Fantasy Football: Last season's most disappointing players — what went wrong?
It happens every fantasy football season: Players we're high on end up disappointing us. Keep in mind, however, that the word itself — "disappointing" — is relative when it comes to fantasy. Every member of the community could have a different definition of what it means to be a disappointing player.
Is it that the player finished at a position well behind their average draft position?
Is it that the player dealt with an injury-riddled season?
Is it that the player suffered major regression in comparison to their previous season?
I say it's a combination of all three, and probably more. So, with that in mind, let's see what happened with four of the most disappointing players of 2022:
Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
2022 ADP: Pick 74.5 — 2022 fantasy finish: QB16
We all remember the hype train that took off the moment the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos. The promise of Russ being allowed to "cook" — with ingredients like a young, talented group of weapons, a top defense and a head coach who had already achieved success with another veteran, Super-Bowl-winning quarterback — led fantasy managers to aggressively select Wilson as the ninth QB off draft boards, ahead of Trey Lance, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford (coincidentally, all those signal-callers were ALSO 2022 disappointments in some form or fashion).
Maybe the hype led us to forget that Wilson hadn't finished as a top-five quarterback since 2019. Maybe the hype overshadowed signs of an incoming decline (after throwing 40 touchdowns — the highest mark of his career — in 2020, regression slammed into Wilson in 2021 as he threw only 25 scores) at age 34.
Whatever the case, fantasy managers who invested in Russ — and the Broncos offense as a whole — were devastated seemingly week in and week out in 2022. What was once envisioned as a match made in Super Bowl heaven turned into a disaster.
But maybe there were signs of hope late in the season. Russ compiled a triple-digit QBR three times from Week 14 on, along with eight passing scores. Not ground-breaking by any means, but still, signs of life from the embattled veteran. And the dream of a healthy Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton (more on him later) for a full season still remains.
Whoever takes over as Denver's head coach after the Nathaniel Hackett nightmare will likely be key in deciding where fantasy drafters select Wilson next season.
Dishonorable Mention: Aaron Rodgers
Running Back: Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
2022 ADP: Pick No. 1.2 — 2022 fantasy finish: RB34
Let's get the obvious out of the way: After not missing a single game in his entire football life, Taylor's 2022 season was utterly derailed by injuries. He ended up playing in just 11 games.
Now, to call a player disappointing solely because they got hurt is unfair in my book. But we can't ignore it completely, or give a player a pass because of it. After all, the best ability is availability.
Even when Taylor was available, however, he wasn't living up to his No. 1 pick pedigree. He rushed for over 100 yards just twice in his 11 games (he started the season off with a monstrous 31-carry, 161-yard, 1-touchdown performance; poor fantasy managers probably thought that was a sign of things to come). Looking under the hood, Taylor barely made the top-20 running backs in a few advanced rushing metrics — but he was top 15 in rushing yards after contact per rush and broken tackles, a talent he's becoming known for.
The Indianapolis offensive line didn't live up to its previous lofty esteem; the whole offense as a whole was a disaster, for that matter, which ultimately wasn't going to help Taylor's bottom line anyway.
2022 will likely go down as a "Well, it can't get any worse"-type of year for Taylor. He's still only 24 years old. I'll take the 2023 draft discount on him, with the Colts likely looking to lean on him even more as they transition to a new offensive era at quarterback.
Dishonorable Mentions: AJ Dillon, Cam Akers
Wide Receivers: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers; Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
Johnson 2022 ADP: Pick No. 52.4 — 2022 fantasy finish: WR39
Sutton 2022 ADP: Pick No. 44.9 — 2022 fantasy finish: WR43
"What in the hell?!" is likely the phrase which comes to mind when looking at Diontae Johnson's overall and advanced numbers from the 2022 season — especially when you compare them to his previous seasons.
2022 marked Johnson's third straight year receiving over 140 targets. Fantasy managers know targets are gold when it comes to wide receivers, and Johnson's 147 targets were good for eighth-most in the NFL. His 169 targets in 2021 were third, and his 144 in 2020 were eighth again. He scored seven times in 2020, eight in 2021 ... AND ZERO IN 2022.
Something ain't adding up here.
Out of the 147 targets Johnson received in 2022, 16 of them were in the red zone, tied for 12th in the league. He caught six of them. Now, while this doesn't sound too horrible, a tragic aspect of his red-zone work is the fact that only 17.2% of the Steelers' total pass attempts within their opponent's 10-yard line ended in a Johnson target. That's not good at all. To put things in perspective, late-season fantasy wunderkind Jerick McKinnon tied Johnson's 10-yard-line target percentage — and McKinnon scored seven times in that vicinity.
Johnson's target percentage in the opponent's red-zone territory in 2021 was 22.7 (at or around the 10-yard line) and 22.4 (at or around the 20).
The Steelers looked more to tight end Pat Freiermuth (20.7%) at or around the opponent's 10-yard line than they did Johnson in 2022, but that still doesn't completely account for Johnson ending up with a zero-burger for the season. Pittsburgh had its quarterback issues last season, which could also help explain Johnson's down season since it's clearly not a question of Johnson's individual talent.
The hope now is that Kenny Pickett — the presumed starter for 2023 who flashed late in 2022 — will build more of a rapport with Johnson; a solid helping of positive touchdown regression won't hurt either.
What might be a question of talent is the case of Courtland Sutton. Like Russell Wilson, Sutton was a large part of the Denver hype train; he was supposed to be Russ's DK Metcalf in Mile High. Like Taylor, much of Sutton's season was marred by injury.
Still, Sutton had just one 100-yard game in 2022 (Week 2) and he never seemed to be a priority target for Wilson, as many expected. He was used mostly as a deep threat, traveling 10.6 yards before the catch per reception. He was also top 10 in drops and top 20 in drop percentage.
You don't even want to look at his YAC numbers from 2022.
Perhaps we got ahead of ourselves in thinking Sutton could be a 1-for-1 swap with Metcalf. Just because they are two big receivers who played with Russ doesn't mean the talent level is the same. I for one will be ranking Jerry Jeudy — who looked more like another Tyler Lockett (when Jeudy was healthy, of course, something that's becoming an issue in his young career) for Wilson — ahead of Sutton in 2023.
Dishonorable Mentions: Gabe Davis, Adam Thielen