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Sleepers, Busts and Bets: The 2022 Las Vegas Raiders

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Dan Fornek and Jeremy Popielarz continue with the 2022 Sleepers, Busts and Bets series to preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming year. Next up: The Las Vegas Raiders.

 

Dan and Jeremy will list their picks with confidence in “The Answers,” Then expand upon their picks with more details reason in “The Explanation.”

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Fornek: Zamir White
Popielarz: Zamir White

Biggest Bust

Fornek: Hunter Renfrow
Popielarz: Darren Waller

Boldest Bet

Fornek: Derek Carr Finishes as a Top-5 QB
Popielarz: Derek Carr Finishes as a Top-10 QB

 

The Explanation

Sleeper

Fornek: Zamir White

It seems like just yesterday that Zamir White was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 running back in his recruiting class. Unfortunately, two ACL tears (one in each knee) between his senior high school season and freshman season in college forced a pause in his career. White played a minor role behind D’Andre Swift in 2019 (78 carries, 408 yards, three touchdowns) before taking over the lead role in Georgia’s running back committee in 2020 and 2021. In his final two seasons with Georgia, White had 304 carries, 1,635 yards and 22 touchdowns. After running a surprising 4.40-second 40 at 214 pounds at the NFL combine, White was taken by the Raiders in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft.

The rookie’s role in Las Vegas will be an interesting one. Josh Jacobs functioned as a three-down back for most of last season but is on the last year of his rookie deal with a new head coach in place. Kenyan Drake, last year’s third-down back, is coming off a Week 13 ankle injury. White won’t supplant Jacobs and hasn’t shown the pass-catching ability to take down Drake, but he does have a chance to make a mark as a short-yardage back, especially in the red zone. Josh McDaniels, the Raiders’ new head coach, has historically split carries in his backfield (back to his first head coaching stint with the Broncos).

It is always difficult to figure out how new coaches will utilize their skill players in fantasy football, but that makes these ambiguous situations excellent targets late in fantasy drafts. White is currently being drafted as the RB57 in fantasy drafts, which means it won’t take much for him to return value. A red-zone role (or a Josh Jacobs injury) would put White in an excellent position to score fantasy points. He’s worth a dart throw late in drafts.

Popielarz: Zamir White

The exact breakdown of the Raiders backfield under Josh McDaniels is going to be a big storyline this season. It seems likely the team will be more committee-based than the Josh Jacobs-heavy backfield of the last few years. McDaniels had plenty of success with a committee in New England — last year, the Patriots ranked eighth in rushing yards per game (126.5) with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and a little JJ Taylor getting work.

Right away once taking over the job in Vegas, McDaniels declined Jacobs’ fifth-year option and drafted Zamir White in the fourth, only accelerating committee murmurs. White put up 2,043 yards and 25 touchdowns on 382 carries in three years at Georgia, including 1,050 yards after contact and 65 forced missed tackles on the ground (per PFF). He also produced 537 yards on runs of 15-plus yards, showing the ability to break off a big play at any time. That makes him a good fit for McDaniels’ one-cut perimeter attack and could lead to him seeing plenty of early-down work alongside Jacobs. There’s a path (albeit a longshot one) to Jacobs and White both finishing as top-24 backs in 2022.

Bust

Fornek: Hunter Renfrow

Hunter Renfrow had a stellar 2021 season, catching 103 of 128 targets for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing as the WR10 in PPR leagues and averaging 15.2 fantasy points per game. However, it is worth noting that Renfrow was at his most productive during the six games Darren Waller was out with a knee injury. Waller’s injury essentially forced Renfrow into the team’s WR1 role as he earned targets over players like Zay Jones, Bryan Edwards and Foster Moreau. Per the FTN Fantasy splits tool, check out Renfrow’s career numbers with and without Waller on the field.

Hunter Renfrow Darren Waller FTN Splits Tool

Renfrow has scored more than six extra points per game during the six games Waller has missed. With Waller healthy and the team’s addition of Davante Adams during the offseason, Renfrow finds himself as the clear third target in the Raiders’ offense. It will be much more difficult for Renfrow to earn targets over Adams and Waller in 2022, which makes him a risky pick as the WR33 in the fifth or sixth round of fantasy drafts.

Popielarz: Darren Waller

Darren Waller has become a foundational piece of the Raiders offense the last few years and has become one of the league’s most productive fantasy tight ends. He topped 100 targets and 1,000 receiving yards in both 2019 and 2020, finishing as a top-three fantasy tight end both times. In part due to injury (he missed six games), he saw only 93 targets last year and fell to a TE17 finish with 133.5 points — he was TE7 in points per game, at 12.1. 

More damning for Waller is that, as Dan mentions above, Hunter Renfrow emerged as a reliable target during Waller’s absence, especially in the red zone, scoring five touchdowns in Weeks 14-18. Add in Renfrow’s increased role and the offseason acquisition of Davante Adams — a true primary perimeter target, something the Raiders have lacked since dealing away Amari Cooper in 2018 — and there just might not be enough targets to go around for Waller. Waller not getting 100-plus targets in 2022 could lead to him finishing closer to the TE2 ranks than near the top of the TE1s.

 

Bet

Fornek: Derek Carr Finishes as a Top-5 QB

A lot of times in fantasy we equate “top-five quarterback” status with players who have rushing ability. However, that isn’t necessarily the case when you get efficient, high-volume passing attacks. There have been at least two pocket-passing quarterbacks who have finished in the top-five of fantasy rankings every season since 2016. In 2022, Derek Carr has a realistic chance to join that list. Carr finished as the QB12 last season, averaging 15.98 fantasy points per game. Carr completed 68.4% of his passes for 4,804 yards and 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He was able to deliver that season despite the arrest of Henry Ruggs and the injury to Darren Waller that cost him six games.

Carr will head into 2022 with a healthy Waller and a passing attack bolstered by the trade of Davante Adams. Carr has four straight seasons with 4,000 passing yards to go with three straight seasons with at least 21 touchdown passes. The veteran quarterback has completed at least 67% of his passes in each of the last four years. If Carr can keep that same consistency and cut down on his interceptions (career-high 14 in 2021), then he will have a top-five finish in his range of outcomes. He provides fantastic value as the QB14 in fantasy drafts. 

Popielarz: Derek Carr Finishes as a Top-10 QB

Derek Carr 2022 Las Vegas Raiders Sleepers, Busts and Bets

Last season, Derek Carr produced his fourth straight season with at least 4,000 passing yards, setting a new career high with 4,804. It was also his third straight season of at least 20 passing touchdowns en route to a QB13 finish. The QB1 ranks have eluded him lately due to a lack of rushing upside — he has never exceeded 150 rushing yards in a season. It’s still likely he doesn’t produce more rushing yards this season, but he did get a huge boost in the passing game as the Raiders brought in Davante Adams this offseason and bolstered the team’s overall offensive strategy by hiring Josh McDaniels as the head coach — he’s produced an offense in the top 15 in passing yards 14 times in his 16-year coaching career. Obviously, a majority of these seasons were with Tom Brady at the helm, but with the league shifting to more pass-heavy offenses, there is a chance this trend continues in 2022, especially after Carr showed he is more than capable to handle a large passing role last season. There’s a pretty easy path to Carr surpassing 5,000 yards (for the first time ever) and/or 30 passing touchdowns (for the first time since 2015). Last season we saw Joe Burrow finish as the QB8 with 4,611 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, and those numbers should be well within reach for Carr in 2022. 

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