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2022 Fantasy Football Opportunity Tracker: Falcons and Panthers

The 2022 Opportunity Tracker is where fantasy football managers come to discover fantasy value and potential sleepers. We uncover value by analyzing team target distribution and adjusting for offseason additions and subtractions. Many players will have new homes in 2022-23 and leading up to the NFL Draft (April 28-30), this series provides some high-level insight into the fantasy impact of important offseason moves for each team. Using this insight, we can help managers stay ahead of the curve in dynasty leagues and uncover vacant roles where teams may rely on newcomers and/or rookies to make an impact.

One of the main concepts we use in this series is “Weighted Opportunity“, created by Scott Barrett at Pro Football Focus. Weighted Opportunity (wOpp) is a great way to equalize the value between targets and carries, particularly for running backs. The calculations for this series were done manually, using statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.

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Atlanta Falcons: End of the Ice-Age

Key Additions: Marcus Mariota, Auden Tate

Notable Losses: Russell Gage, Matt Ryan

Vacant RB Weighted Opportunities: 18

Vacant WR/TE Targets: 235

To begin last season, the Falcons operated a true backfield split between Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis. Patterson carved out a much more significant role and wound up averaging a career-high 13.3 wOpp per game. Over the final eight games of the season (excluding week 18), Patterson averaged 2.8 red zone carries per game, firmly holding the lead-RB job. Most of his career has been spent returning kicks, so his body has less mileage than the average 31-year-old running back. In this role, Patterson is a low-to-mid range RB2.

Kyle Pitts will be the Falcons’ most-targeted player in 2022. Fresh off a rookie campaign that saw him average 10.7 wOpp, he is in the top-3 conversation at TE in 2022. Here are some things that project a 2022 breakout for Pitts:

  • Possesses athleticism advantage over most matchups
  • #1 pass-catcher role in (likely) RPO and play-action based passing game
  • Led team in total target share and red zone target share in 2021
  • No clear competition in 2022 for targets

Pitts can be drafted confidently in the TE5-to-7 range, and hopefully his athletic upside pushes him into the top-3. Newcomer Anthony Firsker should occupy the Hayden Hurst role from last season which saw 4.1 wOpp per game.

There are no rules that state an offense MUST have one fantasy-relevant wide receiver. The Russell Gage/Calvin Ridley role provided about 14 wOpp per game in 2021, which, on its own is a huge role. This passing offense should be lower-volume than previous seasons, with the addition of Marcus Mariota, providing fewer opportunities for wide receivers. Auden Tate is the best one to take a flier on, given his size and red zone ability.

The combination of a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator creates a good deal of uncertainty about how the offense will look. My expectation is that the Falcons will build an offense around Mariota’s skillset that minimizes his limitations. Lots of RPO and play action, so Mariota should get several quality rushing attempts per game, which will raise his floor. A fair range for his production could be Justin Fields last year (floor) and peak Collin Kaepernick (ceiling). In that range, he is a viable QB2 with upside.

Carolina Panthers: CMC Touchdown Factory

Key Additions: Rashard Higgins

Notable Losses: Cam Newton

Vacant RB Weighted Opportunities: 141

Vacant WR/TE Targets: 25

The Panthers, in all likelihood, will have a rookie/new starting quarterback for 2022. Here are the likely options:

  1. Kenny Pickett/Malik Willis
  2. Baker Mayfield
  3. Sam Darnold

None of these options is particularly inspiring but should be an upgrade over last season’s quarterback play. Sam Darnold showed some real promise at the start of last season, but when McCaffrey went down, so did Darnold. The Panthers started the season 3-0, then dropped four straight post-CMC injury. The upside for this Carolina offense is tied to Christian McCaffrey’s availability. Willis and Pickett likely boost the short term value of CMC, and Mayfield likely boosts the overall value of the offense.

Christian McCaffrey has an elite usage rate (17.8 wOpp per game in 2021), but continually struggles with injuries. His ceiling is All-Pro, and his floor is missing two-thirds of the season. He dominated touches when on the field, and got most of the red zone work during that time. He is an RB1 in this role, still with massive upside, though it is understandable for managers to be worried about selecting him in the 1st round. The Panthers operated a committee in CMCs absence last season, with Chuba Hubbard seeing early-down work and Ameer Abdullah (since departed) receiving passing-down work. D’Onta Foreman inherits this role and is the CMC handcuff entering 2022.

The Panthers’ receivers were handicapped by a limited passing attack in 2021. DJ Moore led the way with 15.6 wOpp per game, which put him just outside of WR1 range. Despite his size, he led the team in red-zone target share. It is clearly a priority for Carolina to get Moore the ball, and that should continue in 2022.

Robby Anderson played a role that saw 10.5 wOpp per game in 2021, but a lot of his targets were downfield targets, with a higher level of completion variance. In this role, Anderson is a WR4 with upside and should see some positive regression in 2022. The tight ends are not used much in the current version of the Panthers’ offense (4 targets per game).

Check back later for a look at the new and improved AFC West, as we cover the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.

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