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RB3s and Beyond with RB1 Potential (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Matt Barbato | @realmattbarbato | Featured Writer
May 27, 2022


 
Nothing boosts a fantasy football team’s title hopes more than finding the elusive diamond in the rough. And that’s especially true at running back, where injuries and turnover are high.

Chances are you had a pretty good season if you stumbled upon someone like Cordarrelle Patterson or Elijah Mitchell last year, or James Robinson two seasons ago. In this unpredictable world of fantasy football, there’s usually at least one tailback who annually comes out of nowhere and delivers tremendous value. That’s why I endorse taking flyers on running backs at the end of your drafts, as they tend to deliver more value than any other position when they pop.

Now’s the time to start identifying these potential diamonds in the rough. Since it’s a little too early to gather meaningful ADP data, I’ll be leveraging our consensus fantasy football rankings to find guys ranked outside of the top 24 who have RB1 potential.

A.J. Dillon (RB – GB)

Conveniently ranked as the RB25 in our expert consensus rankings, Dillon is technically ranked as an RB3. Is it a cop-out? Maybe. But I have to mention him on this list since he fits the parameters.

Dillon finished as the RB23 last season, rushing for 803 yards and five touchdowns to go with 34 catches. While he will always be the 1B in this backfield, it feels like there’s more upward mobility for the third-year tailback.

Green Bay’s offseason moves give me the impression they’ll be more inclined to win games on the ground and with their great defense. That doesn’t mean Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers will suddenly become a game manager. The Packers will still throw plenty. But it wouldn’t surprise me if both Aaron Jones and Dillon got more work, especially early in the season as Rodgers adjusts to life without Davante Adams.

Dillon’s an impressive player who’s more than a handcuff or complementary piece. He can play all three downs and instantly becomes an RB1 should Jones get hurt.

A bolder prediction? Both Dillon and Jones rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Kenneth Walker (RB – SEA)

I always try to find a rookie or two who could emerge on the scene right away. Ranked as the RB30, Walker fits the bill. The highly-productive rusher out of Michigan State enters a crowded, but injury-prone backfield featuring Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. However, Walker possesses more natural talent than both the plodder Carson and the unreliable Penny.

The second-round pick runs with plenty of power and has the footwork skills to cut back when blocking breaks down. What he needs to improve upon are his vision and third-down skills. However, Walker has enough raw talent to see the field right away as an early-down replacement for Carson.

The risk is Pete Carroll turns this into an ugly three-man committee, and there’s definitely the chance that an offense led by Geno Smith and/or Drew Lock completely craters. But given the durability issues that have plagued his backfield mates, I’d bet on Walker seeing plenty of opportunities early on. And opportunity is sometimes half the battle for tailbacks.

Tony Pollard (RB – DAL)

Tony Pollard is a really nice player. Is he a superstar? Probably not. But he’s talented enough to be a starter on plenty of teams. The problem is Pollard is stuck in a backfield with Ezekiel Elliott. And while Elliott is clearly on the decline (which is sad to say considering he’s just 26), the Cowboys might feel obligated to play him because of his hefty contract.

I won’t go as far as saying Pollard is better than Elliott right now. But the gap between the two isn’t as steep. And I find it impressive that Pollard still finished as a top-30 tailback despite just 169 touches last year.

Imagine if he got a full workload. And part of this exercise is imagining what the best-case scenario would be for these respective players. Realistically, the hope is Dallas’ offense becomes an unstoppable wagon and Pollard takes on a greater role and benefits from more visits to the end zone. Pollard is a solid RB3 and flex option as of now, but he has more RB1 upside than many of the backs ranked around him.

Dameon Pierce (RB – HOU)

Look, another rookie! Ranked as the RB52 right now, the fourth-round draft pick out of Florida could be a tremendous late-round pick. Pierce runs like a firecracker and has excellent contact balance to withstand hits and gain extra yards, a critical trait at the next level. Pierce scored 16 touchdowns despite getting only 119 total touches in his final season at Florida.

Pierce couldn’t have landed on a more inviting depth chart. His primary competition for touches includes Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, and Dare Ogunbowale. The Texans’ offense likely won’t be a juggernaut, but being on a bad team isn’t a death blow for a running back’s value.

Pierce seems like a guy whose draft stock could rise significantly if he impresses at training camp. He could be this year’s version of Elijah Mitchell, and he’s someone I’m looking to add late in all of my drafts this summer.

Khalil Herbert (RB – CHI)

Herbert is another tailback whose path to true fantasy relevancy is blocked by someone in front of him. However, I’m a believer in Herbert’s talent and was impressed by what I saw from Herbert when he was given significant playing time. From Week 5 to Week 8, when Bears starter David Montgomery was limited by an injury, Herbert rushed for 344 yards on 78 carries, caught nine passes for 44 yards, and scored a touchdown.

Herbert is ranked as the RB55, around guys like James White, D’Onta Foreman, Marlon Mack, Myles Gaskin, Chris Carson, and Chuba Hubbard. Herbert doesn’t deserve to be ranked within that pile of sadness, even if Montgomery is still the team’s lead back. In fact, Herbert might be a better player. Draft him late, stash him, and the worst-case scenario is you drop him in a few weeks at a very small cost.


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