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.
There are eight primary criteria used to create running back tiers:
- Rushing pedigree: Recent attempt shares and short-down-distance (SDD) which provides a larger sample size than attempts inside the 5 but correlates strongly (excludes games missed)
- Rushing performance peripherals: PFF rushing grade, missed tackles forced per attempt, yards after contact per attempt and explosive rush rate (10-plus-yard attempts)
- Target pedigree: Recent adjusted routes per dropback and targets per route run
- Receiving performance peripherals: PFF receiving grade, yards per route run and explosive play rate (15-plus-yard receptions)
- Offense quality: Projected team wins (winning teams typically score more and passing YPA correlates strongly to wins)
- Rushing volume: Projected team rush attempts per game (excludes overtime)
- Attempt and target competition: Number of teammates with a significant ADP (running backs with a top-48 ADP; wide receivers with a top-36 ADP plus tight ends with a top-12 ADP)
- Player average draft position (ADP)
Pedigree focuses on a player’s ability to generate rushing attempts or targets, while the performance peripherals are all about how well they maximize those touches. Offensive quality, rushing volume and competition are all designed to tease out the team environment.
The ultimate options are running backs who play on all downs, create on their own and reside on high-quality offenses. After that, every tier is some variation of strengths vs. weaknesses in the profile. ADP is a final check against the current market sentiment that helps us extract maximum value from our selections.
The first table is a quick view of the complete tiers and rankings, and a more detailed heat map is included below as we break down each tier.
ADP = includes ESPN, RTSports, Fantrax and Sleeper PPR data per Fantasy Pros
Last Updated: Aug. 26, 2022
|Tier||Rank||Pos ADP||Overall ADP||FFPC Pos ADP||FFPC Overall ADP||Player||Team|
|4A||36||44||135||39||108||Brian Robinson Jr.||Commanders|
|4C||40||35||96||38||107||Kenneth Walker III||Seahawks|
|4C||41||37||108||43||114||Melvin Gordon III||Broncos|
|6A||59||71||265||70||197||Jeff Wilson Jr.||49ers|
|6A||66||57||195||60||181||Mark Ingram II||Saints|
|6B||82||64||229||0||0||Kenyan Drake||Free Agent|
|6B||84||89||324||0||0||Pierre Strong Jr.||Patriots|
|6B||85||0||0||83||214||Benny Snell Jr.||Steelers|
TIER 1 RUNNING BACKS
RBsTIER 1A: EXPLOSIVE YOUNG 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.
McCaffrey’s injury-prone label isn’t warranted, and he carries league-breaking upside, which isn’t easy to do as the No. 2 player off the board in FFPC drafts. Since 2011 we have seen 34 players eclipse 22 points per game (PPR), and 68% of them have come from the running back position. If we push the point barrier to 25, the backs represent 80% of the cohort.
So, if we believe McCaffrey’s injury history is noise, and we know running backs carry higher ceilings, it makes sense for the 26-year-old to go No. 1 or No. 2 overall. McCaffrey also gets an upgrade at quarterback thanks to a trade for Baker Mayfield. If healthy, he will outscore Taylor in PPR formats.
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 – who could be more active in 2022. 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 the 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
Austin Ekeler obliterated his career-high in rushing share (53%) and expanded his role to include carries inside the 5-yard line (73%). Those developments, paired with a high-quality offensive environment, led to a boon in rushing touchdowns (12).
The Chargers added Isaiah Spiller in Round 4 of the NFL Draft, but Ekeler likely retains a similar role in his age-27 season. The Chargers project for the third-most 50-plus game totals thanks to a schedule packed with quality offensive opponents.
Ekeler is a great option in the middle of the first round.
TIER 1C: UPSIDE WITH QUESTIONS
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.
|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%|
Henry is the fifth back off the board in FFPC drafts and the fourth option on Underdog. While rank and ADP align, Henry carries enough bust potential to consider wide receiver options in PPR formats.
Dalvin Cook registered 21.2 and 24.1 points per game in the two campaigns leading up to a 16 per game in 2021. However, Cook battled an ankle injury early in the season that caused him to miss two games, and his annual shoulder issue surfaced in December. In games where Cook was healthy enough to register 70% of the snaps, he delivered 19.1 points per game.
Cook isn’t a downfield threat in the receiving game, but he is an excellent option in space around the line of scrimmage. He has a 23% TPRR season on the resume making him a candidate to finish as high as third on the team in targets.
Kevin O’Connell’s (Rams) version of this offense will likely mirror what we saw in 2021 from a play volume and run-pass split perspective. However, we could see more mismatch opportunities with less heavy personnel groupings.
TIER 1D: BIG VOLUME
Najee Harris handled 76% of the Steelers’ rushing attempts and garnered a 14% target share on his way to a top-three fantasy finish in 2021. Given Pittsburgh’s depth chart at running back, he appears set for a similar workload in 2022.
The second-year back is the favorite to lead all running backs in touches, but his upside is questionable due to three factors:
- A below-average explosive rush rate (10-plus yards) of 9%
- An offense that is likely to run fewer plays in 2022
- Quarterback questions
Henry and Cook have proven a 22-point-per-game upside that remains a question for Harris but offers a great floor when he slides to the end of the first round.
Saquon Barkley could challenge Harris for the largest workload in 2022 but goes in the middle of the second round rather than the mid-first. Many will fade Barkley, but his explosiveness could return now that he is almost two years removed from ACL and meniscus surgery.
The fantasy medical community is buying in on Barkley’s recovery, and he was starting to heat up last year before an unfortunate post-whistle ankle injury.
Barkley is a priority option in Round 2 of all formats, which will challenge for a top-three ranking if his explosiveness is back. You could argue Barkley belongs in the tier with Austin Ekeler as a PPR stud.
Joe Mixon doesn’t profile for an every-down role like Harris or Barkley, but he dominates over 70% of the rushing attempts. Mixon bogarted over 80% of the carries inside the 5-yard line in his last two healthy seasons. Before last season his career-high in rushing touchdowns was eight, which he surpassed by five (13) in an improved Bengals’ offense.
Mixon needs the touchdowns to payoff his early-second-round ADP, and his path to the upside is clouded by the Bengals’ commitment to Samaje Perine on passing downs and his lackluster big-play ability. Currently, I am underweight on Mixon due to the opportunity costs. Barkley offers a better path to league-winning upside thanks to his passing game prowess.
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 $21 million. 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 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 late second round of FFPC contests, making him a value.
TIER 2 RUNNING BACKS