & 2022 Outlook (Fantasy Football)
While rookies are the hot topic this time of year, there are always plenty of second-year NFL players ready to either break out or continue the hot start to their professional career. Let’s take a look at notable second-year fantasy football players, including rankings and player notes for each.
Player rankings based on our redraft Expert Consensus Rankings for half-PPR leagues.
- Second-Year Players Rankings & Notes: Quarterbacks
- Second-Year Players Rankings & Notes: Wide Receivers
- Second-Year Players Rankings & Notes: Running Backs
- Second-Year Players Rankings & Notes: Tight Ends
Trey Lance (SF): QB13
Trey Lance is falling in best ball ADP because of reports surfacing that he is underwhelming at OTAs and because Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster. But after the 49ers beat reporters butchered the Trey Sermon situation last season and the 49ers’ massive investment in Lance last year, I view this situation as an easy buy-low scenario. Garoppolo’s shoulder surgery is the reason he hasn’t been traded. Once he is deemed healthy, I’d presume he gets moved to a QB-needy team or to a roster that sustains an injury at the position. Lance only started two games but showed off the rushing that excited fantasy managers during draft season. The 49ers’ first-year signal-caller averaged 22.4 expected fantasy points and 60 rushing yards per game.
Justin Fields (CHI): QB17
Justin Fields closed the season out with a promising stretch run as a top ten fantasy quarterback in each of his final four full starts. Fields showed growth in this quartet of games, completing 62.5% of his passes with 7.6 yards per attempt. The rushing is what we covet with the Windy City signal-caller, and we got a look at that as well, as he averaged 64.2 yards per game on the ground. Losing Allen Robinson hurts even more with the team replacing him with Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, David Moore, and Velus Jones. The massive weekly upside is still in the cards for Fields with his playmaking ability, but he’s tough to trust as anything more than a QB2 or matchup play, considering the cast of characters surrounding him.
Trevor Lawrence (JAC): QB19
Joe Burrow‘s massive second-year jump is encouraging for this year’s second-year QBs like Trevor Lawrence. The Jags quarterback finished with the same expected fantasy points per game average as Burrow in 2021 (17.3) but underwhelmed tremendously in a poor situation. His -72.3 fantasy points versus expectation were the most of any QB in 2021. Lawrence posted a season-high 85.1 PFF passing grade in the season-finale, offering some hope that he can turn things around in 2022 with a new coaching staff in place. There’s a strong chance that Jacksonville dials up the passing attempts with Doug Pederson calling the shots on offense. During his five-year tenure in Philadelphia, only once did the offense not finish top-10 in pass attempts.
Second-Year Running Backs
Najee Harris (PIT): RB6
If there is any running back that could potentially de-throne Derrick Henry as the poster child for the “volume is king” mantra, it’s Najee Harris. The Steelers rookie running back managed a league-leading 381 touches in 2021 and finished as the RB4 in half-point scoring as a result. The volume he is going to see in 2022 will ensure he is one of the safest running backs available in fantasy football. Still, the issue with Harris pertains to his true upside potential in a potentially capped offense led by a rookie quarterback. An immobile Ben Roethlisberger was a check-down target machine to Harris in 2021 which may not be the case in 2022. And despite all of his total raw touches, Harris only saw 37 touches (22nd) in the red zone and scored six red-zone touchdowns.
Javonte Williams (DEN): RB13
Running back Melvin Gordon signed a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos, ultimately halting the Javonte Williams 2022 breakout season. The idea of Williams playing a three-down role was salivating, but Gordon’s return should not be overlooked after a seriously underrated 2021 campaign.MG3’s return definitely hurts Williams’ top-tier fantasy ceiling. He’s going to split work with another capable back in Gordon which is exactly what new head coach Nathaniel Hackett desires and spoke on at the NFL owners’ meeting in March. However, keep in mind that Williams finished 13th in touches last season (246, 14.6 per game) and would be the favorite to take another step forward in the passing game – Aaron Jones-esque – after finishing as one of two rookie RBs inside the top-15 in route participation in 2021: Najee Harris (first) and Javonte Williams (13th). Williams falls just out of the fantasy RB1 conversation for me in redraft and best ball, but he’s right on the cusp. I don’t think he can be ranked worse than RB15 considering that’s where he finished as a rookie amid a split workload in a much worse offensive environment.
Elijah Mitchell (SF): RB23
Elijah Mitchell ran away with the job last season en route to finishing as the RB14 in fantasy points per game. He was third in opportunity share, but his underlying rushing metrics were a lackluster ball of meh. He was 36th in juke rate, 30th in breakaway run rate, and 34th in yards created per touch. With his 7.0% target share and 25th ranking in route participation, he doesn’t have the pass game usage to save him if the rushing volume and efficiency aren’t there. It’s still possible that the 49ers roll it back in 2022 with him as the primary rusher, though, as long as he doesn’t face plant in camp.
Travis Etienne Jr. (JAC): RB24
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.
Second-Year Wide Receivers
Ja’Marr Chase (CIN): WR3
Ja’Marr Chase broke Justin Jefferson‘s record for most receiving yards by a rookie, finishing 2021 as the WR5 in fantasy points per game and the WR22 in expected fantasy points per game. Only Deebo Samuel scored more fantasy points above expectation (+74.3) than Chase – a testament to his home-run hitting ability. Chase’s 18.0 yards per reception ranked second-best in the NFL behind only Samuel. The Bengals’ wide receivers’ dominance continued in the postseason with back-to-back 100-yard games in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Chase commanded a 27% target share when it mattered most during postseason play, a 5% increase from his regular-season target share.
Jaylen Waddle (MIA): WR15
Jaylen Waddle looked primed to make the leap into the top-12 conversation after a stellar rookie season. Along with breaking Anquan Boldin’s rookie reception record, Waddle commanded a 22% target share and 24% target rate per route run – 18th-best in the NFL. But with the expensive addition of veteran Tyreek Hill, it is less likely that Waddle is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in Miami. Hill is coming off a season where he commanded the league’s seventh-highest target rate per route run (27%). The trade moves Waddle down from a fringe WR1 to mid-range fantasy WR2 after seeing almost zero target competition last season.
Elijah Moore (NYJ): WR29
Elijah Moore ranked as the fantasy WR2 over his last stretch of six games played. His 16.1 fantasy points per game would have ranked fifth had he continued the production the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to injuries and COVID-19 implications. The addition of Garrett Wilson makes Moore’s second-year ascension less certain as he did not have much target competition during his scorching finish outside of veteran Jamison Crowder.
Rashod Bateman (BAL): WR30
The Baltimore Ravens traded Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, opening the WR1 role on offense. Bateman has the opportunity to step in and be the true No. 1 wide receiver for Lamar Jackson (QB – BAL) in 2022 and beyond. With Brown’s 23% target share departure, Bateman can seize a massive role for fantasy as a high-end WR2. 2022 is Shoddy B breakout SZN.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET): WR31
Amon-Ra St. Brown‘s fantastic season-ending stretch was eye-popping, but it also needs context as we look forward to the 2022 season. St. Brown’s final six games were filled with insane volume ranking behind only Justin Jefferson in targets (67) and target share (33.5%) and sixth in weighted opportunity, but his efficiency was also elite. During that stretch, he was also 13th in yards per route run immediately behind Davante Adams and Micheal Pittman (minimum ten targets, per PFF). T.J. Hockenson was out, and D’Andre Swift was a part-time player as St. Brown turned in full legend mode performances. With their respective returns and the addition of D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams, the expectations for St. Brown need to be tempered this season.
DeVonta Smith (PHI): WR33
DeVonta Smith concluded his rookie campaign as the WR36 in weekly fantasy scoring. Smith was productive in yards per route run, ranking 30th (1.77) among all wideouts with 50 or more targets and third amongst rookies with 25 or more targets (per PFF). He surpassed fellow highly touted receivers Elijah Moore (1.75) and Jaylen Waddle (1.75) in this metric. With A.J. Brown in town, the Eagles could return to the pass-heavy ways from the beginning of 2021. If this happens, Smith’s low-end WR3 status from last season could be the floor if he can increase his touchdown output. Smith was the WR37 last year in receiving yards per game.
Second-Year Tight Ends
Kyle Pitts (ATL): TE3
Kyle Pitts lived up to all of the hype last season. Pitts ranked third in receiving yards and eighth in receptions among all tight ends. In deeper metrics, he was elite, ranking fourth in targets per snap and yards per route run (minimum 50 targets, per PFF). Since 2018 the only rookie tight end to finish their inaugural season with a higher yards per route run has been Albert Okwuegbunam (minimum 15 targets, per PFF). Pitts finished as the TE11 in fantasy points per game as the eyesore of only one receiving touchdown drug down his fantasy value. Pitts has TE1 overall upside if the touchdowns bounce back in a big way in 2022.
Pat Freiermuth (PIT): TE11
No rookie tight end flew up the dynasty rankings more than Pat Freiermuth, who made his case as a fringe fantasy TE1 in Year 1. The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie ramped things up in Week 6 after an injury to Eric Ebron and never looked back. Baby Gronk was the TE7 from that time forward, averaging 11.3 fantasy points per game seventh). He would go on to finish the year as the TE13 overall despite running a route on just 56% of dropbacks. When starting and healthy, Freiermuth ran a route on 67% of dropbacks – a rate that would have ranked 15th-highest at the position in 2021. That’s the bare minimum usage fantasy drafters should expect to see from the Penn State product with Ebron gone in free agency.
FantasyPros Staff Consensus 2022 Redraft Fantasy Football Rankings
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