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Early 2022 NFL Draft Top 10 Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

by Jeff Bell | @4WhomJBellTolls | Featured Writer
Jan 17, 2022
Breece Hall

Breece Hall sits on top of the first “Too Early” rankings of 2022 RBs.

With deadline declaration day looming, it is early in the draft process. The freight train will gain steam through the Senior Bowl, the Combine, individual pro days, and needs set in through free agency. Still, it is worthwhile to set the stage for position groups through the process, especially when it comes to fantasy positions like running backs. This list is a very rough cut without official measurements, testing, draft capital, or landing spots (they do matter). A primer, if you will, an initial Top 10 of 2022 Running Backs.

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Breece Hall (RB – Iowa St,  6’1″ 220)

The top three backs in this class sit grouped closely together at this point, and their landing spots likely emerge as a determining factor. Hall currently sits at the top of the class after clearing 1,750 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. Hall has drawn frequent comparisons to David Montgomery with slightly more athleticism, nodding their shared Iowa St roots. Hall has the size to profile to a lead-back NFL role, though he potentially lacks the extra level of explosion and refinement to push him into the draft’s first round. He is going very high in Superflex rookie mock drafts and would solidify that position with a prime landing spot like Arizona or Buffalo.

Isaiah Spiller (RB – Texas A&M, 6’1″ 216)

Like Hall, Spiller has the size to profile to a lead-back role in the NFL. And like Hall, he lacks the extra bit of explosion to clinch himself as an elite fantasy producer. Lending to the depth of weapons at Texas A&M (the explosive Devon Achane posts 910 rushing yards to compliment Spiller’s 1,011), Spiller did not post eye-popping stats. Still, between his frame, contact balance, and the ability he flashed downfield in the passing game gives hope he lands in a three-down producer role.  

Kenneth Walker III (RB – Michigan St,  5’11” 212)

Walker III was the most pleasant surprise in college football; his 1,636 rushing yards ranked second nationally and added 18 touchdowns in taking home the Walter Camp and Doak Walker awards. Walker III rounds out the top group of backs and could still emerge as the first back off the board in April. He shouldered a giant load leading Michigan St’s quick turnaround under Mel Tucker. He could potentially separate from Hall and Spiller via his long speed, and testing could create that separation. All three of the top backs display instincts and the ability to set runners up at the second level patiently.

James Cook (RB – Georgia, 5’11” 190)

The top three backs in this class land in a consensus through rankings, and then things get interesting. Cook is sure to stand as one of the most divisive players in the class, given his senior status and lack of a breakout statistically combined with his size and injury history. But he took a star turn during the college football playoffs, with 112 receiving yards against Michigan and a momentum-shifting 67 yard run against Alabama. Cook has NFL bloodlines, following in his brother Dalvin’s footsteps and maybe the most explosive and skilled back in the passing game in the entire class. He will never be an NFL bellcow, limiting his fantasy upside, but with the game trending towards finding different ways to manufacture touches, he has a skill set to play a key offensive role. It is worth mention Cook will be in attendance at the Senior Bowl, an event that has shown itself as a leaping-off point for draft capital.

Zonovan Knight (RB – NC State, 5’11” 210)

The class splits pretty cleanly into satellite backs and potential early-down backs outside of the top three backs. Knight stands out as one of the few capable of emerging in a multi-faceted role. Many will view this rank as aggressive, but Knight has displayed his open-field speed with three career kick return TDs while showing a willingness to stay behind his pads and punish tacklers. I will take a moment to fully admit I defer to the smaller, quicker pass-catching backs in this exercise in large part due to what played out between Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon in the San Francisco backfield. The league has emphasized quickness of late, and versatility is always crucial in the position.

Tyler Badie (RB – Missouri, 5’8″ 194)

Badie emerged as a star in the Missouri backfield in his senior year. With 322 touches and 1,934 scrimmage yards, he was the key driver for the Tigers. Size is a huge concern, but his ability to hold up to this volume level through an SEC season is eye-opening, especially in a situation where defenses focus on limiting him. Badie topped 200 rushing yards in five games in 2021, and 54 receptions show a dual focus ability.

Kyren Williams (RB – Notre Dame, 5’9″ 198)

Williams rounds out the string of undersized satellite backs and finds himself much higher in most ranks. Given their similarities in build, it isn’t easy to dramatically project Williams above Badie factoring in production. I will fully admit I am not comfortable projecting these small backs this high in the class; there are a plethora of backs who fit the NFL model of build. Absent athletic testing, it is challenging to determine will emerge to show the quickness necessary to follow in Rhamondre Stevenson‘s footsteps, and lighter backs like Mitchell and Kenneth Gainwell have shown their fantasy value during the 2021 season.

Dameon Pierce (RB – Florida, 5’10 215)

Pierce finished the season as PFF’s highest-graded college running back. Contrary to the string of players ranked above him, he does possess the size to emerge as a three-down producer. Production is a concern, and Florida never gave him an opportunity as an actual producer; the offense featured three RBs and two QBs who all cleared 300 yards, putting Pierce’s 574 in the middle of a chaotic pack. He has displayed pass-catching ability, underlying a skill set that an NFL team would further utilize. The concern on him will be athletic testing; while Pierce has instincts to play at the position, little on his tape suggests eye-opening numbers in the testing department. Pierce has a Senior Bowl invite, and he will get the opportunity to show the nuance he possesses up close.

 Rachaad White (RB – Arizona St, 6’2″ 210)

White is a player some have come to love, and there are things in this package that can find a role in the offense. Watching him too often leaves the impression that this wide receiver has found his way into the backfield and not in a “Deebo Samuel I will punish you” way. The receiving ability is evident, and he was a primary target for the Sun Devils in that aspect. But physicality is a concern when it comes to a proper RB role, and his size leads to an upright style that often finds him the target of hits instead of finishing. Another player who will get an opportunity at the Senior Bowl. If he continues developing and building on his frame and finds that mentality, he could emerge as a true gem in this class.

Abram Smith (RB – Baylor, 5’11” 220)

In scouting and projection, especially in a running back class this deep, everyone will have personal favorites. Smith is mine. He was one of the best stories in college football, a summer conversion from linebacker, he emerged as the heart and soul of a very successful Sugar Bowl champion season. His 1,601 rush yards finished fifth in the nation. He is still incredibly raw at the position, especially in the passing game, where he saw almost no involvement. Still, he will continually punish a defense at 220 lbs with a linebacker mentality. That mentality carries over to block, as he is very comfortable in blitz pickup. Once he hits the open field, he has the speed to break off chunk yardage. A personal favorite and a name to watch in the Senior Bowl at the end of the month.

The 2021 draft saw 18 running backs selected, and this class lands on par with that depth. There is a multitude of backs who merit mention at this point: Tyler Allgeier, Tyrion Davis-Price, Brian Robinson Jr., D’Vontre Price, Jerome Ford, Chris Rodriguez Jr., Zamir White, Keaontay Ingram, Sincere McCormick, Pierre Strong Jr., CJ Verdell, Kennedy Brooks, Jerrion Ealy, Tyler Goodson, and Hassan Haskins. Any one of them could quickly work their way into the top 10 and most project into an early-down role that harvests fantasy points more consistently. As mentioned previously, we are waiting on more data points that help provide clarity through the process.

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Jeff Bell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. To read more from Jeff, check out his archive and follow him @4WhomJBellTolls.

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