2022 NFL Fantasy Board: Running Backs

67
2022 nfl fantasy football rb

The NFL Preseason is in the books, cut day has come and gone, and fantasy players are gearing up for their drafts.

The Professor is here to get you ready with BeerLife’s Fantasy Preview. Over the coming days, we will be releasing draft boards for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, and will cap the series with a merged draft board and final thoughts on strategy. Along the way, we will look at attractive player prop bets available on DraftKings.

Before we get started, be sure to sign up to get the Oracle’s picks this season if you haven’t done so already! The Oracle hammered the NFL in 2021 (Up +65 units), so you’ll want to get his picks texted directly to your phone starting Week 1!

The days of building a championship fantasy team around two bell-cow running backs are gone; the NFL doesn’t have enough feature backs to go around these days, and a dominant wide receiver can be a more consistent week-to-week presence than the NFL’s top backs in today’s pass-heavy offenses. That doesn’t make the position unimportant; on the contrary, it’s more important to understand where value is available, since starting roles aren’t as clear cut and you still need production from the position.

If you end up with a pair of running backs from The Professor’s top three Tiers, you should be in great shape, but if not, we’ll have strategies ready to package some dice rolls down the board.

Running Back Board

Tier 1

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
Jonathan TaylorINDRB1314.81668.412.333.6260.11.917.35

Median ADP: 1

Jonathan Taylor, the NFL’s reigning rushing champ, is 23 years old and will continue to run behind an offensive line led by future Hall-of-Famer Quenton Nelson. Matt Ryan’s arrival at quarterback may ease Taylor’s workload to some degree, but with a receiving room that lacks proven options behind Michael Pittman Jr., the Colts’ offense will still run through Taylor. He is the consensus RB1 for good reason.

DraftKings Prop Bet: Jonathan Taylor, Over 1450.5 Rushing Yards, -110. A little chalky, granted, but I’m up for riding the hot hand on a young running back. The model may overstate the edge given the prospect of injury as carries pile up, but Taylor has youth, his offensive line, and his quarterback, who has a great track record of health, on his side.

Tier 2

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
Austin EkelerLACRB2177.17726.775.8744.35.615.47
Joe MixonCINRB3279.81119.210.840.1290.52.914.33
Derrick HenryTENRB4326.4156011.421.6187.41.315.4
Christian McCaffreyCARRB5226.31041.210.871.1604.63.516.85

Median ADP: 3.5

Though most of the Tiers on this board are groups of players I am indifferent between, Tier 2 is stacked intentionally. The model projects Christian McCaffrey at the second-highest points per game average, but the Carolina star’s lack of availability over the past two seasons is a significant concern, which drops him down to the bottom of this group.

Derrick Henry is in the third position for similar reasons, though concerns about the offense around him factor in as well as concerns about his foot. Due to McCaffrey’s versatility as a rusher and receiver, he has been able to post huge fantasy numbers on borderline incompetent offenses. Henry is what makes the Titans go, but the decline along the offensive line in front of him is something of a concern, as is the departure of star receiver A.J. Brown, who made defenses pay some respect to the back end. Of course, the upside is King Henry is back in full beast mode, which is why he still slots into the Top 5 despite his career carries piling up.

The two top players in Tier 2 play alongside young superstar quarterbacks; Joe Mixon played on some bad Cincinnati teams before getting a chance on last year’s offensive unit, and is unlikely to give up his hold on his bell-cow role now that Joe Burrow is directing the offense. Mixon has more carries on his body than the usual 26-year-old because he entered the NFL at a notably young age, but his role in a lights-out offense is good to pass up.

The same goes for the number two ranked back, Austin Ekeler, who should be freed up to dominate in the passing game now that the Chargers have added veteran Sony Michel to help rookie Isaiah Spiller soak up some carries from Ekeler. While that may cause a dip in Ekeler’s per-game production, it should help him stay fresh late into the season and produce big numbers for the Chargers and your fantasy squad.

Tier 3

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
Alvin KamaraNORB6237.7950.58.854.8482.53.614.43
Dalvin CookMINRB7259.61157.67.843.4346.83.814.21
Aaron JonesGBRB8179.1877.35.658.74405.313.3
Javonte WilliamsDENRB9201.39467.946.3370.33.413.1
Nick ChubbCLERB10233.11235.38.333.2232.71.413.05
Najee HarrisPITRB11274.91072.26.641.4268.9212.17

Median ADP: 8.5

Tier 3 is a return to indifference within the tier. Everything appears to be on track with quarterback Jameis Winston’s return to the New Orleans lineup, which boosts up Alvin Kamara’s stock, even if he’s unlikely to put up the pass-catching production he had with Drew Brees in the fold. Mark Ingram is the backup, but he’s a few years older than when this duo was a thunder-and-lightning tandem; at this point, Kamara is the lead back.

Similarly, Dalvin Cook and Najee Harris are clear feature backs in the Minnesota and Pittsburgh offenses, though Cook is in a far better situation. As brilliant as Harris’s highlight tape may be, he is playing behind an offensive line that is every bit as bad as they were last season, and his rookie season was eerily reminiscent of Saquon Barkley’s, which is a good and a bad thing. Like Barkley, Harris caught an absurd number of checkdowns from a member of the famous 2004 NFL Quarterback Draft Class (Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger), and like Barkley, Harris took on an awful lot of punishment, though at least it was for something, as Pittsburgh did get into the playoffs last year. Look for Harris’s role in the passing game to be pared down to some degree, not because he can’t do it, but because Pittsburgh’s quarterback should be more willing to throw to the talented trio of receivers and their sure-handed tight end. All that said, Harris fits in Tier 3 because of his anticipated workload on the ground.

Aaron Jones, Javonte Williams, and Nick Chubb all play in split backfields. Jones and Williams are set to play in upper-end offenses, and that may be Chubb’s situation by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around, provided that quarterback Deshaun Watson gets up to speed post-suspension. The model’s projection for Williams has him taking roughly 200 carries to backfield mate Melvin Gordon’s 120, a departure from their even split last season, but I’ll gamble on the Broncos featuring the second-year Williams a bit more in 2022.

DraftKings Prop Bet:

Tier 4

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
D’Andre SwiftDETRB12194.9818.46.269.6501.22.912.99
Leonard FournetteTBRB13191.7862.88.152.4382.3212.44
Ezekiel ElliottDALRB14227.49218.436.52652.611.94
David MontgomeryCHIRB15227.5932.66.340.1328.72.311.64
Antonio GibsonWSHRB16176.4769.17.448369.42.111.47
James ConnerARIRB17186.3745.27.647.4355.82.611.45
Cam AkersLARRB18213.3910.76.734.2316.42.311.41
Saquon BarkleyNYGRB19185.5760.46.445.9321.22.911

Median ADP: 15.5

This is far from my favorite tier, as most of these backs have notable injury histories, though they all have a chance to carry significant loads for their offenses.

D’Andre Swift could be the breakout star given the talent on Detroit’s offensive line and his dynamic open-field ability, but Swift struggled with his workload last season and may not be suited to take on more. Leonard Fournette is coming off a strong season as Tampa Bay’s top back, but the Bucs are also high on third-round rookie Rachaad White, which is ultimately what kept him out of Tier 3.

Ezekiel Elliott, David Montgomery, James Conner, and Saquon Barkley may not bring a lot of sizzle at this point, but Elliott seems to have a mandate to get his touches regardless of how banged up he gets, and Conner and Barkley have no competition for touches. That may not be the best thing considering Conner and Barkley’s injury histories, but if they are at full strength, they should be productive. Montgomery’s situation is different, as the relatively younger player is a good back in a bad offense, but Chicago’s low ceiling as a team caps his outlook.

Antonio Gibson had slid out of the discussion for this Tier before the tragedy with Brian Robinson Jr. earlier this week, but while Gibson appeared to be on track to lose touches to the rookie, Washington has limited alternatives at this point. It’s a little confusing about why things went so far off the tracks with Gibson, who was Washington’s second-best offensive player behind receiver Terry McLaurin last season, but he’ll get a chance to reestablish himself early in the season.

Cam Akers may have more upside than any player on this list, though Darrell Henderson Jr.’s presence as a solid backup and the fact that Akers missed most of last year with injury drag down his outlook. Akers is a young back in one of the NFL’s best offenses; of everyone in this group, he is by far the most likely to be a consensus Round 1 pick next season, which is something to keep in mind if you play in a keeper league.

DraftKings Prop Bet: James Conner, Under 825.5 Rushing Yards, -115. Conner got through last season healthy, but I’m not sure that means he’s a sure bet to do the same carrying more of a load this season, and the offensive line is getting long in the tooth in front of him. Conner was a great story last year, but I will go under for 2022.

Tier 5

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
AJ DillonGBRB20179.1841.55.641.9356.23.411.44
Elijah MitchellSFRB21211949.710.816.4106.7110.86
Travis EtienneJAXRB22160.6738.8739.8338.71.810.6

Median ADP: 21

Tier 5 is a small group before we get to a slew of backs in Tiers 6 and 7. Of the young backs available, these are three options that stand out.

AJ Dillon plays behind Aaron Jones, but given reports about Green Bay’s planned usage of two-back sets and quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ suggestion that both backs could catch 50 balls, there is reason to believe the Packers will find a way to get Dillon his touches. He is the second-best skill player on the offense behind Jones, and head coach Matt LaFleur is creative enough to get both players involved.

Elijah Mitchell is in an enviable situation if the Trey Lance experiment works; the option concepts that the 49ers showed in Lance’s start against the Cardinals last season would make life easier on any running back. Mitchell already had a strong rookie season, but he could bring back memories of a rookie Alfred Morris this season. As for Travis Etienne, the second-year back has the ability to contribute as a runner and receiver, and in a Jacksonville offense with a lot of B-level skill players, Etienne is the lone blue chip. Look for coach Doug Pederson to find ways to feature the former Clemson back.

DraftKings Prop Bet: AJ Dillon, Over 775.5 Rushing Yards, -110. The model projects Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to split carries, and for both backs to top the 800-yard mark, which makes this over look solid.

Tier 6

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
Josh JacobsLVRRB23189.5818.87.839294.32.311.25
Devin SingletaryBUFRB24171.2795.85.443279.92.710.43
Miles SandersPHIRB25212.51115.79.614.81110.911.35
J.K. DobbinsBALRB26169878.77.326208.21.610.28
Rhamondre StevensonNERB27177.9775.97.129.7222.51.49.77
Damien HarrisNERB28196.7867.47.817.6133.90.89.46
Cordarrelle PattersonATLRB29152.9611.64.449.9399.52.69.9
Breece HallNYJRB30188.3828.66.929217.51.29.88
Dameon PierceHOURB31192.68095.233230.529.63

Median ADP: 27

In a slightly different world, Miles Sanders and J.K. Dobbins would be up in Tier 3, but Sanders is dealing with a hamstring injury, the latest issue in a seemingly unending series of events that has prevented Philadelphia’s most talented back from seizing the lead role with Jalen Hurts operating the offense. In Baltimore, head coach John Harbaugh recently noted that Dobbins has “kind of” regained his quickness, which may not great for the early weeks of the fantasy season. Both of these backs should be averaging over 5 yards-per-carry in a quarterback-centric run game, but it may not be destined to happen.

For Josh Jacobs, the concerns of a bad offensive line, his career workload, and the presence of rookie Zamir White all factor into dragging him down, though he could outperform this draft position if he fends off White for the lead role. Bills running back Devin Singletary is in a similar situation; after finishing last season on a tear, the Bills drafted James Cook in the second round and brought Zach Moss back for competition, once again muddying Singletary’s role.

Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris are set to split work for the New England Patriots, who will once again look to hammer opponents with their tandem of big backs. It’s hard to say who is the better pick; Stevenson may take on more of a role as a receiver after James White’s retirement left the Patriots with Ty Montgomery, a middling talent, as their receiving back.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Breece Hall, and Dameon Pierce round out the tier as top backs on bad teams. Patterson is set to reprise his versatile role in Arthur Smith’s Atlanta offense and could end up taking on more carries if the Falcons haven’t fixed the issue of rostering a legitimate running back with the additions of Damien Williams and Tyler Allgier. Hall benefits from quarterback Zach Wilson’s slated early absence; draft analysts rave about Hall, who will be an interesting watch with Joe Flacco at quarterback, but who could also get dragged down along with the rest of the offense when Wilson retakes the field. Pierce won the starting role in a Houston offense that should be improved, but is unlikely to crack the upper half of the league.

Tier 7

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
Rashaad PennySEARB32188.5848.25.327.8180.529.44
J.D. McKissicWSHRB33110.3446.54.653.4404.52.59.1
Melvin Gordon IIIDENRB34134.2630.65.334.7260.32.79.09
Darrell Henderson Jr.LARRB35155.5746.54.929244.31.99.09
James RobinsonJAXRB36160.6703.5727.6197.51.49.04
Tony PollardDALRB37136.4641.3536.5266.72.39
Kareem HuntCLERB38111.9514.6444.3376.82.48.79
Chase EdmondsMIARB39161.1660.45.336.7238.41.48.76
Clyde Edwards-HelaireKCRB40143.3630.45.124.9274.41.58.38

Median ADP: 36

Tier 7 is a collection of “lead” backs in questionable situations, receiving backs, and backups in good situations. In a 10-team league, you will ideally be pulling your fourth and/or fifth backs from this group.

If you have gotten this far without building out depth, Melvin Gordon, James Robinson, Kareem Hunt, and Tony Pollard have the most injury upside of the group; if their team’s starter goes down, all three are more than capable of stepping into the lead role and producing solid results.

The two players that stick out as being well below their ADP, even if you count the entire group as a median ADP of 36, are Chase Edmonds and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Assuming Edmonds is the lead back over the course of the season, he will be playing in a Miami offense that the model is low on, and there is the lurking threat of Raheem Mostert, who is a bigger, more physical, more explosive runner than Edmonds when he is healthy. Mostert isn’t often available, but it’s still hard to love drafting Edmonds, a back in an iffy offense who isn’t the best runner on his own team.

As for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the excuse train is out in full force this offseason, as his defenders point to the fact that he is much better running with the quarterback under center rather than the fact that Kansas City led the NFL in leagues before contact and finished dead last in yards after contact. A need to run from a specific scheme didn’t seem to be a big theme in Edwards-Helaire’s pre-draft Brian Westbrook comparisons, but folks oddly defend first-round picks to the death despite the well-established high bust rate. Edwards-Helaire doesn’t stand out for any particular reason with the ball in his hands, and while he may be Kansas City’s lead back, they’re going to need to mix other players in barring an unexpected leap.

DraftKings Prop Bet: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Under 700.5 Rushing Yards, -125. Edwards-Helaire is projected at 630.4 rushing yards by the model. He posted 517 last season and is at risk of losing touches to a deep group of backs including rookie Isaiah Pacheco and veterans Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones II; this strikes me as a strong under.

Tier 8

PlayerTeamPosRB RankCarriesRushYdsRushTDRecRecYdsRecTDHalf PPR Avg
Rex BurkheadHOURB41149.8599.2433.8290.928.37
Zamir WhiteLVRRB42117.9528.34.838.7270.72.38.36
James CookBUFRB4385.6410.82.941.9398.42.77.95
Nyheim HinesINDRB4477.4332.9355.2412.81.97.76
Ken Walker IIISEARB45141.3622427.8180.527.64
D’Onta ForemanCARRB46133.2585.96.416.6157.70.67.3
Michael CarterNYJRB47120.2516.94.428.1224.91.27.18
Jamaal WilliamsDETRB48151.6591.14.822.31451.37.13
Kenyan DrakeBALRB49112.7529.5521.2180.61.37.03
Raheem MostertMIARB50128.9618.64.315.7111.60.86.56

Median ADP: 45.5

First, a few names of note who narrowly missed out on the Top 50: Tampa Bay’s Rachaad White, Philadelphia’s Kenneth Gainwell, and the Chargers’ duo of Isaiah Spiller and Sony Michel. Michel’s presence may cancel both backs out if they split the carries left over by Austin Ekeler, but one could be a contributor if he seizes the role.

The rest of the list has committee backs. There are a few interesting things to note: if, for whatever reason, you need a Week 1 running back at this point in the draft, Baltimore’s new signee, Kenyan Drake, is an interesting option. Gus Edwards is on the PUP list and Dobbins is still progressing; if Drake has any juice left in the tank, the slasher could have some open lanes next to Lamar Jackson to rip off long runs the way Drake once did next to Kyler Murray in Arizona.

Ken Walker III could be a big contributor late in the year; the rookie is working through a core injury that prevented him from competing with lead back Rashaad Penny in camp, but if the Seahawks struggle and start to look to the future, they could look to feature Walker late in the season so he can prove himself for the lead role in 2023.

As a final note, D’Onta Foreman played relatively well for the Titans down the stretch last season, and would take on the lead role in Carolina if Christian McCaffrey went down. The Panthers’ offense is likely to be in bad shape if that happens, but given how late Foreman is going, handcuffing McCaffrey or shorting his injury prospects is a viable strategy at the end of your draft.

What’s Next?

As a reminder, the DraftKings prop bets from this article were…

  • Jonathan Taylor, Over 1450.5 Rushing Yards, -110
  • AJ Dillon, Over 775.5 Rushing Yards, -110
  • James Conner, Under 825.5 Rushing Yards, -115.
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Under 700.5 Rushing Yards, -125

For more NFL content, check out for The Professor’s quarterback and tight end board at BeerLife Sports!

Website | + posts

Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.