This offseason has been a wild ride for the wide receiver position so far with some heavy-hitters switching teams. If you need to catch up on those moves, you can check out Most Impactful Wide Receiver Trades and Acquisitions.
Compared to the receivers, the changes for running backs have been downright vanilla. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any impactful changes, just not on such a colossal scale. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at these five players and how they will impact fantasy in 2022.
Dolphins Shop in Bulk for Running Backs
The Miami Dolphins have kicked started a slew of changes heading into the 2022 season including the hire of their new head coach Mike McDaniel. As the former offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, McDaniel is the brains behind his former team's rushing success.
A part of that run game included wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who racked up 365 yards on 59 rush attempts for 8 touchdowns in addition to his 77 receptions, 1,405 yards, and six receiving touchdowns last season. McDaniel and Samuel shared a unique relationship that allowed the receiver to create his breakout season in 2021 as detailed in this 49ers Webzone piece. McDaniel’s creativity often focuses on pieces and concepts that opposing defenses have never seen, a style that will likely continue in Miami.
You may know that the Dolphins made a blockbuster move and acquired Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs. (If you didn’t know that… surprise!) However, they didn’t stop there. Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel are all new prospects in the running back room this season as well. Don’t forget that Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed are still on the roster.
We will certainly see creativity in the Dolphins’ run game with all of the backs if they make it through camp. However, Edmonds stands out to me as a late-round steal in PPR leagues. Edmonds amassed 43 receptions on 53 targets for 311 through only 12 games with Arizona last season. He was on pace for 75 targets, 60 receptions, and 440 yards. That would have placed him fifth-highest in targets, receptions, and yards among running backs from last year.
If Edmonds can stay healthy, he has enough chops as a pass-catcher to become a Samuel-lite type of player that McDaniel can utilize in his offense. With a sub-par offensive line and a field stretcher like Hill, Edmonds can be moved around the offense to alleviate poor pass protection and take advantage of defenses busy with Hill.
Unlike Samuel who started as a wide receiver and learned running back routes, Edmonds could be building on a role he knows already. It is tempting to think of Hill becoming the next WR/RB option, but putting $120 million in bodily harm in the punishing role of a running back may not be the best option.
On the flip side, I would be remiss not to mention the boost that James Conner gets with Edmonds’ departure. Durability for both players will be an issue, but volume is king in fantasy football. Conner should get the bulk of Edomnds’ 116 rush attempts that he vacates heading into next season.
Pump the Brakes on the Second-Year Breakout
Alas. Let’s pour one out for Javonte Williams of the Denver Broncos.
Fantasy managers were thrilled with the prospect of Williams becoming the workhorse back in Denver last season once Melvin Gordon faded away into the sunset. We waited… and waited… and then gave up. Gordon wasn’t going anywhere and the Broncos weren’t going to let him, even if he had tried.
As far as a shared backfield goes, it doesn’t get more textbook than Gordon and Williams.
There was still a glimmer of hope early in the offseason that Williams would explode in RB1 territory for 2022. After all, Gordon was entering his seventh year in the league and was a free agent. Surely the team would move on from the veteran in favor of the youth. Nope. Gordon signed a one-year deal to stay in Denver for a cool $2.5 million. All hopes of Williams becoming the every-down back for the Broncos will have to wait another year.
That doesn’t mean that Williams' fantasy options are blown out of the water. Even in a split backfield, Williams finished his rookie campaign as the RB17 with 204.9 points in PPR and averaged 12.1 points a game. He is a solid RB2/Flex option who will be seeing a significantly better quarterback play behind him. With added involvement in the passing game, Williams should see production in 2022 even with Gordon back in the fold. Gordon finished 2021 as the RB21 with 195.2 points and averaged 12.2 a game.
Seahawks Address Run Game
Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker enters the 2022 season in a seemingly crowded backfield. The Seahawks have Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, and Travis Homer from last season but will be without Alex Collins.
I say “seemingly crowded” because the team has had a murky history with their running back usage. Carson and Penny have yet to play a full season. It was Collins who played the most games for the Seahawks (11) with the second-highest rush attempts (108) last year behind Penny (119). Not only has Carson struggled to stay on the field in the past, but there are serious concerns with his neck issue. He underwent a successful neck surgery at the end of last year, but that's where the good news tapers off. Reports have been pessimistic about his recovery and his status for the 2022 season is up in the air.
Walker finished his collegiate career as the running back stud for the Spartans with 263 rushes for 1,636 yards, 18 touchdowns, and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. If Walker can remain healthy, it is distinctly within the realm of possibility that Carson and Penny will take a backseat to the rookie in 2022.
How fast that will happen remains to be seen, and we should all learn a lesson from our excitement over Williams that I described earlier. Head coach Pete Carroll tends to rotate his backs around, which doesn’t bode well for fantasy consistency. Plus, there is the added issue of losing Russell Wilson and gaining Drew Lock. As a graduate of the University of Missouri, I desperately want Lock to succeed in the NFL. I really do. I am also not blind to the product he puts out on the field. Playing from behind could be a big problem for the run-game in Seattle, who may be seeing negative game scripts on a regular basis.
However, if Carson misses time or is limited, Walker could find himself playing a larger role in the offense.
Did the Jets Lose Faith in Carter?
Hall posted back-to-back seasons of 1,400-plus rushing yards and 20-plus touchdowns during his time at Iowa State. He was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and in 2021, led the conference in rushing touchdowns, touchdowns from scrimmage, and plays from scrimmage. He also led the NCAA in rush attempts in 2020. He doesn’t shy away from a solid day’s workload.
This is very promising for the young running back’s future in New York, especially with all of the added pieces to the offensive line. However, it may spell disaster for Carter, who will take a back seat if Hall can continue his collegiate campaign in the NFL.
With a second-year quarterback in Zach Wilson, there is a world where both Hall and Carter can be successful. Hall can be the ground-and-pound back while Carter and even Ty Johnson saw targets in the passing game with 55 each last year. If Carter can carve out a role for himself in the passing game and stay on the field with Hall, he could still be viable in PPR formats.
Bills’ Run Game Still Unclear
There is a lot to be excited about with James Cook’s new home with the Buffalo Bills. There are also red flags that fantasy managers need to keep in mind before believing he will be the next elite back like his brother Dalvin Cook.
With Josh Allen, the Bills are a pass-heavy team ranking fifth in attempts, ninth in passing yards, and seventh in passing touchdowns. Their run game is nothing to sneeze at either ranking 13th in rush attempts, sixth in rushing yards, seventh in rushing touchdowns, and sixth in yards per attempt. This should be a pass-catching running back’s dream landing spot, even if said back needs a little time to mature in the NFL.
In 2021, Devin Singletary emerged as the leading rusher in Buffalo with 188 attempts, 870 yards, and seven touchdowns with 4.6 yards per attempt. Zack Moss and Matt Breida (who played in 13 and six games respectively) combined for 122 attempts, 470 yards, and five touchdowns. Allen alone had 122 attempts with 763 yards and six rushing touchdowns, making him the second-highest rusher on the team. Furthermore, Singletary ranked 19th in attempts, 16th in yards, 15th in touchdowns, and 39th in yards per attempt among running backs in the NFL last season with four games as an RB10 or better.
Even though the Bills rank high in the passing and run game, the offense virtually “runs” through Allen through the air and on the ground. The idea of Cook becoming an outlet for the dynamic quarterback is intriguing, but not enough for me to get overly excited about it and spend up in my drafts. I have a running mantra about the Bills… never draft a Bills’ running back. Just don’t do it. Save yourself the headache.
There is a possibility that Cook may become the favored back in Buffalo, but he has an uphill battle ahead of him. He is known for his pass-catching chops, but the Bills targeted running backs only 15% of the time last season. That is third-lowest in the NFL. Cook’s addition to the Bills only makes the backfield even murkier and may wash out any stock that Singletary had heading into the 2022 season.