There’s a reason why rookies get hyped ahead of every fantasy football season. In a game where buzzwords like “ceiling”, “upside,” “breakout,” and “sleeper” are thrown around with reckless abandon, first-year players represent unknown quantities with fresh possibilities. No matter where they are in the 2022 dynasty or redraft rankings, we can talk ourselves into thinking they’ll finish higher.
Cutting through the hype, however, there are limited rookies who deliver immediate impact with reliable production in a given season. In ’21, while the marquee quarterbacks disappointed, there were some true standouts at running back and wide receiver.
Najee Harris and Javonte Williams did their best to live up to quick expectations, while Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle exceeded them. There always tend to be a few pleasant rookie surprises, and last year Elijah Mitchell and Elijah Moore fit that bill.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2022 fantasy cheat sheet
While you don’t want to go overboard and overload your fantasy roster with rookies, you need to be aware of the worthy potential starters and key reserves for your lineup. You also need to be wary of the unexpected, avoiding those set to underwhelm and looking for those who can overachieve.
Here’s some help to sift through all the rookies, with the annual position lean toward runners and pass catchers while considering both redraft and dynasty leagues:
Fantasy Football Rankings 2022: Best rookies in redraft, dynasty leagues
1. Breece Hall, RB, Jets
Hall is a very talented runner who should be featured with the potential for 15 touches per game. He will push last year’s promising rookie Michael Carter into a more comfortable, complementary role.
The Jets also further upgraded their offensive and have a good zone-rushing scheme under Mike LaFleur. Draft him as a RB2
2. Dameon Pierce, RB, Texans
Veterans Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead are no longer ahead of him on the depth chart, to no one’s surprise. He quickly displaced them by wowing with his all-around skills in camp and got starter’s treatment with his limited preseason usage after flashy first impressions. Draft him as a RB2.
3. Drake London, WR, Falcons
The Falcons have 287 vacated targets from last season with Russell Gage leaving in free agency and Calvin Ridley getting a year-long suspension. They were aggressive in taking London first in a top-heavy and deep wideout class.
Tight end Kyle Pitts will see a massive chunk of targets from Marcus Mariota in a limited, run-leaning offense, but there’s room for London to use his catch radius for some useful yardage and TD numbers. Draft him as a WR4.
4. George Pickens, WR, Steelers
Pickens opened some eyes when he worked in the 11-personnel first team as a complement to Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool during the Steelers wide-open QB competition.
The Georgia product can be a dynamic, big playmaker with some of the qualities of a young JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pickens seems to have displaced the banged-up Claypool to slide to the outside from the slot. It actually would help if Pickens can get a rookie-rookie connection with Kenny Pickett, assuming the latter can win his QB competition with Mitchell Trubisky. Draft him as a WR4.
5. James Cook, RB, Bills
Devin Singletary has dominated the first-team work in camp to build off his strong finish as a semi-workhorse in 2021. But as the team has disappointed with Zack Moss and wanted more of a receiving element and explosiveness to complement Singletary, Cook was more than a luxury addition.
There’s a potential flex-friendly role available for Cook in an elite offense. Dalvin’s brother also can be the preferred handcuff with some feature potential should Singletary get injured. Moss has had a good camp, too, but he should be the swing backup with Cook being involved more Draft him as a RB4.
6. Chris Olave, WR, Saints
With Jameis Winston back healthy as the starter, the Saints want to get more out of their downfield passing game to complement a returning Michael Thomas and newcomer Jarvis Landry. With Thomas and Landry in the intermediate and interchangeable slot/perimeter roles, this other Ohio State rookie will get his chances to be the outside field-stretcher of choice. Watch out for developing volume, especially now with Thomas nursing a new injury to his hamstring. Draft him as a WR4.
7. Skyy Moore, WR, Chiefs
The Chiefs have 340 vacated targets, second only to the Titans. They are trying to replace Tyreek Hill by committee for Patrick Mahomes. Among the veterans, JuJu Smith-Schuster is a big, well-rounded target who can crossover into the slot, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a speedy deep threat.
For Moore, the key was displacing injured Mecole Hardman in the top three and pushing the latter into a primary special teams role. Moore has some Hill-like assets, and the bottom line for key targets will be getting on the same page as Mahomes. Draft him as a WR4.
8. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seahawks
Chris Carson’s retirement tied leaves Rashaad Penny and his own durability issues as the veteran No. 1. That’s shaky ground for Penny.
The Seahawks used a high second-round pick on Walker, the former Michigan State star, because of his special overall skill set. Unfortunately, the injury bug has bit him in the preseason and he might miss a few games early, leaving Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas behind Penny. He still has a ton of upside in what figures to be a run-heavy attack. Draft him as a RB3.
9. Garrett Wilson, WR Jets
The Jets have 218 vacated targets, so this Ohio State rookie has room to produce well playing off borderline-WR2 Elijah Moore and nice-sized veteran Corey Davis. The key is establishing good enough chemistry with Zach Wilson in order to see the necessary targets for WR3 production. Draft him as a WR4.
10. Treylon Burks, WR, Titans
No team has more vacated targets than the Titans with 351 available from last season. A.J. Brown, traded to the Eagles, had a team-leading 105 of those. Tennessee drafted Burks as an immediate replacement, given similar skill and physical attributes. This is a low-volume passing game with a fading veteran QB who also has a seasoned vet new on the other side in Robert Woods. Still, despite some real preseason struggles in a hybrid role, Burks’ talent should manifest in a key role. Draft him as a WR4.
11. Brian Robinson, RB, Commanders
Shaky incumbent Antonio Gibson has had his share of durability and fumbling issues, and the No. 2 on Washington’s depth chart, J.D. McKissic, is a complementary, change-of-pace receiving back. Robinson started camp ahead of Jaret Patterson and now Jonathan Williams and he’s primed to take over the chunk of early-down duties from Gibson. Draft him as an RB4.
12. Jahan Dotson, WR, Commanders
Dotson seems to be the somewhat forgotten man among the real first-rounders, but he’s a flashy speedster in a good starting spot opposite Terry McLaurin. His field-stretching profile can connect well with Carson Wentz in a Commanders offense that has been desperate for a big-play No. 2. Draft him as a WR5.
13. Rachaad White, RB, Buccaneers
Leonard Fournette has been a versatile force for the Bucs, but there always seems to be some durability and conditioning concerns with him. It’s telling that the Bucs elevated White quickly to No. 2 on the depth chart over Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard with Ronald Jones gone. White has a good blend of power running and receiving skills to consider as a plus handcuff with great upside. Draft him as a RB5.
14. Tyler Allgeier, RB, Falcons
No one feels great that Cordarrelle Patterson, given his age (31) and additional wear and tear from feature-like work last season, will keep it up as the Falcons’ true top rusher. Damien Williams is the new veteran swing backup, but he’s also 30. Allgeier is a hammer of a power back who can end up with a key role for Arthur Smith. Draft him as a RB5.
15. Jaylen Warren, RB, Steelers
Warren has gone from undrafted flyer from Oklahoma State to soaring past Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. to become the new clear No. 2, giving him prime insurance value behind Najee Harris. Draft him as a handcuff.
16. Isaiah Spiller, RB, Chargers
Austin Ekeler remains a high-end fantasy RB1 for one of the NFL’s most explosive and versatile offenses, but the Chargers have been frustrated in not having the ideal power-back complement since Melvin Gordon left. With Justin Jackson gone, this Texas A&M product is at worst a solid No. 2 for handcuff purposes and at best a vital complementary power back. He just might need to wait a bit nursing ankle injury while Joshua Kelley is having a good preseason. Draft him as a handcuff.
17. Zamir White, RB, Raiders
Cook and White formed a solid 1-2 punch for Georgia’s national championship backfield. The talent and pedigree is there; now it’s about the opportunity under Josh McDaniels, who is known to be rather unpredictable about his running back usage from his Patriots days. Josh Jacobs is the only one standing in White’s way with Kenyan Drake gone. Draft him as a handcuff.
18. Jameson Williams, WR, Lions
The Lions have an appealing wide receiver corps again with second-year slot ace Amon-Ra St. Brown being flanked by former Jaguar DJ Chark and this rookie. Williams might miss the start of the season while recovering from a torn left ACL, but when he returns, he’ll complement these pass catchers with his big-play skills. He might be limited by Jared Goff’s questionable downfield passing, but watch for Williams carving out a key, well-rounded role. Draft him as a WR6.
19. Isiah Pacheco, RB, Chiefs
Pacheco has been the best running back at times in camp, even to the point of putting some pressure on Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Ronald Jones is on the bring of being cut as a bad veteran signing and Jerick McKinnon is just a guy at this point. Pacheco is line for the biggest role should CEH fade further or get hurt. Draft him as a handcuff.
20. Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Giants
The Giants have plans to make their downfield passing game more dynamic to help Daniel Jones in the new offense under Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka. They envision Robinson joining 2021 first-rounder Kadarius Toney in raising the big-play quotient, but it’s unclear how they plan to use him in the mix with Toney, Kenny Golladay and oft-injured Sterling Shepard. Don’t be surprised if he has a key role not too long into his rookie season.
21. Jalen Tolbert, WR, Cowboys
CeeDee Lamb is the dominant No. 1 for Dak Prescott with Amari Cooper gone, but Michael Gallup (left ACL) is on the mend. Tolbert has an opportunity to get work in 11 personnel given Gallup’s extra recovery time and veteran newcomer James Washington’s foot injury. After a flashy camp but curbed preseason, Tolbert will work to emerge as a key target for Prescott behind Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz.
22. David Bell, WR, Browns
The Browns have 233 vacated targets minus Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins. Amari Cooper will eat up about half as the new veteran No. 1 and Donovan Peoples-Jones will see an increase in his big-play chances outside. Bell is an appealing, intermediate big slot out of Purdue who can help Jacoby Brissett first and later Deshaun Watson playing off what figures to still be a run-heavy offense. Bell could have a “Landry light” role sooner than expected.
23. Alec Pierce, WR, Colts
Pierce has gotten some buzz as a rookie with a clear path to a No. 2 outside role opposite Michael Pittman Jr. with Parris Campbell back healthy as the quick slot option. But keep in mind this is a run-heavy, defensive-minded, Jonathan Taylor-centric offense with Matt Ryan’s fading arm doing the passing. The Colts do have 154 vacated targets, however, so Pierce can’t be ignored for key work with his size-speed profile.
24. Romeo Doubs, WR, Packers
Doubs has become the most notable Packers rookie wideout with a good combination of speed, hands, quickness, and route-running. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him develop into a receiver who Aaron Rodgers likes deep often. With the injuries to others ahead of him camp, Doubs impressed in a hurry. But it looks like he might be reeled in a bit in the regular season to be a dedicated field-stretching threat behind Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb.
25. Christian Watson, WR, Packers
Watson looked to be in prime position to help replace Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling after the Packers drafted him following a spectacular Draft Combine. The team has 248 vacated targets, so there’s plenty of opportunity here.
The problem for Watson is that he’s dealt with an undisclosed injury and missed valuable camp time, falling behind Lazard, Wakins, Cobb and now Doubs.
26. Tyrion Davis-Price, RB, 49ers
The 49ers have had five leading rushers the past five seasons. The latest, Elijah Mitchell as a rookie in 2021, was a surprise. Kyle Shanahan, as a true Shanahan, likes to prove that his zone-blocking system can set up the right athletic back for success, so Davis-Price has to be on the rookie radar just for that. Plus, it’s cool to consider anyone with a first name out of “Game of Thrones.”
27. Isaiah Likely, TE, Ravens
Likely was a bit of a surprise real draft pick behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, but he’s proved to be an intriguing field-stretcher for Lamar Jackson, given the team likes to use solid 12 personnel with Greg Roman. It’s not often there’s a clear handcuff for a top target of any kind, but Likely has high value should Andrews get hurt.
28. Kenny Pickett, QB, Steelers
Pickett has a chance to win the starting job at some point, but it’s still more likely the team will roll with Mitchell Trubisky first. Should Pickett get a chance by midseason to show his athleticism and all-around accuracy, he has some serious weapons, including Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, TE Pat Freiermuth, and RB Najee Harris.
29. Malik Willis, QB, Titans
Ryan Tannehill, from his fade last season following a late-career spike, has little appeal as a QB2 with the remixed Titans’ low-volume passing game. There’s no guarantee Tannehill will keep the job should Willis develop his athletic upside faster than expected. He has enough running and weaponry potential to monitor in case of midseason change. Willis has flashed well in the preseason for sure.
30. Velus Jones Jr., WR, Bears
Jones’ biggest rookie value might come as an explosive return man but he makes the cut because he’s taken advantage of Byron Pringle’s quad injury to settle himself as the No. 3 inside-outside big-play threat for Justin Fields behind Darnell Mooney. He just may see limited volume in that role.
Other fantasy rookies to watch: Falcons QB Desmond Ridder, Titans RB Hassan Haskins, Patriots RB Pierre Strong, Cardinals TE Trey McBride, Bills WR Khalil Shakir, Broncos TE Greg Dulcich