A valuable running back depth chart is the crown jewel of a fantasy football roster. The No. 1 overall pick should be Carolina Panthers stud Christian McCaffrey, and filling out those two starting spots is something everyone in your fantasy football draft will seek immediately.
The running back depth in fantasy football depletes rapidly. By the fourth round, all the guys you're comfortable with are gone, and now it's a pick-your-poison sleeper situation.
With this edition of 2022 Fantasy Football "Studs and Duds", we're going to look at this through the lens of average draft position, per usual. Still, we're also going to try to sort through some of the higher-ranked running backs and explore the "dead zone" for the position -- rounds four to six (or so).
Stud: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
ADP: RB11; Draft Position: 2.06
With his suspension unlikely to happen this season, Kamara will look to have a complete season to re-assert himself as one of the best running backs in fantasy football.
His ADP data is skewed due to drafters thinking he may miss time, so this will go up a bit as we wind down in August. However, if you were to take the approach of a receiver in the first round, having Kamara as your RB1 is totally OK.
The Saints have more weapons this year and will have Winston back for a (hopefully) entire season. This should only help Kamara's stock.
Dud: Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders
ADP: RB21; Draft Position: 4.05
He once had so much promise, but in the fourth round, I'm looking somewhere else in place of Gibson. The team brought running back JD McKissic back and drafted Brian Robinson on day two of the NFL Draft to take some work on the ground. This is setting up a situation where if Gibson fumbles the ball, Robinson could come in as relief.
This isn't to say Gibson will be irrelevant, but his good performances will be too sporadic to start comfortably. At RB21, this is right around where his ceiling could be, which doesn't inspire us to draft him on our teams.
Stud: James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
ADP: RB17; Draft Position: 3.08
It's unclear why Conner's ADP is this low. In 2021, Conner had Chase Edmonds in the backfield with him and still finished the season as the RB5 with only 202 carries. Without wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for six games, it's possible the team leans more heavily on him and continues to get 20-plus touches per game throughout the season. Conner is the lead back on a good offense coming off an excellent fantasy performance in a worse backfield situation.
As the 3.08, this is assuming you have the eighth overall pick. If you can leave the first three rounds with Dalvin Cook, CeeDee Lamb and James Conner, that is a massive win as Conner will continue to have RB1 upside.
Dud: J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
ADP: RB19; Draft Position: 3.11
After an impressive rookie season, Dobbins missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL and had damage to his meniscus and lateral side of his knee. Earlier this month, he was activated from the PUP list and is on track for Week 1.
If Dobbins is back in Week 1, it's unlikely he'll be thrust into an immediate do-it-all starting role. Fellow running back Gus Edwards also missed last season due to injury and will be back involved. However, he's considered doubtful for Week 1, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic.
No matter, the Ravens will look to use ample running backs to get back to that electric rushing attack, whether that's with Edwards or mixing in Justice Hill, rookie Tyler Badie or veteran Mike Davis. Dobbins is the most valuable of the bunch, but you've also got to consider Jackson's rushing prowess.
There's upside here as a top-15 back or so in PPR leagues, but in the third round, there are just safer options. The ceiling from Dobbins isn't a top-10 guy.
Stud: Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
ADP: RB13; Draft Position: 2.09
After splitting the carries 50/50 in 2021 with Melvin Gordon (like, they both had 203 carries exactly), Williams, 22, will look to be the next star fantasy running back.
We've seen the report of both Gordon and Williams set to be on a pitch count, but we've also seen reports of the running back screen game set to be an "important" part of the offense. The Broncos brought Gordon back this offseason on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, so there's not a lot of money tied to him. Gordon is also having foot issues this preseason, though James Palmer of NFL Network is reporting that it's not serious.
Even if Gordon is OK, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see Williams have 60% or more of the snaps at the end of the year. With Russell Wilson at quarterback, this will only help the running game, too.
Suppose Williams gets the bulk of the snaps (which we project he will). In that case, he'll easily be an RB1 in fantasy football, making him an excellent option for your fantasy team.
Dud: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
ADP: RB12; Draft Position: 2.07
Finishing as the RB2 in his rookie season, Barkley appeared destined for fantasy football superstardom. In his second season, he finished as the RB10 in 13 games. That's quite a tumble down the rankings.
However, the two most previous seasons have been less-than-stellar, as Barkley missed the entire 2020 season sans 19 rushing attempts and was simply not that productive in 2021. Last year, Barkley averaged 3.7 yards per carry across 162 totes and scored just four total touchdowns.
While you'd like to think that he'll return to be an RB1 after getting that comeback season out of the way, there just doesn't appear to be a way for it to happen. At the absolute best, RB12 is right around his ceiling if he gets plenty of work in the passing game. However, as we saw in 2021, he could be the RB30 and average 10.6 fantasy points per game.
You're just asking to be let down by drafting him as the RB12 in the second round.
Stud: Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
ADP: RB37; Draft Position: 8.04
Yes, we're going to attempt to gaze into that cloudy crystal ball to predict a New England Patriots backfield. Following James White's retirement, there's a strong chance that the team sticks with Damien Harris this season even after Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported that the team could be shopping him. With that news in mind, it's clear the team thinks highly of Stevenson, who ran the ball 133 times for 606 yards and five touchdowns last season.
The Patriots also drafted Pierre Strong Jr. to be a pass-catching back, so he'll slide into the White role. Even if we see more of a split in the Patriots backfield, this puts Stevenson in a great spot to exceed his RB37 tag in the eighth round.
No, we wouldn't recommend getting him as your RB2, but if you can get him as your RB3, this is a nice cushion as we see the situation unfold. If you were to draft him and the team traded or cut Harris, then you've struck gold, as Stevenson will be primed for a breakout season.
In the eighth round, this is an easy win of a pick.
- Stud: Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons
- Dud: Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
- Stud: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
- Dud: D'Adnre Swift, Detroit Lions
- Stud: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
- Duds: The Miami Dolphins Backfield
- Stud: Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
- Dud: Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
- Stud: Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Dud: David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
- Stud: Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
- Dud: The Seattle Seahawks Backfield
Statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus.
ADP data is courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.