The NFL is a snow-globe league and every week and every season is weird, and weird in its own way. You want to be careful with overarching fantasy themes and takeaways because we’re never far away from a set of unexpected results.
That said, the top wide receivers sure ran pure in Week 1, and it has to make you wonder: Will Fantasy Football 2022 be defined by big-name, glamorous pass-catchers?
Is this the year of the receiver?
Consider the top-seven scoring wideouts in the opening week:
• Justin Jefferson, drafted as the WR2 in Yahoo drafts
• Cooper Kupp, WR1 in Yahoo Drafts
• Davante Adams, WR5 in Yahoo Drafts
• Ja’Marr Chase, WR3 in Yahoo Drafts
• Michael Pittman Jr., WR10 in Yahoo Drafts
• Stefon Diggs, WR4 in Yahoo Drafts
• A.J. Brown, WR13 in Yahoo Drafts
A position can’t run much cleaner than that.
What set the wide receivers apart from every other position in Week 1?
The receiving studs were buoyed by opportunity and targets, of course. The five most targeted receivers are all from that list — Adams, Chase, Kupp, Brown and Pittman. Game results didn’t matter much — wins, losses and even ties were represented in this list.
And some of the big-name wideouts who didn’t finish in the top seven still had favorable debuts:
• Mike Evans scored another touchdown, his recurring drumbeat since Tom Brady got to Tampa Bay. Since the Brady acquisition, Evans has 28 spikes in 33 games.
• Deebo Samuel kept a heavy rushing workload — something we were unsure of entering 2022 — and punched in another touchdown. And now the Niners are without Eli Mitchell, their opening-day tailback.
• Tyreek Hill was heavily utilized in his Miami debut, with 12 targets leading to a strong 8-94-0 return.
The limited disappointments from name-brand receivers were mostly related to injury. Tee Higgins suffered a concussion. CeeDee Lamb lost Dak Prescott on Sunday night. Keenan Allen suffered a hamstring injury.
Maybe this discussion has you shrugging — the best players, of course, should be the best players. But other positions didn’t return so cleanly. The top of the running back board had all sorts of surprises — Cordarrelle Patterson, Kareem Hunt, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Dontrell Hilliard and James Robinson all crashed the top eight in Week 1. Three of those guys weren't even projected starters, for crying out loud, and CEH was passively drafted after a mediocre summer.
The quarterback board had plenty of stars, but Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota all crashed the QB1 cutoff.
Tight end? Forget it. Travis Kelce was an easy call for No. 1, but then we’re looking at O.J. Howard, Taysom Hill, Gerald Everett, Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson. Several of the top-12 projected tight ends did very little.
One of the reasons I prioritized wide receivers in my early rounds (the goal was one anchor running back along with several name-brand receivers) is because big-name wideouts start themselves every week. I don’t want to play guessing games, trying to figure out what WR53-ranked option could turn in a WR19-type of return. And although the Week 1 scoresheet can’t be seen as a recurring answer key, it makes me think Big Receiver was the way to go this year.
Running back and wide receiver are generally accepted as the two most important fantasy positions, but true talent level seems to matter less at the running back position. If you can move into an expanded role at RB, the fantasy points generally follow.
Why star wide receivers look to be the true key to fantasy success in 2022
Consider: Jeff Wilson Jr. is expected to be the San Francisco RB starter in Week 2. He’s had a respectable but unspectacular career to this point. Although the overall San Francisco backfield is nebulous, Wilson is nonetheless projected to be RB21 in half-point PPR leagues this week, per Yahoo's outsourced stat projections. (In many other instances, a RB promotion will catapult the new starter into a lofty position, must-start fantasy territory. Think of how we'd view Alexander Mattison or Hunt if their backfield teammates weren't available.)
Compare this to wide receiver, where Joshua Palmer and Tyler Boyd are looking at possible role expansions after Allen and Higgins got hurt last week. I liked both players as upside stashes before the year, and their value has increased due to circumstances. But the fresh projections aren’t gigantic — the stat projections merely call Palmer the WR35, while Boyd is the WR49. Neither is an automatic start, while a player like Wilson likely will be.
Maybe you landed some wide receiver help on the waiver wire. Curtis Samuel had a snappy debut for Washington, and Robbie Anderson played full snaps in Carolina, catching a long touchdown. Both are welcome on my rosters, but initial expectations are modest. Samuel projects to WR40 this week, Anderson to WR54. (I’ll likely rank both of them higher, and there’s a Man vs. Machine debate to be had at a different time. To play fantasy football well, I think you need a blend of stat crunching, game observation and common sense. But even the rosiest optimist in the room would probably hold off on calling Samuel or Anderson locked-in fantasy WR2s right now. They’re still just consideration plays, not slam dunks.)
Every NFL season has a floating butterfly nature to it — the moment we cast our net and think we have it captured, things are likely to dip and bob and weave somewhere else. In a week’s time, the takeaways could easily have a different shade to them. And any fantasy championship season is probably going to require a tidy and productive running back room, no matter how you allocated your assets towards that position.
That said, I feel confident (a dangerous word for any fantasy analyst to use) that WR-heavy builds were a good idea entering this season. If you have a late-running draft to come, I’d consider the same motif. And perhaps you can still shape your assembled roster towards a WR-heavy approach, through trades and roster manipulation.
Because the alpha receivers might be taking over in 2022.