Fantasy football is in many ways a game of perception. Whether a player had a "good year" or not often comes down to what our expectations for them were and if they live up to those. Even if a player puts up strong numbers, if they failed to duplicate what they did the year prior, or if they do not take a leap that we expect, then it tends to mean a player could be had for a discount the next season. There are already several players that could potentially come at a discount, even though there is reason to still believe in them!
Players to Buy Back in on in 2022
Stefon Diggs finished as the WR7 in total points and the WR10 in fantasy PPG after finishing third in both of those in 2020. Despite the extra game, Diggs saw him targets, catches and receiving yards decrease in 2021. But things were not as bad as it may seem on the surface. Diggs still averaged nearly double-digit targets per game (9.6), and he averaged slightly more air yards per game (108 per game to 106 in 2020). He also saw more high value targets this past season. He posted 34 red-zone targets, which was third most among all receivers, and more than double what he saw in 2020 (16). But what is really encouraging is he saw 23 end zone targets, which was six more than the next closest player. It was the most anyone saw in a season since DeAndre Hopkins in 2017. It led to him scoring a career-high 10 TDs. So, as you can see, Diggs was still close to an elite option and took a step forward in a lot of regards. But the one big negative was his catch rate dropped to 62.8 percent in 2021 – the worst since his rookie season; in 2020, he posted a career high 76.5 percent catch rate. Perhaps we should have expected natural regression, but since his rookie year, Diggs had never posted below a 67 percent catch rate. So, in 2022, we should expect regression once again, but in the positive direction. If Diggs can get that catch rate back over 67 percent -- and perhaps even over 70 percent -- but continues to see heavy usage in the end zone, he can easily return to being a top-five WR, with the potential to finish top-three or even higher. Yet, you likely will not have to draft him as one of the first five receivers off the board. That is a buying opportunity.
Kyle Pitts was called a bust late in the 2021 season, but he was anything but. Pitts finished as the overall TE6 and TE11 in fantasy PPG as a rookie. He scored the fourth-most fantasy points for a rookie tight end ever and posted the second most receiving yards. He was the first rookie tight end with over 60 catches and 1,000 yards. The expectation when the Falcons drafted him fourth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft was that he would be the best rookie TE in recent history – and he was. But the fantasy community placed insanely high expectations on him, and he did not live up to those – that is on us, not Pitts. But to be honest, he did live up to some of our lofty expectations. One of the biggest issues Pitts had was scoring touchdowns. In fact, he was one of just three players with over 100 targets and one touchdown or less (Cole Cole Beasley, Laviska Shenault Jr.). Players with 100-plus targets last season averaged 6.6 receiving touchdowns. If you give Kyle Pitts six touchdowns, he would have finished as the overall TE4 and topped 200 fantasy points. Pitts should have natural touchdown regression and, with his size and athleticism, will have a chance to approach double-digit TDs if things break right. Pitts is as good as advertised and should only get better. He has the potential to finish as the top scoring TE next year, but you may be able to grab him at a bit of a discount.
Christian McCaffrey continues to be awesome when he sees the field. The issue is, he hasn't seen the field a whole lot, as of late. Last season, he averaged over 18 fantasy PPG in his seven games, which was good enough to finish inside the top five. In fact, he finished as a top-five running back in four of his five full games in 2021. He continues to see huge usage rates when he plays and puts up RB1 and WR1 numbers all in one. He remains a cheat code and is still the safest bet to score 25 fantasy points whenever he steps on the field. But again, he has missed 23 games over the past two years. I understand those who may want to avoid him, but the injuries are not as scary when you dissect them. He suffered a high ankle sprain, an AC joint sprain, thigh injury, a hamstring strain, and an ankle strain over the last two years. Not only is he not missing time due to a recurring injury, but these are also all injuries that are common among football players. Perhaps he is injury prone (whatever that means) or perhaps he has just suffered from some bad injury luck the past two years. Many will say CMC will never be the same after that elite 2020 season, but if he falls to the middle of the first round or later, he is worth taking a gamble on. I think you can consider taking him as early as third overall.
Michael Carter finished as the overall RB29 and was the RB35 in fantasy PPG in his rookie season. That is not going to blow anyone away by any stretch, but his season numbers being low are a good thing to those who pay attention. Carter, despite the season-long totals, showed that he can play at a high level in the NFL. From Week 4 through 11, Carter averaged 15.59 fantasy PPG on 16.3 touches per game. He averaged 85.9 yards per game and scored four total touchdowns in that span. Why does this span matter? He started to see more consistent work after the opening weeks of the season, before suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 11. Carter showed, when he was healthy and getting touches, that he could be very productive. In fact, his 0.27 missed tackles forced per attempt is the sixth best by an RB with at least 100 touches since 2014. Carter can play and should see a workload increase in his sophomore season. Plus, every indication is the Jets will add pieces to their offensive line, which only helps Carter.
Elijah Moore finished 50th overall among receivers, but his 12.6 fantasy PPG was 32nd at the position. After hearing nothing but hype and rave reviews on Moore all summer, the rookie got off to a slow start before catching fire towards the end of the season. He scored double-digit fantasy points in six of his final seven games (9.3 in the other), which includes six touchdowns in that span. Its no coincidence that once the Jets started giving him more consistent playing time and volume, the rookie took off. Plus, he did so with a revolving door of four different QBs that ranged from bad to meh. Moore averaged over 20 fantasy PPG in the final four games he played before he was injured, which was third among receivers in that span. The Jets threw the ball 63 percent of the time last year, largely because they had too, but that shouldn't just change overnight. With Moore and QB Zach Wilson both heading into their second season -- hopefully with an improved O-line -- the wideout has a shot to not only outlive his draft cost in 2022, but to breakout and greatly exceed it.
Kadarius Toney is a great example of a player who flashed big upside but was unable to build any consistency in 2021. Toney flashed his upside with a 10 catch, 189-yard game against the Cowboys; he only managed to top 50 yards in just one other game. But the former first-round pick showed that he was a better route runner than he got credit for coming into the league, and he still possess that explosiveness that made him a first rounder. Things got very ugly for the Giants offense down the stretch, but with Daniel Jones healthy, and hopefully a better backup QB, in a friendly offensive system like Brian Daboll's, Toney will be in a better spot next year. He will likely be a later pick in fantasy due to his lackluster rookie year, but there are reasons to be optimistic he could breakout.
Quick Hitters: Speaking of players not living up to expectations, there is a group of receivers that all had a ton of hype coming into 2021. In fact, all four of them were top 10 WRs off the board and this year they will likely go outside the top 10 – at least they have been in early drafts. That foursome is made up of CeeDee Lamb, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Calvin Ridley. Each of these players is ridiculously talented, but things did not go according to plan whether it be lack of TDs (Lamb), a QB injury and prolonged slump (Metcalf), injuries (Brown) or non football-related reasons (Ridley). The down 2021 season should lead to these stud receivers being available at a discount. Drafting them outside the top 10 receivers means you are getting them closer to the floor, as we know each of these players has Top-10 upside, likely even higher.
Sleepers: There are also some players to speculate on buying back into! First up is really any of the Broncos. Javonte Williams has RB1 potential and the overall RB1 upside if he was to have the backfield all to himself. The Broncos have one of the more talented pass-catching groups led by Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Noah Fant. All three have breakout potential if Denver upgrades the QB position as expected. The others to buy back in on can be found within the 2021 rookie QB class – specifically Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Trevor Lawrence. Lance did not see the field much last season, but he showed why you should be very excited for him in fantasy as he can run with the best of them and has a strong arm. Plus, he is in a great offense with a ton of playmakers who can do the bulk of damage after the catch. Fields struggled when we saw him but played better as the season went along. Having a new play caller can only help after watching the Bears try to make Fields more of a pocket passer. Lawrence struggled mightily last season, but he was in the worst possible environment. The Jaguars are completely revamping their coaches and have a lot of cap room to add pieces around the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. Lance will go off the board as a QB1, while Fields will be more borderline. Lawrence will be cheaper next year than he was as a rookie. They all possess high upside, though, making them worth taking a shot on.