Fantasy News & Analysis

Predicting top 2022 rookie running backs using dominator rating

Lubbock, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Breece Hall (28) rushes against Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Krishon Merriweather (1) in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, there is no end-all, be-all statistic, grade or metric that can pinpoint the NFL's next great rookie running back. Not every college star makes the jump to the next level, and a player's landing spot plays a huge part in how a player develops in the NFL.

Still, we must try to predict which 2022 NFL Draft rookie running backs will be of benefit in 2022 fantasy football leagues. After all, we saw the likes of Najee Harris and Elijah Mitchell play integral roles for championship-winning teams in 2021.


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Let's take a look at the 2022 crop of rookie running backs with hope of identifying some lesser-known backs to target and others to fade in upcoming rookie drafts. 

Keep in mind that dominator rating considers both rushing and receiving yards for the running back position. It’s critical to target running backs with upside in the passing game. 

COLLEGE CAREER DOMINATOR RATING

Rank Player Class School Career Dominator Rating PFF Rushing Grade PFF Receiving Grade Yards per play
1 Breece Hall Junior Iowa State 33% 91.6 72.8 2.5
2 Rachaad White Senior Arizona State 31% 91.9 91.2 3.33
3 Tyler Allgeier Junior BYU 28% 94.7 79.0 2.95
4 Sincere McCormick Junior UTSA 28% 87.4 67.7 2.3
5 Kyren Williams Junior Notre Dame 27% 82.3 77.5 2.4
6 Abram Smith Senior Baylor 25% 89.4 59.1 3.3
7 Tyler Goodson Junior Iowa 24% 78.0 72.8 2.3
8 Kenneth Walker III Junior Michigan State 23% 93.9 52.9 2.5
9 Isaiah Spiller Junior Texas A&M 23% 89.3 66.7 2.3
10 Pierre Strong Jr. Senior South Dakota State 22% 95.6 54.4 3.3
11 Kevin Harris Junior South Carolina 22% 91.0 53.0 2.7
12 Jerome Ford Senior Cincinnati 21% 90.1 65.7 2.6
13 Hassan Haskins Senior Michigan 20% 91.6 67.4 2.7
14 Zonovan Knight Junior NC State 17% 85.8 55.9 2.5
15 Jerrion Ealy Junior Mississippi 16% 92.1 79.1 2.6
16 Brian Robinson Jr. Senior Alabama 15% 93.9 57.1 2.25
17 Zamir White Senior Georgia 15% 90.5 56.0 2.95
18 Snoop Conner Junior Mississippi 14% 80.0 65.3 2.1
19 D'vonte Price Senior Florida International 13% 80.3 66.0 2.2
20 Dameon Pierce Senior Florida 12% 91.8 63.7 2.3
21 James Cook Senior Georgia 9% 86.8 84.9 2.95
22 T.J. Pledger Senior Utah 8% 89.5 49.3 2.1

To capture the production of rookie running backs in their entirety, I analyzed their full college career dominator ratings. The player that stood out the most was Iowa State’s RB1 Breece Hall. Hall earned the No. 1 spot in my top-five rookie running back rankings because of how productive he was in college over 4,500 yards from scrimmage and 50 touchdowns and his numbers are unmatched by any other back in the class. He’s easily the top back and could have pushed for that same designation last year

A more under-the-radar running back is Arizona State’s  Rachaad White. The pass-catching specialist ranked first in his class in receiving yards and yards per route run (2.24) and second in receptions (43). His 16% target share in 2021 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 offered for White’s 31% dominator rating, 3.33 offensive yards per snap and 91.2 PFF receiving grade over the past two seasons. His yards per snap and PFF receiving grade both rank first among the 22 running backs I sampled from the 2022 NFL Draft Class. White’s career receiving grade was superior to anybody from last year’s class as well.

After a strong showing at Senior Bowl week PFF’s highest-graded rusher (74.9) White is going to soar up my dynasty rookie rankings

I neglected to mention Sincere McCormick in my initial rookie running back rankings, which may have been a mistake. Not only is the UTSA product an early declare — a trait fantasy managers should gravitate toward — but McCormick was a mega-producer at the college level. 

His 28% dominator rating over three years as a Roadrunner ranks third among the running backs I sampled. He also produced very early as a true freshman in 2019, posting a career-best 30% dominator rating. 

Although McCormick measures at just 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, he proved his durability with 724 carries the past three seasons — the most among the 2022 draft-eligible running backs in the sample. With receiving chops and home-run hitting ability — third in rushes of 10-plus yards since 2019 — McCormick is an intriguing late-round pick in rookie drafts, especially if he commands any worthwhile draft capital. 

Abram Smith’s 25% dominator rating and 3.3 yards per play this past season is outstanding considering he spent the previous year playing linebacker for the Baylor Bears. He made the switch back to running back for his senior season and delivered massively with 1,598 rushing yards (fifth) —  1,011 of which came after contact. 

It’s almost like the guy used to play defense. Oh, wait.

With an impressive outing at the Senior Bowl — he was named top RB of the National team — Smith needs to be on your rookie radar. He has the requisite size at 5-foot-11 and 211 pounds to be a three-down back at the next level. 

Jerrion Ealy owns PFF’s fifth-highest career rushing grade (92.1) among the incoming rookies sampled but falls flat with just a 16% dominator rating. He split time with Snoop Conner all three years at Mississippi, and that seems like his most realistic role at the next level: an undersized but efficient change-of-pace back.

He’s one of just two running backs in my sample that finished top-five in career rushing grade and PFF receiving grade (Tyler Allgeier). 

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SINGLE-SEASON DOMINATOR RATING

Rank Player Final Season (2021) Dominator Rating Best Season Dominator Rating Best Season (Year)
1 Kevin Harris 14% 45% 2020
2 D'vonte Price 18% 38% 2020
3 Tyler Allgeier 36% 36% 2021
4 Kenneth Walker III 34% 34% 2021
5 Rachaad White 31% 31% 2021
6 Breece Hall 40% 30% 2021
7 Sincere McCormick 26% 30% 2019
8 Kyren Williams 30% 30% 2021
9 Tyler Goodson 27% 28% 2020
10 Pierre Strong Jr. 28% 28% 2021
11 Hassan Haskins 28% 28% 2021
12 Jerome Ford 27% 27% 2021
13 Abram Smith 25% 25% 2021
14 Isaiah Spiller 22% 25% 2020
15 Zamir White 15% 24% 2020
16 Brian Robinson Jr. 22% 22% 2021
17 Dameon Pierce 22% 22% 2021
18 Zonovan Knight 13% 21% 2020
19 Snoop Conner 18% 18% 2021
20 Jerrion Ealy 14% 17% 2020
21 James Cook 16% 16% 2021
22 T.J. Pledger 11% 11% 2021

Tyler Goodson enjoyed an extremely productive career at Iowa, averaging a 24% dominator rating. The do-it-all back caught over 70 passes and capped off his collegiate career with over 250 carries and 1,100 rushing yards.

However, the uptick in volume drastically decreased Goodson’s efficiency with career-lows in rushing grades across the board. All in all, Goodson owns PFF’s worst rushing grade (78.0) among the 22 sampled running backs. His receiving ability does give him a chance to succeed at the NFL level, but he doesn’t project to be anything more than a rotational back. 

For any small-school running back to make a living in the NFL, they need to dominate their competition in college. That’s what gives South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. a chance to make a splash at the next level. 

Strong finished with a top-10 career and single-season dominator rating while grading out as PFF’s highest rusher (95.6). His 3.3 yards per play also ranks second among running backs sampled and is a great indicator of future success. Last year’s late-round standouts in that category included Elijah Mitchell and Rhamondre Stevenson

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Kevin Harris and D’vonte Price are two running backs who failed to live up to elite sophomore campaigns. Harris posted the highest single-season dominator rating at 45% in his second season, but he took a back seat to ZaQuandre White as a junior with a meager 14% dominator rating. 

Price was super productive (38% dominator rating) in Florida International’s 2020 truncated season, but his numbers came crashing back to Earth in 2021 with a full slate of games. 

That leaves Tyler Allgeier as the holder of the best “true” single-season dominator rating in the class, with a 36% rating in his final year at BYU. 

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, 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%).

Jerome Ford’s draft stock rose during the 2022 Senior Bowl, putting him in a solid position to earn Day 2 draft capital come April. PFF NFL draft analyst Mike Renner went as far as tabbing Ford a top-five back in the class, and the praise is warranted based on how he showed out his senior season.

The Cincinnati Bearcats running back posted the ninth-highest dominator rating (27%) in the class on the back of 1,300 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. 

The Alabama transfer’s 21% career dominator rating hardly does him justice considering he played alongside other NFL backs until this past season. 

The same case can be made for Michigan’s Hassan Haskins, who broke out in a big way as “the guy” for the Wolverines in 2021. Haskins earned a 23% dominator rating, raising his career dominator rating to 20%. 

With an identical PFF rushing grade to Breece Hall (91.6) over the last three seasons, Haskins looked primed to exceed expectations in the NFL. He offers a lot of size at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds and will leap up draft boards if he tests well at the combine. 

The Michigan product also led his entire class in rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line (29), which gives him a real shot at carving out a goal-line role in the pros.

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 Pierce never fully took over Florida’s backfield does raise red flags. His 12% 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

Feb 5, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; American squad running back Dameon Pierce of Florida (27) runs with the ball in the second half against the National squad at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

However, I am willing to offer some benefit of the doubt after Pierce never topped 106 carries in college. There may have been some underlying issue with former Gators head coach Dan Mullen that prevented Pierce from seeing a more featured role. Case in point: Pierce only had two games with double-digit carries in 2021, both of which came after Mullen was fired toward the end of the season. 

Pierce’s lackluster dominator rating doesn’t capture his coach’s potential ineptitude. The fact Pierce competed with NFL talent like Jordan Scarlett and La'Mical Perine very early in his college career paints a better picture of how his impact will be felt in years to come. 

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