Seemingly overnight, the Denver Broncos went from a fantasy football wasteland to a fantasy football goldmine when they traded for Russell Wilson.
For starters, Russ himself goes from a coaching staff that never really let Russ cook (Seattle finished 31st, 17th, 23rd and dead last in passing attempts in the last 4 years) to a coaching staff that is said to be "tailoring the team's offense around Russell Wilson."
And it's not just Russ either. The importance of his acquisition for Denver's skill position players cannot be overstated. Last year, the Broncos talented WR trio of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick finished WR 85, WR 43 and WR 45, respectively. Sure, there were injuries along the way, but even if we look at their average PPR points per game, they finished even worse at WR 64, WR 61 and WR 59.
Meanwhile, Russ' Seahawks threw the ball less than the Broncos last year, yet Seattle produced WR 14 and WR 23 campaigns from DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. In fact, Seattle has produced two top 33 WRs in each of the last 3 seasons (not to mention dominant WR 7 and WR 8 campaigns in 2020).
Further, dating back to 2015, Russell Wilson's WR1 has finished: 14th, 7th, 13th, 24th, 13th, 8th and 7th. And remember, these are Seattle teams that never finished in the top 15 of the NFL in passing attempts.
If you haven't noticed, I'm all in on Denver's offense in 2022, especially considering how so many of them are priced in fantasy football.
New Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett joins Denver after 8 seasons as an Offensive Coordinator with Buffalo (2013-2014), Jacksonville (2016-2018) and Green Bay (2019-2021), bringing with him Justin Outten from Green Bay to serve as Denver's Offensive Coordinator after working together each of the last 3 years.
Hackett has run mostly balanced offenses—especially lately—during his near-decade as a coordinator, finishing:
2013: 24th in passing attempts, 1st in rushing attempts (EJ Manuel at QB, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller at RB)
2014: 13th in passing attempts, 20th in rushing attempts
2016: 4th in passing attempts, 24th in rushing attempts
2017: 21st in passing attempts, 1st in rushing attempts (just got shiny new toy Leonard Fournette)
2018: 19th in passing attempts, 12th in rushing attempts
2019: 16th in passing attempts, 13th in rushing attempts
2020: 24th in passing attempts, 12th in rushing attempts
2021: 15th in passing attempts, 17th in rushing attempts
It remains to be seen how he'll treat Denver's offense, but early reports out of Broncos camp indicate that the coaching staff is tailoring the offense to suit Russ, which should be music to fantasy players' ears.
Russell Wilson 📈
On offenses that finished 31st, 17th, 23rd and dead last in passing attempts in the last 4 years, Russell Wilson still managed finishes of QB 9, QB 3, QB 6 and QB 13. Efficient as can be, he's been 20th, 12th, 7th and 25th in passing attempts yet 3rd, 3rd, 2nd and 12th in TDs.
He's scored 20 or more fantasy points in 45.9% of his games over the last 4 seasons. For perspective, Josh Allen has done the same in 50% of his games over the last 4 years.
He's hit 30 or more fantasy points in 8.2% of his games in the last 4 years, which is similar to Hackett's last QB, Aaron Rodgers (7.94%).
Now he'll play with an already-talented arsenal and for a coach that is said to be tailoring the offense to him. With Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, Albert Okwuegbunam, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon at his disposal (not to mention the fact that he's finished no worse than 7th in QB rushing attempts or 6th in QB rushing yards in three of the last four years), there's a lot of reason to be excited about Russ's chances of cooking in 2022.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Russell Wilson is currently the QB 9, drafted around pick 84 (end of the 7th round). Drafted within 6 spots of Russ in either direction include Tony Pollard, DeAndre Hopkins, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rashaad Penny, DeVonta Smith, Elijah Moore, Dallas Goedert, Tom Brady, Rashod Bateman, Tyler Lockett, Aaron Rodgers, Ken Walker and Chase Edmonds.
Russ is an autodraft for me in the 7th-8th round when I've drafted Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy in the 4th and 5th rounds; it's easily my favorite stack of 2022.
I've taken him as a standalone option several times depending on if I've drafted a QB1 yet (and I'm more than fine with Russ as my QB1, btw), but I also usually have eyes on Pollard, Hopkins, JuJu, Bateman, Lockett, Edmonds, Brady and Rodgers in this range.
Draft Kits: I am very high on Russell Wilson this year, putting him in Tier 1B of my fantasy football Draft Kits (just $10 until 8/1) with Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray.
Dynasty Leagues: Russ is a hold for dynasty leaguers. His redraft ADP is so low that I think it is worth checking his price tag with the current Wilson manager in your league if you need a QB. But he seems unlikely to be super available for trade (if you even want to trade for a QB).
Javonte Williams & Melvin Gordon
Javonte Williams gave fantasy managers a taste of what being a workhorse would be like when Melvin Gordon missed week 13 and Williams went on to rack up 29 touches (6 catches on 9 targets) for 178 yards and 1 TD (29.8 PPR points).
And for a minute there during the offseason, it was starting to look like Gordon might be taking his talents elsewhere in 2022.
Buuuuuut then in late April, the Broncos and Gordon agreed to another year in Denver, sending Javonte Williams enthusiasts into a frenzy (and rightfully so).
In all likelihood, both backs will be heavily involved once again in 2022.
Their first season sharing a backfield went about as expected; both guys were low end RB2s/high end RB3s for most of the season and finished middle of the pack across the board statistically. Williams (barely) had more touches (232) than Gordon (218) while Gordon had more TDs (9) than Williams (7). Both guys had over 1,000 scrimmage yards (1016 for Gordon and 1155 for Williams) and finished averaging 12.28 PPR points per game (Williams, RB 23) and 11.9 PPR points per game (Gordon, RB 26).
Neither RB was particularly safe in any given week, with both guys landing under 10 PPR points in 43.8% (Williams) and 46.7% (Gordon) of their games. Gordon hit 15 more frequently (33.3%) than Williams (25%) but Williams hit 20 more often (18.8%) than Gordon (13.3%).
Should we expect more of the same in 2022 or will the new coaching staff change things? Nathaniel Hackett's history is interesting when looking at how his teams' backfields shake out.
On the one hand, there's at least some history of clear workhorse usage (Leonard Fournette handled 70% of the touches of the top 2 RBs on that team in his rookie season, and Aaron Jones handled 66% of the top 2 RB touches in 2019).
On the other hand, there's also clear evidence of committee backfields (Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller had a near even split in 2013, and Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon were just 2 total touches apart last season.
Here's how the top 2 backs in Hackett's backfields have finished in his OC career:
2013: Fred Jackson RB 10 (52% of touches), CJ Spiller RB 26 (48% of touches)
2014: Fred Jackson RB 22 (65% of touches), CJ Spiller RB 52 (35% of touches; was hurt much of the season)
2016: TJ Yeldon RB 41 (57% of touches), Chris Ivory RB 50 (35% of touches)
2017: Fournette RB 8 as a rookie (70% of touches), TJ Yeldon RB 56 (30% of touches)
2018: TJ Yeldon RB 22 (51% of touches), Leonard Fournette RB 40 (49% of touches; was hurt most of the season)
2019: Aaron Jones RB 2 (66% of touches), Jamaal Williams RB 34 (34% of touches)
2020: Aaron Jones RB 5 (62% of touches), Jamaal Williams RB 38 (38% of touches)
2021: Aaron Jones RB 9 (50% of touches), AJ Dillon RB 22 (50% of touches)
Ultimately, when Hackett has two capable backs at his disposal, he seems likely to keep both involved, allowing neither to really reach their season-long ceiling. On average, Hackett's RB1 finishes with 59% of the top 2 touches, and his RB2 finishes with 41% of the top 2 touches. That seems like a likely maximum split between Williams and Gordon. My bet would be closer to 55-45 in favor of Williams.
For what it's worth, Vegas Sportsbooks have Williams pegged for about 1250.5 scrimmage yards (945.5 rushing) and 7.5 rushing TDs. That's about 167 fantasy points not including receptions or receiving TDs. Add the 41 catches Williams had last year (298 receiving yards brings him close to the 305 receiving yards he'd need to hit that 1250.5) and he'd land at 208 PPR points which would have been the RB 11 last season (and that's not including receiving TDs).
Javonte Williams 👎: Williams is currently the RB 11 being drafted around pick 19 (2nd round). Williams carries a ton of upside (league-winning if Gordon disappears) but he's already being drafted like it. Drafted within 6 spots of Williams in either direction are D'Andre Swift, Travis Kelce, CeeDee Lamb, Deebo Samuel, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, Tyreek Hill, Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette, Mark Andrews, Saquon Barkley, Josh Allen and Mike Evans.
I've sprinkled some Williams exposure into my portfolio but ultimately, he's one of my biggest avoids in 2022 fantasy football as I instead opt for the likes of Swift, Kelce, Lamb, Jones, Andrews, Barkley and Evans.
Melvin Gordon 👍: Melvin Gordon is currently the RB 36 being drafted around pick 98 (9th round). Drafted within 6 spots of Gordon in either direction include: Drake London, Zach Ertz, Dawson Knox, Robert Woods, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Aiyuk, Treylon Burks, Michael Carter and Christian Kirk. Gordon is one of my favorite selections from that batch, particularly when I've embraced a zero, hero or super hero RB build and need a 2nd-3rd RB. If I'm feeling strong at RB, I'll instead opt for Woods, Aiyuk or, depending on how my TE room looks, Knox or Ertz.
(To be clear, this in NO way is intended to imply Melvin > Javonte in 2022 (it's Javonte). This merely says that, at their respective costs, Gordon is much more a value than Williams in 2022.)
Draft Kits: I have Javonte Williams in Tier 2A of my fantasy football Draft Kits (just $10 until 8/1) with James Conner, David Montgomery and Ezekiel Elliott. I have Melvin Gordon in Tier 2C with Kareem Hunt, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Elijah Mitchell, Damien Harris, AJ Dillon and Tony Pollard.
Dynasty Leagues: Javonte Williams remains a hold, possibly even a "buy low" if the current manager is bummed about Melvin Gordon's return to the mountains. Gordon is a sell candidate if he shows value early on in his age 29 season.
Courtland Sutton 📈, Jerry Jeudy 📈, Tim Patrick 📈 and KJ Hamler 📈
Frustratingly useless under the Teddy Bridgewater/Drew Lock regime last season, Courtland Sutton finished as the WR 42, Tim Patrick as the WR 44, Jerry Jeudy as the WR 84 (injuries played a part here).
Sutton finished under 10 PPR points in 75% of his games, Patrick never once hit 20 points and Jeudy wasn't able to hit even just 15. Not a single one of them averaged even so much as 9.4 PPR points per game.
And the year before that? No one finished better than WR 44. Woof.
But now Chef Russ is in the kitchen and suddenly this WR room is easily one of the most intriguing units in all of 2022 fantasy football. There's some pros and cons when looking at history and trying to forecast the future...
The cons: Nathaniel Hackett's track record of producing exciting fantasy assets at the WR position isn't exactly sterling. His best WR finish before Davante Adams was THE WR1 in 2020 was WR 23 (Davante Adams in an injury shortened 2019). And, well, how much of Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers was Hackett?
In 8 seasons as an Offensive Coordinator, Hackett's WR1s have finished the season as fantasy's 53rd (Stevie Johnson), 27th (Sammy Watkins), 24th (Allen Robinson), 40th (Marqise Lee), 33rd (Dede Westbrook), 23rd (Davante Adams), 1st (Adams) and 2nd (Adams) best WRs.
In the same stretch, Hackett's WR2s have finished as fantasy's 59th (Robert Woods), 45th (Woods), 42nd (Lee), 48th (Keelan Cole), 56th (Donte Moncrief), 67th (Allen Lazard), 55th (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) and 56th (Allen Lazard) best WRs.
WR3s? None were better than WR 67.
Now. Some context. For starters, look at some of those names he's worked with. Second, the guys throwing the football besides Aaron Rodgers were EJ Manuel, Kyle Orton and Blake Bortles. If you're keeping track, you've noticed he's never had a strong QB-WR1-WR2 combo like he has now:
2013: EJ Manuel - Stevie Johnson - Robert Woods
2014: Kyle Orton - Sammy Watkins - Robert Woods
2016: Blake Bortles - Allen Robinson - Marqise Lee
2017: Blake Bortles - Marqise Lee - Keelan Cole
2018: Blake Bortles - Dede Westbrook - Donte Moncrief
2019: Aaron Rodgers - Davante Adams - Allen Lazard
2020: Aaron Rodgers - Davante Adams - Marquez Valdes-Scantling
2021: Aaron Rodgers - Davante Adams, Allen Lazard
None of that looks quite as sexy as Russell Wilson - Courtland Sutton - Jerry Juedy (and, oh yeah, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler).
Still, with so many mouths to feed in Denver, it's safe to wonder who—not if—is in danger of fantasy irrelevance.
Now, for the good news. Remember way earlier in the article where I mentioned Russell Wilson being stuck in some of the least pass heavy offenses in football? That didn't stop him from supporting more than one WR in fantasy football.
For example, last year's Seahawks finished 2nd to last in passing attempts. That didn't stop DK Metcalf from finishing as the WR 14 and Tyler Lockett as the WR 23 (and that's with Russ even missing three games and not looking like himself when he came back).
The year before that, Seattle finished just 17th in pass attempts yet Wilson buoyed Metcalf and Lockett to WR7 and WR 8 finishes.
The year before that, Metcalf finished as the WR 33 in his rookie year while Lockett enjoyed a WR 13 season. Russ also created a WR 7 campaign in 2015 (Doug Baldwin) and a WR 8 campaign in 2016 (Baldwin).
TLDR; Russ gets his pass catchers fantasy points, especially his top 2 guys.
For what it's worth, Vegas sportsbooks currently have Jeudy pegged for 72 catches, 905 yards and 6 TDs, which is about 198 PPR points. That would have been WR 28 last season.
That's interesting since Courtland Sutton, who's usually drafted a sooner than Jeudy, is projected by Vegas for 62 catches, 900 yards and 5 TDs, about 182 PPR points (which would have been WR 30).
Frankly, I like both guys to hit their overs across the board. Even on run-heavy offenses, Russ has put together three straight seasons of both his WR1 and WR2 hitting at least 58 catches (usually higher), 900 yards and 6 TDs:
DK Metcalf 2021: 70 catches, 909 yards, 12 TDs
Tyler Lockett 2021: 68 catches, 1077 yards, 6 TDs
DK Metcalf 2020: 83 catches, 1303 yards, 10 TDs
Tyler Lockett 2020: 100 catches, 1054 yards, 10 TDs
Tyler Lockett 2019: 82 catches, 1057 yards, 8 TDs
DK Metcalf 2019 (rookie season): 58 catches, 900 yards, 7 TDs
Ultimately, I'm all in on both Jeudy and Sutton this season and have several rosters where both guys are on my team.
Meanwhile, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler remain high-upside fliers that can be had in the double digit rounds of fantasy drafts. Patrick has made some noise as a fantasy asset in previous seasons (he somehow keeps emerging as the WR2 in Denver) while Hamler is a former 2nd round pick who missed almost all of last season with a dislocated hip and torn ACL. Patrick in particular is likely to have some useful games in 2022, albeit unpredictable and not overly explosive.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Courtland Sutton is the WR 24, drafted around pick 62 (6th round). Jerry Jeudy is the WR 26, drafted around pick 65 (6th round). Names drafted within their vicinity include Brandin Cooks, Marquise Brown, Chris Godwin, Joe Burrow, Amari Cooper, AJ Dillon, Darnell Mooney, Kyler Murray, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Dalton Schultz, Miles Sanders, TJ Hockenson, Damien Harris, Allen Robinson, Jalen Hurts, Michael Thomas and Adam Thielen.
Put as simply as possible, I want both Jeudy and Sutton over all of those guys.
Tim Patrick is the WR 63 drafted around pick 168 (14th round). Drafted within 6 spots of Patrick in either direction are Jameson Williams, Mecole Hardman, Darrel Williams, Jamaal Williams, Colts D (lol), Matt Ryan, Jahan Dotson, Albert Okwuegbunam, DJ Chark, 49ers D, Rams D, Rondale Moore, Gus Edwards, Matt Gay, David Njoku, Chargers D and Robert Tonyan.
Put as simply as possible, I want Patrick over all of those not named Rondale Moore, and Tim Patrick shouldn't be as free as he is.
KJ Hamler is currently the WR 98 drafted around pick 256 (22nd round). He's worthy of a last round dart in best ball drafts but should be left on the waiver wire—but still on your watch list—in regular leagues.
Draft Kits: I have both Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton in Tier 2A of my fantasy football Draft Kits (just $10 until 8/1) with Terry McLaurin, DJ Moore, Diontae Johnson and DK Metcalf.
I have Tim Patrick in Tier 4B with Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Chris Olave, Corey Davis, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and more.
I have KJ Hamler in Tier 5B with Zay Jones, Terrace Marshall, AJ Green and more.
Dynasty Leagues: Jeudy and Sutton are exciting holds and I've even been actively working to "buy" their shares in my dynasty leagues, as I think their redraft ADP is too low (and thus, the public is lower on them than I am). KJ Hamler is an intriguing buy low option as a 23 year old 2nd round pick.
Albert Okwuegbunam and Greg Dulcich
Russell Wilson's acquisition meant the Broncos had to say goodbye to promising tight end Noah Fant (who remains LOCK-ed in purgatory with Drew Lock...get it?).
That maneuver left Albert Okwuegbunam at the top of the depth chart in Denver before the broncos spent their 3rd round pick on UCLA's Greg Dulcich.
Usually rookie tight ends don't make much of a fantasy impact in year 1 (or year 2, for that matter), but it's definitely noteworthy that Dulcich was getting 1st team reps during spring OTAs and minicamp.
It remains unlikely that Dulcich makes a huge year 1 dent, but it does raise concern that maybe Okwuegbunam's role as the top TE in a Russell Wilson offense isn't as secure as we thought. What if Dulcich takes over by midseason? What if they just split the work? Not good.
It's fair to wonder exactly how valuable the TE1 role in a Hackett/Wilson offense is anyways. In the 9 last years (17 combined seasons between the two of them), here's how Hackett's and Wilson's TE1s finished on the season:
2013: Scott Chandler (BUF/Hackett, TE 16) - Zach Miller (SEA/Wilson, TE 25)
2014: Scott Chandler (BUF/Hackett, TE 20) - Luke Willson (SEA/Wilson, TE 28)
2015: Jimmy Graham (SEA/Wilson, TE 20) - Hackett didn't coach
2016: Julius Thomas (JAC/Hackett, TE 32) - Jimmy Graham (SEA/Wilson, TE 4)
2017: Marcedes Lewes (JAC/Hackett, TE 25) - Jimmy Graham (SEA/Wilson, TE 6)
2018: James O'Shaughnessy (JAC/Hackett, TE 45) - Nick Vannett (SEA/Wilson, TE 30)
2019: Jimmy Graham (GB/Hackett, TE 21) - Jacob Hollister (SEA/Wilson, TE 23)
2020: Robert Tonyan (GB/Hackett, TE 3) - Jacob Hollister (SEA/Wilson, TE 38)
2021: Robert Tonyan (GB/Hackett, TE 44) - Gerald Everett (SEA/Wilson, TE 20)
TLDR - Hackett and Wilson combined to produce a top 15 TE just 3 times over the last 17 seasons (combined).
Sure, you could say that most of the names on that list are just random guys and that Jimmy Graham did what he was supposed to.
True...but why should we assume that Okwuegbunam/Dulcich is more Jimmy Graham than James O'Shaughnessy?
Fantasy Drafts: Albert Okwuegbunam is currently the TE 17, drafted around pick 168 (14th round). Drafted within 6 names of him in either direction are Jameson Williams, Mecole Hardman, Darrel Williams, Jamaal Williams, Colts DEF, Matt Ryan, Jahan Dotson, DJ Chark, Tim Patrick, 49ers DEF, Rams DEF, Rondale Moore, Gus Edwards, Matt Gay, David Njoku, Chargers DEF and Robert Tonyan.
Okwuegbunam is fine in that range but I wouldn't bother spending a pick on him outside of best ball leagues (in best ball I like him as a TE3).
Dulcich, of course, is completely free.
Draft Kits: I have Albert Okwuegbunam in Tier 2B of my fantasy football Draft Kits (just $10 until 8/1) with Cole Kmet, Tyler Higbee, Irv Smith, David Njoku and more.
I have Greg Dulcich in Tier 3B with OJ Howard, Foster Moreau, Jonnu Smith and more.
Dynasty Leagues: Okwuegbunam and Dulcich are just 24 and 22 years old, respectively, making them intriguing dynasty options at the top of Russell Wilson's depth chart. In rookie drafts, I'd consider Dulcich around the mid-late 3rd round.
Next up: we head back east to cover the NFC East, starting with the Dallas Cowboys!