Fantasy Football: Running Back Sleepers, Values & Breakouts
As regular readers know, I tend to “follow the touches” when attacking the running back position in fantasy drafts, and that usually means drafting 1-2 backs in the early rounds.
This year, there are a few high-touch backs available in the 3rd-6th range, the so-called “RB Dead Zone,” and some intriguing breakout candidates still on the board even later in drafts, so the “Hero RB” strategy–drafting on bellcow back early on and then drafting a few guys to potentially fill your RB2 spot–is quite appealing.
Below is a list of Values, Breakout Candidates, Sleepers, and Potential League-Winners that might help fantasy managers sort out their running back strategies in 2022.
James Conner, Cardinals
Conner posted the sixth-highest per game average last season while splitting time with Chase Edmonds for most of the year. Edmonds is out of the way, so Conner’s primary competition for touches is the newly-signed Darrel Williams, Eno Benjamin, and sixth-round draft pick, Keontaey Ingram.
In the five games that Edmonds missed last season, Conner averaged 20.8 touches (including 5.0 catches) for 20.7 fantasy points per game. He’s unlikely to yield many touches to any of these guys. His ADP is currently near the 3/4 turn, so when he falls into the fourth round, he’s a fantastic value given his likely workload.
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Elliott is often still on the board in the fourth round, which is unusual for a player of his caliber and workload. He was really rolling prior to his Week 4 knee injury. He had a tough Week 1 against the stingy Bucs’ rush defense (39 total yards) but racked up 97 total yards and a score against the Chargers, 116 total yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles, and 143 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Panthers in Week 4, and that included a 47-yard run, the third-longest of his career. He posted 112 total yards and two touchdowns in Week 5 and 119 total yards in Week 6. After the team’s Week 7 bye, he didn’t gain more than 76 total yards in a game until Week 18. Before the bye, he averaged 19.7 touches (and 5.11 YPC) and just 15.1 touches (and 3.55 YPC) after the bye.
Interestingly, Dallas wasn’t utilizing Tony Pollard more–he averaged 12.7 touches before the bye and just 10.4 touches after–so the Cowboys were using their running backs at a lower rate after the bye. Per his head coach, the 27-year-old Elliott is “completely healthy now” and is probably too young to be hitting the wall, making him a nice value in the early fourth round of fantasy drafts. It doesn’t hurt that the Cowboys still have a top 10 offensive line.
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