Laying some player groundwork for 2022, we are continuing our Dynasty Tiers for this offseason. You can find the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends with those respective links. You can also find full dynasty rankings here.
We are going to lay out the positional tiers with a short synopsis of those tiers and then at the end of the week, top-200 and top-300 rankings will come out for all formats as a cross-reference for gamers.
Some real quick methodology here. If you are new to how I do tiers, I make my dynasty tiers based on a blend of age, fantasy performance, career arc, team situation, and fantasy archetype.
There is some overlap to actual player rankings, but these tiers do not specifically follow the rankings, rather those archetypes. There should be tier movement for some players here based on how free agency and the draft plays out, so check back in as news develops this offseason.
The purpose of tiers not being a carbon copy of player rankings is to spot a potential arbitrage situation and shop in different buckets based on how you are constructing your team in startups and looking for trade opportunities.
A veteran starter that can accrue points immediately based on where a current roster is and other times chasing more youth and upside for the future.
*Player Age = Age on 9/1/2022
Tier One Dynasty Running Backs
Jonathan Taylor (Age 23.6)
Javonte Williams (22.4)
Najee Harris (24.5)
D’Andre Swift (23.6)
Breece Hall (21.3)
We are kicking things off with our top options still on their rookie contracts and well in the prime apex years for scoring at the position. Over the past 30 years, 66.1% of all RB1 scoring seasons have come from backs 26 years old and younger. That has skewed younger over the past decade, with 70.8% of the RB1 scoring seasons over the past 10 years coming from those younger backs. When looking at the pantheon of the position each year, there have been just 14 running backs over age 27 to turn in a top-three scoring fantasy campaign in a given season, with the last time coming in 2015. The last time a back over the age of 27 was the highest-scoring running back came back in 2007.
While we are due to have that tested by a number of very good backs approaching the apex age for backs, it also highlights the fragility at the position from a longevity stance. Running backs largely shine their brightest early in their careers while wide receiver takes more of a runway to takeoff and sustained flight.
Jonathan Taylor paced the position in scoring in 2021, accruing 2,171 yards and 20 touchdowns, both of which led the league. Taylor also tacked on 40 receptions (averaging 9.0 yards per catch), giving him 76 catches through two NFL seasons after 42 receptions in college. Taylor ran a pass route on 50.8% of the Indy dropbacks this season, which was fifth in the league among running backs. We don’t need to go too heavy here as Taylor will enter next season 23 years old, has elite pedigree in collegiate production and athleticism, while his team is built around him being the catalyst for the offense.
Javonte Williams was everything as advertised as a rookie, delivering as an elite tackle-breaker and well-rounded back capable of making a jump to three-down alpha. Williams was 12th among all backs in yards from scrimmage (1,219), caught 43 passes, and ranked second in the league in missed tackles forced (63) in the run game behind Jonathan Taylor despite having 129 fewer carries. Williams only handled 50.6% of the Denver backfield touches, but in the one game that Melvin Gordon missed, we saw the upside as Williams turned 29 touches into 178 yards a touchdown.
Gordon returning for 2022 will prevent paying the iron price in startups, but Williams can still produce with him here while being so young that the potential takeoff is still worth eating another season as a 1A, especially in what we are projecting to be a much better overall offense after adding Russell Wilson. While Gordon does present an immediate ceiling roadblock, he also struck out on the veteran market and only returned on a one-year $2.5 million deal.
Najee Harris was another 2021 rookie that was exactly advertised, which was a reliable workhorse that does not need to come off the field. Harris played 170 more offensive snaps (980 in total) than the next closest running back. As a byproduct, he led all backs with 381 touches and 74 receptions. On a per-game basis, he ranked second and fifth in those categories. The only knock on Harris is that just as was the case in college, he is not extremely explosive.
Just 9.1% of his carries gained 10 or more yards, which ranked 31st out of the 53 players with 100 or carries in 2021. To his credit, the Steelers offensive line was as bad as advertised in the offseason, ranking 30th in ESPN’s run block win rate, 24th in overall run blocking grade at Pro Football Focus, and 28th in adjusted line yards created at Football Outsiders. Volume is king and we have seen that under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers will ride a feature back at a league-high rate.
D’Andre Swift Is not quite “the guy” in Detroit, but he does enough of everything well that there is still a lofty ceiling if and when that opportunity comes. Swift closed 2021 10th at the position in points per game (16.1) and 16th in touches per game (16.4). The strength of his game for fantasy in 2021 came via 62 receptions (giving him 108 through two seasons). Swift did concede more rushing work than we would have liked to Jamaal Williams, averaging just 9.6 carries per game with the two active together, with a high game of 14 carries and totaling 41.6% of the carries in those games. That puts more fragility on Swift fully ascending in 2022 to his draft cost (especially in non-PPR formats), but Swift has still checked the boxes as a goal line back (he is 6-of-13 inside of the five through two years) and as a pass catcher, that all that is missing is rushing volume from his profile.
Breece Hall checks every box we are looking for. He had an early career breakout at age 18 with 1,149 yards and 10 touchdowns that rolled into posting seasons with 1,752 and 1,774 yards afterwards with 23 touchdowns in each. He caught 20 or more passes in all three seasons while averaging 22.2 touches per game, the most in this draft class over their collegiate careers. At the combine, Hall checked out physically at 5’11” and 217 pounds while registering as a 90th percentile athlete in model’s physical score.
The NFL had few landing spots with completely barren backfields for Hall to land, so there was always strong odds that he would end up in a spot already tangible back on the roster. That happened when he was selected at No. 36 overall to the Jets.
While Michael Carter posted a solid rookie season, he also profiles as a compact satellite back that shared time as a rookie with Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman, playing 60% of the snaps or more in just three games.
Hall will surely concede some work to Carter and many will harp on the staff in New York coming from a coaching tree that has regularly shuffled in bodies at the position with success, the large signal here based on draft capital, equity forfeited, size, and production all favor Hall as the back to invest in here for fantasy.
In recent seasons, we have seen players like Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, Javonte Williams, Cam Akers, Miles Sanders and A.J. Dillon all be selected in the second round of the draft in immediate situations with shared touches. All besides Dillon found their way to tangible touches by the end of their rookie seasons while increasing their market value.
Tier Two Dynasty Rubbing Backs
Christian McCaffrey (26.2)
Austin Ekeler (27.3)
Saquon Barkley (25.6)
Alvin Kamara (27.1)
Joe Mixon (26.1)
Dalvin Cook (27.1)
Nick Chubb (26.7)
A tier of stud names that have been driving the top of the position in recent seasons. All are on or approaching their second contracts in the league while right on the cusp of hitting that age apex mentioned in the tier above. If you are a non-contender and holding any of these backs, the market value sands are thinning, but all are capable of still pushing out RB1 scoring seasons in their range of outcomes with immediately high floors.
Christian McCaffrey was snakebit once again in 2021, playing in just seven games, with two of those games being ones in which he left early, playing 30% and 36% of the snaps. McCaffrey has now played in 10 games the past two seasons due to ankle, thigh, hamstring, and shoulder injuries. While I remain largely injury agnostic (and McCaffrey has had a few injuries that are just outright back luck), there may be a time when the Panthers decide to pull back on McCaffrey’s workload.
That said, when McCaffrey does play in full, there is still no back that possesses his fantasy stability. In the five full games he played this season, he closed the week as the RB1, RB3, RB15, RB4, and RB3 in scoring, averaging 23.6 points per game those weeks with fewer than 24 points in just one.
Austin Ekeler did his best McCaffrey impersonation last season, finishing as the RB2 and producing 92.2% of the fantasy output that Jonathan Taylor had while missing a game. Ekeler had 44 more receiving points than the next closest back as he now has ranked first, third, and second at his position in receiving points per game over the past three years. The only thing missing from taking Ekeler to superstardom was a commitment to giving him money touches in the running game, something that finally happened a year ago.
Ekeler found the end zone 20 times, 12 of which came on the ground after scoring nine rushing touchdowns over his first four years in the league. Ekeler led all position players with 163.1 fantasy points in the red zone after totaling 145.6 points in that area of the field over four seasons. He handled 12 carries inside of the five-yard line (seven for scores) after 14 the previous four seasons.
I can feel the eyes roll by including Saquon Barkley in this tier still, and he has fallen to a third-round draft pick in startups now. Barkley had a brutal 2021, starting off the season slowly returning from an ACL injury. Just when it looked like Barkley was back after turning 18 touches into 126 yards and two touchdowns in Week 4, he then injured his ankle the following week after just six snaps that kept him sidelined until Week 11. He was never the same on return, averaging just 3.9 yards per touch and producing just one RB1 scoring week over his final eight games.
He did return an all-time bad offense that was dead on his arrival, already suffering injuries to Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, and then he played the final six games of the year without Daniel Jones. Perhaps I am making too many excuses for Barkley himself and I am prepared to own that, but I still cannot just turn out the lights on a 25-year-old back with elite pedigree, athleticism, and draft capital that is still one of the few backs that projects to have no limitations for playing time in all game scripts and scenarios.
Even if a team did trade for Barkley, the team buying him would be making him the feature back while it is really hard to believe the Giants have nowhere to go up at this point offensively after 2021 and would use him up in a year with no further commitment to see if he can recapture his first two seasons.
While many will easily circle Barkley as the most volatile player in this group, Alvin Kamara also has a wide range of outcomes in the short term. On the plus, Kamara averaged a career-high 22.1 touches per game (third in the league), producing 1,337 yards and nine scores on his way to an RB8 season in points per game. On the downside, he caught a career-low 47 passes, which played a large role in him averaging fewer than 5.0 yards per touch for the first time in his career. Now, the bar was set extremely high for those to be negatives and Kamara is still one of the league’s best dual-purpose talents, but Kamara also was dead last in the league in rushing yards below expectation (-133) while his broken plus missed tackle rate per attempt (16.7%) was his lowest since 2018. Kamara only played four games with Mark Ingram active, and in those games, he was the RB17, RB6, RB50, and RB35. What the Saints add in their backfield this season can have an impact, while short-term, Kamara may still yet face disciplinary after an arrest Pro Bowl weekend.
Joe Mixon turned in a season many had been going to bat for years, racking up 1,519 yards and 16 touchdowns on 334 touches in route to an RB4 season in points per game. The only minor blemish that Mixon had was the Bengals for some reason still have not committed to him playing in passing situations. Mixon still managed 42 catches, but there is a lot more meat on the bone here as he only ran a pass route on 27 third downs during the regular season.
Mixon had nine games with two or fewer catches, averaging 11.6 points per game those weeks with one week higher than RB24. In his other seven games, he averaged 26.3 points per game with one game lower than RB4, so he is still tied a bit to the Bengals squeezing him in the passing game. That said, Mixon is a feature grinder, still just 26 years old, and attached to an ascending offense.
Dalvin Cook took a slight step back in 2021, closing the year as the RB11 in points per game. Cook still was fifth in the league in touches per game (21.8), what hurt him was finding the end zone just six times after 17 and 13 scores the previous two seasons, while he averaged a career-low 2.6 receptions per game for just 6.6 yards per catch. Cook also missed another four games, leaving him without a full season played through five years in the league. Like Mixon, Cook has been used in the passing game less than assumed, with his receptions per game never reaching that holy grail of 4.0 per game while they have dipped in each of the past two seasons from the season prior.
Nick Chubb remains an elite running back per touch, and really puts emphasis on the “running” part of elite running back output. Chubb accrued another 1,433 yards and nine scores in 2021 while averaging 5.5 yards per carry, becoming the first running back ever to average over 5.0 yards per carry with over 100 attempts in each of their first four seasons in the league. Chubb has closed the past three seasons as the RB8, RB11, and RB13.
We even got a taste of Chubb playing without Kareem Hunt. In those seven games without Hunt, Chubb handled 62.4% of the backfield touches with 16.7 points per game as opposed to 55.8% of the touches for 14.0 points per game with Hunt. We still would like a much larger spike for Chubb in that regard because once again he was limited as a pass catcher, catching just 20 passes, his third season in four years with 20 or fewer receptions. That lack of passing involvement keeps Chubb from pushing to pace the position in scoring and more touchdown-dependent than top backs, producing just five RB2 or better scoring weeks in 21 games without a trip to the end zone.
Tier Three Dynasty Rubbing Backs
Kenneth Walker (21.9)
Antonio Gibson (24.2)
Cam Akers (23.6)
J.K. Dobbins (23.7)
Travis Etienne (23.6)
Josh Jacobs (24.6)
David Montgomery (25.2)
This tier of backs takes more projection than the previous tier, but consists of younger backs capable of RB1 production with upside to deliver a front-end scoring pocket of their career.
Transferring over to Michigan State after two years at Wake Forest, Kenneth Walker flourished in his new environment. After posting 1,205 yards and 17 touchdowns on 223 touches over those two seasons at Wake, Walker exploded for 1,725 yards and 19 scores with the Spartans in 2021.
Walker averaged a career-high 6.3 yards per touch, living on big runs. He was second in class in rate of runs to gain 15 or more yards (11.5%) while a class-high 53.9% of his rushing yardage came on those carries. Walker also did this while facing loaded boxes on 19.9% of his carries, the sixth-highest rate in the class. Walker did more than necessary at the combine to back his breakaway yardage, checking out with a 92nd percentile speed score at 211 pounds. Walker also ranks third in this class in avoid a tackle once every 2.9 carries while he averaged 4.46 yards after contact per carry (also third).
An explosive runner, the one thing Walker lacks is the reception totals, catching 19 passes combined over his three collegiate seasons. Only three backs in this class posted a lower target rate per route run than Walker (7.8%). He also averaged just 6.8 yards per catch on his 13 grabs in 2021. Not catching passes in college is not necessarily a function of not being able to catch passes at the next level, but it just leaves the door open for Walker to share those passing game opportunities at the next level.
Seattle is a spot that has immediate competition for touches in year one. Rashaad Penny returned to the team after a massive close to the 2021 season, but we also have a very limited sample of him staying on the field through four years in the league.
We are still waiting to see if Chris Carson is able to return to the field this season from a neck injury. But the only running back on the roster currently signed beyond this season in Seattle is DeeJay Dallas. Walker can come in and immediately push Penny for touches while potentially taking over in a similar fashion as other backs selected in this area of the draft as mentioned earlier with Breece Hall.
Although Antonio Gibson did not make the jump many had hoped last season, he still posted 1,331 yards and 10 touchdowns on 300 touches battling through a plethora of injuries on a bad Washington offense. Gibson struggled through the Week 9 bye, averaging 11.9 points per game with zero RB1 scoring weeks. After the bye, he averaged 16.7 points per game with five RB1 scoring weeks. A big component in contributing to his strong finish was the loss of J.D. McKissic. McKissic was forced to exit Week 12 with a season-ending concussion. From that time on, Gibson had his route participation jump up to 55.1% of the dropbacks from 35.4% prior, catching 23 passes over his final six games after 19 through 10 games. With McKissic returning to Washington, Gibson is road blocked to that three-down role we need to fully buy in as reaching his fantasy ceiling.
Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles in July. That injury has been a scarlet letter for running backs, but Akers was able to pull off an improbable comeback returning to the field at the end of the season. Ironically, through his impressive comeback, Akers is being punished since the results were not electric. Akers rushed 72 times for 175 yards (2.4 YPC) while catching 11 passes for 86 yards over his five appearances. The Rams faced an onslaught of good defenses over that span while no back ran well for them. That said, Akers does have a wide range of outcomes.
On one hand, seeing him immediately handle 27-of-30 backfield touches in the Divisional Round shows that the Rams do believe in his talent. On the other, we saw in the Super Bowl when Darrell Henderson was available that there is still potential for a timeshare to a degree and we do not have a great sample over the past two seasons of Akers and Henderson operating together at full capacity.
The Rams also have not thrown the ball to their backs a ton since Todd Gurley left, ranking 31st and 32nd in the league in target rate to their backfield the past two seasons. Akers has the potential to be in the front seat of the backfield attached to a great offense, but also the potential to be a short-term timeshare back that does not catch a ton of passes.
2021 was a lost season for J.K. Dobbins after going down with an ACL injury in the preseason. That was the first domino in a string of backfield issues for the Ravens. Dobbins still has tremendous upside in this scheme. Dobbins showed plenty of electricity with 6.0 yards per carry and 6.1 yards per touch. The primary question is how involved Dobbins can get as a pass-catcher. He caught more than two passes in two games as a rookie, while the Ravens have been 29th or lower in targets to their backs in the three seasons with Lamar Jackson as the starter.
Another back that lost all of 2021 was Travis Etienne after suffering a foot injury in the preseason. In college, Etienne posted three-straight 1,500 yards seasons while scoring 13 or more touchdowns all four seasons. He improved as a pass-catcher every season at Clemson while he scored at least one touchdown in 46 of his 55 career games while 24 of his touchdowns came from outside of the red zone and 17 from 40 yards or longer. The Jaguars have had a full staff upheaval this offseason to pair with Etienne’s unknown offensive role off injury, but with James Robinson suffering an Achilles injury to end the 2021 season while entering a restricted free agent contract year, Etienne has a head start this offseason in leading this backfield.
While not flashy, David Montgomery has given us three consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Montgomery missed four games last season but was a workhorse when available. He was second among all backs in snap share per game (74.6%) while handling 81.2% of the backfield touches in his games played. A new coaching staff may create more balance with Khalil Herbert to throw a wrench into Montgomery being a discounted version of Najee Harris. Montgomery is another back on an expiring contract from this tier.
With 1,220 yards and nine touchdowns this past season, Josh Jacobs has gone over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. Jacobs has always had fragility for fantasy as a pass catcher, but this past season, Jacobs caught a career-high 54 passes after 53 catches his first two seasons in the league to help elevate his floor. The only downside is that those were largely hollow opportunities as Jacobs managed just 6.4 yards per catch and 5.4 yards per target. With that production and Josh McDaniels coming over from a New England organization that has compartmentalized their backfields regularly, that 2021 reception spike could be fleeting and leave Jacobs in the weekly RB2 purgatory zone of fantasy backs that close with RB1 overall numbers. The Raiders not picking up the fifth-year option for Jacobs also provides an ominous shroud on the young back holding grips as a lead back in the league.
Tier Four Dynasty Rubbing Backs
Derrick Henry (28.7)
Ezekiel Elliott (27.1)
Aaron Jones (27.7)
Leonard Fournette (27.6)
James Conner (27.3)
Hitting a tier of backs approaching no-man’s land in terms of sustainable production and status as a top fantasy backs due to hitting the age apex, but still offer upside if all goes right in the short term.
Derrick Henry almost deserves a tier of his own due to his age, production, workload, and offensive environment. Henry was forced to miss the final nine games of the 2021 season due to a Jones Fracture, but prior to injury was averaging a career-high 29.6 touches per game. Henry used to volume to elevate a career-low 4.6 yards per touch despite averaging a career-high 2.3 receptions per game. His yards after contact have dipped in each of the past two seasons while he will be the “oldest” top running back in the league.
Henry posted four weeks as a top-four scorer at his position in his eight games and still showcased a ceiling not many backs can get to, having weeks of 47.7 and 35.6 points. Over the past three seasons, only Davante Adams has more 30-point PPR games (12) than Henry has (nine) among skill players. The questions for Henry are how long he can keep this up and if last season was inevitable due to the massive workload he has carried per game the past three seasons.
Ezekiel Elliott has now had back-to-back seasons making 1,317 yards and eight scores and 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns feels disappointing. Despite the solid counting stats, Elliott has closed each of the past two seasons as the RB17 in points per game. Last year, Elliott got out of the gates hot with 19.6 points per game through six weeks. Elliott picked up a PCL injury that he played through after Week 4 and his workload and production diminished as the season wore on, averaging 12.4 points per game over the final 11 games while shedding 4.6 touches per game after his start. Over those final 11 games, Elliott posted three RB1 scoring weeks with none inside of the top-10.
All of that said, Elliott still hardly came off the field. Only Najee Harris played more snaps than Elliott. The Cowboys have shown ultimate commitment to Elliott and he still has at least another season before they can realistically get out of his contract. Elliott may have reached the RB2 portion of his career, but he still has an immediate grasp of high-end playing time and touchdown equity on one of the league’s best offenses heading into 2022.
Aaron Jones closed 2021 as the RB13 in points per game, but his season was an overall mixed bag than previous years. On the pro side, Jones had his third straight season with double-digit touchdowns. He remained efficient, averaging 5.3 yards per touch, his fifth straight season over 5.0 yards per touch. He caught another 52 passes, which was sixth among backs (12th in receptions per game). In the playoffs, Jones showcased his upside with 170 yards on 21 touches in the Divisional Round.
Jones has always relied on efficiency over volume, and his 14.9 touches per game checked in 21st among backs as we progressively saw more A.J. Dillon as the season wore on. Jones picked up a knee injury in Week 10, but even prior to that, had posted just three RB1 scoring weeks. After returning to the lineup in Week 12, A.J. Dillon received 17 red zone opportunities to just five for Jones in the red zone when the two played together with Dillon having a 9-ot-3 edge inside of the 10-yard line over those games. If Dillon has truly surpassed Jones in the money zone, that is a major issue for a back that does not live on overall volume as much as his ADP peers.
Jones has drawn work as a pass catcher when Davante Adams has been absent, something that may or may not be sticky given those situations were short-term necessity for the team versus rebuilding their depth at receiver this offseason. In the seven games that Adams has missed over the past three seasons, Jones has received 6.7 targets per game (19.7% of the team share), with 5.1 catches for 55.4 yards per game and four receiving scores.
The Buccaneers retained a core component of their offense this offense, signing Leonard Fournette to a three-year extension. Fournette has been extremely productive for fantasy when given a true opportunity at any point in his career.
In 22 career games with Bucs in which he played just half of the team snaps, Fournette has averaged 17.6 touches for 89.2 yards per game with 4.7 receptions per game and 19 total touchdowns. Tampa Bay went with a bit of a committee to open last offseason, but dominoes quickly fell in favor of Fournette becoming the lead back. From Week 4 on, Fournette averaged 20.6 PPR points per game through the end of the regular season. He scored 11 touchdowns in those 10 games played, with just one scoring week lower than RB16 and five in the top-10 scorers.
Only Jonathan Taylor (87) and Austin Ekeler (62) had more red zone opportunities than Fournette (55). With the Bucs coming back nearly at full capacity this offseason, Fournette is a RB1 fantasy back for 2022 that likely won’t be fully priced up due to incomplete seasons the past two years.
James Conner is coming off posting 1,127 yards with 18 touchdowns (third in the league). He averaged a robust 26.0 points per game in six games with Chase Edmonds absent, registering five RB1 scoring weeks. He also added pass-catching juice, averaging a career-high 10.1 yards per reception. Locked in short-term as a feature back on one of the league’s best offenses, Conner has now been a top-30 scorer per game in each of the past four seasons with two RB1 scoring seasons per game on his resume, but he also has yet to play a full season.
Tier Five Dynasty Rubbing Backs
Elijah Mitchell (24.3)
A.J. Dillon (24.3)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (23.4)
Elijah Mitchell (24.3)
Miles Sanders (25.3)
Damien Harris (25.6)
James Cook (22.9)
Dameon Pierce (22.6)
Michael Carter (23.3)
Chase Edmonds (26.4)
James Robinson (24.1)
Tony Pollard (25.3)
Kareem Hunt (27.1)
We are in the zone where these backs are much younger than the previous tier. They are more attractive to buy in startups, but all also carry a wide range of outcomes with an eye of the beholder quality that can make them enticing options to sell or buy this offseason.
Elijah Mitchell was the go-to back for the 49ers immediately when Raheem Mostert went down in Week 1 and never looked back. Despite missing games with three different injuries at various points of the season, any time that Mitchell was available, San Francisco went right back to featuring him. Mitchell averaged 20.5 touches per game, which was seventh in the league. I do not have any concerns for Mitchell that surround the narrative that Kyle Shanahan will play anyone year over year, but I do believe there are a few ancillary questions that still need to be answered in 2022 to cement Mitchell’s status as an RB2-plus moving forward for Dynasty.
With Mitchell being a smaller back (5’10” and 201 pounds at the combine) and forced to miss time with various injuries, will the 49ers cut down his work at all in 2022 after adding Ty-Davis Price and potentially giving Trey Sermon a chance at retribution?
This is a large part of why Deebo Samuel manifested throughout the season. The reserve backs for the 49ers simply weren’t very good. They are either going to give Sermon or Davis-Price more work next season.
Mitchell averaged just 1.9 receptions per game, which makes him rushing and touchdown-dependent. In his seven games played without a touchdown, averaged just 9.4 points per game. Inside of the 10-yard line, Mitchell only out-rushed Samuel 12-8. With Samuel involved and the addition of Trey Lance’s running ability as a feature near the goal line, scoring upside is still potentially limited.
After just 48 touches as a rookie, A.J. Dillon took advantage of the exit of Jamaal Williams, ballooning up to 221 touches for 1,116 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season. I already mentioned Dillon’s extended role in the red zone with Aaron Jones above, but Dillon also showcased that he could catch the ball as well, securing 34-of-37 targets (for 9.2 yards per catch) after catching just 21 passes in his collegiate career.
The Packers could potentially move on from Jones after this season, but with Jones on the field, Dillon is stuck as a touchdown fantasy play. In the 10 games that Dillon played with Jones available in which he did not score a touchdown, Dillon had just one week inside of the top-30 scorers. While having a path to touchdown relevancy, just 4.8% of Dillon’s carries gained 10 or more yards, the lowest rate among all backs with 100 or more carries.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire has not gotten off to the start many had hoped that used top rookie capital on him in 2020, including the Chiefs. Through two NFL seasons, he has been the RB23 and RB30 in points per game. He has missed three and seven games to limit his on-field production with the primary culprit of capping his fantasy upside has been his lack of usage in passing situations, despite that being a strength of his college. That is why we have consistently seen his reserves in Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon showcase the floor and ceiling we know exists in this offense for a three-down back.
Edwards-Helaire has averaged just 2.8 and 1.9 receptions per game through two seasons while running just 55 total routes on third down those seasons. The Chiefs have added Ronald Jones with both vets as free agents to potentially open the door for more passing game usage, but Edwards-Helaire needs significant expansion in that area of the offense to tap into the fantasy scoring his reserves have shown when someone has control over this backfield.
Miles Sanders was efficient once again on the ground in 2021, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, which anchored his 5.6 yards per touch. Sanders has now averaged 5.8, 5.5, and 5.6 yards per touch over his three seasons in the league. Despite his rushing efficiency, Sanders was road blocked in 2021 due to failing to score on any of his 163 touches, averaging just 2.2 receptions per game, and missing another five games due to injury. After catching 50 passes as a rookie for 10.2 yards per grab, Sanders has 54 catches since with his yards per catch dropping each season, down to 6.1 yards per catch last season.
Sanders is surely going to find the end zone in 2022. Right? Please? But after six touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, his scoring upside still remains a question with his pass catching improvement attached to Jalen Hurts. The Eagles showed they can have one of the league’s front-end running games, however, giving Sanders potential to be a discounted version of J.K. Dobbins in the short term if he can find the end zone more often, but there is a lot to be answered for Sanders big picture in the final season of his rookie contract.
Damien Harris continued to progress in Year 3, turning 220 touches into 1,061 yards and 15 touchdowns, which was fifth at this position. Like many backs in this tier, Harris was a limited pass catcher, securing just 18 receptions last season, giving him 23 catches through three years in the league. Harris has run a total of just seven pass routes on third down the past two seasons as the Patriots have leaned into having their backs in specific roles. Harris enters this year in a contract year, which places him in a tough area to latch onto full speed for Dynasty.
James Cook has been hyper-efficient per touch over his career (7.5 yards) due to the types of touches he gets paired with the Georgia environment. The hallmark of Cook’s game comes in the passing game, averaging 10.9 yards per reception over his career while averaging 1.63 yards per route in 2021, fourth in this class.
The Bills had explored adding a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield in each of the past two offseasons. Travis Etienne thought he was going to be selected by the Bills if the Jaguars didn’t select him a year ago, while Buffalo had a deal worked out with veteran J.D. McKissic during the legal tampering period before he reconsidered and returned to Washington.
Buffalo has only targeted their running backs 14% and 16% the past two seasons (both 27th in the league), but they also have not had a back that has added a lot to the offense in that department.
Out of 68 qualifying running backs, Singletary ranked 67th and Moss 56th in receiving grade per Pro Football Focus. Moss was 41st among that group in yards per route run (1.11) while Singletary was 67th (0.61).
Moss is also the only running back in Buffalo signed beyond this season, so the door is open for Cook to run into added opportunity in one of the league’s best offenses. While the Bills are not a team that stacks league-leading production for backs as a whole, we have seen when they turn the backfield over to just one player that those guys have crushed for fantasy.
Now, I just talked about archetypes mattering big picture, which the one potential bugaboo for Cook. At 199 pounds, Cook was 11 pounds lighter than his brother at the combine and regularly shared work over his collegiate career. Even if Cook does hit year one, it very well could be in a fashion like we just seen play out with Michael Carter. The good news is that Cook carries that second-round draft capital as an anchor.
Dameon Pierce has the cleanest path to viable touches in 2022 on the wide open Houston roster. This past season at Florida, Pierce only managed 119 touches, but averaged 6.6 yards per touch with 16 touchdowns. Pierce ranked second this draft class in rate of runs to gain a first down or touchdown (37.0%), he forced a missed tackle once every 2.56 carries (first), while averaging 3.65 yards after contact per carry (12th) with a run of 15 or more yards on 9.0% of his carries (11th). Pierce also averaged 1.80 yards per route run (third in this class) while he did not allow a single pressure in pass protection.
We know Tony Pollard can play. Pollard has averaged 5.6, 4.9, and 6.2 yards per touch to start his career while his touches have risen from 101, to 129, and 169 in those seasons. Pollard even showed having usable weeks last season despite the limited usage, having 10 weeks as an RB3 or better and seven as an RB2 or better. Of course, Ezekiel Elliott was still a major roadblock. Elliott was second among running backs in snaps played and had a monopoly on money touches, having 22 opportunities inside of the 10-yard line to just three for Pollard. We know Pollard is a strong handcuff with some FLEX ability, the real question is what is he after the 2022 season? Pollard is a potential free agent in 2023. He could find a larger role via another team next season while the Cowboys will have their first true out on Elliott’s contract.
With the addition on Mike McDaniel as head coach, we knew that revamping the running game in Miami would be a top priority. The Dolphins were 23rd in the league in run rate (40.3%), 31st in yards per carry (3.5 YPC), and 30th in expected points added as a rushing offense (-45.5 EPA). Kicking off the potential changes, Miami added Chase Edmonds on a two-year deal (worth up to $12.6M). Edmonds has been highly efficient, averaging 5.7 yards per touch in each of the past three seasons. He has yet to show as strong of a fantasy ceiling outside of having a backfield to himself, however, something that has more of a pulse now, even though we should anticipate that Miami is not done adding to this backfield.
Edmonds played two games without James Conner in 2021, finishing as the RB6 (26.7 points) and RB26 (13.2 points). For his career, Edmonds has logged just five RB1 scoring weeks due to the fact that he has never logged enough money touches. Edmonds has just nine career rushing touchdowns through four seasons, registering just six career carries inside of the 5-yard line, converting one for a touchdown. Edmonds has carried the ball more than 12 times in just five career games. As a runner, Edmonds does find a strong scheme fit with what McDaniel is bringing to the offense. This past year, Edmonds logged 68 zone runs for 394 yards (5.8 YPC) while also handling 59 RPO carries for 323 yards (5.5 YPC). For fantasy, Edmonds still needs to survive the remainder of the offseason, but comes out of this move as a back-end RB2 floor play with upside for more ceiling should he survive the rest of the way without Miami adding a threat for early-down and goal line work.
With high investment in Breece Hall this spring, Michael Carter is another cautionary tale for going all in on backs that don’t have premier archetypes or draft capital.
While Carter posted a solid rookie season in which his 5.3 yards per touch ranked 15th among backs with 100 or more touches, the investment in Hall the following year is an example of why we always preach that archetypes matter to coaching staffs. You have to be extremely special as a fringe 200-pound back to knock down the door to be a feature back in the NFL in the eyes of coaches. And if you are a day three pick in that boat like Carter was a year ago, you have added hurdles to vault regularly at the start of your career.
While Carter is good back, he also profiles as a compact satellite back that shared time as a rookie with Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman, playing 60% of the snaps or more in just three games. Carter was in and out of the lineup as a rookie attached to the Jets, playing 60% of the snaps or more in just three games as part of a lackluster surrounding cast of talent. My top comparison for him as a prospect was Chase Edmonds, which is something I still feel strongly about for Carter as a very good player, but one that needs to run into optimal conditions to stack opportunity.
James Robinson showed once again that he can be productive in a subpar environment, averaging 5.1 yards per touch. His overall production did take a hit from 2020 as he dipped to RB23 points per game, largely stemming from a reduced workload overall. Robinson went from 20.6 touches per game as a rookie down to 13.9 last season, with very puzzling quotes multiple times from Urban Meyer surrounding his playing time.
Robinson then suffered an Achilles injury in late December that will surely have him sidelined for the entirety of the offseason. We did see Cam Akers return from the same injury in six months to keep the door open for Robinson’s return, but with Travis Etienne returning and new coaching staff as added elements to his injury, Robinson has a lot of questions heading into this offseason while he may not even hit the open market in 2023 since he is a restricted free agent.
Kareem Hunt has been the RB22 and RB21 in points per game during his two years with Cleveland. Interestingly enough, Hunt has not fully taken advantage of weeks without Nick Chubb active. In five games without Chubb active, Hunt has been an RB1 scorer just once while averaging 13.1 points per game. Hunt is in the final year of his contract with the Browns.
Rhamondre Stevenson (24.5)
Kenneth Gainwell (23.5)
Devin Singletary (25.0)
Rashaad Penny (26.6)
Darrell Henderson (25.0)
Alexander Mattison (24.2)
Myles Gaskin (25.5)
Nyheim Hines (25.8)
Khalil Herbert (24.4)
Zack Moss (24.7)
Ronald Jones (25.1)
This tier is a massive tier filled with a number of backs young enough to still make an impact. All of these backs take some squinting to get to their paths in terms of upside, but all have flashed some fantasy ability along the way so far.
The two backs that stand out here in that regard of having a lot more intrigue and ones that I have higher in individual rankings are Rhamondre Stevenson, Kenneth Gainwell, and Khalil Herbert. All showed the ability to be productive handcuffs with RB1 scoring weeks when they had the backfield to themselves as rookies, even in a small sample. Stevenson and Gainwell are the best bets here to have a role in their current offenses this season with room for expansion as rookies, while all of Damien Harris, Miles Sanders, and David Montgomery are in contract years. Stevenson was fifth in the league last year in touch rate per snap (57%) and offers the most three-down potential big picture out of 2021 rookies here, but all three are players I want to target and roster at their cost.
Alexander Mattison has hit with Dalvin Cook sidelined but has needed Cook off the field to get there. Mattison doesn’t have as flashy peripheral metrics as someone like Tony Pollard (another potential 2023 free agent), but Mattison will still only be approaching 25 years old at the end of next season when he has a chance to hit open waters.
Darrell Henderson is also in the final year of his contract with the Rams. Henderson has improved all three years of his career and the Rams showed the most trust to him in the passing game out of the three backs that played in 2021. The rub is that we have not seen Henderson show a lot of standalone value outside of situations in which he has not just accrued all of the backfield touches. That has been a small sample, but I view him as more of a short-term thorn and handcuff for Cam Akers before becoming a potential free agent next offseason.
The addition of James Cook thwarts Devin Singletary from rolling over the usage we saw from him to close the 2021 season. Singletary accounted for 127-of-150 backfield touches for the Bills over their final seven games of the season. He scored 19.7 fantasy points per game over that stretch with a low scoring week as RB14. When Singletary has gotten to be a three-down back, he has produced, but only in those high-usage environments. Singletary has seven career RB1 scoring weeks, averaging 19.8 touches in those games with just one racking up fewer than 17 touches. As part of committee, Singletary has not found the same success, averaging 8.2 points per game in 27 career games with fewer than 15 touches, with just eight weeks as an RB2 in those games.
Seattle brought back Rashaad Penny on a one-year deal, but the addition of Kenneth Walker stunts the full potential that we finally seen unlocked to closed 2021. After being left for dead and on his very last legs with Seattle, Penny rushed 92 times for 671 yards (7.3 yards per carry) over the final five games of the season, posting 135 or more rushing yards in four of those games.
Elevated by the small sample, Penny produced a carry of 10 or more yards on 15.9% of his carries, which was third in the league. 61.3% of his rushing yardage came on those explosive runs, the highest rate in the league.
Penny did exploit a number of soft defenses over that stretch (Houston, Chicago, Arizona, and Detroit were all back half teams in explosive run rate allowed) but did so still in an impressive fashion that extended beyond just producing due to opponent. Penny had just 161 carries over his first three seasons in the league, so we can hardly blame Seattle for proceeding with caution. Penny also lacked any receiving production, catching six passes for 48 yards total over his breakout.
Ronald Jones joins Kansas City coming off 492 yards and four touchdowns on 111 touches, fully losing the job outright to Leonard Fournette. Jones will only turn 25 this August with two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, but his odds of running into three-down production are slim, though the attachment to the Chiefs keeps him carrying a pulse.
Rachaad White (23.7)
Isaiah Spiller (21.1)
Tyler Allgeier (22.4)
Brian Robinson (23.5)
Zamir White (23.0)
Ty Davis-Price (21.6)
Hassan Haskins (22.8)
Jerome Ford (23.0)
Our first wave of 2022 rookies that carry the most appeal outside of the top-crust of the position from this class., but also need some projection for viable touches out of the gates.
Tyler Allgeier has the best path to opportunity out of this group, joining a limited Atlanta backfield, on a team clearly in a transition phase that could turn over to younger players all over the field.
After racking up 1,304 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020 with a silly 8.0 yards per touch, he followed things up with 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns this past season (5.9 yards per touch). He scored in all but one game this past season while adding 28 receptions.
As a JUCO transfer in 2020, Rachaad White averaged an impressive 11.4 yards per touch with six touchdowns on just 50 touches in his first season with Arizona State. That exciting sample landed White in the driver’s seat entering 2021 and he did not disappoint, turning in 1,456 yards (6.5 yards per touch) with 16 touchdowns.
Where White stands out in this class is out of the backfield. He accounted for 20.9% of the team receptions and 19.5% of the receiving yards, the highest rates in this class. Not just a product of volume in the passing game, White also led this class in yards per route run (2.25).
White has the size (6’0” and 214 pounds) to be more than a satellite back at the next level while he posted a 74th percentile speed score and 87th percentile explosion score (vert plus broad) at the combine. If a team is aggressive with White on day two of the draft, then he will be someone I am heavily targeting from this class of backs.
Isaiah Spiller posted over 1,100 yards on three seasons at Texas A&M. He never cleared more than 208 touches in any of those seasons, but he still secured over 20 receptions all three seasons while averaging 5.9 yards per touch in each of the past two years.
Spiller is not particularly an elite standout in any department, but he does a lot of things well compared to much of this class, which is carry three-down potential. Going to a great offense where he can contribute alongside a smaller-sized feature back in Austin Ekeler, Spiller will be a popular Zero-RB target in his first season.
With the Raiders declining to pick the fifth-year option on Josh Jacobs, Zamir White becomes more intriguing as a 2022 handcuff and long-term prospect. White tore his ACL as a freshman (after tearing his ACL in his other knee as a senior in high school) and then never got over the hump as the feature back at Georgia, playing behind D’Andre Swift in 2019 and then sharing work with James Cook this past season. White only topped out with a season-high of 169 touches over his three seasons at Georgia. He never materialized as a pass catcher, catching just 17 total passes through three seasons, conceding pass downs in each season.
Melvin Gordon (29.4)
Chris Carson (28.0)
Cordarrelle Patterson (31.4)
J.D. McKissic (29.0)
Kenyan Drake (28.6)
Raheem Mostert (30.4)
Our tier of veterans past the age apex at the position, but still have more than a pulse to be a 2022 contributor, with some to be determined projection based on free agency.
Melvin Gordon has finished as the RB25 and RB24 in points per game over his two years with the Broncos. He has scored nine or more touchdowns in six straight seasons. Gordon did fall below 50% of the backfield touches in each of his final four games of the season after just twice through 12 games.
It took nine seasons, but an NFL team finally figured out to maximize Cordarrelle Patterson. At age 30, Patterson set career-highs in just about every department, turning 205 touches into 1,166 yards and 11 touchdowns. The only shade was the magic left the bottle down the finish line as Patterson scored 22.0 total fantasy points the final four weeks of the season. After catching five or more passes in six of the opening eight games of the season, Patterson had three or fewer catches in each of the final eight games of the year while posting 59 or fewer yards in each of his final five games played. Staying in Atlanta is likely the best outcome for Patterson to retain value, but we likely just received the last true gift there was to have from his fantasy career.
Kenyan Drake is the one back here that is not a free agent, but with his contract and Josh McDaniel’s coming over from New England, he has potential standalone value as a pass catcher with the added ability to benefit as a handcuff should Josh Jacobs miss any time.
Both J.D. McKissic and Raheem Mostert would be perfect if we could blend them into one player. McKissic has been the RB30 and RB32 in points per game, but his fantasy floor is strictly tied to full-PPR formats as a true passing game back.
McKissic will 29 years old this August, coming off two productive seasons in Washington, where he caught 123 passes for 986 yards and four touchdowns. Over those two seasons, Alvin Kamara is the only running back with more targets (174) than McKissic’s 163 while only Kamara and Austin Ekeler have caught more passes at the position. McKissic has been the RB30 and RB32 in points per game un full-PPR formats, but his fantasy floor is strictly tied to full-PPR formats as a true passing game back. 76.3% of his career fantasy points have come via receiving.
Mostert will turn 30 this April having played just nine games over the past two seasons, but heading to another wide zone offense in Miami, Mostert is still drawing life as a rushing-based option in a committee with Chase Edmonds.
Jamaal Williams (27.4)
Justin Jackson (27.4)
Gus Edwards (27.4)
Darrel Williams (27.4)
D’Ernest Johnson (26.5)
D’Onta Foreman (26.4)
Samaje Perine (27.0)
Our handcuff tier of backs that are older than the previous tier.
Gus Edwards suffered an ACL injury just two weeks after J.K. Dobbins last season. Edwards has been an effective back that has not given Baltimore any reason not to sprinkle him in. Edwards is one of just two backs in league history to average at least 5.0 yards per carry with 100-plus carries in each of their first three seasons in the league to go along with Nick Chubb. Edwards has just 18 career receptions, leaving him as a potential thorn to J.K. Dobbins over having a strong value on his own without an injury.
Jamaal Williams was fourth in the league in touch rate per snap (57.1%) while receiving a career-high 179 touches last season. Williams was used primarily as an early-down grinder, averaging just 2.0 receptions per game, needing D’Andre Swift being absent to open the full opportunity for him.
D’Ernest Johnson is a restricted free agent but flashed big time last season with RB4 (24.8 points) and RB6 (22.7 points) scoring weeks in two games with both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt sidelined.
D’Onta Foreman set career-highs with 142 touches for 689 yards and three touchdowns in relief and is the youngest back here, backing up Christian McCaffrey.
Trey Sermon (23.6)
Pierre Strong (23.8)
Kyren Williams (22.0)
Tyler Badie (22.6)
Keaontay Ingram (22.9)
Isaih Pacheco (23.5)
Kevin Harris (21.8)
Ke’Shawn Vaughn (25.4)
Kene Nwangwu (24.6)
Eno Benjamin (23.4)
Demetric Felton (24.1)
Chuba Hubbard (23.1)
Jeff Wilson (26.8)
Marlon Mack (26.5)
Ty Johnson (25.0)
Jermar Jefferson (22.4)
Joshua Kelley (24.8)
Larry Rountree (24.6)
Kylin Hill (24.0)
Boston Scott (27.3)
JaMycal Hasty (26.0)
Salvon Ahmed (23.7)
Tony Jones (24.8)
Jordan Howard (27.8)
Tevin Coleman (29.4)
Devonta Freeman (30.5)
Mike Davis (29.5)
Duke Johnson (28.9)
James White (30.6)
Giovani Bernard (30.8)
Devontae Booker (30.3)
David Johnson (30.7)
Ty’Son Williams (26.0)
Dontrell Hilliard (27.5)
Our dart throws at running back. The most intriguing options here are still at the top. Kyle Shanahan has burned draft capital before, so there is no guarantee we see Trey Sermon improve on his 44 touches as a rookie, but like Damien Harris and Darrell Henderson in recent seasons, he should be given another opportunity to see if things click this offseason.