Let’s look at Players I believe are on the cusp of a breakout season statistically. Every year it seems there are players who come out of nowhere. Whether they are rookies or up-and-coming players from previous drafts. I attempt to predict some of these fantasy football sleepers for the 2022 season.
Rookie to Watch
RB Isiah Pacheco
Pacheco is in what looks to be a crowded backfield. Typically rookie 7th-round picks aren’t expected to be a contributor right away. Pacheco was able to alter that perception of his rookie year through training camp. His performance in the preseason turned some heads.
The issue here is usage, no one quite knows what to expect from the dreaded RBC that Kansas City has run under Andy Reid since Kamar Hunt was released. Just a couple years ago the Chiefs spent a first-round pick on Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a dual-threat back who has been a consistent injury concern since entering the NFL.
Now Edwards-Helaire wouldn’t be enough to scare me away from Pacheco alone, it’s the added veteran depth the team features that only further muddies the waters. The Chiefs kept four backs, AND a fullback on the active roster. With former 1st round pick, Ronald Jones penciled in 4th on the depth chart, and Jerrick McKinnon penciled in as the number two back.
Let’s Look at the Numbers:
For any normal 7th-round pick the fact that he even made the active roster would be considered a win. Pacheco is no ordinary rookie. At 5’10 216 lbs, Pacheco ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, showing he isn’t just a short yardage and goal line back but a home run threat too. Throughout the preseason the Chiefs slow played Pacheco’s usage until week 3.
Finally, in the last week of the preseason, Andy Reid saw fit to let the rookie carry the load. Carry the load he did, with 10 carries for 52 yards. Overall he finished the preseason with 16 carries for 66 yards, a 4.1 yard per carry average. Adding 3 receptions on 3 targets for 21 yards.
Looking a bit deeper into these numbers and you see two things. First of all…the Chiefs’ offensive line is TERRIBLE. Second of all, Pacheco is a yards-after contact specialist. He averaged 2.5 yards PER CARRY after contact. If you look at his usage before this he had been used in zone concepts 5 out of 6 carries heading into week 3. Then Reid and company split his carries between two different concepts, zone, and gap.
Of his 66 yards, 41 came after contact. More importantly for fantasy users looking for some reason to bet on the rookie, the Chiefs showed a willingness to trust the rookie in pass blocking. This is key with rookies getting on the field early and often. He also showcased versatility by splitting out wide 5 snaps. He would end the preseason with a 65 grade overall, a 60 grade in the receiving category, an impressive 71.5 grade in the run game, and a 71 grade in pass blocking. This is encouraging for his trek up the depth chart and into the rotation.
The USFL not only was able to put a player in the NFL, they put a player that you should watch for on the fantasy football waiver wire. That of course is none other than:
WR/RET Kavontae Turpin and/or Simi Fehoko (Depends on League Rules)
Kavontae Turpin’s durability will be tested right away. Given the fact that he appeared in 11 games with the Generals in 2022, and later played in all three preseason games for the Cowboys, he has already played in 14 games this season and has yet to step foot on an NFL field in the new 17-game regular season.
If the Cowboys had any hopes of easing him into the lineup on offense, they have been dashed by injury. With wide receivers Michael Gallup, and James Washington injured and unable to go in week 1, the Cowboys carry 6 healthy receivers into week 1. The thing is, four of those seven men have never caught an NFL pass. Currently, the top three wide receivers are CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and rookie 3rd round pick Jalen Tolbert. Behind these three it becomes a toss-up between Turpin, and Simi Fehoko a 2021 5th round pick as to who is fourth off the bench.
Fehoko has never caught an NFL pass in the regular season. He did however outdo Turpin on offense by catching 5 passes for 37 yards and 2 touchdowns. While Turpin did his damage on special teams. The thing is these two receivers fill different roles, and that’s why Turpin still provides value even if he ends up the “5th” wide receiver for Dallas.
Value Beyond Wide Receiver
If you look at the way the Cowboys’ depth chart is structured, they kept 7 wide receivers, 3 tight ends, 3 running backs, and no fullbacks. So this directly affects both roles that these players will likely fill. Turpin becomes the defacto fourth-string running back, and will likely see his fair share of jet sweeps, and other manufactured touches to get the ball in his hands in open space.
He will likely be utilized on screens of multiple variations whether from the backfield or as a wide receiver. These are things that Fehoko simply can’t add to the Cowboys’ offense because he isn’t the explosive athlete that Turpin is. He serves a different purpose, as a red zone threat. Something that becomes even more key when you consider the lack of tight ends on the roster. At 6’4 218 lbs, he is the largest receiver outside of Lamb, and could easily be lined up tight to the formation as an extra blocker at times.
However as seen above, whom you choose here largely depends on the league you play in. IF your league gives points for return yards and touchdowns, hands down Turpin is your guy no matter how you slice it. If he remains healthy he will likely end the season well over 1,000 all-purpose yards, and potentially score around 5 touchdowns depending on his offensive usage. If your league doesn’t offer return yards, BUT also is not a point-per-reception league, Turpin may still be your guy due to his dual-threat abilities on offense.
Being a red zone threat is always a great skill to hang your hat on in the NFL Touchdowns win games no doubt about it. However, being a red zone threat that isn’t a starting receiver, only has value if the offense sees fit to remove another receiver to bring him in near the goal-line. I’m not sure Fehoko has earned that trust quite yet. Unless of course, the coaching staff decides they like a one-two punch of Lamb, and Fehoko as the wide-outs in the RedZone, allowing Brown to work the slot in three wide receiver sets. These are two names you’ll need to gauge based on your league, and what they offer points-wise. Even still I would give it a week or two before pulling the trigger on either name.
Kavontae Turpin 25 receptions 300 yards 3 touchdowns, 20 carries for 120 yards and 1 touchdown, 200-300 punt return yards, and 600-800 kick return yards. Potentially another touchdown or two on special teams.
Simi Fehoko 35 targets, 27 receptions 250 yards 4 touchdowns (most of his stats coming early in the year before Gallup returns)
The last player to watch on this list also comes from the AFC West. This time however the player is a wide receiver.
WR Kj Hamler
Its highly likely that Hamler is sitting available in your league right now. Hamler is a name that really hasn’t been noticed after entering the league as a second round pick on a stacked roster at wide receiver. Despite the high draft status, Hamler would likely have been your fourth wide receiver in Denver if Tim Patrick doesn’t suffer a season ending injury.
Hamler is forced to step up as the third target in the offense with Sutton, and Jeudy the top two targets. Hamler is right at home in the slot, in fact last season he saw nearly as many snaps in the slot as he did out wide: 45-41. Hamler at 5’9 173 lbs is the prototypical slot receiver, and will even see snaps out of the back field at times. Currently according to Yahoo Fantasy, he is rostered in just 5% of leagues.
That may change fairly quickly as the season progresses. In 2020, in 13 games, with 4 starts, Hamler was used very similarly to Tyreek Hill. He saw 9 carries for 40 yards, while catching 30 passes for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns. Keep in mind that was primarily as the fourth and sometimes fifth option in the passing game if you consider Noah Fant.
What to Look Forward To
In 2022, Hamler is the undisputed 3rd wide receiver in an offense that will utilize him at a very high rate. In 2021 the Green Bay offense under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, the offense saw three receivers play at least 40% of the offensive snaps. Their fourth wide receiver played 33%, and even their fifth wide receiver played 25% of the snaps. For those of you worried about Kendall Hinton, or Montrell Washington not getting their fair share of snaps…fear no more.
Granted some of this was due to injury, but the three receiver sets have been a staple in any offense that Hackett has run. I expect this to be no different with Russel Wilson here in 2022, and Hacket running the show. There is no lack of talent on this roster out wide, so there is even more incentive to get the players involved. Hamler’s added value in the run game will only lead to an increased snap count if anything, because there is a chance he see’s even more snaps in the backfield under the far more creative offense that Hackett brings.
Finally, if you want a home run threat on this offense, look no further. Granted Montrell Washington is no slouch in this category, even he cannot compare to the top end speed that Hamler possesses. He will take the top off a defense with sub 4.4 40 yard speed. Much like I said about Turpin he will likely be utilized heavily in the screen, and jet sweep game. I could easily see a season in which Hamler sees a career high in targets topping the 56 he saw in 2020, while also seeing a career high in carries as well.
Projections: 45 receptions 400 yards 4 touchdowns, 13 carries 45 yards 1 touchdown. WR3/Flex status
There you have it four names to watch for as the season progresses if you need some help due to injuries early in the season. All four of these guys have tremendous upside this season, and heading into the future as well.