Predicting The Top 10 Running Backs In Fantasy Football For 2022

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Predicting The Top 10 Running Backs In Fantasy Football For 2022

Fantasy Football

Predicting The Top 10 Running Backs In Fantasy Football For 2022

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Matthew Stockman/Getty Images 

The football season is right around the corner, so it’s time to help you prepare by predicting how the top 10 running backs finish this season. These rankings are not the order I would draft these players in despite how high they might be on the list. The list is merely a ranking of where I think the running backs finish by season’s end. And with that, buckle up because there are some surprises on this list. 

 

10- Derrick Henry

I am the last person to consider a guy injury prone, and you will see that later on in this list but I do consider Derrick Henry as injury prone. Let’s start with age. Henry comes into the 2022 season at 28 years old which isn’t far off from the average NFL running back shelf life of 26.6 years old. A running back’s shelf life is how many years of solid startable play before they decline towards the end of their career. Henry’s is not awful but his heavy usage is the reason why he is prone to injury this season. Pair that with his foot injury last season, and it is a recipe for disaster. 

Henry isn’t this low for only his likeliness to get hurt but he’s also low because of the increase of pressure and focus he’ll receive from opposing defenses. The A.J. Brown trade to draft Treylon Burks may seem fair in the long run, but the hole of Brown will not be filled until Burks fully develops. This means that the Tennessee Titans are going to key in on Henry very often as the clear-cut top option on the team. This means more stacked boxes for Henry and fewer chances to break through the front seven. I think Henry can easily be lower, but I put him at the 10. 

 

9- Travis Etienne

The Clemson superstar comes in at number nine for me despite never playing an NFL snap. Before the 2021 NFL Draft, I had Travis Etienne as my top running back over Najee Harris and Javonte Williams. Before the injury going into last season, Etienne was a top 12 running back for me. My high expectations for Etienne do not dissipate even after his injury. Especially because it happened before the season started and he was a full participant in the Jacksonville Jaguars Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Etienne’s Lisfranc injury is nothing to worry about for the start of this season. Like any NFL team, the Jaguars would not jeopardize Etienne and play him in OTAs if he wasn’t at 100% so his participation means Etienne is as healthy as he’ll ever be. 

James Robinson, despite not currently being on the physically unable to perform list, will not play to start the season due to injury. This gives Etienne the shot to take a high snap percentage and be on the field often and early on into the season and be game-planned around. If Etienne is as good as I think he is and I have complete confidence he is, he will thrive over Robinson when he returns from injury and lead the backfield. Most people consider Etienne as a pass-catching back, but I think he can do so much more and potentially be a three-down running back. We’ve seen the undrafted James Robinson do it on the Jaguars and first-round pick Travis Etienne definitely can as well. 

 

8- Joe Mixon

Not much to say about Mixon here. He’s been underrated his entire career and now coming off the Super Bowl, he will still dominate the season at the number eight spot. In 2021, Mixon finished as the running back four and it was a phenomenal season, but I don’t think he will reach those numbers this season. Last season was a special season for the Cincinnati Bengals and I think the team as a whole takes a small step back. Mixon had almost all of the snaps at running back for the Bengals but this season, I expect him to play the early down role with Samaje Perine and Chris Evans getting the passing work. Mixon signed an extension in 2020 with the Bengals so the limit of work is an effort to keep him healthy long-term. Can Mixon finish higher? Sure, but I have him slotted within the top eight. 

 

7- Javonte Williams

For our next surprise, we have Javonte Williams at seven. First I’m going to talk about the Melvin Gordon situation. Last season, Williams and Gordon had the same snap percentage at 51%. This was a split with Williams as a rookie and Gordon as a widely known great player in the league. The trust as the lead back will grow as Williams adds a year of experience under his belt. I expect a 60% to 40% split of snaps between Williams and Gordon respectively. 

Before Melvin Gordon re-signed with the Denver Broncos, many people expected Williams to tackle over 80% of snaps per game. I personally expected it to be around 60%. With Gordon with the team, I still expect it to be around 60%. The re-signing of Gordon was thrown around as a big deal for Williams, however, I think it doesn’t affect him much. Not all running backs need a high percentage of snaps to succeed. With the talent and upside Williams has he can finish as a top five running back on a lower amount of touches. Seven is where I think he lands by season’s end.

 

6- Najee Harris

Najee Harris needs volume to succeed. His 307 rushing attempts and 94 targets were able to propel him into a top three finish among running backs. However, as the face of the offense, the Pittsburgh Steelers understand that extreme usage can hurt a running back long-term and make them more prone to injury. This is why they decided to limit the number of touches he gets this season. The only problem that poses is as I stated before, Harris requires high volume to succeed. He’s still going to dominate with the touches he gets and will continue to be a fantastic running back. But, he will not get back to his top three performance from last season and comes in just outside the top five for this season. 

 

5- Austin Ekeler

Another guy that needs no introduction. Ekeler is a points per reception monster with the amount of passes he catches. Pair that with an MVP-caliber quarterback in front of him and he is locked inside my top five for 2022. He finished second in fantasy points last season, and there is zero reason to believe a regression is coming. They just drafted Isaiah Spiller, but that is not a worry whatsoever. Ekeler was playing 61% of snaps last season and he still was able to finish as a top running back.  This is the new NFL as I discussed with Javonte Williams. You don’t need to play 80% of the snaps to be productive. If you are an explosive player, you’ll get explosive numbers no matter the snap percentage. However, if you own Ekeler, in order to lock up the complete Los Angeles Chargers backfield in case Ekeler gets hurt, you must reach on Spiller. If Ekeler were to miss a game to two, Spiller becomes the top running back. There are very few sure-fire handcuffs for running backs but Spiller is locked in as the Chargers running back two. 

 

4- Dalvin Cook

Cook comes into the season coming off a down year for his standards. He finished 15th among running backs in 13 games played. However, in 2020, he was second among running backs just behind Alvin Kamara despite playing just 14 games. We know how elite he can be because we’ve seen it before. But what changes? First of all, Mike Zimmer is gone. Now, you might be wondering, Zimmer loved to run the ball, how is his firing good for Dalvin Cook? The answer is in Kevin O’Connell who was a part of the Sean McVay coaching tree that won a Super Bowl last season and comes in as the new head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. O’Connell doesn’t just run the ball often, but he knows how to put his players in positions to succeed. Instead of just feeding Cook, he will put him in situations to get those explosive runs and touchdowns. Cook misses a game every season and just like with Ekeler, to assume dominance, you must grab Alexander Mattison on your way out of the draft. This gives you a running back one performance no matter who has the starting role. Barring a major injury, Cook can still finish as a top five running back if he misses a few games. 

 

3- Jonathan Taylor

We have yet another surprise on this list with the number one running back last season being slotted at number three with Jonathan Taylor. Let me first start by saying that the only running backs to finish as the number one spot in back-to-back seasons were LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes. Putting Taylor at number one as safe as it seems, does not bode well throughout history.

Now let’s go to the quarterback situation. Last season, the Indianapolis Colts ran their offense through Taylor, at least if they wanted to win. Before January, Carson Wentz was 7-0 in games where he attempted 30 or fewer passes. Matt Ryan averages over 35 passing attempts per game throughout his career which will not change this season, especially with the emergence of Michael Pittman Jr. Now this isn’t to say that Taylor is a bust this season but I have him as the running back three in my rankings for 2022.  

 

  2- Saquon Barkley

For my biggest surprise of them all, I have Saquon Barkley at number two in my rankings. I know you are going to hit me that he’s injury prone but what if I told you that Barkley is not injury prone? Let’s go through his years in the NFL. As a rookie in 2018, Barkley finished as the top running back in fantasy football. In year two in 2019, Barkley was rushed back from a high ankle sprain, one that usually takes running backs out for four to six weeks, and only missed three games. Despite not being completely healthy throughout the season, he was still able to finish seventh in points per game. In week two of his 2020 season, Barkley tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. Now one thing we know with ACL injuries and the running backs who get them is that the year after the injury, they face an injury-riddled below par season. That is exactly what Barkley had last season and he did not look like his usual self. In year two after an ACL injury is when we see the player positively regress to their normalcy. In Barkley’s case, that is top of the pack numbers. The situation with Barkley is similar to Dalvin Cook. He was the running back four early on in his rookie season but tears his ACL. The following year came with struggles with injury and struggles with playing the game at his usual high level. But two years removed from Cook’s ACL injury he returned to his dominant form. Barkley will follow suit.

The second knock on Barkley is that he plays for a really bad team. This is wrong for two reasons. Number one is that in 2018 when Barkley finished as the top running back in fantasy football, the New York Giants finished at an awful 5-11. A bad record does not stop him from performing at a high level. Second of all, I think the Giants and Daniel Jones find success this season. The addition of Brian Daboll as the head coach for the Giants was a brilliant move. Daboll will help Jones and the offense as a whole be more efficient as they drive down the field. This is also a make-or-break year for Jones, and I think he shows the Giants organization that he is a serviceable quarterback and deserves the starting job. As bold as it is, we’ve seen Saquon Barkley finish with elite numbers and I think he returns to his usual dominance this season. 


1- Christian McCaffrey

Finally, at number one we have Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is in between being injury prone and not injury prone. Despite this, when healthy he is a 30 points per game player. This upside is incomparable with anyone on this list. Although I think McCaffrey plays every game this season if he were to miss a few games, his point total when healthy will keep his absences afloat. This brings me to my next point. When I draft my top fantasy football player, I want a guy that I know will lead my point total every week and win me games. Although safety is important early on in the draft, upside is equally important and a healthy McCaffrey is the best player in the league.  

We have seen him be that best his whole career. In fact, in 2018, McCaffrey fell short of the top running back spot by 0.3 points in points per reception which equates to three rushing yards. In 2019, we saw him finish as the top running back by a landslide with over 150 points between McCaffrey and the running back that followed. His next two seasons were cut short due to injury. McCaffrey’s projection solely determines whether he’ll stay healthy in 2022. My money’s on yes which is why Christian McCaffrey rounds out the top 10 and takes over as my top running back for fantasy football in 2022. 

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