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Running Backs Primed For Increased Touches (2022 Fantasy Football)

by David Zach | @DavidZach16 | Featured Writer
May 17, 2022
Saquon Barkley

Another year, another dominant performance by significant vacated touches. Last year, this perennial article identified draft gems like Joe Mixon, Melvin Gordon, D’Andre Swift, and Darrell Henderson. All who outperformed their ADP on a per-game basis, some with league-winning upside.

This attractive hit rate isn’t anything new to the Significant Vacated Touches series. Going back through four years, we see a hit rate well above 70%, and even higher when accounting for obvious situations when a new, high-profile rookie or superstar addition is expected to lead the backfield (e.g. Najee Harris).

Returning backs with 100-plus touches on a team that just saw a fellow running back departure who had 100-plus touches are heavy favorites to see more action as a result. Coaches and schemes have tended to rely on the proven, known commodity over a newcomer trying to fill that void. High-caliber draft picks or free agency will affect this as mentioned, but this simple method can provide us with reliable odds on who will see more volume in the upcoming year.

Historical Proof

Take a look at last year’s article here, and notice the big hits as previously mentioned. It’s easy to see why this can give us a massive edge in our fantasy drafts:

As discussed, this gives the incumbent an average increase of over two touches per game, and that is before including any glaringly obvious adjustments. A three-to-five touch increase is much more likely for people on this list who did not add meaningful competition.

We need to be wary of strictly satellite backs or those teams who added a highly drafted rookie, as they are less likely to return on their value. I will break down who qualifies best in the sections below.

Our 2022 list is included below:

I like to use two categories as they relate to fantasy. The first group has the greater odds of increased volume and production, and the second is slightly more ambiguous.

  1. High opportunity with less competition
  2. Good opportunity, but solid competition

Let’s get to it.

High Opportunity with Less Competition

This first section of players are high-priority draft day targets of mine. The industry doesn’t always see eye to eye on how volume will be split up, and we can take advantage of the variance in ADP.

1. Saquon Barkley (NYG) – RB15

The once unanimous RB1 has taken a long fall from grace over the past few years, largely due to injury and subpar coaching. After a dismal 2021 performance of 11.4 PPG, it has made consensus sour on him even further.

Looking at the silver lining, however, Barkley — still only 25 years old — should now be fully recovered from the long list of injuries that bogged him down last season. The ceiling is very apparent given his skill set and record-breaking rookie season. 185 touches are left behind from Booker and they only brought in lightweight Matt Breida as the only meaningful competition.

A better coaching staff from the Bills’ tree, a healthy offseason, an improved offensive line, and very light competition should vault Barkley back into his top-tier status in 2022.

2. Leonard Fournette (TB) – RB11

Lombardi Lenny was also league-winner Lenny last season as he rumbled his way to an outstanding 18.3 PPG. Remarkably, his situation is somehow even better in 2022 with the departure of Ronald Jones (111 touches). While Giovani Bernard will persist as a threat to his insanely high 4.9 receptions per game, it’s clear they love giving Fournette all he is able to handle. New rookie Rachaad White might see a little volume as well, but I don’t see the Bucs deviating from what’s been a winning recipe with their backfield.

3. James Conner (ARI) – RB14

The Cardinal running back group was a favorite target of mine last season, and it paid off handsomely:

Fast-forward to 2022, and I’m not sure there is a more slam dunk selection than Conner at his RB15 current ADP. Chase Edmonds is no longer in town and the only competition they brought in so far was sixth-round selection, Keaontay Ingram. Conner has workhorse written all over him this season.

While he did boast a likely unsustainable 7.5% touchdown rate last season, I’m betting the bump in volume and stable coaching will be more than enough to offset the probable drop in scoring rate.

Good Opportunity, but Solid Competition

4. Darrell Henderson (LAR) – RB43

I don’t know what it is with the fantasy twitter community, but they’ve been fading Henderson year after year despite conditions favorable to his success in fantasy. Even after the Cam Akers injury, people still insisted Sony Michel or someone else would lead the backfield.

He led the way with 15.7 PPG before some nagging injuries started in Week 12. Now Akers should be back to full health in 2022, but there’s a massive hole left behind by Michel to the tune of 229 touches. This will still likely be a committee backfield, and if for some reason Akers’ health isn’t progressing well, Henderson would be in line for another big workload. At RB43 cost, it’s a no-brainer pick at practically zero risk.

5. Cordarelle Patterson (ATL) – RB39

One of the best fantasy producers in the first half of 2021, Patterson turned in his best season to date at 30 years old. It seems the Falcons have unlocked his potential, but his age and massive decline to close the season are major concerns.

While the departure of Mike Davis leaves behind a wealth of volume, this offense as a whole feels a little suspect with Marcus Mariota at the helm. At his age and rate of decline in the final weeks, there are some massive risks, but the upside is truly difference-making given the work he could see.

6. Rex Burkhead (HOU) – RB61

Woof. This Texans backfield is looking brutal, to put it kindly. The Texans lost David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and a few rotational starters this offseason, yet did very little to add any depth or competition in their backfield other than bringing in Marlon Mack and drafting Dameon Pierce. Burkhead is coming off a career-high in yards from scrimmage in a season, and his competition somehow got even lighter. I highly expect the Texans to add another body into their backfield, but until then, believe it or not the starting job is up to a 32-year-old, a fourth-round rookie, and someone still recovering from an Achilles tear. Burkhead is worth a late-round dart if nothing else to see what happens.

Significant vacated touches are one of the easiest ways to identify the opportunity for more volume. And as we all know in fantasy, volume is king. Keep this as a valuable resource when approaching your drafts in the upcoming weeks.

Thanks for reading and stay golden! If you like what you learned, follow me @DavidZach16 for more interesting stats and tidbits throughout the year.


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David Zach is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from David, check out his archive and follow him @DavidZach16.

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