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Which RBs will Fall from the Fantasy Top Ten in 2022?

By Joseph Hutchins | 7/30/22

Every year, it takes me longer and longer to write the introductory paragraph for this series. That’s partially because I’m slowing down some (hit the big 5-0 a while back), partially because I’m distracted (summertime!), but mostly because there are only so many ways to say the exact same thing over and over and over again. In its most basic form, that thing is this: The players who won you fantasy championships last year aren’t very likely to do so this year. That’s it. That’s the only point I’m ever trying to make and the rest—who, specifically, is most likely to derail your championship dreams this season—is just details. I’ll be back next summer to say the exact same thing a slightly different way, but in the meantime, here are those details, the most likely Top 10 dropouts for 2022.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s Non-PPR league scoring.

  Top 10 Running Backs - 2020
Rank Player
1 Derrick Henry
2 Alvin Kamara
3 Dalvin Cook
4 Jonathan Taylor
5 Aaron Jones
6 David Montgomery
7 Josh Jacobs
8 James Robinson
9 Nick Chubb
10 Kareem Hunt
  Top 10 Running Backs - 2021
Rank Player
1 Jonathan Taylor
2 Austin Ekeler
3 Joe Mixon
4 Najee Harris
5 James Conner
6 Ezekiel Elliott
7 Nick Chubb
8 Damien Harris
9 Antonio Gibson
10 Alvin Kamara

Who Missed the Cut in 2020 (7/10): D. Henry, D. Cook, A. Jones, D. Montgomery, J. Jacobs, J. Robinson, & K. Hunt

There was a lot of turnover in the RB ranks last season, per the usual, but for the first time in recent memory, most of the Top 10 backs from a year prior managed to stay very fantasy-relevant in 2021. Six of the seven fell no further than RB24 and the last managed to avoid complete scroll-down shame, checking in at RB48.

2020’s top ground gainer, Derrick Henry, suffered a broken foot in a Week 8 win over Indy, costing him the rest of the season but not Tennessee’s Divisional Playoff game. Ryan Tannehill cost the Titans that one (ba dum tss!). Amazingly, Henry was still able to average a career best (not to mention NFL best) 21.1 FPts/G. That’s almost precisely how many points Dalvin Cook averaged a year before, but the Vikes’ meal ticket was again done in by injuries in 2021, missing four games overall. He’s five seasons in as a professional and has yet to make it cleanly through a full slate.

Aaron Jones and David Montgomery, Cook’s NFC North foes, also missed action last season, costing them both a chance at re-cracking the Top 10. Jones has more to worry about moving forward—the looming specter of AJ Dillon—but should remain highly sought after in PPR leagues (six receiving TDs in 2021, 2nd overall at the position). Montgomery, meanwhile, is a rare three-down back with minimal competition who only needs defenses to take his QB seriously.

Josh Jacobs wasn’t as impacted by Kenyan Drake’s arrival in the desert as “some” would have thought, but he did post a career low 217 carries. Though somewhat mitigated by a career high 54 receptions, the Bama product missed a couple games and that was enough to keep him on the periphery of the Top 10 (RB14) rather than in it. James Robinson wasn’t even close to the periphery, unfortunately, the result of three missed games and perplexing underutilization. The former UFA from Illinois St. carried the ball nearly 80 times fewer than he had in 2020, when he was the focal point of Jacksonville’s offense, just one of Urban Meyer’s many disastrous decisions.

Our final RB dropout of 2021, Kareem Hunt, missed more than half the regular season due to a calf injury, predictably toppling all the way to RB48 last season. He still averaged 13.7 FPts/G through Week 6, however, which was barely off Nick Chubb’s full-year average of 14.1. The two should form one of the league’s very best tandems again this year provided they can stay healthy.

Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:

James Conner

James Conner, ARI: If there was a bigger statistical outlier than Conner’s 18 total TDs last season (15 rushing and 3 receiving), I can’t remember it. His rushing fundamentals—752 yards and 3.7 YPC—simply don’t support that level of red zone success, especially when you consider he shared touches with Chase Edmonds almost exactly 60/40. Here’s how many touchdowns Edmonds scored last year: two. There’s something to be said for having a nose for the goal line and Conner was certainly the heftier of the two Cardinals (read: a better goal-line option), but…that’s a fairly anomalous discrepancy.

Don’t get me wrong. The former Pittsburgh product (Panther, then Steeler) is an easy guy to root for. How many college-age cancer survivors do you know of who have gone on to star in the NFL? Conner does it with a throwback combination of size, power, and determination, a style that probably should have cost him more games than it has (multiple in every professional season, a la Dalvin Cook). Nevertheless, it has cost him games and, were it not for an unbelievable number of six-pointers last season, likely would have cost him a Top 10 finish, as well.

There are definitely some things breaking in Conner’s favor as he attempts to replicate that RB5 ranking. First, his former tag-team partner, Edmonds, has moved on to Miami this season, replaced by Darrel Williams, late of Kansas City. Second, Arizona will be without DeAndre Hopkins for six weeks to start the 2022 campaign (PED suspension), likely forcing Coach Kingsbury to lean on the ground game more early on. Nevertheless, Williams seems like a pretty solid plug-and-play for the departed Edmonds and losing Hopkins could end up focusing more attention on the ground attack. I’m confident Conner takes a big step back this year.

Ezekiel Elliott, DAL:
Zeke’s 2021 numbers seem a lot more sustainable—1,002 yards, 10 rushing TDs, and a reasonable 4.2 YPC average—and he’s one of only three Top 10 backs to play in every game last year, an increasingly uncommon feat for the league’s best rock toters. Still, the trendline’s been pretty obvious for the Cowboys’ $90M man the last couple years and, barring a mini renaissance in his seventh professional season, there’s reason to believe his Top 10 days are in the rear-view mirror and that Dallas may not get great ROI on that 90 large.

For starters, Zeke’s carries have dropped off considerably the past three seasons. From 2016-2019, the former Buckeye averaged almost 21 carries per game, leading the league twice during that stretch (2016 and 2018). In the two years since, he’s averaged 16.3, and 13.9, respectively. Granted, most other running backs are also seeing a reduction in work (Derrick Henry excluded), but the days of Elliott carrying the league’s heaviest workload are almost certainly over. Additionally, the reason for that reduction has less to do with age (he turned 27 the day I typed this) and more to do with the guy nipping at his heels on the depth chart. Tony Pollard, the third-year man from Memphis, is barely two years younger but looks to be five years Elliott’s junior when he carries the pigskin, flashing uncanny quicks and playmaking ability. He averaged a stellar 5.5 YPC in 2021 and garnered a career-high 169 touches, also contributing heavily in the passing game.

Zeke won’t fall off a statistical cliff, but the numbers and my gut tell me Pollard becomes an even bigger part of the Dallas offense this season (think Javonte Williams v. Melvin Gordon), costing his teammate a repeat Top 10 finish.

Damien Harris, NE: If you’re running short on time and want the CliffsNotes version, read what I wrote about James Conner above. The two shared some eerily similar statistical lines in 2021—202 rushing attempts and 15 rushing touchdowns—and came mostly from out of nowhere to achieve Top 10 status. Conner’s ADP heading into last season was RB33 (12-team standard leagues) and Harris’ was RB30. That they finished RB5 and RB8, respectively, had almost everything to do with those aforementioned paydirt visits.

This was especially so in Harris’ case since he brought almost nothing to the table as a receiver. Despite the early loss of passing game specialist James White, Harris managed only 18 receptions all season, or exactly the same number Tennessee’s seldom targeted Derrick Henry tallied in seven fewer games. White is slated to return to action in 2022, but even if he doesn’t (currently on the PUP list as he recovers from hip surgery), the Pats scooped up hybrid RB-WR Ty Montgomery this off-season and still have J.J. Taylor on the roster, though Brandon Bolden has moved on.

The more existential threat to Harris’ Top 10 status appears to be stunt double Rhamondre Stevenson, who commanded an impressive 133 carries in his rookie year out of Oklahoma and who also, like Harris, averaged 4.6 YPC. This 60/40 split didn’t result in anything close to equal scoring production (sound familiar?) but even a slight leveling of that scoring load this coming season could cost Harris a Top 10 repeat. This is especially true if White makes a full recovery or rookie Pierre Strong Jr., whom New England spent a fourth-round pick on, proves ready to contribute immediately. Strong was the fastest back in the draft and Coach Belichick has always preferred committees. Be cautious of Harris.

Next: Wide Receivers

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