Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins
The current situation: Tua Tagovailoa has never played a full season in the NFL. He's never reached 20 total touchdowns in a season. Yet, he's one of 2022's top fantasy QB sleeper candidates and one of the players with the highest expectations for the season upon him.
Well, even though he's just entering Year 3 in the NFL, he's also entering the absolute best offensive ecosystem he's been in since his college days at Alabama. His new head coach, Mike McDaniel, is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL, being part of the 2017 Falcons' Super Bowl-bound offense; he was most recently the offensive coordinator for San Francisco.
The Dolphins have also set up Tua for success, with Tyreek Hill in the Miami fold after a huge offseason trade, Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert added to the backfield, and Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki already in place as explosive talents.
Few teams, let alone a single quarterback, can boast such a promising collection of surrounding attributes.
Will he meet expectations? DEPENDS ON YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Tua's comparisons to Drew Brees — in terms of physical measurables and accuracy — along with his NFL draft standing have seemed to buoy his career expectations ever since the Dolphins took him fifth overall in 2020. But what if he is just what he is: An average quarterback who can run a professional offense, but won't deliver high-flying numbers or results? It's not like the league doesn't pump out more of those passers than it does elite ones.
But beyond just Tua, his shiny new ecosystem does have some holes in it. Everyone acknowledges McDaniel knows offense, but does he know how to be the head coach of a team and mentor a young quarterback? It's not like Jimmy Garoppolo was putting up huge fantasy weeks during McDaniel's tenure as offensive coordinator. Maybe the Dolphins field a potent running game this season as opposed to an offense that turns Tua into a fantasy star.
In fact, McDaniel's hire might actually be better for Tyreek Hill than for Tagovailoa. Don't forget, McDaniel helped turn Deebo Samuel into a fantasy cheat code last year, and if anyone has similar yards-after-the-catch skills to Deebo, it's Hill. That might help Tua's bottom line, but hey — Jimmy G finished as the 17th-highest scoring fantasy QB in 2021, while Deebo finished as the second-highest scoring wide receiver.
In his defense, Tua is being drafted in the late-13th round according to current Yahoo ADP. So while his expectations are high in reality, he doesn't have to do much to return or surpass his fantasy draft investment. The real question should be, will he enter the upper echelon of fantasy quarterbacks this season? I'm not betting on it.
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
The current situation: Javonte Williams, in limited 2021 work, rushed for 903 yards, had another 316 through the air and scored seven times. He was forced to share the backfield with wily veteran Melvin Gordon, yet we were lucky to see what Williams could do when he had the backfield to himself — 178 total yards and a TD in Week 12. And the fantasy community is VERY excited about the prospect of Williams being the Broncos' featured back. His current third-round ADP is good for the 14th running back being selected in drafts.
Will he meet expectations? NO, UNFORTUNATELY. That verdict seems very final for a player of this caliber, but we've seen this story in the NFL before. A young, talented running back gets everyone in the fantasy community excited. His ADP crashes through the stratosphere. Fantasy managers who land the buzzy back feel like they're in an exclusive club, ready to receive the laurels of the selection.
And then the young RB makes an error in pass protection or drops a couple of passes or isn't the second coming of rookie Todd Gurley or his coaching staff doesn't want to put too much pressure on his shoulders. Enter the bane of all our existences: The RBBC, where that young talent has to share the backfield with a reliable veteran — and nobody wins in fantasy.
Like I said, we've seen it countless times before; it happened to Clyde Edwards-Helaire recently and Adrian Peterson is the king of veteran vultures. And it'll likely happen to Williams this season, with Gordon back in the fold. And as much as we all love Javonte, we all know coaching staffs just can't say no to a reliable, talented veteran (we're looking at you, Lions). And we can't deny that Gordon — who still hasn't turned 30 — was really, really good last year; 1,131 total yards, 10 touchdowns and a top-20 fantasy RB finish is nothing to sneer at. To think that the Broncos staff is just going to relegate Gordon to the bench for a pass play here and there is hard to believe.
Next year, when Williams will still just be 23, seems more likely for the massive breakout we all know he's capable of.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
The current situation: After being one of the most dominant fantasy forces in all of football, Christian McCaffrey is trying to make his way back from two lost seasons. It might even be a stretch to call them seasons, as he played a total of just 10 games the last two years.
Injuries took CMC off the field and out of fantasy managers' lineups. First, 2020 featured a high ankle sprain, a shoulder strain and then a thigh injury. He then missed most of the season in 2021 with a strained hamstring and another ankle injury.
Yet, CMC is expected to be fully healthy heading into Week 1 as part of a new-look Panthers offense thanks to who will be under center.
Will he meet expectations? ABSOLUTELY YES. I mean, let's also not kid ourselves; Baker Mayfield — who was officially named the Panthers' starter — isn't Peyton Manning reborn or anything, but he's also not some scrub. You could make the argument that a healthy Mayfield is the best quarterback CMC has ever had to work with (I might not agree, but I'd listen to the argument nonetheless).
I know his recent seasons look horrible, but there are actually some silver linings to CMC's recent injuries. First of all, he hasn't suffered either of the two bigger injuries that have claimed other star runners over the years, namely issues with an Achilles or ACL. Also, even with this injury "history" Draft Sharks still grades CMC with a "5" durability score (5 being the highest), which considers him able to produce at a high level when dealing with or returning from minor injuries. And produce at a high level McCaffrey does, most recently collecting three top-15 fantasy scoring weeks (including two top-five) when he returned in 2021 after his first injury absence.
We know what CMC can do when he's healthy; he IS the Panthers' offense and one of the most dominant backs in football. He's also STILL ONLY 26 YEARS OLD. To call him injury prone at this stage of his career sounds like a reach. What isn't a reach is selecting him near the top of fantasy drafts this season.
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
The current situation: Justin Jefferson is just the latest in a recent class of young wide receivers who are entering the NFL and producing from their very first snap.
And Jefferson might just be the best in the bunch.
Jefferson finished as the fourth-highest scoring wide receiver in 2021 fantasy, and he came second in yardage only to Cooper Kupp, who had a historic season. Jefferson isn't shy to history either, putting together the most receiving yards in the first two years of a career in NFL history (3,016 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns).
He'll walk into a Minnesota offense during his age-23 season that is expected to receive an infusion of excitement in 2022. The Vikings hired new head coach Kevin O'Connell, who most recently coordinated the Rams' Super Bowl-winning offense. No big deal.
O'Connell is expected to bring innovation to the Vikings' passing game — which is great news for Jefferson.
Will he meet expectations? HE DEFINITELY CAN, BUT PROBABLY WON'T. Before you unleash the hounds, hear me out. There are a lot of factors that as of yet remain too unsolidified for me to say, "Yeah, Justin Jefferson will deliver Cooper Kupp's 2021 in 2022." Things like that new offense in Minnesota; it's all sunshine and rainbows now, but we won't know what it actually looks like until Week 1. Will they spread the ball around more, implementing Dalvin Cook's skills as a pass-catcher and the emerging KJ Osborn and the always-savvy Adam Thielen?
Things like, is Kirk Cousins even good enough to help JJ reach those heights on a new offense? Cousins has rightly been underrated most of his career, but he's also no Matthew Stafford, and he's also 34 years old; we're not talking about a talented young quarterback who's finally getting a passer-friendly offense.
We're talking about a veteran who's prone to as many bonehead moves as he is great ones. JJ can most definitely outplay a subpar QB, but I don't think anyone would argue that this would be a much easier expectation to reach if his quarterback was in a higher tier.
I love Justin Jefferson and would take him with a top-five fantasy pick this season. But his expectations are that of an eventual triple-receiving-crown winner, and that's just a bit too steep for me to bet on. The same way we don't expect Kupp to repeat is the same way I don't expect Jefferson to hit those numbers. Now, if one of the other Vikings' talented weapons were to go down for a long stretch, then it'd be easier for him to get there. After all, the answer to that problem would just be, "More Jefferson."
Allen Robinson, WR, Los Angeles Rams
The current situation: Much digital ink has already been spilled about the disappointment Allen Robinson wrought on fantasy managers last season. No need to get too much into it here; it feels disrespectful to keep spinning that wheel, especially when it regards such a talented receiver forced to play in a nigh-impossible situation in 2021.
Robinson had made a career of outplaying bad quarterbacks for years, but everyone has their limits; even Tom Brady lost a few Super Bowls, after all.
2022, however, represents the first year in ARob's eight-season career (he's 28 years old) where he'll not only be in a great offensive ecosystem, but one of the very best in the entire league. He will also be playing with arguably the most talented teammates he's ever had in quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. We saw what Odell Beckham Jr. was able to do in limited work with the eventual Super Bowl champs. The arrow is pointing exceptionally high for ARob.
Will he meet expectations? YES. Unless Allen Robinson reached his physical peak last season (highly unlikely), there's almost no negative to his 2022 outlook. With Kupp inhaling most, if not all, of the defensive attention, Robinson will be able to run circles around overmatched defenders; recall, Robinson was considered one of the better route-running alpha wideouts in football before last year's disaster. Not many teams can boast having a talent like that as their second wideout. As long as Stafford stays healthy and Sean McVay continues to innovate with the offensive playbook, ARob, with his individual talent and that of those around him, should smash his current sixth-round ADP to smithereens.
Gabriel Davis, WR, Buffalo Bills
The current situation: Is there anyone with more hype surrounding him this fantasy draft season than Gabriel Davis?
I guess it's warranted, when you consider what Davis did in last season's playoffs and what he's walking into in Buffalo this season.
The Bills may have fallen to the Chiefs in the Divisional game, but Davis was the People's Winner. The then-22-year-old delivered an unbelievable 8-10-201-4 line in that game. That incredible explosion came after many flashes of big-play ability throughout his young career.
Davis is now expected to be Josh Allen's No. 2 target across from Stefon Diggs on one of the most prolific passing offenses in football. Not a bad job to have.
Will he meet expectations? YES. The numbers are just in Davis' favor. First of all, the Bills live and die via Allen's talents, whether on the ground or through the air; let's be honest — their "running game" is pretty much just a way to give Allen a breather. Allen is also not known to throw to his backs; the man likes to throw to his wideouts and tight ends. And with Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders out of town, there's a plethora of available targets whose majority are likely set to be absorbed by Davis.
We can't buy too much into preseason and training camp hearsay, but we also can't ignore it, either. And if you've been keeping track, Davis' hype train has only been given more fuel throughout the offseason; at one point Davis was being called the best wideout in Bills' camp — yes, with Diggs on the field.
Increased role + offensive ecosystem + strong individual talent. The way I see it, the only way Davis doesn't meet and/or exceed expectations is injury, or if Allen loses trust in him and decides to look Dawson Knox or Isaiah McKenzie's way instead. Considering what Davis did in the playoffs — when the Bills needed it most — I don't see that happening.