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100 Questions: The Pressing Fantasy Football Issues Entering 2022 — NFC West

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(As we head toward training camp and the start of preseason, our own Daniel Kelley is asking — and attempting to answer — the most pressing questions around fantasy football for 2022. This is 100 Questions.)

This is more an oddity than anything else, but I find it fascinating: Over the last 18 years, someone from the NFC West has won at least one playoff game every year but 2017. Only the AFC West can say it has won a playoff game even three years in a row, and that division didn’t have nearly the success before that. The NFC West has an argument as the best division in football for a generation.

 

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals started 7-0 last year then went 4-7 the rest of the way (counting the postseason). They started 5-2 in 2020 then went 3-6 the rest of the way. They didn’t start as well in 2019, but they were 3-3-1 and then went 2-7. This has been the biggest first-/second-half split team in the league for a while now, and whatever the reason (I’m not blaming Call of Duty, even if the jokes are fun), something needs to change if the Cardinals are going to take the next step.

89. How Should We Handle DeAndre Hopkins in Drafts?

DeAndre Hopkins is still one of the most famous receivers in the game. He was a top-five fantasy receiver every year from 2015 to 2020 except for 2016, when his quarterbacks were Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage. Since he entered the league, his 2,248.5 PPR points are second only to Antonio Brown’s 2,285.6, and no one else is within 100. Yeah, he’s missing six games to suspension, but when he’s back…?

Best Answer: On a per-target basis last year, Hopkins was about as efficient as ever, gaining 8.9 yards per target, second most since his 2015 breakout. The problem is the raw totals. Hopkins had averaged at least 9.4 targets per game for six straight years (topped 10.0 five times) before last year, when that average fell to 6.4. It came as Hopkins was targeted further downfield as well, with a 12.5-yard aDOT that was a big jump over 2020’s 8.9-yard number. They more or less turned Hopkins into a different receiver last year, and that receiver was far more touchdown-dependent than any previous version — 32.6% of his PPR points came on touchdowns last year, comfortably highest of his career and only his second time over 20%. Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds are gone, but the team brought in Marquise Brown and Darrel Williams and now have Zach Ertz for a full year. What reason do we have to believe Hopkins will regain his lost targets? Hopkins is cheap, available as a mid-range WR4, so sure, maybe that’s worth the risk. But don’t expect the Hopkins of old.

90. What About Zach Ertz’s Target Load?

Zach Ertz had 112 targets last year between Arizona and Philadelphia, fewer than only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce. He produced 1.61 PPR points per target, 22nd among 35 tight ends with 40-plus target. That’s not great, but it’s worth noting it was better than guys like Kyle Pitts (1.61), Mike Gesicki (1.47) and Darren Waller (1.44). In other words, Ertz is still relevant, but he does rely on a lot of targets in a big way.

Best Answer: As I mentioned above, Marquise Brown is in Arizona now, as is Darrel Williams. Hopkins will miss six games, but then he’s back as well. And while you don’t want to give too much weight to a rookie TE, they did spend a second-rounder (and their first pick) on Trey McBride. You can get Ertz at TE9, but personally, I’m passing on him there for a more efficient option later.

91. How Should We Value This Backfield?

If you want to stump someone in fantasy football trivia, ask them to name the only team that has two top-20 PPR running backs from last year on their roster. Because the Cardinals bringing in Darrel Williams at the end of May gives them last year’s RB20 and RB5, the only team that can say that. (Caveat: I used FantasyPros scoring; if you use Pro Football Reference or some other, the Broncos also get there with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. But my way is a more fun way to say it.)

Best Answer: Conner was the RB5 last year with 1,127 scrimmage yards. That’s because he scored a whopping 18 times — you have to go down to RB14 Damien Harris to find a running back with fewer yards. Conner can score a lot, but you can’t count on him doing that much again, especially with Williams in. We can expect Williams to more or less absorb the work Chase Edmonds was supposed to have had last year, and for that, let’s fire up the FTN Fantasy splits tool:

James Conner 2021 NFL Splits FTN Fantasy Splits Tool

He scored a lot of touchdowns either way, but he had more than eight fewer touch opportunities a game. Without Edmonds, he was a superstar. Without, he was a decent play. Conner is RB18 in drafts right now, Williams is somehow RB53. Let Conner go at that price. Dive on Williams 15, 20 picks earlier. He’s the take.

Los Angeles Rams

There are different times a team can acquire a potentially difference-making quarterback. There’s bottoming out and taking one first (or close) and hoping he helps fix a broken roster. There’s acquiring one (either by trading up in the drafts or for a veteran) and trying to jump-start the next step. And there’s what the Rams did a season ago, taking a roster that was arguably a quarterback away from a championship, getting that quarterback as the final piece, and ultimately winning the title. It’s the hardest path to take — quarterbacks are expensive and the one who become available aren’t always Super Bowl-caliber — but man, at least this time, it worked like gangbusters.

92. Can Matthew Stafford Repeat His Top-Five Season?

In his first year in Los Angeles, Matthew Stafford put up his most passing yards (4,886) since 2012, tied his 2011 career high in touchdown passes (41), had his best passer rating (102.9) in a full season, and had his second career top-five fantasy finish (first since 2011). Oh, and there was that whole Super Bowl thing. Things went well.

Best Answer: On the list of things that went poorly for Stafford for fantasy last year, just about the only thing you can pick out is the injury to Robert Woods, and the team had literally signed Odell Beckham the day before (the most fortuitous timing of all time). In other words, he hit his even-somewhat-realistic peak and still capped out at QB5, and that was with playing all 17 games — only 11 quarterbacks started every game last year, tied for the lowest this century.

Guys like Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow outscored Stafford in points per game. In other words, Stafford could have the exact same year and finish worse in 2022. Any regression, and he could fall a fair amount. He’s available at QB11 in drafts, and that feels pretty reasonable. If anything, I’d fade there, not buy.

93. Will Allen Robinson Make the Most of His First Good QB?

You know the names and the narrative by now, but it’s still true that Allen Robinson hasn’t had a truly competent quarterback throwing him the ball since Russell Wilson hit him with a 48-yarder in the 2016 Pro Bowl (and that might be the only time ever; the only other quarterback to complete a Pro Bowl pass to Robinson was Teddy Bridgewater, who yes has somehow made a Pro Bowl). Now, he’s with Stafford, upending my tongue-in-cheek prediction from a couple of years ago.

Best Answer: You can get Robinson at WR31 in drafts right now, and based on all the glowing reviews out of Rams camp, he’s only going to get more expensive. And there’s probably no more boom/bust option in the drafts anywhere than this guy. If last year was a blip borne of injury, bad quarterback play and coaching and dissatisfaction with his spot, well, Robinson is a guy who has three 1,000-yard seasons in his career despite bad QB play. If last year was an indication, well, he’s a guy who turns 29 later this month and just put up a 410-yard, one-touchdown, WR81 season. The one spot I more or less feel confident he won’t be finishing is WR31. I’m totally comfortable taking him higher than that, but if you do so, do it with the awareness of the risk, and maybe target some safer receivers elsewhere.

94. Should We Buy Cam Akers Being Healthy?

Cam Akers played in five games last year, averaging 2.43 yards per carry and scoring zero touchdowns. Of course, he did that only about six months removed from a torn Achilles, normally a yearlong injury that some players never get back from, and most of his work came in the postseason against some of the league’s best defenses. He was supposed to be a star running back before his injury last year, and now he’s being drafted as RB15. So all is well?

Best Answer: The list of NFL running backs who have returned from a torn Achilles to be productive is about as long as the list of running backs who have returned from an alien abduction to be productive. It’s basically “Eh, D’Onta Foreman was decent down the stretch last year.” Now, the enormous caveat there is that they tend to hit guys who are already later in their career — only Foreman and Mikel Leshoure really suffered their injuries at a comparable age to Akers. And medicine and therapy and training are always improving. Some back will be a post-Achilles tear star someday, and maybe that day is now and Akers is that back. But there’s enough downside there that I am more than comfortable letting someone else find out at that price.

 

San Francisco 49ers

Kansas City is the only team in the NFL with multiple playoff wins in each of the last three seasons. The only other team who has done so in even two of the last three years is the 49ers, who won two playoff games in the 2019 and 2021 seasons sandwiched around a nigh-on disaster of a 6-10, last-place 2020. If that 2020 sparked worries that Kyle Shanahan might not be all he was cracked up to be, 2021 did a lot to quiet that.

95. What Do We Make of Trey Lance?

The Baltimore Ravens started Joe Flacco for a long time. They drafted a very run-happy quarterback in 2018 but didn’t commit to him at first. When they did, the coaching staff and front office made sure to tailor their game plan for him. And in Lamar Jackson’s first full season as the starter, he was the unanimous MVP. If anything, the coaching staff surrounding Trey Lance in San Francisco is even more creative than the one in Baltimore. So could he be QB1?

Best Answer: Sure, he could be. But while I was the one who presented that particular comparison (and come on, it’s decent), let’s also not go crazy. Jackson was a three-year Power-5 starter with 9,000 passing yards, 4,100 rushing yards and a Heisman. Lance was a one-year small-school starter with 2,900 passing yards and 1,300 rushing yards. Jackson was the fantasy QB8 over seven starts to end 2018; Lance was QB13 in his two starts (Weeks 5 and 17) last year. But the Jackson stuff could be his ceiling, even if his floor is “Uh, why’d we let Jimmy leave again?” Lance is available at QB14 in drafts. At that price, someone with his ceiling is worth the shot, but he is absolutely someone who I would pair with a safe option like a Kirk Cousins, lest he fail and I be stuck scrounging the wire.

96. What Is Brandon Aiyuk in Year 3?

Brandon Aiyuk 2022 Fantasy Football 100 Questions NFC West

Brandon Aiyuk missed four games as a rookie (Week 1 hamstring, Weeks 9 and 12 COVID-19 List, Week 17 didn’t matter). His workload increased over the course of the season, and a hot final two months had him finish as WR35. It also made him tantalizing for fantasy, and he was popularly drafted of Deebo Samuel last year. He played every game in Year 2, but spent the first part of the season in the doghouse, usage-wise. He came on strong down the stretch again, ultimately finishing as … WR35 again. Just for comedy’s sake, I’d like him to be WR35 this year.

Best Answer: The only real way to answer this question is to decide what Deebo Samuel will be. Because when Samuel was used almost exclusively as a receiver in the first half, Aiyuk didn’t get a lot of work. But his PPR point total increased by more than 50% (and his receiving yardage almost doubled) in the second half once Samuel started lining up as a running back more often. Given the team’s investment in Tyrion Davis-Price this offseason and Samuel’s apparent dissatisfaction in the backfield role, I’m concerned about Aiyuk’s upside. He could return some value on his WR40 ADP, but not much. Call it WR35 or so (wink).

97. Is Elijah Mitchell a Fantasy Starter?

The 49ers took Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round last year. He was the afterthought after incumbent Raheem Mostert and third-rounder Trey Sermon. But then Sermon failed to impress and was inactive in Week 1 and, when Mostert got hurt, Mitchell was the one who got a shot, rushing for 104 yards and a touchdown in his debut. He had five 100-yard games out of 11 outings last year, averaging almost 90 rushing yards per game. On the flip side, he missed six games to a variety of injuries, he averaged under two targets per game, and the 49ers haven’t shown any real urge to commit to a single back during Shanahan’s tenure.

Best Answer: Mitchell currently carries an ADP of RB23, just behind Breece Hall and Travis Etienne and just ahead of AJ Dillon and J.K. Dobbins. And man, if that doesn’t feel like a big tier drop right there — Hall and Etienne are inexperienced but have a shot at bell cow-esque workloads, Dillon and Dobbins are big-time talents who will split carries with someone (Aaron Jones and Lamar Jackson/Gus Edwards). Which of those groups does Mitchell fall into? It’s clearly the latter — he can gain yardage by the bucketload, especially in a Shanahan offense, but Davis-Price, Lance, Jeff Wilson, even Sermon should all have roles, and that’s going to cap Mitchell’s upside. You’d rather draft someone at the end of their tier than at the beginning, and right now, Mitchell’s at the beginning of his tier.

Seattle Seahawks

Right now on DraftKings Sportsbook, only the Falcons (5) and Texans (4.5) have lower projected win totals than the Seahawks’ 5.5 (Cleveland is off the board, but even a Deshaun Watson-less Browns should have a higher total). It’s a steep fall for a Seattle team that finished first or second in the NFC West every year from 2012 to 2020 and has made the playoffs eight times in 10 years, but that’s what happens when you replace a Hall of Fame quarterback with [question mark].

98. How Should We Handle This Backfield?

Rashaad Penny was the most surprising short-term superstar in the world at the end of last year, rushing for over 130 yards per game in Weeks 14-18. He was not only the fantasy RB1 over those five games, he was 12 points clear of No. 2 Devin Singletary and 25 clear of No. 3 Najee Harris. Of course, the 672 yards he produced in that stretch also represent 42.7% of his rushing yards over his four-year career, as Penny has only played 37 of a possible 65 games and had all of 112 rushing yards in 2020-2021 combined before he turned it on. Chris Carson’s gone now, but the always run-happy Seahawks brought in Michigan State’s Ken Walker in the second round. So can Penny build on his success, or is it New Guy time?

Best Answer: This isn’t really a “How will they do?” question as much as it’s “What do the Seahawks feel like?” one, so we’re all kind of guessing. And everyone appears to be hedging their bets — current draft community ADP has Penny at RB32, Walker at RB37. Our staff consensus has Penny RB33, Walker RB34. Jeff Ratcliffe’s fantasy rankings have Penny at RB32, Walker RB34. The best answer here is for you to decide for yourself—if you think the Seahawks will commit to one guy, pick one and pounce early, because that’s fantasy gold. If you think it’s a split role, probably best to just avoid.

99. Are We Underrating Tyler Lockett?

Tyler Lockett 2022 Fantasy Football 100 Questions NFC West

Tyler Lockett started slow in his career, but he broke out in his fourth year in 2018, finishing as the WR16. He’s been an WR2 or better every year since — the only other receivers who have been top-24 or better each of the last four years are Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen and Mike Evans. Now, Lockett turns 30 in September and Russell Wilson is gone. Is that enough to justify his current ADP, all the way down at WR33?

Best Answer: Lockett is a prime example of how looking at end-of-season totals can be misleading, because yes, Lockett has been a WR2 or better for four straight years, but he’s been one of the most boom/bust options in the league in that time — last year, he had six top-12 weekly finishes and eight outside the top 30. In 2020, it was five top-12 and 10 outside the top 30. 2019, three and seven. In the three games Wilson missed last year, Lockett had lines of 2-35, 2-12 … and 12-142. No matter who is under center in 2022 (Drew Lock, Geno Smith or Late Preseason Addition X), Lockett will have three or four absolute monster weeks, five or six goose eggs, and then some mystery. Is that worth a flyer earlier than he’s going in drafts? Your mileage may vary, but that carries a lot of risk.

100. How Should We Value Noah Fant in Seattle?

There were about 10 seconds, after the Russell Wilson trade was announced but before we knew Noah Fant was part of the return, where people were drawing heart eyes on their Fant pictures at his 2022 upside. Instead, he’s still paired with Lock (or maybe with Geno Smith) in a low-upside offense. He’s got talent for days, but is that enough to overcome the situation?

Best Answer: I’m an open-minded guy. Willing to accept a lot of things. But someone’s going to have to give me a like-I’m-a-5-year-old explanation for why Fant’s even going as a top-20 tight end, let alone top 15 like his current ADP. He’s produced two virtually identical seasons the last two years (93 targets, 62 receptions, 673 yards, 3 touchdowns in 2020; 90-68-670-4 last year), he’s going to a team with two better receivers than the one he left, his new team just re-signed Will Dissly, his new team loved to run the ball above all else, and his quarterback situation is somehow worse than it’s ever been. Fant’s a great guy, but he is maybe the biggest fantasy loser of the entire offseason. He’s just about undraftable.

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