This will be a series as we are closing in on the start of the 2022 NFL Regular season. We’re going to be looking at sophomore players position by position and looking at what they’ve done in their rookie season, plus their outlook for this upcoming year and the future. For this article, we’ll be looking at the sophomore running backs and comparing where I have them ranked now versus where they were ranked for me last preseason. Make sure also to check out the other positional breakdown articles in this series!
It was a slow start for Breece Hall, as it usually is for incoming rookies, no matter their pedigree. Despite this, he consistently hit at least double digits all season long, relying on his pass-catching to score fantasy points early in the season. But by Week 4, he was getting high-end volume and consistently creating explosive plays, including a 79-yard house call in Week 5.
Unfortunately, his season was cut short in Week 7 due to an ACL injury. Despite this, medical opinions believe he should return without much physical impact on his play. Because of this, I consider him still an elite running back option that is still only 22. He’s deserving to be at least ranked as a top 3 running back in dynasty due to his talent, age, and the favorable situation he’s in now with Aaron Rodgers to make this offense two-dimensional.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB1
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB1/RB2
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB1/RB2
Kenneth Walker III
Walker was one of the few rookie running backs to go over 1,000 rushing yards in his rookie season. And just like the other running back that eclipsed this mark (Tyler Allgeier), another running back was added to their backfield early in the NFL Draft. Walker’s situation got a lot murkier on draft day with the addition of Zach Charbonnet in the second round and even with the addition of Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
The addition of Smith-Njigba is probably a look to the future as Lockett gets older, but also hints that the team could become more pass-happy. The addition of Charbonnet may not mean that Walker’s value is completely shot, but his upside is severely capped without injury. While Walker is an extremely talented runner, Charbonnet is a talented running back in his own right (1,100+ rushing yards the last two years in college) with a better receiving profile than Walker.
This backfield could easily be a 50/50 split with fantasy managers praying for a touchdown from either Charbonnet or Walker to provide more than flex-level fantasy production. His age and talent keep him still fairly high in my overall running back rankings, albeit much lower than KTC’s. Situations are in a state of constant change, so there is always hope something plays out in Walker’s favor and his talent shines through.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB2
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB2/RB16
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB2/RB9
White was largely fantasy-productive last season thanks to his receiving work with over 50 targets and 50 receptions. It can’t be overstated how impressive that receiving profile is from day one as a rookie. While that receiving work will probably regress a bit or stay about the same with Tom Brady no longer with the Buccaneers, we can be confident that he is capable of bringing value through the air.
Not only can he bring value through the air, but it also looks like he’ll get volume on the ground this upcoming year as Tampa Bay let Leonard Fournette walk in the offseason. And they have not brought anyone else to compete for the starting job. White has the size to take on that workload, standing at 6’0” and 214 lbs. His efficiency numbers last season on the ground weren’t great, but I expect those numbers to improve as he gets the volume so that he stays in rhythm throughout the game.
But I am worried about the offense turning one-dimensional as the starting quarterback will either be Kyle Trask or Baker Mayfield. Neither of them inspires much confidence, but hopefully, either can be competent enough to just get the ball into the hands of their weapons like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and even Rachaad White.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB3
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB3/RB19
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB4/RB24
Dameon Pierce worked himself into a workhorse role very quickly in his debut season. With that said, his biggest competition at the position was a combination of 30-year-old Rex Burkhead, Dare Ogunbowale, and Royce Freeman. It’s impressive nonetheless and he would have been all but guaranteed to hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a rookie if he didn’t miss the last four weeks of the season due to an ankle injury.
He will have a bit stiffer competition this year as Devin Singletary was added to this backfield and while Singletary isn’t an elite back, he’s definitely an upgrade to the rest of the backfield from last season. These two will be in a split backfield for sure, but I envision Pierce getting the lion’s share of work on the ground and Singletary taking more of the receiving role. This is a young and interesting offense, but I do see Pierce as a classic 2-3 window of solid production with a limited ceiling.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB6
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB4/RB22
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB3/RB17
James Cook is about the exact opposite of our previous entry. Cook had sporadic production throughout the season, maintaining his ridiculously efficient rushing from his time at Georgia. He was effective in the receiving game, but not used nearly as much as some expected with 32 targets and 21 receptions. The issue with 2023 vs 2022 is that not much has changed in that backfield. There will probably be a more defined role in Damien Harris being the two-down bruiser and James Cook being the receiving back with a lighter workload on the ground. But still, enough competition to make things uncertain the way Singletary did in 2022.
And of course, there is Josh Allen, the real culprit that makes this backfield so murky with his rushing volume and ability to vulture touchdowns at the goal line. Allen had as many rushing touchdowns as all the running backs combined last season and was 50 rushing yards shy from being the leading rusher on the team in 2022 (~250 more rushing yards than James Cook).
So, the question is: Does Josh Allen take a step back from rushing the ball so much in this offense? If not, the upside is seriously capped in a 2-back system with Cook and Harris. There will be big games and there will be low games from both backs depending on the game script and who gets lucky and gets in the endzone. If he does take a step back, there is some serious upside with James Cook’s value, even in a lower volume role as long as he is dominating with receptions and staying ultra-efficient in limited carries on the ground.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB4
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB5/RB26
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB6/RB30
We haven’t seen a great fantasy option out of the Kansas City backfield since Kareem Hunt’s days. And even then, his better season in Kansas City was with Alex Smith as the starter for most of that season. That being said, the Chiefs’ offense is high-powered and scores a lot of points, so in theory, having the lead back in this offense should provide a very high upside. And we’ve seen that upside materialize in spurts as Jerrick McKinnon had some massive games, Pacheco had some boom games, and even Clyde Edwards-Helaire had some big games at the beginning of 2022.
For Pacheco, he started to take over the starting role on the ground following the Bye Week in Week 8 of the 2022 season. Right before CEH went down for the rest of the season in Week 11. In weeks 10 through 16, he accrued at least 13 carries each of those weeks, but he was completely left out of the receiving game with only 14 targets on the year. That severely caps his upside if that trend continues, and if CEH is back to health, I still expect Edwards-Helaire to be involved in this offense, particularly in the receiving game.
While Pacheco is a fun running back, I don’t see him getting volume both on the ground and through the air consistently. He’ll have some big games, but I think he’s a touchdown-dependent back that will be in the high single digits to low double digits in fantasy points on a weekly basis otherwise. Fortunately for him, he’s part of an offense that loves to score touchdowns, so that is a plus that puts him over the next entry in this list.
2021 Rookie Rank: N/A
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB6/RB32
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB5/RB25
Brian Robinson Jr.
Robinson notably missed the first four games of the season after recovering from a gunshot injury suffered late into the offseason. But he got right to work as he was used as a two-down, thumper running back as expected based on his profile. He wasn’t overly utilized in the passing game despite the passing game volume that he was forced into during his final year of Alabama. He doesn’t succeed in that role but is capable. And that’s where Antonio Gibson comes into play as a much more refined pass catcher. There are clear roles in this backfield which once again caps Brian Robinson’s upside as a player that will be relying on touchdowns for big fantasy weeks. And unlike our previous entry, the Washington Commanders score significantly less than the Kansas City Chiefs.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB10
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB7/RB44
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB7/RB38
Ford is a really intriguing player that I really liked pre-draft last season. He fell a bit in my rankings due to draft capital but always provided a strong skillset that could thrive as a rusher or pass catcher. Plus, he was extremely easy to acquire which looks like will pay off this season. The Browns are notorious for their two-back system that has featured Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, both being high-end fantasy backs in this offense. Now, it looks like the Browns are comfortable slotting Ford into that RB2 role where he has the upside that Kareem Hunt provided in 2020. Both in his standalone value and additionally as an elite handcuff to Nick Chubb.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB9
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB8/RB49
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB9/RB50
Unfortunately, Tyler Allgeier was another rookie thousand-yard rusher whose team drafted another running back in the top 2 rounds. But in this case, it’s clear that Bijan Robinson is coming in to be the workhorse, not split carries with Allgeier. Because of that, Allgeier has been relegated to handcuff status. But a high-end handcuff because we’ve seen him capable of putting up good fantasy numbers in this offensive system when given the lead role.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB8
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB9/RB52
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB8/RB42
Spiller was regarded as one of the top running backs in this class before the draft and that quickly tumbled. I maintained that I liked his skillset as he wasn’t overly elite at any one thing, but also didn’t have any major holes in his game. He got minimal work in 2022, and it looked like for a second he’d have a more significant role in 2023 with the rumors of Ekeler being on his way out. Still, with Ekeler staying with the Chargers, going into 2023 Spiller holds handcuff value with the chance to take over as the RB2 in this backfield to spell Ekeler. That role we’ve seen have standalone value before. Spiller is an interesting player to stash for a bit longer to see if he can carve out a role this season.
2021 Rookie Rank: RB5
2022 Class/Overall Rank: RB10/RB56
KTC (Market) Class/Overall Rank: RB11/RB61