The 2022 NFL Season is just around the corner and that means we’re watching for every piece of news and analyzing everything as it pertains to our rosters. And some of that news isn’t promising. As we prepare for the season, I’ll be taking stock of some players whose value is in a state of flux, beginning today with a couple of players at each position that warrant some degree of panic or concern.
Stay vigilant and prepare. Dynasty is the long game, but it’s also important to start reading the tea leaves and making plans. In the case of these players, it’s best to start forming some contingency plans.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets
About: Wilson was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He entered the league with some promise but his rookie season didn’t play out that well. Wilson mustered just 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He went 3-10 in his 13 starts. But the Jets worked to build the team out around him, grabbing receiver Garrett Wilson, tight end Jeremy Ruckert, and running back Breece Hall in the draft. The Jets came into the off-season loaded with weapons and plenty of pressure on Wilson to step up in Year Two. But it’s not happening so far. Wilson currently has an ADP of QB27, and that likely reflects the lack of confidence in him. In addition, after a middling first pre-season appearance, Wilson injured his knee. The procedure to clean up the damage was a success, but he’ll miss the rest of the pre-season and likely Week 1 at least. That puts even more pressure on a young player. Those who spent draft capital in rookie drafts to snag Wilson were likely hoping for a reliable weekly starter. He finished as QB30 last year and could well already be in trouble. It’s not time to cut bait entirely, but it’s best to start making a backup plan.
Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
About: Watson has been a Top 10 talent at quarterback for years but in the near term, most haven’t gotten much of a return on that investment. It’s not his play on the field but his conduct off the field that led him to be a healthy scratch for the entire 2021 season. This off-season he was traded to the Browns and, despite the off-field scandal, it seemed promising. First, he was slapped with a six-game suspension. Now, it’s been increased to 11 games. That means Watson won’t be available until Week 13, ironically against the Texans. At that point, he’ll be playing his first meaningful game in nearly two years. His ADP of QB21 likely has the risk baked in, but it’s clear many are expecting a great lift for a stretch run. But it’s fair to assume he’ll need to knock off some rust. In his pre-season debut, Watson managed to go just 1-for-5 for 7 yards. Sure, it’s pre-season, but it could also be an indication that even a great player in his prime needs time to work back from an extended absence. And in that closing stretch, the Browns face the Texans, Bengals, Ravens, Saints, Commanders, and Steelers. There are some winnable games but it’s not going to be easy to slide into a new team, in December and square off against some division foes. If I’m drafting or acquiring Watson, it’s with an eye toward 2023. Anything you get in 2022 is likely going to be a bonus.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders
About: Gibson was a plucky pick when he was drafted in 2020. He was snagged in the Third Round, a wide receiver converting to feature back in the NFL. But it worked. Gibson looked strong and led a Washington team and qualified for the playoffs, rushing for nearly 800 yards and 11 touchdowns. He entered the 2021 season with the weight of some expectations, increasing his carries and going for more than 1,000 yards. He also finished as RB10. That led to interest in him to continue soaring. Then the Commanders scrambled to hold on to J.D. McKissic and keep him from leaving for Buffalo, following that up with drafting Alabama running back Brian Robinson in the Third Round. Now comes reports in camp that Gibson is struggling, and has been seen practicing with the Second Team, Third Team, and even the Punt Team. It seems some of that concern is baked into his current ADP as RB19. For the 2022 season, I still think Gibson has a strong role and can be a low-end RB2, aligning with his ADP. But in the dynasty format, I’m growing concerned. Washington has other options and if things keep tracking this way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them exercise those options.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
About: The Eagles were a surprise team in 2021, winning nine games and making the playoffs. There is great optimism about the Eagles again this year with Jalen Hurts at the helm and A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert in the passing game. But what about the backfield? Sanders was a highly sought-after back when he came out in the 2019 draft. He had followed Saquon Barkley at Penn State, and many thought he’d be the star of the 2019 running back group. But his targets, receptions, and carries have all declined in each of his three years in the league. Last season, Sanders wasn’t even the best-finishing RB on his own team. He finished as RB44 while Kenneth Gainwell finished as RB41. Sanders is currently going as RB27, heading into the final year of his rookie contract. That ADP portends optimism about his role in the offense. He was held without a touchdown in 2021, and you’d expect some positive regression there but will it be a big enough boost? Gainwell is still involved and the Eagles get plenty of rushing work from Hurts at quarterback. I’m hesitant to invest in Sanders based on the trajectory of his time with the Eagles.
Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
About: Claypool had a phenomenal rookie year, catching 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns. He fell back to Earth, along with the rest of the Steelers’ passing game in 2021. Now, he’s coming into 2022 with either journeyman Mitch Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett at quarterback. Claypool has espoused a belief he’s a great receiver, but it isn’t a universal opinion. The Steelers drafted George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the draft, and both have impressed. In addition, teammate Diontae Johnson got a long-term extension. There are even rumblings that Pickens has surpassed Claypool on the depth chart in a passing game that features competition for targets with running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth. Claypool is going as WR43, meaning there isn’t as much optimism in the fantasy community as there is with Claypool. A year ago, there was optimism that Claypool was a player on the verge of breaking big. Now, his future looks murky at best. If you can sell high to a true believer, I’d do it.
Treylon Burks, Tennessee Titans
About: Why is a rookie on here? The guy hasn’t even played a meaningful game. That’s fair. But after A.J. Brown was traded to the Eagles, Burks was snagged in the First Round of the draft. That sparked plenty of optimism about his role for the receiver-needy Titans. But Burks didn’t get off to a hot start, struggling with asthma at the jump and struggling to climb the depth chart since. He’s going as WR46 currently, which seems fair. But those that hoped to see a Brown-like first-year break out would be advised to be patient. I still believe in the potential, but I don’t think he’s going to explode right out of the box.
Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots
About: Last off-season, the Patriots went on a spending spree. Key to that spending spree were big contracts splashed out for tight ends Smith, formerly of the Titans, and Henry, formerly of the Chargers. It didn’t work quite as expected. Smith saw only 45 targets and struggled, finishing as TE35. Henry, however, did hit. He finished as TE10 and was one of the best receivers in the Patriots’ offense. So, why is Henry on the list? Well, the Patriots’ offense is in flux at best. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge are running the unit and it’s unclear what the focus will be. There are also two tight ends fighting for limited targets. Much of the praise this off-season has been for Smith, who seemingly has nowhere to go but up. Henry did most of his damage thanks to incredible efficiency, catching 50 passes for 603 yards and nine touchdowns on just 75 targets. If he sees that target share slide or doesn’t enjoy such a strong touchdown ratio, he could easily slide. His current ADP of TE14 seems to reflect that. I don’t have confidence he’ll even finish that high, especially if he and Smith end up more evenly splitting the 120 or so targets that come their way. If Henry is your starter, it might be time to hedge your bets.
Brevin Jordan, Houston Texans
About: Jordan saw his draft stock slide, landing in the Fifth Round with the Houston Texans. It also took him some time to come on line, but he finished as TE43 thanks to a late-season flourish. That inspired optimism that he’d take a big step forward in 2021. Instead, his outlook seems to look a little murky. Whether it’s Head Coach Lovie Smith saying Pharoah Brown is the starter or the Texans’ near-trade for Dolphins’ tight end Adam Shaheen, it seems the Texans are looking for options. Jordan isn’t a huge investment, going as TE30. But for a player that seemed like a golden sleeper candidate on the verge of breaking out, this isn’t encouraging news. I’d keep an eye out and keep options on hand.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.