The dynasty community always has and always will be obsessed with finding the top young players. As a whole, we devote hours to finding the next breakout star who will be a league winner for years to come. Luckily for all of us, the NFL is loaded with young, up-and-coming stars.
You may look through the list and wonder where players like Joe Burrow, Deebo Samuel, and Lamar Jackson are. Even though they feel younger than some of the players on this list, they have all turned 25. We are strictly looking at players who have not hit their 25th birthday.
One more thing you will notice is that I split the list into tiers. Within each tier, players’ rankings are fluid because the differences between them are so minute. The tier-based ranking is truly the only way to rank dynasty players because we are trying to predict an outcome 2-3 years down the road.
Johnathan Taylor was the most dominant runner through all 17 games last season, posting 2176 total yards and 20 total touchdowns on 332 rush attempts and 40 receptions. In his first two years in the league, Taylor averaged over 5 yards per carry and had double-digit touchdowns each year. In 2021 the Colts were the 5th best team in rushing and were 1-6 when Taylor failed to rush for 100 yards. He is the focal point of this offense and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
There is no debating Justin Jefferson had the best two seasons to start a career as a wide receiver. He improved on his record-breaking rookie season posting 108 receptions, 1600 yards, and 10 Touchdowns in 2021. With the offseason addition of Kevin O’Connell as head coach, the Vikings’ offense should become even more pass-happy and take more shots down the field.
Ja’Marr Chase could take the title of best two seasons to start a career away from Jefferson this next season, posting 81 receptions, 1455 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Chase posted a better rookie season than Jefferson and has a proven young quarterback in Joe Burrow. As of right now, I see Chase and Jefferson as interchangeable at this point, but I give the edge to Jefferson, who’s proven it over a longer stretch.
Along with the other players in Tier I, Kyle Pitts is a generational talent. Pitts was TE3 in receiving yards as a rookie, in a position that has a notoriously slow learning curve. He proved he could dominate games dropping back-to-back games with 115+ yards. Pitts’ only lacking statistical category was touchdowns. However, when you’re 6’6” 240 lbs and run a 4.5 40-yard dash, the touchdowns will come.
Though Swift has yet to play more than 13 games in a single season, he has proven that he can be insanely productive on minimal carries. Despite averaging only 13 carries a game, Swift only saw two games with less than five targets. When healthy, Swift proved that he can be a top-5 RB(Weeks 1-11), despite being on a bottom ten offense with a bottom ten quarterback. Looking forward, Swift will not play on an offense worse than last year and will continue to break off explosive games in the passing game.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the volume hog that is Najee Harris. Harris finished 2021 with 307 carries and 74 receptions, and despite the volume, he was fairly inefficient. However, with uncertainty at quarterback, it is unlikely the volume will diminish. The only concern for Harris is if he can score more touchdowns, this past season, he finished with seven rushing touchdowns. Redzone trips will not increase with the current options the Steelers are looking at for quarterback, but the volume will keep in the top-5 conversation.
I understand that Metcalf may have left many people feeling burned after posting only one game over 100 yards in 2021 and no touchdowns from Week 10 to 15. However, in Weeks 1-8, before Russ returned from injury, D.K. was WR5 in PPR. One of the greatest indicators of future success is past success, and D.K. ‘s sophomore season was WR7 finish. With a healthy quarterback, whether Russ or someone else, he will take a step forward from what we saw back in 2020.
In his worst season to date, AJ Brown still managed to average over 15.5 PPG in PPR (games 50%+ snap count). Brown has averaged 16.2 yards per reception since entering the league, second to Mike Williams. He seems to make bigger plays in bigger games. He has proved that if he puts together a healthy season, he is more than capable of at least 85 Rec- 1400 yards- 10+ touchdowns.
On the Dan Le Batard Show, Mike McDaniel was asked to give the Dolphins fans a player to get excited about. He responded by enthusiastically shouting, “Waddle, Waddle.” Jaylen Waddle is coming off a season where he broke the rookie record for most receptions in a season. Despite 100 receptions, Waddle barely attained 1000 yards receiving. He averaged under 10 yards per catch, the lowest among all wide receivers with over 85 receptions. Moving into 2022, the Dolphins, and more specifically Mike McDaniel, have already said they are committed to getting Waddle more into open space to utilize his speed.
No other player on this list has their 2022 season hanging in limbo as Javonte Williams does. In 2021 we saw just enough of what Javante Williams could do with his RB1 performance against Kansas City and his league-leading 31 broken tackles. Even if Melvin Gordon returns to Denver in 2022, he is still only 21 years old and will be in line for fantasy dominance for at least the next four seasons. However, if Williams is given a full workload in 2022, we could see him jump as high as a top-5 fantasy running back next season.
It is not a stretch to say that Justin Herbert could be a top-5 QB for the next 15 years. At only 23-years-old Herbert is coming off back-to-back seasons with 4300 yards and 30 touchdowns. Herbert also adds an average of 3 fantasy PPG on the ground. He passes every eye test and has the rare potential to win you a fantasy week every week, posting six games with at least 275 passing yards and 3-touchdowns. With the cap room the Chargers have, they will either be keeping the same weapons or adding more this offseason, paving the way for a bright future.
There is no doubting the talent of Ceedee Lamb, who passes every eye test. Lamb posted an admirable sophomore performance (79 Rec-1102 yards- 6 TDs), yet, it felt disappointing after minimal improvements from his rookie season(74 Rec- 935 yards-5 TDs). At only 22 years old, Lamb will benefit greatly from a full offseason with Dak Prescott. The biggest test for Lamb in 2022 is if he can separate himself from Amari Cooper as the true WR1 in this offense.
This past season Devonta Freeman proved you don’t have to be a good running back to perform in this offense after being RB16 from Week 9 on when he took over the backfield. With that said, J.K. Dobbins is a guy who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash and averaged 6.2 yards per carry in college on 725 career attempts. After taking over the backfield in 2020 (Weeks 8-17), Dobbins had 109 attempts, 651 yards, and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. All that remains to be seen is if Dobbins can return from his ACL tear.
Antonio Gibson has started his career with back-to-back top-13 RB finishes. In both seasons, we left feeling like there was so much more he could do, in large part due to J.D. McKissic taking targets away from Gibson. I am not confident that McKissic is leaving; however, I am confident that even if he stays, the 23-year-old Gibson will remain a fringe RB1 in fantasy. Gibson will continue to see an increase in touches on a run-first Commanders offense.
Devonta Smith silenced the doubters who said he would struggle due to his slender frame and turned out a respectable rookie season. He recorded 916 yards on 64 receptions, and the only worry moving forward is the QB play in Philly. Jalen Hurts is a great fantasy QB, although his play on the field left something to be desired and could turn Devonta Smith into a DJ Moore. However, what will separate those two is the Eagles’ ability to run the ball. It sounds backward, but if you can move the ball, you score touchdowns, and as Smith continues to mature, touchdowns will come.
Elijah Moore went on a midseason tear from Weeks 7 to 13, slotting in at WR3 in PPR during this time. Moore averaged five receptions, 67 yards, and .7 touchdowns per game over this stretch. As one of the youngest players in the draft, Moore has a chance to grow with Zach Wilson as the face of the newly branded Jets team. Looking toward 2022, Elijah Moore needs to prove that even with a completely healthy Corey Davis, he can command WR1 targets.
Even with the emergence of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins still posted a 1000 yard season and proved he and Chase could coexist as dominant outside wide receivers. Higgins consistently uses his 6’4” 215 lbs frame to make big plays down the field while commanding a 23.9% target share, good enough for 22nd in the league. The Bengals will be putting a large chunk of their $49 million, in cap space, toward the offensive line. This will give Burrow more time for big plays down the field.
Kyler Murray has had two stretches of 8 or more weeks in each of the past two seasons where he was the QB1 in fantasy football. Murray is an elite, dual-threat quarterback who has never had less than 400 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in a season. If Murray can put together a complete, healthy season, he could leapfrog Herbert and take home an overall QB1 season.
David Montgomery has continually been one of the most disrespected running backs in the NFL. In the past two seasons, Montgomery was the RB2 over the final six games of each season. Now, six games don’t make a season; however, it shows the capabilities of a healthy Montgomery. I believe the RB4 finish from Montgomery in 2020 is something we can see even with Justin Fields running ability.
Despite recording 1100 yards in each of the past three seasons, D.J. Moore has always left fantasy managers wondering what could. The flashes of elite talent have been brilliant at times while proving he can command an elite workload, with 163 targets this past season. What has held Moore back is the quarterback play in Carolina. Moore has yet to have a season with over four touchdowns and this last season saw his lowest yards per catch of his career(12.44 yards). If Carolina can provide even the slightest spark at the quarterback position, D.J. Moore has the talent to be a top-12 wide receiver.
The fact that Cam Akers played in the playoffs, seven months off an Achilles injury, is insane. Now Akers had an abysmal 2.6 yards per carry, however watching the Rams almost completely abandon Sony Michel, who was an RB1 in fantasy the last six weeks of the season. This gives confidence the volume will be there for Cam Akers to be a top-15 RB. It remains to be seen if the explosiveness we saw at the end of the 2020 season.
Travis Etienne’s rookie season was over before it got started with a preseason injury. So what gets me excited is at Clemson, Etienne averaged 7.2 yards per carry, including two seasons with over 1600 yards. Playing with his college teammate in what hopes to be a revitalized offense under Doug Pederson, Etienne should see plenty of action in his first season of action. Etienne should see high productivity starting in 2022, especially when you factor in his draft capital and the Achilles’ injury to James Robinson.
Josh Jacobs was an RB1 each of the last two seasons. This past season was different because Jacobs jumped into the top-12 due to his receiving work. Jacobs, who is a volume running back, will lose the receiving upside we saw this last year with McDaniels running the offense. During McDaniels tenure with the Patriots, he never had a running back lead in rushing yards and running back receiving yards. Kenyan Drake will most likely take the receiving role, and the Raiders will continue to bring in more running backs like him in the future.
Before getting hurt in Week 13, T.J. Hockenson was TE3 and had eight games with over eight targets. At only 24 years of age, Hockenson has proven that he can finish as a top-5 TE in some atrocious offenses. The one thing holding Hockenson back is touchdowns, with his career-high at six in 2019. Even though a Hockenson breakout may not be coming this year with Goff at the helm, he certainly looks primed for a Mark Andrews of 2021 breakout soon.
The final player on this list was used in over 50% of snaps in only five games this season. Despite the low snap count, he still managed to outpace Aaron Jones in carries. He also reeled in 34 receptions. Dillon, who comes in at a monstrous 247 lbs while still running a 4.5, 40, figures to become an elite red zone back in the years to come. Even if he splits carries with Aaron Jones for the next couple of years, we could see Dillon become the 1A in this offense as soon as this year.
Honorable Mentions: Rashod Bateman, Michael Pittman, Trey Lance, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Jalen Hurts
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