Until the 2022 NFL Draft, it had felt like a relatively static offseason for the fantasy football RB rankings. A number of the premier free agent options remained with their previous team or headed into a murky situation with a new club. However, some intriguing draft picks add a fresh level of confusion in a couple of spots. Let’s take a look at where PFN fantasy analysts Tommy Garrett and Jason Katz have the top 80 RBs in their 2022 fantasy football rankings.
With many RB situations around the league looking similar, our first redraft rankings for 2022 feel like they have a familiar look. Where does Javonte Williams rank entering his second season, and how far has Ezekiel Elliott fallen after his struggles last year? Additionally, where do the rookie RBs sit, with Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker III, and James Cook all in intriguing situations in their first year?
On the most recent episode of PFN’s Premier Fantasy Football Podcast, we broke down why we ranked these guys where we did and what to expect from them in 2022.
The fantasy rankings in the table below are updated daily.
1) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
This shouldn’t come as much of a shock, but Jonathan Taylor came in as the RB1 for both Katz and myself. The overall RB1 of 2021 scored over 16 PPR points per game in 13 of his 17 games last season. Averaging 21.9 touches per game (22.5 opportunities/game), Taylor rushed for 1,811 yards with 18 TDs on 332 carries while adding 360 yards and two scores on 40 receptions.
The Colts’ offense should be more well-rounded in 2022 with Matt Ryan at the helm. Although Carson Wentz did play better than some give him credit for, Ryan can take it to another level. There is some concern this could cut into Taylor’s workload, but this is a run-first team. Indianapolis has arguably the best running back on the field on Sundays and knows it. While repeat production rarely happens, I wouldn’t be betting against Taylor once again finishing on top in 2022.
2) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Whether or not you should draft Christian McCaffrey in 2022 for fantasy comes down to one simple question. Do you believe McCaffrey can play in 14 or more games? If the answer is yes, draft him and don’t think twice about it. For as good as Taylor is, McCaffrey, when on form, is just as good if not better for fantasy.
Since 2018, McCaffrey has averaged 25.6 ppg while finishing as an RB2 or better in 90% of his games. In 2021, he scored 24+ points in four of his six outings. His record-breaking 29.3 ppg in 2019 was the best fantasy season since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. The problem is McCaffrey has missed 23 of 33 games in the last two years.
Given the questions at QB, McCaffrey will once again be asked to carry the Panthers’ offense. However, it won’t be the same as in 2019, when he saw 98.4% of the offensive snaps. The Panthers are aware of this and, after drafting Chuba Hubbard last season, added D’Onta Foreman during free agency to add further backfield depth.
McCaffrey will still lead the team in snaps, but a 70% rate might be more realistic based on current trends. With that said, thanks to his efficiency and likelihood of 100+ targets, even at 70% of the snaps and a missed game along the way, McCaffrey still came in at No. 2 in my projections and our consensus RB rankings for 2022.
3) Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Coming in at No. 3 in the 2022 RB fantasy football rankings is Austin Ekeler, maybe the pound-for-pound strongest person in the league. Ekeler has proven to be the perfect running back for fantasy. He was the RB4 in 2019 and followed it up by averaging 16.5 points per game in 2020 (10 games). Last season, Ekeler finished No. 2 behind only Jonathan Taylor in fantasy, averaging 21.5 PPR/game. Racking up 1,459 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns, Ekeler accounted for 62.4% of the Chargers’ rushing share and a whopping 15.1% of the targets.
Over the last three seasons, including 2019 with Melvin Gordon, Ekeler has finished as an RB2 or better in 76% of his games while averaging 19.7 PPR/game. His touchdown rate of 7.25% (13.8 carries) is prime for regression in 2022. Yet even with a reduction in scores, I am still comfortable with Ekeler as the No. 3 ranked RB as he will bring PPR upside in one of the NFL’s most potent offenses.
4) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
We are in lock-step through the first four players, with Derrick Henry coming in at RB4 in our 2022 fantasy RB rankings. Unlike in the past when there were many RBs who everyone felt great about, in 2022, it feels like Taylor is set in stone, and then the rest all have some quirk or question surrounding them. Henry is no different.
A foot injury in Week 8 ended what could have been a special season as Henry posted 219 carries (27.4 per/game), 937 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Even for him, this was high usage. Since 2019, Henry has been averaging 23 rushes per game. He has 900 rushing attempts in 39 games. In his last two seasons (24 games), Henry has 15 outings of 100+ yards. The Titans’ offense is built around King Henry.
The question is whether or not his body can hold up to this workload. Tennessee needs him after trading away A.J. Brown, and if healthy, Henry is once again in contention to win the rushing title. Similar to McCaffrey, if Henry passes the 15-game mark in your projections, draft him as the anchor of your fantasy team.
5) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Get Dalvin Cook on a roll, and he can take over a game and your weekly fantasy matchup. After posting 20.9 PPR/game and 24.1 PPR/game in 2019 and 2020, Cook had a down year last season with a 15.9 PPR/game average. What happened? Touchdowns happened. Or the lack thereof, I should say.
Cook scored just six times last season after finding paydirt 13 times in 2019 and 17 times in 2020. Despite recording a career-high 71% of the red-zone carries, Cook saw just 45 carries inside the 20-yard line compared to 64 the year prior (14 games). It was the lowest he had seen in three seasons, with 26 carries inside the 10-yard line and just 15 inside the 5-yard line. In 2019 and 2020, 19 of Cook’s TDs came from inside the 5-yard line (47 attempts). The lack of scores drastically hindered his per-touch upside as he finished 45th amongst the 55 RBs who recorded 100 touches or more (0.73 PPR/touch).
Still, Cook rushed 249 times for 1,159 yards (fifth-most) in 2021 with 1,301 total yards. Even in a “down year,” he was putting up career numbers for other running backs. Alexander Mattison is nipping at his heels for the starting gig, but this is Cook’s team and backfield. Should the offense be a bit more explosive under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, Cook should bounce back to expectations in 2022.
6) Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
At 25 years old, Joe Mixon made his first Pro Bowl in 2021 and bounced back in a big way after his injury in 2020. He recorded the third 1,000-yard rushing season of his career (1,205) while scoring 16 total touchdowns (13 rushing) for the Bengals in 16 regular-season games (starters rested Week 18). Mixon also saw utilization in the passing game. His 48 targets (9.4%) were his highest since 2018. He did all of this in an offense that ranked 30th in neutral pace of play, something we should see speed up thanks to improvements on the depth chart.
What cannot be understated is the improved offensive line he will be rushing behind in 2022. The additions of Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins, along with a healthy Jonah Williams, have turned a weakness into a serious strength. One of the most talented backs in the NFL has a legitimate shot at 20 touchdowns and is a darkhorse RB1 candidate. Even at RB6, Mixon could be a value in 2022 fantasy RB rankings.
7) Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
In 2022, the Steelers are one of the more fascinating teams in the NFL as they face something they have not tackled since 2004: life without Ben Roethlisberger. Granted, the “Old Ben” hasn’t been around in several years. However, it didn’t hurt Najee Harris’ production as a rookie. The 2021 first-round pick led the NFL in touches with 381, accumulating 1,667 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Of his 1,200 yards, 913 (76%) came after contact. Simply remarkable.
Of Harris’ 401 opportunities, 94 (tied first for RBs) came from Roethlisberger and his anemic arm via targets. Harris came in first in receptions amongst RBs with 74, totaling 467 yards with three touchdowns. Averaging 1.48 PPR/target, 23.4% of his total opportunities accounted for 46.1% of his fantasy output.
Despite a changing of the guard at QB, Harris is one of the few RBs in the league who bring 300+ touch upside. Where I do feel Harris will come back to Earth a bit is in his targets, as either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett should bring more verticality to the offense. With that said, Harris is still a clear RB1 for 2022 and comes in as the No. 7 RB in our 2022 fantasy RB rankings.
8) Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Both Katz and myself are above the consensus when it comes to Leonard Fournette. What’s not to like? Tom Brady is back for another trip around the sun, and Fournette is the undisputed RB1 on one of the NFL’s most potent and uptempo offenses.
The RB6 a year ago, Fournette is one of the best all-around RBs in the NFL. While he has no issue getting it down on the ground (180-812-8 rushing line in 2021), his fantasy value comes from his fantastic hands. Recording 69 receptions on 84 targets, Fournette turned those into 454 yards and two touchdowns, accounting for 49.3% of his total fantasy points (9.23 PPR/game). He even tied D’Andre Swift for the most targets per game for the position with six.
While Rachaad White will be on the field in 2021, he is competing for the RB2 job with Ke’Shawn Vaughn, not with Fournette. Fournette is locked and loaded for another great season in 2022.
9) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Do not draft Alvin Kamara until we have a definitive resolution to his off-the-field incident and if he will receive a suspension. There appears to be a strong likelihood Kamara misses some games, but the extent is unknown. For now, I am waiting until we have news rather than blindly reacting. Kamara at No. 9 in 2022 fantasy RB rankings is more of a placeholder or where he would be if there is no suspension.
Averaging 102.3 targets and 81.5 receptions in his first four seasons, Kamara fell to 67 last season (5.2 tgt/game). What picked up was his rushing attempts, Kamara averaged 22.1 total touches a game in 2021, 18.5 of which came on the ground. I don’t believe New Orleans wants this to continue, and they should use Mark Ingram and Abram Smith in certain situations. With that said, Kamara will always bring PPR upside for fantasy. But for right now, I don’t know what his true upside is without having a resolution to his pending legal case.
10) D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
When you look back at D’Andre Swift and see he finished as the RB15 with 1,069 yards and 16.1 PPR/game, you’re happy but not overwhelmed. It’s because context is needed, as Swift had two completely different seasons last year.
Swift dealt with a groin injury early in the season, which limited him throughout training camp. But he was ready to go in Week 1, and it didn’t hold him back. From Weeks 1-11, Swift was the RB5 in PPR, averaging 18.5 ppg thanks to 555 yards and four TDs on the ground and a whopping 53 receptions on 67 targets for 420 yards and one score. He was No. 1 in both targets and receptions and second in yards to only Cordarrelle Patterson.
However, a shoulder injury suffered in Week 12 all but ended his season. He missed the next four games and recorded just 19 opportunities and 42 yards as the RB66 to close the season.
The Swift we saw last year is a league-winner. I don’t know if the scoring opportunities are there for him to be the overall RB1, but his volume in the passing game could push Swift into the top three when the season ends. Yes, Swift will still cost you a pretty penny on draft day, but at RB10, he is a screaming value in our 2022 RB fantasy rankings.
11) James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
As Katz pointed out in the podcast, he is all in on James Conner for 2022, and I get it. Conner has shown through his career talent is never the issue. It was staying on the field. That will always be a concern in the back of managers’ minds when drafting Conner, but the upside is difficult to ignore.
A true workhorse RB1 when healthy, Conner posted 23 PPR/game in games without Chase Edmonds, who is now in a committee in Miami. A reliable pass catcher, Conner’s 8% target share is likely to grow in 2022 on one of the NFL’s quicker offenses. There are questions about how Darrel Williams, Keontay Ingram, and Eno Benjamin could cut into Conner’s value, but based on all accounts, this is Conenr’s backfield. The RB5 of 2021 comes in six spots lower in our 2022 fantasy RB rankings.
12) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Without a doubt, Ezekiel Elliott is on the decline. He is still on the Cowboys due to the structure of his contract. Odds are 2022 is the last year for Elliott in Dallas. But that doesn’t mean they will shy away from him for Tony Pollard anytime soon. The Cowboys have shown repeatedly that when Elliott is healthy, he’s their guy.
Rushing 237 times, Elliott totaled 1,002 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns. He was also seventh in targets amongst RBs with 65, catching 47 passes for 287 yards with two scores. All in all, Elliott was 15th in per-game scoring (14.8 PPR/game) and the RB7 overall. However, he was just No. 28 in points per touch at 0.84 (minimum 75 touches).
Elliott rattled off RB1 weeks in 35% of his games last season and finished inside the top 24 in 65%. While this is a decrease in his career trends (61% and 86%, respectively), Elliott was not losing you weeks in 2021. From Weeks 1-6, Elliott was the RB8 in expected fantasy points (16.1). Yet after the bye week and through the end of the season, he was the RB18 (13.9). This falls in line with the reports Elliott was playing on a torn PCL he sustained in Week 4.
While Pollard will see a fair share of the reps, Elliott is who is called on for critical opportunities such as red-zone carries. Elliott saw 68% of the RZ snaps compared to Pollard at 26% and was 17th in the league in carries at 35. Pollard had just 15 and only two inside the 5-yard line to Elliott’s 12.
When/if Elliott misses time, Pollard is a must-start for fantasy and is worth a selection as an RB3, but only Elliott carries RB1 upside in 2022. When both are healthy, Elliott averages 15.1 rushes, 4.5 targets, 81.26 yards, and 15.76 PPR/game compared to Pollard’s 7.5 carries, 2.53 targets, 51.24 yards, and 8.12 PPR/game. The downfall of Elliott is being overblown, and he rounds out our 2022 fantasy RB rankings.