A quiet season passing the football meant that Hurts barely squeaked inside the QB1 range in 2021. His
16 touchdowns were tied (with Lamar Jackson) for the fewest among
top-20 fantasy QBs, but he was one of only five top-20 QBs who
finished with single-digit interceptions. The thing that really
buoyed his fantasy production, however, was his rushing. Hurts
quietly led all quarterbacks in rush attempts (140), rushing yards
(782) and rushing touchdowns (10).
So, what’s changed between this past season and now? Well,
the most obvious difference is that the Eagles identified a problem
that the majority of fantasy owners have been pointing to for
the past few seasons which is that the team lacked legitimate
outside weapons. DeVonta Smith was decent enough as a rookie,
but the team really made a big splash during this year’s
NFL Draft when they made the move to acquire a proven producer
in A.J. Brown. Brown spent the first three seasons of his NFL
career in the run-heavy Tennessee offense, but still produced
nearly 3,000 yards while scoring 24 touchdowns. The big-bodied
receiver is a welcome addition to a Philadelphia passing game
that lacked red zone production and his presence should serve
to increase the passing ceiling for Hurts.
In order for Hurts to remain a QB1 for fantasy he’ll need
to continue to produce on the ground and while there is some risk
of injury that could hamper that potential, we’ve seen over
the years that these productive runners at the quarterback position
are often times more consistent than their less-mobile counterparts.
Best yet is the reality that, with a little bit of touchdown luck,
Hurts could actually be a difference-maker at the top of the position.
It’s not difficult to imagine a world where he throws 25
touchdown passes while maintaining his rushing production, which
would instantly catapult him into being in the conversation as
a top five fantasy quarterback.
Sanders believers have been absolutely tortured throughout
the young running back’s career, but his 2019 and 2020 seasons
were nothing in comparison to the absolute brutality that was
his 2021 season. Sanders suffered through multiple injuries and
while he touched the ball 163 times and averaged nearly 5.6 yards
per touch, he somehow failed to score a single touchdown. He wasn’t
a huge touchdown producer over his first two seasons, but at times
it felt like he was flat out allergic to the end zone in 2021.
What made things even worse is that the Eagles scored a whopping
25 rushing touchdowns on the season. Sure, 10 of them were from
quarterback Jalen Hurts, but that still left 15 touchdowns that
went to other Philadelphia running backs, including Boston Scott,
Kenneth Gainwell and even the corpse of Jordan Howard.
It’d be easy to look at those numbers and just write off
Sanders as a “no thanks” due to lack of touchdown
upside, but things might be a little more complicated than that.
While he certainly was nothing short of a disappointment in 2021,
the reality is that Sanders was also objectively unlucky in his
failure to get into the end zone. Sanders had scored six touchdowns
in each of his first two seasons and if he was able to score even
that many times in 2021, he would’ve jumped up all the way
from RB43 on the season to RB28. Consider that he also missed
a number of games entirely due to injury and was knocked out early
of a couple more, and it’s easy to tell yourself a story
of how Sanders could’ve been a top-15 back with just a little
bit of luck.
As it is, Sanders is being drafted outside of the top-24 of his
position and it’s hard not to believe that this is closer
to his floor than it is his ceiling. The running back position
is extremely volatile this season, especially outside the top
10, and Sanders is one of the few backs who has legitimate upside
as a three-down back in an improving offense with good blocking
in front of him. Don’t sleep on him in your drafts, especially
if you’re able to land him as an RB3 on your roster.
With his rookie season now under his belt and Jordan Howard now
off the roster, things are looking up for the second-year running
back Gainwell. Gainwell nearly out-scored starter Miles Sanders in 2021 and there’s reason to believe that the Eagles
remain skeptical of Sanders’ ability to be an every-down
back for their offense. This opens up an interesting opportunity
for Gainwell, who was quietly more effective as a pass catcher
than even Sanders was this past season.
Boston Scott remains on the roster so it’s not necessarily
a clear path to huge playing time for Gainwell if Sanders were
to go down with an injury, but it seems reasonable to assume that
the Eagles would look to get Gainwell more involved in that scenario,
just given his pass catching ability. His low cost combined with
his relatively high upside and passing game involvement makes
him an ideal mid-to-late-round target in fantasy drafts.
The Eagles have been searching for a true alpha receiver for
years now and they may have finally landed one in former Titan.
The Eagles acquired Brown via trade during this year’s NFL Draft,
giving up the 18th and 101st pick the process. The move corresponded
with a four-year, $100 million extension for Brown which was seemingly
the issue that kept him from remaining in Tennessee. Now that
Philadelphia has invested both draft capital and financial assets
into Brown, it appears as if they’re intent on making him the
top target in their emerging offense.
Brown brings a strong body with legitimate end zone skills and
should immediately be Jalen Hurts’ primary red zone weapon. Unfortunately
for Brown, he’s not going from a run-heavy offense in Tennessee
to some sort of pass-happy utopia in Philadelphia. In fact, while
the Titans threw the seventh-fewest total number of passes in
2021, it was the Eagles who actually sat dead last in pass attempts
on the season. Certainly, the addition of Brown and the continued
emergence of DeVonta
Smith could be argued as reasons to believe that the Eagles
will become more pass-friendly this season, but even a significant
increase in pass attempts would only lead to the Eagles being
a middle-of-the-pack passing offense overall. This should concern
those who are considering drafting Brown as his real potential
to be an elite fantasy wide receiver is ultimately tied to the
targets that will come his way. As a member of the Titans, he
was the undisputed top target in the passing game and he still
finished outside the top 30 in total targets in the league. A
move to an even less pass-heavy offense with more competition
just doesn’t seem like a recipe for a significant increase in
fantasy value for Brown.
Of course, Brown is the kind of player who gets the most out
of the targets he does see and being surrounded by better talent
could mean even better per-target efficiency. It’s unlikely
that it’ll make up for him still fighting for targets, but
it should mean that Brown doesn’t finish significantly lower
at his position in 2022 than he did in 2021.
Smith was one of the more controversial prospects we’ve seen
coming into the NFL in recent seasons. While he was wildly productive
at Alabama, Smith’s 170-pound frame made him one of the smaller
wide receivers we’ve seen taken near the top of the NFL Draft
in quite some time. While he didn’t enjoy the rookie season production
of a player like Ja’Marr
Chase or Justin
Jefferson, Smith was still effective, leading all Philadelphia
pass catchers in receptions (64), yards (916) and touchdowns (5).
Those numbers weren’t enough to make him a top fantasy player
at the position, but it’s certainly enough to put aside any concerns
that he can be a useful wide receiver at the NFL level.
The real concern right now for Smith is that he will now have
significant added competition for targets in an offense that already
sat at the bottom of the league in total pass attempts in 2021.
Smith enjoyed over a 21 percent target share as a rookie, but
that was while competing against the likes of Jalen
Reagor and Quez
Watkins. Those players remain on the roster, but the team
also added star receiver A.J.
Brown in the offseason.
While things are looking up for the Eagles offense as a whole
and a better overall offense tends to lead to more scoring opportunities,
the added target competition for Smith has to be a concern for
fantasy owners and that’s why he’s slipping into the
sixth and even seventh round of some drafts. It’d be tough
for Smith to be a total bust, but his upside is really capped
unless the Eagles suddenly completely shift offensive philosophies
which is very unlikely given that their quarterback is Jalen Hurts.
Goedert was one of the “safe, reliable” tight
ends who was going in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts in 2021
and that’s about what he delivered. His 830 yards were fifth-most
among all tight ends and while he finished with just four touchdowns
on the season, he was a top-10 overall producer at the position
on the year both in PPR and non-PPR formats.
While it’s encouraging to note that Goedert was extremely effective
on a per-target basis in 2021, the obvious concern is that he’s
not likely to see a significant uptick in total targets here in
2022, especially now that the team added A.J.
Brown this offseason. Goedert was already in a low-volume
passing game and he struggled to dominate targets even against
the likes of Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor and rookie DeVonta
Smith. When you consider that the team kept Watkins and Reagor,
Smith has another year of development under his belt, and Brown
is now on the roster, it’s tough to imagine a world where Goedert
suddenly produces significantly more than he did before.
Like Smith, the most likely outcome is that Goedert continues
to be highly effective on the targets he does see come his way,
but that his total opportunities remain about the same or even
go down slightly here in 2022. That doesn’t mean that Goedert
can’t continue to be a TE1 for fantasy, of course, as the
position is pretty much a complete disaster outside the top five
or so players. It does, however, mean that Goedert is unlikely
to become a true difference-maker at the position this season
and thus should not be a priority in fantasy drafts.