Imagine this. You’re on the clock in your fantasy draft and glancing over the list of available players. You’ve done your research and created your own set of rankings, but at the last second, you decide to sort by last season’s fantasy points. You notice that there’s one guy on the board who scored over 20 more fantasy points than anyone else who’s left. You impulsively click the “draft” button next to his name.
Consider this article a warning against utilizing that “strategy.”
Overrating last year’s production is a mistake in any fantasy sport, but it’s a particularly lethal one in fantasy football, where factors other than a player’s own ability to play an outsized role in his fantasy production. You’ve probably heard the phrase “opportunity is king,” and it’s true. But in a broader sense, the phrase really could be “context is king.” You certainly want to be chasing pure volume, but you also want to be chasing players who get high-value touches in high-scoring offenses.
The offensive environment a player finds himself in can change drastically from season to season, whether it be due to the player changing teams, his team changing coaches or the players around him changing. All of these factors may be hard to quantify, but they are still good arguments against simply expecting a player to repeat his production from the previous year.
It’s also risky to rely on last season’s numbers because they make for a relatively small sample size. Perhaps a player is due for some touchdown regression, or he put up stats that are significantly better than he’s managed to produce over the rest of his career. The player’s age has to come into play, too, because he’s now a year older and the age cliff can be unforgiving in the NFL.
So with that established, let’s take a look at some 2021 studs who could become 2022 duds. I’m generally a glass-half-full kind of guy, so next week I’ll get to more comfortable territory and share some 2021 duds who could become 2022 studs.
Aaron Rodgers (QB – GB)
It’s tough to bet against Rodgers with great confidence, but the odds are against him repeating last year’s QB5 finish. The most obvious reason is that he’ll no longer be throwing at Davante Adams, one of the best receivers in the game. Rodgers will also be missing his favorite deep threat, Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Instead, he’ll have to rely on a ragtag receiving corps made up of mediocre veterans (Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb) and unproven youngsters (Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Amari Rodgers).
Even if Adams and MVS were coming back, last year’s numbers would be better approximate Aaron Rodgers’ ceiling than his floor. The Packers were middle of the pack (pun intended) in run / pass ratio last season, and Rodgers was tied for 12th among QBs in pass attempts. He will be 39 years old before the end of the 2022 season and offers little added value as a rusher at this stage of his career. While he should remain one of the most efficient QBs in the league in terms of avoiding interceptions, it is hard to expect him to maintain his touchdown efficiency without Adams. And given their current roster, it would be no surprise to see the Packers lean on Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon and become even more run-heavy this year.
Rodgers is too good to be a total dud no matter his supporting cast. But at a position where fantasy value quickly evaporates in one-QB leagues if you’re outside the top-12 signal-callers, Rodgers could find himself on the outside looking in.
Najee Harris (RB – PIT)
Harris is a good example of why factors other than pure volume need to be taken into account. Mike Tomlin remains one of the few remaining NFL coaches who are devoted to employing a bell-cow running back, and even though the Steelers are reportedly planning to lighten Harris’s workload, he should still rank among the leaders in touches this year.
But volume can only get Harris so far. Last year, Harris’s 381 total touches led the league, with only Jonathan Taylor (372) coming close. But Harris only finished ninth at running back in fantasy points per game. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry behind a subpar offensive line and only scored 10 total touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s below-average offense.
The Steelers’ offensive line may be even worse this year, and while Ben Roethlisberger was tough to watch last year, Harris may see even fewer touchdown opportunities with Mitch Trubisky and / or rookie Kenny Pickett under center. Trubisky, in particular, could be bad news for Harris, as a QB who rarely checks down to the running back.
As with Rodgers, Harris will not be a “dud” in the sense he will be bad. His projected volume is high enough to produce low-end RB1 / high-end RB2 value, but he is likely to be over-drafted based on his limited upside.
Antonio Gibson (RB – WAS)
As much as Gibson truthers wanted him to be a three-down back, insistently pointing to his usage as a receiver in college, the Football Team / Commanders remained dedicated to pass-catching specialist JD McKissic, who re-upped for two more years this offseason.
McKissic’s return officially kills the dream of Gibson serving as a true bell cow, but that alone isn’t a major obstacle for Gibson, who managed to finish as a top-10 fantasy RB last year even with McKissic playing 11 games alongside him. The bigger issue is that the Commanders took rookie Brian Robinson in the third round of this year’s draft, which happens to be the same round they selected Gibson in two years earlier.
Robinson was a workhorse in his final season at Alabama, rushing for over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Washington head coach Ron Rivera says he wants to use the Gibson / Robinson pairing the same way he used Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart during his time in Carolina. In particular, Rivera apparently views Robinson as the more physical back and Gibson as more of a “slasher,” which could mean it is Robinson – not Gibson – who takes on the goal-line work.
As a third-round pick who only averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season, it is not hard to imagine Gibson losing touches. If he is relegated to running between the 20s, with Robinson getting the red zone opportunities and McKissic hogging the passing down targets, it could be real trouble for his fantasy value in 2022.
Deebo Samuel (WR – SF)
When a player’s fantasy situation gets worse, it is usually not his own fault – unless of course, it involves switching teams for a big payday, a la Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill. Samuel, then, presents a unique case. While he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to force a trade out of San Francisco, NFL insider Ian Rappoport believes Samuel has been successful at persuading the 49ers not to use him as a running back any longer.
That could be a wise move by Samuel for the sake of his long-term health and the longevity of his playing career, but it is one that is sure to harm his statistical output. Last year, Samuel posted eight rushing touchdowns – two more TDs than he caught and six more than any other wide receiver in the NFL had as a runner. All told, almost 30% of Samuel’s fantasy value came as a rusher, and without that production, he would have been the WR10 instead of the WR2 overall.
Now, consider the fact that Samuel is giving up his rushing role on one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, and one that should become even more run-heavy with Trey Lance under center. In the two games Lance started in place of Jimmy Garoppolo last season (Weeks 5 and 16), Samuel caught a combined six balls on 15 targets. The surface numbers (121 yards, one TD) were okay thanks to a couple of big plays, but it is going to be very hard for Samuel to be a WR1 if he’s not getting at least six or seven catches per game.
Hunter Renfrow (WR – LV)
This one almost feels like a layup compared to some of the other names on this list. Sure, the Raiders showed that they want Renfrow to remain a big part of the offense by signing him to a new two-year, $ 32 million deal. And yes, it is encouraging that he is slated to remain in the slot, a position he plays extremely well and that his new head coach, Josh McDaniels, likes to feature.
But none of that changes the fact that Renfrow is going to see fewer opportunities with Davante Adams around. Last year, Renfrow was one of only nine wide receivers to catch 100+ passes, and one of only nine receivers to see 25+ red zone targets. If any Raider is going to do either of those things this year, it’s Adams.
Renfrow should still be quietly productive, and could even be a sneaky value if people downgrade him too far due to the Adams addition. But the bottom line is that Renfrow finished as the WR11 last year, and it would be at least a mild surprise if he finished in the top 24 this time around.
Tyler Lockett (WR – SEA)
I covered the reasons to be worried about Lockett’s 2022 outlook in his Dynasty Player Profile, so click on through to the other side for all the gory details. The main point is not a surprising one: Russell Wilson is now in Denver, and Lockett will be getting a massive downgrade at QB.
Lockett has rarely been a high-volume receiver in Pete Carroll’s run-heavy offense, which means he’s heavily dependent on extreme efficiency. That is going to be very hard to maintain with Geno Smith or Drew Lock under center, making Lockett a poor bet to come anywhere close to last year’s WR13 finish.
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Andrew Seifter is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrew_seifter.