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What We Learned in the Preseason: NFC Edition

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Michael Dolan

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The NFL preseason is finally over, which means it’s time to get excited about the upcoming regular season.

 

However, before we set our sights on the games that really matter, it’s important to recap what we learned this offseason so that we can best prepare for the upcoming year of fantasy football. We covered the AFC Monday, now it’s the NFC’s turn.

NFC North

Chicago Bears: The Cole Kmet Truthers May Be Right

The narrative surrounding Cole Kmet all offseason has been the classic case of “well, they have to throw it to someone.” Last year, Kmet ranked second on the team in targets (93), and considering Chicago hasn’t done much to improve the pass-catching options around him this offseason, that number seems more likely to increase than decrease in 2022. If the preseason was any indication, it’s clear that new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy plans to make Kmet a key piece in the offense. Even if the offense as a whole is one of the league’s worst, Kmet should provide a solid floor due to volume alone.

Detroit Lions: The Offense Will Go Through D’Andre Swift

Someone on the Lions is sure to get the annual Hard Knocks bump, but one player who was already near the top of draft boards is D’Andre Swift. Swift had a stellar year in 2021 prior to getting injured, and while he may not rack up the carry totals some of the league’s other top backs do, his work in the passing game will more than make up for his reduced role on the ground.

AJ Dillon 2022 Fantasy Football NFC Lessons

In just 14 games last year, Swift logged 452 receiving yards, and if this offseason is any indication, that number’s set to increase in 2022. The third-year back is far and away the best player on this offense, and it seems like the Lions are set to treat him as such this season.

Green Bay Packers: Both RBs Are Going to Eat

While many are wondering who Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver will be this year, focusing strictly on the Green Bay backfield may be the safest bet for fantasy managers. Last week Matt LaFleur called Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon1A and 1A” in the team’s backfield, and the Packers’ head coach and playcaller seems poised to heavily utilize both of his top backs this season. Jones has the versatility to line up in multiple spots across the formation, and this versatility will allow him and Dillon to line up on the field together throughout the season. Both Jones and Dillon should be drafted with confidence as fantasy starters this year. 

Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins May Have a Career Year

After eight seasons of Mike Zimmer’s old-school coaching approach, Vikings players and fans were ready for a new era and the fresh perspective that Kevin O’Connell is bringing to the team. No player may be happier about this change than Kirk Cousins. Every indication is O’Connell is bringing a pass-happy offense to Minnesota which should be welcome news for the veteran quarterback. With a new coaching staff and an elite group of weapons surrounding him on offense, 2022 may well be the best season of Kirk Cousins’ entire career. Given Cousins is going off the board as QB15 this year, he seems like an ideal target for fantasy managers who prefer to wait until the later rounds to select a quarterback.

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts is Going to Break Fantasy Football

After logging over 1,000 receiving yards last season, Kyle Pitts showed everything you could possibly want to see during his rookie campaign. That trend continued in the 2022 preseason as the second-year tight end has made mincemeat out of every defender that’s tried to cover him. It hasn’t mattered who’s tried either as he’s destroyed linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks alike. Pitts is going to line up all across the formation once again this season, and he’ll have no problem getting the best of whoever’s lined up across from him. Even if Atlanta’s offense is one of the league’s worst, Pitts is the clear No. 1 option and the target volume paired with his sheer talent will make him an elite option in fantasy football.

Caroline Panthers: Baker Mayfield’s Impact on DJ Moore

DJ Moore 2022 Fantasy Football NFC Lessons

Following three straight 1,000-yard seasons, it’s safe to assume DJ Moore will once again be a reliable fantasy football starter. The question is, will his ceiling get raised with Baker Mayfield under center? Moore has struggled to find the end zone since joining Carolina (career high of 4 TDs), and the hope is Mayfield can elevate the offense and provide an uptick in that number. Carolina was second to last in the league last year with just 14 passing TDs as a team, while Mayfield alone threw for 17 in just 14 games despite playing through injury. Even with Mayfield in the fold, Carolina will still have a below average passing attack, but simply being below average rather than a basement dweller could be enough to double Moore’s touchdown total. If this happens, Moore could be sniffing WR1 status come season’s end.

New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas is Back

After nearly two years without playing a single snap, Michael Thomas appears ready to step back into the Saints No. 1 receiver role. He’ll face stiffer competition for targets now that Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave are in the mix, but all indications are Thomas remains the team’s best option in the passing game and has been dominant throughout the offseason. Betting on a return to his elite WR1 status seems a bit too optimistic, but given his current ADP (71), he should easily provide value so long as he remains healthy (which is far from a given considering he’s already nursing a hamstring injury).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fournette the Workhorse

Last year, Leonard Fournette was the No. 1 option in the Bucs backfield, but Ronald Jones had a significant role as well. This year Jones is out of the picture, and the Bucs didn’t bring in any veterans to serve as his replacement. They did spend a third-round pick on Rachaad White, but the rookie has been up and down in camp and throughout the preseason. Given Tom Brady’s distaste for rookie running backs, it’s unlikely White poses a serious threat to Fournette’s workload in year one, which makes the latter a fantastic fantasy football option once again.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Zeke is Here to Stay

Ezekiel Elliott 2022 Fantasy Football NFC Lessons

Despite Tony Pollard consistently looking excellent when given the opportunity, the Cowboys remain committed to Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott’s been a force ever since he arrived in Dallas, and even though he’s getting long in the tooth by running back standards (27), he seems poised for another solid year and should be fed the rock as long as he’s healthy. The loss of Tyron Smith is a tough blow for the Cowboys run game and the offense overall, but even without Smith on the field the Cowboys should have no problem moving the ball on offense. Given the volume Zeke is going to see this year, he’ll remain a high floor fantasy RB even if his days of being a top-five option are behind him.

New York Giants: Wan’Dale Robinson Appears to Have a Role in the Offense

The Giants receiver room is arguably one of the worst in the league, but second round rookie Wan’Dale Robinson appears to be a silver lining for the group. Robinson has been on the receiving end of much praise this offseason, and it appears he’s already locked down a role as the team’s starting slot receiver – a valuable role in Brian Daboll’s offense. Given the role he’s carved out and the lack of target competition in New York, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Robinson establish himself as a fantasy relevant player early in his career.

Philadelphia Eagles: A.J. Brown Could Set a Career High in Targets

Despite being one of the NFL’s premier receivers, A.J. Brown’s career high in targets is just 106 – a respectable number, but nowhere near the top of the NFL’s leaderboard. His trade to Philadelphia led to many questions about his fantasy outlook in 2022, but if training camp and the preseason are any indication, Brown should eclipse that 106-target mark with ease. Sure, he’ll face some stiffer competition for targets playing alongside DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, but Brown has already established himself as Jalen Hurts go-to guy. The Eagles gave up multiple picks and paid $100 million to acquire Brown for a reason, and he’s going to be heavily involved in their offense right out of the gates.

Washington Commanders: Jahan Dotson is WR2

The drumbeat for Jahan Dotson hasn’t been as loud as some other preseason standouts, but those inside Washington’s building have had nothing but good things to say about their first-round pick. Dotson quickly locked down the No. 2 WR role in the Commanders’ offense, and all signs are indicating he’s easily going to live up to his first-round draft capital. Due to an uninspiring landing spot in Washington, Dotson has largely been overlooked in fantasy drafts this offseason. The way things are trending though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him finish the season as one of the top rookies in this entire class.

 

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: James Conner is Going to Get Every Carry

OK, maybe not every carry, but he’ll be pretty darn close. Following the departure of Chase Edmonds, the competition for snaps behind James Conner in Arizona’s backfield is slimmer than ever. The Cardinals brought in Darrel Williams to serve as Conner’s backup and to spell him on occasion, but it seems as though his role in the offense will be less prominent compared to Edmonds’ last year. No other Cardinals back showed enough this offseason to demand touches in this offense, so we can feel confident that Conner will once again have a massive workload in his second year with the team.

Los Angeles Rams: Cam Akers, Not a Bell Cow

Cam Akers 2022 Fantasy Football NFC Lessons

While the Rams don’t actually play their starters in the preseason, we can still learn a thing or two based on what we’re hearing out of camp. Reports out of Los Angeles indicate Sean McVay wants to transition to a two-man backfield rather than leaning strictly on a workhorse like he has in the past. Given the fact that both of the team’s top two backs – Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson – are no strangers to injury, reducing their workloads seems like a wise decision for the health of these two players, but a cause of frustration for fantasy managers. It’s possible that when push comes to shove McVay reverts back to his old tendencies, but given Akers current ADP (45), that’s not a bet I’m willing to make. If these reports hold true though, it likely means Henderson will provide value at his current cost (ADP 128).

San Francisco 49ers: Brandon Aiyuk, Better for Best Ball

It’s been reported on numerous occasions that Brandon Aiyuk has been the star of 49ers training camp and has a strong rapport with Trey Lance. Many pegged Aiyuk as a breakout last season, but with a new passer under center, could 2022 be the year we see Aiyuk make the leap? While he may ultimately take a step forward, it’s hard to envision Aiyuk drastically improving on his 56/826/5 receiving line from last year. The 49ers are likely going to run the ball at one of the highest rates in the league, and playing alongside George Kittle and Deebo Samuel means the competition for targets will be stiff in a low volume passing attack. Aiyuk has the talent to explode on any given week, but he carries a lot of variance, which could be frustrating in leagues where you need to set a lineup every week.

Seattle Seahawks: Kenneth Walker Requires Patience

Even if it weren’t for his hernia injury, Kenneth Walker was always going to require some patience for fantasy managers. Rashaad Penny was fantastic during the latter portion of 2021, and Walker missing time this offseason has only made it more difficult for him to take snaps away from Seattle’s incumbent starter. Throw in the fact that Travis Homer appears to have earned the passing down role, and at best it looks like Walker May have a role as a committee back within one of the league’s worst offenses. Barring an injury to Penny, Walker’s likely not going to experience big fantasy success until 2023 at the earliest.

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