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Getting your running back tiers in order is one of the most important parts of your draft strategy. There’s a smaller margin of error with a steeper dropoff due to position scarcity, so timing your running back picks to coincide with the back half of a tier instead of breaking the seal on one can make a big difference in your roster quality. How do the running backs shake out before training camp shakes them up?
These backs should set the pace as long as they are on the field. If McCaffrey hadn’t missed so much of the last two seasons, he would still be RB1 over Taylor in PPR leagues.
Taylor’s offense should be better with the upgrade to Matt Ryan, which solidifies the already strong case to take the ascendant talent who is aligned perfectly with his offense at the #1 overall pick.
McCaffrey’s injury-marred 2020 and 2021 may cause a bit of hesitation before taking him in the top 5, but when he’s on the field, he’s the most valuable player in fantasy football. Just make sure you take D’Onta Foreman late.
KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR
- Austin Ekeler, LAC
TARGET AT ADP: Ekeler
Ekeler was only about 1.5 PPR points per game behind Taylor last year because the new regime smartly trusted him at the goal line. A repeat of 20 touchdowns is asking a lot, but he still presents a high enough weekly floor and ceiling to justify a pick in the first half of the first round.
TARGET AT ADP: Conner
The risk factor is relatively low with this group. They are proven all-around talents in good offenses who will be clear lead backs. All are worth picks in the back half of the first round, with the exception of Conner, who you can certainly get in the second, and maybe even in the third.
Cook has a higher ceiling this year with the hope that Kevin O’Connell will bring the Vikings offense into the 21st century. He has a higher injury risk than his peers, but he also has a clear handcuff who is reasonably priced and produced similar stat lines to Cook when the starter was out last year.
Mixon was roughly the same player in 2021 that he has been for most of his career, but the Bengals offense finally broke out, and Mixon’s fantasy teams benefited from his 16 total scores, crushing his previous career-high of nine. If anything, Mixon’s outlook improves this year with a young core getting mature behind a much improved offensive line.
Fournette will reprise his role as a lead back with a heavy helping of passing game work in one of the most prolific offenses in the league. Consider taking rookie Rachaad White late as an injury hedge after Fournette missed the last three games of 2021 with a hamstring injury.
You can count on Conner to miss a few games if his durability record as a lead back persists in 2022, and probably during the fantasy playoffs, but that is more than priced into his ADP. He’s an RB1 you can get outside of the top 10 backs off of the board in most leagues.
BUYER BEWARE RB1
AVOID AT ADP: Harris
These backs practically are their team’s offenses, which is a problem because opposing defenses can devote a lot of resources to stopping them with impunity. Either could still work out if they produce at 2021 levels (Henry would be a massive hit if he does that for a full season), but both could be frustrating from day one if their offenses sputter.
Did the Titans overuse Henry in 2020, leading to his 2021 injury? He was the clear #1 fantasy running back and most valuable player in fantasy before breaking his foot last year. Will he find as much room to run now that A.J. Brown is gone? His cost splits the difference, but building around Henry in the mid-first feels like an iffy proposition.
Harris benefited from a ton of targets and an offense that did just enough to give him a reasonable number of scoring opportunities. This year, the Steelers will take a hit in quarterback play, their line hasn’t improved, and there is talk that they want to give Harris more snaps off than they did last year. That’s not a recipe for a breakout season.
- Saquon Barkley, NYG
- Aaron Jones, GB
- Javonte Williams, DEN
- D'Andre Swift, DET
- Nick Chubb, CLE
- Cam Akers, LAR
- Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
- Alvin Kamara, NO
TARGET AT ADP: Barkley, Jones
AVOID AT ADP: Kamara
Any of these backs could be a stalwart RB1 for your fantasy team, but they also have potential pitfalls that could undermine your willingness to play them in any given week. They are best suited to be your RB2 but may make a team build that goes WR/TE in the first round work better if they hit as your RB1.
Was the Giants coaching staff and injuries holding Barkley back, or was he the problem? The usual first-round pick is available in the second, even third round to reflect the skepticism. Early indications are the new staff will use Barkley rationally in the passing game, which is enough to give you the green light at ADP if you believe in him.
The upside case for Jones is that he becomes Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiver now that Davante Adams is in Las Vegas. The downside is that A.J. Dillon gets a larger share of the backfield and Jones becomes a more expensive version of Cleveland Kareem Hunt. His track record leads me to believe the former more than the latter.
Williams' upside is definitely capped by the re-signing of Melvin Gordon III, but Nick Chubb has been scoring like an RB1 while sharing with Kareem Hunt in an offense that isn’t as good as the Broncos 2022 unit should be. If you liked him before Gordon re-signed, buy the ADP dip.
Swift’s involvement in the passing game should persist even though the team has more options in the passing game now, and he could benefit from a much more productive and efficient offense. He’s a little overdrafted at ADP, but more because of the ceiling of similar options. Taking him in the second will work out if the Lions offense takes a big step forward.
Chubb is proven, and the prospect of some or all of the season with Jacoby Brissett as the starter isn’t too scary since he was producing with Baker Mayfield, but any upside in his strangely depressed ADP hinges on the length of Deshaun Watson’s suspension.
Akers should be at 100%, and he wasn’t when we saw him struggle after his surprising early comeback from an Achilles tear last year. Perhaps more important than the performance is that we saw the team immediately put him back in the lead role. Akers can easily outproduce ADP on the quality of the offense alone as long as he can stay healthy.
The Cowboys offense won’t be as efficient this year, which is a bad sign for Elliott, whose efficiency dropped off sharply last year. The best-case scenario is we’ll get the Elliott we saw before his knee injury last year, which gives him the ability to modestly outproduce ADP.
Kamara is probably facing a suspension, and that could be the least of his worries if a felony battery charge sticks. If the resolution of his status is kicked down the road to 2023, Kamara could be a value at ADP, but even a full season of Kamara isn’t worth a first-round pick as long as Mark Ingram II is around.
UNDERRATED RB2 WITH RB1 UPSIDE
TARGET AT ADP: Mitchell, Edwards-Helaire, Sanders
For various reasons, fantasy players aren’t ready to give these lead backs their due. They all play in good offenses and just need to stay healthy and play up to previous levels to more than justify a pick at ADP.
Mitchell proved to be an ideal fit in Kyle Shanahan’s running game last year and he should get a boost from Trey Lance starting and forcing defenses to play 11-on-11 football. Mitchell is a free square as your very strong RB3, cheap RB2, or even viable RB1 in an upside-down draft build.
Edwards-Helaire was more productive than you remember last year, and we found out this offseason that he dropped a lot of weight in the 2021 offseason after he had to have his gallbladder removed and wasn’t able to prepare the way he normally would. With Tyreek Hill gone, his involvement in the passing game could go up, and Ronald Jones II has been a perennial disappointment.
Sanders has never quite put it together, but in the 2022 Eagles offense, all he has to do is run the plays as drawn up and his natural physical talent and supporting cast should do the rest. He’s way cheaper than the #1 back in what could be a great offense should be.
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