Must-Have Running Backs (2022 Fantasy Football)
The running back position is arguably the most situation-dependent in fantasy football. Yes, it’s great when a running back has top-shelf talent. However, if they cede too many snaps to a teammate, the running back’s value is capped. Conversely, receivers and tight ends share the field together, and the cream rises to the top. Nonetheless, the following running backs have all showcased promising skills. In speculation season, I’ll make educated guesses on which talented backs will retain a large share of their backfield or command a larger share of the workload in 2022.
Unfortunately, gamers that took the plunge on Javonte Williams weren’t completely paid off for their 2021 investment. Melvin Gordon III had enough left in the tank to split Denver’s playing time and usage nearly down the middle with Williams. Nevertheless, the Broncos traded up in the second round to select Williams in last year’s draft, he was outstanding when he touched the ball, and Gordon is an unrestricted free agent, per Spotrac.
According to Pro Football Focus, out of 72 running backs with at least 50 rush attempts in 2021, Williams was 14th in Yards After Contact per Attempt (3.42 YCO/A), seventh in 10-plus yard runs (25), and second in missed tackles forced (63). According to Pro-Football-Reference, he rushed for 53.1 yards per game and four touchdowns.
Williams wasn’t a dud in the passing game, either. He averaged 2.5 receptions and 18.6 receiving yards per game. Additionally, according to Pro Football Focus, out of 64 running backs with at least 20 targets, Williams was mid-pack at 31st in Yards per Route Run (1.21 Y/RR). Moreover, he’s an asset in pass blocking, earning Pro Football Focus’s 19th-best grade out of the same group of 64 running backs. As a result, Williams checks all of the boxes for ascending to elite bell-cow status if he’s completely unleashed this year. So, I’m willing to take him as early as sixth overall and won’t let him slip out of the first round if I’m picking in the back half of a 12-team league.
Elijah Mitchell (SF): 38.6 ADP, RB20
Is it possible Kyle Shanahan will become enamored with another back next year? Sure. However, Elijah Mitchell did everything in his power to prove he’s a feature back. The rookie running back was fourth among qualified players in rushing yards per game (87.5).
Including the playoffs, Mitchell rushed the ball 17 times or more in 11 of 14 chances. Unfortunately, his passing-game usage was more sporadic. Still, he occasionally chipped in, including setting a single-game high with 50 receiving yards in the Conference Championship game.
Still, Mitchell’s running prowess is his calling card. Out of running backs with at least 50 rush attempts, he was sixth with 3.70 YCO/A and fourth in 10-plus yard rushes (29). As a result, he’s an excellent selection as an RB1 or RB2 at the back end of the third round.
Rashaad Penny (FA): 73.7 ADP, RB29
Rashaad Penny couldn’t have showcased himself better before becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The oft-injured but talented back had the highest yards per rush attempt (6.3 Y/A) among qualified running backs, tying for the highest mark with Josh Allen. And, despite a slow start, he averaged a stellar 74.9 rushing yards per game.
The fourth-year pro was at his best down the stretch, though. From Week 14 through the end of the regular season, Penny rushed for at least 135 yards in four of five games, splashing paydirt six times. During those four weeks, Penny led the NFL in rushing yards (481), rushing touchdowns (five), missed tackles forced (21), and tied for first in 10-plus yard runs (12). In addition, out of 37 players with at least 30 rush attempts from Week 14 through Week 18, he was first in Yards After Contact per Attempt (5.04 YCO/A).
It’s unclear where he’ll land in free agency. However, he’s still an electrifying back after battling back from numerous injuries. Thus, I’ll take a chance he lands on his feet with a team that plans to utilize him.
Cordarrelle Patterson (FA): 83.3 ADP, RB32
It’s unusual for a player to enjoy an age-30 breakout campaign. However, Cordarrelle Patterson is an unusually athletic player who never found his footing as a wide receiver. Instead, his versatility and athleticism drove eye-catching results at the running back position.
Unlike Penny, there’s a risk C-Patt might end up with a team that fails to use his unorthodox skill-set properly. But, of course, he could return to the Falcons or join another team that uses him correctly, following Atlanta providing the blueprint. He has voiced a desire to stay with the Falcons for Patterson’s part.
The converted receiver averaged a ho-hum 38.6 rushing yards per game, scoring six rushing touchdowns. But, unsurprisingly, he added a lot of value through the air, averaging 3.3 receptions and 34.3 receiving yards per game, scoring five receiving touchdowns.
The underlying metrics for Patterson were stellar, too. Out of 64 running backs targeted at least 20 times, Patterson was second in Yards per Route Run (2.23), sporting the deepest Average Depth of Target (4.1 ADOT). In addition, he was used all over the formation. Among the same 64-back sample, he ran the ninth-most routes inline (nine), sixth-most from the slot (53), and most wide (93).
Therefore, Patterson’s receiving ability should allow him to carve out a substantial role as a pass-catching weapon at worst, no matter where he signs. So, Patterson’s value is greater in half-point and full-point point-per-reception (PPR) formats than standard-scoring formats. In formats that award points for receptions, he is a top-30 RB presently being underrated.
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