As we are getting closer and closer to the 2022 fantasy season, things have been ramping up. Despite us still being over a month away from training camps, best ball leagues have been drafting at full speed ahead.
One thing we always hear this time of year is describing a player as “better in best ball”. Typically, it is used as a moniker surrounding a player that is barely viable in totality but will make a few splash plays per season like Mecole Hardman. As a step further, you will see the label be attached to players who are more boom-or-bust in the fantasy space, such as Will Fuller.
One of the main perks of best ball formats is that your lineup is filled with the highest scores on your roster, allowing you to bypass most — if not all — of a player’s down weeks. There has been work done in the past showcasing the importance of these spikes weeks, but fresh off the press, Matt DiSorbo just posted an article on the importance of ceiling weeks in the format versus seasonal leagues where there is roster management you check out.
The most common approach we see in this space is simply looking at spike week players, but I wanted to dig a little deeper on players that not only produce the spike weeks we care about in fantasy, but those whose spike weeks are largely tied to the most tide-turning element of fantasy, which is touchdown production and dependency on scores.
This allows us to look at players that have an even lower floor than perception of their talent, letting us avoid more of their down weeks when formats allow us to do so, while maxing out their spike-week capabilities.
With that in mind, I am going to go through a few running backs that fit the “better in best ball” mantra and why you want to target them in best ball but may proceed with more trepidation come August when drafting your seasonal leagues.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Why you want him: A 1-of-1 back playing in an offense tethered to feeding him touches like Pac-Man devouring power pellets. Prior to injury in 2021, Henry was averaging a career-high 29.6 touches per game.
Henry has also been a touchdown machine. He has found paydirt in 53.5% of his games played over the past five seasons, which ranks sixth among all running backs in the top-40 in current ADP at Underdog (excluding rookies). When Henry scores touchdowns, he scores big points, averaging 24.2 PPR points (fourth among the same field of backs) and 23.5 points per game in 0.5 PPR formats (fourth as well).
Why he is better in best ball: When Henry does not score touchdowns, things are rough. In games without a score, he is averaging just 7.2 PPR points (27th among those top-40 backs in ADP) and 6.8 points per game in 0.5 PPR (26th). In 33 games without a touchdown over that span, Henry has produced just one top-12 scoring week at his position and another four as a top-24 scorer.
2022: The Titans are still all-in on running their offense through Henry based on the moves they have made this offseason, revamping their receiving unit with a 30-year-old wideout coming off an ACL injury and a rookie. Henry is surely going to get fed the football a lot. That volume deodorant can go a long way as evidenced last season. Henry used volume to elevate a career-low 4.6 yards per touch despite averaging a career-high 2.3 receptions per game.
The red flags here are that the Titans face a much tougher schedule this season while Henry is now the “oldest” of the elite running backs in fantasy, entering the season at age 28. The last time a back over the age of 27 was even a top-six scorer for the season was Mark Ingram back in 2017 at age 28.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Why you want him: Jones has scored double-digit touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. The only other player to do so has been Derrick Henry. Jones has scored a touchdown in 52.2% of his career games played while averaging 22.7 PPR points (10th) and 21.1 0.5 PPR points (10th) in those games.
Jones has averaged over 5.0 yards per touch in all five years of his career while his receptions per game have risen in every year of his career.
Why he is better in best ball: Jones has historically been a lower touch player than his RB1 peers. 2021 was no different as his 14.9 touches per game checked in 21st among backs. When Jones has failed to reach the paint, his volume discrepancy versus his peers shows up.
Jones is averaging just 7.2 PPR points and 6.2 0.5 PPR points per game over his career in 33 games without a touchdown. Those totals are lower than backs such as Devin Singletary and Miles Sanders. They are also lower than his backfield running mate A.J. Dillon over his small sample of games played. Jones has never had an RB1 scoring week without a touchdown while producing an RB2 week or better in just 24.2% of his games without a touchdown, a rate that ranks 20th among all top-40 backs in current ADP and tied with Singletary.
2022: Jones has a runway to raise his receptions per game for a sixth straight season with the trade of Davante Adams paired with the Packers not bringing in a career target-earner at the wide receiver position. 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. In 2021 with Adams, Jones ranked seventh among running backs with 78 routes run from the slot or out wide, while being targeted on 25.6% of those routes.
A.J. Dillon should push Jones as the team’s rushing leader, but what we really care about is if Dillon’s presence will impact Jones’s scoring potential. After Jones returned to the lineup in Week 12, Dillon received 17 red zone opportunities to just five for Jones when the two played together with Dillon having a 9-to-3 edge inside of the 10-yard line over those games.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Why you want him: 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 over his first four seasons in the league. Chubb has scored a touchdown in 48.3% of his career games (13th) while averaging 22.6 PPR points (11th) and 21.6 0.5 PPR points (eighth) per game in those weeks.
Why he is better in best ball: Catching just 20 passes a year ago, it was his third season in four years with 20 or fewer receptions. That has impacted Chubb’s floor severely compared to his peers. Chubb has only been a top-24 scorer of better in 20% of his 30 career games without a touchdown with just one top-12 scoring week. Chubb’s 8.0 PPR points and 7.4 0.5 PPR points per game rank 24th and 21st among top-40 backs in draft cost.
2022: Little has changed for Chubb with both Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson still on the roster. The hanging element in motion here for the Browns is who will be quarterbacking this team in 2022 and for how long? If Deshaun Watson is not suspended for a partial section of the season, Chubb may be attached to the highest-scoring offense of his career. If Jacoby Brissett ends up as the starter for a prolonged time, that could flip in the other direction. Baker Mayfield’s status also remains up in the air here.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Why you want him: Conner is coming off posting 1,127 yards with 18 touchdowns (third in the league). He also added pass-catching juice, averaging a career-high 10.1 yards per reception with three touchdowns on 37 grabs. Conner averaged a robust 26.0 points per game in six games with Chase Edmonds absent, registering five RB1 scoring weeks He has two RB1 scoring seasons per game on his resume while he has scored a touchdown in 47.7% of his career games played (15th at the position).
Why he is better in best ball: To start, Conner has never played a full season yet through five years. When Conner was called upon to carry the offense last season without Chase Edmonds out, we did see that in play once again as he picked up some wear and tear, missing two games with ankle and heel injuries.
Conner also has been far more touchdown-dependent than any of the backs we have covered so far. In games with a touchdown, Conner averages 22.1 PPR points (12th) and 20.3 0.5 PPR points (15th), but in 34 career games without a touchdown, Conner is averaging 5.2 PPR points (36th) and 4.5 0.5 PPR points (35th) per game. Conner scored a touchdown in every game that Edmonds missed last year, so we have no sample to draw from here in the comparison, but we do know that his 3.7 yards per carry were covered by touchdown production.
2022: Conner cashed a three-year extension to stay in Arizona, worth up to $25.5 million, with $13.5 million guaranteed. Arizona also brought in next to no experienced competition here behind him, signaling he gets to operate as a potential three-down back in a high-scoring offense.
Eno Benjamin (40 career touches) and rookie Keaontay Ingram have no true NFL samples. Darrel Williams is coming off 1,010 yards and eight scores as Conner’s most experienced competition but was also signed in the 11th hour of free agency to a low-level contract.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders
Why you want him: He has gone over 1,000 yards with double-digit touchdowns in each of his first two seasons in the league. Only Jonathan Taylor has scored more touchdowns than Gibson’s 21 among the 2020 draft class. He still posted 1,331 yards and 10 touchdowns on 300 touches battling through a plethora of injuries on a bad Washington offense. Gibson has scored a touchdown in 53.3% of his games played, seventh among running backs in the top-40 of ADP.
Why he is better in best ball: Even in games with a touchdown, Gibson ranks 27th in points per game in PPR formats (19.3) and 25th in 0.5 PPR (18.0) formats. In 14 career games without a touchdown, Gibson has finished higher than RB25 just once. That 7.1% rate of being an RB2 or better in games without a touchdown ranks 37th among the top-40 backs in current ADP.
2022: Gibson has been a back orbiting committee speak from the Washington staff this entire offseason after they brought back J.D. McKissic and drafted Brian Robinson in the third round. Robinson could become a threat to Gibson’s short-yardage work that has carried him or could just be insurance after Washington’s depth at the position was exposed a year ago.
McKissic returning is a legitimate thorn, though. 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.
Damien Harris: Scored 15 touchdowns, which was fifth at this position. Those touchdowns accounted for 42.8% of the fantasy points Harris scored, the highest dependency in the league. In his four games without a touchdown, Harris’ highest week was RB27.
Miles Sanders: Has averaged 24.0 PPR points (sixth among top-40 backs) and 22.1 0.5 PPR points (seventh) per game in games when has found the end zone but has scored in just 22.5% of his career games played.
Elijah Mitchell: Small sample here. Mitchell scored in 6-of-11 games as a rookie with 19.8 PPR points and 19.0 0.5 PPR points per game in those weeks but was higher than RB28 in just one of his five games without a touchdown.
A.J. Dillon: Another small sample, 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.