Fantasy Football 2022 Deep Sleepers: Final Fantasy Draft pick winners, starting with Isaiah McKenzie

Finding deep sleepers in Fantasy Football has just gotten harder.

It used to be easy! Watch a preseason movie, read some reports from training camp, see who’s the best fit for your offense, make a couple of phone calls, and preview a path for a guy to make a sweet Fantasy production.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s how I do things, but teams make it harder and harder. Not many teams are putting their starters in preseason games. Internships are still a must for beginners, but there’s no movie about it to make Fantasy analysts go nerdy. Reports from the practice are plentiful and generally agree with each other, but anyone can read them. And nobody talks on the phone anymore, it’s all text messages and Twitter direct messages.

I sound old. I feel old. This is the 10th anniversary of Alfred Morris’s rookie year, which is when he started this annual deep sleep (thanks, #ALF). We’ve had some hits (Darren Waller, Kenny Golladay, Jonnu Smith) and some misses (DO NOT fool me with Tajae Sharpe’s trash talk) with a lot of guys in the middle who were uneven as rookies but eventually NFL stars (Tyler Eifert, Michael Gallup, Elijah Moore), but overall we’ve taken some good chances to win late-round picks. The whole goal is to find someone who would otherwise be the top pick after Week 1 and a potential starter for at least half the year.

So, let’s cook.

Dave’s Summer Sleeper

Reports from training camp on Isaiah McKenzie were spectacular for most of August. Wow, those reports started back in June when banged-up guys were saying he and Josh Allen were winning reps against defense. Coach Sean McDermott said he would “potentially step into a full-time role” in June, and Allen effectively admitted that McKenzie was the Bills receiver who will win “using his speed and quickness,” according to an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

But if you don’t want to take it off, that’s fine. Take it from the guy McKenzie is replacing:

We got a glimpse of what McKenzie is capable of last year. Replacing a banged-up Cole Beasley against the Patriots, McKenzie hit 12 goals on a 11-125-1 stat line. Somehow, that wasn’t enough to convince the Bills coaching staff to use him more at the time, but this is the same staff that took 14 weeks to finally trust Gabe Davis last year. They are a bit cautious.

McKenzie is the perfect type of sack-yarding weapon the Bills need, and that’s the trait they’ve been most focused on adding this offseason. Having him play the slots is doubly delicious. Consider this:

  • Allen was second among all quarterbacks in total targets after a wide receiver ranked No. 1 in 2021 (163) and first in 2020 (170).
  • In fact, at least 25% of Allen’s total the throws went to a wide receiver who lined up in the slot on each of the past Three years, although it was dramatically more efficient with them in 2020 and 2021.
  • Despite limited play, McKenzie actually led all bills catchers in touchdowns from the slot in 2020 (five). He only had one in 2021. Naturally, that doesn’t include the scores he caught from outside. Of those six touchdowns, four came in the red zone, so he wasn’t just a deep-passing player.
  • Beasley caught 82 passes in each of his last two seasons with a catch rate of at least 73% per year. McKenzie’s capture rate was at least 76.9% per year.
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As for a targeting crisis in Buffalo, remember this offense is entirely up to Allen. This team attempted 655 passes in 2021 and 596 in 2020. They don’t mind being balanced. His effort to improve his running game is proof of that. There’s room for three receivers for a total of 400 targets and they still have over 200 nonsense to distribute to everyone else.

Finally, the Bills have given McKenzie the starter treatment this offseason: He’s worked out with the first team in practices and only played in the preseason games Allen was in. He has also managed his routes well. A lower-body injury in late August is something the team is watching out for, but it’s reportedly not a serious injury.

Everything is in order for the 27-year-old to step forward. All you have to do is pick him after 120th overall. I’m doing this on every draft I’m involved with. Expect an initial comeback from Flex, at the very least.

The tight end who sleeps late to catch

I call for a sixth year breakout for David Njoku. It’s really about having the best chance of his career to finally collect a lot of targets. His previous career high of him in that category? That’s 88 in 2018, and that was a season in which he posted career highs with 56 receptions, 639 yards and four touchdowns.

He’s getting over it this year.

Njoku is essentially the Browns’ second-best target behind Amari Cooper. He’s not necessarily fast in his movements, but he has good speed for a 6-foot-4, 245-pound big guy. I expect him to get priority in the red zone, as well as crucial third downs, not to mention game action passes.

My favorite Njoku stats? His catch rate has increased in each of his last three seasons (from 50% to 65.5% to 67.9%). That happened as his average depth of target (aDOT) increased in each of his past three seasons (6.4 to 7.4 to 8.2). And his receiving yards per receiving have also increased in each of his last three seasons (from 3.2 to 4.6 to 6.9).

Austin Hooper blocked Njoku’s path to becoming the Browns’ primary tight end in 2020 and 2021: Hooper had 70 targets in 2020 and 61 targets in 2021. Expect most of them to fall into Njoku’s hands (some will also end up in Harrison hands off Bryant, but those are the only two tight ends on the Browns).

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Finally, there is Jacoby Brissett. Trusting him to cultivate fantasy numbers for his receivers is like trusting Jerry Jones to be quiet and humble. But Brissett threw an absurd 28.6% of his targets to tight ends last year while with the Dolphins, and 27.7% to Colts tight ends in 2019. In Kevin Stefanski’s two years as coach, the Browns they’ve been in the top four in target percentage to tight ends. Every season. I’m pretty sure Deshaun Watson will find him reliable too once he enters the field later this year.

After rewarding Njoku with a rich extension this offseason, it looks like he’ll be a volume-driven tight end with the Browns. He is your last-round tight end streamer to start the year, especially with matchups against the Panthers and Jets in Weeks 1 and 2.

PPR’s super late sleeper coming back to get

We’re digging into this one, and frankly, it’s not one I’m completely comfortable with. In fact, a reliable Chiefs observer literally told me that Jerick McKinnon No be your feature again.

It’s okay. I still think he has a chance to be as close to a solid fantasy as this iteration of the Chiefs’ offense can get. Considering his barely existing ADP, that’s a win for Fantasy managers.

The last time we saw the Chiefs play meaningful football, McKinnon was playing at least 70% of the snaps. That was in three 2021 playoff games when he had a minimum of 12 PPR points in each. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was coming back from injury and appeared in two of those games, and his running back depth really wasn’t that impressive at the time. McKinnon might have seen the job out of desperation.

But the truth is, Edwards-Helaire isn’t a complete running back. Rookie Isiah Pacheco has looked more explosive. Veteran Ronald Jones showed more power than I remember seeing from him in the past. Each of these guys could take each other down, but none of them will play in as many passing and two-minute offensive situations as McKinnon.

And the Chiefs plan to spend a lot.

McKinnon hasn’t been drafted in many drafts. He’s probably on the waiver wire from him and definitely worth the last pick from him. With a possible floor of 9 or 10 points per game in PPR and a ceiling of 26 points PPR (that’s what he racked up against the Steelers last January), he deserves a spot on his team’s bench ahead of other running backs who probably No. have his ground or the positive side of him. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he played most of the snaps between the Chiefs’ running backs this season as he led them in goals by a wide margin.

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