The NFL offseason is nearly upon us. While others focus on 2022 free agency and how NFL teams might find ways to improve via deals big and small, let's take a different approach and look ahead to the 2022 NFL draft and what it has to offer in terms of dynasty fantasy football talent.
Throughout draft season, I'll be delivering top-five lists at every fantasy position to keep tabs on the top dynasty prospects. For those looking to dig deeper, PFF's 2022 NFL Draft Guide is a crucial resource, currently breaking down the top 100 college prospects. It will be updated throughout the offseason leading up to the NFL draft in April.
For now, let's dig into the top five running backs for dynasty fantasy football leagues in 2021 — with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.
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1. BREECE HALL, IOWA STATE
Breece Hall’s college production profile jumped off the screen during my 2021 NFL Draft prep, so I knew he would be a player I’d see again when scouting for this year. The Iowa State product did not disappoint in his junior season versus the rest of the class, finishing with 20 rushing touchdowns (second), 1,460 rushing yards (seventh) and 37 receptions (seventh).
The sheer volume of high-end rushing touchdowns and yards awarded Hall an absurd 40% dominator rating, almost identical to his 39% dominator rating from the year prior.
The fact that he was able to post such a high rating as a sophomore even with future fourth-round pick Kene Nwangwu on the roster is a testament to his bell-cow status. Factor in his abilities as a slick receiver out of the backfield — 82 catches over three seasons, just two drops in his last two seasons — and Hall provides immediate fantasy football appeal. He has the requisite size and all the tools to be a three-down running back who never leaves the field.
2. KENNETH WALKER III, MICHIGAN STATE
Walker is PFF’s No. 1-ranked running back on the official 2022 NFL Draft Big Board.
The ex-Wake Forest product made a massive splash upon transferring to Michigan State in 2021, leading his class in rushing yards (1,634), missed forced tackles (89) and explosive runs (46) en route to winning the Doak Walker Award — an honor bestowed upon college football’s best running back.
His success earned him a 34% dominator rating, which considers the number of touchdowns and receiving yards a player commands within their offense.
The number is solid considering Walker commanded just a 4% target share in his junior year, catching 13 passes for 80 receiving yards.
His massive accomplishments this past season were inevitable after he rushed for 13 touchdowns as PFF’s 15th-best graded running back in 2020 as a sophomore at Wake.
With the second-most missed tackles forced over the past two seasons — trailing only Iowa State’s Breece Hall — and third-most rushing yards after contact, Walker possesses the groundwork to be an effective rusher at the next level. Breaking tackles and creating after contact in college translates to the pros extremely well, as seen most recently by Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams.
Williams led the nation in missed tackle rate (48%) in his final season at North Carolina and would go on to lead the NFL in the same metric at the conclusion of his stellar rookie season.
Elusiveness is just one trait Walker has in common with Williams, as both skipped their senior years to enter the draft. Declaring early is a positive sign for a running back in dynasty formats, as they save themselves from another year of wear and tear.
3. TYLER ALLGEIER, BYU
Allgeier has been a monster over the past two seasons, ranking first in rushing yards after contact (1,847), second in rushing touchdowns (36) and third in PFF rushing grade (94.8) among FBS players with at least 150 carries.
The high-end production helped the BYU running back post a 28% dominator rating since the start of 2020, capped off by an astounding 36% rating in his final season with the Cougars. Allgeier credits a lot of his backfield success to his experience playing linebacker, a trait that definitely aided Javonte Williams in his progression as an NFL running back.
Allgeier also displayed an ability to overcome adversity in 2021 after the team lost so many key components — from future New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson to the entire starting offensive line. That hardly slowed down the former walk-on, though, as he finished sixth in his class in yards after contact per attempt (4.16) and first in touchdowns (23).
He also set career highs in receptions (32) and target share (8%).
4. ISAIAH SPILLER, TEXAS A&M
Age-adjusted production is a critical metric for dynasty managers, and no running back is better there than Isaiah Spiller. Since Day 1 at Texas A&M, Spiller has been the lead dog for the Aggies. As a true freshman in 2019, he scored 10 rushing touchdowns and finished 16th in the nation in yards after contact per attempt en route to a 22% dominator rating.
The power running back capped off his first year in impressive fashion with back-to-back seasons of 1,000 rushing yards and 100 missed tackles. Spiller also displayed receiving prowess, commanding at least an 8% target share and an average of 25 receptions per season.
With an all-encompassing skill set and desirable size, Spiller should be a solid producer at the next level, although his lack of top-notch speed could keep him from being elite. He had only eight carries of 20-plus yards in 2021.
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5. KYREN WILLIAMS, NOTRE DAME
Kyren Williams carried the rock over 400 times for 2,000-plus yards as a member of the Fighting Irish over the past two seasons, putting together a very impressive resume for NFL scouts to consider. Whether it be rushing or receiving, Williams got it done for his team.
He finished 13th in yards after contact per attempt (3.71), seventh in broken tackles on rushes and third in receptions among running backs in his draft class.
Williams’ smaller stature may hold him back from being a full-fledged fantasy bell-cow at the next level, but he is sure to make up the gap with his impressive pass-catching background. In addition to finishing as PFF’s 13th-highest graded receiving running back in the nation, Williams commanded an 11% target share in 2021 — a very high mark for the position.
The receiving usage helped Williams achieve a 30% dominator rating.
JAMES COOK, GEORGIA
There's fantasy football value to be had with running backs who possess top-tier pass-catching ability, and Georgia’s James Cook fits that mold to a tee. The younger brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook finished with the fifth-highest PFF receiving grade at the position in 2021 among his draft class.
He hauled in 27 of 30 targets for 274 receiving yards, including 112 in the College Football Playoff game against Michigan.
Dalvin Cook has a younger brother ????
James Cook will be in the NFL soon ????pic.twitter.com/Z9lb4PIPXh
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His overall counting stats are not particularly great, but that’s because he split work with Zamir White and Kenny McIntosh, as many Georgia backs often do. What matters more is Cook’s career three yards per snap — a mark that stacks up with the likes of Michael Carter from last year’s draft class.
RACHAAD WHITE, ARIZONA STATE
The other premiere pass-catching specialist in the 2022 NFL Draft Class is Rachaad White. The Arizona State product ranked first in his class in receiving yards, No. 1 in yards per route run (2.24) and second in receptions (43).
His 16% target share is absolutely bonkers for a running back at the college level, and it will do wonders for his draft capital.
The same sentiment can be made for White’s 31% dominator rating and 3.33 offensive yards per snap over the past two seasons. Both would have ranked in the top three in last year’s class.
DAMEON PIERCE, FLORIDA
Dameon Pierce took the title as PFF’s highest-graded running back in the FBS (92.0) despite seeing just 100 carries. The senior’s 39% missed tackle rate ranked second among the 2022 draft class.
There’s no doubt Pierce’s freakish athleticism aided in his colossal rise in 2021. Bruce Feldman listed Pierce at No. 21 on his annual “College Football Freaks” list, which highlights the most athletically gifted players around the country. According to Feldman, Pierce squats 705 pounds, benches 390 pounds, has a 37-inch vertical jump and has been clocked at 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
However, the fact that Pierce never fully took over Florida’s backfield does raise red flags. His 11% career dominator rating is eerily similar to Trey Sermon (12%) from last season, and Sermon struggled to separate himself from the pack in his rookie campaign.
Even during his breakout senior season, Pierce earned just a 22% dominator rating while sharing the backfield alongside fellow draft-eligible running back Malik Davis.
ZONOVAN KNIGHT, NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Knight burst onto the scene for the Wolfpack as a true freshman, leading the team in rushing yards. Although he improved drastically in PFF grading from his first year to his second (65.4 vs. 84.2), the climb did not continue in this past season.
The North Carolina State product posted his worst single-season college dominator rating (13%) after just three rushing touchdowns. With him unable to become the sole owner of the backfield, it makes it easy to project Knight as a committee back in the NFL.
He has only one game on his college resume with 20-plus carries. However, he does possess receiving skills, having caught 41 passes the past two seasons. Knight also has a propensity to break tackles, ranking 14th in that category since 2020.
That well-rounded skill set should help him carve out a secondary role on an NFL offense.
BRIAN ROBINSON JR., ALABAMA
As is the case for many Alabama running backs, Robinson had to bide his time for an opportunity to see a steady workload. Sharing the highly coveted backfield with Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris over the past four years didn’t lend itself to Robinson seeing much of the field.
To his credit, the 225-pound behemoth bulldozed over the competition when given work in 2020, ranking 10th in yards after contact per attempt (4.05) in the FBS. After Harris was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Robinson delivered a worthwhile senior season to put him firmly on the NFL radar.
The big back finished third in missed tackles and seventh in PFF rushing grade (90.4) while also flashing his chops in the passing game. He caught 35 of 38 targets for 296 receiving yards.
Robinson is far from a can’t-miss prospect but offers the physicality and size to be a thumper at the next level. He will get the chance to improve his draft stock at the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl.