Fantasy Football 2022: Can you draft Cam Akers as an RB1 and more NFC West questions

·6 min read

One of the most common ways to get started on your fantasy football preparation for the season ahead is to not only look at positional rankings but also at the state of each NFL team's offense.

Which teams are most set up for success? Which teams are set to struggle? Which of those expected bottom-feeder teams have latent fantasy talent to mine from? Which of those top teams could actually disappoint fantasy managers?

[Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now!]

Throughout these past few weeks, fantasy football analyst Liz Loza sifted through every division and highlighted the biggest fantasy issues facing each team within. Finally, she wraps her series with the NFC West!

NFC West Pressing Fantasy Questions. (Photo by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
Will we receive answers to the NFC West's most pressing questions? (Photo by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

Will Marquise Brown find fantasy redemption in Arizona?

Fantasy heads aren’t known for their patience, which helps to explain Marquise Brown’s current sixth-round ADP (WR23).

Three years into his pro career and the former first-round draft pick has yet to break out. However, his fantasy output steadily increased while in Baltimore, improving from 8.8 fantasy points per game in 2019 (WR45 overall) to 11.3 FPTS/gm in 2021 (WR21 overall).

Injuries and Covid-related chaos wreaked havoc throughout the Ravens' locker room last year. As a result, Brown’s efficiency metrics took a hit (YPR went from 13.3 in 2020 to 11.1 in 2021) but his opportunities spiked and allowed for a career-high 91 catches and 1,008 receiving yards.

With DeAndre Hopkins suspended through the middle of October and Christian Kirk now in Jacksonville, those opportunities figure to remain abundant (for at least the first six weeks 2022) now that Brown is a Cardinal.

Hopkins averaged 6.7 targets per game before injuring his hamstring in Week 7. Kirk managed 5.1 looks per game over that same period. Brown is coming off of a year in which he recorded over nine opportunities per contest. The 25-year-old is ready for the volume. Given his history with Kyler Murray, he figures to post a career-high catch rate and boost those aforementioned efficiency numbers.

Assuming he stays healthy, Brown is in line for a 115-120 target season. He’s a solid WR2 option (WR18-21 range) for fantasy purposes and a value pick after the fifth round. FF: 83-1,120-7

Can Cam Akers start 2022 the same way he finished 2020?

There is no more fickle fan than a fantasy manager.

Cam Akers was one of the most buzzed about breakout candidates heading into 2021. Coming off of an electric 2020 stretch run wherein he was anointed as the Rams RB1 after Todd Gurley injured his knee, Akers averaged 22 carries per game and 118 scrimmage yards from Weeks 13 through 19 (Wild Card @ GB).

Unfortunately, a midsummer Achilles tear derailed the hype train. Against all odds, however, Akers executed a stunning six-month recovery, testing his footing in Week 18 and eventually working as LA's feature back during the team’s championship effort. Admittedly, Akers lacked the burst and explosiveness that initially thrilled supporters, recording 3.1 yards per touch over the final five games of the 2021 slate.

Remembering what they most recently witnessed, fantasy heads appear skittish about Akers' situation, as he’s currently the RB17 coming off the board. Reports out of minicamp suggest, however, that the 23-year-old is “100 percent” and expected to shoulder an even larger portion of the receiving opportunities. He’s also listed ahead of Darrell Henderson — who broke down over the course of 2021 and closed out his sophomore effort with fewer weighted opportunities than Sony Michel — on the team’s depth chart.

Sean McVay has regularly favored a workhorse back. Akers is that guy. In a prolific offense and attached to a top-10 QB, any inefficiencies will be balanced out by opportunities. He deserves to be drafted ahead of Antonio Gibson and Ezekiel Elliott.

Is Deebo Samuel being OVER or UNDER valued in fantasy drafts this year?

Deebo Samuel was the WR2 overall last year. Per current ADP, he’s being drafted as the WR6. His 59-365-8 rushing stat line mega-boosted his overall production … and is, perhaps, dwarfing a relatively low receiving volume (4.8/gm, WR21) and number of routes run (434, WR41).

Given the expected QB change in San Fran, it’s likely that Deebo won’t resume the "wideback" role that he dominated in 2021. Samuel’s rushing opportunities sky-rocketed down the stretch, as he averaged 6.6 rushing attempts per game from Weeks 10 through 18 (DNP in Week 13). It’s worth noting that Eli Mitchell was sidelined for four of those eight contests. Additionally, Trey Lance recorded 24 rushing attempts (4.8YPC) in his two starts as a rookie. The sample size may be small but a tweak in offensive philosophy that shifts under new personnel should be anticipated.

Moreover, as 49ers fanatic Dalton Del Don pointed out in a recent episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast, Lance and Brandon Aiyuk have been working out together and building chemistry while Samuel avoids practicing with the team. The team additionally bolstered their backfield by selecting LSU standout Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round of last April’s draft.

Drafting Samuel in the middle of the second round assumes he’s going to retain a large portion of his rushing work from last season. Certainly, after unlocking Samuel’s versatility, Kyle Shanahan figures to exploit the 26-year-old’s scheme-friendly athleticism. But it’s not guaranteed heading into 2022. What is more likely is a four(ish) catch per game average (Samuel averaged nearly the same number of catches per week in 2020 and 2021) and top-10 YAC numbers.

Bottom line: Recency bias is lifting Deebo’s stock to peak value. Savvy drafters will consider pivoting to a different position (Aaron Jones is an intriguing pick at a similar spot for anchor RB enthusiasts) or constructing balance around Samuel’s steep investment.

Which Seahawk pass catcher presents the best value?

It’s Tyler Lockett for me.

Lockett (13 percent) and D.K. Metcalf (15%) received a surprisingly similar number of total opportunities under Shane Waldron last season. Lockett remained the team’s primary slot receiver but saw an increased number of outside snaps as well as a career-high 30 deep looks. Even with the downgrade at QB the growth potential for Lockett’s usage (different from efficiency) is in a solid place. He won’t outproduce Metcalf in the red area, but his start in this version of the Hawks figures to be more seamless, particularly with Metcalf continuing to rehab (foot) away from the team.

Despite the small sample size, fantasy managers got a sneak peek of what a post-Russell Wilson era might look like from Weeks 6 through 8 of last season. With Geno Smith as the starter over those three weeks, Lockett was utilized more regularly, recording 42% of the WR corps' total opportunities (as compared to Metcalf’s 33%). However, Metcalf managed three spikes (two versus Jacksonville), accounting for 22% of Seattle’s total fantasy points.

The downgrade at QB is, obviously, not ideal. But a technician as skilled as Lockett (top-six catch rate and top-23 route win rate in 2021) can make a bad signal caller look okay(-ish). FF: 72-922-5

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