Due to the various biases our brains employ to simplify our everyday lives, it’s easy to overlook some important fantasy football takeaways. How you won or lost your final meaningful fantasy matchup(s) will hold a larger place in your memory when next season rolls around (recency bias). What’s happening with your favorite team right now will also carry more weight when you do your summer preparation.
Most of us will focus on what we did well over what we did wrong (optimism bias), but some will do just the opposite. For this final installment of the 2022 season, I’ll take a look at some macro trends that might seep through the cracks, as well as a few players who might be remembered in a manner inconsistent with their true value.
Is it finally time to make drafting quarterbacks early the standard?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how many NFL teams were undergoing changes at the QB position. Most were due to injuries, but some were performance-based switches. The best fantasy QBs — Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones — have been durable this year. With the exception of Burrow and Smith, the best QBs are also the QBs who run. A lot.
Even though Burrow doesn’t rack up a lot of yards on the ground, he still has five rushing touchdowns. This hopefully dispels the myth that QBs who run are more injury-prone. Yes, we have Lamar Jackson (knee), Hurts (shoulder) and Kyler Murray (knee) as counterpoints, but there seems to be an abundance of caution with Jackson and Hurts as both teams have locked up a playoff berth.
I’m interested to see if there is some lessening of the shame that has accompanied drafting a great — IE, league-winning — QB early on in standard leagues. This is already the case in 2QB and SuperFlex leagues, but don’t be surprised to get sniped on your favorite QBs in rounds 3-5 of standard drafts next year.
FWIW, I expect Daniel Jones to be the best value QB in 2023 drafts, regardless of where he goes. The Giants are a team on the rise; they scored an average of six more points per game this season than in 2021, and six more points per game than their 2022 average in the last three games. Brian Daboll and Co. are putting the right pieces to proper use. Things should get even better next year.
Late-round, lottery-ticket running backs have become real difference-makers
Just about every team in the NFL uses a running back by committee (RBBC) strategy these days. There are exceptions, but just taking the most recent action in Week 17, we saw Jordan Mason score for the 49ers, Matt Breida get plenty of work for the Giants and Jaylen Warren get 12 carries for the Steelers. It’s still worth taking the bell-cow backs early — Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Saquon Barkley, Najee Harris and Dalvin Cook — but a second lesson from 2022 is that there is a ton of RB value in the later rounds.
Tyler Allgeier, Tony Pollard, Rhamondre Stevenson, Jamaal Williams and Jerick McKinnon are all set to finish in the top 20 fantasy RBs. My advice: Pay attention to the teams that run the most with their running backs (Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Washington, Pittsburgh) when looking for those late values in 2023 drafts, but also prioritize the pass-catching piece of RBBCs.
WR2s on good pass-heavy teams > WR1s on bad teams
I used to believe that a WR1 from a bad team was a better fantasy pick than a WR2 or 3 from a good team. Players like Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Tyler Lockett make that a hard argument to buy as they will finish well above Michael Pittman, Jerry Jeudy, Diontae Johnson and DJ Moore in fantasy points. You can’t see all these things coming, but Waddle and Smith were certainly in position to shine from the get-go. The WR2 on a good offense is going to have some ups and downs, but with the opportunity a great (pass-heavy) offense provides, they should contribute heartily 6-7 times per season.
In contrast, the Colts got Pittman over 100 receiving yards twice and he scored only three times. Johnson never scored in 2022, while Jeudy had one amazing fantasy game. Pay attention to the big picture of team quality when you’re drafting middle-round wide receivers next year.
It's probably Travis Kelce or bust at tight end in 2023
If you don’t draft Travis Kelce in the first round, forget about drafting a tight end for the next eight or so rounds.
If we’ve learned one thing from 2022 it has to be that Tier 2 tight ends are not worth their ADPs. George Kittle (more on him shortly), Kyle Pitts and even Mark Andrews haven't come close to preseason expectations. The absolute best solution for this problem is to use the offseason to make changes to your league format, adding in an extra FLEX spot and making TE optional. I’m all for changing the rules to make the game more fun; not having to force a TE into my lineups has made the one 14-team fantasy league I run a lot better.
Try it! Or at least take a quality WR/RB (or QB) where these second-tier TEs are going next year.
Player-specific notes to remember
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Kittle was the impetus for this section, as my memory of his season is seriously distorted by his recent play with Brock Purdy. Kittle’s been undeniably good the last three weeks. Plus, he gets to play the Seahawks and Cardinals twice each year, and those teams have been the most generous to fantasy tight ends this season (and in many years past).
When you look at his detailed game logs, however, the shine starts to wear off.
He started the year late after sustaining a preseason groin injury and didn’t record a double-digit (PPR) fantasy game until Week 6, scoring his first touchdown in Week 7. That was followed by another four-game stretch of single-digit nothingness until he caught on with Purdy in Week 15. He finishes in Week 18 against Arizona, and it should be another top performance.
I’m afraid it will cause us to view him through rose-colored glasses next August when we should be remembering the six 2-4 fantasy point games he put up and attributing some of his recent success to the absence of Deebo Samuel in the offense.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
He played only nine games, but finished the fantasy season as WR21 in PPR scoring. He is behind only Justin Jefferson in points per game (22.4). That was done with Matthew Stafford at his worst, too. When players get injured early in the season, it’s a massive disappointment and that lingering lack of production can cause us to underrate the player in the following season. As a veteran, Kupp won’t need to have a splashy preseason to be ready to go for next year, but he will be ready to go. There’s no good reason for him not to be a top-five fantasy pick for 2023.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Reasons to like Harris for 2022: Young, durable, heavy role in 2021 pass game, great offensive line. He was the clear lead back for the Steelers. There was ample justification for taking Harris in the first round of fantasy drafts, but we missed a few key points nonetheless.
The offense was simply not as good as expected and the quarterback carousel didn’t help matters either. Harris had a nagging foot injury to start the season, but he did play 16 games, averaging 13.1 PPR fantasy points per game. His role in the passing game was not nearly as lucrative as the previous year — different QB(s), different outcome. His first 100-yard rushing game of the season came Sunday night vs. Baltimore.
I still like this guy a lot, and think he has the potential to be a very special fantasy back if/when Kenny Pickett makes that second-year leap, but Harris can’t be a 2023 first-rounder.
Kansas City Chiefs
Giving them their own blurb here, because they are the rare great offense with no viable wide receiver for fantasy. I was as big a Juju Smith-Schuster fan as you could find during draft season, and I wound up with him on several fantasy squads. Luckily, I found ways to bench him most of the time but was able to take advantage of his best game of the season (Week 7 vs. the 49ers) when I was decimated by the brutal bye week. Patrick Mahomes promised to spread the ball around and he did not disappoint those who listened.
The lesson? When it looks like there is no obvious alpha receiver, there probably IS no alpha receiver.