By Jennifer Eakins, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
Taking advantage of your league mates' recency bias is a perennial tradition in the fantasy football world and one I can always get behind. We’re all guilty of associating one bad season with the next regardless of the cause surrounding a player’s dip in production. Players can underperform for a myriad of reasons including injury, a poor system fit, off-field issues, or even an early-season fumble that derails usage. Unless it’s a huge name like Christian McCaffrey, a “bust” player’s draft stock typically takes a hit, allowing us to grab them with some built-in capital.
Chasing the upside on these guys with depressed ADPs can have league-winning ramifications, so here’s a look at some of the bounce-back candidates for the 2022 season.
Note: You won’t find McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, or Travis Kelce on here as they’re a given if they can manage to stay on the field in 2022.
All ADP data is courtesy of Yahoo Fantasy
Justin Fields, Bears (ADP: QB23, 129.3)
The Bears were not great in 2021 (to put it mildly). With a new coaching staff this season, including OC Luke Getsy, for Justin Fields to learn from and utilize his skills properly, we should see a second-year leap from the 23-year-old. We can’t disregard that Fields put up fantasy QB1 numbers in his last four games as a starter last season and averaged 52 rushing yards per game in the final seven contests of 2021.
Chicago’s start to this season is a favorable one for the dual-threat Fields, which also doesn’t hurt. They open against the 49ers, who, last time they met, he torched for 103 yards with his legs alone. Then four of the next five defenses the Bears face ranked 21st or worse last season in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed (or aFPA) to QBs, including the dead-last Commanders, who yielded 21.1 fantasy points to opposing signal callers in 2021. As a late 13th-rounder, Fields makes for a nice pick as your QB2 with juicy rushing upside, despite the lack of weaponry surrounding him in the Bears' offense.
Miles Sanders, Eagles (ADP: RB28, 76.0)
Last season’s RB44 finish in half-PPR points per contest was certainly a letdown after ending as RB18 and RB21, respectively, over the past two years, in that same category. Miles Sanders was on the field for a nice 69 percent of the snaps for the first six weeks of the season before an ankle injury sidelined him until Week 11. Upon return, Sanders was the clear lead back, averaging 14.8 carries for 90.8 yards per tilt, but failed to find the end zone for the entire season.
Positive touchdown regression is coming, and HC Nick Sirianni recently refuted rumors that Sanders was downgraded to the second offense, stating, “It just so happened to be the way the numbers worked a little bit. But Miles was in with the ones as well, and Miles is our guy. There is no secret. Miles is our guy, and we like to rotate our backs. But he’s the guy.”
The 25-year-old does have a capped ceiling with a runner like Jalen Hurts at QB along with pass-catching back Kenneth Gainwell also in the mix, but besting his performance from last season is well within the realm of possibilities for Sanders in 2022. His current RB3 draft tag makes him very affordable as an option for Zero RB or any of the “insert name RB” strategies as an eighth-round pick.
DJ Moore, Panthers (ADP: WR14, 40.4)
Despite posting 1,000+ receiving yards in three straight seasons, DJ Moore hasn’t produced as more than a fantasy WR2 in his NFL career. His talent or usage has never been in question, but he’s been plagued with awful QB play so far in Carolina and has only found the end zone 14 times in four seasons. Ian Hartitz puts it simply and best:
Most incomplete targets that were deemed to be the quarterback's fault (PFF)
1. D.J. Moore (26)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 4, 2022
Things are looking up for Moore as we head into 2022, as a late-summer trade spares him of another go-around with Sam Darnold, instead bringing Baker Mayfield under center for the Panthers. His new QB hasn't been the most consistent. However, Mayfield did lead the Browns to their first playoff berth in decades in 2020, and before separating his shoulder in Week 6 last season boasted a respectable 68.6% completion rate and 245 passing yards per contest.
As the WR1 in Cleveland, Jarvis Landry finished as WR20 and WR13 in half-PPR points in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with Mayfield, and Moore is arguably an upgrade from Landry as an all-around wideout. This season, a high-end fantasy WR2 with a small bump in PPR formats is a safe expectation for Moore. He’s being drafted as the WR14 on Yahoo and is ranked as WR11 in half-PPR and WR9 in PPR scoring in 4for4’s rankings, so there is still some value to be found there.
Terry McLaurin, Commanders (ADP: WR15, 43.3)
I see we have a theme brewing here in the WR category, as Terry McLaurin also suffered from a massive case of bad-QB-itis in 2021. He’s coming off a WR34 campaign in half-PPR points per game with Tayler Heinicke at the helm and, like Moore, is getting an upgrade at QB.
At least, we hope that’s the case.
Carson Wentz is certainly not the sexiest in terms of signal-caller talent; in fact, he’s pretty far down the list in that category, but he has supported fantasy-relevant players in the past, most recently Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. in Indy, who ended as RB1 and WR15 in half-PPR points in 2021.
Washington isn’t exactly a high-volume passing offense; they were 21st in attempts last season, but the Colts threw fewer passes in 2021 (27th in the NFL), and Pittman was still able to put up fantasy WR2 numbers. McLaurin saw 7.6 targets per game last season, which could jump a bit with 160 available targets up for grabs in the Washington offense. Rookie Jahan Dotson has been turning heads at camp and will likely receive a decent portion of those, and if Curtis Samuel can stay healthy, he’ll get a piece of that pie as well, but there should still be plenty of targets leftover for the team’s clear WR1 to flourish in 2022.
McLaurin is the 20th WR leaving Yahoo draft boards but is ranked on 4for4 a bit higher as the WR15 in half-PPR formats. He has the potential to sneak into fantasy WR1 territory, but even if he produces as a WR2, it will still best his finish from last season.
David Njoku, Browns (ADP: TE20, 131.2)
Njoku posted a 36-475-4 line in 2021, which earned him TE24 honors in half-PPR points per game. He shared the TE room with Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant, with himself and Hooper seeing similar targets per matchup (3.3 for Njoku and 3.8 for Hooper). With the latter now in Tennessee and Njoku armed with a contract extension, it’s time for the Cleveland TE to return to what we saw from him just a few seasons ago.
With Jacoby Brissett in line to start the 2022 season for the Browns, we could even see more usage for Njoku, as TE Jack Doyle led the Colts in team targets with 72 in 2019 with Brissett under center. It’s also encouraging that Cleveland has thrown the sixth (2021) and fifth-highest (2020) number of targets to the TE under Kevin Stefanski over the past two seasons.
Right now, Njoku is still being drafted based on recency bias, as the 20th at his position to leave the board. 4for4 has the 26-year-old ranked as the TE15, so grab Njoku before the masses catch on to his potential ceiling in 2022.
A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.
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