Fantasy football stars of tomorrow? 2022 NFL draft prospects to follow

Fantasy football managers spoiled by the relative early-return riches of the past two rookie crops might want to brace themselves for a sobering possibility: The 2022 NFL draft class doesn’t appear to be anywhere as fruitful of a skill-position lot.

Several months out, this coming class bears some resemblance in some ways to the 2019 NFL draft crop on offense, but perhaps not even as strong. There’s no Kyler Murray-esque QB talent, as there was that year, and there won’t be multiple first-round tight ends either.

But that’s not to say that the 2019 draft was a total fantasy wash. After all, rookies such as Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin and even Gardner Minshew likely provided some unexpectedly solid Year 1 values in your leagues.

The 2022 class could bear similar fruit, but the picking will be a bit slim compared to what we’ve become accustomed to. Here are 10 fantasy rookies we think have decent shots to bring some first-year value to your fantasy rosters.

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

It’s a fascinating year at quarterback, and by fascinating we mean potentially frustrating — especially in terms of early returns. There might still be three first-round picks, and perhaps five or six quarterbacks drafted in the top two rounds. But only a few could end up starting or contributing in a major way.

Pickett is coming off a breakout season as a fifth-year senior and has the kind of all-around, polished game that could make him something of a Joe Burrow knockoff in Year 1. Burrow was QB19 in terms of fantasy points per game as a rookie before suffering a torn ACL, and we think Pickett might be in that range or a bit lower, assuming he goes to a team (Broncos? Steelers?) with decent surrounding talent and a starting job open right away.

Other QB prospects, such as Matt Corral, Sam Howell, Carson Strong, Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder will be worth watching depending on their landing spots. But Pickett might have the early lead for QB1 draft status.

Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

Although there’s no clear consensus now for RB1 status, Walker enters the NFL with strong credentials and a well-rounded game that could make him an instant contributor.

The compact, hard-running Walker was a yards-after-contact monster for the Spartans last season, and he enters the NFL with only 500 college touches despite acting as Michigan State’s workhorse last season.

He had a few dud games but also ran for 172 yards or more four times and scored 18 touchdowns. His lack of receiving prowess limits Walker’s appeal in PPR leagues, but expecting an Elijah Mitchell-esque rookie season wouldn’t be a stretch for this possible top-50 draft selection.

Kenneth Walker III is among the interesting rookie running backs to monitor for 2022 fantasy football drafts. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
Kenneth Walker III is among the interesting rookie running backs to monitor for 2022 fantasy football drafts. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M

Just below Walker in our early draft rankings is Spiller, who has been a consistent producer in his three college seasons for the Aggies. He’s also a more skilled pass receiver than his numbers might indicate, although his pass-protection hiccups might not make him a third-down mainstay right away.

Still, Spiller has the makeup to be a good complementary back early on. We don’t like him as much as we did Javonte Williams coming out a year ago, but expecting something slightly lower than Williams’ first-year output is within reason.

James Cook, RB-WR, Georgia

Anyone watching Monday’s national title game against Alabama might have wondered what all the hype was about with Cook — Dalvin’s little brother — for the first half, when he had 4 rush yards on three carries.

But Cook flipped the game with a 67-yard run following the blocked field goal, displaying the kind of game-breaking ability that makes him a potential rookie standout, even as his lack of run strength might limit him to a shared role early in the NFL.

The Bulldogs didn’t showcase Cook’s receiving ability in the win over Alabama, but he’s got the chops to be a slot receiver if an NFL team wanted to use him that way.

Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU

It’s a solid group of upper middle-class backs this year, and we could have opted for other prospects such as Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet, Georgia’s Zamir White or Iowa State’s Breece Hall.

But there’s something fascinating about the thickly built Allgeier that has our attention. While not likely to be a true home-run hitter in the NFL, Allgeier has the vision and balance to be a consistent yard producer and a quality checkdown option as a receiver. At 220 pounds with soft hands, there’s a James Robinson-ish quality to his game.

Allgeier also competes well as a pass blocker, so he could actually work his way into a three-down role, perhaps as a rookie. He might only be a third-round pick, but Allgeier is one early fantasy sleeper we’re fascinated by.

Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

The 2022 WR class has taken a few hits, especially with the injuries to Alabama’s duo of Jameson Williams and John Metchie III. And this group might not have a clear-cut WR1. But Williams’ former OSU teammate, Wilson, could have the all-around game to be a rookie standout.

With excellent body control, natural separation ability and very good hands, Wilson enters the NFL with a level of reliability that can’t be overlooked. He’s not a blazer and isn’t blessed with incredible size. But Wilson might be a WR2 for whatever team takes him — in Round 1, we think.

Drake London, WR, USC

Had he not suffered an ankle injury in the Trojans’ eighth game this season, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound London might have finished the season as the assumed WR1 in this class.

As it is, he’s a highly impressive, ascending (although raw) prospect who has only recently switched his full focus from basketball to football. And now that he has, London has incredible upside for you dynasty league folks out there.

He can high point the ball, possesses intriguing intermediate and deep ability and was a target vacuum — 119 (and 88 catches) in a shortened season. London isn’t Mike Evans, per se, but he’s got that kind of size and play style.

[Early look at first round of 2022 fantasy football drafts]

Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

The do-it-all performer for the Razorbacks will remind some of a bigger, stronger Deebo Samuel in some respects.

In 32 career games, the 6-3, 225-pound Burks caught 147 passes (averaging 16.4 yards per catch and scoring 18 TDs); ran 38 times (with a 5.8-yard average); attempted seven passes; and occasionally ran back kicks and punts.

Burks might not possess Samuel’s change-of-direction skill, and there’s some polish that could be added to Burks’ work as a receiver. But there’s a multi-skilled bulldog of an offensive producer here, one way or another. He’ll only be bound by his offensive coordinator’s creativity — or lack thereof.

Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

A smooth operator, Olave might have been a late first-round pick (or top 40 at worst) had he come out a year ago. That’s the range where Rashod Bateman (46-515-1 receiving as a rookie) and Elijah Moore (43-538-5) went off the board, and it wouldn’t shock us if Olave bettered those first-year totals if he lands in a fruitful passing situation.

Olave would be best-served as a WR2 and not as a player who instantly commands extra attention. But even still, his highly mature route pacing, catch concentration and body control make him an instant contributor wherever he lands.

Averaging 15.4 yards per catch and a touchdown every 5.1 touches in four college seasons speaks for itself, even in OSU’s high-powered offenses.

Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

Dotson is the class’ speedster and a possible late first-round pick, certainly top 50 overall if not. He’s not big at 5-10 and 175 pounds and could fall victim to a KJ Hamler-like role in Year 1.

But if a similarly sized Darnell Mooney can turn in a 631-yard, four-TD rookie season for a 2020 Bears team that struggled to throw the ball consistently, we don’t see why Dotson can’t emerge as some team’s home-run option in 2022.

We expect Dotson to run a blazing 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, however, so he’s not likely to be some mega-sleeper come fantasy draft time.

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