NFL Nation fantasy football sleepers for 2022

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The initial fantasy football rankings are out, which has all of us at ESPN Fantasy excited for the 2022 season.

You know what else gets us excited? Having our incredible NFL Nation team contribute to our fantasy coverage year-round. We asked our reporters to provide one fantasy sleeper from each team, whether it’s an off-the-radar player who could surprise, someone ready to take a big step forward, or — for teams with few sleeper options — a deep-league dart throw.

Arizona Cardinals TE Zach Ertz: Ertz may be the one player most poised to break out with DeAndre Hopkins set to miss the first six weeks. Don’t be surprised if Ertz becomes a favorite target of Kyler Murray early and often. And don’t be surprised if Ertz catches passes coming off the line, lining up in the slot or as the Cardinals‘ iso receiver on the boundary. He has the skill set to do it all and will be the complementary piece to Murray that Arizona will be looking for during Hopkins‘ suspension and beyond. With an entire offseason in Arizona’s offense, Ertz will head into the season with a better understanding of his role in the offense, which is likely to help him break the tight end franchise record of 56 catches (and which he tied in just 11 games last season). — Josh Weinfuss

Atlanta Falcons RB Tyler Allgeier: I don’t know if I would call him a „favorite,“ but the other options on the Falcons are fairly obvious. Kyle Pitts is already one of the top tight ends in the game, and rookie receiver Drake London should be the team’s No. 1 receiver. But Atlanta has a wide open running back room, especially for early-down carries. The Falcons cutting Mike Davis last Monday gave even more opportunity for Allgeier, who absorbs contact well and had 50 broken tackles last season, to become a surprising first-year running back who has upside. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith would like to run the ball and in the first year of the post-Matt Ryan era for the Falcons, Allgeier might be someone to get some work alongside Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams. — Michael Rothstein

Baltimore Ravens WR Devin Duvernay: Everyone knows tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Rashod Bateman are the headliners in Baltimore’s passing game. But who replaces the recently traded Marquise „Hollywood“ Brown? Duvernay, a Pro Bowl returner last season, should get a chance to step up. Ravens coach John Harbaugh was so happy that the team drafted Duvernay in the third round in 2020 that he gave an enthusiastic fist pump after Baltimore selected him. Duvernay should also have some built-up trust with Lamar Jackson. Last season, Duvernay caught 70% of the passes that Jackson threw his way (21-of-30), the highest rate among Ravens with double-digit targets. — Jamison Hensley

Buffalo Bills RB James Cook: Honestly, wide receiver Gabriel Davis could be the answer here to take a step forward, but after his four-touchdown headline-grabbing performance in January’s playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Davis seems less qualified as a sleeper. Instead, one of the Bills‘ newest additions gets the nod. Cook has the potential to play a big role in the offense during his rookie season, especially as the Bills look to improve their yards after catch. He’ll contribute to the offense as a receiver and rusher, and while he will be sharing the backfield with the likes of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, Cook has the potential to put up significant fantasy points alongside Buffalo’s usual contributors. — Alaina Getzenberg

Carolina Panthers WR Terrace Marshall Jr.: The Panthers brought the former LSU star along slowly as a rookie last year since he was coming off a foot injury. A foot injury ultimately landed him on injured reserve late last season, but he appears headed towards a full recovery. Don’t expect a huge jump from his 17 catches for 138 yards as a rookie in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s run-oriented offense, but look for him to play a bigger role and perhaps become more of a threat in the red zone. The Panthers still believe they got a first-round-caliber player in the second round. — David Newton

Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery: One of the ways the Bears can support second-year quarterback Justin Fields is by establishing a strong run game around him. Fantasy managers can expect Montgomery to have a prominent role in Chicago as a three-down back and shouldn’t see his workload fluctuate the way it has at times in the past. Montgomery will have help in the backfield with the addition of a fullback to Chicago’s offense and a change-of-pace back in rookie Trestan Ebner to help keep Montgomery fresh. Plus, he’s entering a contract year. All those things should line up well for the 24-year-old in fantasy football. — Courtney Cronin

Cincinnati Bengals TE Hayden Hurst: Hurst should get plenty of opportunities to prove that he can be a quality starting tight end. After signing a one-year deal with the Bengals this offseason, he immediately becomes the team’s top pass-catching option at the position. And despite the receiving corps that features Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, Hurst could see more targets as Cincinnati’s passing volume could rise because of the improvements along the offensive line. C.J. Uzomah, last year’s top tight end who signed with the New York Jets in free agency, saw an increased target share in the postseason. Hurst won’t have to split targets with other tight ends and could be someone who helps the Bengals be more effective in the red zone in 2022. — Ben Baby

Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku: The Browns are remaking their offense around QB Deshaun Watson, and Njoku could be one of the major beneficiaries. The Browns won’t be in as many heavy TE sets, potentially freeing Njoku to operate in more space. On top of that, he currently projects to be Cleveland’s No. 2 passing option behind Amari Cooper. And despite his uneven production in the past, the Browns are betting big on Njoku, having placed the franchise tag on him with hopes of hammering out a long-term deal in time. All of this could add up to a big season for Njoku. — Jake Trotter

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup: Gallup is entering his fifth season so he might not be a sleeper in the traditional sense, but based on what he did last year and the fact that he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament puts him in this mix. He will likely miss at least a couple of games to start the season as he works his way back, but the Cowboys clearly expect him to be a factor with the five-year, $62.5 million contract they gave him. Injuries limited him to 35 catches, 445 yards and two touchdowns last year, but with Amari Cooper gone, the Cowboys will make sure they give him a lot of opportunities. And if Gallup isn’t the sleeper, then free-agent pickup James Washington would be a good No. 2 option. — Todd Archer

Denver Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy: OK, this time the Broncos really mean it. When he was the team’s first-round pick in 2020, his coaches and teammates lauded his route-running precision as well as his explosiveness. Then he had some wobbles as a rookie and, coupled with the Broncos‘ continued struggles on offense overall, was able to turn 113 targets into just 58 receptions as well as three touchdowns. Last summer, his coaches and teammates swooned over his work in training camp, but then he suffered an ankle injury in the season opener that kept him out of the next six games and he caught four or fewer passes in six of the nine games he played the rest of the way, and finished without a touchdown catch. Now Russell Wilson is his quarterback and even in the team’s early workouts, Wilson has made it clear he has plans for Jeudy in the team’s offense. Jeudy’s ability to create separation at the top his routes has never been in question and a quarterback who can consistently get him the ball, on time, should fuel plenty of improvement in his production. — Jeff Legwold

Detroit Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: For fantasy football nerds, it’s tough to call St. Brown a sleeper based on how he finished his first year for the 3-13-1 Lions. As a rookie, he didn’t score his first touchdown until Week 12 of the 2021 season, but he finished the year at a record-breaking pace. He set the Lions rookie records for receiving yards (912) and receptions (90) while going on a streak with eight or more receptions in six consecutive games, which was also a franchise record. With a year under his belt, and familiarity with quarterback Jared Goff, St. Brown could take off in Year 2. Don’t be surprised. — Eric Woodyard

Green Bay Packers TE Tyler Davis: The Packers completely ignored this position in free agency and in the draft, but still you’re probably saying, ‚Who is Tyler Davis‘? Originally a sixth-round pick of the Jaguars in 2021, he didn’t catch a pass in eight games as a rookie. The Packers signed him in late September last year off the Colts practice squad. While he only had four catches for 35 yards, he flashed some down-field potential with a 22-yard catch on a seam route against the Ravens late in the year. With Robert Tonyan coming off an ACL tear and Marcedes Lewis up there in age, Davis should get some early season opportunities. Of Davis, GM Brian Gutekunst said recently, „I think we might have something there.“ — Rob Demovsky

Houston Texans RB Dameon Pierce: The former Gators running back was a fourth-round pick for Houston, but he should have good value in a weak Texans backfield. Houston signed Marlon Mack this offseason and re-signed Rex Burkhead before the end of the 2021 season, but there should be plenty of opportunities for the 22-year old to earn carries. Although Pierce will likely start the season as a backup, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him end the season as Houston’s lead back. Last season, the Texans averaged a league-worst 3.4 yards per rush and finished with eight rushing touchdowns (tied for worst). Pierce had 16 touchdowns from scrimmage last season. — Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts RB Nyheim Hines: Hines had a „down year“ in 2021 on the ground and receiving with Carson Wentz as the Colts starting quarterback. Hines‘ 40 receptions and 310 yards receiving last season were a career low for him. Things should be different with Matt Ryan. Coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady have already said that Hines, the No. 2 running back behind Jonathan Taylor, will have a bigger impact in the passing game. Running backs have been a big part of the passing game during Ryan’s career. Ryan completed 110 passes — out of a total of 375 — to running backs last season with the Falcons. Expect Hines, a former receiver at North Carolina State, to be taken out of the backfield and lined up out wide at times next season. — Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne Jr.: After missing his rookie season because of a Lisfranc injury suffered during the preseason, Etienne is expected to be full go by the start of training camp. He’s almost been forgotten with the addition of WRs Christian Kirk and Zay Jones and TE Evan Engram in free agency, but Etienne’s return adds something that has been missing from Jacksonville’s offense: He’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field. The Jaguars have just a combined 31 runs of 20 or more yards and receptions of 30 or more yards in the past two seasons, which is the worst mark in the league. Etienne had 61 of those plays in his four seasons at Clemson. Plus, he should be the Jaguars‘ main back at the beginning of the season as James Robinson continues to recover from a torn Achilles he suffered in December. — Mike DiRocco

Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire: He was once a hot fantasy prospect, but many have given up on him after two seasons of injuries and less-than-expected production. Edwards-Helaire may never achieve the fantasy status that was predicted for him, but he’s worth keeping an eye on as the Chiefs go through change to the receiving group, including the trade of Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs will always be a pass-first team with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and Andy Reid directing the offense. But they may favor the running game early in the season as Mahomes breaks in his many new receivers. Edwards-Helaire’s greatest untapped potential is as a receiver. If he’s ever going to break out in that area, it’s this season, after the Chiefs traded Mahomes‘ favorite wide receiver and lost two other top wideouts to free agency. Edwards-Helaire will split time with Ronald Jones II but the Chiefs haven’t given up on the idea of getting big things from him. — Adam Teicher

Las Vegas Raiders RB Zamir White: Sleeper, you say? How about a guy that no one had linked to the Raiders before the draft? A guy that plays a position already stacked with a Pro Bowler in Josh Jacobs, a versatile vet returning from a broken right ankle in Kenyan Drake and a guy well-versed in new coach Josh McDaniels‘ offense in Brandon Bolden. Yeah, fourth-round pick White is that guy. Both knees have been rebuilt and he runs hard between the tackles, so let’s link the rookie White to some fantasy production based on his hard-charging running style. — Paul Gutierrez

Los Angeles Chargers TE Donald Parham Jr.: Parham missed the last three games of the regular season in 2021 after he suffered a concussion in an attempt to make a diving catch that caused him to be taken from the field on a gurney. But in Joe Lombardi’s second season as the Chargers‘ play-caller — he spent the five seasons before he was hired by the Chargers in 2021 as the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints — the role of the tight ends should continue to grow at least some, including the red zone. Mike Williams signed a three-year, $60 million deal to stay with the team so he and Keenan Allen will continue to get the bulk of the targets overall, but Parham, with another year of his own development to go with some additional work in the offense, should carve out a scoring niche, as 20% of his career receptions have gone for scores. As teams continue to use the nickel defenses as their „base“ more and more to go with a variety of zone coverages in the red zone, Parham’s 6-foot-8 frame can consistently be a match-up the Chargers can win down in close. — Lindsey Thiry

Los Angeles Rams WR Allen Robinson II: You usually don’t think of players this well-known as sleepers, but it may be easy to overlook Robinson after his least productive season since 2017 (when he played in only one game). He’s in line for a bounce-back after signing with the Rams in free agency. The biggest reason: Matthew Stafford is far better than any of the young and middling quarterbacks he’s caught passes from over his first eight seasons. With Odell Beckham Jr. still unsigned coming off ACL surgery, Robinson is the clear-cut favorite to be the No. 2 option in the Rams‘ passing game behind Cooper Kupp. And as Beckham showed after his arrival midway through last season, there’s plenty of fantasy upside with the WR2 in Sean McVay’s offense. — Brady Henderson

Miami Dolphins RB Chase Edmonds: One of the first big names to sign during the 2022 free agency cycle, Edmonds‘ ceiling seemed to take a hit once the team signed Raheem Mostert later in the week. But considering the injury that Mostert is coming back from and what head coach (and offensive play caller) Mike McDaniel wants to do with his running backs, it’s not out of the question that Edmonds breaks out in his fifth NFL season. Over the past two years, Edmonds has caught 96 passes, which ranks eighth in the league among NFL running backs. Especially if Mostert is slow to return from the chipped cartilage in his knee he suffered last season, Edmonds has an opportunity to shine in Miami. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Minnesota Vikings FB C.J. Ham: I get it. It might not sound inspiring to consider a fullback with three career touchdowns in five seasons a sleeper, but the Vikings‘ top offensive options are known quantities. So why Ham? It has been notable how frequently his name has come up in conversations with the Vikings‘ new coaching staff. Ham gives them the flexibility to run 22 personnel frequently, a priority for new coach Kevin O’Connell. With all of the other weapons the Vikings will have on the field, defenses aren’t likely to prioritize the fullback. Ham isn’t quite the playmaker, say, 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk is, but in the very early stages of this offense, he’ll get more consideration than you might think. Ham qualifies as a sleeper in the deepest of leagues. — Kevin Seifert

New England Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson: Traditionally, investing in Patriots running backs has been a „buyer beware“ proposition because of their preference for a rotation. While the Patriots are set up for a rotation once again (Damien Harris, Stevenson, James White — if healthy — and 2022 draft picks Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris), but the view here is that Stevenson has a shot to make a run at Harris for the RB1 spot after finishing 2021 on a higher note. He’s entering his second season, often when a player makes his biggest jump. — Mike Reiss

New Orleans Saints WR Chris Olave: Obviously we should temper expectations for any rookie receiver. But opportunities don’t get much better than this. Olave should play a big role as a No. 2 receiver alongside Michael Thomas in a New Orleans offense starved for another playmaking pass catcher. The Saints felt Olave was the most well-rounded receiver and polished route runner of anyone in this year’s class — which is why they were so aggressive in trading up to get him. And he has the speed to become a downfield target for Jameis Winston. Mike Clay’s projection of 62 catches, 903 yards and nine touchdowns seems realistic. — Mike Triplett

New York Giants WR Kadarius Toney: This is betting on the talent. Sure there is some injury risk here, and there has been a lot of noise this offseason about Toney potentially being traded and his work ethic. But the second-year receiver is back with the Giants and has the ability with his speed, shiftiness and contact balance that, if it clicks, he can be a monster in new coach Brian Daboll’s spread offense. It seems perfect for his skills. Those six quarters vs. New Orleans and Dallas hint at bigger and better things with a little injury luck. — Jordan Raanan

New York Jets WR Elijah Moore: His rookie season ended early due to a leg injury, but he displayed his potential from Week 8 to Week 13. In that stretch, Moore tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions (five). He also was sixth in yards (459) and tied for eighth in catches (34). If he can stay healthy — he also missed the preseason due to a leg injury — Moore could emerge as the Jets‘ WR1. The addition of first-round pick Garrett Wilson shouldn’t affect him at all. If anyone, it will impact Corey Davis. The Jets view Moore as a foundational piece on offense. — Rich Cimini

Philadelphia Eagles TE Dallas Goedert: He has the potential to be a top-three tight end statistically this season. Goedert has spent the bulk of his career sharing snaps with Zach Ertz, but assumed the role of unquestioned TE1 when Ertz was dealt to the Arizona Cardinals last October. He had a couple of monster performances down the stretch, including in back-to-back weeks against the New York Jets (6 catches, 105 yards, 2TD) and Washington Commanders (7 catches, 135 yards) in December. Quarterback Jalen Hurts will have better command over the offense in his second season as the full-time starter. And the addition of receiver A.J. Brown will make it difficult for defenses to key on Goedert over the middle. He’s going to eat this year. — Tim McManus

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Calvin Austin III: It’s hard to put much stock in a fourth-round rookie receiver, but Austin makes a compelling case as an under-the-radar fantasy target — especially considering most Steelers fantasy prospects are pretty obvious. Though his small stature makes him a top candidate to fill the vacant slot position, his sub 4.4 speed makes him a versatile threat in Matt Canada’s offense. Canada loves to use jet sweep motions, and that just so happens to be an Austin specialty. In four seasons at Memphis, Austin had eight rushes and three went into the end zone, including touchdown runs of 69 and 83 yards, per ESPN Stats & Info. With a new quarterback and a revamped offensive line, it’s hard to say exactly what the Steelers offense will look like this season, but Austin’s strengths appear to be a good fit for Canada’s scheme, making him a solid late-round addition or a waiver-wire candidate. — Brooke Pryor

San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk: After a strong start to training camp in 2021, Aiyuk looked like he was ready to break out last year. But an injury and some consistency issues left Aiyuk struggling to find his place for the first half of the season. When he got back on track, Aiyuk was one of the most productive wideouts in the league, posting 685 receiving yards (eighth in the NFL) from Week 9 on. Aiyuk has spent the offseason training with quarterback Trey Lance in Southern California, which should only help build rapport between the two as Lance prepares to step into the starting role. — Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks RB Ken Walker III: Walker is an intriguing fantasy sleeper for the same reason the Seahawks chose him with the 41st overall pick: There’s a good chance they need him to play right away. They aren’t sure if/when Chris Carson will be ready following neck surgery, and while Rashaad Penny was the NFL’s most productive running back over the final five games of last season, he’s missed 30 of a possible 69 career games (including playoffs) due to injury. Walker would likely be in line for early-down work ahead of DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer, whom Seattle has preferred in change-of-pace roles. With Russell Wilson gone, their offense will likely lean more as much as it has in any season under Pete Carroll. — Brady Henderson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Russell Gage: Gage was thrust into a No. 1 role with the Atlanta Falcons last season due to Calvin Ridley’s unexpected departure. In Tampa, however, he’ll have Mike Evans to take some of the weight off and eventually Chris Godwin when Godwin fully heals from a torn ACL. So you’re looking at a No. 2/3 receiver, and even when he does assume the No. 3 role, with Tom Brady’s heavy reliance on Antonio Brown in that third receiver role over the last two years (8.2 targets per game in 15 games), Gage is one to keep an eye on. He can line up anywhere on the field, and that versatility (301 routes in the slot over the last two years, 191 routes outside) is key. — Jenna Laine

Tennessee Titans TE Austin Hooper: Signing Hooper to a free agent deal became even more significant after the Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles. There will be plenty of targets to go around, and Hooper moves up the depth chart as far as opportunities go. At 6-foot-4, 254 pounds, Hooper offers a big target for Ryan Tannehill, which should lead to plenty of opportunities, especially in the middle of the field. The Titans‘ play-action passing attack is similar to what Hooper ran with the Falcons, in which he posted back-to-back 70+ reception seasons leading to a 2018 Pro Bowl selection. — Turron Davenport

Washington Commanders WR Curtis Samuel: Washington signed Samuel to provide a big boost to the offense in 2021, but first a groin injury and later a hamstring issue limited him to five games and six catches for 27 yards. It was a disaster; he never looked like himself. But the coaches love Samuel, gushing over him privately, and remain excited for what he can add to the offense. He must stay healthy so there’s understandable angst from a fan base that has been burned quite often. The Commanders love his versatility, knowing they can line him up wide or use him out of the backfield. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who considers Samuel one of the smartest players he’s coached, likes his deep ball ability, which will be aided by strong-armed quarterback Carson Wentz. People know what receiver Terry McLaurin can do as well as running back Antonio Gibson. But Samuel is the wild card for Washington’s offense; if healthy, he’ll play a key role. — John Keim


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