8 Hero RB Running Backs to Target (2022 Fantasy Football)
It’s important to be flexible as you prepare and complete your fantasy football draft. There are a bevy of fantasy football draft strategies to consider, but flexibility and the ability to take what the draft board gives you is key. It’s good to know of the different strategies so you can keep calm and build a solid roster even as your leaguemates and sniping you and otherwise throwing you curves with their picks.
Hero RB Strategy is an example of a strategy that fantasy football drafters are deploying. The idea is to take a stud running back early to lean on which will allow you to fill out your roster with other positions, returning to running back later on. Our analysts have identified those players they consider to be true hero running backs.
Rankings noted using FantasyPros half-PPR Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) and Consensus ADP.
Hero RB Running Backs to Target
After playing just a 70% snap share once in 2020, Jonathan Taylor surpassed that number in nine contests in 2021, including eight weeks during the team’s last eight games. Taylor also led the NFL in red-zone touches (92), which was not that surprising considering he ranked fifth in that category as a rookie.
That elite goal-line usage helped separate Taylor from the pack as the bonafide No. 1 running back in fantasy football. No player came close to sniffing his amount of volume near paydirt. Taylor’s 42 carries inside the 10-yard line were 12 more than the next-closest back (Damien Harris, 30).
Pairing Taylor’s elite red-zone usage with his ascending role as a receiver – 11th in routes run and sixth in route participation in 2021 – makes him worthy of the 1.01 pick across all fantasy formats. No quarterback targeted running backs more than new Colts quarterback Matt Ryan did in 2021 – 8.6 targets per game.
We all know the deal with CMC. When healthy, he’s easily the best player in all of fantasy football. He played in four games in 2021 with at least a 50% snap share and his PPR fantasy finishes were RB1, RB3, RB4 and RB3. McCaffrey averaged 26 fantasy points per game. Considering the extent of CMC’s injuries have not resulted in major surgeries or completely torn ligaments, I like him bouncing back to form in 2022. I like that the Panthers are already putting him in preseason bubble wrap to make sure he’s full-go for Week 1. Four of the Panthers’ 5 wins last season came when CMC was active and playing.
The injury bug has lightly nipped at Dalvin Cook in each of the last three seasons. Over that span, he’s gutted out it, though, and only missed four games while dealing with a torn labrum, dislocated shoulder, groin strain, and left shoulder sprain. Despite the injury history, Cook will “shoulder” the load for the Vikings again in 2022. When he was on the field last year, he averaged 21.8 touches and 106.4 total yards per game as the RB11 in weekly fantasy scoring. He’s still a top 5-10 option and 20 touches per game machine this year.
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.
The volume he will see in 2022 will ensure he is one of the safest running backs available in fantasy football.
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Joe Mixon was an absolute steal in the second round of fantasy drafts in 2021 based on his easily projected large workload within an ascending offense. The Bengals running back finished the season third in total touches (334) and sixth in touches per game (20.9).
Mixon also ranked third in goal-line carries (16) and tied Jonathan Taylor/James Conner in red-zone touchdowns. 2021 was the perfect storm for the fantasy RB3 in half-points scoring coming off a truncated 2020 campaign, and there’s reason to believe the positive production will continue in 2022.
The Bengals offensive line has been revamped entirely, ensuring that Mixon will be able to repeat his top-10 PFF rushing grade from a season ago. He also flashed upside a receiver down the playoff stretch for the Bengals, averaging nearly six targets per game while running a route on 57% of offensive dropbacks through six games. That route participation would have ranked third among all running backs during the regular season.
Mixon fits all the criteria that a fantasy manager would want as a mid-range first round selection in fantasy football. However, he owns the RB7 ADP at 12th overall in early best ball drafts.
In Weeks 1-11, before suffering an AC joint sprain that kiboshed his season, D’Andre Swift was a fantasy monster. He was the RB7, averaging 19 touches and 97.5 total yards per game. While the Lions have added more passing game weapons in the offseason with D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams, Swift’s efficiency through the air allows for hope that his target share (18.4%, second among running backs) won’t see a drastic dip. In Weeks 1-11, he was ninth in yards per route run (minimum 15 targets, per PFF) among running backs.
Last season was nightmare fuel for Saquon Barkley. In his return from the ACL injury, he posted his career’s lowest breakaway run rate (3.1%, per Playerprofiler.com) and yards after contact per attempt (2.69, per PFF). With Joe Judge and Jason Garrett’s special brand of season-destroying special sauce gone, Barkley has all the motivation to crush this year as a pending free agent. With the additions of Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, and first-round pick Evan Neal to pair with holdover Andrew Thomas, the blocking upfront should be much improved. A massive bounce-back campaign could be brewing.
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).
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Mike Maher is an editor and content manager at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaher, and visit his Philadelphia Eagles blog, The Birds Blitz.