With the 2022 NFL Draft just weeks away, March and April, to me, is the most exciting time period on the dynasty fantasy football league calendar. That's because we are entering the start of the fantasy football rookie draft season. I have always found having a solid read on the pre-draft landscape for the relevant fantasy skill position players to be helpful, especially when it comes to my fantasy football player rankings. Of course, NFL draft capital is a huge part of the equation when it comes to projecting players at the next level but having a sense of what a rookie’s projection is, exclusive of that, is invaluable in identifying undervalued players, avoiding over-drafted landmines, and remembering to balance both talent and opportunity when drafting in May and June.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing overviews of Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends for dynasty fantasy football purposes. Moreso than any other position, draft capital is indicative of the opportunity a running back will receive at the next level, and therefore this list (outside of the top) will be very fluid in the coming weeks. While it’s not specific to running backs, I should mention that the industry, in general, has raised eyebrows at what seem like inflated speed numbers from the Combine this year. That being said, we have no choice but to take them as legitimate for the time being, so let’s dive in.
2022 NFL Draft Top 10 Dynasty League Rookie Running Backs
Breece Hall, Iowa State
(5’11”, 217 lbs, DOB 5/31/01, Age 20)
You would be hard-pressed to find a fantasy analyst who doesn’t have Hall as their top running back in this year’s class, and justifiably so. He was a model of all-around consistency over his 3 years as a Cyclone, is a 20-year-old early declare, and he tore up the NFL combine, giving him the athletic profile to match his college production. In the last two seasons as a starter, he averaged 266 carries for 1,522 yards (5.7 YPC) and 20 touchdowns to go with 29.5 receptions for 241 yards and an additional 2 scores per year. His proven track record in the receiving (79 career catches) and pass blocking departments along with his bell-cow size and elite athleticism make him a relatively seamless NFL projection.
I do not consider him to be quite the same caliber of player as Jonathan Taylor, but it’s easy to see why some people are drawing the comparison after Hall ran a 4.39 at the NFL Combine to go with the highest vertical jump (40”) and second-longest broad jump (10’6”) among running backs. His film shows a player who has strong vision, an ability to make defenders miss in open space, strength through contact, and the long speed to turn short gains into home runs. All this to say that he has a well-rounded game that should not be scheme dependent; he will thrive wherever he lands. In non-Superflex leagues, he is the early favorite to be the consensus 1.01 in rookie drafts.
Kenneth Walker, Michigan State
(5’9”, 211 lbs DOB 10/20/00, Age 21)
After spending his freshman and sophomore years splitting time at Wake Forest, Walker burst onto the college football scene this year after a transfer to MSU blossomed into an award-winning season with 1,636 yards on 263 carries (6.2 YPC) and 18 touchdowns. A decisive downhill runner with little wasted movement, he would fit great in a one-cut zone blocking scheme as a home run hitter with a confirmed 4.38 speed at the NFL Combine. If there’s any knock on his running style, it is that he is not super agile laterally, but his ability to break nearly every arm tackle he encountered in college meant he didn’t need to juke defenders out of their shoes. I’m confident his functional strength in that department should translate to the NFL, but it is something to consider when projecting him to the next level.
What separates him from Hall in terms of his collegiate profile is that he only had 19 career catches. Coming off the field on third down means his pass blocking is relatively unproven. He looks smooth when he does catch the ball, though. The increase to 13 catches as a Spartan this past season after 3 each of the previous two is a step in the right direction, but there’s no doubt we’d like more production in the receiving game from a dynasty first-rounder that we hope becomes a three-down back in the NFL. His running ability, goal-line prowess, and expected draft capital should buy him the time to develop that area of his game and prove that his lack of passing game production was a result of the schemes he played in.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
(6’0”, 217 lbs, DOB 8/9/01, Age 20)
Spiller does not have what you would consider a “dominant” season in college, but his all-around game allowed him to exceed 900 yards rushing and 20 receptions in all three of his seasons as an Aggie. Versatility is the first word that comes to mind when describing Spiller. He came in right away as a true freshman and led the team in rushing every year he was in College Station. He put up three nearly identical statistical seasons that averaged 180 carries for 997 yards (5.5 YPC) and 8 touchdowns on the ground to go with 25 catches for 195 receiving yards before declaring for the draft early as a young 20-year-old. He did not run at the NFL Combine, and his Pro Day performance was underwhelming with a 4.63 40 and a 9’6” broad jump.
While Spiller has size that would indicate he could physically handle a three-down workload, it’s interesting that he never saw more than 188 carries in a season at Texas A&M despite not playing with a single fellow running back who has been drafted to the NFL. I’m not going to hold this too much against him as he was the clear lead back since he arrived on campus (never less than 174 carries), and the carry totals may have been more indicative of the scheme he played in than his ability to handle a larger volume of work. The athletic measurables from his Pro Day are certainly a concern, but Spiller has been one of the best running backs in the most athletic conference in the country since he was 18 years old. He does not have the upside of Hall or Walker, but will no doubt be a consistent contributor at the next level.
Rachaad White, Arizona State
(6’0”, 214 lbs, DOB 1/2/99, Age 23)
The tier break after Spiller is where these prospects’ dynasty value becomes increasingly dependent on landing spot and draft capital for a variety of reasons. To me, the worthiest of these dart throws is Rachaad White. White got a late start to his Division 1 career as a JUCO transfer, but showed insane efficiency in his first year at Arizona State in 2020, averaging over 11 yards per touch and scoring 6 touchdowns on his 42 carries and 8 receptions. That explosiveness carried over into his 2021 campaign, where he racked up 1,006 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 182 carries (5.5 YPC) and tacked on 43 receptions for another 456 yards and 1 score. Those receiving numbers are particularly impressive and in a weak ASU offense represent a dominator rating some good receivers would be jealous of.
He followed that up with a strong showing at the NFL Combine which confirmed his game-breaking athleticism: 4.48 second 40, 38” vertical, and 10’5” broad jump while measuring in with feature back body size. White’s film shows a player who takes full advantage of his physical abilities by excelling at making the first defender miss, with a penchant for hurdling tackles. He’s extremely shifty for a player of his size and rarely gets taken down in a 1-on-1 situation. His red flags are obvious: his status as a JUCO transfer means he only has one full season of production, and he is among the older players in this draft class regardless of position. Those things will not matter as much if a team invests Day 2 draft capital in him, which seems likely. Beyond Hall, he may have the highest potential to be a true three-down back in this class.
Zamir White, Georgia
(6’0”, 214 lbs, DOB 9/18/99, Age 22)
A pair of Georgia running backs will be a cause for debate in dynasty rookie drafts this year, but I lean towards (Zamir) White, who led RB U in rushing the last two seasons amidst stiff competition for touches. In those two seasons, he totaled 304 carries for 1,635 yards (5.4 YPC) and 22 touchdowns, tacking on 15 catches for 112 receiving yards. He has feature back size, yet at the NFL Combine posted top-notch athletic measurables regardless of BMI: 4.40 40-yard dash and the longest broad jump (10’8”) among his position group. He clearly possesses all the physical ability needed to be a productive NFL running back, but his film sometimes leaves something to be desired in terms of tackle-breaking and home run hitting. He only had two runs of more than 25 yards among his 160 carries in the 2021 season.
Two other potential dings on White are his age and his lack of production in the receiving game. Age-adjusted production is generally more important for wide receivers, and it’s hard to look past a running backs’ first contract at the pro level in terms of projecting dynasty value. Similar to the other White, if he lands in the right spot with enough draft capital, I’m not going to worry about how old he’ll be at the end of his rookie deal. His receiving numbers can be explained by sharing the backfield with an above-average pass catcher while playing in a scheme that historically does not give running backs a ton of targets. Context is important with White, as he was the top-rated high school running back in the country before tearing his ACL his freshman year. I’ll gamble on that sort of pedigree in the second round of rookie drafts.
James Cook, Georgia
(5’11”, 199 lbs, DOB 9/25/99, Age 22)
While White served as the Bulldog’s early-down thumper, Cook was his change of pace counterpart who excelled in the receiving game. He totaled 67 receptions for 730 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air in his college career, which should put a bullseye on his back for full-PPR leaguers. Playing in Georgia’s crowded backfield, 2021 was Cook’s only season eclipsing the 100-carry mark (113 for 728 yards and 7 touchdowns), but he has always been hyper-efficient when he has gotten the rock. He averaged over 6.5 YPC on his 230 college carries, showing eerily similar home run hitting ability to his older brother Dalvin. Of course, Dalvin weighs nearly 20 lbs more than James, which is part of the reason it’s tough to project the younger Cook as a true feature back in the NFL.
That being said- it’s clear that Cook possesses the ability to be more than just a change of pace back. I can see him being a lead back in a committee, but it would have to be in the right scheme that properly utilizes his multifaceted skill set. As the flip side of the Zamir White coin, it’s hard to hold his lack of carry volume against him too much having played with such talented counterparts in the same backfield. Like White, he will turn 23 early into his rookie season, which is something worth noting but not over-adjusting for. Cook’s explosiveness on tape was confirmed in his showing at the Combine, posting a 4.42 40 and 10’4” broad jump. He could be a fantasy factor immediately if he lands in a pass-happy offense.
Jerome Ford, Cincinnati
(5’10”, 210 lbs, DOB 9/12/99, Age 22)
The path to playing time in college was a trying one for Ford, who transferred to Cincinnati after seeing just 33 touches combined his freshman and sophomore seasons in Alabama’s beyond crowded backfield of future NFL starters such as Damien Harris, Najee Harris, and Josh Jacobs. He then shared the Bearcats’ backfield in 2020 with another future NFL draft pick in Gerrid Doaks, still managing to put up an efficient 534 total yards and 8 touchdowns on just 81 touches. Set free of fierce backfield competition in 2021, Ford racked up 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns on 215 carries (6.1 YPC) and 21 receptions for 220 yards (10.5 YPR!) and another score, again showing excellent per touch efficiency.
While clearly not as athletically gifted as the players preceding him here (31” vertical, 9’10” broad jump), he still put up a solid 4.46 40-yard dash at the Combine, showing that his long speed from college was not a fluke resulting from his lesser competition in the AAC (in case his 79-yard touchdown run against Georgia in the 2021 Peach Bowl wasn’t enough proof). I would also say that, even though things didn’t pan out for him at Alabama, getting recruited there to play running back is something worth noting in his favor. He may not have one dominant trait, but Ford’s all-around skill set makes him an intriguing prospect capable of contributing on all three downs. He is talented enough to take advantage of an opportunity if it is given to him, but his landing spot will heavily factor into his post-draft dynasty value.
Keontay Ingram, Southern California
(6’0”, 221 lbs, DOB 10/26/99, Age 22)
Similar to Ford, Ingram has had a windy path to touches as a result of backfield competition. After accumulating 1,561 yards and 10 touchdowns on 286 carries (5.5 YPC) with 412 yards and 6 additional scores on 56 receptions in his true freshman and sophomore seasons at Texas, he was forced to cede carries to a generational talent in Bijan Robinson, who is destined to be at the top of the 2023 version of this article. A transfer for his senior year to USC came with renewed opportunity, and he took advantage by leading the Trojans backfield with 156 carries for 911 yards (5.8 YPC) and 5 touchdowns to go with 22 catches for 156 yards.
While his athleticism does not jump off the page when watching his tape, it’s important to remember his body size is larger than your average back. His NFL combine numbers (4.53 40, 34.5” vertical, 10’2” broad) are solid when BMI is considered, and his college production profile at big-time schools cannot be denied. For a player of his plus physical stature, his career receiving line of 89 for 671 yards and 6 scores is particularly noteworthy. This is exactly the type of back worth rolling the dice on in the third round of dynasty rookie drafts when the well begins to dry up and we are swinging for upside.
Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
(5’9”, 194 lbs, DOB 8/26/00, Age 21)
This is admittedly lower than I would have had Williams on this list if you asked me back at the end of the college football season. The draft process has not been kind to the Fighting Irish star after he put up a 4.65 40-yard dash, 32” vertical, and 9’8” broad jump at the NFL combine despite measuring in at well below feature back size. He improved on his 40-time with a 4.54 at the friendly confines of Notre Dame’s Pro Day, but concerns about his athleticism given his stature remain.
What isn’t in question is his production the last two seasons, where he racked up 2,127 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground (5.1 YPC) to go with 77 receptions for 672 yards and 4 additional touchdowns through the air. I could be overreacting to his pre-draft process as I could easily see him proving me wrong given his college production, but it’s hard to put too much faith into a smaller, below-average athlete at a position that demands so much physicality in the NFL. His receiving game chops still make him a worthwhile gamble in PPR leagues.
Pierre Strong, South Dakota State
(5’11”, 207 lbs, DOB 12/10/98, Age 23)
Strong is as much of a projection as any back this year as an FCS running back with only one career game vs. Power 5 competition, but his production profile and NFL Combine performance have put him firmly on the dynasty radar. After a 2021 season where he put up 1,673 yards and 18 touchdowns on 240 carries (7.0 YPC!) to go with 22 receptions for 150 yards, Strong lit up the NFL combine with a 4.37 40-yards dash, 36” vertical and 10’4” broad.
That explosive athleticism is evident when watching his tape. He had at least one 25-yard run in 12 of his 15 games this past season. In addition to long speed, he displayed strong lateral agility and an ability to make defenders miss in space. Again, this production needs to be taken with a grain of salt given the competition, but in terms of running back dart throws in the third or fourth round of rookie drafts, you could do much worse than Strong. The hope is that he is more like Chase Edmonds than other FCS RB darlings that have busted out in the past.
Keep on the Radar
Brian Robinson, Alabama
Dameon Pierce, Florida
Tyrion Davis-Price, LSU
Hasaan Haskins, Michigan
Isaih Pachecho, Rutgers
Ty Chandler, North Carolina
Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
Master Teague, Ohio State
Tyler Goodson, Iowa
Kevin Harris, South Carolina
Tyler Allegeier, BYU
Tyler Badie, Missouri
Abram Smith, Baylor
Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
Sincere McCormick, UTSA