Pinpointing who will break out in the upcoming fantasy football season is critical for success as it allows managers to stack massive upside on their rosters at incredible values on draft day. Do this enough times, and you have a championship-dominating roster on your side. With the 2022 NFL season steadily drawing closer, here are some of the early breakout candidates for fantasy football in 2022.
2022 fantasy football breakouts | Quarterback
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
It still feels inevitable the 49ers will eventually decide to name Trey Lance the starting quarterback. They gave the entire farm to move up to get him. Now it is time to give him the keys to the car too. Lance has as dynamic of a skill set as you could hope to find, and the rumblings of him disappointing out of camp seem somewhat overblown.
Lance is in a phenomenal offense under Kyle Shanahan. He has a plethora of weapons around him, from Deebo Samuel to George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Elijah Mitchell, and Danny Gray. Last season, Lance only started two games but averaged 22.4 PPR points and 60 rushing yards a game in those contests. Those are QB1 numbers.
The longer the summer goes, the more Lance is sliding in rankings. But if the news comes, Lance will shoot back up into the low-QB1 territory, as many view him as the 2022 QB breakout for fantasy.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Virtually every stat you look at from last season shows how poor of a rookie season it was for Trevor Lawrence. Finishing as the QB22, Lawrence led the NFL with -72.3 FPOE (fantasy points over expectation). He completed just 59% of his passes for less than 3,700 yards, had a nearly 2:3 TD to INT ratio, and averaged fewer fantasy points per game than Darrell Henderson. Not an ideal start for the QB deemed the next great one since his days in high school.
It’s hard for me to put all the blame on Lawrence when his coach was Urban Meyer, the greatest charlatan in NFL history. Now, Lawrence goes from a coach who couldn’t keep his fingers to himself to one who has a Super Bowl ring around one of his in Doug Pederson.
The Jaguars are sneakily loaded with talent. Travis Etienne Jr. is back from injury and should be a fixture in the passing game. Christian Kirk received a boatload of cash in the offseason and will the role left by DJ Chark. Jacksonville also has Marvin Jones, Zay Jones, Laviska Shenault Jr., Jamal Agnew, Dan Arnold, and Evan Engram.
Volume and some much-needed stability will be there for Lawrence in 2022. Only once in Pederson’s five years in Philly did the Eagles finish outside the top 10 in passing attempts. Throw in negative game scripts and a relatively benign schedule, and Lawrence could have a breakout fantasy season in 2022.
2022 fantasy football breakouts | Running backs
Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
I mean, it’s not like next season could go any worse for Travis Etienne Jr. than his rookie campaign? After all, he didn’t play a single snap last year after suffering a foot injury during the preseason.
Etienne was one of the most explosive players in the country during his time at Clemson. He led the NCAA with 55 runs of 20+ yards during his four years (2017-2020). On those explosive plays, he scored 21 touchdowns and rushed for 2,053 yards, an average of 37.3 yards per rush. Etienne also had six receptions of 30 or more yards, giving him 61 explosive plays. Why is this important? Because the Jaguars had a combined 31 explosive players in their last two years combed (worst in the NFL).
By no means do I feel Etienne is a polished back. But when you score 78 touchdowns and averaged 125.8 scrimmage yards per game over your final three collegiate seasons, that tends to translate to the NFL. Etienne should be heavily involved in the passing game, and with James Robinson still recovering from a torn Achilles, Etienne’s floor is that of a low-end RB2. Yet, his ceiling is closer to the top 12 in PPR leagues if the volume hits as expected.
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Despite missing four games, D’Andre Swift finished fourth in targets last season (78) and tied for the lead amongst RBs in targets per game (six). He averaged 17.6 opportunities per game, 34% of which came through the air. 42% of his total yardage also came in the passing game.
Averaging .59 PPR points/rush, Swift averaged 1.53 PPR points/target and 1.92 PPR points/reception while demonstrating the ability to be a focal point of the Lions’ offense. Under Dan Campbell, Swift was on pace for the fourth-most RB touches last season.
If everything goes perfectly, Swift is one of the few RBs with a legitimate chance to be the overall RB1 in 2022. After RB18 and RB16 finishes, Swift is a fantasy breakout candidate and someone who could wrestle the top overall spot from Jonathan Taylor by season’s end.
2022 fantasy football breakouts | Wide receivers
Drake London, Atlanta Falcons
Drake London can do it all. London lined up in the slot 96% of the time during his first two seasons at USC, but he flipped to 85% perimeter in 2021 and had a breakout campaign. London has a big body (6’3 3/8″ and 219 pounds), can win over the top, and generates separation at all three levels of the route.
Behind London, the Falcons have the newly added Bryan Edwards, Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge, and Auden Tate. London is the undisputed No. 1 receiver, and it’s not even close. Atlanta has just two viable targets for Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder — London and Kyle Pitts.
London will step in from Day 1 and may see more than 22% of the team targets. A reasonable middle-of-the-road outcome has London around 120 targets, 75-80 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 5-6 touchdowns. While this is not the same level as Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase’s breakout rookie seasons, London looks like a reliable WR2 for 2022.
Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
We have another case of “Who else could they target?” Rashod Bateman is far and away the No. 1 option for Lamar Jackson. Bateman came into the league last season as arguably the most “pro-ready” WR of the class. If not for a core muscle injury that hampered the start of his rookie year, Bateman could have posted a rookie breakout of his own.
Bateman did get in some reps with Jackson last season, recording 28 targets from Weeks 6 through 10. However, it took until Week 15 for Bateman to record over 70% of the offensive snaps. By then, Jackson’s season was over due to injury.
Bateman is in the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 range, as even roughly 22% of the targets will only equate to around 115 looks. While he will lack volume compared to others in the NFL, Bateman’s likely fantasy breakout in 2022 should have managers chomping at the bit to draft him this year.
Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
So far, we’ve hit on two receivers with mid-WR2 upside. We go a step further with my favorite darkhorse WR1, Michael Pittman Jr. Use whichever predictive metric is your favorite, and Pittman rated well.
Route participation? Check. Pittman was No. 3 in the NFL in route participation at 96%, trailing only Kupp and Chase. He is constantly on the field.
Target hog? Another check. Pittman was eighth in the NFL in target share last season (24%) and vaulted to 31% from Weeks 13 through 18 once he established himself as Indy’s top receiver. Pittman was one of just 11 wide receivers with at least 25% and 30% of their team’s respective targets and air yards.
Lack of competition for targets? Check once again, as the Colts only added second-rounder Alec Pierce out of Cincinnati. Aside from Pierce, it’s an oft-injured Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, and Michael Strachan.
Well, what about the quarterback? Believe it or not, Matt Ryan is not over the hill just yet. Even last season, without Calvin Ridley or Julio Jones, Ryan came just 32 yards short of his 11th straight 4000-yard season. Not to mention he is a QB who hyper-focuses on his primary target. He did it with Roddy White, Julio, and Ridley. Now, he gets to do it with Pittman.
Even on a run-first team, Pittman’s stranglehold on the position, his talent, and an upgrade at QB have him with not only top-12 but top-five upside in 2022. I am as all-in as it gets for Pittman to be the 2022 fantasy football breakout player.
2022 fantasy football breakouts | Tight ends
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
I thought this breakout could have come last season, but I’d rather be a year too early than a year late. Cole Kmet is unquestionably in a prime role to break out in 2022. He was No. 7 in target share among tight ends last season, recording 60 catches on 93 targets for 612 yards. So why was he TE20 last year? Because you and I had as many touchdowns as Kmet did last season. A big ol’ zero. Due to this, Kmet was dead last at the position with -36.6 FPOE.
Yet, this is a different Bears team. Well, that’s a lie. It’s still a lousy team. The worst roster in football? It’s certainly up for debate. After firing Matt Nagy, they brought in a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Eberflus. Thus, it all falls on new OC Luke Getsy to steer Justin Fields and the offense in the right direction.
The Bears opted not to address the wide receiver position despite losing Allen Robinson. Darnell Mooney is the clear No. 1, with Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis, and 25-year-old rookie Velus Jones Jr. rounding out the room. Jimmy Graham is making his best “Top Gun” impression as a free agent, leaving Kmet as not only the TE1 but likely the No. 2 target for Fields, at least in terms of talent.
Kmet saw utilization in the red zone, recording 14 targets. But when Chicago got in close, Graham was their guy, as they used his basketball skills in iso play designs. The volume and opportunity are there for Kmet to break out in 2022 for fantasy football. It just takes a few touchdowns. If he can close in on four or more, Kmet has low-end TE1 upside.
David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
Money talks. Not only in life but also in the NFL. If true, the Cleveland Browns are screaming at us to buy David Njoku at his current value for fantasy football in 2022. Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, the Browns extended Njoku on a four-year, $56.75 million deal with $28 million guaranteed. His $14.187 million AAV makes him the fifth-highest-paid TE in the league.
The former first-round pick has shown flashes during his first five seasons in the league, but he has yet to top 640 receiving yards in a single year. This is more by design than talent, as the Browns loved to run multiple TEs on the field. Njoku was constantly battling with Austin Hooper and even Harrison Bryant for snaps. With Hooper now in Tennessee, this is Njoku’s time to shine.
One of the best after-the-catch TEs in the NFL, Njoku has the skill set to be one of Deshaun Watson’s top targets. Amari Cooper is the primary read on the perimeter, but Njoku presents a significant mismatch that Donovan Peoples-Jones or David Bell cannot offer in the slot. Let’s not be too quick to write off Njoku, as he does have a top-10 fantasy season under his belt. He could add a second notch in 2022 as a breakout fantasy football player.