Running backs who can work out of the backfield and present a receiving threat are critical for fantasy football success as those opportunities vastly outweigh a traditional rushing opportunity. As more and more leagues utilize PPR scoring formats as their default, these are some of the best pass-catching and receiving running backs to target in 2022 fantasy football drafts.
If you want to be considered in the upper echelon of running backs in fantasy, you need to have pass-catching capabilities. The NFL is a passing league and given the fact that we see more and more teams using a committee approach, landing a role in the receiving game is substantial.
Worth roughly three times as many points, a target vastly outperforms a carry from a fantasy scoring perspective. If looking for upside on your roster this year, look for running backs who not only see a stable floor of carries but are involved as a receiving target too.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
When on the field, Christian McCaffrey is one of the best RBs in the league. He can do it all on the ground and is one of the best pass-catching running backs of this generation. He’s the modern LaDainian Tomlinson in how he is used in his offense.
Since 2018, McCaffrey has averaged 25.6 points per game while finishing as an RB2 or better in 90% of his games. He’s done that by being an instrumental part of the Panthers’ passing attack. In his three healthy seasons (2017-2019), McCaffrey recorded over 113 targets every year, including a ridiculous 142 targets in 2019, which ranked eighth amongst all players.
Even in his last two seasons, McCaffrey was still heavily involved, averaging six targets per game. He’s one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL, no question about it. The real question is will we see it consistently happen this year, or will injuries once again rob us from watching one of the special players in the NFL?
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Despite missing four games, D’Andre Swift finished fourth in targets last season (78) and tied for the lead amongst RBs in targets per game (6). Averaging 17.6 opportunities per game, 34% of those came via the air, along with 42% of his total yardage per game (34.77).
Averaging .59 PPR/rush, Swift averaged 1.53 PPR/target and 1.92 PPR/reception, further showing the necessity to be involved in the passing game and how much those opportunities mean. I don’t see this changing in 2022 behind of the best offensive lines in football and with a risk-averse QB in Jared Goff.
Looking for a sneaky candidate for the No. 1 overall RB finish in 2022? Swift should very much be in consideration as one of the best receiving running backs in the league.
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The RB7 in 2021, Leonard Fournette tied with Swift for the highest target per game average with six. Recording a very nice 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).
While Tampa did draft Rachaad White as a No. 2, this is still Fournette’s backfield, as his newly signed three-year extension shows. Known for his power-rushing style, Fournette remains one of the best receiving running backs to targets in 2022 for fantasy. Lock him in as a top-12 pick.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Following the hiring of Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator, the question was whether or not Austin Ekeler would see a “Kamara-like” role in Los Angeles. The answer was a resounding yes.
Ekeler tied for the league lead in targets with 94, recording 70 receptions for 647 yards (No. 1) and eight touchdowns (No. 1).
He’s the perfect modern running back for fantasy football. In 2019, Ekeler was the RB4 and followed it up by averaging 16½ points per game in 2020 (10 games). Last year, he was the RB2 behind only Jonathan Taylor, much in part to his receiving capabilities as a running back.
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. Taylor is the consensus RB1 and 1.01 in 2022 fantasy football leagues, but Ekeler has a case for the RB2 in fantasy this season thanks to his pass-catching skills.
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
I had a feeling Najee Harris would rack up the touches, but I didn’t forecast him leading the whole league. With 381 total touches, Harris not only led the league in those but also in opportunities, eclipsing 400 opportunities as a rookie (401).
Of those 401 opportunities, 94 of those (T-1st for RBs) came from Ben Roethlisberger and his anemic arm. Harris came in first in receptions amongst RBs with 74, totaling 467 yards with three touchdowns. Averaging 1.48 PPR/target, the only way Harris was finding sustainable production was in the air due to the Steelers’ horrendous offensive line. Of Harris’ 3.9 yards per carry, 2.9 of those came after contact.
This season, I expect to see a dip in his targets as either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett should take a few more shots. Nevertheless, Harris will be a feature of the offense and inside the top 10 when the season is done and dusted.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
At this point, I wish they would just rename the angle/Texas route the Kamara for how many times he has burned linebackers and even DBs over the years.
Last season was an odd one for Alvin Kamara as he saw his role change from previous seasons. Averaging 102.3 targets and 81½ receptions in his first four seasons, Kamara fell to 67 last season (5.2 tgt/game). While down for him, in context with the rest of the league, Kamara was still elite, finishing sixth amongst all running backs.
Even though Harris led the league in touches, Kamara was not far behind on a per-game basis. Kamara tied him in opportunities (23.1) and came in just 0.3 touches short of the rookie from Alabama (22.4 to 22.1).
Even if the 100+ target seasons are gone for Kamara, due to the changes in offense and under center, he should remain a lock for 65+ which keeps him well inside the top 8 for the position. One of the best receiving running backs, barring suspension or injury, Kamara should be a first-round fantasy selection in 2022.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons
Is he a running back or a wide receiver? Is a hot dog a sandwich? Does it even matter? Not really. All I know is Cordarrelle Patterson was the breakout no one saw coming last season. Finishing as the RB9 in 2021, Patterson was the do-it-all player for the Atlanta Falcons, who lacked any playmakers not named Kyle Pitts.
In his age-30 season, Patterson saw nearly as many touches (205)as he had in his four previous years combined (220). Of those touches, 31.1% came via the air (69) and accounted for 58.1% of his fantasy points per game (8.55).
Patterson did tale off a bit towards the end of last season, and he’s a prime regression candidate. Tyler Allgeier should come in and replace Mike Davis. However, he’s not at the same level of pass catcher as Davis, who quietly finished No. 11 in targets last season (58). Patterson’s role as the pass-catching back is secure for 2022. Will the same production be there? That I am doubtful.
J.D McKissic, Washington Commanders
Only one running back finished inside the top 40 last season and saw over half of his opportunities come via the air. That was Washington’s J.D. McKissic (RB37), who saw 52.4% of his opportunities come as targets (53 of 101).
The bane of all Antonio Gibson believers (myself included), McKissic is a mainstay of the Commanders’ offense. While he was 17th in targets for the position, the 53 was a drastic slip from the 80 he saw the previous season. Part of it was due to an increase in opportunities for Gibson but also injuries. McKissic played in just 11 games but did average 4.8 targets per game.
While not a top fantasy option at the RB position, McKissic is a name to keep on your radar while filling out your rosters as a flex option during bye weeks or if something were to happen to Gibson.