It’s fair to ask after 11 years of writing this series how
many Top 10 Risers I’ve correctly predicted along the way.
To be honest, I didn’t actually know until the thought occurred
to me YOU all might want to, leading to some quick figuring. The
answer is…more than I would have thought: 42.6%. It’s
a lot easier identifying 3 of 10 QBs, RBs, or WRs likely to fall
from the Top 10 ranks every year, especially when a lot more than
that usually do. It’s significantly trickier trying to identify
three replacements from a much larger group of candidates, to include
a crop of brand new gridders. I should say trickier and more challenging,
but also a heckuva lot more fun. Shall we?
A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy RBs from last season…
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s
Non-PPR league scoring.
Henry, TEN: Clearly, I havenít been
padding my riser stats with low-risk predictions like this for the
past decade plus. Nevertheless, when the most dominant rushing force
in football somehow finds himself outside the Top 10 club, you press
the easy button and welcome him right back in. No other running
back currently playing the position could handle the kind of workload
this beast does. And yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds coming
off a season when even Henry couldnít handle it. Ha!
Consider that in just eight games, the Titansí meal ticket
carried the ball 219 times, or a staggering 27.4 times per contest.
If youíre wondering, yes, that would have been the highest
per-game rushing attempts mark in NFL history had it continued for
nine more games. Put another way, Henry played fewer than half his
possible games last year, but still finished Top 10 in carries!
Oh, and if youíre thinking last year was likely to be in extreme
outlier territory, he led the league in carries the year prior (378).
Even accounting for the fact he does very little as a receiver,
the obscene volume upside makes this Tennessee stud no worse than
a Top 3 back.
Yes, itís possible the Titans could lessen the big manís load and
try to preserve him for the longer haul. Itís also possible they
realize, as anyone whoís watched him play already has, that he doesnít
receive punishment like other backs. He distributes it. ESPNís Turron
Davenport recently reported Henry showed up to off-season practices
with ďa noticeably larger physique and no signs of limitations from
the injury (fractured foot).Ē That simply isnít great news for AFC
South opponents or really anyone trying to drag him down. But itís
great news for us. Donít overthink it.
Williams, DEN: Excepting Mr. Henry
and a handful of other bell cows (Jonathan
Harris, and Joe
Mixon), the vast majority of NFL squads now employ a committee
approach to running the football. Only four backs in 2021 carried
the pigskin more than 250 times and I just named three of them (Antonio
Gibson was the fourth). Twenty years ago, during the 2002 season,
19 backs topped that 250-carry mark. The times arenít just a-changing.
Theyíve already changed.
There are varying philosophies on how best to optimally distribute
carries, but no team took the concept of sharing quite as literally
as the Broncos. Both Melvin
Gordon and his rookie running mate, Javonte
Williams, carried the rock precisely 203 times last year. The
former turned those into 918 yards and eight TDs while the latter
parlayed his into 903 yards and four TDs. On paper, at least, Gordon
appeared to be the slightly more productive back. Anyone who watched
them play, however, knew better. Williams was the more dynamic receiver
(15 more receptions for 100+ more yards and one more score) and
also led the entire league in broken tackles, despite being only
RB15 (along with Gordon) in rushing attempts.
Enter new head man Nathaniel Hackett, late of Green Bay where AJ
Dillon and Aaron
Jones came pretty danged close to a pure 50/50 split in 2021
(187 v. 171). Williams and Gordon arenít polar opposites like Dillon
and Jonesómore variations on the same theme than a classic thunder
and lightning comboóso it seems possible Coach Hackett would start
favoring his most dynamic back a bit more. Make no mistake: That
back is Williams and not the capable, but aging, Gordon. Iím expecting
the former Tarheel to thrive and crack the Top 10 as an NFL sophomore.
Mitchell, SF: This sophomore isnít
nearly as prized heading into 2022 (ADP 4.01 v. 2.01 for Mr. Williams),
but itís a mystery why. Yes, Williams statistically outperformed
his San Francisco counterpart last season, but it was very, very
close. Only 119 total yards and one six-pointer separated them and
Mitchell was the more efficient rusher of the two, tallying 60 more
yards and one more touch on just four more carries. Did I mention
he did that in six fewer games?
Itís true thereís been a fair amount of off-season drama in San
Fran (looking at you, Deebo) and the offense which lines up this
coming September will look a lot different than the one which let
a trip to Super Bowl LVI slip away. In fact, if and when Jimmy G
gets traded, heíll become only the ninth Super Bowl-winning QB (SB
LIV) ever to be dealt after landing the Lombardi trophy. Regardless,
itís Trey Lanceís
show now and that could both help and harm Mitchellís value in 2022.
It helps because thereís almost no chance the Niners wonít become
even more run-heavy with a new, very raw QB under center (they were
already the fourth most run-heavy team in 2021). It hurts because
Lance himself may absorb those extra carries and, quite possibly,
leech many more from Mitchell. Then againÖ
The off-season drama had a lot to do with the rushing attack and,
more specifically, Deebo Samuelís unwillingness to feature
prominently in it. What Lance taketh away, Deebo may giveth. It
also doesnít hurt that the Niners let Raheem Mostert, a serious
competitor for touches, walk this past spring. Itís never
obvious how Shanny will divvy up the pie, but I like the former
Raginí Cajunís chances of getting a nice fat slice in