In his 2022 Sophomore Running Back Preview Tyler takes a look at how the values have changed in just a year. This will be a series as we are closing in on the start of the 2022 NFL Regular season, a preview of sophmore players by position- starting with Running Back. As well as looking at what they’ve done in their rookie season, we will take a look at their outlook for this upcoming year and the future. Comparing where I have them ranked now versus where they were ranked for me last preseason.
Najee Harris and Javonte Williams were both in my tier 1 of rookie runningbacks last year and that tier hasn’t changed. The selling point for Najee since he was drafted was volume and that doesn’t look likely to change in 2022. Quarterback woes will most likely continue to be an issue with a hodgepodge of either Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, or Mason Rudolph looking to replace Ben Roethlisberger who was clearly past his prime last season. This means Pittsburgh will once again lean on Najee to move the chains. His passing game work is something to monitor. He demanded almost 100 targets, but that came from a lot of dump offs and Roethlisberger was hesitant to push the ball downfield to his receivers. The offensive line won’t be any better and if it’s Trubisky throwing the ball, he’s supported Montgomery’s solid receiving workload and 2 ~100 target seasons from Tarik Cohen. Look for the volume-based production to continue, and if the line does take a step forward, Najee could easily improve on his production from last season.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB1
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB1/RB3
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB1/RB2
Javonte is arguably the more talented runningback in this top tier of sophomores. But, it looks like he’ll be once again splitting the backfield with Melvin Gordon, who despite getting closer to 30 years old, produced over 1000 yards from scrimmage last season. On the bright side, we’ve also seen Javonte’s floor in this offense, and that’s a top 24 yearly performer even with Melvin Gordon splitting the backfield. There are also plenty of reasons to see him improve: Gordon taking a step back in production, Javonte taking control of more of the backfield, an improved offense as a whole with the addition of Russell Wilson, and more red zone work. Plus Gordon’s contract is only for one more year. When the Broncos let Javonte take the full reigns of this offense, he could easily be valued as a top 3 back, and over Najee as a consensus in dynasty rankings. But, for now, it’s still a projection while Najee is delivering top-end production for fantasy teams right now.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB2
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB2/RB4
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB2/RB4
I’ve been notably lower on Etienne than the market, and that hasn’t quite changed. That being said, the upside is undeniable. He’s a homerun threat, a high-end athlete, and can contribute plus value as both a rusher and a receiver. Unfortunately for Etienne, it looks like James Robinson is making a quick comeback and it looks doubtful that Etienne will even have a few weeks of the backfield to himself. Both Robinson and Etienne are coming off of serious injuries (Achilles tear and lisfranc injuries respectively). I’m cautious on Etienne and his return to football, but he has the legitimate upside to be a consensus top 10 dynasty back.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB3
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB3/RB15
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB3/RB10
I think Mitchell is getting undervalued in dynasty leagues and was obviously a steal for dynasty managers last season in rookie drafts or even waivers. He was definitely the biggest riser on this list based on my preseason rankings last year as I don’t think many people saw this kind of breakout coming for him. His biggest downside is a lack of work in the passing game, but despite this, he was still averaging a very useful 15 points per game in PPR leagues. Early reports out of training camp point to Mitchell being the clear-cut lead back in a dynamic 49ers rushing attack. It’ll be interesting to see if quarterback, Trey Lance impacts the red zone rushing attempts, but again, Mitchell averaged an impressive point per game despite only having 5 touchdowns.
If he is the true lead back and can stay healthy, he should smash his current valuation. Especially if one or both of his touchdowns and receptions numbers go up from last season. Plus, it doesn’t look like there will be a legitimate threat to his hold on this backfield with Jeff Wilson, who has consistently struggled to stay healthy, Tyrion Davis-Price, a rookie who I’m not overly impressed with, and Trey Sermon, who we will get to later in this article.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB14
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB4/RB17
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB4/RB24
The Patriots backfield is consistently an enigma that fantasy analysts try to understand year after year. Will Damien Harris be the RB1 for this offense in 2022? If he isn’t, will they resign him for a cheap contract and continue to put a damper on the rest of the backfield? Will either of the two new rookie runningbacks make an impact and steal value from Rhamondre and Harris? Is James White going to be involved enough to suck value from the main targets for fantasy managers? With Bill Belichick at the helm, who’s to really say? But with all that uncertainty, also creates an opportunity for value for those willing to take the risk. Stevenson provides upside as a thumper between the tackles that also has displayed pass-catching abilities, which fueled his rise in my rankings. He has the legitimate upside to be a consistent RB2, but the Patriots’ backfield risk is obviously baked into his market value.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB10
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB5/RB32
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB5/RB32
Carter was a runningback that I really liked coming into the league. He was a pass-catching specialist with an exciting change of direction and burst. He was the lightning to Javonte Williams’ thunder while at UNC. He continued that hybrid role for the Jets, contributing both on the ground and through the air. But the entire Jets offense could not stay healthy, including Zach Wilson, Elijah Moore, and even Michael Carter. This past offseason, the Jets made plenty of improvements across the offense, but unfortunately for Carter, one of those improvements was at running back. The Jets brought in Breece Hall, considered by most analysts as the best running back in this class. Also unfortunate for Carter is that Hall was excellent as a rusher and also more than capable in the passing game. Carter has tumbled down rankings, but there is a sliver of hope as Carter has co-existed alongside Javonte Williams at UNC during his collegiate career. He could also co-exist with Breece Hall, but it obviously seriously caps his upside and makes him more of a handcuff with potential standalone pass-catching upside.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB4
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB6/RB37
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB6/RB41
Khalil Herbert is one of my favorite acquisitions this offseason. I liked him as a prospect with very few holes in his game coming into the NFL. When Montgomery was healthy last season, Herbert was largely a non-factor. But during his absence from weeks 5-8, Herbert averaged 18.3 points per game. His main concern as a prospect was his contact balance, and he showed marked improvement in that category during his limited stint as the starter for Chicago. In another year in this offense, he should start to carve out to provide a role with standalone flex value and maintains top-end handcuff status. Montgomery is a free agent this upcoming offseason. Herbert could be in for a big increase in his workload in the next year or two.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB8
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB7/RB48
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB7/RB45
Gainwell is another speculative buy in dynasty leagues. He provides a clear pass-catching floor in the offense, but his handcuff status is very up in the air. In the weeks that Miles Sanders missed last season, the Eagles brought in Jordan Howard and Gainwell’s role dwindled significantly instead of taking on more of the workload. When given the opportunity, Gainwell impressed. Plus, this offseason there have been reports that Gainwell has been working with the 1s. That bodes well that if there is another scenario with Sanders missing time, Gainwell should indeed be the true handcuff. For the future, this is probably what Gainwell is. A handcuff that provides ancillary receiving value when the lead back is healthy.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB6
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB8/RB49
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB8/RB47
Sermon was a guy that I really liked coming out of college but was adamant that there was a lot of risk in his profile. He went on an absolute tear the last few games of the season for Ohio State against quality opponents but was truly lightning in a bottle. He was barely involved at all for the 49ers last season and it was the fellow rookie who was drafted later in Elijah Mitchell that seized the opportunity that presented itself in the backfield. Raheem Mostert took his talents to Miami, so there is opportunity behind Elijah Mitchell this year, but Mitchell looks to have a lock on the backfield. Mitchell hasn’t quite shown to be consistently healthy, so if you’re looking for a silver lining, Sermon could work into the rotation and carve himself out a legitimate role. The 49ers have been known to implement a running back by committee approach where they were willing to give the ball to the hot hand. Realistically, the future for Sermon looks bleak.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB5
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB9/RB61
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB9/RB61
I was very optimistic on Kylin Hill as a rookie. He had a great skill set and was a violent runner, but slid in the NFL Draft to the 7th round and landed with the Green Bay Packers who have two top-end running backs already. It was a very cheap investment and fully betting on the talent over the situation. Right off the bat, Kylin Hill showed some flashes in the preseason and secured a roster spot. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in week 8. He’s looking to bounce back, but the backfield is still loaded in front of him. He’s an upside stash in hopes something opens up in front of him or he finds a new team, but it’s truly a dart throw based on his prospect profile.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB9
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB10/RB65
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB10/RB62