Fantasy Football: Things We Learned in the 2022 Season
Perhaps more than anything, fantasy football is a game of adjustments. Season-long fantasy doesn't end at the draft, and smart managers learn to take the trends and data that each week of games offers and apply it to their roster decisions moving forward.
This week's piece will look a little different in that it takes a look back at the whole season -- not just the previous week. We will consider trends from the season and determine which patterns in snaps, usage, and matchups are actionable moving forward. Let's dive in and look at some interesting pieces of information from 2022.
Rookie Wide Receivers Took a Step Back in 2022
Just when we thought we knew what to expect from the rookie wide receivers based on the last two years, 2022 came along and set things back a few steps.
In 2020, four rookie wide receivers (Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, and Chase Claypool) amassed at least 60 receptions and 800 yards for the season. That was the first time since 2014 and only the second time in history that many wide receivers reached those marks in the NFL. In 2021, we also saw four receivers reach those milestones of 60 catches and 800 yards: Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and DeVonta Smith.
Similar to 2020, 2021 had one true alpha (Jefferson had 1,400 yards; Chase at 1,455) and a couple of others who knocked on the door of 80 catches and 1,000 yards. 2021 and 2014 were the only years the NFL has ever seen two rookies gain 1,000 receiving yards in the same year (Chase and Waddle last year).
This season, only Garrett Wilson (74 catches and 1,014 yards) and Chris Olave (67 catches, 982 yards) will reach those milestones. Drake London (66 catches, 746 yards) is close, too. Unless George Pickens (49 catches, 729 yards) goes absolutely ballistic in his last game, we will end up with two or three receivers who fit the mold. We also didn't have a no-doubt alpha wide receiver like Jefferson or Chase, but mostly that's because the top wide receivers from the draft ended up in poor quarterback situations. London and Olave both started the year strong with an elite target share, but quarterback ineptitude ultimately kept them down.
The jury is still out on other wide receivers who didn't perform up to expectations for one reason or another. In years to come, Jameson Williams, Romeo Doubs, Pickens, London, and Christian Watson could all transform into top-24 wide receiver picks. Injuries and quarterback carousels derailed them this year. But for now, we have to consider 2020 and 2021 as potential outlier classes. Is there a Chase of a Jefferson among this group? Right now, it seems unlikely.
What will next year's wide receiver class bring? There were six wide receivers taken in the first 34 picks in the 2021 draft and seven taken in the first 34 picks in 2022, both unusually high numbers. Early mocks I have seen have anywhere from five to six wideouts in that range this year (including Justin Jefferson's clone, Quentin Johnson), so there is a chance another great class is about to emerge similar to the ones we saw in 2020 and 2021. Only time will tell, but the quarterback position where they land will go a long way to answering the question.
Quarterback Scoring Continues at a Historic Pace
In 2022, Jalen Hurts leads all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game with 26.76 (minimum 12 games). Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow are also completing high-scoring seasons on a points-per-game average, and 2022 is beginning to look a lot like 2020 and 2021 when looking at quarterback dominance.
These past three years we have seen quarterback scoring explode to levels that never before seemed possible. Here are the number of quarterbacks with at least five games played who scored a minimum of 22.0 fantasy points per game since 2013 (courtesy of FantasyPros):
|QBs with > 22 FPPG
Those 2021 and 2020 seasons stuck out like two sore thumbs. Nine quarterbacks hit that milestone in '20 (plus Ryan Tannehill at 21.9), and four more did in '21. The 2022 season did not miss a beat and followed right along with another four (plus Justin Fields is also in range heading into Week 18).
The crazy-high quarterback fantasy scoring makes more sense when you look at the aggregate numbers from that 2020 season, as well. Before we started the 2022 season, if you compare all professional football seasons dating back to 1932, 2020 was first in passing first downs, passing completions, and passing touchdowns per game. It was also top five in passing attempts, passing yards, and yards per attempt. In many ways, the trend continued the next year. The 2021 season proceeded to have the fourth-most passing completions per game all-time in addition to the ninth-most pass attempts and ninth-highest yards per attempt per pass.
But 2022 doesn't look like those two from a per-game standpoint. This season, passing attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and net yards per attempt are outside of the top 15 all-time. How can the quarterback scoring be so high when passing is down relative to the past two years?
First, 2022 has the lowest interceptions per game (0.8) of any season on record (tied with 2017). Quarterbacks have become more accurate overall and are losing the ball less and less on turnovers. But that's just a small piece of the puzzle.
Much of the rest, of course, can also be drawn back to the explosion of the rushing quarterback. We know that Fields is actively pursuing the all-time record for most quarterback rushing yards in one season. Fields (1,143 rushing yards) is only 63 behind Lamar Jackson for the record. But, it's much more than just Fields. Of the 82 times a quarterback has rushed for at least 30 yards per game in a season since the year 2000, 22 of them have come since the 2020 season.
This new component of quarterback scoring is not going anywhere anytime soon. Quarterback scoring will likely continue to rise in the years to come which tells us as fantasy managers that securing the services of one of these top options for our teams might become easier to do in drafts going forward.