Fantasy Football 2022: 5 Big Takeaways From Week 1 of the NFL Preseason

As initial NFL training camp cuts came down this week, many fantasy owners were gearing up for early drafts with a limited database of information from Week 1 of the preseason.

Knee-jerk fantasy football reactions included Steelers WR George Pickens as the second coming of John Stallworth, San Francisco QB Trey Lance as the second coming of Steve Young, and WR Tajae Sharpe as the first coming of Tajae Sharpe in Chicago.

So, what did we learn from Week 1 as we look ahead to some mid-August fantasy drafts? Here are five impressions heading into Week 2 of the preseason.

The New York Jets continue to New York Jet

When quarterback Zach Wilson went down with a non-contact knee injury against the Eagles, it meant the team’s top draft picks from 2021 (Wilson, No. 2 overall) and 2020 (OT Mekhi Becton, No. 11 overall) are on the shelf.

Becton is out for the season with a fractured kneecap he suffered in practice. He had surgery this past week, and the Jets placed him on injured reserve Tuesday.

Wilson’s prognosis is better with a torn meniscus and bone bruise. He underwent surgery Tuesday, and’s Ian Rapaport reported there were no surprises. Wilson is expected to miss two to four weeks and could be back in time for Week 1 of the regular season against the Ravens.

But a second-year quarterback needs reps if he is going to have an impact on the field and for your fantasy football team. Wilson’s worth to fantasy owners is tied directly to their Jets fandom. He is rostered in only 5.1% of fantasy leagues, and that number probably won’t get a lot higher for the guy some people (cough, Jets fans) said is a reasonable facsimile of gunslinger Brett Favre.

Joe Flacco could end up as the Jets’ starter in Week 1 of the regular season, making any Jet an even riskier-than-usual-play for fantasy owners.

Pittsburgh’s “freakish” rookie WR George Pickens looks like the real fantasy football deal for keeper leagues and beyond

“Freak” isn’t my adjective for Steelers rookie WR George Pickens. That was his Pittsburgh wideout, Diontae Johnson, describing his new teammate.

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a long, fast Calvin Johnson in black and gold? Or does the former Georgia Bulldog look a little like John Stallworth?

Yes, he just played 21 snaps against a Seattle defense that isn’t exactly the old “Legion of Boom.” But his three catches on five targets went for 43 yards and a pretty, veteran-like touchdown at the back pylon from Mitch Trubisky.

In a basic PPR league, that’s 13.3 fantasy points in minimal action.

Did I mention the quarterback was Mitch Trubisky, who could have a new BFF for the 2022 season?

Pickens fell to the second round (No. 52 overall) of the NFL Draft in April and was the 11th receiver off the board due in part to a torn ACL in spring practice prior to Georgia’s 2021 championship season.

The knee looks fine, and Pickens already looks like a steal for the Steelers.

Before the game, Pickens was on less than 20% of fantasy rosters. That number climbed to 27.6% by Tuesday as fantasy owners justifiably jumped on the Pickens hype train.

Former Falcons and Titans wideout Tajae Sharpe could help Justin Fields with the Bears

Pro athletes from UMass for 100, Alex? (Or whoever is hosting Jeopardy these days.)

The list mostly starts and ends with Dr. J for most of us, but Tajae Sharpe made a splash with the Chicago Bears.

Justin Fields and Sharpe have developed chemistry in practice, and it carried over to Chicago’s preseason game against Kansas City. Sharpe finished the game with two catches for 44 yards, including a tightrope sideline 19-yard reception. 

“I think Tajae is a lot like Darnell (Moody) where he can adjust to balls thrown at him and stuff like that,” Fields told Bearswire. “Of course, he has that savviness off the ball, and then, of course, he’s probably two or three inches bigger than Darnell, too. He has a good range. He has great hands, like I said before, great ball skills. Like I said before, I’m excited to see what he can do for us this year.”

In four NFL seasons (three with the Titans and last year with the Falcons), Sharpe has 117 catches for 1,397 yards and eight touchdowns. He didn’t score at all with Atlanta in 2021 when he had 25 catches for 230 yards. 

Sharpe wasn’t a lock to make the Bears roster, much less to become a factor in the fantasy game, but Fields seems to believe in him, so fantasy owners should pay attention, given the Bears’ dearth of talent at the position.

Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold played well, but Baker is the best bet in Carolina

Carolina Panthers wideout Robbie Anderson says Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold are both “fighting” to be the Panthers’ starter when the regular season rolls around.

Both castoffs from the top of the 2018 NFL Draft โ€“ Mayfield No. 1 to Cleveland and Darnold No. 3 to the Jets โ€“ are hoping to jumpstart their respective pro careers after the Jets drafted Darnold’s replacement last year from their perpetual spot near the top of the draft and after the Browns signed embattled Deshaun Watson as a free agent.

Mayfield was traded to the Panthers just as training camp began for the Panthers but got the start this past weekend against the Washington Commanders instead of last year’s starter, Darnold.

It’s doubtful that either quarterback is on the radar of fantasy owners beyond two-QB or very deep leagues. But for those owners, Mayfield was 4-for-7 for 45 yards and no touchdowns against the Commanders. Darnold was 2-for-3 for 16 yards and a touchdown. 

Mayfield struggled last season in Cleveland due in part to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He had offseason surgery, and his right arm appeared to be back to full strength. 

Darnold was efficient and didn’t turn the ball over โ€“ sometimes silly interceptions have been the knock on him since his USC days โ€“ but he averaged nearly a yard less per attempt than Mayfield (6.4-5.3).

The Panthers got their up-close look at Darnold last season with Christian McCaffrey and without. Without McCaffrey, he struggled mightily. Carolina will take a long look at Mayfield this year, with the Browns picking up a significant portion of his paychecks.

Fantasy owners needing quarterback depth in two-QB or deep leagues will have to consider Mayfield over Darnold as a potential No. 2 at the position.

It’s obvious the Panthers have made their choice.

Have the 49ers struck gold with Trey Lance?

It’s not that Trey Lance was efficient in San Francisco’s 28-21 win over Green Bay (he was).

It’s not that he finished with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in limited action (he did).

It’s that he looked every bit the NFL quarterback the 49ers thought he’d be when they traded way up the draft board to take him with the third overall pick out of FCS power North Dakota State in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Against Green Bay, Lance completed four of five passes for 92 yards and a touchdown โ€“ a 76-yard strike to Danny Gray. His 18.4 yards per completion nearly doubled 49ers backup Nate Sudfeld (9.4 yards per completion) and more than tripled Brock Purdy’s six yards per completion. Lance ran one time for seven yards, meaning the 49ers didn’t unleash that part of his game, and he still seemed perfectly in control.

That is something of a surprise since Lance came from the Missouri Valley Conference, which isn’t the SEC, and played only 19 collegiate games, thanks in part to COVID-19 cancellations in 2020.

Lance gave fans and fantasy owners a mouthwatering glimpse of what San Francisco coaches and GM John Lynch saw when they decided to jettison veteran Jimmy Garoppolo. All Garropolo, who is still on the San Francisco roster but not with the team, did was lead the 49ers to two NFC Championship games in the last three years and Super Bowl LIV, a 31-20 loss to Kansas City.

Lynch and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan saw a player that runs like Jalen Hurts and can throw like Dak Prescott with Russell Wilson’s deep ball. With RB Eli Mitchell and hybrid wideout/running back Deebo Samuel, Lance has the potential to be a godsend in fantasy and a superstar in the NFL.

Fantasy owners are sold on him. Despite limited play as a rookie, Lance is being rostered in 97.9% of leagues. It looks like he will be a fantasy QB1 sooner than later.

Stats courtesy ofย Pro Football Reference

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