We are all looking for the next Cooper Kupp. That’s to say, every fantasy manager tries finding a mid to late-round draft pick that can be a positional leader and put up big points each week. Cooper Kupp, of course, is last season’s fantasy football MVP having far out-performed his average draft position. An extreme example, to say the least.
You usually need to play it safe early on. Spending your first two draft picks, at least, on certified, top-ranked studs is common practice. But, what if we snag a special player a short time later that performs like one of those top-ranked studs? That’s a goal.
The purpose of this piece is to identify a player at each position who isn’t coming off of draft boards as one of the top-ranked players at their position but could finish as such. Below, I identify players who I think can finish in the top-5, if not be their positional leader for 2022 fantasy football. Targeting these positional leader candidates gives fantasy managers a potentially massive return in production at a low cost.
Potential Leaders at Their Position for 2022 Fantasy Football
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
To be a positional leader at quarterback in fantasy football, a player generally needs to check three boxes. First, the positional leader at quarterback often runs a high-scoring offense. Secondly, the quarterback obviously needs to be able to throw the ball. Lastly, and the biggest key for fantast football, is the quarterback’s ability to score points by running the ball.
Jalen Hurts is one of the most proven players at his position to check that last box. In 15 regular-season starts last year, 43% of Hurts’ 321.16 fantasy points resulted from his rushing production. Hurts scored the most rushing touchdowns (10) of any quarterback last season. It’s worth noting he ran for those scores in just five games, likely guaranteeing a fantasy football win those weeks.
As for running a high-scoring offense, the Eagles ranked 12th in points per game (25.5) in 2021, just 0.1 points behind Green Bay, Arizona, and 0.8 behind Cincinnati. That’s also 4.6 more points per game with Hurts under center for nearly an entire season than what their 2020 offense (20.9) averaged. Now, the team adds A.J. Brown to the pass-catching core of DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, and Quez Watkins.
The skepticism remains regarding Hurts’ ability as a passer. However, the Eagles put pieces in place to help him succeed. Hurts did not eclipse 200 passing yards in nine of his 15 starts last season and still finished as QB6 on a points-per-game basis. With his rushing ability, the addition of Brown, and overall improved roster, he is as good a bet as any to rise up as the positional leader at quarterback this fantasy football season. He can be had in the seventh round of most fantasy football drafts.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
After a rookie season in which Saquon averaged 24.1 PPR points per game, he has just a 14.2 points-per-game average since. That’s in just 26 applicable fantasy games played in the last three seasons. It’s no secret, though, that Barkley’s downward trajectory is directly correlated to awful injury luck. Speaking of which, he’s now two years removed from an ACL tear.
Saquon enters the 2022 season healthy and without any competition in the New York Giants backfield. It’s also a contract year for Barkley so he is going to see a lot of touches in this offense run by head coach, Brian Daboll, formerly the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. The team just added offensive tackle, Evan Neal, with the seventh pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, as well, for added protection and blocking.
Barkley’s got the pass-catching ability, on top of a powerful running style, to set him up as a positional leader in fantasy football. His 91 receptions in 2018 are proof of that. Especially, in the first six games, the Giants are set to face five top-10 fantasy defenses versus running backs from last season. As a result, I expect Barkley to see a ton of targets early on.
Currently, Barkley has an ADP of approximately RB17 and 28th overall. That’s a third-round projection in 12-team fantasy football leagues. For most teams, that’s their second running back on their roster. For some, it could be their first after selecting two wide receivers, or mixing in a tight end or quarterback, depending on league format. Don’t be afraid to lean toward the latter as far as roster construction goes with Barkley as your top back.
Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals
Last season was a third-year leap for Brown as a PPR fantasy receiver. In his first two seasons, he failed to surpass a WR37 overall finish or an 11.0 points-per-game average. Last year, however, Brown hit career highs in receptions (91), receiving yards (1,008), and hauled in six touchdowns, two shy of his best. That’s good enough for a WR17 finish and 14.7 points per game average.
Part of Brown’s lack of receiving production is a direct result of the Ravens’ frequency of running the ball. Since Brown was drafted in 2019, the Ravens have ranked 1st, 1st, and 3rd in rushing attempts by team the last three seasons. Lamar Jackson is a key contributor in those rushing statistics, and Brown’s new quarterback, Kyler Murray, is known to run, as well.
However, the Cardinals rival only the Buffalo Bills in terms of running the most four-wide receiver sets week-to-week. With expectations of that two-year trend continuing, Brown should be the lead receiver for the Cards, especially with DeAndre Hopkins serving a six-game suspension. It also helps that Brown is a former college teammate of Kyler Murray’s. Don’t discount that chemistry.
In a pass-friendlier offense, I fully expect Marquise Brown to reach career-highs again in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns. Fantasy managers are currently drafting Brown after DeAndre Hopkins as a sixth or seventh-round draft pick. Brown is a player who will start the season as most fantasy football teams’ WR3 with plenty of potential to be a positional leader.
Daulton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
In the last three fantasy football seasons, a combination of 22 different tight ends have made up the top-12 in fantasy football each season. Of those 22, only four, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Hunter Henry, and Mike Gesicki, ranked in the top-12 at the end of each of those seasons. Only one of those, Travis Kelce, has finished in the top-five each time. Needless to say, it’s an extremely fluid position.
This leaves the door pretty wide open for a few positional leader candidates for tight end. Look beyond the big names and direct your attention to Daulton Schultz of the Dallas Cowboys. In addition to a TE4 fantasy football finish last season, with a 12.1 points per game average, a few things have gone Schultz’s way this offseason. First and foremost, Schultz will play under the franchise tag this season. He is a clear priority to this Cowboys offense.
Additionally, the team didn’t add any notable tight ends to threaten his 63.8% snap count at the position from last season. Schultz was the 37th most-targeted player at any position last season. With the exit of Amari Cooper via trade, Cedrick Wilson to free agency, and as Michael Gallup recovers from an ACL injury, Schultz should see an increase from his 2021 team target share of 16.3%. The aforementioned players leave approximately 226 targets, or roughly 33% of last season’s share, on the table for Schultz to get a piece of.
Approximately seven tight ends are coming off of draft boards before Schultz. Six of them are gone before the end of the sixth round. I’m telling you to wait a round or two later for Schultz. You’ll see a larger return on investment with a stronger overall roster from picks before him.