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Derek Brown’s Early-Round Draft Strategy & Top Targets (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Derek Brown | @dbro_ffb | Featured Writer
Aug 16, 2022
Justin Jefferson

The 2022 NFL season is approaching, and that means it’s time to prepare for your fantasy football draft. What better way to do that than to practice drafting with our free mock draft simulator! Beyond our tools, we’re also going to 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 Derek Brown’s perfect 2022 fantasy football draft.

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Fantasy Football Redraft Draft Kit

*All data utilized in this article courtesy of FantasyPros, PFF, Football Outsiders and Playerprofiler.com unless otherwise specified.*

Derek Brown’s Early-Round Draft Strategy & Top Targets

Approach to Round 1

With a top-three pick, I’ll grab one of Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Taylor, or Cooper Kupp. Whoever falls to me in that range is perfectly fine, so I’ll mention some attainable players without a top-three selection for my early-round targets here.

Early-Round Players to Targets

  • Justin Jefferson: Justin Jefferson‘s path of ascension isn’t complete yet. Jefferson could finish as the WR1 overall in 2022 after logging a WR4 ranking last year. He was near the top of the leaderboard in every efficiency metric, ranking seventh in yards per route run, tenth in route win rate, and first in weighted opportunity.
  • Dalvin Cook: Dalvin Cook has played at least 13 games in each of the last three seasons, so injury concerns are a tad embellished. Over that span, Cook has been the RB9, RB2, and RB2 in fantasy points per game. Entering his age 27 season, he showed plenty left in the tank last season, sitting at 11th in evaded tackles and second in breakaway runs. Cook is among the best-receiving backs in the NFL, ranking eighth and 11th in yards per route run among running backs in 2019-2020. The Vikings are rumored to utilize him in the passing game more this season. Cook saw target shares of 13.4% (ninth) and 16.0% (tenth) in 2019 and 2020 before the downturn last season. If the pass game usage returns to previous levels, Cook could be the RB1 in 2022.

Mid-Round Players to Targets

  • Ja’Marr Chase: Ja’Marr Chase always had elite upside, but it was nice to see it immediately in year one as he was the WR5. Chase was eighth in yards per route run and fourth in YAC per reception while also leading the league in deep targets. Chase has the deep role for the Bengals on lockdown. After seeing only 12 red-zone targets (35th) last season, there’s an even higher touchdown ceiling that he can reach despite ranking fourth in total touchdowns last season among wideouts.
  • Najee Harris: Last year Najee Harris amassed 1,667 total yards and ten touchdowns en route to an RB6 finish. Now, with worries about his weight and headlines of the Steelers possibly decreasing his workload, some might feel slight hesitancy with drafting him in the first round. They shouldn’t. Last year Harris became one of only five players since 2017 to handle 380 or more touches in a season. His workload needed to come down some if we want him available for every game. On the subject of his weight, Harris played last season at only four pounds lighter, so those worries are also overblown. If the Steelers feature an improved offense in 2022, Harris can improve on his 38 red zone touches (21st) last year and land in the top three at his position.

Late-Round Players to Targets

  • D’Andre Swift: Before suffering a shoulder injury last season, D’Andre Swift was the RB7 in fantasy points per game. As the season progressed, Swift distanced himself from Jamaal Williams, finishing 12th in weighted opportunities and eighth in snap share. Swift was incredibly efficient, ranking ninth in yards per route run, 18th in evaded tackles, and first in yards created per touch. Swift was only 29th in red-zone touches last year, resulting from the Lions ranking 29th in red-zone scoring attempts per game. With an improved supporting cast, Swift’s touchdown outlook is even higher in 2022.
  • Stefon Diggs: Stefon Diggs wasn’t able to top his electric first season in Buffalo last year as he slipped to WR9 in fantasy points per game. His volume and usage remained top shelf as he finished top 12 in weighted opportunity (12th), target share (11th), and air yard share (12th). The largest regression point for Diggs was his yards per route run as they tumbled from 2.49 to 1.84, which was still a top 25 mark (25th) among wide receivers with 50 or more targets. At age 28, this may be the first sign of aging for Diggs, but he’s still worth drafting this early with confidence. He’s the main squeeze for arguably the best quarterback in the game, locked inside a top-five scoring offense that will push the pace and passing rates.

Beyond our fantasy football content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – that optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football draft season.

Approach to Round 2

Early-Round Players to Targets

  • Travis Kelce: You need Doc Brown and a Delorean to find a season where Travis Kelce has finished lower than the TE2 in fantasy points per game. We’d have to press the pedal to the metal and travel back to 2015 when Kelce was the TE9. Returning to 2022, Kelce is entering his age 33 season, and despite now being an elder statesman, his metrics last season remained strong. He was seventh in yards per route run and 15th in YAC per reception. Comparing Kelce’s 2021 per game fantasy output, he would have been the RB10 or the WR11. Still tied to one of the best quarterbacks in the game as his unquestioned number one option, Kelce is worth paying up for.
  • CeeDee Lamb: This season is CeeDee Lamb‘s opportunity to step into the league’s elite receiver tier. The Cowboys have cleared the runway for Lamb with the departure of Amari Cooper for that to happen. Lamb was 13th in yards per route run last season while also operating as a steamroller in the open field. He was fourth in missed tackles forced and 14th in yards after the catch during the regular season. As Dallas’s number one option, he can improve upon last year’s WR18 finish.

Mid-Round Players to Targets

  • Leonard Fournette: Leonard Fournette was the RB3 in fantasy points per game last season, yet he’ll slip to this point of the draft or later. Training camp pictures with Fournette showing off some offseason “gains” will push him down the board in some draft rooms. A workhorse running back in a top-five scoring offense should not leave the top two rounds. Fournette likely repeats his top 12 snap (12th) and weighted opportunity shares (seventh) from last season as he bulldozes his way to another fantastic season.
  • Saquon Barkley: Saquon Barkley is in a fantastic spot to help himself in a contract year. The nightmare fuel of a Joe Judge, Jason Garrett, or Freddie Kitchens-led offense is gone. Barkley gets a scheme upgrade and help up front to open running lanes with their return to zone rushing. The Giants added Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, and Evan Neal to plow the road and protect Daniel Jones, so he can sustain drives this season. With the buzz that Brian Daboll and company want to utilize Barkley in the passing game more if the stars align, he can return to the dizzying heights of his early career production.

Late-Round Players to Targets

  • Mike Evans: The dawn of another NFL season equals another opportunity to draft underrated Mike Evans. He’s the poster boy for consistency, ranking as a top 20 wide receiver every year except for one. With Chris Godwin recovering from injury and Russell Gage in the first year of the TB12 experience, look for Evans’ 12.7% target per snap rate (52nd) and target share to climb. Evans was 15th in deep targets and 11th in red-zone targets last season. He could easily see more volume in both areas in 2022, propelling him into top-five status at the wide receiver position.
  • Javonte Williams: Regardless of whatever metric you look to when evaluating running back play, you’ll likely find Javonte Williams near the top of the list. Williams finished last season as the RB22 in fantasy points per game despite only carving out a 50.5% opportunity share (31st). Yes, Melvin Gordon is back in the fold, but if Williams can grab even a 60% share of this backfield, he could explode in an improved offense this season. Williams ranked sixth in evaded tackles and seventh in yards created per touch. While many know his rushing prowess, his pass game skills are being slept on. With Nathaniel Hackett dialing up the screen rate this season for Russell Wilson, Williams should be heavily involved after ranking 17th in yards per route run last year. The needle is pointing up for one of the league’s best young rushers.

Approach to Round 3

Early-Round Players to Targets

  • James Conner: James Conner is locked and loaded as Arizona’s do-it-all back in 2022. Last season when he was the workhorse, he averaged 21.8 touches and 114.4 total yards per game as the RB2 in fantasy. The addition of Darrel Williams might hurt Conner in the pass game route department some, but his role as the primary goal-line back should be safe. In 2021 he ranked 16th in red-zone touches and 18th in red-zone touch share, but he was the most effective red-zone back in the NFL. Conner led all running backs in red zone touchdown conversion rate.
  • A.J. Brown: Adding one of the league’s most efficient wide receivers, A.J. Brown, to the Eagles’ passing attack will pay immediate dividends. Brown was eighth in yards per route run last season. Brown could set career-high marks across the board if the Eagles dial the passing volume up in 2022. Philadelphia attempted to go pass-heavy last year but then skewed run-centric when they realized they didn’t have the personnel to do it. Despite two seasons under his belt ranking inside the top-five among receivers in total touchdowns, Brown has never finished higher than 29th in red zone target volume. The Eagles led the NFL in red zone rushing rate last year with 61% (league average 48%). With the touchdown pendulum set to swing back to the passing game once they get in close, Brown could challenge for the league lead in receiving touchdowns.

Mid-Round Players to Targets

  • Tee Higgins: The target consolidation in the Bengals’ passing attack is beautiful. We have already seen Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins both smash in the same season, so there’s no reason to think they can’t do it in 2022. Higgins was the WR12 in fantasy points per game last year. He was the 11th-highest-graded wide receiver per PFF and tenth in yards per route run (minimum 50 targets). While Higgins might not have top 3-5 upside without a Chase injury, getting a top 12-15 fantasy wideout in the third round is still nice.
  • Michael Pittman: After finishing as the WR22 in fantasy points per game last year with hapless Carson Wentz, Michael Pittman is primed to ascend to WR1 status in 2022. Pittman was a top 20 wideout last season in PFF grade (18th), yards per route run (19th), and red-zone targets (14th). With the Colts likely bumping up the passing rate with the arrival of Matt Ryan, Pittman is a smash value in the late third or early fourth round.
  • D.J. Moore: D.J. Moore has suffered through gag-inducing quarterback play throughout his career. With Baker Mayfield in town, this could be the year that reaches a screeching halt. Moore was the WR13 in expected fantasy points last year, commanding a 28.4% target share (fifth) and 28.3% target per route run rate (11th). The Panthers’ limp-armed signal callers last year crushed his production, though, as he finished as the WR23 in fantasy points per game. This can be traced back to him dealing with a 71.6% catchable target rate (71st) and a 4.8 target quality rating (72nd). With Moore’s volume locked in and Mayfield raising the passing bar, this could be the year we finally see his name mentioned among the best receivers in the league.

Late-Round Players to Targets

  • Cam Akers: Cam Akers miraculously made it back for the playoffs last season. It’s almost a definite to assume Akers wasn’t at 100%, but Sean McVay reinstalled him as the workhorse regardless. His 2.31 yards after contact per attempt was a massive decline from the 2.96 he rumbled for in his first year in the league. With a full offseason to resharpen the tools in his arsenal, Akers is a mispriced 18-20 touch per game running back in one of the league’s best offenses.
  • Kyle Pitts: Kyle Pitts broke the mold for rookie tight ends last season, living up to his unicorn status. He was third in receiving yards and eighth in receptions among tight ends while also sitting at fourth in yards per route run. Expecting improvement in year two isn’t crazy despite how well he played in his first season. The easy layup for improvement in his 2022 fantasy output versus last year is in the touchdown department. Despite ranking tenth in red-zone targets, he only mustered one score. This number is going up, so we can expect Pitts to lap his TE11 finish last year.

Round 4 Targets

  • Breece Hall: With Breece Hall on the roster and the team looking to ease Zach Wilson into his second season, the Jets could lean even more run-heavy in close games in 2022. Last season they were 15th in neutral script rushing rate. They have added further reinforcements this offseason to an offensive line that was 11th in open field yards in 2021. Hall is a perfect fit in the Jets outside zone scheme with his electric burst and home run-hitting ability.
  • Courtland Sutton: Courtland Sutton is a #DErickson approved draft pick this year. Our love affair with Russell Wilson‘s new alpha wide receiver is well known. I outlined why I’m targeting him in every draft in my players to target in 2022 article.

Derek Brown’s 2022 Redraft Fantasy Football Rankings

 

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