AFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdowns
Workhorses are almost extinct.
Only 4 RBs -- Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon and Antonio Gibson -- reached 300 touches last year. The same number hit that threshold in 2020.
Almost every backfield is split to some degree. That makes it especially important to sort through the situations and determine what we can reasonably expect.
So let’s dig into the names you need to know as we enter fantasy draft season. The “top fantasy target” for each team below is the best value at ADP, not necessarily the highest-ranked player in that backfield.
Top fantasy target: J.K. Dobbins
Others in the mix: Gus Edwards, Mike Davis, Tyler Badie
Dobbins and Edwards are both returning from serious knee injuries. Dobbins tore the ACL and suffered LCL and meniscus damage in his left knee on August 28. Edwards went down with a torn ACL on September 9.
Both guys opened camp on the PUP list and are iffy for the start of the season. It’s worth noting that ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote in late-July that, “Edwards is farther behind Dobbins in his recovery and could miss a chunk of the season.” Check Shark Bites for updates on both guys.
The last time we saw Dobbins in action, he ranked 19th among RBs in half-PPR points per game over the final 9 games of his 2020 rookie season. It took wild efficiency for him to get there, though: 6.0 yards per carry and a 6.4% TD rate that was basically double the NFL average. Dobbins averaged just 1.1 targets per game over that span and ranked 40th at his position in expected half-PPR points per game.
Target volume remains a concern for these RBs. In 9 seasons as an OC, Greg Roman’s RB groups have never ranked higher than 19th in catches. Either of the 9 finished 25th or lower.
Edwards is an underrated talent. He’s averaged 5.0+ yards per carry in each of his 3 NFL seasons. And, back in 2020, he ranked 5th among 48 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades.
Baltimore has stockpiled the backfield with plenty of insurance behind Dobbins and Edwards.
Davis signed a 1-year, $1.3 million deal in May. He mustered just 3.6 yards per carry in Atlanta last season, ranking 48th among 50 qualifiers in PFF rushing grade.
Badie is slightly more interesting. The rookie is coming off a massive 2021 senior season at Missouri, rushing for 1,604 yards and 14 TDs and catching 54 balls for 330 yards and 4 more scores. But Badie registered mediocre advanced metrics as both a runner and receiver, is undersized at 197 pounds and lasted until the 6th round of the draft.
The Ravens also signed RB Corey Clement in July and return Justice Hill, who’s working his way back from a September Achilles tear.
We’re generally taking a wait-and-see approach to this backfield. Dobbins’ ADP seems to be falling, though, and he’s worth a look in the 5th or 6th-round of fantasy drafts.
Top fantasy target: James Cook
Others in the mix: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Duke Johnson
A pass-heavy offense led by a mobile QB, the 2021 Bills ranked 31st in RB carries, 28th in RB targets and 23rd in RB half-PPR points. We’re not expecting the rushing volume to change much in 2022.
What might change is the target volume. The Bills were clearly intent on adding a pass-catching back this offseason, swinging and missing on J.D. McKissic before grabbing Cook with the 63rd overall pick of this spring’s draft.
Cook totaled just 117 carries and 40 catches over his first 3 seasons in Georgia’s loaded backfields. But he turned in a 113-728-7 rushing line and 27-284-4 receiving line last year. Cook was especially good in the passing game, ranking 8th among 120 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades. And he’s not just a checkdown guy. He played 19% of his snaps out wide or in the slot in 2021 and saw 10% of his targets 20+ yards downfield.
"He's got really good hands," GM Brandon Beane said shortly after drafting Cook. "Very instinctive in the pass game ... Some guys just have the feel like a slot receiver. It's the feel of what you're getting -- whether to sit down in zone or run by your man. He's got speed ... You can feel his speed with the ball in his hands."
We’re expecting Cook to be Buffalo’s primary pass-catching back right out of the gate. That wasn’t a profitable role last year but certainly could be in 2022, especially with the Bills missing 184 targets from the departures of WRs Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders. We’re into Cook as a 9th- or 10th-round pick in PPR drafts.
Singletary remains the favorite to lead this backfield in carries, though. While he was ineffective as a receiver last year, he was good as a runner. Among 50 RBs with 100+ carries last year, Singletary ranked 17th in PFF rushing grade and 9th in Elusive Rating. He finished 30th at his position in half-PPR points per game but really got rolling down the stretch. Over his final 7 games, Singletary averaged 15.0 carries and 2.6 targets and ranked 13th among RBs in half-PPR points per game.
We’re not banking on that type of production in 2022, but it’s certainly within his range of outcomes. And you can generally land Singletary at an RB3 price tag.
Moss and Johnson figure to be fighting for 1 roster spot. Moss has drawn some early camp buzz and looks like the favorite for the #3 RB job. But he’s more of a waiver-wire watch list guy than draft target.
Top fantasy target: Joe Mixon
Others in the mix: Chris Evans, Samaje Perine
Mixon delivered for loyal fantasy drafters last year, finishing as a top 6 RB in points per game across scoring formats. He played 16 of 17 games – only sitting out a meaningless season finale – and set career highs in carries (292), rushing yards (1,205), rushing TDs (13) and receiving yards (314).
Mixon did overachieve vs. his usage, which landed him 10th among RBs in expected half-PPR points per game. The big driver there was a 4.5% rushing TD rate. That was a career high and 1.2 percentage points above the league-wide average. But it’s also fair to expect Mixon to continue scoring at an above-average rate as the clear lead back in a top offense.
We’d still like to see Mixon do more in the passing game. He ranked 28th among RBs in targets, 16th in catches and 19th in receiving yards last year. He spiked from 2.4 targets per game over his first 14 outings to 5.8 over his final 6 (including playoffs). But Mixon was still ceding 3rd-down snaps to Perine down the stretch.
Those passing-game concerns keep Mixon from elite fantasy RB territory. But he checks in as a top-6 RB across scoring formats in our rankings and can often be had in the 2nd round of drafts.
Perine operated as Cincinnati’s #2 RB last year but fell well short of fantasy value. He averaged just 3.7 carries and 2.1 targets across 15 games with Mixon. Perine was below average in Pro Football Focus rushing grades, Elusive Rating and PFF receiving grades last year. But the Bengals evidently trust him in pass protection. HC Zay Taylor in early August called Perine a “security blanket” for the offense.
We’ll see if Evans can push Perine for the #2 RB job. The 2021 6th-rounder didn’t put up big numbers in Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan offense but earned a 99th percentile Relative Athletic Score at last year’s Combine. Evans played just 95 offensive snaps as a rookie last year but flashed in the passing game, hauling in 15 of 17 targets for 151 yards and 2 TDs.
Bengals expert Joe Goodberry said on the Draft Sharks podcast that he’d stash Evans on fantasy benches.
Top fantasy target: Kareem Hunt
Others in the mix: Nick Chubb, D’Ernest Johnson
Browns RBs combined for 420 carries last year – 3rd most league-wide. That number figures to dip with QB Deshaun Watson eligible for the final 11 games of the season. Watson will steal some carries from the RBs. And, more importantly, he figures to push Cleveland away from the run and toward the pass.
Watson’s arrival could also help Chubb’s efficiency and TD opportunities. But how much room does he have for growth in those departments? He’s already averaged 5.3 yards per carry over the past 4 seasons – tops among 30 RBs with 500+ attempts during that span. And he’s scored on 4.0% of his rushing attempts – well above the league average rate of 3.3%.
Now, we do still expect Chubb to be 1 of the most effective runners in the NFL. He ranked 13th in Pro Football Focus rushing grade and 2nd in Elusive Rating among 50 qualifying RBs last year. And Cleveland’s offensive line still looks elite.
But Chubb doesn’t offer much in the passing game. He’s never averaged more than 2.3 catches per game and finished with just 1.4 last year, despite Hunt missing a bunch of time. It makes Chubb more of a high-end RB2 in full PPR leagues. He climbs to 8th in our non-PPR rankings.
Hunt dealt with wrist, knee, calf and ankle injuries last year. He appeared in 8 games but was only close to healthy for the first 6. The first 5 of those came alongside Chubb and saw Hunt average 11.0 carries and 4.2 targets per game. He ranked 21st among RB in expected half-PPR points per game over that stretch – a reachable range in 2022. Hunt turns into an RB1 if Chubb misses time. That’s a nice range of outcomes for a guy sitting outside the top 30 RBs in ADP.
Johnson was excellent in 3 chances at a big role last season, cranking out a 22-146-1 rushing line vs. Denver in Week 7, a 19-99-0 vs. the Patriots in Week 10 and a 25-123-1 in the season finale vs. the Bengals. His name has been bandied about as a trade candidate. But unless that happens, he’ll need a Chubb or Hunt injury to have any fantasy value.
Top fantasy target: Javonte Williams
Others in the mix: Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
Williams turned in an excellent rookie season. He ranked 13th in NFL Next Gen Stats’ rush yards over expected per attempt and 5th in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating among 50 RBs with 100+ carries last year.
The problem for Williams is that Gordon was also very good. Gordon beat Williams in rush yards over expected per attempt, finishing 11th. And he ranked a solid 14th in Elusive Rating.
Those 2 split work fairly evenly in 16 games together last year. Gordon out-carried Williams 203 to 180; Williams led 44 to 38 in targets. That left both guys in RB3 territory in terms of expected half-PPR points per game: Gordon 28th and Williams 29th.
What will the workload split look like in 2022? It’s a brand new coaching staff under HC Nathaniel Hackett and OC Justin Outten, which means more possibility for change. It’s worth noting, though, that Hackett and Outten both spent the last 3 seasons in Green Bay, where the Packers deployed committee backfields with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and then Jones and A.J. Dillon.
Expect a committee attack in Denver – although we are projecting a bit more work to shift Williams’ way. He’s the ascending 22-year-old. Gordon is 29. And the Broncos let him hit free agency this offseason before eventually signing him about a month-and-a-half later to a 1-year, $2.5 million contract. By comparison, Gordon previously played on a 2-year, $16 million deal.
Williams is also a good bet to lead the backfield in targets. Not only did he out-target Gordon in their 16 games together last season, but he also beat Gordon in Pro Football Focus receiving grade and yards per route run.
This offense, of course, got a big boost with the arrival of QB Russell Wilson. That should mean more TD chances for the RBs.
We're willing to take a shot on Williams' upside in Round 3 -- maybe even late Round 2 -- of fantasy drafts. Gordon has a chance at standalone fantasy value and would likely score as a RB1 if Williams misses times.
Boone has flashed in sporadic chances with the Vikings and Broncos over the last 4 years, averaging 5.5 yards on 75 carries. But he’ll likely need a Williams or Gordon injury to hit the fantasy radar.
Top fantasy target: Dameon Pierce
Others in the mix: Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead
Only the Jaguars totaled fewer RB PPR points than the Texans last year. We’re not expecting this backfield to be much more productive in 2022. And it might be a 3-man committee.
Pierce is the most intriguing of the bunch. He was stuck in committee backfields at Florida – under a coach who’s since been fired. Pierce averaged a solid 5.5 yards per carry for his career, though, and led all 173 RBs with 100+ carries last year in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grade. The 5’10, 218-pounder earned a 71st percentile Relative Athletic Score at the Combine. The Texans selected him with the 107th pick of this spring’s draft as the 7th RB off the board, notably ahead of Zamir White and Isaiah Spiller.
Mack made it back last year from his September 2020 Achilles tear but totaled just 28 carries playing behind Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines in Indianapolis. Mack is still only 26 and averaged 77 rush yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry across 2018 and 2019. But it remains to be seen if he can rediscover that pre-injury form. Mack got just $250K guaranteed on his 1-year deal from Houston, so he’s not even a lock to make the team.
Burkhead actually led the 2021 Texans with 122 carries. But he mustered just 3.5 yards per attempt and ranked dead last in Pro Football Focus rushing grades among 50 RBs with 100+ carries. He was better in the passing game, catching 25 of 32 targets for 186 yards and finishing 9th among 51 qualifiers in PFF receiving grade.
So we might see Pierce and Mack split early-down work, with Burkhead playing in passing situations. That’s a tough fantasy scene – especially in a low-scoring offense.
The offensive line is also a concern. The Texans ranked 32nd in both PFF run-blocking grade and Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards last year. They added G Kenyon Green in the 1st round of this year’s draft and will hopefully get a healthier season from LT Laremy Tunsil. But this still projects as a below-average unit.
Top fantasy target: Jonathan Taylor
Others in the mix: Nyheim Hines
Taylor was fantasy’s top RB last year by a fairly wide margin. He scored 31 more PPR points and 61 more non-PPR points than any other player at the position.
It came from a combination of talent and opportunity.
Taylor, of course, was awesome. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and ranked 3rd among 50 qualifiers in NFL Next Gen Stats’ rush yards over expected per attempt. Taylor finished 3rd in Pro Football Focus rushing grade and 10th in Elusive Rating.
The opportunity was also awesome. Taylor led the league in carries (332), carries inside the opponent’s 10-yard line (41) and carries inside the 5 (26). He even did more than we expected in the passing game, catching 40 of 51 targets for 360 yards and 2 TDs.
While it’s tough to expect everything to come together so well for Taylor again in 2022, there’s no reason to expect a significant decline in fantasy production for this elite 23-year-old. The Colts offense should be even better this season with steadier QB play from Matt Ryan.
Hines is coming off a disappointing 2021 season. He set career lows in route rate (37%), target share (10.9%), catches per game (2.4) and receiving yards per game (18.2). He finishes 48th among RBs in PPR points and 56th in non-PPR.
It’s been a buzzy spring and summer for Hines, though. HC Frank Reich said from the NFL owners' meetings back in March that he expects a "much bigger role" for Hines this season. After watching the 1st week of training camp, The Athletic’s Zak Keefer wrote that Hines will be used "substantially more" this year than last.
It’s still tough to get too excited about an undersized pass-catching back playing behind Taylor. But Hines could be a useful depth piece in PPR fantasy leagues.
The Colts added RBs Phillip Lindsay and Ty’Son Williams this offseason. They figure to be battling for 1 roster spot as the #3 RB.
Top fantasy target: Travis Etienne
Others in the mix: James Robinson, Snoop Conner
Etienne’s rookie season was completely wiped out by an August Lisfranc injury to his left foot. (It might have been for the best considering what a disaster the 2021 Jaguars were under HC Urban Meyer.)
Etienne was back to 100% by May and has been a full participant in training camp. And the reports on his play have been unanimously glowing.
"Etienne's explosion and ability to quickly cut and make breaks stood out during pass-catching drills," Sports Illustrated's John Shipley wrote in June.
"He looks like the most dangerous potential weapon the Jaguars have on offense,” Shipley said in late July.
“Travis Etienne has looked great,” Jaguars insider Hays Carlyon told us on the Draft Sharks podcast in early August. “The speed is back. The Lisfranc injury was now almost a full year ago. I was surprised with what he was able to do in OTAs. It’s carried over. Travis Etienne brings a real speed element to the offense. He’s an accomplished pass catcher, and they’re utilizing him in that fashion. I think Travis Etienne could have 1,200 to 1,400 yards of offense this year. Really have a big season.”
Remember that Jacksonville spent the 25th overall pick of last year’s draft on Etienne. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry, 11.3 yards per catch and scored 78 total TDs across 4 seasons at Clemson. The 5’10, 215-pounder clocked a 4.45-second 40 time at the Combine and earned a 91st percentile Relative Athletic Score.
He could play an Alvin Kamara-esque role for the Jaguars – think, 12 or so carries and 4-5 targets per game – and has RB1 upside in PPR leagues.
Etienne’s ultimate ceiling hinges on how big a role Robinson claims in this backfield. He surprisingly avoided the PUP list to open training camp after last December’s torn Achilles and seems on track to be ready for Week 1. We’ll see how Robinson fares coming off such a serious injury, though. Cam Akers, for example, struggled coming back from his Achilles injury last year.
Conner arrived in Round 5 after an underwhelming 3 seasons at Ole Miss. He’s 222 pounds with a 71st percentile Relative Athletic Score, so perhaps there’s some untapped potential here. Jacksonville likely views Conner as an insurance policy for Robinson.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top fantasy target: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Others in the mix: Ronald Jones, Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon
Edwards-Helaire has no doubt been a disappointment through 2 NFL seasons. He’s missed 8 games with ankle, hip, knee and shoulder injuries. And he’s finished just 25th and 28th among RBs in PPR points per game.
More concerning is that he was worse in 2021 than 2020. His snap rate, carries per game and targets per game sunk from his rookie to sophomore season. As did his Pro Football Focus rushing grade, Elusive Rating, Pro Football Focus receiving grade and yards per route run.
He might have a valid excuse, though. Edwards-Helaire revealed in May that he missed a bunch of time last offseason and got down to 160 pounds after undergoing gallbladder surgery in early March. CEH didn’t get a full offseason with the Chiefs in 2020 either after being drafted in April.
"This offseason, it was pretty much getting back to the basics, being able to have a full offseason," Edwards-Helaire said in July. "That was one of the things Coach (Andy) Reid and I talked about. He said, 'This is really your first real offseason in the NFL.' Really, health was the biggest thing.”
Kansas City still has plenty invested in Edwards-Helaire after making him the 32nd overall pick of the 2020 draft. This should remain a high-scoring offense under HC Andy Reid and QB Patrick Mahomes. And the offensive line returns all 5 starters after ranking 3rd in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grades last year.
We’re willing to take shots on Edwards-Helaire at a RB3 price tag.
Jones arrived in Kansas City on a 1-year, $1.5 million deal a couple of weeks into free agency. He flashed at times as a runner in Tampa Bay but has had ball-security issues and is a disaster in the passing game. Reports out of Chiefs training camp have Jones battling just for a roster spot with McKinnon and Pacheco. He’s just a later-round flier at this point.
McKinnon came up big for the Chiefs in last year’s playoffs, carrying 34 times for 150 yards and catching 14 of 17 targets for 165 yards and a score. But he totaled just 12 carries and 20 targets during the regular season, turned 30 in May and didn’t re-sign with Kansas City until 3 months into free agency.
Pacheco has been 1 of the biggest surprises of training camp. The 7th-round rookie has sometimes been working ahead of Jones and McKinnon and been impressing the national media. Pacheco’s production at Rutgers was underwhelming, but he goes 5’10, 216 pounds with an 89th percentile Relative Athletic Score. We’ll see if he can keep the momentum rolling in preseason action, but he’s on the late-round flier radar.
Las Vegas Raiders
Top fantasy target: Kenyan Drake
Others in the mix: Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah
Josh McDaniels takes over as Raiders HC this season after spending 13 years under Bill Belichick in New England. Those Patriots, of course, almost always deployed committee backfields. We’re expecting the same in Vegas this season.
Jacobs should remain the leader of that committee. He was an effective runner last year, ranking 10th in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades and 8th in Elusive Rating among 50 RBs with 100+ carries. Jacobs was just-ok in the passing game, though, finishing 28th in PFF receiving grade and 25th in yards per route run among 51 qualifying RBs.
The Raiders didn’t show Jacobs much love this offseason, declining his 5th-year option, adding White in the 4th round of the draft and signing Bolden and Abdullah.
But it’s still Drake who we expect to be the #2 RB here. He averaged just 4.1 carries and 2.9 targets in 8 games alongside a healthy Jacobs last year, but those numbers could grow in 2022 if McDaniels goes with more of a committee attack. Drake easily beat Jacobs in PFF receiving grade and yards per route run last year, ranking top 6 in both metrics among 51 qualifying RBs. He’s a nice target at the end of PPR drafts.
White was the #1 RB in the 2018 recruiting class. He’s torn both ACLs – 1 in his final high school season and 1 as a freshman at Georgia – but rebounded to lead the Bulldogs in rushing each of the past 2 years. The 214-pounder is a power runner with a 98th percentile Relative Athletic Score. But he’s inexperienced in the passing game, with 17 catches across 3 college seasons. White is likely Jacobs insurance this year.
Bolden and Abdullah are likely fighting for a backup role behind Drake. Both guys are long shots for 2022 fantasy value.
Los Angeles Chargers
Top fantasy target: Austin Ekeler
Others in the mix: Isaiah Spiller, Joshua Kelley, Larry Rountree
Ekeler set career highs in all fantasy scoring systems last year, finishing 2nd among RBs in PPR, half-PPR and non-PPR points.
He did a bunch of that damage in the passing game, racking up 94 targets, 70 catches and 647 yards. Those marks ranked 1st, 2nd and 1st among RBs. Ekeler also ranked 3rd at the position in pass routes. His 1.55 yards per route run was good for 7th among 33 RBs with 40+ targets.
What made 2021 a career year, though, was Ekeler’s rushing production. His 12.9 carries and 56.9 rushing yards per game were both personal bests. And Ekeler’s 12 rushing TDs smashed his previous career high of 3.
The TD spike doesn’t look fluky, though. Ekeler played in a high-scoring offense and ranked 6th among RBs in both carries inside the 10-yard line (25) and inside the 5 (12).
Both GM Tom Telesco and Ekeler himself have hinted this offseason that his volume might dip a bit in 2022. But we expect him to continue to get the money touches in the passing game and near the end zone. We like Ekeler in the middle of the 1st round in PPR drafts. He loses a little value in non-PPR but still sits 4th in our rankings in that format.
Spiller should be considered the favorite for #2 RB duties – largely because Kelley and Rountree aren’t any good. The former has mustered just 3.2 yards per carry over his first 2 NFL seasons. The latter was a 2021 6th-rounder and averaged 2.4 yards on 36 carries last year.
Spiller led Texas A&M’s backfield in all 3 years on campus, leaving school with 2,993 yards and 25 TDs on 5.5 yards per carry, plus 74 catches for 585 yards and 1 score. Spiller bombed his pre-draft testing, though, with a 4.64-second 40 time, a 7th percentile vertical jump and a 22nd percentile broad. He was a 4th-round pick this spring and the 9th RB off the board.
In Ekeler’s 16 games last season, other Chargers RBs averaged just 7.6 carries and 1.4 targets. Perhaps those numbers climb a bit this year, but Spiller would need quite a bit more to be a standalone fantasy option. We’re treating him more as an Ekeler handcuff.
Top fantasy target: Chase Edmonds
Others in the mix: Sony Michel, Raheem Mostert
It’s a brand new coaching staff and a brand new backfield in Miami.
Mike McDaniel, a Kyle Shanahan disciple, was hired as Dolphins HC in early February and is expected to install an outside zone running scheme.
And it sure looks like McDaniel has tabbed Edmonds as the guy to lead that attack. The Fins gave Edmonds a 2-year, $12.1 million deal with $6.1 million guaranteed early in free agency. By comparison, Mostert got a 1-year, $2.1 million contract with $1 million guaranteed a couple of days after Edmonds signed. Michel arrived in May on a 1-year, $1.75 million deal with $850K guaranteed.
A bursty back, Edmonds looks like a perfect fit in this scheme. In fact, Edmonds ranked 1st in both yards per carry and expected points added per play on zone-blocking runs last year, per 4for4’s Connor Allen.
We’ll see exactly how big a carry share Edmonds claims. He’s topped 12 carries in only 5 games in the NFL but does have adequate size at 210 pounds.
And Edmonds is a strong bet to handle most of the pass-catching work in this backfield. He’s tallied 53 and 43 catches, respectively, over the past 2 seasons. Edmonds ranked 7th among 37 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ 2020 receiving grades, although he dipped to 32nd out of 49 last year.
There’s room for a 2nd RB here to be fantasy-relevant. Mostert has the advantage of familiarity with the scheme after spending the past 5 seasons with McDaniel in San Francisco, averaging a beefy 5.7 yards per carry. He’s been limited to just 9 games over the last 2 years, though, turned 30 in April and is coming off surgery to address a knee cartilage issue.
Michel is coming off a 208-845-4 rushing line for the Rams last year, ranking a respectable 24th among 50 qualifiers in PFF’s rushing grade (tied with Edmonds). The former 1st-round pick has found his way to 200+ carries in 3 of 4 NFL seasons and is still only 27.
Our early money is on Michel emerging as Miami’s #2 RB, but it’s a camp battle to watch.
New England Patriots
Top fantasy target: Rhamondre Stevenson
Others in the mix: Damien Harris, Pierre Strong, James White
There are fantasy points to be had here. Only the Colts backfield scored more half-PPR points than the Patriots’ backfield last year. It was New England’s 7th straight top-9 finish.
The question, of course, is who will be scoring those fantasy points.
Harris and Stevenson return as the top 2 candidates. Both guys dealt with multiple injuries last year, playing only 6 healthy games together. In those games, Harris tallied 82 carries and 9 targets to Stevenson’s 57 carries and 8 targets.
Both guys were effective runners, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Among 50 RBs with 100+ carries last year, Harris ranked 5th in Pro Football Focus rushing grades and 23rd in Elusive Rating; Stevenson 12th in PFF grades and 6th in Elusive Rating.
Stevenson has been getting plenty of 1st-team run in camp. And insider Peter King predicted that Stevenson “probably will get the bulk of the carries.”
This figures to be a fluid situation throughout the season – and potentially 1 that’s tough to predict on a week-to-week basis. But Stevenson and Harris are both worth a look as your RB3 or RB4, especially in non-PPR leagues.
The 3rd-down, pass-catching role is up for grabs with White struggling to return from a serious hip injury. He’s not worth a fantasy roster spot unless and until we hear better news on his health.
Fourth-round rookie Strong has been bandied about as a potential White replacement. The South Dakota State product racked up 46 receptions over his final 3 college seasons, including 20 last year. His college coach called Strong’s pass-catching ability "his greatest strength" and also lauded his ability as a pass protector. He’s a nice dynasty stash and potentially worth a roster spot in deep PPR redraft leagues.
New York Jets
Top fantasy target: Breece Hall
Others in the mix: Michael Carter
Hall is an exciting prospect. He turned in 3 productive seasons at Iowa State, running for 3,941 yards and 50 TDs on 5.5 yards per carry and totaling 82 catches for 734 yards and 6 more TDs. The 5’11, 217-pounder clocked a 4.39-second 40 time at the Combine to earn a 97th percentile Speed Score. He registered a 99th percentile Relative Athletic Score. Hall just turned 21 in May and was the 1st RB off the board at pick #36 in this spring’s draft.
Hall is a virtual lock to win the lead job in New York. The question is just how big a piece of the backfield pie he’ll claim ahead of Carter.
Carter was just a 4th-round pick last year but was a good-looking prospect coming out of North Carolina. And he turned in a promising rookie season as a runner and receiver. Carter ranked 3rd in Elusive Rating among 50 RBs with 100+ carries and 14th in yards per route run among 49 RBs with 30+ targets.
The Athletic's Connor Hughes has said multiple times this offseason that he expects this to be a 1-2 punch.
“The Jets will deploy a running back by committee as long as Mike LaFleur is their offensive coordinator,” Hughes wrote in early May. “Hall is the Jets’ new starter. Carter will spell him. That’s an explosive one-two punch.”
Hughes in mid-June: “The Jets like Carter a lot. They believe he’s a quality back. They’ve always viewed him as an ideal complement, though, in Mike LaFleur’s ‘running back by committee.’ Hall, whom the Jets consider a home run threat, is now the Batman to Carter’s Robin. The Jets will use both, but Hall is the lead back.”
Nearly every NFL backfield is a committee nowadays, so this certainly isn’t a death knell to Hall’s 2022 fantasy value. But figuring out exactly how snaps and touches will be divvied here is key.
We like taking a shot on Hall’s upside in the 4th round of fantasy drafts. Carter is more likely to be a handcuff than a standalone fantasy option.
Top fantasy target: Najee Harris
Others in the mix: Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jeremy McNichols
Harris was the workiest of workhorses last year. He led all RBs in snaps, pass routes, targets and total opportunities (carries + targets). Harris’ 307 carries fell 25 short of Jonathan Taylor’s league-leading 322. Add it all up and Harris ranked 2nd among RBs in expected PPR points per game and 4th in expected non-PPR points per game.
He fell short of those usage-based expectations, finishing 8th in PPR points per game and 9th in non-PPR. Blame Pittsburgh’s offensive line, which ranked 26th in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grades and 28th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. The Steelers added 2 new starters this offseason – RG James Daniels and C Mason Cole – but neither looks like a significant upgrade. QB play is also a potential issue here, although it’s tough to imagine Mitchell Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett being worse than the corpse of Ben Roethlisberger.
Harris again looks like 1 of the surest volume bets in the league in 2022. That volume helped him tally 8 RB1-level scoring weeks last season – tied for 3rd most behind only Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler. He might not have the most exciting ceiling, but Harris is a relatively safe pick early in fantasy drafts.
We’re not bothering with any other Steelers RB outside the deepest of fantasy leagues. Snell is the favorite for the #2 RB job but sports an ugly 3.5 career yards per carry and doesn’t offer much in the passing game. We’ll see if 3rd-year pro Anthony McFarland or late-July signee Jeremy McNichols can push Snell for that spot.
Top fantasy target: Derrick Henry
Others in the mix: Hassan Haskins, Dontrell Hilliard
Henry was winning fantasy leagues over the first 8 games of last season. He averaged an absurd 27.4 carries, 117 yards and 1.3 TDs per game. Henry even averaged a career-best 2.3 catches and 19.3 receiving yards per game. He easily led all RBs in PPR and non-PPR points through Week 8.
But his regular season ended there with a Jones Fracture to his right foot. Henry was able to return for Tennessee’s playoff loss to the Bengals, though, and has been a full-go in training camp.
Henry should once again be the focal point of the Titans offense in 2022. In fact, insider Paul Kuharsky told us on the Draft Sharks podcast that he doesn’t expect the team to scale back Henry’s volume at all this year.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? Henry will turn 29 in January and has now racked up over 1,400 NFL carries. We started to see signs of decline last year, with Henry registering the worst Elusive Rating of his career and his 2nd worst Pro Football Focus rushing grade.
We also have concerns about the supporting cast. The offense could take a step back without WR A.J. Brown. Trailing game scripts are bad news for Henry, who still doesn’t do much in the passing game.
Plus, the offensive line lost LG Rodger Saffold and OT David Quessenberry to the Bills in free agency. Those guys were the team’s 1st and 3rd highest-graded run blockers last year.
Henry is a freak of nature who might once again deliver top 5 fantasy production in spite of these concerns. But we’re generally opting for safer picks in the 1st round of fantasy drafts.
Neither Haskins nor Hilliard will have fantasy value behind a healthy Henry. And if Henry misses time this season, it’d likely be a committee attack, with Haskins handling early-down work and Hilliard playing in passing situations. Neither is an attractive handcuff.