The 2021 fantasy football season is in the books, but that doesn’t mean the grind comes to end. There are valuable lessons to be learned in order to better project 2022 fantasy football rankings.
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I have some hits and misses to reflect on heading into 2022 fantasy football, especially at the wide receiver position. Last year, Cooper Kupp was the league-winning WR for fantasy, and he was attainable by every drafter in Round 4. New quarterback Matthew Stafford elevated Kupp back inside the top-5 fantasy WRs — as he was in 2019. The ex- Detroit Lions quarterback took it a step further, though, peppering Kupp with a league-leading 31% target share en route to the WR1 overall finish.
Let's take a look at my 2022 fantasy football wide receiver rankings and dig a little deeper into what went right and wrong in 2021. Reflecting on the hits and misses at the wide receiver position will hopefully uncover the right metrics and trends to leverage going forward.
2022 WIDE RECEIVER RANKINGS
|21||Michael Pittman Jr.||IND||4|
|28||Odell Beckham Jr.||LAR||4|
|33||Amon-Ra St. Brown||DET||5|
|43||Allen Robinson II||CHI||6|
|55||Laviska Shenault Jr.||JAC||7|
|56||D.J. Chark Jr.||JAC||7|
|64||Will Fuller V||MIA||8|
|65||Terrace Marshall Jr.||CAR||8|
|73||Marvin Jones Jr.||JAC||8|
2021 WIDE RECEIVER DRAFT STRATEGY AND 2022 APPLICATION
Let's start with Kupp: Was his miraculous season something that should have been predicted? The follow-up question is, “If so, how can it be replicated?”
Diving back into my preseason analysis of Kupp in the Stafford-led Rams offense, I was on board with the Los Angeles wide receiver seeing boosted touchdown totals with an upgraded quarterback. Kupp ended the season with the most receiving touchdowns in the league.
wrote this about Cooper Kupp during draft szn
TD regression is REAL pic.twitter.com/Tt0AgDasLt
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) January 18, 2022
Targeting TD regression candidates has been a staple of my weekly high-value opportunities article and needs to be part of the draft equation when selecting WRs in the early to middle rounds, especially in cases like Kupp who not only had a double-digit TD season on his resume but a reason he might score more touchdowns. In this case, upgrading from Jared Goff to Stafford was that signal. Target wide receivers in the early to middle rounds who have a quarterback who can unlock their upside.
Barring offensive/quarterback changes from 2022 free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft, the following wide receivers/pass-catchers are due for positive touchdown regression and are worth keeping tabs on. This is based on the players with the most total receiving yards and fewest receiving touchdowns in 2021.
|Amon-Ra St. Brown||5||912|
A.J. Brown and Chase Claypool are the two WRs in the table that already have achieved double-digit touchdown seasons. D.J. Moore, Terry McLaurin and Claypool also figure to have different quarterbacks in 2022 — for better or worse we will see.
Other wide receivers and tight ends who should experience positive touchdown regression based on their overall target volume inside the 5-yard line include Zach Ertz, Gabriel Davis, Diontae Johnson, A.J. Green, Van Jefferson, Marquise Brown, Mike Williams, CeeDee Lamb, DeVonta Smith, Darren Waller, Courtland Sutton and Marvin Jones Jr.
The major takeaway here is to keep in mind that some wide receivers are more inclined to finish on the higher-end of the touchdown spectrum if they are red-zone threats or play in a high-powered offense.
It’s that exact rationale that would have easily put Kupp over Robert Woods in the majority of 2021 rankings and ADP — something I, and the market, failed to do.
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2022 WIDE RECEIVER MISSES
I viewed Woods as having a safer floor than Kupp based on his 2020 finish as WR18 in points per game. He was always the security option, but that’s not what fantasy drafters should be looking to acquire in the top five rounds.
Drafting wide receivers in these rounds is still the correct approach in order avoid the running back dead zone and hit on WRs with upside like Kupp. But the “safe-floor” trap based on projected targets needs to be acknowledged.
That was the driving force behind my belief in wide receivers like McLaurin, Moore, Allen Robinson II, Kenny Golladay and Laviska Shenault Jr. despite question marks at the quarterback position. I didn’t weigh the target efficiency and instead chased volume.
Conversely, I wasn’t high enough on Mike Evans or Ja’Marr Chase for fear that they wouldn’t command a high target share. I overlooked the fact that their much better passing offenses would likely counterbalance the lack of high-end target share.
I need to do a better job of valuing No. 2 wide receivers on prolific offenses, while also preaching caution regarding No. 1 wide receivers on bad offenses — especially if there is ambiguity about who the No. 1 weapon is.
That’s the 2021 Denver Broncos in a nutshell, as I was way too ambitious on Jerry Jeudy/Courtland Sutton. The simple fact of the matter was that an offense led by Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater was never going to produce fireworks in an extremely crowded offense.
Easily, my most egregious wide receiver miss was ranking Brandon Aiyuk over Deebo Samuel. Full disclosure: I was not particularly high on either San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, labeling them as “buyer beware” candidates in the team’s fantasy preview. I was concerned about the run-heavy nature of the 49ers offense, and I assumed George Kittle would be the No. 1 target in the passing game.
No. 2 receivers tend to struggle to be fantasy-viable in run-heavy offenses, which did influence Aiyuk’s poor WR36 overall finish compared to his WR23 ADP.
Samuel’s role as a rusher in 2021 — 365 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns — helped mitigate any negative effects of playing in a run-heavy offense, but writing him off because of his low aDOT in 2020 was malpractice. It was a small sample size based on Samuel's injury-plagued 2020 season.
I should have taken more shots on Samuel based on a breakout rookie season on his resume and his WR35 ADP — a steep discount from Aiyuk — while playing in one of the NFL’s more efficient offenses. Just another oversight of a No. 2 receiver I wasn’t in on.
Let Samuel’s breakout season be a reminder that players should not be written off because of low aDOTs, as those are completely subject to change based on the player’s deployment.
Samuel gives me hope that guys with bottom-10 aDOTs in 2021 like Laviska Shenault, Kadarius Toney, Jaylen Waddle and Amon-Ra St. Brown can explore new heights in 2022 if they see more downfield opportunities.
2022 WIDE RECEIVER HITS
D.K. Metcalf was my big fade in Round 3 — I felt his price (WR6) was only capturing his upside with a fully functioning Russell Wilson. Wilson had to #cook for the colossal-sized wideout to hit, and that was far from a guarantee.
I also noted that Metcalf and Tyler Lockett had identical target shares (25%) in 2020, which carried over into 2021. The Seattle Seahawks duo would go on to finish back-to-back in PPR scoring — WR15 and WR16 — in 18 weeks played.
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 close to their floor than their ceiling.
He was a screaming value in drafts last season after seizing a 24% target share from Week 8 onward in 2020. The Clemson product will be a value again after commanding a team-high 25% target share when healthy during the 2021 regular season. Higgins is a real-life No. 2 wide receiver I won’t overlook.
Fantasy football pro tip: Sort PFF premium stats by drops and draft those wide receivers. It worked last season with Diontae Johnson, who was a steal in Round 5. He carried over his 26% target rate from 2020 into the 2021 season en route to a WR8 overall finish.
Don’t get me wrong: Chasing a wide receiver based solely on volume with a bad quarterback sometimes doesn’t work out, as displayed by several of the WRs I missed this season. What was different about Johnson, however, was the price. He was cheaper than so many of those other guys deemed “QB-proof.”
Eventually, the market price on a No. 1 wide receiver projected for a boatload of targets becomes too good to pass on, even with shoddy passes likely coming their way.
There was no better example of this than Brandin Cooks, who finished as the WR16 in 2021 due to a 24% target share. The Houston Texans wide receiver has finished worse than WR16 just once since 2015, and that was due to injury.
Cooks beating his WR40 ADP was one of the easiest bets to make last season based on his strong history of production.
Robby Anderson's failure to meet expectations shouldn't have been a surprise, either. Anderson had a poor track record with Sam Darnold dating back to his days with the New York Jets. The Carolina Panthers‘ No. 2 wide receiver relied solely on volume in 2020, which doesn’t always bode well for future production. He finished eighth in the NFL among WRs in targets (134) but outside the top 25 in fantasy points per game.
Marquise Brown and Darnell Mooney finished ninth and 11th, respectively, in targets, but each outside the top-23 in fantasy points per game in 2021. The lesson here is that if you're going to chase wide receiver volume, do it later in the draft (Rounds 5-7 as opposed to Rounds 2-4). And be sure the volume you are banking on belongs to a team’s clear alpha.
Michael Thomas’ 2021 season — or lack thereof — is a friendly reminder not to add injuries to your fantasy team before the season starts. Don’t add the extra headache before Week 1. It limits your ability to make moves on the waiver wire early in the season. Imagine missing out on Elijah Mitchell or Cordarelle Patterson because you were waiting for Thomas to return.
Drafting Thomas also made it less likely you took a shot on several rookie WRs that I was high on, like Jaylen Waddle and Elijah Moore. These two first-year players were my favorite WRs in the 2021 class, so I was glad to see them perform at a high level in the NFL.
Waddle broke the rookie receptions record and commanded a team-high 22% target share. Moore’s 24% target rate per route run ranked 13th among all players with at least 65 targets.
Both guys had realistic paths to becoming the No. 1 pass-catching options on their respective squads with little to no resistance from surrounding teammates. When you combine a real-life WR1 opportunity with great prospect profiles, you end up with reliable fantasy production — especially later in their rookie seasons.
I’m looking forward to applying a similar pre-draft process for the 2022 NFL Draft class to unearth more gems for the upcoming fantasy season.