9 Running Backs Primed to Breakout in Fantasy Football
Workhorse running backs are few and far between in today’s NFL, and the obvious ones are pretty easy to peg. Najee Harris, Jonathan Taylor, and Joe Mixon were the only running backs in the league to top 75% of their respective teams’ backfield touches in 2021, with Alvin Kamara (65.4%) and David Montgomery (64.6%) each falling right below that mark despite only playing in 13 games each. Those five backs essentially made up the entire “elite usage” tier of running backs who controlled the backfield throughout the entire season, rewarding fantasy managers who spent the high draft capital required to get them on their squads.
What we’re doing here today is looking for candidates who could either come out of nowhere and earn these sorts of usages or give us fantasy production in other, more niche ways like catching the ball out of the backfield or converting ample goal-line opportunities. First, we’ll take a look back at some running backs who fit the criteria of breaking out in 2021 and then nine potential breakouts in the middle-to-late rounds for the summer of 2022.
A Look Back at 2021
A sixth-round rookie, injury beneficiaries, and a surprising receiver-turned-running back top the list of 2021 breakouts. Most of the players listed below were part of ambiguous backfields, and give us at least one criteria of what to look for in future candidates.
|Player||Team||2021 ADP (Position Rank)||Half-PPR PPG Finish|
|James Conner||Cardinals||8.12 (RB40)||RB6|
|Leonard Fournette||Buccaneers||8.06 (RB36)||RB7|
|Damien Harris||Patriots||5.07 (RB26)||RB15|
|Rashaad Penny||Seahawks||12.06 (RB53)||RB23|
|Darrel Williams||Chiefs||13.06 (RB56)||RB32|
There were a number of breakouts at our disposal last season, with many of them remaining off of draft boards throughout the summer months. While D'Onta Foreman and Boston Scott were plug-ins later on in the season, Cordarrelle Patterson and Elijah Mitchell were useful throughout the year, delivering week-winning performances on a number of occasions. All four are good examples of why we should keep a trigger-happy finger on the waiver wire, particularly at the running back position.
It would be difficult to mention either James Conner or Leonard Fournette without also mentioning the other, so we’ll consider them their own group. Both backs were being taken in the eighth round of drafts before eventually finishing back-to-back as the RB6 and RB7, all while outperforming the likes of Najee Harris, Dalvin Cook, and Aaron Jones, to name a few. For comparison’s sake, the sixth running back off the board in 2022 would cost you the 1.08 according to current average draft position, meaning Conner and Fournette performed as back-end first-round selections for the price of eighth-round capital. That’s exactly the kind of gold we will be looking for below.
2022 Breakout Candidates
Let’s apply some of the scenarios that we saw last year and in prior years to find some comparable situations in the middle-to-late rounds of your upcoming —or ongoing— drafts. Some of the frameworks for breakout production from above will be repeated in our coming season, and if we pair positive scenarios with what has historically been the most predictable running back stats, we may be able to replicate top-end production from middle-of-the-road draft capital.
Chase Edmonds, Dolphins
Current ADP: 9.04 (RB35)
Reason for Breakout - Backfield ambiguity, year-to-year targets/game stickiness
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