Over the past few years, there’s been a shift in the NFL draft around running backs.
Teams are wisely placing less value on the position in the first round. Oftentimes, the best running backs are found outside the opening round – just look back at Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor and others. Eight of the top 10 leading rushers last season were picked in the second round or later.
The 2022 NFL Draft kept with the trend, as the first running back was selected at No. 36 overall. This drafting philosophy changes during fantasy football, though, where running backs are usually the first players off the board because there are so few dominant ones.
So, which 2022 rookies will make the biggest impact in fantasy football? Here are the top 10 rookie running backs for fantasy football as minicamps begin:
Breece Hall, New York Jets
Not many rookie running backs will be drafted in fantasy football this year, but Hall is an exception. He was the consensus top player in this class, and he’s in an ideal situation. Hall, along with second-year RB Michael Carter, will get plenty of carries behind an improved offensive line.
The Iowa State alum is a receiving threat, too, catching 36 passes for the Cyclones last season. He’s even better on the ground, totaling 21 and 20 rushing touchdowns in the last two years, respectively.
Ken Walker III, Seattle Seahawks
After transferring to Michigan State from Wake Forest in 2021, Walker completely changed his draft stock. He rushed for more yards in 2021 (1,636) than he did in 2019 and 2020 combined (1,158).
Now in Seattle, many are wondering what to expect from Walker. The Seahawks have Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny on the roster, but investing a second-round pick in Walker means they plan to use him. Carson could be the odd man out and Penny has been injury-prone, so Walker could end up playing plenty in an offense that loves to run the ball.
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
Pierce was criminally underused at Florida, but the Gators’ loss is the Texans’ gain. The 5-foot-10 running back averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a senior but only received 7.7 carries per game. That could mean he’ll be fresh for longer in the NFL.
With the Texans, Pierce is facing little competition for carries. Rex Burkhead, 31, led the team in carries (122) and yards (427) last season. The team retained Burkhead while also signing Marlon Mack and drafting Pierce. It’s safe to say the rookie will get a ton of touches this season, it’s just a question of what he can do with them.
James Cook, Buffalo Bills
After winning a championship at Georgia, Cook was drafted by a team with championship aspirations in 2022. Cook, whose older brother is star RB Dalvin Cook, had 1,012 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns in 2021.
Devin Singletary is likely to enter the season as Buffalo’s RB1, but Cook will get plenty of opportunities behind him. He’s a threat in the passing game, and could easily turn a few targets per game into a handful of touchdowns over the year. In an offense this explosive, Cook will be worth a late-round pick in your fantasy draft.
Tyrion Davis-Price, San Francisco 49ers
In this same spot last year, I wrote about Trey Sermon being a fantasy sleeper. That didn’t exactly work out, but fellow 49ers rookie Elijah Mitchell was a top-10 fantasy RB. So while the opportunity might not look great for Davis-Price behind Mitchell, it’s important to note that Kyle Shanahan’s offense is a total wild card.
In college at LSU, Davis-Price gradually improved as he was given more responsibilities. He rushed for 1,003 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. Davis-Price is a big-bodied running back at 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, so he could end up as a goal line threat – making him a potential vulture and frustrating all of Mitchell’s owners.
Pierre Strong Jr., New England Patriots
Similar to Shanahan and the 49ers, Bill Belichick and the Patriots are a frustrating puzzle to solve when it comes to fantasy football. New England has six running backs on the roster after the draft. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson produced well last season, and James White is coming back from injury.
That leads us to the key question: How many opportunities will Strong, a fourth-round pick, get in this offense? There’s a chance he could be “red-shirted,” like they did with Harris as a rookie in 2019 when he only played two games. Strong rushed for 1,686 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2021, so I would monitor this one throughout training camp.
Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
White was the fourth running back off the board with the No. 91 pick, but I don’t love this situation. Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard are firmly in Tom Brady’s circle, which is often impenetrable for rookies. Ronald Jones, the Bucs’ third RB in 2021, had 428 yards last year before leaving in free agency.
Even though he may not get the chance in 2022, White could be a solid long-term option in a dynasty format. He had 1,000 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021, and at 6-foot-2 he has ideal size for an early-down back.
Isaiah Spiller, Los Angeles Chargers
Spiller had similarly strong production for three years at Texas A&M. He was right around 1,000 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards per season, and he had 26 total touchdowns in his college career.
Entering the pros as a fourth-round pick, there’s no pressure on Spiller to perform. He might have to though, because Chargers RB1 Austin Ekeler generally misses some time due to injuries. It’ll be on Spiller to show in the offseason and preseason that he deserves those carries when they become available. It wouldn’t be surprising if Spiller is a hot name during the preseason.
Kyren Williams, Los Angeles Rams
Coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at Notre Dame, Williams slipped to the fifth round of the draft. He was the 15th running back selected despite displaying dual-threat abilities for the Irish. Williams had over 1,000 rushing yards and over 300 receiving yards in both 2020 and 2021.
Despite being a late-round pick, Williams has a real opportunity to play for the defending champions. Sony Michel is still a free agent, leaving 208 carries available. Cam Akers will return for a full season of health after an Achilles injury, which will hurt Williams’ chances. But the odds are that there will be some touches for Williams, whether it be as a runner or a third-down back.
Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders
Sharing the Georgia backfield with Cook, White and his teammate produced pretty equally. White had slightly more rushing yards and touchdowns, but he wasn’t used as much in the passing game.
The Raiders’ backfield is full on paper, with Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake and Brandon Bolden ahead of him. But with new head coach Josh McDaniels, the Raiders are moving into a new philosophy. Much like the Patriots, it’s hard to see McDaniels riding one running back as a bellcow. Jacobs and Drake are set to be free agents after the season, so White could sneak his way into the mix with a strong preseason.