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13 Second-Year Running Backs: Rankings & Notes (2022 Fantasy Football)

Jul 3, 2022
Najee Harris

While rookies are the hot topic this time of year, there are always plenty of second-year NFL players ready to either break out or continue the hot start to their professional career. Let’s take a look at notable second-year fantasy football players, including rankings and player notes for each.

Player rankings based on our redraft Expert Consensus Rankings for half-PPR leagues.

Notable Second-Year Fantasy Football Players: Running Backs

Najee Harris (PIT): RB6
If there is any running back that could potentially de-throne Derrick Henry as the poster child for the “volume is king” mantra, it’s Najee Harris. The Steelers rookie running back managed a league-leading 381 touches in 2021 and finished as the RB4 in half-point scoring as a result. The volume he is going to see in 2022 will ensure he is one of the safest running backs available in fantasy football. Still, the issue with Harris pertains to his true upside potential in a potentially capped offense led by a rookie quarterback. An immobile Ben Roethlisberger was a check-down target machine to Harris in 2021 which may not be the case in 2022. And despite all of his total raw touches, Harris only saw 37 touches (22nd) in the red zone and scored six red-zone touchdowns.

Javonte Williams (DEN): RB13
Running back Melvin Gordon signed a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos, ultimately halting the Javonte Williams 2022 breakout season. The idea of Williams playing a three-down role was salivating, but Gordon’s return should not be overlooked after a seriously underrated 2021 campaign.MG3’s return definitely hurts Williams’ top-tier fantasy ceiling. He’s going to split work with another capable back in Gordon which is exactly what new head coach Nathaniel Hackett desires and spoke on at the NFL owners’ meeting in March. However, keep in mind that Williams finished 13th in touches last season (246, 14.6 per game) and would be the favorite to take another step forward in the passing game – Aaron Jones-esque – after finishing as one of two rookie RBs inside the top-15 in route participation in 2021: Najee Harris (first) and Javonte Williams (13th). Williams falls just out of the fantasy RB1 conversation for me in redraft and best ball, but he’s right on the cusp. I don’t think he can be ranked worse than RB15 considering that’s where he finished as a rookie amid a split workload in a much worse offensive environment.

Elijah Mitchell (SF): RB23
Elijah Mitchell ran away with the job last season en route to finishing as the RB14 in fantasy points per game. He was third in opportunity share, but his underlying rushing metrics were a lackluster ball of meh. He was 36th in juke rate, 30th in breakaway run rate, and 34th in yards created per touch. With his 7.0% target share and 25th ranking in route participation, he doesn’t have the pass game usage to save him if the rushing volume and efficiency aren’t there. It’s still possible that the 49ers roll it back in 2022 with him as the primary rusher, though, as long as he doesn’t face plant in camp.

Travis Etienne Jr. (JAC): RB24
Travis Etienne Jr. was a standout college football running back for the Clemson Tigers from 2017 to 2020 and was selected by the Jaguars in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft -25th overall. However, his rookie season was cut short by a preseason Lisfranc injury. Some NFL personnel reported that Etienne could have come back towards the end of the year had the Jaguars been in playoff contention instead of being the league’s laughing stock. Etienne is expected to be fully cleared by training camp, giving him a leg up on the RB1 role as the Jacksonville Jaguars install a new offense under new head coach Doug Pederson. With James Robinson attempting to come back from a torn Achilles injury suffered on December 26th, Etienne figures to be the featured back during this spring/summer. Do not forget what this guy did at Clemson with Trevor Lawrence (QB – JAC) as his quarterback. During his final season as a Clemson Tiger, he led the country in receiving yards and ranked second in receptions among running backs. Etienne also racked up the most rushing attempts of 20-plus yards (40) from 2018 to 2019 while only carrying the ball 20-plus times once since 2018.

Rhamondre Stevenson (NE): RB37
Rhamondre Stevenson experienced a very successful rookie season that should not be overlooked. After fully escaping the Bill Belichick doghouse in Week 9, Stevenson earned top grades across the board. He was PFF’s third-highest graded running back (84.2). Stevenson also ranked 13th in rushing yards and in yards per route run (1.41). For fantasy, the rookie running back was the RB25 in total points scored, eight spots behind his backfield teammate Harris. There’s a high ceiling for Stevenson, especially if you ask former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. The ESPN analyst went as far as saying that Stevenson “…will be one of the better, if not one of the top three, running backs in the league based on what I saw with his strength, explosion, and catch-and-run ability.”

Michael Carter (NYJ): RB38
RIP Michael Carter RB1 szn. The Jets drafted workhorse running back Breece Hall at the top of the 2nd round but even considered trading up for him in Round 1 before selecting him 36th overall. The draft capital shows New York’s commitment towards Hall being their clear-cut RB1 for 2022 and beyond, which makes Carter nothing more than a hand-cuff. It’s a reminder to always sell high on Day 3 running backs that flash as rookies; they can be easily replaced and likely won’t “survive” draft after draft without investment from their team. Carter’s looking anywhere between five-to-eight touches per game with Hall entrenched as the bellcow, making the former UNC back near obsolete as anything other than a backup with some upside. From Weeks 7-9 with Tevin Coleman sidelined, Carter averaged 19 touches per game and a 66% snap share. He also finished 10th in yards after contact per attempt (3.4) and third in PFF’s elusive rating. Carter’s receiving ability also fueled four top-17 weekly finishes in 2021, three of which were inside the top-13 in games that featured quarterback check-down king Mike White under center.

Kenneth Gainwell (PHI): RB49
Kenneth Gainwell was in the backfield mix all season long, but he wasn’t given a prominent role. The most we saw of Gainwell was 53% of the snaps played in Week 18, where he turned his 16 touches into 87 total yards. With Jordan Howard not returning, he’s in the running with Boston Scott and Kennedy Brooks to mix in behind Miles Sanders. Gainwell was sixth in yards per route run last season, which isn’t shocking considering his receiving chops coming out of Memphis. His ability as a pass-catcher could be his easiest path to earning more playing time this season.

Khalil Herbert (CHI): RB53
Khalil Herbert should enter camp with a leg up on the competition to be David Montgomery‘s backup. Last year in four games as the lead back when Montgomery was down, he was the RB40, RB11, RB6, and RB33 in fantasy. Among backs with 100 or more rushing attempts, he was 25th in yards after contact per attempt, ranking immediately ahead of Antonio Gibson. With a new regime at the helm, Herbert could be the guy if Montgomery misses any time, but don’t rule out Darrynton Evans or Trestan Ebner getting involved.

Chuba Hubbard (CAR): RB62
Chuba Hubbard started with solid showings in his attempt to replace Christian McCaffrey‘s production last season after he was sidelined in Week 3. Hubbard averaged 20.4 touches and 83.4 total yards per game over the next five weeks as the RB36, RB16, RB22, RB29, and RB20. Hubbard’s underlying metrics weren’t so pretty as he finished the season 45th in juke rate and 41st in yards created per touch. By the end of the season, the team worked in multiple backs with Hubbard. Monitor camp reports for Hubbard’s standing in this backfield in 2022, but I’m currently projecting D’Onta Foreman to be McCaffrey’s primary backup.

Trey Sermon (SF): RB67
Shanahanigans are alive and well. After selecting Trey Sermon in the third round of the NFL Draft last year, the team chose to park him firmly on the bench. Sermon only saw work in three games last season, with his most extensive workload coming against the Seahawks (19 carries, 89 rushing yards). With the 49ers’ heading back to the running back well with Tyrion Davis-Price this year in round three, Sermon could be parked on the pine or the inactive list all season. Unless we get positive reports from camp, he’s not worth drafting outside of the final pick in any league.

Other second-year running backs:

FantasyPros Staff Consensus 2022 Redraft Fantasy Football Rankings

2022 Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyPros

 

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