These are the guys to get in your draft. It’s as simple as that.
They’re (for the most part) on ascending offensives and have the talent to make a positive impact on their team. No one here is looking at a worse situation than they were last year. This is exactly the type of player you want to grab. You want to get them now before they become this year’s Cooper Kupp.
The goal is to find players that will be too expensive next year, meaning they’re a huge value at where they’re being drafted. Some have this leap baked into their cost, but not their ceiling. Every one of these players has the ability to be top-5 or higher at their position, and they’re all going after the first round.
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
This is a good quarterback with the chance to be great this year. He has amazing arm strength, a talented pass-catching core, and a head coach that will go for it on fourth down. He’s just not in the same discussion with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers because he hasn’t made the playoffs. He will this year. This team is just too good not to, and they’ll be coming out of the hardest division in football.
Last year he threw for over 5000 yards and over 30 TDs. There’s room to improve on this. For the first time in his pro career, he’ll be in the second year in an offensive system and have the same coaching staff. Mike Williams is thriving in this system, Austin Ekeler has a nose for the end zone and we could see something out of Josh Palmer this season. He can also gain yards with his legs.
If he’s going to be catapulted into top-tier quarterbacks this year he’s either going to need to win the Super Bowl or break a season passing record. Both of those endings have a very good possibility.
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
The argument for Javonte is that he’ll have the opportunity for more touchdowns this year, even if he does have a timeshare with Melvin Gordon. The chance he could emerge with a bigger role in the offense is there, and that should not be discounted when looking at this type of running back. What’s on paper in August can just easily be discarded in November.
Let’s remember the upside he can have. When Gordon sat week 13 against the Chiefs, Javonte ran for 100 yards and added another 76 and a touchdown in the air. Now he’ll be on a team led by Russell Wilson and there will be a greater need for scoring opportunities going against the Raiders, the Chargers, and the aforementioned Chiefs twice this year.
Just as persistent losing can demand change, so can a rising talent. Coaches understand that the best chance to win is to get the ball in hands of their most talented players. That’s why you see these depth charts evolve throughout the season. The cream eventually rises to the top.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The main concern I had for Travis Etienne was the foot he injured last year. He showed bursts of speed in the first preseason game, which is promising. It can take an extra year recovering from a Lisfranc injury to get back that explosiveness, so this is one to watch closely throughout the preseason.
I just like the fact he can pass a ton of catches out of the backfield and that his quarterback has an established rapport with him. Again, this team is going to get better, and there’s going to be a lot of targets Etienne’s way. He’s going to give you a nice floor, especially in PPR leagues, and has the potential for week-winning upside. The Jags play the 12th-easiest schedule in the league and still have not fixed their defense, which is wheels up for prominent fantasy options on this team.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
We don’t know what to make of the end of Rashaad Penny’s 2021 season. It was all so unbelievable. He seemingly put up zero points in the first three years of his career only to finish the final five games on fire. He was the RB1 overall in Weeks 13-18. He was the RB109 before that.
I think of the addition of Kenneth Walker shows why Penny is going to be a very good player this year. The Seahawks traded away Russell Wilson and spent their first two draft picks on an offensive lineman and adding to their run game. It’s obvious what they want to do here. It’s not like we’re unfamiliar with Pete Carroll.
The Seahawks were always going to have two big running backs on their roster. You have to do that with Penny’s injury history, and they don’t want to abandon their offensive philosophy should he miss time. Walker wasn’t going to be the starter in year one. Pete Carroll simply does not do that. Walker was picked to replace Chris Carson, and now Carson has retired from football.
This is a team that wants to run the ball. That’s what we know based on their offseason moves. It’s up to the coaches and players to determine if they’ll run it well, and I do think Penny is a very good player. In games in which he has 12 handoffs or more, which is by no means a tall threshold, he has averaged 134 yards and 1.28 TDs per game. He comes through with tremendous upside when he gets the volume.
Michael Pittman, WR, Indianapolis Colts
I am going to make a dangerous correlation. Kupp was hanging out on an advanced offense with a great coach but limited by quarterback play. The Colts had the 9th-best offense last year and that’s with Carson Wentz. You see where this is going. They are bringing in a potential Hall of Famer in Matt Ryan who is much better at throwing the ball, and like last year’s Rams, they have the Super Bowl in their eyes.
I do not expect Michael Pittman to compete for the triple crown, but he will end this season miles ahead of where he was last season. He is talented, has grown in each professional year of his young career, and is the only elite receiver on the team. The closest competition on the Colts is Parris Campbell.
Everything is lined up here. The only drawback is everyone else has caught on. He’s going in the third round in some leagues. And you know what? I think that’s okay. Really. He’ll still be worth that draft pick. Every year there are a few receivers that pop from the third to fifth rounds to become WR1s. 5.2 receivers/year since 2017 that have finished in the top 12, to be precise. This is where you make hay in your draft.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos
It’s all but essential for a wide receiver to have a good quarterback to become elite. Think of Kirk Cousins as the baseline. With this in mind here’s the list of quarterbacks that have thrown the ball to Courtland Sutton:
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Drew Lock
- Joe Flacco
- Case Keenum
Of all these quarterbacks Flacco put up the best year statistically, and that’s when he was with Baltimore. He capped himself at 27 touchdowns during his eleven-year run with the team. Wilson alone has had five seasons with a higher output. He just threw for 40 TDs in 2020. This is a significant upgrade at the quarterback position, and the best chance to be a WR1 is to be a talented no.1 receiver with a great quarterback throwing you the ball.
Sutton is also a great fit with Wilson. He is a big-bodied outside receiver who can find the gaps in cover-2 and -3 into which Wilson loves to throw. He will be the go-to receiver this year, and Wilson has a long history of propping up a WR1 on his team. I don’t expect that to change this year.
Michael Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
It goes to stand that if I think Justin Herbert is in like for a leap, then so must a receiver on his team. That receiver is Mike Williams, and he has done nothing but thrive in Joe Lombardi’s system. This call rests on the assumption that Williams will surpass Keenan Allen this year as the Bolts’ no. 1 receiver.
If you look closely at Allen’s numbers you can detect a gradual decline. This makes sense given he just turned 30. His yards/game, yards/target and yards/reception haven taken quiet steps downward that has mostly been obscured by his stability in targets and receptions. Allen will still be good, but he won’t be the main guy moving the ball downfield this year.
Consider just how much this offense benefits Williams. From 2020 to 2021 he saw 50% more receiving yards, 50% more targets, and 45% more touchdowns playing just one more game. As Allen’s numbers are going down, Williams’s numbers are going up. A great comparison is Michael Thomas, another big-bodied receiver that played the “X” in Lombardi’s system. Even Lombardi himself said that Williams is the right fit for such an important job within this offense—an offense, like so many around the league, that takes a leap in the second year.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
His position reminds me of what we had in 2020 with the Houston Texans. A marquee wide receiver departs and there’s uncertainty about what fills the void. We knew the quarterback situation was great with Deshaun Watson, but we were unsure how the fantasy points were going to be distributed.
Then Will Fuller finished his year as the WR8 overall.
In retrospect it was obvious.
The same will be said this year for JuJu Smith-Schuster. He is going to a team vacant a marquee wide receiver in Tyreek Hill, and the quarterback situation is great with Patrick Mahomes. Yes, the pole positions on this offense are murky, but that’s already baked into his ADP. We should be so lucky to get him in the sixth/seventh round. He’s by far the most talented receiver on this team, and the exactly the one you want to bet on. The upside here shouldn’t even have to be mentioned.
Remember that he has done this before. He finished as the WR8 overall in 2018. He’s in a great position to repeat that top-tier finish this year.