With the regular season fast approaching, 25 Yards Later Fantasy Football Podcast hosts Nick Luciano and Allijah Motika sat down to name their “best fantasy friends” of 2022. What is a BFF? They are the players that our intrepid hosts expect to target in almost every fantasy draft they participate in for this upcoming season. A player could be named a BFF for any reason; maybe we believe in their draft value, breakout potential, or role in an offense. The point, though, is that like our real-life best friends, we believe in these players through thick and thin (okay, I guess that, unlike our real-life best friends, there is the chance that we might end up dropping any of these players at the drop of a hat following a rough stretch during the season, but hey, the metaphor is what is important here).
Nick: Brandon Aiyuk
Player narratives about a player’s first few weeks of the season tend to stick around long after the player’s circumstances have changed. This is especially true for Brandon Aiyuk, whose early-season woes in Kyle Shanahan’s “doghouse” have stuck with the third-year pro.
Most casual fans can easily point to the first month and a half of Aiyuk’s 2021 season when he had fewer than 100 total receiving yards through six games while playing just 71% of snaps or fewer in five of those six games. They might forget, however, that despite Aiyuk’s incredibly slow start he still finished the season with over 800 yards receiving while playing at least 88% of snaps in every game the rest of the regular season.
If the snap percentage and production rebounds at the end of last year aren’t enough to convince you that he is out of Shanahan’s doghouse permanently, how about this: the 49ers were significantly better after Aiyuk’s production picked up. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the 49ers were just 2-4 through six games compared to 8-3 the rest of the way, upping their points per game from 22.5 to 26.5. I don’t think that the 49ers can afford to keep him off the field.
In total points, Aiyuk was the WR16 from Weeks 8-18. with a full-season pace of 73/1128/6. He has reportedly been the star of camp and performed well with now full-time starter Trey Lance in Week 17 (4/94/0). At the time of this article, he’s going as the WR on Sleeper and the WR39 on Fantasy Football Calculator at pick 8.10, even though he finished as the WR35 last year despite his slow start. The traits and talent that made many analysts believe in him last year are still there, and I think he has a chance to have a fantastic year that will vastly outperform his ADP.
Allijah: Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones had a “down” year last year and still finished as the RB11. Despite the perception of his 2021 season, he was also very consistent with only 5 games outside of the top 24 RBs. He’s been a top 10 pick each of the last 2 years, but now he has his biggest opportunity yet after the departure of over 200 targets and 40% of the target share last year between Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Typically, vacated targets are largely filled by runningbacks, and Aaron Jones has proven to be a capable receiver who was 2nd on the Packers in targets last year. Despite the increased opportunity, he’s often sliding back into the 2nd round RB11 on Sleeper, pick 2.03 as the RB10 on FFCalc)—in some cases even the back of the 2nd—but I think he offers great value with top-5 upside
The AJ Dillon truthers are loud and may have a point, but there aren’t many other proven receivers on the team right now. Allen Lazard is a nice player, but he’s never had more than 60 targets in a season. 2nd-round pick Christian Watson has been banged up, and while 4th-round rookie Romeo Doubs has turned heads, he’s also been inconsistent. I could see Jones getting 90 targets this year, and even that might be low.
Nick: Allen Robinson
There’s no way to beat around the bush: Allen Robinson was awful last year. One of my favorite stats is that Robinson had 68 yards in his best game of the season, while Cooper Kupp had 64 yards in his worst game of the season. The big question all offseason has been whether Robinson was washed in his final year in Chicago or merely checked out. The Rams were willing to bet that the later answer was the truth, and so am I.
The moment I knew that Robinson would be one of my BFFs was when I was listening to the Around the NFL Podcast interview Rams beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue at Rams training camp. Rodrigue said that “The hype is real on Allen Robinson” with an enthusiasm that tried to sound professional but belied her real excitement to see Robinson play this year. While it might seem unlikely that Robinson will be able to outperform his WR24 ADP with Cooper Kupp across the field from him, consider this: Robert Woods was the WR12 before he tore his ACL last year. Woods was also the WR14 in 2019 when Kupp finished as the WR4, as well as additional top-15 performances in 2018 and 2020. Even Odell Beckham was WR22 from Weeks 12-18 last year, even though he joined the team midseason (something that even Randy Moss couldn’t make work). With all due respect to Robert Woods, I think that Robinson’s ceiling is considerably higher than his (not to mention that Robinson gets to catch passes with Matthew Stafford and not Jared Goff, as Woods had to do for several of those seasons).
Allijah: Cole Kmet
While Cole Kmet only finished as the TE20 last year, a lot has changed. Robinson has gone to LA, and fellow TE Jimmy Graham is now an unsigned free agent. There aren’t any other TE options—and very few receiving options period—to steal work from Kmet this season. Kmet was already second on the team in targets last year with an 18% target share. Heading into 2022, the Bears have over 100 vacated targets following the loss of Allen Robinson and Marquise Goodwin alone. Although they’ve added players like Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown, and David Moore…yeah I don’t think I need to say too much more. Kmet should have a 20+% target share this year and is the clear #2 pass catcher on the team.
Kmet has only two career TDs in his first two seasons, including zero last year despite 13 red zone targets. Maybe he is bad at scoring touchdowns? Maybe bad luck with a shaky Justin Fields last year? No matter the answer, positive TD regression is bound to hit. Kmet was top 10 in targets, snape share, and air yards at the TE position in 2021, but had some bad luck and was playing with a very bad offensive scheme and a young QB. With a new coaching staff and offense led by Luke Getsy, who was the QB coach in Green Bay for the last 3 years, I expect a better offense with less Matt Nagy gimmicks and more consistency.
Speaking of Luke Gesty, last week Alyssa Barbieri of USA Today brought us Getsy’s fire offseason quote that he “believes Kmet can be a rock star on offense.” That’s coach speak and off-season hype, but the numbers point to a breakout season for Kmet. I think that Kmet should easily outperform his 12th-round draft price.
Nick: Trey Lance
“There’s nobody in the league I’m more excited to see play 17 games than the new starting quarterback in San Francisco.” Those aren’t Allijah or my words (although the sentiment is shared), those are top-ESPN NFL analyst Bill Barnwell’s words. The optimism surrounding the former third-overall pick is at an all-time high, but questions about his development are still keeping his ADP in the 9th round outside of the top-12 QBs.
Even if Lance is a subpar passer this year (which I don’t think will be the case, as evidenced by my Brandon Aiyuk selection above), he doesn’t need to have Patrick Mahomes’—or even 2019 Lamar Jackson’s—passing numbers to outperform his ADP. Lance’s rushing ability gives him top-5—and even overall QB1—upside.
For example, let’s look at some of the worst passing stretches of some other recent rushing QBs’ early starts. From Weeks 11-17 in 2018, Jackson averaged just 159 passing yards per game and threw just 5 passing TDs to 3 INTs, but still finished as the QB8 during that stretch. Also in 2018, Josh Allen started weeks 12-17 and averaged just 207 passing yards per game while passing for an 8:7 touchdown to interception ratio, but was able to finish as the overall QB1 during that stretch. Two years later, Jalen Hurts started from weeks 13-17, averaged 205 passing yards, and had 6 TDs to 4 INTs but was still the QB8 during that stretch. There’s also a tremendous value added when you’re able to wait for a potential top-5 fantasy QB in the 9th round as opposed to the 5th or 6th, and because of that, I think that Lance represents a tremendous value.
Allijah: Courtland Sutton
I named Courtland Sutton one of my Free Agency Winners a few months back on the podcast following the Broncos’ acquisition of Russell Wilson, but he was a player that I liked even before the Broncos were able to significantly upgrade their QB position. Right now Sutton is going in roughly the 6th round as the WR28 on FFCalc and the WR20 on Sleeper.
Sutton has never entered a season as promising as this one. While he was solid his rookie year, he had a true breakout campaign in his second season in 2019, despite the Broncos having a QB carousel with the likes of Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, and Drew Locke. Despite the lack of QB stability, Sutton went off for 72/1112/6. He also never had a game with less than 5 targets, showing excellent WR2 consistency at the position with WR1 upside.
In 2021 the Broncos top 3 receivers (Jeudy, Sutton, Patrick) combined for 7 receiving TDs for the entire season. The entire team combined for 20 receiving TDs last season! That was the Drew Locke effect. Now though, Sutton is two years removed from an ACL tear that derailed his 2020 season, has a hall of fame QB at the helm and is in an offense run by former Green Bay Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Even longtime Sutton hater Nick was able to admit that he thought that Sutton was in a position for a bigger season following the unfortunate injury to Tim Patrick.
The Broncos also traded away Noah Fant to the Seahawks. In all, the Broncos are missing 33% of last year’s target share, and Sutton already had a 19% target share. Could that rise to a 25% target share this year? I sure think it could. And now Sutton has Russell Wilson throwing him the ball. Remember the Broncos’ 20 passing TDs last year? When Russell Wilson has played a full season since 2015 he’s only thrown for less than 30 TDs once. Even last year, when he only played in 14 games and was banged up even when he did play, he still threw for 25 TDs.
WR28 for Sutton is criminally low. I think he has top-8 WR upside and a top-15 floor barring injury. I think he’s being drafted this low just because of recency bias. Last year he played all 17 games and only had 3 finishes inside the top-30 at the position, ending the year as WR44. But his entire situation has changed and he’s one more year removed from the ACL injury, so scoop him up as early as the 4th round, and don’t be scared if he’s your WR1!
Who are some of your Best Fantasy Friends? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to listen to the podcast episode to get our full breakdowns of these players, news, and some additional players we’re targeting.
Follow Nick on Twitter @nickgluciano and Allijah @allijahmotika. You can listen to 25 Yards Later on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, Pocket Casts, and RadioPublic. Be sure to head over to Ruminations Radio Network for more great podcasts and Sports Obsessive for all things fantasy football, wrestling, and the NFL.
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