One of the flaws of building rankings with projections as a baseline is that you can struggle to find the breakouts. That's because most projections are designed to find the most likely outcome, not the best case outcome. And most breakouts end up being guys who hit their upside, not guys who hit their projection. But occasionally there are guys who project for career years, in 2022 two of them are Philadelphia Eagles Jalen Hurts and Dallas Goedert.
I wrote immediately after the A.J. Brown trade that how Hurts had QB1 overall upside, and my stance hasn't softened on that. But even Hurts' projection is a step up from what he's done so far in the league. Some of that is expected. After all, he now has a true No. 1 receiver in Brown, and as a quarterback who has only thrown 580 passes in the NFL, we should already be expecting some improvement in terms of passing efficiency.
I would also expect the Eagles will pass considerably more in 2022 due to Hurts' improvement and the arrival of Brown. Last year the team threw 494 passes, this year I have them projected for 555, with would have ranked 20th in 2021. That increase in pass volume helps explain how Goedert could have a career year even with Brown in the mix.
Goedert earned a 22% target share after Zach Ertz left Philadelphia, but if my increase is correct, he'd only need an 18% target share to maintain volume. And that volume had him on a 1,000-yard pace in the final 10 games of 2021. Considering Nick Sirianni has topped 21% in tight end target share each of the past three seasons, that number may be pessimistic. Add in some touchdown regression and Goedert becomes my No. 6 tight end, but he's drafted eighth or lower in most drafts.
Their ADP makes it easy to pair Hurts and Goedert in Round 5 and Round 7, allowing you to spend your first four picks on running backs and wide receivers. I have more than a few suggestions below.
Cam Akers RB
LAR L.A. Rams • #3
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
I've come full circle on Akers this offseason so I fully understand the arguments against drafting him. He was brutally inefficient in the playoffs last year. Darrell Henderson is still there. The Rams haven't thrown to their running backs much as of late. What changed my mind was a reminder that whenever the lead back stayed healthy for the Rams last year, they played and dominated touches. Henderson had seven games with at least 16 touches. Sony Michel added another seven. Akers is the most talented back on this team and the reports this offseason have been glowing. I expect him to be a workhorse back on one of the best offenses in football, worth a Round 3 pick. And that leaves plenty of room for upside. His upside is in the top 10.
J.K. Dobbins RB
BAL Baltimore • #27
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
I am nervous about Dobbins' ACL so I'll admit his breakout could come in the second half of the year. But I believe in his talent and I was encouraged by his recent Twitter thread stating in no uncertain terms that he'd be ready for Week 1. The Ravens spent all last season saying they wanted to throw to Dobbins more, then Lamar Jackson set a career-high for running back target rate throwing to Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray. Add even 30 catches to Dobbins' elite rushing profile and he has first-round upside. I wouldn't draft him until Round 4 unless his ADP climbs.
Breece Hall RB
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #20
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Cue the "Can a rookie be a breakout?" music. My vote here obviously is yes. But I'll balance the rookie with an old guy at the end, don't worry. Hall is an elite running back prospect on an ascending offense and while I have him ranked as a Round 4 pick, his upside is much higher. There will be some sharing with Michael Carter, at least early in the year, but like Jonathan Taylor I expect Hall to mostly break free from the committee in the second half. Expect a low-end RB2 early in the year with league-winning upside down the stretch.
D.J. Moore WR
CHI Chicago • #2
Age: 26 • Experience: 6 yrs.
I've written like six articles on why Moore is going to shatter his ceiling in 2022. He's shown an elite ability to draw targets and an elite ability to convert targets into yards. You probably think "yeah, but he can't score touchdowns" and that has been the case. But Moore has scored more than 25% of his team's touchdowns over the past three seasons, so I don't think the problem is him. Baker Mayfield's career touchdown rate is 4.8%, if he hits that in 2022 the Panthers will double their 2021 passing touchdown total and Moore will double his career high. I rank Moore at the end of Round 2, but ADP suggests you can comfortably wait for your Round 3 pick to take him.
IND Indianapolis • #11
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
The only things that kept Michael Pittman from being a star in 2021 were Carson Wentz's accuracy and Frank Reich's trust in Wentz. The team only threw 521 passes, which meant Pittman's 24.8% target share only resulted in 129 targets. In the offseason, they added Matt Ryan and nobody who should impact Pittman's target share. That should mean more volume and better efficiency, which gives Pittman top-12 upside. Pittman is a nice consolation if you miss Moore in Round 3.
CHI Chicago • #11
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
While I'm not sure Mooney will get an increase in volume from the 140 targets last year, I do expect an increase in efficiency from second-year quarterback Justin Fields and I expect a more creative offense that puts Mooney in better places for success. I would also expect some pretty serious regression from last year's 2.9% touchdown rate. Mooney is a Round 5 pick who has the upside to produce like a high-end WR2 if things go right but should have a floor close to WR25.
BAL Baltimore • #7
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Bateman is a former first-round pick taking over for Marquise Brown as the Ravens' No. 1 wide receiver. Mark Andrews is the only legitimate competition Bateman has for targets, so a 20% target share should be locked in and 25% is not out of the question. Marquise Brown was WR11 in this offense before Lamar Jackson got hurt, so there's plenty of upside at a Round 8 cost.
DAL Dallas • #3
Age: 29 • Experience: 10 yrs.
We finally got to the old guy. How could the soon-to-be 29-year-old be a breakout candidate? It's a combination of several of the cases you hear above about younger wide receivers. Cooks set a career-high with 134 targets last year on a team that ran the third-fewest plays per game. That's the case for more volume. Cooks averaged a career-low 7.7 yards per target and were well below his career rate in yards per catch and touchdown rate. Playing with Tyrod Taylor and a rookie quarterback will do that. Like Hurts and Fields, I would expect Mills will improve as a passer. Considering he set a career-high for catches last year and was only 167 yards shy of his career-best, it's easy to see how Cooks could have a career year in 2022. My projections have him doing just that and finishing as a top-12 wide receiver.