What first-year players have the potential to break through? Some talented rookies have found themselves in situations that allow them to make an immediate impact.
Fantasy football has never seen rookies as more important than they do today. First-year skill players in fantasy football face higher expectations than ever before due to the NFL's evolving offense. This is especially true for wide receiver where, since 2014, six of the top ten all-time fantasy seasons have been won by rookies at the position. This raises the question: How can fantasy managers take advantage?
The running back class is looking weak this season. However, it could be another strong year for receivers. This position was responsible for six of last week's 18 draft picks, a record in the NFL. Although this group is not as prolific as Justin Jefferson or Ja'Marr Chase, it's still a great place to start your fantasy drafts in September.
We've created a list of the top fantasy rookies, based on their projected impact in the first year. This will help you navigate the rookie fantasy world. The last year's top three fantasy stars were a historic success. Let's hope more fantasy stars will arrive in 2022.
Tier 1: Week 1 Fantasy Starters
1. Falcons WR Drake London: The Falcons used a top-10 selection on a unicorn pass catcher for the second consecutive year. In his rookie campaign, Kyle Pitts ran for 1,026 yards and was ranked among the top tight end in PPR points and targets. He also ran the most routes per route in one of the greatest rookie tight ends seasons in league history. London was able to clear 120 targets during his rookie season. He also has the catch radius (his 19 contest catches were the most in the country in 2021), to be one the league's top scoring threats in red zone. Atlanta's clear No. 1 wideout is the USC product. The USC product is Atlanta's clear no. 1 wideout. This depth chart includes Olamide Zaccheaus and Damiere Byrd. None of these players have ever exceeded 80 targets or 700 receiving yards per season. Although London's ceiling is slightly lower, London should still see enough volume to make him a consistent WR3, and should all go well for the Falcons offense this season, he could be a WR1.
Tier 2: Mid-Round Picks with Upside
2. Titans WR Treylon Burks: This is a difficult evaluation from a fantasy perspective. He was also compared to A.J. Brown during the predraft process. The Titans drafted him as Brown's replacement, which is good news to the former Razorback. He could have 100-plus targets and significant yards-after-the-catch opportunity. The Titans offense, however, is built around Derrick Henry's run game and has had the lowest early down pass rate of any team over the past three seasons. Robert Woods, arguably the greatest run-blocking receiver in football, has made it possible that Burks will not be used in one and two-wide receiver sets. This would decrease his target share and receive volume in an already volatile passing scheme.
4. Jets' WR Garrett Wilson: Wilson was Danny Kelly’s top-ranked receiver going into the draft. He'll be able to show his skills in a Jets offense that is brimming over with young talent, but lacking an established skill player. He is a former Ohio State wide receiver and has the body control and agility to turn the defense on every play. This should be a significant role for a Jets team that expects to be playing behind in many of its contests this season. We could see one of the most exciting QB-WR pairings in the league if Zach Wilson makes a big leap in year two, and develops good chemistry early in the season. The Wilson Brothers could show flashes in 2022, but still finish outside the top fantasy ranks at their respective positions.
5. Saints WR Chris Olave: New Orleans' draft approach was confusing to say the least. The fact that the Saints moved so much to acquire Olave, a polished and well-rounded player, bodes well for his prospects in 2022. Olave should be the clear number one receiver for the team. Two-time Buckeye Michael Thomas is the team's second wide receiver. Thomas was a great rookie in that role alongside Brandin Cooks in 2016. After suffering an ACL tear in his first year, Jameis Winston will be back as the team's starting quarterback. While Sean Payton is now out of action, Pete Carmichael, the offensive coordinator, will return to provide continuity to what has been one of the best passing offenses in the league over the past decade. Olave is as pro-ready than any wide receiver in the draft. If the Saints give him substantial playing time, he could be a WR2 ceiling.
6. RB Dameon Pierce (Texans): Pierce landed in one of the most favorable situations of any rookie running back. Rex Burkhead, Marlon Mack and Mack are his main backfield competitors. Mack has only played seven games over the past two seasons. Although the fourth-rounder from Florida is most likely to be a three down starter in Week 1, Mack's fantasy ceiling is very limited. Houston's backfield has been among the worst in the league for the last four years. David Johnson's RB21 campaign, which was played in 2020, was the best fantasy finish by the team during that period. The Texans were last in ESPN's run block win rate and Football Outsiders rush DVOA. Outside of drafting KenyonGreen, which many pundits believed was a risky move in the first round, they have not done much to improve their offense. Pierce is a wager on volume. Even that bet may not be wise as the team will likely be trailing many games in 2022. They also regularly use a Burkhead-heavy, pass-oriented script. Pierce is a good pick in the mid-round, but his ceiling is only an RB3.
7. WR Christian Watson, Packers. Watson is not the most experienced route runner but his natural athleticism and ample opportunities in Green Bay give him one of the best ceilings among all receivers from the 2022 draft. The Packers traded up in order to pick the former North Dakota State standout, and it is expected that he will fill the crater-sized hole left by Davante Adams' trade to the Raiders. Adams averaged 16 touchdowns and 135 receptions per 17 games during his two seasons with Packers. Watson could be a viable WR if he can even half of Adams's production. I don't believe that Sammy Watkins and Allen Lazard will have a mid-career breakout.
8. Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III: With Russell Wilson now in Denver the offense of Seattle is likely to make a significant improvement under Drew Lock's tutelage. This offense has many questions. Is Rashaad Penny really going to be a breakout star in 2021? Is DK Metcalf going to be traded? They could acquire Baker Mayfield. What is the deal with Chris Carson Why is Pete Carroll able to pass the ball when nobody wants him? In 2022, Seattle is the most difficult offense to project. Walker was rarely used by Michigan State as a receiver. However, he led NCAA in yards after contact last season and missed tackles. It is expected that Walker will compete against Penny in 2022 for early-down carries, while Travis Homer and DeeJay Texas continue their pass-catching roles. Walker will be a late-round dart thrower with RB3 upside, so this is likely to be a hot-hand situation.
9. Bills RB James Cook: Devin Singletary showed great improvement last season. He looked like Buffalo's go to back and set career records in yards, touches and rushing touchdowns. He was also the PPR RB18 for the year, another career high. The Bills brass drafted Dalvin Cook, his little brother, in the second round. This made an already complicated backfield even more difficult to project. Cook is a fast (4.42 40-yard sprint) back who has serious receiving chops but lacks the size to be a reliable pass defender in Buffalo's first year. Although Singletary is likely to be the backfield, Cook brings a new dimension Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator would be wise. Buffalo's offense is one of the most efficient in football, so there should be plenty scoring opportunities. Cook, even with Josh Allen snatching goal-line carries at times, could jump into the RB3 conversation if he is able to pass Singletary on this year's running back depth chart.
10. Lions WR Jameson Williams: Williams may miss some time while he recovers from an ACL injury. His inclusion on this list is more about the long-term impact than the immediate impact. The former Alabama and Ohio State receiver was once considered a top-five pick. However, he fell to the 12th round before the Lions acquired him in a trade with the Vikings. Williams was fourth in the NFL in yards after catching per reception, and fifth in total deep yardage. He also had 79 receptions last year for Alabama. Williams is the best draft receiver because of his top-shelf depth speed and ability to catch any screen pass to him. It is unclear if his health and quarterback will allow him to succeed as a rookie at Amon-Ra St. Brown.