RB Dead Zone 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.
Over the past few years, the concept of the RB dead zone has become popularized by fantasy football content creators. For those new to the idea, the RB dead zone is generally referred to as rounds 3-6 in fantasy drafts where RB hit rates have been historically poor. If you have taken in much fantasy content this offseason, then you have likely heard of the dangers of drafting RBs from the dead zone, but the dead zone isn’t quite as dead as you may have been led to believe. Here are a few running backs to target in the RB Dead Zone.
Rankings noted using FantasyPros half-PPR Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) and Consensus ADP.
Dead Zone Running Backs to Target
It’s clear that the experts and sharps are convinced that Cam Akers sucks at football after he averaged an abysmal 2.4 yards per carry during the 2021 season after returning from his Achilles injury – the worst mark of any running back with at least 70 carries. But his inefficient production is partially related to the juggernaut of run defenses he faced down the stretch – San Francisco 49ers (twice) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – when in fact no Rams RB ran efficiently. 95% of his rushing yards in 2021 came after contact – the highest mark in the NFL.
Did I also mention he was never even supposed to come back at ALL last season due his Achilles injury? If Travis Etienne came back from his injury and failed to perform, would that be held against his draft stock?
There’s simply too much emphasis placed on Akers’ production when touch volume is the key driver to fantasy success at running back. In the Rams’ divisional playoff win versus the Buccaneers, Akers played 81% of the Los Angeles offensive snaps and out-touched Sony Michel (signed with Miami this offseason) 27 to three.
I expect Akers to be dialed back in as the top RB next season in Sean McVay’s consistent 1RB offense, where the team’s lead back averages 20-plus touches per game. Darrell Henderson has proven he’s nothing more than a replaceable running back that the Rams continue to try and replace.
Not to mention, Akers has a cakewalk of soft-run defenses to open the season against the Bills, Falcons and Cardinals. Won’t take long for Akers to pay off his early Round 4 ADP in a high-powered offense.
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.
My highest-ranked rookie running back is Breece Hall. The Jets selected the Iowa State product at the top of Round 2, signifying his status as the team’s locked-in RB1 for the foreseeable future. Hall’s three-down skill set suggests he never has to come off the field, and the sheer volume he garners will vault him into redraft top-20 running back territory.
The Iowa State product totaled over 4,500 yards from scrimmage, 50 touchdowns and 80 catches over three seasons in the college ranks.
A workload of approximately 240 touches – based on ESPN fantasy analyst Mike Clay’s projections and how many touches the cumulative Jets RB1 earned last season – would place Hall inside the top-15 considering every running back last season that hit that threshold finished inside that ranking.
2021 fourth-rounder Michael Carter had his moments as a rookie, but the Jets know he’s just a No. 2 running back. Anticipate Hall to shoulder 15-20 touches per game based on the workload that Carter received last season when Tevin Coleman missed time.
From Weeks 7-9 with Coleman sidelined, Carter averaged 19 touches per game and a 66% snap share. Upon Coleman’s return from injury in Week 10, Carter averaged 14 touches per game and a 55% snap share in the games they played together.
The Cardinals re-signed their RB1 from a season ago to a three-year, $21 million extension this offseason, locking him in as their guy for the foreseeable future. It’s a great signing for fantasy football because it puts Conner firmly in the top-12 running back conversation, especially with Chase Edmonds landing in Miami.
The ex-Steelers running back finished the 2021 season tied for second in goal-line carries and third in touchdowns (18). Conner received extensive work in the passing game with Edmonds out of the lineup from Weeks 9-14 and Week 18. Conner averaged 26.2 fantasy points and 5.5 targets per game in those six games while running a route on 61% of the Cardinals’ dropbacks. His RB finishes in half-point scoring during those weeks: RB1, RB16, RB8, RB11, RB2, and RB3.
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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.