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Michael F. Florio's 2022 fantasy football: Impact of Russell Wilson to Broncos

A week after saying that Russell Wilson would not be traded, the Seahawks shocked the football world and stole Aaron Rodgers' thunder when they shipped Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Drew Lock and Noah Fant are the other names fantasy players will care about in this trade, as both were sent to Seattle along with Shelby Harris and draft picks. This is a trade that changed the landscape of both franchises, as well as the fantasy one.

What this Means for the Broncos Players

This trade is a boost for the fantasy value of Wilson and the pieces around him on the Broncos offense. First, for Wilson, he was on an offense that would look to establish the run and primarily have Wilson take shots deep all game and then play hero ball when it was close late in the game. This past season hit a new low as Seattle averaged just 56 plays per game -- by far the lowest in the NFL. The Packers, where new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett was, averaged 63 plays per game. Wilson has also never been asked to throw a ton – as his career high in passing attempts is 558. Last year, nine QBs attempted more passes than that. Wilson will once again have strong offensive weapons around him, but he is now in an offense where he could be asked to throw more than ever -- that is exciting. Additionally, the perception for Wilson in fantasy was lower than ever after last season, but this trade is enough for me to say he should firmly be ranked as a top-eight fantasy QB. Last season, the first of his career where he missed time with an injury and admitted he returned before being fully healthy, was the first time he did not finish as a top-10 fantasy QB in eight years. He routinely would finish as a top-seven QB in terms of fantasy PPG, as well. Plus, he is one of the most efficient touchdown throwers in the NFL, but more volume would only lead to more fantasy points.

Denver is loaded with young playmakers in Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Javonte Williams and Albert Okwuegbunam. They have all showed flashes in the NFL, but were all held back by lackluster QB play and conservative play-calling. There is plenty to like talent-wise with this team, but until it upgraded the QB position it would never reach its full potential. Well, I do not need to sell you that Wilson is a big upgrade for the Broncos – you all know that. But he is particularly better as a deep ball thrower. In the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) Wilson ranks first in pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and expected points added on passes of 20-plus air yards. What does that all mean? The stats say he is one of, if not the best deep ball thrower in the NFL. Here is how Russell Wilson faired since 2016 versus the Broncos QBs in 2021 did on deep passes:

Table inside Article
Completion % Yards per attempt Air yards per attempt QB rating
Russell Wilson 40.4% 14.1 30.5 110.8
Broncos QBs 29.2% 9.4 29.6 68.8

Wilson clearly provides a huge upgrade on deep ball passes and just as a QB in general. That means a boost in value for the Broncos playmakers, as the longball is the quickest way for receivers to rack up fantasy points. Jeudy is set to get the biggest bump, as the former first-round pick took over as their top target last season. There is a new coaching staff in place, so that will play a factor, but in the 10 games last season where both Jeudy and Sutton played, Jeudy led the team in target share (20%), air yards per game (59) and fantasy PPG (8.5). Sutton posted a 14% target share, 53 air yards per game and just 3.97 fantasy PPG in those games – all of which also ranked behind Tim Patrick. Jeudy, who is a superb route runner, has shown that he can also be an effective deep threat. He should be valued as a borderline top-20 fantasy WR, with the upside to finish even higher. Sutton brings a similar upside, as he has been used as a field stretcher, meaning he may not need as much volume to put up similar production. He is also a WR2, with more upside now with Wilson on board. The duo is already drawing comparisons to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett -- and both finishing as fantasy WR2s, perhaps even both inside the top-15 WRs, is certainly in the realm of possibilities. Okwuegbunam, otherwise known as "Albert O," is a tight end who suddenly has a lot of fantasy upside. Not enough for me to rank him as a TE1 out the gate, but he is a high-end TE2 that has the potential to finish higher. He came out of college with some hype after a strong combine and then flashed at times last season. In the last six seasons, Wilson has averaged 21% of his passes to his tight ends – that number jumps to 27% in the red zone. That's a whole lot of opportunities to score fantasy points.

The Broncos also have receiver depth in Patrick and KJ Hamler. While neither is more than bench depth, they both possess upside, as Patrick has produced when given a starter's workload and Hamler remains a speedy downfield threat. If anything was to happen to Jeudy or Sutton, these two would become much more appealing. They seem like late-round picks and could become big waiver wire targets during the season.

Williams is a beast, but his fantasy value is in limbo until we find out if the Broncos bring back Melvin Gordon. If Gordon was to sign elsewhere, Williams would be an RB1 that should be drafted in the first round. Arguably the best back at forcing missed tackles in the league, Williams would bring the overall RB1 upside to whoever drafted him. He would have a strong case to be this year's Jonathan Taylor. But if Gordon returns to Denver, then it is very possible Williams will be over drafted. Not that he will not be the starter or the lead back, but Gordon would not come in and simply be a full complimentary piece. He would eat into Williams' workload, but fantasy players are likely to still hype him up enough to make him a risky pick. Gordon is one of the free-agent running backs that can greatly shake up the fantasy landscape depending on where he signs.

What this Means for the Seahawks Players

This is not a great trade for Seattle and it is even worse for its fantasy assets. The two biggest pieces that are impacted are obviously Metcalf and Lockett. Metcalf remains a physical marvel who can use his size and speed to win downfield or in the red/end zone. Because of his skillset, he still has the capability of being a WR2 in fantasy football, but it will likely be an up-and-down ride all year. There will be weeks where he catches a deep ball or two, weeks where he finds the end zone and then other weeks where you likely want to pull your hair out watching whoever his QB is leaving plenty of production on the field. Lockett is likely impacted even more than Metcalf as he relies more on timing and precision and arguably had one of, if not the strongest QB-WR combination in the league with him and Wilson. A couple years ago, Wilson had a perfect passer rating when targeting Lockett. The complaint about Lockett in fantasy has been he is inconsistent week to week, but he has never finished worse than WR16 overall in fantasy football over the last four years. Still, without Wilson, he could remain inconsistent weekly, all while the highly productive weeks are suddenly less frequent and less productive. His talent is enough to warrant him going off the board in the WR3 range, but you do not have to feel great about it at all. In fact, as of now I would advise leaving him for someone else to take. There is also the possibility one or both receivers are traded. Fant should be the third target in this offense, but we have seen what it looks like when he is that third target behind two stud receivers with a subpar QB. It will be inconsistent. But, as addressed earlier, Wilson always heavily featured his tight ends, especially in the red zone. That could just be a part of this Seattle offense and could remain the same moving forward. Fant is talented enough to warrant being a high-end TE2, and will have weeks where he finishes as a TE1, but there will also likely be a lot of down weeks.

The Seahawks have a lot of questions they need to answer before we fully break down their offense. Who is their QB? As of now, it's looking like Drew Lock, but they will likely bring in someone to battle with him (Geno Smith?). They have Chris Carson under contract, but he has been so banged up, so do they look to move on? Do they bring back Rashaad Penny, who is a free agent but ended the 2021 season in a big way? While there are too many questions to give specific fantasy values on these players, we can take a look at their offense as a whole and what to expect from it now without Wilson.

We already addressed that the Seahawks had a very slow-paced offense last season. They also ran the ball on 43% of their plays -- which ranked 13th in the NFL. Since 2016, they have averaged running on 44% of their plays, the seventh-highest in the NFL in that span. And that was with one of the best QBs in the NFL. I would anticipate that Seattle will continue to look to establish the run and likely rely on the defense – it's just the way Pete Carroll likes to operate. That would make it even tougher for the Seahawks receivers to produce at a high level. The Seahawks are still an incomplete team at this point who will surely be shaken up by free agency, the NFL draft and with perhaps more trades, but one thing is for certain: This offense will be very different from last season and very likely for the worst. This passing game will definitely take a big hit after trading the greatest QB in franchise history.

These two teams will be linked for the foreseeable future, but for fantasy purposes, they seemingly just got flipped on their heads. The Broncos have a ton of young talent poised for a breakout that we should get excited about. It was just a few short years ago we were saying that about Seattle. Now the Seahawks are the team with talent, but no QB to elevate them.

Make sure to follow Michael F. Florio on Twitter and Instagram.

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