Every year we see wide receivers breakout in fantasy football and well outperform their ADP. Sometimes it’s a complete shock (rookie Justin Jefferson comes to mind), other times you might be able to predict what’s coming (Cooper Kupp finally getting a good quarterback, one who likes to share brunch, seemed like a recipe for success). Being able to hit on one of these breakout players can instantly take your fantasy roster from competent to championship.
Peeling back the onion curtain, I started writing this article as a list of wide receiver breakout candidates for 2022 fantasy football. I had blurbs about Tee Higgins (who really isn’t a breakout candidate at this point), Donovan Peoples-Jones (who I do like this year and might write a piece on down the road), and a few others all ready to go. Then I started my blurb on Allen Lazard. I quickly realized that Lazard has a lot—and I mean a LOT—of fantasy potential this season and he’s not getting the buzz I think he deserves. So I’m here to rectify that.
There’s plenty to like about Lazard’s potential this season, but before we delve into that, let’s start by looking back at his 2021 year.
A Sneaky Good Season
Looking at basic fantasy finishes, Lazard’s 2021 season was middle of the pack. He finished WR45 in .5PPR in total scoring (122.5 FP) and averaged 8.8 fantasy points per game across 14 games. Real football-wise, Lazard’s 2021 was actually the best of his career. He finished with career highs across the board, tallying 40 catches on 60 targets, 513 yards, and 8 touchdowns. The eight touchdowns are great, but even with a career year, there’s nothing here that really jumps off the page screaming “fantasy league winner”.
That is, until you get to the analytics.
Let’s start with Lazard’s PER rating. PER rating is a metric we track here on NerdBall which helps equalize all players at a position so you can more easily compare their fantasy performances. (Think PER36 in basketball.) For wide receivers, their fantasy production is equalized per seven targets, roughly what a starter averages per game. Lazard finished last year with a 13.9 PER rating. Comparing that to qualified wide receivers, only Ja’Marr Chase had a better rating. Just so I’m being abundantly clear, Lazard averaged almost 14 fantasy points per 7 targets last year, something only Ja’Marr freaking Chase bested.
Lazard also finished high in our WR NECC rating. NECC rating tracks a player’s fantasy efficiency and consistency over the course of a season. Lazard finished 15th among qualified wide receivers, ahead of assumed fantasy WR1s Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, and Amari Cooper (to name a few).
While his totals from 2021 aren’t going to wow managers, it’s not because Lazard was a bad fantasy receiver. He proved himself to be one of the most efficient and consistent receivers out there, who has real WR1 potential if he just receives a WR1 workload.
Which brings us to the 2022 Green Bay Packers.
Opportunity Comes a Knocking
Here’s the only number you need to know about the 2022 Packers: 224.
That’s how many available targets there are in Green Bay with Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling leaving this off-season. Two hundred and twenty four. Spoiler alert: that’s a lot. It’s so many that Lazard could take 100 of those and there’d still be more targets remaining than Mike Evans, Deebo Samuel, or CeeDee Lamb saw last year.
With Adams and MVS gone, Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Amari Rodgers are the only meaningful receivers carrying over into 2022. And I only mention Cobb and Rodgers because they are names that people know. Cobb is now 31-years-old and while he does clearly hold a special place in Aaron Rodgers’ heart, he’s no where near the receiver he once was. Amari Rodgers saw all of eight targets his rookie year. Neither are really serious competition for Lazard in my opinion.
The Packers did go out and addressed the wide receiver position in the draft this year, selecting Christian Watson in the 2nd round and Romeo Doubs in the 4th. They also added Samori Toure for good measure in the 7th. While rookie wide receivers are always the rave in fantasy or Madden, they are not the rave with Aaron Rodgers.
Since Rodgers became the Packers’ starting QB back in 2008, there have only been four wide receivers to have meaningful rookie years. Jordy Nelson was a rookie in 2008 and caught 33 balls on 54 targets for 366 yards and 2 touchdowns. He finished WR84 that year (non-PPR scoring). The aforementioned Cobb was drafted in 2011 and finished his rookie year with 25 catches on 31 targets for 375 yards and 1 touchdown (WR86 finish). Rodgers’ last bae, Davante Adams, saw 66 targets his rookie year, catching 38 of them for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns, leading to a WR75 finish. As wild as it might seem, Valdes-Scantling actually had the best rookie year by a wide receiver with Rodgers under center. In 2018, MVS caught 38 balls on 73 targets for 581 yards and 2 touchdowns (WR66 finish). It’s not like Rodgers to heavily rely on a wide receiver in their first year.
History tells us we should temper our expectations when it comes to the Packers’ newly drafted receivers. While they certainly might make the occasional big game in real football, it’s unlikely one of them magically emerges as Rodgers’ new favorite target and takes the fantasy world by storm.
You know who is likely to do that? The 26-year-old, 6-foot-5, 5th-year wide receiver coming off a career year.
Looking to 2022
The Packers’ offense is certainly going to look different than it has in years past. The loss of Adams won’t be easy to replace. I wouldn’t be surprised to see head coach Matt LaFleur utilizes his dynamic running back duo in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon even more than in previous seasons. Still, you have to go back to 2017 when Rodgers played just 7 games to find the last time he didn’t have at least 525 pass attempts. The Packers will still throw the ball plenty in 2022.
I’m not expecting Lazard to step into Adams’ ridiculous 31.5% target share last year. However, I don’t think a 20% TS is unreasonable—Lazard finished last year with 12.6% TS and 2020 with a 15.3% TS. Assuming Rodgers throws at least 525 attempts, that’s over 100 targets coming Lazard’s way. And while I don’t expect Lazard to replicate his elite PER from last year, it does show us that he has WR1 potential.
Currently in redrafts, Lazard is going as the WR57 in .5PPR at the end of the 12th round. Robby Anderson, who is contemplating retirement because playing with Sam Darnold is just that bad, is going almost a full round ahead of Lazard. Drafting Aaron Rodgers’ potentially top target in the 12th round should be illegal. Lazard’s ADP will likely rise as we approach September—especially if there’s any positive news coming out of camp—but starting this low, it would take a lot for him to lose his value.
If you’re looking for 2022’s breakout fantasy star, look no further than Allen Lazard.
- Allen Lazard was one of the most productive and efficient wide receivers in fantasy last year (based on PER & NECC rating).
- With Davante Adams now in Las Vegas, the Packers have over 200 targets available in their offense and Aaron Rodgers needs a new No. 1 receiver.
- Rodgers’ past tells us he isn’t likely to rely on Christian Watson or any of the other rookie receivers Green Bay drafted, putting Lazard in the spotlight.
- With a 12th round ADP, Lazard has all the makings of a fantasy league winner.