Fantasy News & Analysis

McFarland: 2022 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings & Tiers

Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs against Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) during the second half of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror, it is time to refresh the 2022 fantasy rankings based on the latest depth charts.

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.

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: May 2

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

TIER 1A – EXPLOSIVE YOUNG STUDS

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.

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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 – STRONG TRACK RECORD BUT QUESTIONS IN 2022

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.

Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara  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.

TIER 2A – VETERANS WITH EVERY-DOWN POTENTIAL

Leonard Fournette was the RB4 in PPR points per game (18.3) thanks to handling much of the passing-down work down the stretch, and the Buccaneers rewarded him with a new three-year deal worth $21M. The veteran back is below average in the missed tackles forced (16%) and explosive-rush rate (8%) but above average in yards after contact (3.15). He has shined the most in the passing game, where he has garnered a 20% TPRR in each of his five seasons.

Tampa Bay brought back Giovani Bernard and added Rachaad White in the third round of the NFL draft, so there is a chance Fournette cedes some of his passing-down work to White. We likely won’t see the 80% snap rates we saw for a slight stretch last season, but the 27-year-old’s track record suggests 60-70% is achievable. Playing in an elite offense, the bruising back gets some insulation from a lighter workload with the upside for more scoring.

Fournette is currently going in the third round of FFPC best-ball contests, making him a great value.

James Conner finished as the RB1, RB18, RB7, RB12, RB2 and RB1 in six contests where he eclipsed 75% of the snaps in 2022. This offseason, the Cardinals moved on from Chase Edmonds and signed Conner two a three-year contract for $21 million — leaving the door wide open for a big fantasy season. The Cardinals added Keaontay Ingram late in the draft, and Eno Benjamin remains on the roster.

Conner’s explosive rush rate has slid from 14% to 11% and finally 7% last season vs. the NFL average of 10.5%. However, he has outperformed the league average in missed tackles forced per attempt during the previous two seasons (21% and 20%).

Conner is coming off the board in the fourth round of FFPC best-ball drafts, but his ADP is sure to start climbing as the industry projection season gets underway.

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 2B – EFFICIENCY PERFORMERS WITH MASSIVE UPSIDE IF ROLE GROWS

The backs in Tier 2B don’t have the same path to volume as Tier 1D, but their underlying efficiency metrics indicate much more upside should things break their way. These two tiers can be used interchangeably depending on your preference.

Javonte 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.

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%)

Melvin Gordon III forced a near 50/50 split last season and is returning to the Broncos on a one-year, $2.5M deal. It is tough to forecast how this backfield will sort out in 2022 under new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who used two backs in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, the last two seasons in Green Bay.

Williams is coming off the board as the sixth running back at the end of the first round but should slip into the mid-second round or further as more drafts occur post-Gordon returning.

Breece Hall was the first running back off the board in the NFL Draft as the third pick in the second round to the Jets. He is a well-rounded back who averaged 129 total yards per game over his career at Iowa State — which is the best in the class outside of Rachaad White, who played far fewer games. The former Iowa State product recorded 82 receptions over his career and has every-down upside as a rookie.

Hall’s primary competition for touches will come from 2021 fourth-rounder Michael Carter, who was borderline elite as a receiver out of the backfield with TPRR (23%) and YPRR (1.48) marks just below Alvin Kamara territory. Carter’s prowess in the passing game likely keeps him in a role of some form.

Hall takes over 60-65% of the backfield snaps across all situations in the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario would be Hall in an early-down role on a losing team with Carter soaking up passing-down work.

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TIER 2C – 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.

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.

TIER 3A – UPSIDE COMMITTEE LEADS

Elijah Mitchell had the third-highest explosive rush rate (14%) out of 30 backs with at least 150 attempts in 2021. The rookie averaged 15.0 points per game, but his sixth-round draft capital paired with the fickle nature of Kyle Shanahan leaves room for doubt. The 49ers added Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round of the draft, which means we still likely have a committee situation.

Antonio Gibson still has upside thanks to his receiving chops (23% career TPRR), but he seems destined for a committee workload after the return of J.D. McKissic and the addition of Brian Robinson Jr. in the third round. Gibson should continue to lead the Commanders’ offense and is capable of shining in an every-down role if things break his way. However, Robinson is an adept inside-zone runner, which the Commanders used more than any other run concept in 2021 at 38% and McKissic is an elite pass-down specialist.

Kenneth Walker III doesn’t have the background as a receiver but his career 33% missed tackles forced per attempt and 17% explosive-rush rate are huge pluses. The Seahawks aren’t a significant volume offense, don’t figure to score many points and have a history of rotating backs, which dampens the early-second rounder’s outlook.

TIER 3B – COMMITTEE LEADS

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 COMPLEMENTARY BACKS

A.J. Dillon and Tony Pollard can both provide occasional flex options, but both also have contingency league-winning upside should their backfield mate go down (or should their roles expand significantly).

TIER 3D – EXPLOSIVE PASSING-DOWN OPTIONS

Mike McDaniel didn’t waste time upgrading the Dolphins backfield by signing Chase Edmonds to a two-year, $12M deal early in free agency. Edmonds has a 20% career TPRR and finished the 2021 season with the fourth-highest explosive rush rate out of backs with at least 100 attempts.

Edmonds' underlying rushing metrics with difference versus the three-year league average in parentheses:

2019 2020 2021
MTF/Att 0.16 (-0.01) 0.23 (+0.06) 0.13 (-0.03)
YCO/Att 2.95 (+0.02) 2.64 (-0.29) 2.77 (-0.16)
Explosive Rush Rate 15% (+3.5) 11% (+0.5) 16% (+5.5)

The fifth-year back has never handled over 25% of a team’s carries but we could see Edmonds approach 40 to 50%, including the passing-down work. We saw Elijah Mitchell thrive in a similar role last season minus the receiving work.

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%)

James Cook boasts the second-highest explosive rush rate (19%) in the 2022 draft class and is a mismatch against linebackers and safeties out of the backfield. The Bills may have found an Alvin Kamara type player in the second round of the NFL draft.

Michael Carter’s 2022 outlook took a huge hit with the arrival of Hall. However, Carter’s 23% TPRR and 1.48 YPRR comp similarly to players like Kamara and Austin Ekeler. There is a chance he can sustain some value as the passing-down option or change-of-pace back, and if Hall gets injured or struggles early in the season, this is the type of profile that can provide us with some big games in PPR formats.

TIER 4A – YOUNG 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.

The arrival of Pierre Strong Jr. (fourth round) and Kevin Harris (fifth round) add further complexity to this backfield but Stevenson is the favorite to lead that group behind Harris.

TIER 4B – VETERAN COMMITTEE BACKS

Devin Singletary and Rashaad Penny both took a hit on draft day due to new rookie arrivals, but both players have shown an ability to put up fantasy points when given the chance. Penny is an explosive playmaker who could still challenge Walker for the starting gig.

Penny's underlying rushing metrics with difference versus the three-year league average in parentheses:

2018 2019 2021
MTF/Att 0.14 (-0.03) 0.17 (League average) 0.23 (+0.06)
YCO/Att 3.40 (+0.47) 3.12 (+0.19) 4.52 (+1.59)
Explosive Rush Rate 15% (+4.5) 12% (+0.5) 16% (+5.5)

*Excluding 2020 when Penny only played 36 snaps.

We are dealing with small sample sizes across the board with Penny, but he has eclipsed 12 touches eight times in four seasons. He has delivered 16.8, 18.9, 26.7, 26.8, 6.4, 19.5, 32.5 and 25.0 PPR points in those contests.

TIER 4C – HIGH-END HANDCUFFS

TIER 5A – MORE VETERAN COMMITTEE BACKS

TIER 5B – PPR FILL-IN OPTIONS

TIER 5C – MID-RANGE HANDCUFFS

TER 6A – DEEP-LEAGUE ROOKIES

TIER 6B – MORE PPR FILL-IN OPTIONS

TIER 6C – DEEP-LEAGUE VETERANS

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