There are few things more satisfying than watching everyone run to the waiver wire early in the season only to find that the guy they expected was available is already on your roster. Fantasy managers who drafted James Robinson or Elijah Mitchell the past two years know exactly what I’m talking about.
My hope is that there are a couple of Week 1 surprises on the list below, but that’s not all you’ll find. You’ll find at least one player who I expect to start the year on the PUP list, but could be a league-winner in the second half. You’ll find multiple running back handcuffs, a few late-round tight ends, and even one or two quarterbacks.
So what does this hodgepodge of players have in common? Well, they all have a consensus ADP on Fantasy Pros outside the top 180 and they’re all being drafted after the first 10 rounds at CBS as of August 25th. I’ve sorted them by division with a few words on my favorites in each division.
I expect a few objections that a couple of these guys are too well known, so I’ll update in September for the final draft weekend if ADP changes that much.
The NFC North has a big advantage over everyone else in this regard. While Herbert is my favorite of the group and Doubs has been the talk of training camp, Jameson Williams is actually one of my favorite late-round picks, as long as you have an IR slot in your league.
Even in industry drafts, Williams often makes it to the final round because he’s already been placed on the PUP list and will miss at least the first four weeks of the season. My expectation is that Williams will return after the team’s Week 7 bye and I’m perfectly fine with drafting him, stashing him, and then having an open roster slot for that first run of waivers.
With perfect help, Williams could have been the WR1 in this class and if he is back to 100% he may just be the No. 1 wide receiver in this class for the 2022 Fantasy playoffs. Williams ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the combine and produced more than 1,500 yards as a 20-year-old at Alabama. He’s an incredible talent who only needs to get healthy and learn the system.
Dontrell Hilliard isn’t my favorite, but he does appear to be the handcuff to Derrick Henry, so if that’s your kind of thing he should be on your radar for the final round. Same goes for Evan Engram, who appears locked in as TE1 in a Doug Pederson offense.
The guy who is my favorite is Nico Collins. Collins struggled as a rookie, but he’s 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.45 40 at his pro day so I’m willing to give him a pass on that bad rookie year. Collins has virtually no competition for targets behind Brandin Cooks and I expect both an increase in pass volume and pass efficiency in Davis Mills‘ second year as a starter. Collins profiles as a borderline flex with Cooks healthy and a potential top-25 wide receiver if something happens to Cooks.
We’re taking Collins as early as Round 10 in our mocks, but his ADP does not reflect that at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the risers of the final two weeks of draft season.
Isiah Pacheco and Zamir White are a pair of backs I was shocked qualified for this list. Pacheco in particular has been drafted as high as Round 8 in some of our industry drafts. While I think that’s a mistake, it’s also a mistake to let him last past Round 12.
Both of these backs are on teams that we just aren’t sure are sold on their starters. Both of these backs could be goalline backs according to reports we’ve heard during camp. And both of these backs are rookies on teams that could have some fireworks on offense. On the downside, both of these backs are probably going to be sharing with someone if the starter goes down. I slightly prefer White, but I’m fine with either in Round 11.
While Sterling Shepard did surprise me by coming off the PUP before the year started, and all the other Giants receivers seem to be hurt, he’s not my favorite on this list. At least not until I hear he’s back to 100%. My favorite is Jalen Tolbert and he could have a huge opportunity due to the recovery of another injured receiver, Michael Gallup.
Tolbert was the Cowboys Round 3 pick out of South Alabama, where he thoroughly dominated the lesser competition, averaging 122 receiving yards per game. His 51.2% dominator score ranks in the 97th percentile for receivers entering the NFL and he’s drawn good reviews in Dallas this offseason.
it’s always tricky to evaluate small-school guys like Tolbert and the fact that he’s already 23 makes him even more suspicious but that maturity combined with this opportunity could equal a very fast start. if Gallup isn’t able to get back to 100% early in the year, Tolbert could get an extended run as the WR2 in an offense that we expect to be well above average, if not explosive.
As you may be able to tell, the quality is beginning to drop off at this point, especially once we get past my favorite in each division. Although, I will say I think there’s an underrated chance that the four NFC South players above all have an impact this year. Mariota runs enough to be a borderline startable QB in a one-quarterback league, Robbie Anderson is likely the No. 2 wide receiver on the Panthers, and Kyle Rudolph could have the Gronk role. But I don’t like any of them as much as I like Mark Ingram.
Ingram played two games without Kamara last year and averaged 20 touches, 110.5 yards, and 19.1 PPR Fantasy points per game. That makes Ingram one of the most attractive handcuffs and he’s not being drafted as such at all. I also think there’s a chance he’s like a poor man’s Kareem Hunt without a Kamara injury, especially if the Saints stay as run heavy as they were last year. I actually have Ingram projected in Hunt’s range, but I rank him much lower because you don’t have to draft him near that high.
Eno Benjamin is a nice handcuff and Geno Smith could be a sneaky QB2 in leagues where you can start more than one, but Tyler Higbee is the star of the NFC West deep sleepers and I’m not really sure why he qualifies.
Last year Higbee finished the year as TE14 overall and outscored Mike Gesicki, Hunter Henry and Pat Freiermuth on a per-game basis. He was even better in his final four games, averaging 13.8 Fantasy points per game. Now we’ve seen a big finish from Higbee that didn’t translate the following year, but I think this is different.
For one thing, Higbee got the target share last year, his efficiency just fell off a cliff, and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe he’ll continue to be less efficient with Matthew Stafford than he was with jared Goff. He has 100-target upside in an offense that we think may be the best in football and the top two target earners on the team are both 29-year-old receivers with extensive injury histories. He’s one injury away from being the second target on the offense, and a potential league-winner at that. Even without an injury I project Higbee to be a top-12 tight end and he’s rarely drafted in our drafts.
Yeah, it’s getting worse. Isaiah McKenzie is right behind Corey Davis here, but both are wide receivers that probably need some help to be actual difference makers in Fantasy. For Davis, it may be as simple as holding off Garrett Wilson, which none of us really want. For McKenzie, he just needs to preserve the Cole Beasley role and be more efficient.
Beasley averaged seven targets per game over the past three seasons. McKenzie could earn those targets, but it will mean that Gabriel Davis and/or Dawson Knox don’t take the step forward that they’re being drafted to take. Considering I don’t have Davis or Knox ranked as high as consensus, that seems possible.
The other advantage McKenzie could have over Beasley is in the running game. He has 19 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown over the past two seasons and ran 10 times for 66 yards and two scores in 2018. If McKenzie could add a point per game on the ground, there’s more upside.
Here we are again with Mike Davis. Gus Edwards has already been placed on the PUP list. J.K. Dobbins still isn’t fully cleared. Mike Davis may very well be your Week 1 starter against the New York Jets.
I know you feel like you’ve been fooled by Davis before but I need to remind you that Latavius Murray scored four touchdowns in the first six games of 2021 for Baltimore and Devonta Freeman averaged 14.2 PPR Fantasy points per game from Week 9-14. If those guys can be Fantasy relevant in this offense, just about anyone could.
Davis won’t likely have a big role for long, but if you can find a Week 1 starter in the double-digit rounds, you should hop on it, especially if you went with a Zero-RB approach.