4 Impact Rookie Running Backs (2022 Fantasy Football)
For 10 consecutive seasons, at least one rookie running back has finished in the top 15 in PPR fantasy scoring amongst running backs (22 total RBs over the last 10 seasons). Despite this, not a single rookie RB currently has an ADP inside the top 15 on ESPN, FantasyPros, or NFL Network.
That being said, history shows that rookie running backs can make an immediate impact, and tend to be undervalued.
Out of the 25 rookie RBs in 2022, here are five who should make an immediate impact this year.
Running a 4.39 40-yard dash (top 3% of RBs) and recording a 40-inch vertical (top 5% of RBs), Breece Hall possesses the speed and lower body power that great NFL running backs have. Last season, Hall was one of seven FBS RBs to force over 70 missed tackles. His 1,562 rushing yards in 2020 were the most in college football, and he was the only FBS RB to score 20+ touchdowns in 2020 and 2021.
The former Cyclone is more than serviceable as a receiver, catching 90% of his targets and racking up 310 receiving yards (16th among RBs) in 2021. He should be able to take over bell cow duties immediately, but having Michael Carter in the backfield will create a cap on his receiving output. Breece Hall and Michael Carter could resemble a Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines-like backfield. As a runner, Hall should thrive behind an offensive line that was 11th in open field yards created on runs according to Football Outsiders, but unless Carter gets injured, he shouldn’t see more than 40 targets come his way.
Stat Projection: 239.6 Car 1,073.5 Rush Yds 4.48 YPC 9.3 Rush TD 39.1 Tar 31.9 Rec 81.5 Ctch% 251.6 Rec Yds 5.7 YPT 1.3 Rec TD 225.9 F-Pts 13.26 FPPG
Only three running backs in the FBS had more receiving yards than Rachaad White last season. Of his 48 targets, White caught 90% of them and averaged 9.5 yards per target. As a runner, White wasn’t too shabby either, getting in the end zone 15 times in 2021. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and 3.4 came after contact. Ronald Jones and his 101 carries are off to Kansas City, so White should slide into the number 2 role nicely. He’s currently behind Leonard Fournette on the depth chart, and Fournette recently turned 27. In his five NFL seasons, Fournette has missed 18 games (3.6 games per season), so with a Fournette injury, White is a clear bell cow on one of the best offenses in the NFL.
With Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski gone and Chris Godwin injured, that leaves 278 open targets for Tom Brady. And in 2021, the passer rating of Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels sky-rocketed from 79.9 to 114.6 when he threw to White. In an offense with Brady, who made great receiving backs like Danny Woodhead and James White (among others) fantasy-relevant, Rashaad White’s receiving ability makes him a great fit to thrive.
Stat Projection: 116.3 Car 512.8 Rush Yds 4.41 YPC 4.9 Rush TD 48.1 Tar 39.3 Rec 81.8 Ctch% 302.2 Rec Yds 6.3 YPT 1.3 Rec TD 158.8 F-Pts 9.34 FPPG
In a backfield with Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, the Bills were looking for a 3rd-down back when they drafted James Cook. Not only did he not drop a single pass last season, but he averaged 9.1 yards per target. As a runner, Cook provides value as well. He put up 6.4 yards per carry in 2021, and 3.9 of those came after contact. Like his brother Dalvin, James Cook possesses an elite level of speed, running a 4.42 40-yard dash (top 8% of RBs). He’ll have to put on weight, however, if he wants to become a three-down back in the NFL, weighing just 199 lbs (bottom 21% of RBs).
Moss will likely take a backseat this year to Cook after averaging just 3.6 yards per carry in 2021. Singletary is coming off an 800-yard rushing season where he averaged 4.7 yards per carry, so the former Georgia Bulldog should split the backfield with Singletary.
Stat Projection: 132.6 Car 595.4 Rush Yds 4.48 YPC 4.5 Rush TD 42.5 Tar 34.0 Rec 80.1 Ctch% 260.8 Rec Yds 6.1 YPT 1.3 Rec TD 153.0 F-Pts 9.00 FPPG
In a running back room with Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, and Dare Ogunbowale, Dameon Pierce could see more bell-cow work in the NFL than he did in college. In 2021, Pierce was PFF’s highest-graded running back. He forced a missed tackle on 39% of his 100 carries (top-10 in FBS) and saw the end zone 13 times. Pierce was rarely targeted as a receiver in college but made the most of his opportunities. He caught all 19 targets and averaged over 10 yards per target in 2021.
Burkhead and Ogunbowale should take most of the third-down work in Houston, but only Mack, who averaged 3.6 yards per carry last year, presents good competition for first and second-down work against Pierce.
Stat Projection: 172.4 Car 670.6 Rush Yds 3.89 YPC 4.3 Rush TD 31.1 Tar 24.3 Rec 78.2 Ctch% 182.9 Rec Yds 7.5 YPT 0.9 Rec TD 139.2 F-Pts 8.19 FPPG
Bonus: Travis Etienne Jr. (JAC)
Missed 2021 season with an injury
Drafted in the first round in 2021, Travis Etienne is one of the most decorated college football running backs ever. He’s one of two players in college football history to have over 4,900 rushing yards while averaging 7 yards per carry in his career (Melvin Gordon is the other). In 2019, Etienne led the FBS in yards after contact (5.2) and forced missed tackles per carry (44%), according to Pro Football Focus. The Clemson product also thrived as a receiver, catching 83% of his targets during his college career. In 2019, he led the FBS in yards after the catch (13.5).
Clocking in with a 4.43 40-yard dash and recording a 128-broad jump at his pro day (both top 7% of RBs), Etienne possesses a rare blend of speed and lower body power that should help him translate to the pros with ease. He is coming off a foot injury that postponed his rookie season last year, so he could lose some explosiveness and his carries won’t be guaranteed since James Robinson is still there. However, Etienne’s talent and proven track record eventually point to him taking over the backfield. After all, there’s a reason Jacksonville used a first-round pick on Trevor Lawrence‘s former college roommate.
Stat Projection: 182.1 Car 823.0 Rush Yds 4.52 YPC 5.5 Rush TD 62.7 Tar 50.9 Rec 81.1 Ctch% 398 Rec Yds 6.3 YPT 1.8 Rec TD 215.0 F-Pts 14.06 FPPG