The NFL is back, and with it, the 2022 fantasy football season.
For all the talk about the demise of the running back, most of whom now share snaps in teams’ ongoing efforts to reduce injuries, many top fantasy players can still be found at the position.
Even fantasy football novices can find the value in Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, who led the NFL with 92 touches in the red zone in 2021, or Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey, who ranks among the best in the game when healthy.
Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris, and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Austin Ekeler have all proven to be three-down workhorses, and none of that changes heading into the 2022 campaign.
For that matter, the elites at quarterback and wide receiver are all well known to casual and obsessed fantasy football fans.
Los Angeles Chargers signal caller Justin Herbert now ranks among the best passers, while Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp is now the unquestioned leader at his position.
The challenge for fantasy football fans in 2022 is, as always, finding value in the middle rounds of the draft and avoiding pitfalls, like injuries and sudden declines in production.
The following is a look at some of the more undervalued — and overvalued — players at quarterback and the FLEX positions as you prepare for your 2022 fantasy football draft.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders: Perhaps no offseason move had a bigger impact in the 2022 fantasy football season as the Raiders’ signing of Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams. Aaron Rodgers’ former favorite target was a college teammate of Carr’s at Fresno State, so the pair has some familiarity, and Adams hauled in a remarkable 72.8 percent of passes thrown his way in 2021. In fact, he was even better in 2020, recording a 77.2 percent catch rate as Rodgers won the first of his back-to-back MVPs.
But the biggest reason Carr ranks among the most underrated quarterbacks isn’t his newest target, but rather, an offensive line that couldn’t possibly be any worse than it was last season. With rookie Alex Leatherwood struggling to adapt at right guard in 2021, the Raiders allowed Carr to be sacked 40 times (more than all but four quarterbacks), and yet he still posted a solid QB rating of 94.
With Leatherwood switching to right tackle, where he was projected before being drafted, and the addition of veteran guard Alex Bars, even a modest improvement could pay big dividends for Carr and new coach, former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts: It’s easy to forget about a 14-year NFL veteran entering his first season with a new team that isn’t expected to compete for a Super Bowl, but that’s exactly why Ryan finds himself on the ‘underrated’ list.
A year ago he finished in the bottom third of fantasy QBs with the rebuilding Atlanta Falcons. Now, on a Colts team that boasts breakout stars like receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor, Ryan is no longer being relied upon to carry the offense. Throw in the NFL’s tenth-ranked offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus, and Ryan is poised for a major rebound in the AFC South.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Yes, somehow, the NFL’s reigning two-time MVP is underrated, at least as far as fantasy football is concerned. Without the departed Adams, Rodgers is getting ranked near the middle of QBs heading into rotisserie drafts.
But Rodgers has survived the departure of top receivers before (Randall Cobb in 2018), and now, he finds himself playing behind an improving offensive line. Not only are interior lineman Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, and Jake Hanson all capable, young players, but veteran tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins have a chance to return from their 2021 knee injuries early in 2022. Such a development would give Green Bay one of the best units is the NFC.
Keep an eye on receiver Allen Lazard, who has the best chance to fill Adams’s shoes, given his familiarity with Rodgers and the offense.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Following a 40-day retirement, Brady reclaims his throne as the most visible player in the NFL, and one of the most consistent fantasy football performers over the last two decades.
But in case you haven’t heard, the man is 45, he’s lost his favorite target in Rob Gronkowski to retirement, and injuries to centers Ryan Jensen and Robert Hainsey will complicate Brady’s season significantly.
Don’t read too far into the acquisition of Julio Jones, whose catch rate regressed to 65 percent last season in Tennessee after hitting a career-high with Ryan in Atlanta at 75 percent in 2020. He could draw some attention in the red zone away from elite receiver Mike Evans, but Brady and the Bucs needs someone to move the chains — particularly with conditioning concerns surrounding running back Leonard Fournette.
Brady’s recent leave of absence isn’t much of an issue yet, given his track record, but his once overwhelming array of weapons in Tampa is starting to look depleted.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals: With a new five-year, $230 million contract in hand, the NFL’s best baseball player should be in a good head space heading into the season.
And given his running ability (nearly 2,000 yards over three seasons), Murray remains one of the best options at quarterback because he doesn’t need to be killing teams through the air in order to have success.
The problem is, Murray will be without suspended receiver DeAndre Hopkins for six games, and his production suffered under such circumstances last season (just 18.8 fantasy points per game without Hopkins in 2021).
The addition of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown should help offset that loss, given that he played with Murray in college and has some familiarity with his new quarterback.
However, the loss of receiver Christian Kirk and running back Chase Edmonds leaves a sizable hole in production. Both combined for around a quarter of the team’s targets and receptions last year not to mention 18.5 percent of the team’s touchdowns.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: His arm, accuracy, and ability to conjure up the unthinkable leaves Mahomes as one of the best quarterbacks in fantasy football.
But without receiver Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins, the Chiefs offense has a desperate need for speed. As a deep threat, Hill occupied safeties and spread defenses thin.
Mahomes no longer has that luxury, and he’s coming off career low passing grade, according to PFF, and had a career-high 16 interceptions in 2021.
Nobody is going to tease you for drafting Mahomes, but he may not be the fantasy football trump card we all figured him to be.
Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s easy to forget about a guy who missed his rookie season with with a foot issue — particularly at running back.
But the former Clemson star appears to have a hold on a starter’s job, and that not only gives him the chance to carry the football, but in all likelihood, become one of quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s top targets as well. That means Etienne can pay dividends in a PPR (points per reception) league or a non-PPR league.
The dual-threat running back had 6,107 total yards, 87 touchdowns, and 788 touches at Clemson alongside Lawrence, who clearly has a lot of faith in Etienne.
Furthermore, James Robinson is still recovering from his achilles injury, and Etienne may have a chance to win the job outright before his fellow running back returns.
Ken Walker III, Seattle Seahawks: Someone has to touch the football in Seattle, and it might as well be the second-round pick out of Michigan State.
He’s not an Alvin Kamara-type, like Etienne, but he does fit in the Spartan tradition of fantasy workhorses, like Le’Veon Bell.
And given the uncertainty at quarterback, it’s a safe bet that offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will want to keep the football on the ground.
Starter Rashaad Penny has struggled to stay on the field since 2018, and Walker’s durability could be the perfect insurance policy for this fledgling offense.
Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers: Something has to give in Santa Clara, where then-offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel absolutely overworked versatile receiver Deebo Samuel in 2021.
McDaniel is gone to Miami and Samuel now has three-year, $71 million contract, giving the 49ers ample reason to protect him going forward.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan needs someone reliable with new quarterback Trey Lance taking the helm, and Mitchell is as good of a candidate as any.
The former sixth-round pick was San Francisco’s lead back in 2021 (963 rushing yards and five touchdowns), and although he was’t featured in goal-line situations, he still figures to get a lot of touches in 2022.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons: Everyone loves his versatility and speed, but at 31, it’s unlikely he will continue ranking near the top of his position in targets, receptions and receiving yards.
He’s still a great flex option, and a true value in the later rounds, but anyone who saw him sputter over the season’s final four weeks in 2021 (just 45 touches over that time) can see his obvious limitations going forward.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots: It’s tempting to think that Harris will be the biggest beneficiary of James White’s recent retirement, given his nearly 1,000-yard season in 2021.
But Harris is not a pass catcher and saw only nine carries in a blowout playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, mostly because the sizable deficit necessitated more passing from the Patriots.
Former Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson projects to offer more as receiver (123 yards on 14 catches in 2021), so unless something changes, Harris should be regarded as a part-time player.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders: The former Alabama star hasn’t done anything wrong, and he remains a talented, athletic dual threat.
The problem is the arrival of his new coach, Josh McDaniels, who traditionally liked to use a committee of running backs as offensive coordinator of the Patriots.
Adams’ addition also looks to take touches out of Jacobs hands, and while the Raiders offensive line can’t be any worse than it was in 2021, it’s unlikely to be a major strength of the team in 2022.
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos: Did you hear there’s a new quarterback in the mile-high city?
Russell Wilson’s fantasy impact on receivers is well known. When he falls in love with a target, like DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett, the rest is a formality.
Jeudy has always been able to get open, (he’s had a 21-percent target share in his brief career), but Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock struggled to deliver catchable passes, and his catch rate has been a pitiful 54 percent.
That should all change with Wilson on board.
Russell Gage, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With Gronkowski retired and Chris Godwin recovering from an ACL tear, Gage has a tremendous opportunity in Tampa after leaving Atlanta in free agency.
At 6-feet, and with only nine touchdowns in four seasons, he isn’t much of a red zone threat, although he can prove effective in the open field and has a knack for getting open.
Brady has always had a talent for finding value in overlooked receivers, and unlike the Jones signing, Tampa Bay’s acquisition of Gage went largely under the radar for most fans.
Garrett Wilson, New York Jets: It’s still a bit early to tell if Wilson or teammate Elijah Moore will emerge as Zach Wilson’s preferred target, but the Ohio State prospect is an elite athlete who offers the second-year quarterback a chance to show off his superior arm strength.
Best of all, Wilson is already known for his tremendous hands, having dropped only six passes with the Buckeyes.
Amari Cooper, Cleveland Browns: After failing to meet expectations with the Raiders and Cowboys, the former Alabama star now finds himself in Cleveland, where he could be without Deshaun Watson for long stretches of the season, depending on whether the quarterback is suspended over sexual misconduct allegations.
But whether it’s Watson or Jacoby Brissett throwing passes, Cooper will likely struggle to put op WR1 numbers. Last season he had a career-low 19-percent target rate, and that figure isn’t expected to go up alongside talented young receivers like Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Bell, not to mention running back Nick Chubb.
Cooper has never lived up to his billing as the ‘next’ Julio Jones, and at 28, he’s running out of time to make that happen.
DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks: While Jeudy can celebrate the Broncos’ acquisition of Wilson, Metcalf has every reason for concern now that he’s playing with Drew Lock under center.
The good news is that Lock will likely make Metcalf his top receiver — a role that the massive wide receiver has handled well in three seasons while accumulating 358 targets — and it’s hard to ignore his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame in the red zone.
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers: One of the greatest fantasy performances in recent memory could give way to major disappointment for Samuel, who has been overworked to say the least.
His increasing workload out of the backfield (59 attempts, mostly over the season’s second half) seems impossible to replicate for a wide receiver.
The bottom line is Shanahan needs to find ways to limit the abuse Samuel takes, and one of the consequences of that will likely be his status as an elite fantasy football player. You don’t touch the ball 180 times in a season the way Samuel did in 2021 and expect to do it all over again the following year.
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots: One of two major offseason acquisitions at the position for the Patriots in 2021, Henry emerged ahead of Jonnu Smith last season to become Mac Jones’ preferred tight end, particularly in the red zone (nine touchdowns, 12 end zone targets).
It doesn’t help that he lost his offensive coordinator, but having the faith of Jones is a major plus for Henry considering that the second-year quarterback is just emerging as a competent, reliable passer.
And given New England’s patchwork receiving corps and the recent retirement of pass-catching running back James White, Henry figures to be a bigger point of emphasis in 2021.
Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts: One of the biggest beneficiaries of Ryan’s arrival could be Alie-Cox, who has never had major production, but does boast good size (6-foot-5), hands, and athleticism.
It helps that he plays in coach Frank Reich’s tight end-friendly system, but most importantly, he’s stepping into the void created by Jack Doyle’s retirement.
The opportunity is there for Alie-Cox. He just need to capitalize on it.
Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Chargers: Always a competent target with the Rams and Seahawks, Everett now moves to a team with an elite passer (Justin Herbert) and talented receivers, who can pull defenders away from the 28-year-old tight end.
Everett will never be a deep threat, but he was under utilized in goal-line situations in LA and Seattle getting just 18 end-zone targets in his career.
If that changes with the surging Chargers, Everett could become a viable touchdown threat inside the 20-yard line.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders: Nearly 30, injuries are beginning to take their toll on Waller, who now has to compete with Adams for targets.
Waller is continuing to battle hamstring issues in camp, and even given his obvious physical gifts, it’s hard to envision him replicating his 2019 and 2020 production, when he had over 2,300 combined receiving yards, 262 targets and 197 receptions.
He’s still 6-foot-6 with good hands, so it’s hard to ignore him, but he’s no longer the elite tight end he once was.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs: Another player who will struggle to match his past production is Kelce, a longtime favorite of Mahomes who now may see more defensive attention from safeties with Hill in Miami.
That could also lead to more targets, but at 33, he’s got to find ways to get open and that’s only going to get more difficult.
It’s odd that he had only four end-zone targets last season, and if that trend continues, his fantasy value would suffer significantly.
Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons: If this were just about talent, Pitts wouldn’t be on this ‘overvalued’ list.
The problem is, he plays on a rebuilding team with a new quarterback in Marcus Mariota, and even if rookie Desmond Ridder does emerge as the starter, it’s hard to say what that means for Pitts.
The good news for Pitts is that he’s a rare deep threat among tight ends, and offers the kind of athleticism that should translate to a significant amount of YAC (yards after catch).
But Atlanta’s offense struggled to score in the red zone last year, and there’s not a lot of hope that changes in 2022.
Pitts is an elite tight end on a team that will struggle to score. Even if he’s force-fed targets, his production may never quite meet expectations this season.