Second Year Running Back Breakouts (2022 Fantasy Football)
The 49ers surprised the entire fantasy community when they had Elijah Mitchell lead them in touches in Week 1 against the Lions in the 2021 season. However, there is no longer any question of the talent the former sixth-round pick from Louisiana-Lafayette presents on the field. Mitchell led the 49ers’ backfield with 963 yards and six total touchdowns and was 14th amongst running backs with 15 half-PPR points per game.
He was also third in the NFL in opportunity share at 80.8%, which is the total workload within a team’s offense regarding rushing and receiving touch share. In the last five regular-season games, Mitchell averaged 23.6 carries per game, which is an elite workload for any running back, even with his lack of volume in the passing game.
Additionally, ESPN’s Nick Wagoner reported that the 49ers still view Elijah Mitchell as “the top option” in their backfield (ESPN.com). If the 49ers continue to give him the kind of volume that he received in 2021, Mitchell has the potential to finish as an RB1 in his second as a pro.
Unlike Mitchell, there was a lot of optimism for Kenneth Gainwell before the 2021 season. A fifth-round pick from Memphis, Gainwell was a versatile weapon in college, in which he displayed his rushing and receiving skills as being the only player in last year’s class with at least 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
However, the Eagles did not use Gainwell as much as fantasy managers hoped, as he only averaged 4.3 carries and three targets per game. In the limited opportunities he was given, Gainwell showed flashes of promise, as he had three games during the season with at least 16.5 half-PPR points and three games with at least seven targets.
The Eagles did not bring in any other RBs throughout the off-season, and Gainwell currently stands as the RB2 on the Eagles depth chart. However, with the Eagles being one of the most run-heavy teams after the second half of the season, Gainwell has the chance to receive more work in 2022, especially considering his ability to be a threat as a receiver in passing situations.
Another year, another Bill Belichick running back emerged in the Patriots backfield. New England spent a fourth-round pick on Stevenson in last year’s draft, and he was given a decent workload in his first year in the pros. The former Oklahoma running back had three games in 2021 with at least 19 carries, on top of at least two touchdowns in two of these three games. Again, the Patriots proved they had trust in their running back, and Stevenson proved to be a viable flex option despite not receiving as much receiving work as fantasy managers would have liked.
New England brought back RB James White in free agency on top of drafting two running backs in this year’s draft, including South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong in the fourth round. Despite this, Stevenson remains the RB2 on the Patriots’ depth chart. After an impressive 2021 campaign in a limited capacity, Stevenson has the opportunity to be a viable fantasy option in the New England backfield, given volume.
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