2022 RB Strategy Guide
In today’s NFL, we know the vast majority of teams are favoring a 2 or 3-back system.
We project only 4 RBs to hit 250 carries this season: Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry.
While games missed plays a role, we’ve still seen no more than a quarter of the league feature a 250-carry RB in recent memory. Starting in 2017, the past 5 years have turned up 8, 6, 8, 3 and 4 250-carry rushers.
Of course, the league moved to 17 games last season. If anything, the extra game has coaches thinking more about “load management.”
So which of these high-volume, high-end options are we targeting? And what about the mid and lower-tier guys?
Let’s review, beginning up top.
Note: For complete round-by-round guidance, be sure to setup your Draft War Room.
Half of these names are carrying over a Round 1 ADP from 2021, including 5 RBs: Taylor, McCaffrey, Ekeler, Henry and Cook.
We’re undeterred by CMC’s injury past; he’s our top pick in full PPR formats. However, his baseline projection (335) sits just 5 points ahead of Taylor's. The Colt is the preferred pick in .5 or non-PPR setups, but really, we’re splitting hairs.
Austin Ekeler is pretty clearly the RB3 in PPR. He’s projected for 72 catches, 2nd most among RBs. All 3 RBs should be top-5 picks.
Najee Harris and Joe Mixon have their place in Round 1. Cook and Henry are more late-Round 1 options, and we recently laid out the downside case against Henry.
There’s a certain RB we love, one who might pop up as a Round 1 suggested pick in Draft War Rooms on the strength of his projection. But for now, his ADP remains in Round 2…
That guy is Saquon Barkley.
Where you’re drafting will alter your odds of landing Barkley in the mid or late-2nd. Or maybe beyond.
Just look at ESPN’s ADP, which shows Barkley as a mid- Round 3(!) pick. He’s the RB15 over there.
Conversely, on a big-money site like the FFPC, Barkley’s ADP shoots up to 2.05 (RB9). Reasonable — and definitely a price we’re willing to pay.
As for the other guys we like in the 2nd: it’s Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Aaron Jones and Javonte Williams.
Fournette’s O-line looks a bit shakier than it was in 2021, but as long as he still holds the passing-down/goal line role, he’ll be in fine shape (pun intended).
While Jones will share carries with A.J. Dillon, it’s target upside that should get fantasy owners excited. The Packers’ WR corps isn’t anything close to settled entering the preseason.
Williams looks similar to Nick Chubb in his true talent — and his potentially capped workload. As long as Melvin Gordon is healthy, this new Broncos coaching staff has the potential to keep both guys fresh.
Kamara’s court date stemming from battery charges was recently pushed back, giving fantasy owners hope that he might dodge a suspension. Without the legal troubles, Kamara would likely go higher than his late-2nd round ADP.
James Conner and Travis Etienne headline this group.
The Cardinals re-signed Conner to a multi-year deal with $13.5 million guaranteed in March. You’re not drafting him expecting another 18 TDs, but with Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk out — plus a 6-game suspension for DeAndre Hopkins — Conner could start out busy in the passing game. That’s what we saw late last year when Conner snagged 32 passes over his final 7 games.
Etienne’s flashed his pre-injury form at training camp. A new, upgraded coaching staff, year 2 of Trevor Lawrence and James Robinson’s return from an Achilles tear all signals PPR upside for the 2nd-year back. We’re happy to land him as an RB2 in the 3rd or 4th rounds of drafts. His ADP in the FFPC is 3.05, but he even lasts into Round 5, as of this writing, on Yahoo. Etienne goes in the 7th in ESPN drafts.
Breece Hall is another option towards the end of this range. We buy him as the Jets’ clear lead back over Michael Carter, but improvement from Zach Wilson will be necessary for a true standout season.
Beyond that, there’s a number of guys with serious question marks, including Josh Jacobs, J.K. Dobbins, David Montgomery and Antonio Gibson. Whether it’s workload, the supporting cast or something else, it’s no wonder why those guys are part of the “RB Dead Zone.”
While we’re not fond of drafting from this range, it’s worth noting that value can be found in ambiguous situations. Think about Damien Harris with the Pats last year … or Cordarrelle Patterson in Atlanta. Even Conner and Fournette were drafted as mid-round picks due in part to the perceived threat of another teammate.
This is just too steep of a price to pay for the risk you're inheriting on guys like Gibson and Montgomery. Plus, by Round 4, you likely already have 2 RBs -- particularly if you picked from an early position. And consider the opportunity cost, as you're potentially missing out on a top TE (like Kyle Pitts or Darren Waller) or some high-end WRs (like Tee Higgins, D.J. Moore, Michael Pittman, Mike Williams or Keenan Allen).
Tony Pollard, Dallas
All offseason, we’ve heard about how Dallas plans to use Pollard more often (and more creatively). He’s certainly earned it following a year of high efficiency. Pollard ranked 5th in rush yards over expected per attempt, via Next Gen Stats.
In a contract year — and with Zeke Elliott very likely past his prime — Pollard makes for an ideal RB3.
Chase Edmonds, Miami
Miami paid up for Edmonds this offseason, handing over a 2-year deal with over $6 million guaranteed. His 2022 cap number is 12th highest among RBs, per Overthecap.com.
So the Fins (led by new HC Mike McDaniel) have big plans here. Sure, the backfield might seem crowded for now, but there are durability concerns with Raheem Mostert. And nobody on the roster can match Edmonds’ pass-catching ability.
Rhamondre Stevenson, New England
Here’s one of those ambiguous situations that’s worth targeting. Stevenson was excellent on the ground as a rookie and even flashed with 8.8 YPC on 14 receptions.
The one hesitation here is a Patriots offense that figures to take a step back without OC Josh McDaniels. In fact, with Matt Patricia calling the shots, there's plenty of work to be done ahead of the opener vs. Miami.
Fortunately, there’s about a month to go before Week 1.
James Cook, Buffalo
In the past year and a half, the Bills have expressed interest in Travis Etienne, J.D. McKissic and Chase Edmonds. Clearly, they’ve wanted a pass-catching back in Buffalo, and they finally landed one in Cook.
We’ll see how he looks in preseason action, but for now, the rookie has been among the most hyped players on the roster. His speed and elusiveness in space should be utilized right away.
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia
Like Cook, Gainwell’s been no stranger to the offseason hype. His ability to carve out a hybrid rushing/receiving role behind Miles Sanders is enticing because of the scoring upside with this Philly offense. Note that Gainwell didn’t play in 2020 (COVID) and handled only 101 touches as a Round 5 rookie.
Only 23, a second-year leap is in play here.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
Henderson’s current ADP is late Round 10. At that point, he’s worth a shot given the potential for a backfield split. Note that he turns just 25 later this month.
Each member of this cluster has the potential to carve out a decent-sized role, even if the presumed starter remains healthy:
Kahlil Herbert, Chicago
Herbert brings a little extra burst to a Bears offense that desperately needs play-makers. That showed up in his rookie year, as the Virginia Tech product out-produced David Montgomery in PFF rushing grade and Elusive Rating.
Now with a former Matt LaFleur staffer calling the plays — Luke Getsy — it’s possible we get an Aaron Jones--AJ Dillion-like split at some point in 2022.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona
ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss tweeted Monday that Benjamin looks like the current #2 RB. No major surprise, as he’s generated some offseason hype. If James Conner goes down, Benjamin would supply access to a lead back on a strong offense.
Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City
This Rutgers product was an afterthought in the NFL Draft, lasting until the 251st overall pick a few months back. Yet he’s torn it up at Chiefs camp, flashing his 4.37 speed and catching the attention of his HC.
“He’s got a little juice to him, he’s got good speed, toughness all that,” Andy Reid said at camp. “I look forward to getting him in a game and see how he does. He’s working hard on picking everything up and doing a nice job there.”
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is on track to be the Week 1 starter. But we know he’s on shaky ground, and the depth chart behind him isn’t exactly locked in. Attached to a high-end offense, Pacheco is an easy, no-risk shot to take.
Brian Robinson, Washington
We rank Robinson 8 spots ahead of ADP. At bottom, you’re getting a powerful back who carries the potential to see goal line work. Round 3 draft capital only confirms the real possibility of a year 1 role.
Aim to exit your draft with 5 or 6 RBs.
What About Handcuffs?
We’re not big on handcuffing around here — especially in best ball leagues. Doing so simply takes away from your roster’s ultimate upside.
The practice becomes much more manageable in lineup-setting leagues, where you’re free to cut the backup whenever you want (or need) to. There’s just one issue…
Who’s a true handcuff these days?
Guys like Tony Pollard, AJ Dillon, Kareem Hunt, Darrell Henderson, Michael Carter and Melvin Gordon already enter the season with part-time roles. Now more than ever, the league is absent true workhorse #2s.
Alexander Mattison might be one of the last remaining (and actually enticing) true handcuffs. But even he has faced competition for that role in camp. Minnesota spent a Round 4 pick on Kene Nwangwu last year, an ultra-speedy back who could take a year 2 jump. They also spent a 2022 5th-round pick on North Carolina’s Ty Chandler.
Sure, Mattison is entering a contract season. But it’s clear he’ll need to step up to retain his prior role, especially with a new HC (Kevin O’Connell) in town.