Fantasy Football: One Running Back to Target in Each Round of Your Draft
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Hopefully, this piece can be another spoke in the wheel.
This close to the start of the regular season, ADP data has pretty well sorted itself out. While every draft is its own entity, we can fairly accurately predict which players will be available at various points throughout the draft. That information is invaluable. It can keep you from reaching for a player when chances are he’ll be available on your next turn, and it can also help you stay grounded if your league's draft gets weird.
Using half-PPR ADP from FantasyPros, let’s look at a running back in each of the first 10 rounds who is worth targeting. Obviously, you won’t be drafting a running back with every pick, but it helps to know who is typically available in each round and which of those backs you should zero in on.
Round 1 -- Jonathan Taylor, Colts
ADP: 1st overall (RB1)
If you have the chance to draft Jonathan Taylor, take it.
Barring injury, Taylor looks like a lock for another big year. According to the simulations run by our Brandon Gdula, Taylor is going to be a top-12 (RB1) back 74.3% of the time. He has a 52.3% chance to finish as a top-five back and 19.5% odds to be the overall RB1. He was the overall RB1 in half-PPR last season by nearly 50 points, and he did that despite not playing more than 60% of the snaps in a game until Week 6.
Taylor was a red-zone hog last year. He accounted for an eye-popping 80.2% of the Indianapolis Colts' red-zone carries in 2021. Not only did that lead all runners, but just two other backs had a red-zone rushing share above 58.1%.
In an offense that could improve a bit with Matt Ryan and the ability to bust a big play on any touch, Taylor checks all the boxes.
Round 2 -- D'Andre Swift, Lions
ADP: 14th overall (RB8)
Through two seasons, D'Andre Swift has teased us with his electric ability; he just hasn't put it all together.
I think it happens in 2022.
He's definitely being drafted like it. Swift was the half-PPR RB19 last season, although he played only 13 games and ranked as the RB13 by points per game. Prior to suffering an injury on Thanksgiving, Swift had averaged 15.8 points per game across his first 10 contests, which would've tied him as the RB7 for the season.
The Detroit Lions might be pretty poor offensively this season, but that's OK -- Swift put up those numbers last year on a bad Lions offense.
We project Swift as the RB8, and I see upside for more if he can stay healthy.
Round 3 -- Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
ADP: 25th overall (RB14)
OK. So I promise this whole piece isn't going to be me just writing up the running back with the highest ADP in each round.
I'm a little confused why Leonard Fournette isn't being taken earlier. He was the half-PPR RB7 last year by both raw points and points per game, taking advantage of 180 carries and 84 targets in a Tom Brady offense. He's slated for a very similar role this year in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that should be elite once more, yet Lenny is coming off the board in the third round as RB14.
Just take him and don't worry about it.
We project Fournette to be the RB12, and I think he's one of the best backs to zero in on once the top-tier stars are off the board.
Round 4 -- Elijah Mitchell, 49ers
ADP: 48th overall (RB22)
Elijah Mitchell was a breakout stud in 2021, finishing as the half-PPR RB12 by points per game, but he played only 11 games and was the overall RB25.
Mitchell definitely got fed when he was out there, racking up 207 carries over those 11 games -- an average of 18.8 per game.
While there might be a little more competition this year with Trey Sermon reportedly having a good camp and Jeff Wilson healthy, Mitchell looked like a top-notch talent as a rookie. And we know this offense can run the ball -- something they might lean on even more with Trey Lance under center.
Our model sees Mitchell's ADP as pretty spot on, projecting him as the RB21. If Mitchell maintains a stranglehold on the early-down gig for the San Francisco 49ers, he has the ability to nuke this ADP.
Round 5 -- A.J. Dillon, Packers
ADP: 52nd overall (RB23)
In the offseason, it can be hard to differentiate coach-speak from real talk, but when Green Bay Packers coach Matt LeFleur said Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon were "1A and 1B" options, it certainly got my attention.
Again, maybe that won't prove to be true once the season starts. But if it's true, Jones -- who has an ADP of RB10 -- is likely being drafted at his ceiling while Dillon is a smashing value.
What the Packers' offense is going to look like sans Davante Adams is one of the big questions going into 2022. There's a chance they rely even more heavily on the ground game after ranking just 17th in pass rate a year ago, and if Dillon is going to see a slight uptick in touches this campaign, he has the tools to smash this ADP.
Plus, there's always the potential for Dillon to become a lock-and-load RB1 if Jones misses time at any point.
There's enough intrigue and upside with Dillon that I think he's well worth taking as a back-end RB2.
Round 6 -- Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
ADP: 65th overall (RB27)
Nearly all the shine has worn off Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the point that the assumed starting running back for an offense everyone knows will be really good is now going as the RB27.
CEH has been a huge disappointment through two seasons -- there's no other way to say it. But the potential for a good role in an elite offense is still there.
While Jerick McKinnon and offseason hype machine Isiah Pacheco figure to see work, too, CEH should see steady volume for a KC offense that needs a second playmaker behind Travis Kelce. CEH's pass-game prowess, something he showed in college, has yet to be fully utilized in the NFL (just 2.4 catches per game). It might get unleashed in 2022.
In standard formats, CEH's ceiling is pretty blah, but in half-PPR and PPR, he's a solid mid-round pick who could be a nice post-hype option.
Round 7 -- Devin Singletary, Bills
ADP: 77th overall (RB29)
It sure feels like one of the running backs from the Buffalo Bills is going to be a smashing value. Earlier this summer, our Brandon Gdula broke down why you should be targeting this backfield.
Admittedly, I don't know. I think you can make a case for either. Ultimately, I side with Singletary.
He was excellent down the stretch in 2021, averaging 9.9 half-PPR points per game over the final four weeks and posting at least 16.1 points in all four of those games. From Week 14 to Week 18, Singletary was the overall RB2. The coaching staff showed a lot of trust in him with not just the volume but the snaps as he was in on at least 76% of the Bills' plays in six of their last seven games, including a 100% snap rate in the Divisional Round loss to KC.
There is an obvious rebuttal here -- if the coaches liked him so much, why did Buffalo draft Cook in the second round? That's a fair question, and if you think Cook eventually becomes the guy in this backfield, you can nab him a little later instead (RB39).
But I like Singletary's chances of retaining a significant role, even if it's just on early downs, and given how good Buffalo's offense should be, there's plenty of value in said role.
Round 8 -- Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots
ADP: 93rd overall (RB36)
I'm more intrigued by Rhamondre Stevenson.
Damien Harris scored 15 rushing touchdowns last year and still didn't finish as an RB1 (top-12) in half-PPR formats, ranking as the RB13 overall. He was the RB16 by points per game. And, again, he scored 15 touchdowns. His upside is capped -- especially in any kind of PPR format -- by his lack of passing-game work.
I say that to say that if you want a New England Patriots back with a shot at true league-winning upside, Stevenson is the guy.
Stevenson was pretty darn good as a rookie with the touches he was given, and his role grew throughout last season, with Stevenson playing at least 46% of the snaps in three of his last four games. He's generated a lot of positive reports out of camp, too.
With Ty Montgomery banged up, Stevenson should -- at worst -- have access to a sizable role in the passing game right away, and there's room for more in an offense that could once again funnel a lot of touches to the running backs.
Round 9 -- Melvin Gordon, Broncos
ADP: 98th overall (RB37)
But I don't think the market has fully adjusted to Gordon being back with the Denver Broncos, either for Williams' ADP (RB13) or for Gordon's.
Gordon was decent last year in his timeshare role, checking in as the RB25 by points per game. He actually scored 0.5 more half-PPR points per game than Williams did. Both were able to produce roughly back-end RB2/high-end RB3 numbers in 2021, and Denver's offense should be better this year with the addition of Russell Wilson.
Unless Williams is going to operate as the clear lead dog, there isn't much downside to taking a shot on Gordon at this point in the draft. There's a chance you get yourself a guy with a quality workload in what should be a good offense, and if something were to happen to Williams, Gordon would immediately vault into the RB1 conversation.
Round 10 -- Dameon Pierce, Texans
ADP: 110th overall (RB40)
I've always been pretty good at talking myself into late-round dart throws. Some people are doctors; this is the skill I was given.
Dameon Pierce feels like a better bet than the usual late-round roll of the dice.
Usually, at this point in the draft, running backs with a fairly clear path to meaningful volume are long gone. Heck, nearly all of the backs I wrote up since Round 3 are splitting work to varying degrees. But Pierce might run away with the lead role in the Houston Texans' backfield.
While coach Lovie Smith refused to name Pierce the team's Week 1 starter, Houston's actions say otherwise. They cut veteran running back Marlon Mack on Tuesday, which leaves Rex Burkhead and Royce Freeman alongside Pierce, and the rookie was left out of the Texans' second preseason game while the team opted to play Mack, Burkhead, and Freeman -- making it seem like Pierce was put on ice for the third preseason game when Houston used a lot of its starters in the first half.
Pierce makes a ton of sense as a late-round dart throw, and even if Houston's offense is awful -- which it probably will be -- solid running back volume is nearly impossible to turn down this late in drafts.