8 Third-Year Running Backs: Rankings & Player Notes (2022 Fantasy Football)
While NFL seems to stand for ‘Not For Long’ more and more every year, players entering the league with decent draft capital tend to get at least three years to show their ability. Of course, some break out earlier, while others don’t get even a third year to prove themselves. Let’s take a look at third-year players, including rankings and player notes.
Player rankings based on our redraft Expert Consensus Rankings for half-PPR leagues.
Notable Third-Year Fantasy Football Players: Running Backs
Jonathan Taylor (IND): RB1
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.
D’Andre Swift (DET): RB8
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.
Cam Akers (LAR): RB17
Cam Akers wasn’t expected to return last year in time for the playoffs, but he pulled it off. He saw snap shares from 39% to as high as 81%. While he racked up volume in the process with 18.7 touches per game, his efficiency numbers were middling at best. His 2.31 yards after contact per attempt was a far cry from the 2.96 he rattled off in his rookie season (per PFF). With a full offseason to hopefully recoup any lost juice and return to his first-year form, Akers has the upside to be a workhorse in one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Antonio Gibson (WAS): RB21
Antonio Gibson has been a solid option over the last two seasons as the RB16 and RB17 in fantasy points per game. He also ranked tenth in yards per route run, fifth in evaded tackles, and 14th in juke rate. He was tied for seventh in carries inside the five-yard line and eighth in weighted opportunities. We already know the pass game usage is capped with J.D. McKissic resigned, but now the goalline could be in jeopardy with Brian Robinson on the depth chart. The team has talked about lightening Gibson’s load, so the threat of Robinson is real, especially if Gibson keeps putting the ball on the turf. Since 2020 he’s tied with Ezekiel Elliott for the most fumbles (six) in the NFL among running backs.
J.K. Dobbins (BAL): RB24
Running backs tied to a mobile quarterback are often short-changed when it comes to the passing game. For as well as J.K. Dobbins performed in fantasy football from Weeks 11-17 in full PPR (RB11) during the 2020 season, guess who outscored him… J.D. McKissic. That’s because McKissic caught 37 passes versus Dobbins’ three. Guys like Derrick Henry can overcome the lack of receiving work because they are entrenched bell cows, but that’s not the case with Dobbins in Baltimore with Gus Edwards also in the mix. Dobbins only slightly out-touched Edwards 86-74 down the stretch in 2020. It would be pure ignorance to assume that Dobbins will take over the backfield considering Edwards has been excellent with every opportunity he has received. Dobbins also ran extremely hot when it came to scoring touchdowns, scoring at least one TD in every game from Week 11 on. His nine total rushing TDs ranked 12th in the league and nearly doubled his expected output (5.5, 30th) – the sixth-highest difference at the position. Drafters have to understand that to invest in Dobbins as a late third-rounder or fourth-rounder (RB20, 50th overall ADP) he needs to run hot in the TD category coming off the season-ending ACL injury. They also should expect zero-to-little pass-game work with Jackson’s tendency to not check down along with the additions of receiving backs, veteran Mike Davis and rookie Tyler Badie.
AJ Dillon (GB): RB25
A.J. Dillon started to emerge from his protege’s shadow with 187 rushing attempts, 803 rushing yards, and an RB29 fantasy points per game finish last year. Dillon isn’t the home run threat that Jones is (43rd in breakaway run rate), but he can still punish an opposing defense. He was 17th in yards created per touch in 14th in yards after contact per attempt (minimum 100 carries, per PFF), immediately behind Jones. Unless Jones succumbs to injury, Dillon is likely stuck in a 1B role with a healthy red-zone role.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC): RB28
Although Clyde Edwards-Helaire‘s rookie season showed signs of hope – RB11 through his first six professional games – the step backward in Year 2 is cause for concern. CEH finished 59th out of 64 qualifying running backs in yards after contact per attempt (2.4) and third-to-last in target rate per route run at the running back position (13%). The poor rushing efficiency is bearable, but the poor receiving usage is hard to ignore. Especially considering his calling card out of LSU was catching balls out of the backfield. His 0.73 yards per route run ranked 64th out of 68 qualifying running backs – also significantly worse than his teammates Darrel Williams (1.28) and Jerick McKinnon (1.15). Some may also feel that the Ronald Jones addition is the final nail in the coffin for CEH, but it’s not that black and white. Don’t get me wrong though – Jones is a significant threat to earn more carries than Edwards-Helaire after the former first-rounder posted worse rushing efficiency numbers than his rookie season. But full transparency – Jones was not much better ranking 51st in the same category (2.5). It’s actually a positive sign for Edwards-Helaire that the team brought in Jones instead of re-signing McKinnon or Williams. Those ex-Chiefs backs were proven pass-catchers and limited CEH’s role as a receiver. I’d presume that Edwards-Helaire will fully take over the primary pass-catching role – which was the reason why the Chiefs drafted him in the 1st round in any way – while also working in tandem with Jones as a rusher on early downs. Jones splitting work might also help keep CEH healthy after his 10 missed games the past two seasons. The other RBs on the Chiefs’ current roster include Derrick Gore (4th-year UDFA), Isiah Pacheco (2022 7th-rounder), Jerrion Ealy (2022 UDFA), and Tayon Fleet-Davis (2022 UDFA).
James Robinson (JAC): RB43
James Robinson operated as the pseudo bellcow for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021 after Travis Etienne went down with a preseason injury. He posted inconsistent fantasy production as the RB24 overall and in points per game in 14 games amid horrible usage deployed by the 2021 Jags coaching staff. His touches varied from 21-to-2 depending on the week, so he was nearly impossible to project in fantasy. It’s possible that 2022 presents a similar issue with Robinson as Etienne makes his professional debut. But JRob does deserve credit for maintaining efficient play whenever he got opportunities last season, finishing 11th in yards after contact per attempt (3.3) and 8th in red-zone touchdowns (8). His real hurdle for fantasy relevance besides fending off a 2022 first-round running back is attempting a speedy recovery from a torn Achilles suffered in late December. He will be unable to participate in OTAs, while his backfield counterpart is full-go as the team installs the new-look Doug Pederson offense. The former undrafted free agent is not guaranteed to be ready for Week 1. It’s hard to envision Robinson being anything more than a speculative zero-RB target, with hopes that he can recapture 2020 form if given the volume. However, Pederson’s track record of deploying a multitude of backs does make it seem like Robinson will be a 1B to Etienne’s 1A, with his clearest path to fantasy relevance coming through goal-line opportunities.
Other third-year running backs:
- Zack Moss (BUF): RB76
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn (TB): RB79
- Eno Benjamin (AR): RB84
- Darrynton Evans (CHI): RB85
- Joshua Kelley (LAC): RB87
- DeeJay Dallas (SEA): RB108
- Anthony McFarland Jr. (PIT): RB118
- Rico Dowdle (DAL): RB157
FantasyPros Staff Consensus 2022 Redraft Fantasy Football Rankings
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