Most of my fantasy advice revolves around thinking I’m smart and looking for inefficiencies in the market. If everyone is saying you have to take a running back in the first, I’m grabbing the stud wide receiver instead. Likewise, I’m happy to grab running back values in dynasty startups when everyone is chasing the safer wide receivers. In a super flex dynasty draft this summer, everyone went hard on quarterback and wide receiver early. That’s fine; I wound up with Javonte Williams, Breece Hall, and Kenneth Walker as well as three 2023 first-round picks. My point is that my typical strategy revolves around being opportunistic–zigging when everyone else zags. With bold predictions, though, I take my shots. If I can’t make crazy proclamations here, then where can I? The following are five predictions for the 2022 season, and what it will take for them to hit this year. I hope you enjoy.
D.J. Moore (WR16) will finish as a top-3 WR and catch 10 TDs
D.J. Moore reminds me a bit of Allen Robinson in the way he is toiling away under lousy quarterback play. Whatever you think of Baker Mayfield, he is Moore’s best quarterback since probably high school. D.J. Moore has proven himself to be an electric player, and one most would love to have on their fantasy rosters–if he just had someone better throwing the ball to him. On top of that, the Panthers have failed to help Moore by moving him around their offense to create better situations for him. They basically just leave him on the outside and say ‘good luck’. Finally, Moore has been dogged for his lack of touchdowns. He has never topped four in a season. If Baker Mayfield can be a league-average passer this year, that checks the first box. League average would be far beyond what Sam Darnold could offer last season. If the coaching staff can vary their deployment of Moore–and this might be doubtful given how overwhelmed they seemed last season–that would check the second box. And as for the third, I see no reason in Moore’s game why he can’t be a red zone threat. There is not a weakness to his play preventing touchdowns. Similar to early-career Julio Jones and current Kyle Pitts, we just haven’t seen it yet. I recall after Mike Evans’ second season when the fantasy community wondered if he lost his nose for the red zone following a 3-TD season. If things break well for Moore, he should be the top target in Carolina and a breakout at the position into the elite range.
Darnell Mooney (WR29) will finish as a WR1 and catch 100 passes
I’m a Bears fan. I remind you of this so you take this prediction with a grain of salt. That being said, I love Darnell Mooney. Mooney came on late last season, posting three 120+ yards games in the back half of the season and showing growth as a player. I wouldn’t say he looked like a number one yet, but he was improving. I will also grant the most likely outcome–in my opinion–is Mooney entering the WR2 range this season. So how does he make the leap to WR1? I don’t tend to buy into the off-season hype. Everyone is in the best shape of their lives, and they all added 20lbs of muscle while dropping 20lbs of fat. I do, however, buy into players and what they show me. Mooney has come across as hungry in his interviews; he doesn’t seem satisfied with the improvements he made last year in receptions (61 to 81), yards (631 to 1055), or touchdowns (4 both years). He wants more. You can hear it every time he talks to the media. That’s the kind of fire I want in a player if I’m predicting a leap. It’s not enough to be talented or have opportunities. You can’t just want it; you have to need it.
In addition to Mooney’s fire, he was clearly held back in last year’s offensive scheme. Mooney excelled at the nine (or fly) route but this wasn’t heavily featured week to week. We saw the same phenomenon with Allen Robinson in his down year. Bears players weren’t used towards their greatest strengths. It felt–at times–like Nagy had given up. If new OC Luke Getsy can be even league-average, we should see an improvement. My last argument for Mooney is the opportunity for volume here. Outside of Darnell Mooney, what other wide receiver on this team frightens you? What other wide receiver can you even count on to catch the ball when it hits his hands? Heck, what other wide receiver can you confidently name? The Bears might have the worst WR2-5 in the league. Those guys would be Equanimious St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, Velus Jones Jr., N’Keal Harry, Byron Pringle, and Dante Pettis. If you believe in Justin Fields’ talent and you think a young wide receiver can grow, Darnell Mooney has a lot of potential volume to eat up in an offense lacking play-making pass-catchers. I like his chances to take another step forward and take another step towards ‘elite’ status. Then again, I am a Bears fan.
Nyheim Hines (RB41) will finish as top-20 RB in PPR
It’s important to note–right off the bat–that this is a PPR prediction. I don’t think you need to wonder why. I have always been a fan of the pass-catching back, and I think Nyheim Hines is one of the best in the league right now. He is a seasoned veteran, and someone the Colts gave a 3-year, $18 million contract to last season. Hines has proven himself an excellent pass-catcher, and someone who should be working alongside Jonathan Taylor. Make no mistake about this prediction: Taylor should dominate the carries, the red zone work, and every meaningful rushing opportunity. If Taylor goes down with an injury at any point, Hines will not be the replacement. Hines, however, complements Taylor nicely as the pass-catching weapon and someone to spell Taylor. Indianapolis, and every team, would be smart to protect their top backfield threats. We’ve seen what happens to backs that are overused and how it can destroy their shelf lives. Christian McCaffrey is nodding his head in case you can’t see. If I was running the Colts offense, I would have a weekly plan to deploy Hines and get him a half-dozen receptions–1 or 2 series that Taylor can rest so that he lasts for 6-10 years instead of 2-4. Hines has an excellent catch rate (77.2%) and runs clean routes. Now it’s just a matter of if Matt Ryan likes throwing to his running backs. Spoiler Alert: he does. If Hines becomes a regular part of the offensive game plan, he could be a big payoff and an easy RB2 in PPR this season. We’ve seen it happen in 2020 with J.D. McKissic, 2019 with James White, and 2018 with both James White and Tarik Cohen. Hines is good enough to join this list.
Derek Carr (QB14) will finish as a top-5 QB and total 5,000 yards
I’m just going to rip the band-aid of here: I don’t actually think Derek Carr is a great quarterback. If I’m being honest, I think he’s good. He’s better than average. He’s far from elite though, and not someone I would want at the helm of my team for the next five years. I also can’t see him and not think of a Vegas magician. These negatives aside, here is what I do know: Carr has completed 68.7% of his passes over the last three seasons. He has averaged 4,320 yards per season over that span, hitting a career-high of 4,804 in 2021. Carr is also due touchdown regression from last season. If we assumed his career TD% of 4.4, he should have thrown 28 TD last season instead of the actual 23. If we assumed his 2020 TD% of 5.2, that number spikes to 33 TD.
I say all this, and I haven’t even mentioned the two biggest factors. First is his weapons. The Raiders added elite WR Davante Adams in the offseason. Adams played with Carr in college (I know, you’ve heard this 10,000 times) and Adams is still arguably the best wide receiver in the league. On top of that, Darren Waller–who missed six games last season–is almost back to 100% and should be ready for week one. Let’s throw red-zone weapon Hunter Renfrow into the mix, and Derek Carr has an excellent group of weapons supporting his 2022 campaign. The second big factor is the schedule. Ever hear of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, or Russell Wilson? The Raiders’ schedule includes two games against each superstar passer, in addition to the Cardinals, Rams, and Niners. This team is going to have to score if it wants to keep up. I believe the Raiders are a good team, and they will open up the passing attack even more than last year. They have a shot at the division, and if it happens, it’ll be thanks to a huge season from Derek Carr.
Cole Kmet (TE13) will finish as a top-5 Tight End
And we come to the last prediction–no surprise another chance for me to hype my beloved Bears. My Cole Kmet love could be chalked up to his starting role on the Bears. Maybe it’s the fact that we went to the same high school (shout out to St. Viator High School!). There is probably also the factor that I hate drafting tight ends early, preferring to load up on RB and WR and just grab a guy late to fill this roster spot–where Cole will be eagerly waiting. Here’s what I know: Cole Kmet is still only 23 as he enters his third season. He showed some spark during his first season (44 targets, 28 receptions, 243 yards, 2 TD) and improved on almost everything last season (93/ 60/ 612/ 0). Still, Kmet fell short of the ‘breakout’ hopes of many in fantasy. I think the expectations were a bit premature, and we will see Kmet reach his final form soon in the coming seasons.
Cole Kmet is still developing. At 23, Travis Kelce wasn’t in the league yet. Neither was George Kittle. Mark Andrews had 34 receptions and 552 yards. Darren Waller had 2 receptions for 18 yards. Kmet just turned 23 in March, and hopes for a breakout this early were unrealistic. Kmet did improve–just not to the high standards of fantasy drafters. There was also the problem of the whole offense caving in on itself. The Bears had only 16 passing touchdowns all of last season. What upside is there when no one is scoring? If the offense takes even a modest step forward and Kmet continues to grow, he should have the opportunity for big things. It’s safe to call him the second-best weapon in this passing game, and that’s worth something even in bad offenses. Grab Kmet late and enjoy the breakout season. If it fails, just drop him and add Mike Gesicki or Irv Smith from waivers.
(Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)