One of the most difficult tasks in drafting a fantasy football team
is trying to decide between two players you essentially see as having
nearly identical value. Knowing how to break such a “tie”
can be important as often a pick comes down to a dilemma between
Player A and Player B. The purpose of this article is to not only
identify pairs of players that are considered of nearly equal value
in 2022, but also take a look at the process of solving those dilemmas.
Our final installment in this three-part series focuses on running
backs. In this case, we’ll examine two runners who resurrected
their careers last season and discuss the prospects for continued
success vs. regression.
Coming into 2021, James Conner was thought to be a complementary
RB in the shadow of Chase Edmonds, but as the season wore on, Conner
morphed into being the primary option and a fantasy gold mine.
This season, both Edmonds and Jones have moved on to other teams
giving Conner and Fournette a clearer path to fantasy stardom. But,
can they take advantage of that opportunity?
In case you missed it in 2021, Conner has a nose for the end zone.
Conner’s 18 total touchdowns was bested only by Jonathan Taylor
and Austin Ekeler and included three in the passing game. In his
second season in Pittsburgh, he did something similar amassing 13
touchdowns, so Conner’s usage in the red zone and goal line
situations wasn’t unprecedented. He even missed two games
towards the end of last season due to injury. The list of players
who averaged more than one touchdown per game is a very short list
and Conner is firmly on it. The Cardinals are unlikely to get away
from what worked and with only Darrel Williams offering competition,
look for the 202 carries Conner logged last year to see an increase
this season. Some touchdown regression can be expected after a career
year, but the increased workload should make up for it in terms
of overall fantasy production.
Fournette wasn’t just Tampa Bay’s primary rusher last
season. He was also one of the team’s most valuable receiving
options having been targeted in the passing game on 84 occasions
and converting those targets into receptions over 82% of the time.
Much like Conner’s red zone prowess, Fournette’s passing
down production wasn’t just a one-time occurrence as he was
targeted 100 times in his final year in Jacksonville. Fournette
handled 341 touches that season and has thus proven he can handle
the bigger workload that will almost certainly come this season
with Ronald Jones in Kansas City and only rookie Rachaad White in
tow. With Tampa Bay no longer having Rob Gronkowski as an option
within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, Fournette’s looks
as a receiving back should remain steady in 2022. Both runners are
just 27 years old and entering into their sixth seasons. It might
seem as if both have been around longer, but in reality, they are
still very much in the prime of their careers.
The fantasy points that Conner produced last season were substantial
enough to obscure some statistics that weren’t nearly as
flattering. Namely, they helped to hide the reality that he only
averaged 3.7 yards per carry in an offense that should have yielded
better production. After all, Edmonds (who was allowed to join
the Dolphins) averaged 5.1 yards a carry every time he touched
the ball last season. Additionally, Edmonds had more receptions
than Conner in four fewer games. The Cardinals signed Conner to
a contract this offseason that will pay him $7 million annually
for the next three seasons because they love his work ethic and
the hardcore effort he puts into every play. But, those traits
don’t always equate to fantasy numbers and the concern is
that we’ve already seen his ceiling - with respect to touchdowns
scored - but also, in general. Running backs who average 3.7 yards
per carry with 200-plus opportunities do so because they don’t
have extra “wiggle” in their game. It’s a recipe
for less than 4 yards per carry again and likely less than 900
rushing yards total.
In contrast to Conner, Fournette actually posted the best YPC
of his career in 2021 (4.5 yds). That said, he’s never touched
the kind of goal line and red zone output that Conner has in Conner’s
two biggest fantasy seasons. In three of his five years in the
league, Fournette posted 6 or fewer touchdowns in each of those
seasons. In Tampa, Tom Brady prefers to throw inside the ten-yard
line and on the one-yard line, he has always been partial to the
quarterback sneak. So, while Fournette did post 10 scores last
season, that is seemingly his ceiling and appears unlikely to
rise above it this year. Fournette averaged a paltry 6.6 yards
per reception in 2021 meaning that he doesn’t do a lot with
his catches, yardage-wise. Conversely, Conner picked up 10.1 yards
per reception in 2021. Further, the Buccaneers do like White and
are likely to increase his usage throughout the season as his
ability to pass protect improves.
It is amazingly ironic that these two running backs both signed
nearly identical deals this past offseason (3 years, $7 million
per). As such, they are not only seen as having the same value
in fantasy football, but in the real world counterpart as well.
Both are ideal fits as a RB2 on your fantasy squad if you prefer
a strong 1-2 punch at that position and have already selected
a RB1 in the first round.
If, however, you went WR in the first round of your draft, you
would then be looking at one of these guys as your likely RB1.
Considering neither is projected to rush for 1,000 yards, that
is a bit scary. However, it is important to remember that consistent
usage is almost a sure thing with both and there is little risk
of either being outright replaced by another running back at any
point during the season.
Projection-wise, Fournette has much more upside in the receiving
department, particularly number of receptions, making him the
preferred pick in a PPR format. That said, Conner did more with
his catches, yardage-wise, than Fournette last season and thus
his receiving yardage should be in the same ball park. Given that
he scores more touchdowns, the recommendation in a non-PPR league
would be Conner by a nose.
Projected 2022 Statistics:
Leonard Fournette - 950 rushing yards; 64 receptions, 445 receiving
yards, 8 total TDs
James Conner - 875 rushing yards; 45 receptions, 415 receiving
yards, 12 total TDs