2022 Fantasy RB Rankings: Top 10

 

 

By Chip Bayless (click Howie for more Chip)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor stiff-arms a defender

After relentless ripping Jonathan Taylor’s downside (moronic I know), he made me choke on my words by trucking through defenders and fantasy opponents alike on his way to becoming 2021’s highest scoring fantasy RB.

Like an addict finally getting sober, the Colts managed to cut their nasty Nyheim Hines habit and the results were as glorious as a new life without addiction.

The most key indicators for fantasy running backs often lie in volume, and nobody had more rushing volume than Jonathan Taylor. In 2021, among RBs, Taylor:

  • Led the league in rushing yards, touchdowns, and attempts by almost 30
  • Was 2nd in yards per carry to only Nick Chubb
  • Ranked 2nd in rushing yards per game to only Derrick Henry
  • Notched the 6th-most in receiving yards
  • Was 4th in yards per reception amongst running backs

Taylor has both the upper and lower body strength to be a dominant, physical running back that a team can build their offense around, and he proved it in 2021 by shouldering nearly the entire offensive load as Carson Wentz proved inept – especially towards the end of the season.

Beyond that, Taylor possesses the explosiveness and second gear to hit home runs and put teams to sleep, literally:

His consistency as both a rusher and receiver was startling for any NFL RB considering the challenges staying healthy at that position, let alone a back leading the league in rushing attempts in an expanded season.

51 passes were thrown Taylor’s way during regular season, and he accrued two or more targets in an imposing 12 games.

Colts coaches love calling Taylor’s number because his running tenacity can make almost any play look good. Check out this screen pass where Taylor expertly knifes through a distraught Ravens defense for the long score:

 

Taylor also eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a staggering 10 games on his way to being the NFL’s rushing leader.

He should be the first player off the board and is widely considered the undisputed #1 overall pick by fantasy experts across the media.

His 26 carries inside his opponents’ 5-yard line marked the highest in the league, so his TD potential should remain high again in 2021.

 

2) Najee Harris

Najee Harris proved in his first NFL season that the Steelers are comfortable giving him as many touches as any player in the league, and the organization is in love with his talent as a receiver, uplifting his fantasy stock to top-3 RB levels.

Najee is a big, strong, and surprisingly agile back. Much like the other RBs in the top 3 of this list, Harris has the body to handle a full NFL season and phenomenal volume which are often the two keys to a dominant fantasy running back.

Harris terrifies defenders with his stiff arms and his quick cuts, helping him toss defenders aside and juke others out of their shoes. Look at this play and judge for yourself if it looks like either of the defenders wants to tackle him:

Among 2021 running backs, Najee Harris:

  • Tied Austin Ekeler for the most targets and led the league in receptions
  • Was 5th in receiving TDs
  • Notched the 4th-most receiving yards per game and the 4th-most rushing yards
  • Was 2nd in receiving yards and rushing attempts
  • Ran for the 7th-most yards per game
  • Was fantasy’s 3rd-highest scoring back

Harris’ receiving volume was the story of his awe-inspiring rookie season as he had four or more targets in 12 games in addition to the elite receiving stats listed above.

A main reason the Steelers throw him constant passes is because of his penchant for catching nearly every ball thrown his way and his knack for shaking defenders tackles after the catch.

Check out the play below where Harris keeps his balance and stays in bounds after breaking a tackle before launching his body towards the pylon for his first touchdown:

His rushing volume helped his fantasy floor too and can’t be understated: he broke the 1,000-yard mark in his first season and had 80 or more rushing yards in seven games.

Overall, Harris’ usage was a sight to behold as he ranked 2nd among 2021 RBs in carries and 1st in snaps, touches, and routes.

He should be a top pick again and beats out Derrick Henry for the 2nd slot on this list due to the difference in both player’s receiving ability/volume, their age, injury concerns, and overall wear and tear.

 

3) Derrick Henry

The only reason Derrick Henry isn’t higher on these rankings is because he finally got an injury last season.

I’ve been a Henry owner time and time again. He always felt undervalued and you felt you knew he’d be healthy the whole season, and the offense would be almost completely reliant on him.

If Najee Harris terrifies defenders, then Derrick Henry petrifies them. His speed and second gear are underrated, and his stiff-arms throw defenders aside like rag dolls.



If you have doubts about Henry’s second gear, this play against the Bills where he accelerates in-between two defenders for a long score should quell those suspicions:

Unfortunately Henry’s healthy streak finally came to an end in 2021, but with his hulk-like build and with the offense still entirely dependent on him – especially with the exodus of A.J. Brown – he should be an RB1 once again in 2022.

Henry was easily an RB1 in the games he was healthy in 2021: he led the NFL in yards per game and still managed to finish 6th in rushing touchdowns despite missing half the season.

Through Week 8, Derrick Henry was 2021’s top-scoring fantasy running back.

Out of the seven weeks Henry was healthy, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a whopping five of them. In all five of those games, Henry had at least four yards per carry.

Henry also improved on his receiving ability which was a major factor holding back his ranking in seasons past.

Of Henry’s seven healthy weeks, he had at least two receptions in all games but one – a win against the Jaguars in which he ran for 130 yards and three TDs.

 

 

4) Austin Ekeler

The story of Ekeler’s fantastic 2021 fantasy season was consistency, health, and passing work.

Ekeler might not be stronger, faster, or more athletic than some of the other names on this list, but he does everything a running back is asked to do exceptionally well.

He can run between the tackles, has the speed to create plays in space, can be a powerful goal-line back when asked to be, and is basically tied with Najee Harris for being the best receiving back in the league.

Point being, Ekeler is an every down all day player, and while the Chargers offense is more built around the pass than the run at this point, that often works in Ekeler’s favor due to screen passes and check downs that he takes for chunk yardage.

He beats out James Conner and Kamara on this list because he has less recent injury concerns than both of them, gets more receptions, and finished 2nd to only Jonathan Taylor in overall fantasy points among RBs, so a legitimate case could be made for Ekeler being the #1 fantasy RB in 2022.

Ekeler blazed across the stat sheet last season, notching the following marks:

  • 1st in RB receiving TDs, receiving yards per game, and total receiving yards
  • Tied Najee Harris for the league-lead in targets amongst 2021 running backs
  • 2nd in yards per reception among RBs to only Kamara (by 0.1 of a yard) and was 2nd in targets to only Najee
  • 4th in rushing touchdowns

Ekeler rarely had bust games as he surpassed 50 or more rushing yards in 13 games, five or more targets in 11 games, 50 or more receiving yards in seven games, and had at least one TD in 13 games.

Even more stunningly, Ekeler had career highs in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs,Β  and had his third 54-plus catches in the last three years. Additionally, Ekeler was the only 2021 RB who had at least 9.5 fantasy points in every game he suited up.

 

 

5) James Conner

James Conner surprised many last season as he threw injury concerns aside for the most part and demonstrated his ability to be an every down back.

With Chase Edmonds gone, there’s nothing holding Conner back from running away with the Cardinals’ season-long workhorse role.

Conner is a physically dominating, persistent playmaker with more receiving capability than the Cardinals likely wanted to admit with Edmonds on the roster.

If you want some evidence of his receiving prowess, this effortless one-handed snag and a quick TD scamper should help:

As long as he stays healthy in 2022, he’ll have plenty of touchdown opportunities in a high-scoring offense as both the Cardinals receiving and goal-line back and will likely push for top-3 RB status. He should be considered an RB1 lock.

Despite not being in the top-10 among RBs in rushing yards, attempts, yards per game, rushing touchdowns, receiving yards, receptions, targets, receiving yards per game, or receiving TDs, Conner finished as fantasy’s #5-scoring RB.

That stat alone considering his lack of carries speaks volumes about Conner’s efficiency and his potential to take over this offense as the workhorse back.

There was a noticeable uptick in Conner’s receiving usage after Week 9 once Edmonds was injured and once the coaching staff had more faith in Conner.

After Week 9, James Conner had:

  • At least two targets in all his games and five or more in half of those games
  • 60 total yards in all games, and over 100 total yards in half his games
  • A touchdown in all games but one

Adding to fantasy faith in Conner, he trailed only Jonathan Taylor in fantasy points during the last six weeks of the season and was heavily involved near the goal with 12 carries from opponent’s 1-yard line (three more than any other player).

 

 

6) Alvin Kamara

Kamara’s argument for being in the top 10 is simple, he’s an every-down back in a system that gives him plenty of receiving opportunities, and he’s more talented than some of the backs ranked ahead of him in terms of his size/speed combination and overall ability.

The only argument for him being outside the top 5 is recent injury concerns. Despite only playing 13 games last season, among running backs Kamara still ranked:

  • 2nd in carries and reception yards per game
  • 8th in rush yards per game
  • 4th in receiving yards and targets
  • 7th in receptions
  • 1st in yards per catch
  • 8th in fantasy points

Kamara had four or more targets in an eye-popping 11 of the 13 games he played as dump offs, quick outs, screens, and wheel routes are plentiful in the Saints offense and he’s likely the most talented player in the NFC South with the exception of maybe McCaffrey.

Kamara tops Fournette on this list due to the difference in the Saints and Bucs offensive schemes. Especially with Tom Brady still at the helm, the Bucs are more built around his talents and their receivers than the offense is built around Fournette’s talents.



On the other hand, the Saints entire offense revolves around Kamara, they have no big-name pass catchers to speak of, and their QB situation is still somewhat of a question mark which works in Kamara’s favor in terms of coaches calling his number and depending on him.

Want one final statistic to give you the confirmation bias you need to draft Kamara? He’s never finished lower than 5th among RBs in targets in his career.

7) Leonard Fournette

TAMPA, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 12: Leonard Fournette #7 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs the ball during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Raymond James Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Ever since his stint with the Jags, Fournette’s hard-nosed, imposing running propensity was well-known around the league.

The question was would another team give him another serious shot, and could Fournette become a more dynamic back and improve his finesse skills while keeping his power.

The answer to all questions was yes as Fournette showed NFL general managers and fantasy owners alike that he deserves to be believed in.

He completely took over the Bucs receiving back role while maintaining his early down and goal line work, leading to a statistical rebirth.

Although his work was incredibly limited due to the Bucs usage of their backs and due to his eventual season-ending injury, among all RBs last year Fournette still finished 3rd in receptions, receiving yards, receiving yards per game, and targets.

Pretty amazing for a player once considered almost exclusively a power back. Considering his top-3 status in those receiving categories in spite of missing three games, a legitimate argument could be made for Fournette being the NFL’s top receiving back.

Finally, Fournette also cracked the top-10 in rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns for 2021 backs while finishing as fantasy’s #6-scoring RB.

The steadiness of his targets was a pleasure for Fournette owners everywhere and it led to fantasy points galore. After Week 3, Fournette had four or more targets in every game (including seven or more target in five games), and 30 or more receiving yards in eight games.

Being the lead, goal-line, and receiving back in one the NFL’s top offenses is a recipe for success for any running back as scoring opportunities should be plentiful in the Bucs aggressive offense with Brady at the helm.

 

 

8) Christian McCaffrey

What the fuck is Christian McCaffrey doing outside of the top 5, let alone all the way down here at number eight is what you’re likely asking.

It boils down to the fact that he has been absolutely snakebit by injury and I pure straight hate spending first round picks on frequently injured players.

Injury concerns aside, forget the offense being built around McCaffrey, the entire team is built around him. When he’s healthy, he’s as good as any running back in the NFL as both a rusher and a receiver.

His acceleration and agility in small spaces is poetry in motion, and his physicality has always been an underrated aspect of his game ever since his Stanford days.

McCaffrey has every move in the book, and his knack for launching his body and making defenders miss often leads to jaw-dropping plays and performances.

If you remove the two games he left injured in 2021, McCaffrey was a top-15 fantasy back in all five full healthy games. Although he was out more than half the season, McCaffrey somehow still finished 15th among 2021 RBs in receiving yards.

Of the five healthy games McCaffrey played, he also accrued eight or more targets in three games and had over 50 receiving yards in all his healthy games.

If he’s healthy all season, he’ll easily be a top-3 back and will make these rankings look worse than the Toronto Raptors fanbase when a player gets injured.

 

 

9) D’Andre Swift

If Swift could have stayed healthy in 2021 he would have likely finished as a top-5 fantasy RB. Case and point: among all backs with at least 100 carries, Swift led everyone last season with the most yards created per attempt with 4.07. No other RBs were above 4.0 and Jonathan Taylor was 3rd with 3.71.

Swift makes the list because his speed and vision warrant top-tier usage when he’s healthy, and Detroit coaches frequently call his number – whether its through screen passes or standard runs – because they know he’s just one broken tackle away from taking anything to the house.

Check out this play where he uses his pure speed to go untouched for the long TD regardless of a flurry of defenders with angles on him:

There’s not much talent around Swift in Detroit unfortunately, but sometimes that works in his favor as Lions coaches constantly look for ways to get the ball in the hands of their top playmaker.

It seems like the Lions organization just crosses their fingers and hopes Swift scores every time he touches the ball, and he certainly has the potential to:

The touches showed up on the stat sheet: Swift had at least three catches in every game, and up until Week 8 when he got hurt he had at least 30 receiving yards in every game and eight or more rushing attempts.

In 2021, Swift also ranked 5th in receiving yards among RBs in addition to 4th in RB receptions, targets, and receiving yards per game.




For one final Swift statistic to take home with you, prior to his injury he had been on the field for 72% of the Lions snaps and was handling 13.7 carries and 6.7 targets per game.

Moreover, Swift ranked 1st at the position in targets and receptions and only four RBs had more fantasy points during his pre-injury span.

 

10) Cordarrelle Patterson

Its an absolute joke that ESPN and other fantasy websites have Patterson ranked in the 20s and so far below so many less talented and unproven players.

There have been no truly notable free-agent signings or draft picks at the RB position in Atlanta since Patterson had his career season in 2021, so why so many fantasy experts are dead-set on him performing less than half as well with another year under his belt in the Falcons offense is perplexing.

Patterson somehow managed to be fantasy’s 9th-highest scoring RB in 2021 despite an absolutely abysmal Falcons offense.

After years of being purely a gadget and special teams player, Cordarrelle Patterson finally found his offensive home with the Falcons.

On his way to a career year, among 2021 RBs Patterson finished:

  • 2nd in receiving yards to only Ekeler
  • 7th in catches
  • 6th in targets and receiving yards per game
  • 2nd in average yards per catch to only Ty Johnson
  • 3rd in receiving touchdowns
  • 10th in rushing TDs

Patterson is big, strong former receiver with the skillset to throw defenders aside like Derrick Henry combined the skills to haul in an impressive catch and weave through defenders for a score like he’s Alvin Kamara.

Like many of the players on this list, Patterson’s fantasy floor is always raised by his steady involvement as both a runner and a receiver in the Falcons offense.

Due to his receiving experience, Patterson often lines up at receiver in addition to running back (and still dons #84 rather than a traditional RB number), rarely leaving the field and giving Falcons more ways to get the ball in the hands their elite star.

Similar to Swift, the lack of playmakers with the exception of Pitts often works in Patterson’s favor as coaches frequently look to bail themselves out of drives and third-downs by getting the ball in Patterson’s hands.

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