Fantasy football executives may have had concerns about how to rate Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for 2022 drafts even before The league suspended him for the first six games of the coming season for violating the performance-enhancing substance policy. Hopkins is a future Hall of Famer and fifth among active wide receivers in receiving yards, but his season at age 29 was frustrating for everyone, as the once-steadfast star not only missed seven games but also saw diminished performance when he played. Under 50 catches and not achieving 100 receiving yards in any competition.
Hopkins had to deal with multiple injuries, including a cruciate ligament tear in December that ended his season, and five other Cardinals caught more passes than his 42. The organization claims Hopkins is physically right on schedule for training camp, which is great, but itself if things go well, we know he’s going to miss the first six games of the season. Six games ain’t nothing. It’s over a third of the NFL regular season, and fantasy managers aren’t the most patient, to be honest. Even assuming Hopkins returns to full health and surpasses statistical size, which could be a reach, his first game won’t be until Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints.
Based on name value alone, Hopkins was probably well received by summer draft fantasy execs as many would expect a return to WR1 performance. Can that still be true if he can’t debut until the end of October? Well, no, there has to be a draft-day rebate, and while the clarity of knowing when Hopkins can play is nice, it’s difficult to judge if 11 games (remember, they’re playing a 17 game now -season) can be made by a receiver He is more valuable on draft day than an entire season with fewer options. Farewell weeks begin in Week 6. Other wide receivers also get injured. That makes Hopkins one of the tougher players for this season.
ESPN Fantasy writers initially picked Hopkins as the No. 40 wide receiver for drafts, perhaps an eighth or ninth round pick, although that number will be significantly better in the standard league ADP. Hey, he’s DeAndre Hopkins! Sure, he hasn’t helped many fantasy executives in 2021, but he’s been doing so since coming out of Clemson in 2013. Bad season but he’s back to full health now, isn’t he? Well maybe. And for those who call him up, you’ll have to be patient. Keep in mind that a banned player is not eligible for an IR seat in the ESPN Fantasy Game, so Hopkins must take a bench seat. Still hopeful?
Regardless, the Hopkins situation is far from the only mystery when it comes to drafting certain players. Here are others whose scores are a bit difficult to quantify in our rankings.
Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers: The third pick of the 2021 draft, Lance started his rookie season with two games, seducing fantasy managers with his exquisite run ability while worrying others with his inaccurate arm. Some see Lance as a rising fantasy superstar in the vein of Kyler Murray, while others wonder if he can even land a starting role. We just have to see him play!
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers: This one deserves an entire column to be provided later, but simply put, McCaffrey’s skills deserve attention as one of the top picks in any draft, perhaps the very first pick. However, no one should ignore the major durability issues either. McCaffrey has played in 10 of 33 games over the past two seasons. Many will opt for less talented options that are more likely to stay on the field.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants: Barkley entered the 2021 season much like McCaffrey, but then he ruined the goodwill with a disheartening season in which he surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage and had four touchdowns in just two of 13 games. Whether due to physical limitations or the overwhelming talent around him, Barkley fought mightily, and while some trust him unilaterally as RB1, many others wonder if he can return to the level of a fantasy superstar.
Travis Etienne Jr., RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Etienne, a first-round pick in 2021, missed his debut season after sustaining a Lisfranc injury. New coach Doug Pederson expects to rely heavily on a healthy Etienne as a backfield runner and receiver, but we also have little clarity on the hierarchy with incumbent James Robinson. And let’s just say the Jaguars’ offense struggled last season, so it might be difficult to trust any of their options.
Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets: The first running back picked in the 2022 draft went to a team with the promising Michael Carter already in place, so a timeshare may be on the cards. Hall thrived in the state of Iowa, and fantasy execs would like to think he’s this year’s version of the Steelers’ Najee Harris, who emerged as a fantasy star straight away with little backfield competition, but Hall has competition. Most rookie running backs offer little clarity about immediate production.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints: Thomas, who was arguably the Fantasy MVP in 2019, played just seven unproductive games in 2020 due to ankle injuries and then missed the entire 2021 season. The Saints expect him healthy this fall, but Fantasy executives can’t see him as a top-20 option look at it without seeing it produced beforehand. Whether Thomas can return to fantasy relevance is one of the bigger questions this season, but some managers will simply trust Thomas because of his huge 2019 season.
Allen Robinson II, WR, Los Angeles Rams: Robinson managed to get over a bad quarterback game for most of his career until last season, when things fell apart and fantasy managers generally quit midseason. Robinson locked the Bears for the Super Bowl champions, and Matthew Stafford instantly becomes the best quarterback he’s ever played with, leading to hopes that Robinson will return to WR2 production soon.
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Multiple lower leg injuries have derailed Kittle in recent seasons, but few tight ends can match his per-game output. On the other hand, most fantasy managers choose to just field a tight end and struggle to find the depth of the waiver wire at that position, so this isn’t the same as investing in a struggling quarterback.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Free Agent: Well, we could again call this future Hall of Famer a likely member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because with his sidekick Tom Brady returning to active duty, it seems likely that Brady’s favorite tight end will follow. Or maybe not. Gronkowski could take his time making a decision about his future. Fantasy managers may scoff, but even at the age of 32, Gronkowski finished behind only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce in PPR fantasy points per game under tight ends for the 2021 season. If Gronkowski doesn’t return, our Cameron Brate ranking will surely change!