NFL Draft – Most NFL drafts see early picks that sabotage fantasy expectations for veteran players. The 2022 draft was different. Falling quarterbacks stole the headlines, but a similar pull of running back prospects into the later rounds left some precarious incumbents in the driver seat for No. 1 roles. And while six receivers went in an 11-pick span in the middle of the first round, they landed with receiver-needy teams, leaving plenty of targets to share with their teammates. Still, even a conservative and chalky draft upset some fantasy apple carts.
What follows are the 10 skill players who suffered the biggest declines in their 2022 KUBIAK projections after the draft, plus a bonus receiver who was poised for that list until a teammate suspension bought him a stay of his fantasy demotion.
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks
117.8 PPR points (44th RB)
12.0 PPR points (107th RB)
PPR Points Lost: 105.8
A former seventh-round pick, Carson is one of the all-time draft success stories. As recently as 2020, his 15.1% rushing DVOA rate landed him in the top 12 at his position. But Carson suffered a serious neck injury in 2021. And uncertainty of his NFL future likely prompted the Seahawks to draft Kenneth Walker III in the second round, a choice that may leave Carson a roster casualty whatever his availability.
Quez Watkins, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
107.6 PPR points (72nd WR)
18.0-11.4-159-0. 8 receiving
32.0 PPR points (112th WR)
PPR Points Lost: 75.6
As a sixth-round draft pick with the deep speed that often sabotages week-to-week consistency, Watkins was always an unlikely fantasy sleeper. But as we learned with Chris Carson, we should never judge a prospect’s book by its cover. The new generation of standout fantasy receivers includes players such as DK Metcalf (12.8-yard average depth of target), Ja’Marr Chase (12.5), and Justin Jefferson (12.0) with deeper aDOTs than Watkins’ 11.7 the last two seasons. And Watkins jumped from 13 targets as a rookie to 62 last year, entering draft season as the Eagles’ No. 2 receiver. A.J. Brown changes that in a big way. Barring a teammate injury, Watkins may only take an occasional home-run swing in the vein of Kenny Stills.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
82.2 PPR points (53rd RB)
19.9 PPR points (80th RB)
PPR Points Lost: 62.3
Ronald Jones’ departure for the Chiefs in free agency cracked a door for Vaughn’s first substantial professional workload, but the Bucs may have closed that door with their selection of BackCAST favorite Rachaad White. As a third-round draft pick, White isn’t any more pedigreed than Vaughn is. But Vaughn’s 4.7 career yards per attempt belie an easy set of professional carries. His 50.0% rushing success rate is middle-of-the-pack the last two seasons. And one assumes Vaughn would have seen more game reps if his practice performance demanded it.
Michael Carter, RB, New York Jets
175.2 PPR points (30th RB)
118.6 PPR points (44th RB)
PPR Points Lost: 56.6
Carter plays bigger than his 201-pound weight suggests. His 5-foot-8 stature lands him a 30.6 BMI that nearly matches that of Jonathan Taylor (30.8). But the Jets’ decision to draft the class’ top running back prospect Breece Hall suggests they prefer Carter in a change-of-pace role like he played next to Javonte Williams at North Carolina. Carter led his position with 0.24 broken tackles per touch in 2021. He isn’t going away entirely. But my North Carolina alumnus dreams of a Carter bell-cow role appear to be dashed.
Zack Moss, RB, Buffalo Bills
71.2 PPR points (61st RB)
17.3 PPR points (90th RB)
PPR Points Lost: 53.9
Bills head coach Sean McDermott tipped the hands of his eventual draft decision last December when he twice made Moss a healthy inactive and told reporters it’s “numbers, just numbers.” I suspect Moss’ drop from 4.3 yards per carry in 2020 to 3.6 last year overstates his skills erosion. Moss was top-10 among backs with 75 or more carries in 2021 with a 19.3% broken tackle rate, but that rate still trailed his teammate Devin Singletary (23.2%). Moss’ second-worst 1.49 average yards before contact could reflect poor vision and decision-making. And McDermott’s drafting of second-round receiving back James Cook makes it clear that with or without an explanation, Moss is unlikely to retain a committee job in 2022.
Tre’Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints
96.5 PPR points (76th WR)
46.1 PPR points (99th WR)
PPR Points Lost: 50.4
Smith has had four years and two extended Michael Thomas absences to assert a fantasy-friendly role for the Saints. And while he can blame his own injuries to some extent, Smith has peaked at 34 catches in a season, nine fewer than even Quez Watkins’ modest total from 2021. The Saints retained Smith on a two-year, $6-million contract, but even with Thomas poised to return, they seemed likely to target a No. 2 receiver in the draft. And thanks to a pair of trade-ups, the team landed Chris Olave, a four-year player from Ohio State whose experience and sophisticated route-running make him one of the likeliest receivers in his class to make an immediate NFL impact.
Braxton Berrios, WR, New York Jets
87.8 PPR points (82nd WR)
48.8 PPR points (98th WR)
PPR Points Lost: 39.0
Berrios earned his two-year, $12-million Jets extension with his All-Pro contributions as a kick and punt returner. But he has also averaged 5.8 yards after the catch, tied for the sixth-highest rate (with 2021 receiving triple crown winner Cooper Kupp) among receivers with 100 or more targets the last two seasons. Berrios entered the draft as a compelling sleeper candidate to replace Jamison Crowder in the slot. And while he still has a chance at a fantasy breakout, at least one Jets receiver will lose targets from the team’s decision to draft Garrett Wilson with the 10th overall pick. With Wilson and Elijah Moore both on the smaller side at less than 195 pounds, Corey Davis may be difficult to kick to the bench if he can stay healthy this season.
Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers
176.2 PPR points (32nd WR)
139.2 PPR points (49th WR)
PPR Points Lost: 37.0
Lazard was always underqualified as a potential Davante Adams replacement. But at 6-foot-5 and coming off a top-12 season of eight touchdowns even alongside Adams, Lazard had the touchdown ceiling of a fantasy WR2 even if his projected total of fewer than 100 targets would typically have disqualified him. That potential hasn’t completely eroded after the Packers failed to add a top-tier receiver prospect in the draft. But even if Round 2 pick Christian Watson is relatively inexperienced out of North Dakota State, his 6-foot-5 and 200-pound frame should make him an end zone target that cuts into Lazard’s scoring potential.
Zach Ertz, TE, Arizona Cardinals
167.9 PPR points (11th TE)
139.3 PPR points (14th TE)
PPR Points Lost: 28.6
The Cardinals made a bunch of skill-player additions on draft weekend that should make quarterback Kyler Murray happy. But the quality depth the team now has at wide receiver and tight end will likely hurt all of Murray’s weapons from a fantasy perspective. As he entered his 30s, Ertz had already slipped from 9.8 and 9.0 targets per game in 2018 and 2019 to 6.5 and 6.6 the last two seasons. But that decline will likely accelerate after the Cardinals added Trey McBride as the first tight end taken in the draft at 55th overall.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Houston Texans
125.2 PPR points (45th RB)
101.6 PPR points (47th RB)
PPR Points Lost: 23.6
Burkhead defied the typical running back aging trends with a career high of 147 touches in his age-31 season in 2021. But Burkhead enjoyed that uptick in workload on an undertalented Texans team bereft of healthy and talented backfield options. Free-agent addition Marlon Mack was no lock to change that reality after an Achilles tear left him with just 37 touches the last two seasons. But after drafting Dameon Pierce at the top of the fourth round, the Texans are up to two potential starting options that seem likely to limit Burkhead to his traditional complementary role.
A.J. Green, WR, Arizona Cardinals
116.4 PPR points (66th WR)
106.1 PPR points (74th WR)
PPR Points Lost: 10.3
Green may have found at least a short-term fantasy reprieve in teammate DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game PED suspension—Green was down a projected 42.5 fantasy points before that news. But a short-term starting job will not help him recapture his prime efficiency. The 33-year-old receiver enjoyed a modest bounceback in 2021 with a better quarterback in Kyler Murray and a deeper average depth of target (12.1 yards). But Green’s 7.5% receiving DVOA in 2021 belied a -2.2 receiving plus/minus that, while better than the year before (-13.9), was still below average for his position.