Andrew Erickson’s Early-Round Draft Strategy & Top Targets (2022 Fantasy Football)
The 2022 NFL season is approaching, which means it’s time to prepare for your fantasy football draft. Of course, there’s no better way to do that than to practice drafting with our free mock draft simulator! Beyond our tools, we will have you covered throughout the draft prep season with our content.
The goal of every fantasy football manager is to complete the perfect draft. Impossible, you say? Let’s call it a stretch goal and strive for fantasy football glory. Here’s Andrew Erickson’s perfect 2022 fantasy football draft.
Andrew Erickson’s Top Early-Round Draft Picks
Approach to Round 1
Whether it’s best ball or redraft fantasy football, the golden standard approach of selecting a running back with your first-round pick has not changed. Although, of course, it wasn’t so long ago that the elite tier of WRs like Davante Adams, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown was drafted in the top half of Round 1. Still, a few talented running-back draft classes have returned leagues to the glory days.
Every fantasy football draft is unique, but one thing’s for certain — running backs are the drivers behind fantasy-winning teams. So get your studs early and wait till the later rounds to take shots on backs in ambiguous backfields. That’s where we’ll find the next breakout at the position.
However, unlike in some previous years, when the strategy was hyper-focused on grabbing a workhorse running back no matter what, 2022 presents us with a different approach in the second half of the first round.
If you miss out on the Tier 1/high-end Tier 2 crop of running backs — Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook — be open to drafting an elite wide receiver in the second half of Round 1. This is less so the move in half-PPR formats because receivers can’t make up ground versus running backs as easily without being rewarded a full point per reception. However, after JT and CMC, it is fair game to select an elite wideout.
From 2018 to 2020, in PPR scoring, wide receivers have the highest percentage of top-12 finishes (55%). That trend continued in 2021, when seven of the top-12 overall finishers (58%) were WRs, with six finishing top eight. That was true in both PPR and half-PPR scoring.
The “Big Three” wide receiver tier — Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp — are strong bets to meet Round 1 production without the cost. But their odds of returning value increase dramatically in the PPR-scoring format.
His command of high-value targets in the Buffalo offense was unmatched.
1 of just two WRs to hit over 2,000 air yards (Justin Jefferson).
Also commanded the most end-zone targets in the NFL (25) — 6 more than the next (Jefferson).
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) August 4, 2022
Early-Round Players to Target
- Christian McCaffrey (RB – CAR): We all know the deal with CMC. When healthy, he’s easily the best player in fantasy football. He played in four games in 2021 with at least a 50% snap share, and his PPR fantasy finishes were RB1, RB3, RB4 and RB3. McCaffrey averaged 26 fantasy points per game. Considering the extent of CMC’s injuries has not resulted in major surgeries or completely torn ligaments, I like him bouncing back to form in 2022. I like that the Panthers are already putting him in preseason bubble wrap to make sure he’s full-go for Week 1. Last season, four of the Panthers’ five wins came when CMC was active and playing.
- Justin Jefferson (WR – MIN): Jefferson finished 2021 as the WR4 in fantasy points per game (19.5 PPR) and expected fantasy points per game (18.8). The Vikings WR1 was the model of consistency at just 22 years old, finishing as a weekly top-20 wide receiver in 76% of his games (13 of 17) while commanding the league’s third-highest target share (27%) and No. 1 air yards share (44%). With Adam Thielen turning 32 and no other super established receivers on the roster, Jefferson is my favorite to lead the NFL in targets and fantasy points scored at the wide receiver position. Kirk Cousins is an above-average quarterback who is proven to support top-tier fantasy weapons, and new head coach Kevin O’ Connell could further unlock Jefferson’s upside. O’Connell wants to use Jefferson at the Cooper Kupp of his new-look offense. The targets will be in the double-digits every week, and Jefferson should see more time operating from the slot. Kupp compiled over 1,650 receiving yards — 93% of his total yardage output — operating from inside in 2021.
Mid-Round Players to Target
- Ja’Marr Chase (WR – CIN): 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. The rookie was so good in just his first year that it’s scary to think what he could do if he continues to ascend. Case in point, his target share can improve in 2022 in an offense that figures to rank top-10 in total passing attempts.
- Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN): It’s the same old song and dance for Dalvin Cook in 2021. The Minnesota Vikings’ running back was a workhorse when healthy, averaging 22 touches per game (fifth) and 15.2 fantasy points per game (RB11). But the market seems to have soured on the consensus No. 2 pick from a season ago because he missed four games, and his production didn’t align with his usage. As a result, his ADP has fallen to the middle to even back of Round 1, and it’s unwarranted based on the impending touchdown regression Cook will experience in 2022. His 15 goal-line carries ranked fourth in the NFL last season, but he converted just three into scores. Considering Cook averaged 16 TDs from 2019 to 2020, his meager six TDs from last season look like a blip on the radar.
Late-Round Players to Target
- Joe Mixon (RB – CIN): Mixon was an absolute steal in the second round of fantasy drafts in 2021 based on his easily projected large workload within an ascending offense. The Bengals’ running back finished the season third in total touches (334) and sixth in touches per game (20.9). In goal-line carries (16), Mixon also ranked third and tied Jonathan Taylor/James Conner in red-zone touchdowns. 2021 was the perfect storm for the fantasy RB3 in half-point scoring coming off a truncated 2020 campaign, and there’s reason to believe the positive production will continue in 2022. The Bengals’ offensive line has been revamped entirely, ensuring that Mixon will be able to repeat his top-10 PFF rushing grade from a season ago. He also flashed upside as a receiver down the playoff stretch for the Bengals, averaging nearly six targets per game while running a route on 57% of offensive dropbacks through six games. That route participation would have ranked third among all running backs during the regular season. Love being able to snag Mixon in Round 2.
- Stefon Diggs (WR – BUF): Top-tier upside still exists with Diggs in this explosive Bills offense, even if his target share holds at 24% in 2022. Because his command of high-value targets in the Buffalo offense was unmatched by almost every other WR in the NFL, he was one of just two WRs to hit over 2,000 air yards (Justin Jefferson). During the regular season, Diggs also commanded the most end-zone targets in the NFL (25) — six more than the next closest receiver (Jefferson). Simply put: Diggs left a lot of fantasy production on the table in 2021, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening for a second consecutive season. Per PFF’s expected fantasy touchdown model, Diggs scored five TDs under expectation. Metrics like that tend to regress positively the following season.
Approach to Round 2
Fantasy managers should feel comfortable taking an elite wideout in Round 1 because Round 2 is filled with a plethora of running back talent. The non-first-round running backs — Joe Mixon, D’Andre Swift, Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, James Conner, Javonte Williams and Cam Akers— provide enough production for a roster’s RB1 slot.
Keep in mind that many of those RBs don’t need to be drafted in Round 2. Be aware of ADP based on where you are drafting.
If you went with a running back in Round 1, consider whoever remains from the Tier 2 wide receivers — Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, CeeDee Lamb, A.J. Brown, Mike Evans, and Tee Higgins. But don’t be afraid to double down at the running back position even if you already drafted a stud in Round 1.
The cleverly coined “Superhero RB” approach sets you up nicely with two locked-and-loaded studs in your two starting RB spots. It’s an even better strategy in best ball formats, where waiver wire RBs can’t be added to your roster once the season starts.
Solidifying running backs in Rounds 1 and 2 also helps you avoid reaching on running backs in the upcoming RB Dead Zone, where your primary focus should be pounding WRs poised for significant leaps in 2022.
Tight end Travis Kelce is also an option in Round 2, with his 2022 point projection just shy of Cooper Kupp. However, it’s impossible to ignore the high-end target share that Kelce will command in the Chiefs’ offense after they traded Tyreek Hill. His 20% target share ranked second-best at the position in 2021.
Just keep in mind that it was a slight fall-off from his 23% average target share from 2019 and 2020.
Early-Round Players to Target
- CeeDee Lamb (WR – DAL): No more Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson can only spell great things for CeeDee Lamb in 2022. The biggest issue with Lamb was that he never was seeing the requisite target volume in an offense that had a surplus of playmakers. As a result, Lamb boasted just an 18% target share last season — which ranked outside the top 30 among all pass-catchers. But with the fifth-most vacated targets left to be distributed between Lamb, tight end Dalton Schultz, ACL-injury returning Michael Gallup, already hurt veteran James Washington and third-round rookie pick Jalen Tolbert, I’d bet Lamb crests at least a 20% target share in 2022. His 21% target rate per route run bested anybody in Dallas last season.
- D’Andre Swift (RB – DET): Swift was RB9 in points per game (half-point scoring) in 10 games played before his injury. He led all running backs in receptions (53) and averaged nearly 19 touches per game. That would have ranked ninth-best last season.
Considering Swift only earned 26 red-zone touches last season — outside the top 30 — there’s room for his touchdown potential to grow. Through the first seven weeks of the year, Swift posted 22 red-zone touches (53-touch pace over a 17-game season).
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) June 27, 2022
Mid-Round Players to Target
- 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 five 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).
- Aaron Jones (RB – GB): Per StatMuse, Aaron Jones is an absolute target and receptions monster when Davante Adams has missed time in the past. Without Green Bay’s No. 1 WR, Jones has averaged close to 4.5 catches, six targets, 48.5 receiving yards and 23 PPR points per game. Hard to ignore the Packers’ RB1 as a dynamite selection in Round 2 with multiple top-five finishes on his resume. Although be wary that he does come with a little more boom-or-bust potential than most might realize.
RB Aaron Jones has league-winning upside in 2022.
– The receiving looks ELITE w/o Davante Adams.
– But context behind the splits matter.
– You MUST read this before you draft him:
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) July 13, 2022
Late-Round Players to Target
- Mike Evans (WR – TB): The 29-year-old’s consistency — top-eight WR over four consecutive seasons — makes him more than worthy of a top-10 WR fantasy ranking regardless of how the Buccaneers’ target share shakes out in 2022. Besides, he has a potential opportunity to see more targets than ever before, with Antonio Brown out of the picture and Chris Godwin as a candidate to miss games to start the year off the ACL injury. Evans created an elite 27% target share without Godwin or Brown at the end of the 2021 season.
- A.J. Brown (WR – PHI): The veteran has never played in a pass-happy offense. That doesn’t necessarily project to change too drastically if the Eagles run back their “operation ground and pound” from a season ago. Still, Brown’s talent has yet to hold him back amid a poor situation — WR5 in fantasy points per game in 2020 — and that shouldn’t stop in Philly. The former Titan will be the alpha dog for the Eagles and remain a fantasy WR1 in 2022 fantasy leagues. Brown finished fourth in yards per route run (2.72) and in target rate per route run (28%) despite battling injuries last season.
- Leonard Fournette (RB – TB): Fournette ranked fifth in fantasy points and fourth in expected fantasy points per game before his Week 15 injury, leading all running in receptions (62). With an all-encompassing skill set at just 27 years old, Fournette possesses easy top-10 running back fantasy appeal.
Approach to Round 3
Ideally, after Round 2, you have an RB-RB or RB-WR setup. This approach makes staying fluid and flexible for the next few rounds much easier. It’s essential to draft at least one running back in the first two rounds because the talent pool starts to fall off at the start of Round 3. Also, the middle rounds are chock-full of wide receiver talent, which should be the primary focus.
If you still haven’t drafted a tight end, Kyle Pitts is your guy here at the end of Round 3 or the start of Round 4. He’s essentially a WR playing the tight end position, but the positional advantage makes him extremely enticing for fantasy purposes. Just be sure there are not any better options at WR because you are paying a premium for a player on the Atlanta Falcons.
If, for some reason, you’ve avoided running backs up to this point or the other drafters went extremely receiver-heavy through the first three rounds, don’t shy away from another stud running back if one falls with zero-RB all the rage nowadays.
Early-Round Players to Target
- Tee Higgins (WR – CIN): Higgins finished last season as the WR22 overall and 13th in fantasy points per game (13.0) in the half-point per reception scoring format. The big-bodied wide receiver also out-scored Ja’Marr Chase from Week 8 onward, seizing a 24% target share as the WR7 overall. When two teammates share such similar peripheral usage but have a wide ADP gap, scoop up the value with the cheaper guy. Those players are being priced closer to their floor than their ceiling. Higgins — top-10 in PFF receiving grade and yards per route run in 2021 — is that guy to draft in 2022.
- Michael Pittman (WR – IND): Michael Pittman is entering Year 3 and should be viewed as a legitimate alpha WR1 based on his accomplishments from 2021. With a more trustworthy quarterback who has a track record of fueling fantasy WR1s and hyper-targeting alphas in Matt Ryan for the 2022 season, Pittman has the legitimate chance to leap into the top-12 WR1 conversation.
Mid-Round Players to Target
- Courtland Sutton (WR – DEN): 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.
Late-Round Players to Target
- James Conner (RB – ARI): The Cardinals’ running back finished the 2021 season tied for second in goal-line carries and third in touchdowns (18). Conner received extensive work in the passing game with Chase Edmonds out of the lineup from Weeks 9-14 and Week 18. Conner averaged 26.2 fantasy points and 5.5 targets per game in those six games while running a route on 61% of the Cardinals’ dropbacks. His RB finishes in half-point scoring during those weeks: RB1, RB16, RB8, RB11, RB2, and RB3. But I’ll admit that I have cooled on Conner since the start of the offseason. Edmonds signed with the Miami Dolphins this offseason, but I am not 100% convinced that Conner will see the exact same role that he saw at the tail end of last year. Newly signed Darrel Williams and returning veteran Eno Benjamin — both offer receiving ability — could combine for an Edmonds-esque role to keep Conner healthy for the entire season. That would hinder Conner’s fantasy RB1 upside; although he was a top-20 running back in half-point scoring last season — 29th in points per game — even before Edmonds got hurt. Worth mentioning that he had more rushing touchdowns (eight) than receptions (five) through the first eight weeks of the season. Conner’s blazing 2021 finish reminds me of Kenyan Drake‘s second-half surge in 2019 that led him to be vastly overrated the following season under the same offensive coaching staff. Extrapolating his production from a best-case situation over a 17-game pace is not the optimal approach. But in Round 3, I still see the value in a Conner selection.
- Marquise Brown (WR – ARI): Marquise Brown seems slated for a massive target share in the Arizona Cardinals’ pass-heavy offense, especially with DeAndre Hopkins sidelined early on. Brown has already shown the ability to command targets at a high rate after posting a top-12, 23% target share last year with Baltimore. The speedy wideout also commanded a whopping 27% target share back in 2018 at Oklahoma — the last time he played with quarterback Kyler Murray.
Round 4 Targets
- Cam Akers (RB – LAR): There’s simply too much emphasis placed on Cam Akers’ poor production at the tail end of 2021 (2.4 ypc) when touch volume is the key driver of 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 1-RB offense, where the team’s lead back averages 20-plus touches per game. Darrell Henderson Jr. has proven he’s nothing more than a replaceable running back.
- Breece Hall (RB – NYJ): All Hall needs is to take on the workload from the Jets cumulative RB1 from last season — 240 touches, 14-15 per game — and he’s a lock to be a top-15 fantasy running back. Every running back that hit that touch threshold last season finished inside that ranking. Therefore, I am in on the rookie in the RB2 range even as a member of the New York Jets. Because the situation may not be as dire as most expect. Tevin Coleman and Michael Carter finished top-6 in PFF rushing grade over the last 8 weeks of the fantasy football season. If two inferior RBs were able to be efficient in a worse offense, then a college stud like Hall should easily meet/exceed expectations behind PFF’s 13th-ranked offensive line heading into 2022.
- Travis Etienne Jr. (RB – JAX): With James Robinson attempting to come back from a torn Achilles injury suffered on December 26, Travis Etienne figures to seize a major role after a lost rookie season. 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 2018-2019 AND most carries inside the five-yard line among FBS running backs from 2018-2020. With an explosive pass-catching skill set and underrated track record of red zone usage with his former college QB, Etienne checks off the requisite boxes of a fantasy RB poised to make noise in 2022. And he can be obtained for the suppressed price of a back-end fantasy RB2. An RB2 with massive upside seems like ETN’s floor considering Robinson finished 23rd at the position last season amid much poorer circumstances. And that’s even if Doug Pederson deploys a slight running back by committee. Darren Sproles/Miles Sanders saw awesome receiving roles in the Pederson offense in Philly. Miles Sanders was RB15 as a rookie on just 53% snap share. Taking the over on that for ETN.
Miles Sanders' rookie season
– Fantasy RB15
– 12th in receptions (53)
– 13th in targets (67)
– 11th in routes run
On just a 53% snap share.
In Doug Pederson offense.
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) August 3, 2022
Round 5 Targets
- Rashod Bateman (WR – BAL): 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 in 2022. With Brown’s 23% target share departure, Bateman can seize a massive role for fantasy as a high-end WR2.
- Mike Williams (WR – LAC): Big Mike finished the season as the WR23 in fantasy points per game, coming off career-highs in targets, catches and yards per route run despite cooling off considerably in the later weeks, in addition to leaving a boatload of touchdown production on the table. Through the first five weeks of the season, the big-bodied wideout was second in WR scoring behind only Cooper Kupp. Then he tweaked his knee, and things fell off. He finished sixth in end-zone targets (16) but caught only five for touchdowns. The sky’s the limit with the Chargers offense, and the production from scores could easily vault Williams over Keenan Allen in fantasy across all formats despite the latter’s higher projected target share. Recall, They BOTH finished as WR1s at the same rate (33%) last season in PPR. But Williams finished with more points overall through 18 weeks.
Andrew Erickson’s 2022 Redraft Fantasy Football Rankings
ADP – Average Draft Position
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