Kyle Yates’ Early Top-12 RB Rankings (2022 Fantasy Football)

It’s the time of year where we start to turn the page towards the next NFL season and begin parsing through all of the data to determine who we should be selecting early on in our fantasy drafts.

We’ve spent the past several months in hibernation, poking our heads up here or there as news happens in the NFL world, but now it’s time to emerge and start the preparation for winning our fantasy football leagues in 2022. With that in mind, here are my early Top-12 RB Rankings for this season. These will certainly change and fluctuate as the off-season progresses, but here’s who I’m feeling the most confident in going into the month of July.

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Early RB Rankings

12. Leonard Fournette (RB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Let’s temporarily forget the headlines from June where Fournette showed up to Bucs camp looking a little hefty. He’s practicing in the summer heat in Florida, so I have no doubt that he’ll get down to his desired playing weight come the start of the regular season. It’s important to remember last season when Fournette and Ronald Jones were still entrenched in a battle for the RB1 role in Tampa Bay. Even up to kickoff of the first Thursday Night Matchup, we had no idea who would see the majority of the work in this backfield for a dynamic offense. However, it became clear very quickly that Fournette was going to take over that role for this team and he never gave it back. Fournette wasn’t a true workhorse in the sense of a Derrick Henry or Nick Chubb where they were handling a ridiculous workload on the ground – Fournette had just 180 carries in 14 games last year – but he dominated as a receiving option out of the backfield. Fournette averaged six targets per game last season and that provided an incredibly high floor week after week. If he can maintain that volume this season, which there’s a reason to believe he could see more with Rob Gronkowski retired and Chris Godwin sidelined for the first part of the year, plus continue to be heavily utilized in the red zone…he’s going to smash this year. For someone you can get at a significant discount right now, he’s an auto selection for me as my RB2 when he’s available and I’m on the clock.

11. Ezekiel Elliott (RB – Dallas Cowboys)

From Weeks 1-4 last season, before Zeke suffered his partially torn PCL, he was tied for 1st in touchdowns at the RB position. He was also 6th in overall rush attempts, 4th in rushing yards, tied for 4th in Yards After Contact, tied for 4th in 10+ yard runs, 4th in PFF’s Rushing Grades, and he was the RB5 in fantasy football through that time frame. We know that the efficiency fell off of a cliff for Zeke last season after this injury, but he fought through it and still managed to end the season as the RB6 in Half PPR Scoring formats. If we can get a fully healthy Zeke, which all indications currently are that that is the expectation, he’s going to be an insane value in drafts this season given his current ADP. If you can get him as your RB2 on your roster, that’s a smash selection every single time.

10. D’Andre Swift (RB – Detroit Lions)

From Weeks 1-11, before Swift got injured early on in Week 12, the second-year RB was the RB5 in Full PPR scoring formats. He was a target machine out of the backfield for Jared Goff and his top-tier talent came through essentially every single time he touched the football. Unfortunately, he’s now dealt with injuries for the second year in a row. In his rookie campaign, Swift completed just 13 games for the Lions and he totaled the same amount in year two. Looking ahead to 2022, not only do we have the injury concerns for Swift, but there’s a strong possibility that the receiving volume might take a step backwards too. Amon-Ra St. Brown emerged last season as a fantastic receiving threat over the middle of the field, T.J. Hockenson should be back healthy to start the season, the Lions also added Jameson Williams early on in the draft too and he’s not just going to be a decoy deep threat week in and week out. There’s a ton of competition for targets now in an offense that doesn’t exactly figure to be prolific. Add in the fact that Jamaal Williams is back and should be fully healthy to start the season and there’s a lot to be concerned about with the volume that Swift could be walking into in 2022. He’s a potential home-run pick because of his talent level, but he’s got a lot to fight through in order to reach that ceiling.

9. Nick Chubb (RB – Cleveland Browns)

Chubb is viewed as one of the safest selections in all of fantasy football year in and year out. There’s good reason for that as he is one of the most talented pure runners in the entire league and you essentially know what you’re going to get from him each and every week. Unfortunately, due to his lack of involvement as a receiver out of the backfield and the fact that Kareem Hunt is also present in his backfield, he doesn’t come with a ton of upside. He’s absolutely still worth targeting in the late 1st round/early 2nd of your drafts due to that very high floor he provides, but depending on how you want to construct your roster and how much risk you’re willing to take for potential upside, Chubb might be a player you let slide past you in favor of another RB.

8. Alvin Kamara (RB – New Orleans Saints)

Man, there’s a lot of unknowns right now with Kamara. He has a potential suspension looming over him from an off-the-field incident in February, but we have yet to get more clarity on where the league stands with this issue. We have no idea at the time of writing whether or not Kamara is going to miss any time this season, which makes projecting him from a fantasy perspective extremely difficult. When he’s on the field, he’s most likely going to feast again this season. Even without Sean Payton, Kamara should be one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets in the receiving game and he could bounce back in a big way from a “down” season for him. Or fantasy managers could spend a 1st round pick on the talented RB just to find out right before the start of the season that Kamara’s going to miss six weeks. It’s a risky situation, but I’ll keep you updated as more information comes out.

7. Najee Harris (RB – Pittsburgh Steelers)

Harris was advertised as a workhorse RB coming out of Alabama, but man did that ring true in his rookie season. Harris logged the most snaps out of any RB in the NFL last season and it wasn’t particularly close. He played 980 snaps in 2021, while Ezekiel Elliott was the next closest with 809. He soaked up targets out of the backfield last season – including one week where Ben Roethlisberger gave him 19 targets – and was a volume king. He wasn’t particularly electric with his opportunities though as he had just 9 runs of 15 or more yards last season on 307 carries. He’s dependent upon volume for fantasy football, but he has the body to withstand a massive workload. For 2022, it’s just a question of how much work is he actually going to see? With Big Ben out of town – and Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett in – we could see a drop-off in receiving work for Harris this season. He’s still going to be an incredibly safe option due to his guaranteed workload on the ground, but the concerns are there enough to drop him down the RB rankings slightly to mid-range RB1/low-end RB1 territory.

6. Austin Ekeler (RB – Los Angeles Chargers)

Ekeler was one of the few home-run selections in the 1st round of fantasy drafts last season. After having just 22 combined Red Zone rush attempts the prior two seasons, Ekeler’s role completely switched to a true workhorse and he finished with 48 total Red Zone rush attempts in 2021. The question surrounding Ekeler now heading into 2022 is whether or not he maintains that role again this season. If he does, he’s going to be a dominant option yet again for your fantasy lineup and you won’t regret spending a 1st round pick on him in your drafts. However, if the addition of Isaiah Spiller in the NFL Draft this year signals that the Chargers want to lighten Ekeler’s workload a little bit, we could see him experience a drop-off in production. He’ll still be an incredibly reliable low-end RB1 when he’s healthy because of the role he has as a receiving threat, but we won’t get the huge touchdown totals from him like we experienced in 2021. There’s certainly a bit of risk associated with drafting the veteran RB that hasn’t really been there in years past.

5. Derrick Henry (RB – Tennessee Titans)

I talked to countless people last season that said something to the effect of, “Henry is literally carrying my entire fantasy team right now.” Looking at the stats, it’s hard to argue against that statement! Henry averaged 23 Half PPR points per game last season before he got injured. He was experiencing a ridiculous workload and NFL defenses literally could not stop him. He did make a return later on in the season to try to help the Titans win their playoff matchup, but he certainly wasn’t at 100%. Going into 2022, we should expect Henry to be just as dominant again when he’s on the field. He should be completely healthy going into Week 1 and he’ll be ready to receive his normal absurd workload. The only question with Henry though is whether or not he can stay healthy for the entire season…or was what happened this past season finally an indication that the workload he’s sustained over the entire course of his career is finally catching up to him? With so many other questions surrounding the other top RBs, it’s still worth drafting Henry as a top-5 RB off the board due to the upside.

4. Dalvin Cook (RB – Minnesota Vikings)

Yes, we have to acknowledge the fact that Cook is unlikely to play all 17 games for your fantasy lineup. He gets banged up and is likely to miss time, but the upside that he brings whenever he is in your lineup is too good to pass up. Last season, Cook only played in 13 games but he was seeing his usual workload on the ground with 250 attempts for 1,159 yards. However, the big difference between 2019 and 2020 specifically was that Cook scored just six rushing touchdowns and had a Red Zone Success Rate of just 11%. On 45 Red Zone rush attempts, Cook found the end zone just five times in that area of the field. In 2019, he posted a Red Zone Success Rate of 25.5%. In 2020, he had a Success Rate of 29%! If Cook’s volume can remain the same – which there’s no evidence to suggest that that is going to change – and his RZ Success Rate can jump back up, he could be an extreme value in drafts this season.

3. Joe Mixon (RB – Cincinnati Bengals)

Do you remember the conversations surrounding Mixon last season? After the disappointing 2020 season, where the coaching staff was consistently non-committal on Mixon’s availability week after week, the majority of fantasy managers wanted nothing to do with the talented RB. All that did though was create a discount for smart managers to swoop in and steal him in drafts. So what did Mixon go on to do in 2021? He logged the 3rd most snaps for any RB in the league, he finished with the 3rd most rushing yards, he finished with the 4th most rushing TDs, he ended the season with the 6th highest PFF Grade for RBs with over 150 rush attempts, and he had the 4th most Yards After Contact. He was outstanding last season and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be going off the board as a top-5 RB yet again in 2022. The Bengals added key players on the offensive line to help create more open running lanes, he’s in a top-tier offense, and this unit should take another step forward as Joe Burrow gets a full off-season to work with his teammates this time around. Mixon’s still coming at a bit of a discount and there’s a legitimate case to be made that he should be going off the board well before a lot of the other players with uncertain situations.

2. Christian McCaffrey (RB – Carolina Panthers)

What do we do with CMC? This is going to be the question every fantasy manager asks themselves leading up to the start of the 2022 NFL season. When McCaffrey is on the field, very few – if any – RBs in the NFL can sniff the type of volume that he sees. Combining that with his talent level simply isn’t fair for fantasy football and he’s a solid bet to finish as the RB1 because of it. Unfortunately, we know that CMC has had issues staying on the field the past couple of seasons. After playing in all 16 games the first three years of his career, CMC has played in just 10 games over the past two seasons and he’s burned fantasy managers that selected him with the 1.01 pick. So, is he worth selecting within the top-5 yet again this season? In the words of Michael Scott, “You know what they say. Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice, strike three.” In all seriousness, CMC is still worth snagging within the first round of your redraft leagues because he’s going to help carry your lineup to victories when he’s healthy. The Panthers have shown no indication of lightening his workload when he’s on the field and he’s going to be dominant yet again. However, you just have to be prepared that you might need to do a little bit more preparation to be ready for if he misses time again. Snag D’Onta Foreman in one of the last rounds of your draft, take some shots on RBs that are in ambiguous situations in the mid-to-late rounds to see if they hit, and insulate your lineup. Drafting CMC in 2022 is all going to come down to how risk averse are you?

1. Jonathan Taylor (RB – Indianapolis Colts)

There’s not a ton to break down here and discuss with JT. He was stupidly dominant last season. He led the entire league in rush attempts with 332, which was the most by 25. He led the league in rushing yards with 1,811, which was the highest mark by 553 yards. He also led the league in rushing touchdowns too – as if everything else wasn’t good enough – with 18! It’s an easy projection to say that Taylor is going to be the RB1 off the board in fantasy drafts this year and he’s a good bet to finish there yet again, barring injury. Some people have pointed out the potential that Indianapolis starts throwing the ball at a higher rate again in 2022, which could limit some of the overall rushing work for Taylor. Normally, that would be a concern for other RBs, especially if we’re projecting them to finish as the RB1 in fantasy again. However, Taylor doesn’t need the 332 rush attempts again to finish as the best RB in all of fantasy football. He has elite breakaway ability, which will more than make up for any loss of rushing volume in 2022. With 700 Breakaway Yards in 2021, fantasy managers should feel very comfortable spending the top pick on him this season and knowing that he has the big-play ability to compensate for any potential volume decrease.