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The coward’s pick in the Super Bowl was Rams win, Bengals cover, and sometimes, the cowards win. And, to be clear: I am a coward. I said as much in Sunday’s newsletter when I picked the Rams to win and the Bengals to cover. No matter what Matt Damon might try to tell you, fortune sometimes favors the yellow-bellied.
So, the Rams won the Super Bowl, Matthew Stafford went a long way toward printing his ticket to Canton, and Cooper Kupp put the finishing touches on what very well may have been the best season by a wide receiver in NFL history. But it wasn’t all good news for the Rams. Odell Beckham suffered a torn left ACL in the game, the second time in less than a year and a half he has suffered that injury. It puts his availability for the 2022 season very much in doubt, and is a crushing blow for someone who seemingly revitalized his career just ahead of free agency, and it likely takes him off draft boards for 2022.
It wasn’t quite as bad for Cam Akers, who made it through his return from a ruptured Achilles without issue this postseason. However, based on the four games we saw from him, it’s awfully hard to know what to make of Akers for 2022. Today’s newsletter features the first look at my fleshed out rankings for each position, with the top 24 for QB and TE and the top 36 for RB and WR, and Akers is looking like one of the toughest players to rank for 2022 right now.
Akers played four games in the postseason and … mostly wasn’t any good. He rushed for 172 yards on 67 carries with no touchdowns and added eight catches for 76 yards. Forty of his 248 yards came on a single reception in his first game, so he averaged just 2.5 yards per touch over the final three games. He didn’t look particularly quick or explosive, and it’s fair to wonder how much of his pre-injury explosiveness we can really expect him to get back following a ruptured Achilles – historically, very few running backs come back from this injury at a high level.
Of course, it’s worth noting that he faced a pretty rough run of opponents: The Cardinals, Buccaneers, 49ers, and Bengals all ranked 13th or better in rush defense DVOA, per FootballOutsiders.com. And, it’s not like any of the other Rams’ RBs fared much better: Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson combined for 87 yards on 30 carries of their own in the playoffs. It’s hard to hold Akers’ playoff struggles too much against him, right?
I think that’s fair, but I also think it’s fair to be discouraged about him, as well. That he came back this season from this injury at all is incredible, but he didn’t do much to make you optimistic about the future one way or another. There’s still a real chance he’s never the same guy as he was before the injury, and the risk of re-injury next season will loom over him. However, it’s also just as fair to think that even getting on the field at all raises the baseline level of expectations we should have for him in 2022.
Which is to say, you probably took from Akers’ postseason performance whatever you went into it with. I was always lower than the consensus on his Fantasy value to begin with, so I’ll continue to be lower on him in 2022: He ends up as RB23 for me in my rankings. I’m very concerned about his chances of getting back to full speed from the Achilles injury, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Darrell Henderson still has a sizable role as the No. 2 RB next season.
It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up in drafts moving forward. I thought there was a chance he might get pushed up into the first-round range with a good playoffs, and it looked like that might happen after that first game. Now? I could see him falling to the fourth range, and I probably wouldn’t take him there even if he did.
You can see all of my rankings for each position below, plus my way-too-early overall top 150. Free agency and the draft will cause plenty of changes from here on out, but this is the baseline I’ll be working from in 2022.
Picking the top spot here was a tough one. When I initially projected the position, Josh Allen actually came away as a pretty clear No. 1, which was a surprise to me at first. But he’s outscored Patrick Mahomes in points per game in consecutive seasons, and his rushing production helps overcome whatever edge Mahomes’ passing production might give him – and it’s not even clear you should expect a big edge there.
I still have Lamar Jackson as the No. 3 player at the position, because his rushing production makes him arguably the highest-upside QB in Fantasy. If he had a 5.3% touchdown rate in 2021 instead of 4.2% – his career rate is 6.3%, FYI – he would have been the No. 3 QB in points per game in 2021. And that was with just two rushing touchdowns on 133 carries.
Justin Herbert is in the tier with Jackson, and then you have a pretty big glut between Aaron Rodgers at No. 5 and Matthew Stafford at No. 9, and then another wide tier between Jalen Hurts at No. 10 and Derek Carr at 15th. Which is to say, I’m likely to go early with one of the first four QBs or take one of the next five as late as I can. If that doesn’t work, one of the 10-15 range late and a high-upside later pick like Trey Lance will be my target.
Here’s my top 24 for 2022 as of right now.
I’ve written about it a few times already this offseason, but doing the process of projecting each team and doing full rankings only confirmed my belief that McCaffrey needs to be the No. 1 pick in all Fantasy leagues. The injury concerns are what they are, but as of right now, I have McCaffrey projected to outscore every other non-QB in Fantasy by two PPR points per game, and that probably won’t change unless we get a really compelling reason to think McCaffrey’s role is changing significantly. He’s my No. 1 RB in both PPR and non-PPR, however the gap between him and Jonathan Taylor in non-PPR is close enough that I don’t necessarily mind taking the younger guy there.
That being said, I’m not going to take McCaffrey with the No. 1 pick every single time I have it, for the simple reason that I won’t need to. I’m probably going to do 40 or so drafts between now and the start of the 2022 season, and in the overwhelming majority of them, Jonathan Taylor is going to be the No. 1 pick. That means, if I pick second, I’ll almost certainly have a chance to take McCaffrey – and I’ll probably be able to get him as late as fifth overall in some leagues. However, if I pick first and pass on Taylor, that probably means I just won’t have any Taylor on my teams, and I don’t want that to be the case. But, if you only get one bite at the No. 1 pick, McCaffrey should be your choice.
In PPR, McCaffrey is in a tier all his own, and Taylor is closer to No. 6, Najee Harris, than he is to McCaffrey. A lot closer. Harris represents the end of one tier, and then the next tier stretches from No. 7 (Dalvin Cook) to No. 12 (Mixon). However, that’s a pretty tough tier to judge right now, seeing as it includes D’Andre Swift, Javonte Williams, and Leonard Fournette. None of that trio may end up being an every down back in 2022, so they’re probably closer to the next tier than it seems.
At this point, landing one of that top six looks to be incredibly important, because there’s a lot of uncertainty at the position after them. The offseason will provide some answers that will make us feel better, but we’ll also surely see some moves that hurt other players’ value. This is the position most in flux at this point in the offseason.
If Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are back in Green Bay next season, I don’t think you could really go wrong with either of the top wide receivers for 2022, and I wouldn’t be afraid to draft either him or Cooper Kupp as early as No. 2 overall. However, until we know what Adams’ situation looks like, I think Kupp has to be the No. 1 player at the position; Adams would be No. 1 if he is back with Rodgers, for me at least.
After that duo, I have Justin Jefferson in a mini-tier of his own with Ja’Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill right after him. There’s a bit of a drop that opens to a pretty wide open third tier at the position, which I think you could reasonably argue stretches from A.J. Brown at No. 6 to Deebo Samuel at No. 13. Of course, question marks around Diontae Johnson, Samuel, and Calvin Ridley push them down just a bit from where they’d otherwise be.
Wide tiers are kind of what the wide receiver position is all about, really. The problem with that is, it’s not like those wide tiers are made up of similar types of players. For example, from 14 through 21, you have high-volume possession types like Keenan Allen, Hunter Renfrow, and Amon-Ra St. Brown mixed in with big-play guys like CeeDee Lamb, DK Metcalf, Brandin Cooks, and Tyler Lockett. I tend to prefer the big-play options, as do most Fantasy players, but as we saw with Metcalf and Lamb especially for stretches in 2021, their margin for error is pretty slim.
Once you get to the No. 3 WR range, there really is very little that differentiates players, so if you asked me why I have, say, Mike Williams ahead of Terry McLaurin or Elijah Moore, I won’t really have a great explanation, mostly because I don’t feel all that strongly about the answer. I probably want five of my top 36 wide receivers for 2022, and with how I tend to draft, that isn’t going to be a stretch. Which five those are is going to depend on how the draft comes to me more than anything.
Prepare for the “Maybe tight end isn’t so bad this year” takes in the coming months. They are coming. It happens pretty much every year, and it almost always ends up being overly optimistic.
That’s not to say I can’t see how the tight end position might be better this season than we’ve been used to, but I’m not betting on it. Travis Kelce is still my No. 1 player, but he’ll be 33 in 2022 and showed signs of slowing down last season. Mark Andrews paced the position with a career season in 2021, and you should usually bet against career seasons repeating – his breakout was fueled by a 178-target pace from Week 11 on, and he’s not going to do that again.
It might be Kyle Pitts‘ time to take over the position, and I’m drafting him as if he’ll be an elite producer coming off a historic (and, frankly, underrated) rookie season. However, he hasn’t done it yet; Darren Waller will be 30 and coming off a very disappointing season; George Kittle has major QB questions; T.J. Hockenson fell kind of flat as the No. 1 option for the Lions.
And then, of course, there are questions about the likes of Mike Gesicki (free agent), Logan Thomas (QB), Noah Fant (QB), Rob Gronkowski (retirement). And, I’m not sure I buy the idea that Cole Kmet, Dawson Knox, and Pat Freiermuth are going to take a massive leap forward, either.
There’s talent here, but it’s not like we’re looking at a historic infusion for the position. Tight end could be better, but unless you can get one of the rare sure(-ish) things, you shouldn’t expect to have an advantage in 2022.
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