Fantasy News & Analysis

McFarland: 2022 Fantasy Football Best Ball Running Back Tiers

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs the ball in the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking players by position is an integral part of fantasy football preparation, but grouping them into tiers is crucial to identifying the value you might be leaving on the draft board. For example, if you're on the clock and looking at several running backs in the same tier, it could make sense to wait until the next round — someone equally as worthy will probably be available with your next pick.


Click here for more PFF tools:

Draft Guide & Big Board | Mock Draft Simulator
Dynasty Rankings & Projections | Free Agent Rankings | 2022 QB Annual
Player Grades


Tiers can also help group players with similar expectations based on upside and floor. Most importantly, we don't want to pay more than the next drafter for a similar player.

Last update: April 8

Tier Rank Name Team
1A 1 Jonathan Taylor Colts
1B 2 Christian McCaffrey Panthers
1B 3 Austin Ekeler Chargers
1C 4 Derrick Henry Titans
1C 5 Leonard Fournette Buccaneers
1C 6 Najee Harris Steelers
1C 7 James Conner Cardinals
1D 8 Dalvin Cook Vikings
1D 9 Alvin Kamara Saints
1D 10 Joe Mixon Bengals
2A 11 Javonte Williams Broncos
2A 12 D'Andre Swift Lions
2A 13 Nick Chubb Browns
2A 14 Aaron Jones Packers
2B 15 Breece Hall NFL Draft (54)
2B 16 David Montgomery Bears
2B 17 Travis Etienne Jaguars
2B 18 Saquon Barkley Giants
2C 19 Cam Akers Rams
2C 20 Antonio Gibson Commanders
3A 21 Elijah Mitchell 49ers
3A 22 Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys
3A 23 Kenneth Walker III NFL Draft (56)
3A 24 Michael Carter Jets
3A 25 Devin Singletary Bills
3A 26 Chase Edmonds Dolphins
3B 27 Clyde Edwards-Helaire Chiefs
3B 28 Josh Jacobs Raiders
3B 29 Damien Harris Patriots
3B 30 J.K. Dobbins Ravens
3C 31 Kareem Hunt Browns
3C 32 Cordarrelle Patterson Falcons
4A 33 A.J. Dillon Packers
4A 34 Rashaad Penny Seahawks
4A 35 Isaiah Spiller NFL Draft (69)
4A 36 Tony Pollard Cowboys
4A 37 Miles Sanders Eagles
4B 38 Rhamondre Stevenson Patriots
4B 39 Melvin Gordon III Free Agent
4B 40 Darrell Henderson Rams
4B 41 Ronald Jones Kansas City
4B 42 Gus Edwards Ravens
4C 43 Zamir White NFL Draft (99)
4C 44 Rachaad White NFL Draft (110)
4C 45 James Cook NFL Draft (106)
4C 46 Brian Robinson Jr. NFL Draft (107)
4C 47 Tyler Allgeier NFL Draft (145)
4C 48 Dameon Pierce NFL Draft (117)
5A 49 Alexander Mattison Vikings
5A 50 Khalil Herbert Bears
5B 51 James Robinson Jaguars
5B 52 Chris Carson Seahawks
5C 53 J.D. McKissic Commanders
5C 54 Kenneth Gainwell Eagles
5C 55 James White Patriots
5C 56 Nyheim Hines Colts
5D 57 Raheem Mostert Dolphins
5D 58 Jamaal Williams Lions
5D 59 Kenyan Drake Raiders
5D 60 Ke'Shawn Vaughn Buccaneers
5D 61 Mark Ingram II Saints
5D 62 D'Onta Foreman Panthers
5D 63 Sony Michel Free Agent
5D 64 Trey Sermon 49ers
5D 65 Justin Jackson Free Agent
6A 66 Pierre Strong Jr. NFL Draft
6A 67 Kyren Williams NFL Draft (164)
6A 68 Jerome Ford NFL Draft
6A 69 Tyler Badie NFL Draft
6A 70 Kevin Harris NFL Draft
6A 71 Kennedy Brooks NFL Draft
6A 72 Hassan Haskins NFL Draft
6A 73 Tyler Goodson NFL Draft
6A 74 Max Borghi NFL Draft
6B 75 Myles Gaskin Dolphins
6B 76 Ameer Abdullah Raiders
6B 77 Duke Johnson Jr. Bills
6B 78 Boston Scott Eagles
6B 79 Dontrell Hilliard Titans
6B 80 Rex Burkhead Texans
6B 81 Damien Williams Falcons
6B 82 Mike Davis Falcons
6C 83 Marlon Mack Texans
6C 84 Chuba Hubbard Panthers
6C 85 David Johnson Free Agent
6C 86 Jeff Wilson Jr. 49ers
6C 87 Tevin Coleman Jets
6C 88 Jerick McKinnon Free Agent
6C 89 Zack Moss Bills
6C 90 Giovani Bernard Buccaneers

TIER 1A – EXPLOSIVE YOUNG STUD(S)

Jonathan Taylor finished as the RB1 in PPR formats and averaged 22.2 points per game. Unfortunately, he doesn't get elite passing-game utilization (9% target share) like some of his peers due to Nyheim Hines. However, the Colts ran the ball more than the NFL average in leading (+4%) and trailing (+3%) game scripts in 2021, providing Taylor with the runway to show off his elite skills that helped earn him the No. 2 PFF rush grade (minimum 150 attempts).

Taylor vs. three-year NFL average in underlying efficiency metrics
Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt Yards After Contact per Attempt Explosive Rush % (10-plus yards)
20% (+3%) 3.83 (+0.90) 15% (+4.5%)

A reduction in leading game scripts — where Indianapolis ranked fourth last year — could lead to more weekly variance in 2022, but at age 24 Taylor still has a leg up on the competition.

TIER 1B – PPR STUDS

Christian McCaffrey eclipsed the 50% snap threshold in four healthy games in 2021 — where he finished as the RB1, RB3, RB4 and RB3. His insane targets per route run (TPRR) of 34% and 2.91 yards per route run (YPRR) tell us CMC still has it in the passing game. If he can remain healthy, he has a shot at overall RB1 and should be a priority when he slips past his current FFPC ADP of 1.3.

TIER 1C – VOLUME STUDS

Derrick Henry was the No. 1 RB in PPR points per game (23.4) and still carries immense upside in an offense committed to the run more than any other. In 2021, the Titans ran the ball more than the NFL average in all game scripts:

  • Trailing by four or more: +10%
  • Within three points: +7%
  • Leading by four or more: +3%

The primary concern for Henry is age and cumulative workload. He will be 28 this season and is past the 1,500-carry threshold where we have historically seen production drop-offs. In addition, the veteran's underlying efficiency metrics are already showing signs of wear and tear.

2019 2020 2021
Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt 19% 20% 15%
Yards After Contact per Attempt 4.2 3.9 3.2
Explosive Rush % (10-plus yards) 14% 13% 9%

It could occur quickly when the cliff comes, given Henry's lack of utilization in the passing game to help cushion the fall.

Leonard Founette was the RB4 in PPR points per game (18.3) thanks to handling much of the passing-down work down the stretch. Surprisingly, Fournette has averaged over 20% TPRR in each of his first five seasons. He doesn't pop in the underlying rushing metrics but projects as an every-down back in Tampa Bay's elite offense.

PFF's customizable mock draft simulator gives you the opportunity to be the GM for any team in the 2022 NFL Draft. Try it today — it's free!

TIER 1D – LEAD BACKS WITH QUESTIONS

Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara each project for solid roles as low-end RB1s, but both face potential off-field challenges. If cleared up, they fit in Tier 1C. Kamara posted three-year lows in explosive run rate (9%), yards after contact (2.8), missed tackles forced per attempt (19%) and targets per route (24%). He still has a substantial role in the receiving game, but at age 27 we could start to see deterioration.

Joe Mixon plays in a great offense, but he doesn't see the field enough on passing downs like long-down-distance (16%) and the two-minute offense (42%). The sixth-year back scored three touchdowns above expectation, which helped cover up passing-game limitations.


Related content for you:
2022 Fantasy Football Best Ball Quarterback Tiers via Dwain McFarland

TIER 2A – EFFICIENCY PERFORMERS WITH MASSIVE UPSIDE IF ROLE GROWS

Javonte Williams will move into the top-five backs if Melvin Gordon III or another significant name doesn't join the team. As a rookie, Williams earned playing time in all situations, including passing downs. He handled 48% of the long-down-and-distance (LDD) snaps and 52% of the two-minute offense, and he was active as a receiver out of the backfield with a 19% TPRR rate. As a rusher, he demonstrated elite ability across multiple key metrics.

Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) runs the ball in the fourth quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Williams vs. three-year NFL average in underlying efficiency metrics
Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt Yards After Contact per Attempt Explosive Rush % (10-plus yards)
31% (+14%) 3.42 (+0.49) 12% (+1.5%)

The second-year back is already the RB6 going off the board at pick 1.10 in FFPC drafts, meaning there isn't much room for him to move up even if Gordon doesn't sign. You can likely get him in August at the same price, but if the Broncos sign another back, his price will slip, providing an opportunity to pounce.

TIER 2B – EVERY-DOWN POTENTIAL AT A DISCOUNT

David Montgomery has a path to an every-down role after the departure of Damien Williams and Tarik Cohen. Then, of course, we could see Khalil Herbert steal some early-down work, but this season seems like a year to be in on the 25-year-old back, given his fourth-round ADP.

Saquon Barkley also has a wide-open depth chart with the Giants, and he has demanded a 22% or higher TPRR in every season except one (18%). The biggest question about the fifth-year back is his explosiveness — was last year a mirage, or have injuries robbed him of big-play ability?

2018 2019 2021
Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt 15% 19% 12%
Yards After Contact per Attempt 3.3 3.2 2.7
Explosive Rush % (10-plus yards) 12% 12% 6%

If Barkley can regain his 2019 form, this ranking is admittedly too low. This offense may not be good, but an every-down role is always valuable in fantasy. He is a player I would love to see more on in training camp, but any significant preseason action is unlikely given his injury history.

TIER 2C – YEAR-3 LEAD COMMITTEE BACKS

Cam Akers‘ recovery from the Achilles injury was nothing short of miraculous, but he couldn't do much with the opportunity. There is a chance the 23-year-old takes over the Rams backfield, but Darrell Henderson seems likely to remain involved.

PFF's 2022 NFL Draft Guide provides analysis, strengths/weaknesses, comparisons, grades and more for all of college football's top prospects. Subscribe today for access…

TIER 3A – POTENTIAL LEAD OPTIONS WITH QUESTIONS

Elijah Mitchell averaged 15.0 points per game in 2021, but his sixth-round draft capital paired with the fickle nature of Kyle Shanahan leaves room for doubt. If the 49ers don't add another back in the draft, he should creep up boards a tad, but a committee approach could also be in play — including heavy usage of Deebo Samuel in the backfield.

Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (25) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Like Mitchell, Michael Carter lacks the draft capital (fourth round) to feel too comfortable at this point in draft season. However, his 23% TPRR and 1.48 YPRR comp similarly to players like Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler. Additionally, he doesn't just catch dump-downs behind the line of scrimmage, boasting a positive aDOT (0.3). Therefore, Carter is worth gaining some exposure when he slides into the seventh round. However, his ADP should slip if the Jets spend a Day 2 pick on the backfield, so balanced exposure is the key until the NFL draft.

TIER 3B – EARLY-DOWN GRINDERS

Clyde Edwards-Helaire could get an opportunity to play more on passing downs, given Ronald Jones' ineptitude in that capacity. However, the third-year back hasn't proven himself in that area despite the Chiefs' need for underneath options in 2021. Edwards-Helaire managed a lowly 12% TPRR and a 0.72 YPRR.

There is a good chance CEH ends up splitting early downs with Jones and giving way to a late addition on receiving downs — which would drop him further down the ranks.

Edwards-Helaire vs. three-year NFL average in underlying efficiency metrics
Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt Yards After Contact per Attempt Explosive Rush % (10-plus yards)
13% (-4%) 2.4 (-0.53) 8% (-2.5%)

TIER 3C – UPSIDE RECEIVING BACKS

Last season, Kareem Hunt averaged 13.5 PPR points per game and had a sizable role in the Browns' offense. Under Kevin Stefanski, he has handled the passing-down duties and the closer role when Cleveland has the game under control — a somewhat insulated situation.

He missed eight games last year, but his underlying TPRR (23%) and YPRR (1.60) point to elite receiving upside, and he was also prolific on the ground.

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt Yards After Contact per Attempt Explosive Rush % (10-plus yards)
27% (+10%) 3.5 (+0.57) 15% (+4.5%)

TIER 4A – UPSIDE COMPLEMENTARY BACKS

Rashaad Penny has been an explosive back in his limited healthy reps in the NFL. With Chris Carson battling a neck injury, Pete Carroll has said Penny would get the first shot. The Seahawks' offensive volume is the worst in the NFL, but this is a case where ADP (8.9 in FFPC best ball drafts) is likely to climb as folks sort through the most likely outcome.


2022 NFL Draft position rankings:
Top 10 players at every position

QB | RB | WR | TE | iOL | OT | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S


TIER 4B – NON-LEAD COMMITTEE BACKS

Rhamondre Stevenson flashed as a rookie and showed upside on the ground (15% explosive-rush rate) and in the receiving game (.22 TPRR), but Damien Harris will likely lead the way on early downs with James White siphoning touches in the passing game. Nevertheless, the second-year back could play the jack-of-all-trades role with spike-week potential, plus add contingent value in games without Harris or White.

TIER 4C – ROOKIE BACKS WITH PROJECTED DRAFT CAPITAL BEFORE PICK 150

See the full tier breakdown of the class here.

TIER 5A – CLEAR-CUT ELITE HANDCUFFS

TIER 5B – FORMER STARTERS WITH MAJOR INJURY QUESTIONS

TIER 5C – PPR FILL-IN OPTIONS

TIER 5D – MORE NON-LEAD COMPLEMENTARY BACKS

TER 6A – ROOKIE BACKS WITH LATER PROJECTED DRAFT CAPITAL

TIER 6B – MORE PPR FILL-IN OPTIONS

TIER 6C – BACKUPS AND FREE AGENTS

You've got the first pick with your finances. Western Southern Financial Group.
Sponsor

Fantasy Featured Tools

  • Sort projected player stats and fantasy points by position, week, and category.

    Available with

    Edge
  • Available with

    Edge
  • PFF's Fantasy Football Expected Points tool is primarily used for identifying potential over and undervalued players.

    Available with

    Elite
  • Research past fantasy performance with sortable player stats including PFF-exclusives like aDOT and fantasy points per opportunity.

    Available with

    Edge
  • PFF’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule (SoS) metric provides a league-wide, season-long view of opponent matchups for each fantasy position.

    Available with

    Edge
Pro Subscriptions

Unlock NFL Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft

$9.99 / mo
$39.99 / yr

Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS

$34.99 / mo
$199.99 / yr