2022 Fantasy Football Running Back Tiers

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Now that we’ve completed the bulk of our player profiles, where we look at fantasy football drafts on a player-by-player basis. Now that that’s completed (and you can purchase all 230+ pages of our draft kit for just $7 by sending that to football absurdity at gmail dot com on PayPal), we can turn our attention to the draft itself. I’ve taken 4for4.com’s composite average draft position (ADP) data, which looks at the ADP data for the major sites, crams ’em all together, and gives you an idea of where the overall drafting populace wants to take players. We can then take that data and create reasonable tiers from it, and start to sort out our draft strategy.

Today, we take a look at the ADP data at running back and try to sort out what people are thinking when they take players and when and where they take them. Tiering is extremely important, and you should decide which tier of player you like, then try to get in on that tier of player. We’ve already sorted out the quarterbacks, so let’s continue today with the running backs.

Tier 1: The Studs
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB1 Jonathan Taylor IND 1 1.01
RB2 Christian McCaffrey CAR 3 1.03
RB3 Austin Ekeler LAC 4 1.04
RB4 Derrick Henry TEN 6 1.06

This group of running backs is the best of the best this season, though all of them have warts. Jonathan Taylor, last year’s RB1 overall, scored a ton of touchdowns (20), was the lowest-scoring RB1 since Devonta Freeman in 2015, and scored fewer points per game than Derrick Henry (who missed half a season with a foot injury) last year.

So, then we have to look at the rest of the running backs in this ADP tier, and they all have their issues, as well. There was a time that Christian McCaffrey was the slam dunk RB1, and arguably, no player has a higher upside. But, he’s played just ten games in the last two seasons, so it’s hard to trust him.

Austin Ekeler found himself with 20 touchdowns last season thanks to finally getting goal-line work. He also missed just one game last year, and that was a COVID-IR stint (which masked a one-week leg injury, but I digress). Still, he’s tied to the best offense in this tier, and only CMC has better pass-catching and route-running chops.

Then, we get to Derrick Henry. Henry has to break down sooner or later, as Father Time is undefeated. There are some worries with Henry, especially surrounding his broken foot that cost him over half of 2021. Should he return to form, getting him with pick four would look like a coup d’etat. Still, you shouldn’t take him over any of the other three guys because the broken foot being the beginning of the end for Henry is well within the range of outcomes.

Tier 2: The Studs…(?)
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB5 Najee Harris PIT 8 1.08
RB6 Dalvin Cook MIN 9 1.09
RB7 Joe Mixon CIN 11 1.11
RB8 D’Andre Swift DET 14 2.02

This group of running backs can all be studs if you sit and sort of squint at them without looking too closely. Still, these guys all have a legit chance at finishing in the top-three at the position, provided things all go well for them this season.

For Najee Harris and Dalvin Cook, new circumstances around them make trusting them at this spot somewhat uncomfortable, despite the fact that Dalvin Cook has been a stud for years and Najee tied for the lead in running backs in targets last season as a rookie. Cook faces a new coaching staff and an aging corps around him (outside of Justin Jefferson) and Najee Harris has a new quarterback who might not just check down to him every single down. So, their opportunities might shift around. But, they are both extremely talented backs, so there isn’t too much worry there.

As for the rest of this tier, Joe Mixon and D’Andre Swift both face usage issues, but opposite ones. They’re both equally just-okay runners and both get a ton of value through volume. For Mixon, it’s the fact that he’s the only solid NFL-caliber running back on his team, and for Swift, it’s because he gets a ton of targets. This drives Mixon to get at least 18 carries per game in each of the last two seasons, and Swift getting over five targets per game in his career. Both have great upside because of their guaranteed roles in their respective offenses, but both have downsides: the Bengals could throw more in an effort to preserve Mixon, and the Lions could throw to T.J. Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, or D.J. Chark, who all deserve targets, as well.

Tier 3: The RB1s
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB9 Aaron Jones GB 17 2.05
RB10 Javonte Williams DEN 19 2.07
RB11 Nick Chubb CLE 21 2.09
RB12 Leonard Fournette TB 23 2.11
RB13 Alvin Kamara NO 25 3.01
RB14 Saquon Barkley NYG 26 3.02

I debated putting Aaron Jones in his own tier because of how much I love him this season, but he belongs, by ADP, in this tier. These are the rest of the RB1s who don’t truly have #1 overall running back in their range of outcomes. While Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara reached those heights in the past, their offenses are a mess, Saquon hasn’t been That Dude for a couple of years, and an Alvin Kamara suspension may or may not be coming down sometime between now and the 2024 Presidential Election, so there are questions there, as well.

Everyone else has their warts, too (a theme with running backs), but Aaron Jones and Leonard Fournette look set to get a ton of targets in two powerful offenses run by two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. You don’t have to overthink this, really: if Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers trust them, then who are we to judge?

Both Javonte Williams and Nick Chubb have massive question marks surrounding their respective offenses, and not just because they both have two big-armed mobile quarterbacks coming in to run the squads (Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, respectively). They also have very good running backs behind them in the pecking order. For Javonte Williams, it’s Melvin Gordon, who spent last season essentially holding off Williams before futilely testing free agency and returning to Denver. For Nick Chubb, it’s Kareem Hunt, who is one of the better backs in the NFL. I would prefer both Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt at their tier than Nick Chubb & Javonte Williams in this tier.


Tier 4: High Upside Guys With Injury Questions
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB15 James Conner ARI 31 3.07
RB16 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 32 3.08

James Conner and Ezekiel Elliott are both in the “oh yeah these guys still exist” tier. Zeke was the top pick in fantasy at one point, but high carry totals, injuries, and a looming Tony Pollard all suppress his value in 2022. As for James Conner, it’s just injuries. The Cardinals rode him hard last season, and they gave him a big contract and brought in a pass-catching back to work alongside him (Darrel Williams). All signs point to James Conner, who has averaged 70 yards per game rushing each of the last three seasons, having a big season. But, we’ve all been burned by injuries from him before, so we are wary.

Tier 5: The RB Twilight Zone
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB17 David Montgomery CHI 37 4.01
RB18 Cam Akers LAR 41 4.05
RB19 Travis Etienne JAX 44 4.08

Honestly, this tier baffles me. But, I can tell you one thing: I’m not taking Cam Akers here. Travis Etienne’s Lisfranc injury cost him his rookie year, but rookie Alvin Kamara is in his range of outcomes should he be fully healed. Cam Akers wasn’t all that great before his injury, and now he just gets a pass because he came back early from a catastrophic injury (and looked terrible). No thanks.

David Montgomery is what he is. He’s RB17, the new Frank Gore. He runs a bit, he catches the ball a bit, and he is a good player on a bad team. That’s all you need to know. He’s the floor play here, whereas Etienne is the ceiling play. Akers is a really high play, as in you have to be really high to take Cam Akers here.

Tier 6: “Ah Man, I Need A Second Running Back.”
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB20 Antonio Gibson WAS 48 4.12
RB21 Josh Jacobs LV 49 5.01
RB22 J.K. Dobbins BAL 50 5.02
RB23 Breece Hall NYJ 51 5.03
RB24 Elijah Mitchell SF 53 5.05

These guys are all Fine. This group mostly represents people panicking and realizing they need to get a second running back in the third round. I’m all the way out on J.K. Dobbins (doesn’t catch passes and shares his backfield) and Elijah Moore, Antonio Gibson, and Josh Jacobs all have shared backfield concerns. The crown jewel of this group is, far and away, Breece Hall. Hall is the rookie running back for the Jets who is the best all-around back in this class. Honestly, I’d take him in tier three, and not in the back of tier three. He’s a top-fifteen back this year with a legitimate top-eight upside, but people are too scared because Michael Carter showed out last year.

Tier 7: Shared Situations
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB25 A.J. Dillon GB 68 6.08
RB26 Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC 71 6.11
RB27 Miles Sanders PHI 73 7.01
RB28 Damien Harris NE 77 7.05

Aaron Jones. Ronald Jones. Jalen Hurts. Rhamondre Stevenson. These are the reasons why these running backs aren’t higher, but they’re also the top shared situations in the league from an upside perspective. A.J. Dillon had over 220 touches last season (including 34 receptions) that he turned into over 1100 yards and seven total touchdowns. He’s already one of the best second running backs in the league, and should Aaron Jones go down, Dillon has top-five upside.

CEH and Miles Sanders are both hemmed in by the offense, though both just need the opportunity to produce and they should be able to easily return this value. For Edwards-Helaire, he just needs to not share the backfield with Ronald Jones and needs to get a bunch of targets and he would be good to go. For Sanders, he just needs Jalen Hurts to give him a crumb of a touchdown in 2022, as Hurts had ten rushing touchdowns and Sanders had zero total touchdowns because of it.

Damien Harris is hemmed in by the Patriots playing Belichicanery with their backs, and with his replacement (Rhamondre Stevenson) already on the roster. Still, Damien Harris is a shoo-in to surpass his RB28 ADP based on touchdowns alone. These are the good shared situations, but we still have the less-good shared situations to look at. Luckily, those are next.

Tier 8: Shared Situations, Part 2
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB29 Devin Singletary BUF 85 8.01
RB30 Tony Pollard DAL 87 8.03
RB31 Kareem Hunt CLE 88 8.04
RB32 Rashaad Penny SEA 89 8.05

This group of backs has to share some spotlight with other running backs. For Singletary, it’s rookie James Cook (and, let’s be clear, Josh Allen). Pollard must sit in Zeke’s shadow, and Kareem Hunt rests in Nick Chubb’s shadow. What overshadows Penny, unfortunately, is not another player, but rather the Grim Reaper, who has come for Penny in nearly every season of his career. These are all guys who are looking at about half a season of top-15 production and about half a season of massive question marks. Ideally, you’re down to your RB4 or RB5 before you end up here.

Tier 9: The Hodge Podge
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB33 Cordarrelle Patterson ATL 93 8.09
RB34 Chase Edmonds MIA 97 9.01
RB35 Melvin Gordon DEN 101 9.05
RB36 Ken Walker SEA 9.06

I have no idea what to do with this group. I don’t want Cordarrelle Patterson, but he’s the first by ADP. I really want Melvin Gordon, but he’s third. These are all upside plays who could have 18 touches per game, or eight. Patterson might already have taken a backseat to rookie Tyler Allgeier, by camp reports. Chase Edmonds isn’t a fit for the traditional Kyle Shanahan Scheme that we hope and think Mike McDaniel imports to Miami. Kenneth Walker will play for a moribund offense in Seattle as the 1B and needs the inevitable Rashaad Penny injury to kick the door down and become a fantasy force (but, he doesn’t really catch footballs).

Personally, Melvin Gordon is the player I want most in this group. He finished as a top-20 running back last season while splitting touches with Javonte Williams; a situation that is likely to repeat itself. He’s the best value here, by far.

Tier 10: Mega-Tier One – Upside Backups
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB37 Rhamondre Stevenson NE 107 9.11
RB38 James Cook BUF 111 10.03
RB39 Michael Carter NYJ 114 10.06
RB40 Ronald Jones KC 116 10.08
RB41 James Robinson JAX 117 10.09
RB42 Alexander Mattison MIN 118 10.10
RB43 Darrell Henderson LAR 123 11.03
RB44 Nyheim Hines IND 126 11.06

Oh man, this is just a Mega-Tier of taking depth running backs. Here’s my shortest possible take on these eight running backs. Don’t draft James Robinson because despite what Cam Akers did last year, an  Achilles tear is a devastating injury, Michael Carter & Ronald Jones are 1Bs that need injuries ahead of them to thrive, Nyheim Hines (PPR) and Rhamondre Stevenson (non-PPR) have the most standalone value, everyone who speaks confidently about James cook’s role is lying, and Darrell Henderson is the back to draft this late if you don’t believe in Cam Akers’ injury recovery.

Tier 11: Mega-Tier Two – Blech.
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB45 Dameon Pierce HOU 133 12.01
RB46 Marlon Mack HOU 138 12.06
RB47 Isaiah Spiller LAC 146 13.02
RB48 Raheem Mostert MIA 148 13.04
RB49 Rachaad White TB 154 13.10
RB50 J.D. McKissic WAS 155 13.11

This Mega-Tier of running backs is gross. The only guys you really want in this group are J.D. McKissic and Rachaad White. Even then, neither one is starting week one for you, no matter your league depth. The rest of the running backs are just sort of a mess. You have Dameon Pierce and Marlon Mack duking it out in Houston to see who gets 14 carries for 63 yards each week. Then there’s Isaiah Spiller who is fine, but who is yet another day three running back who is going to usurp Austin Ekeler on the Chargers (he replaces Larry Rountree, who replaced Joshua Kelley, who replaced Justin Jackson). Raheem Mostert is electric and will be in an offense where he thrives once again, but he took two carries before exploding into dust last year. Then there’s White and McKissic. Rachaad White probably won’t carry a ton of standalone value, but his skillset maps extremely well onto Leonard Fournette’s, meaning that if anything should happen to Ol’ Lenny Four Nets, then it’s going to be White’s backfield to dominate in Tampa Bay.

McKissic has the most standalone upside, as he finished as a starting RB or a flex (top-36 running back) in six of eleven games last season for Washington. Things might be hinky, but his PPR floor (at least four targets in 8-of-11 games last year) makes him a great glue guy, but the first against the proverbial wall should a guy in the next tier take a huge step forward.

Tier 12: Mega-Tier 3 – Dart Throws
RB# Player Team ADP 12-Team
RB51 Tyler Allgeier ATL 161 14.05
RB52 Mark Ingram NO 162 14.06
RB53 Kenneth Gainwell PHI 163 14.07
RB54 Jamaal Williams DET 165 14.09
RB55 Gus Edwards BAL 175 15.07
RB56 Khalil Herbert CHI 177 15.09
RB57 Darrel Williams ARI 179 15.11

This is a tier of guys who are mostly forgotten by the fantasy football cognoscenti. Allgeier is a day three rookie running back, and things get wobblier from there. Ingram only has value if the Alvin Kamara suspension actually comes down. Even then, he might not have value as the Saints could just get a street free agent to fill Kamara’s shoes. Kenny Gainwell and Jamaal Williams are 1Bs who handle pass-catching duties, but don’t have enough standalone opportunities to have weekly value. Then, we get Gus Edwards and Khalil Herbert, who have been valuable when they get the ball but who will likely take a backseat to J.K. Dobbins and David Montgomery, respectively.

Ironically, the last guy on the list is the one I want most. I would honestly take him at the top of tier ten or the bottom of tier nine: Darrel Williams. Williams was a top-24 running back last season in Kansas City, and went to Arizona. Arizona matters because the Chase Edmonds role was very valuable for them last season. Prior to a week nine injury against San Francisco, Edmonds averaged 14 touches per game (with four catches) for 80 yards per game. That’s Darrel Williams’ upside, sitting right here in the fifteenth round.

Want more 2022 fantasy football draft discussion? Check out these links!


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About Jeff Krisko

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