The 10 Biggest Must-Draft and Must-Avoid Fantasy Football Players of 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

This magazine serves a number of purposes (no, lining a birdcage is not one of those purposes -- at least not yet). Chief among those purposes is providing fantasy managers with a list of players to target when draft-day rolls around.

Simply put, drafters are looking for value. Looking for players who will out-perform their draft slot in the season to come. Drafting players at their fantasy floor is how successful teams are built. Well, that and gin. Lots and lots of gin.

(Kidding about the gin. ... Mostly. Please drink responsibly.)

Of course, there's a flip side to that coin. Knowing who not to draft can be almost as important as knowing who to target. The only thing worse than drafting a player at his fantasy ceiling is drafting one who fails to come close to justifying his asking price.

I believe they are called "busts." Busts are bad, mkay?

Now, there are no guarantees this time of year. There will be players who scream "value!" in July and August who will leave fantasy managers screaming obscenities by December. There are also players who appear overvalued who will meet (or even surpass) expectations in 2022.

But for each of these players, for better or worse, the writing is on the wall this summer.

Fantasy drafters would be well-served to read it. And better-served to heed it.

MUST-DRAFT: Tom Brady -- QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: QB9, 85th Overall)

Brady will turn 45 this fall, be he just led the NFL in passing yards (a career-high 5,314) and passing touchdowns on the way to finishing second in fantasy points at the position. As Pranav Rajaram wrote for 4For4, there's little reason to think that Brady can't produce big numbers in 2022.

"The Tampa offense has the makings of a juggernaut once again," he said. "This bodes well for Brady, as good offenses generally lead to better fantasy quarterbacks. In his third season in Byron Leftwich's offense, it is not hard to imagine a reality where Brady throws for 5,000 yards once again."

Rob Gronkowski's retirement and Chris Godwin's injury are legitimate concerns. But dropping Brady to the back of the top-10 is an over-correction. Take advantage of it.



MUST-AVOID: Josh Allen -- QB, Buffalo Bills (ADP: QB1, 22nd Overall)

This isn't really about Allen at all. It's about using an early pick on a quarterback -- any quarterback.

As more young signal-callers come into their own, the position is deeper than ever. And yet fantasy managers continue wasting valuable draft capital chasing the No. 1 quarterback.

The reality is that unless you hit on values later in drafts at running back or wide receiver, the edge gained by rostering the top quarterback isn't worth the hole dug in the backfield or at wide receiver. Never mind that the last time the top QB in terms of ADP and the top QB in terms of fantasy points was the same guy was well over a decade ago.

No quarterback (not even Allen) is worth taking this early.





MUST-DRAFT: Derek Carr -- QB, Las Vegas Raiders (ADP: QB13, 104th Overall)

Heading into his ninth season, Carr is being drafted outside QB1 territory in 12-team fantasy leagues. Given his changing circumstances, that presents quite the opportunity for fantasy managers who fade the quarterback position until the later rounds.

Last year, Carr set a career-high in passing attempts (626) and yards (4,804) on the way to finishing just inside the top-12 in some scoring systems. Now, the 31-year-old will be playing with one of the league's best wide receivers in former Fresno State teammate Davante Adams. He'll also be playing for an offensive-minded head coach in Josh McDaniels.

Carr is tied for the third-best odds to lead the NFL in passing yards at DraftKings, Assuming Vegas knows of what they speak (they usually do), he's undervalued.





MUST-AVOID: Patrick Mahomes -- QB, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: QB2, 30th Overall)

To be clear, from an NFL perspective there isn't a better quarterback in the NFL than Mahomes. But at his current asking price, Drew Davenport of Footballguys is a "pass" in fantasy.

"In the final 10 weeks of the fantasy season (Weeks 7-17), Mahomes hit 270 yards passing only two times, and he had two or fewer touchdowns in seven of ten games," Davenport said. "He still managed to have two huge games during that stretch and was far from a poor producer, but it seems more reasonable to expect Mahomes to take a small step back without his star wide receiver instead of seeing a resurgence to push him up to QB2."

Long story short, "elite" fantasy quarterbacks aren't a wise use of draft capital.





MUST-DRAFT: Ezekiel Elliott -- RB, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: RB20, 36th Overall)

Last year was a "down" season for Elliott. Spending a good portion of the 2021 season fighting through a partially torn PCL, Elliott posted a new career-low in rushing yards per game with 58.9. However, even in the midst of that disappointing season, Elliott still topped 1,000 yards on the ground, scored double-digit touchdowns and finished well inside the top-10 at his position in PPR fantasy points.

And yet, he's being drafted in the back half of RB2 territory.

Elliott is reportedly healthy and has looked spry in OTAs. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has predicted a big season from the 26-year-old. And there has been no indication that the Cowboys plan to scale back his workload.

It's not that often that legit RB1 upside is available at the end of Round 3.





MUST-AVOID: Derrick Henry -- RB, Tennessee Titans (ADP: RB4, 5th Overall)

Look at just about any efficiency metric and you'll see signs that Henry is slowing down. His yards after contact per attempt, breakaway rate and broken tackle rate have all been trending downward for the last few years.

Henry's fantasy output last year was buoyed by career-highs in usage rate, touchdowns per game, and targets per game. Now 28 years old and coming off a foot injury, it's easy to see his efficiency slipping even farther.

One of two things will likely happen with Henry in 2022. Either his workload is going to be scaled back to help keep him healthy, or he's going to break down again. Neither of those potential outcomes helps his chances of being a top-five fantasy option.





MUST-DRAFT: Elijah Mitchell -- RB, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: RB23, 50th Overall)


Mitchell was one of fantasy's more pleasant surprises at running back in 2021. And Chris Orlando of Fantasy Pros thinks that even better things could be in store in his second season.

"(Mitchell) was also third in the NFL in opportunity share at 80.8%, which is the total workload within a team's offense regarding rushing and receiving touch share," he said. "In the last five regular-season games, Mitchell averaged 23.6 carries per game, which is an elite workload for any running back, even with his lack of volume in the passing game. If the 49ers continue to give him the kind of volume that he received in 2021, Mitchell has the potential to finish as an RB1 in his second as a pro."






MUST-AVOID: Javonte Williams -- RB, Denver Broncos (ADP: RB8, 15th Overall)

Williams ADP in 2022 is a prime example of fantasy drafters refusing to accept an unfortunate reality.

There was a time when Williams appeared headed toward a breakout season in 2022. That time lasted right up until the Broncos re-signed Melvin Gordon. Per Andrew Erickson of Fantasy Pros, that signing caps Williams' fantasy ceiling.

"MG3's return definitely hurts Williams' top-tier fantasy ceiling," he said. "He's going to split work with another capable back in Gordon which is exactly what new head coach Nathaniel Hackett desires and spoke on at the NFL owners' meeting in March."

Last year, Gordon and Williams split rushing duties right down the middle. Even if that pendulum swings toward Williams this year, it isn't going to do so enough to justify a top-10 asking price.





MUST-DRAFT: Cordarrelle Patterson -- RB, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: RB32, 86th Overall)

Patterson was one of fantasy football's biggest surprises in 2021, topping 1,100 total yards and 50 receptions with 11 touchdowns on the way to an RB1 fantasy finish in PPR scoring systems. However, despite that breakout, the 31-year-old has been relegated to the running back "dead zone" this summer.

However, while the Falcons added rookie Tyler Allgeier and veteran Damien Williams to the backfield, Patterson remains Atlanta's best backfield option and arguably the team's second-best skill-position player.

Is it possible that Patterson will see a reduction in his 153 carries from a season ago? Yes. But it's also possible that Patterson will see a boatload of dump-offs from Marcus Mariota as the Falcons play catch-up on a weekly basis. An RB2 finish is well within the realm of possibility.





MUST-AVOID: Josh Jacobs -- RB, Las Vegas Raiders (ADP: RB16, 35th Overall)

Over three seasons in Vegas, Jacobs highest snap share is 63 percent from one year ago. And Keith Hernandez of RotoBaller thinks that fantasy managers who expect Jacobs to be a bellcow back in 2022 are setting themselves up to be disappointed.

"It's unlikely that Jacobs will be a bell-cow back for the Raiders in 2022, especially when (rookie Zamir White) has similar traits to Jacobs," he said. "There's a decent chance that general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels already think White is better than both Jacobs and (Kenyan) Drake."

Last year, Jacobs set a career-low with 217 carries, and the 24-year-old hasn't topped four yards a carry since his rookie year. Fewer touches plus decreased per-touch effectiveness equals sad fantasy managers.





MUST-DRAFT: Brandin Cooks -- WR, Houston Texans (ADP: WR25, 65th Overall)

All Cooks has done is be one of the most consistent receivers in fantasy in recent years, with six-1,000-yard seasons over the past seven years with four different teams. In 2021, Cooks was a top-20 PPR fantasy option, and Heath Cummings of CBS Sports thinks the 28-year-old can do even better in 2022.

"Cooks averaged nine targets per game in the nine healthy games he played that Davis Mills started," he wrote. "His 17-game pace in those games was for 153 targets. That type of volume is exactly the type that would turn Cooks into a top-12 wide receiver."

Frankly, Cooks would be a value if all he does is repeat his 2021 production this season. A top-12 PPR finish could make Cooks a league-winner.





MUST-AVOID: A.J. Brown -- WR, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: WR9, 26th Overall)

Brown was a great get for the Eagles and a boon to the fantasy prospects of Philly quarterback Jalen Hurts. But his fantasy ADP is all out of whack.

For starters, Brown has never had a fantasy finish that matches his ADP. Over his three-year career, Brown has finished as the PPR WR21, WR12 and WR34. Going from Ryan Tannehill to Hurts is a lateral move at quarterback on a good day and a downgrade on a bad one. And Brown's new team was even more run-heavy in 2021 than the old one -- while the Titans threw the ball the seventh-fewest times in the league a year ago, the Eagles were dead last in that category.

Even if Brown's target share and efficiency metrics are through the roof, the target volume just isn't going to be there.





MUST-DRAFT: JuJu Smith-Schuster -- WR, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: WR34, 81st Overall)

To be clear, we probably aren't ever going to see another season like 2018 (111 catches, 1,426 yards, seven touchdowns) from Smith-Schuster. But while a top-10 PPR finish might be overly optimistic, it won't take that for the 25-year-old to return value for fantasy drafters.

Yes, Smith-Schuster missed most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury. But as recently as two years ago, the sixth-year veteran topped 90 receptions and found the end zone nine times on the way to fantasy WR2 numbers.

With Tyreek Hill gone, Smith-Schuster is easily the most proven option at wide receiver for the Chiefs in 2022. If he sees 120-plus targets (a reasonable estimation) and catches at his career rate, he should eclipse 80 receptions and could post his second 1,000-yard campaign.





MUST-AVOID: DK Metcalf -- WR, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: WR16, 44th Overall)

Since Russell Wilson's departure, Tyler Lockett's fantasy value has cratered -- he's being drafted a low-end fantasy WR3. But for some reason, Metcalf's ADP hasn't experienced a similar plunge.

ESPN"s Matt Bowen believes that could be a mistake.

"Metcalf's floor is much lower than his projected ceiling," Bowen said. "And that creates a real conflict for fantasy managers on draft day when it comes to his current ADP and the season-long projections. I don't love Metcalf's current ADP. I think that's a little rich given the offensive philosophy in Seattle, plus a quarterback competition between (Geno) Smith and (Drew) Lock that doesn't really move the needle. That could be some roller coaster QB play there."

Metcalf is immensely talented. The problem is that Lock and Smith are not.





MUST-DRAFT: Christian Kirk -- WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: WR43, 109th Overall)

The Jacksonville Jaguars appear to have considerable faith in Kirk, handing the 25-year-old a four-year, $72 million contract. But that enthusiasm isn't shared by fantasy managers, who are drafting Kirk as a middling WR4.

RotoBaller's Justin Carter sees the opportunity for big-time value in that ADP.

"Kirk is being drafted as a low-end WR4 right now," he said. "If he's getting 20% of the Jags targets, he's outproducing that number. There's no reason he should be drafted after guys like Robert Woods and Chase Claypool right now. Draft him a few spots above his ADP and feel good about it."

Last year, Marvin Jones turned 120 targets into a 73/832/4 line and WR33 finish in PPR scoring systems. Just that finish would make Kirk a bargain.





MUST-AVOID: Amari Cooper -- WR, Cleveland Browns (ADP: WR20, 52nd Overall)

At this point, drafting Cooper inside the top-20 fantasy receivers is either a matter of living in the past or ignoring the present.

Cooper has demonstrated WR1 upside in the past, but this past season he failed to record even 900 receiving yards and finished outside the top-25 PPR receivers despite finding the end zone eight times. That was playing on the NFL's most prolific offense.

Now, Cooper is playing for a run-first Browns team that has ranked in the Bottom 5 in pass attempts each of the past two seasons. At this point, it's looking less and less like Deshaun Watson will play at all for the Browns in 2022, and that means Jacoby Brissett chucking wormburners at Cooper feet.

He's a hard pass anywhere in the top-25 WR -- and maybe the top-30.





MUST-DRAFT: Zach Ertz -- TE, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: TE9, 95th Overall)

Ertz had himself quite the year in 2021, posting top-five fantasy numbers in leagues that award a point for receptions, He was even better once joining the Cardinals in a mid-season trade. From Week 7 through the end of the season, Ertz was the TE4 in PPR fantasy leagues. Over that span, he averaged 7.4 targets per game. The only tight ends who averaged more were Mark Andrews, Darren Waler, and Travis Kelce.

Ertz was also a big factor for the Redbirds in the red zone -- his 20 red zone targets for the season were more than Travis Kelce. And Darren Waller. And George Kittle. And Kyle Pitts. With DeAndre Hopkins sitting out Arizona's first six games, Ertz will again be leaned on heavily in 2022.





MUST-AVOID: Mark Andrews -- TE, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: TE2, 21st Overall

Andrews was fantastic in 2021, leading all tight ends in PPR points. But the odds he'll repeat that feat in 2022 are slim.

With their running back decimated by injuries last year, the Ravens were forced to attempt 611 passes -- ninth-most in the league. The year before, the Ravens attempted just 406 passes -- dead-last in the NFL. The year before that, the Ravens attempted 440 passes -- once again dead-last in the NFL.

Given that Baltimore traded Marquise Brown in the offseason and did next to nothing to replace him, it would appear the Ravens are heading back to their run-heavy ways. Given that, even if Andrews leads the team in targets, it's more likely than not that he'll post numbers similar to his TE6 finish in 2020.





MUST-DRAFT: Cole Kmet -- TE, Chicago Bears (ADP: TE13, 121st Overall)

The good news is that Kmet caught 60 passes and topped 600 receiving yards last year. The bad news is that he failed to find the end zone. However, Shawn Childs of Sports Illustrated believes positive regression in that regard in 2020 could pave the way for a breakout season.

"Based on team structure and potential growth, Kmet is in the mix to be a potential breakout tight end this season," he said. "Kmet is on a path to catching 75 passes for 850 yards with five touchdowns, making him a top-six tight end."

Kmet was a respectable eighth in targets among tight ends last year, and given the sorry state of Chicago's wide receivers, he could easily receive a nice bump in targets. That breakout may well be coming.





MUST-AVOID: Dawson Knox -- TE, Buffalo Bills (ADP: TE10, 96th Overall)

Knox had himself a season in 2021. But much like Robert Tonyan of the Packers in 2020, Knox's reliance on touchdowns for production could come back to bite him in 2022.

Last season, Knox turned 71 targets and an 11.4-percent target share into 49 catches, 587 yards and nine scores and a TE1 finish of his own. Knox's 18 red-zone targets in 2021 were more than Travis Kelce and fourth at the position, but as we saw in 2021 with Tonyan, the odds of a player backing up a big season with such a small target share are slim to none.

Knox isn't likely to receive a big bump in that target share this season, which means that he's currently being drafted awfully close to his fantasy ceiling.