Heading into the 2022 fantasy season, rookie running backs continue to have a huge impact in seasonal fantasy leagues. Last year Najee Harris finished as the overall RB3, while Javonte Williams, Elijah Mitchell, and Michael Carter all finished in the top-28.
Generally, running backs are not playing past their thirties and are recycled for newer, younger players. The average starting NFL running back is currently 25.3 years old. For reference, Najee Harris is already 24.2 years old. This means that running backs are more likely than any other offensive skill position to have elite fantasy production as rookies, so let’s dive into the 2022 rookie RB draft class.
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In this article, I’ll look at each rookie running back selected in the top 125 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft. Remember: running backs don’t necessarily need draft capital to have value but it does help them earn playing time.
I’ll use RotoViz’s Prospect Box Score Scout to generate similar comparable players for each running back. If you don’t have a subscription to RotoViz, we highly recommend checking them out.
Breece Hall, New York Jets
No running backs were selected in the first round in 2022, as the NFL has begun to hear the message from the “running backs don’t matter” movement. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any great prospects: consistently the first pick in summer rookie drafts, Breece Hall combines production and athleticism.
As a true freshman, Hall achieved a stunning 83 percent running back dominator rating. He continued to dominate as a rusher and receiver throughout his college career, recording at least 23 receptions in each college season.
At 217 lbs., he ran an excellent 4.39 forty at the NFL combine and showed impressive leaping ability. While he didn’t test his agility, his tested athleticism was excellent.
As a prospect, Hall looks stunningly similar to Dalvin Cook. The two have similar size, athleticism, production, and draft position. The other favorable comps include Cam Akers, LeSean McCoy, and Rashard Mendenhall.
Sim refers to the sim score for how similar each comparable player is. RuYPG is the average per game for each rusher’s career. Recs is the per-game receptions for each player’s career. RuYds and Rec represent each player’s final season. RuYMS refers to the rushing yards market share. TYms refers to each player’s market share of total yards.
While Michael Carter was an intriguing fourth-round selection, it’s hard to imagine him keeping Hall’s dynamic ability off the field. The question is can Hall surpass Carter in all phases and monopolize the high-value touches in the passing game? If so, there is no reason he can’t be an RB1 as a rookie. He’s far and away the top 2022 rookie running back.
Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks
Kenneth Walker was heavily involved in collegiate offenses as soon as he stepped on a college field. In his COVID-shortened sophomore season, he achieved a 59 percent dominator rating. Walker made a leap after transferring to Michigan State as a junior, finishing with impressive counting stats and a large portion of his team’s running back production. Throughout his college career, he has a stunning 99th percentile running back dominator rating.
As an athlete, Walker combines a solid 211-lb. frame with 4.38 speed. Walker tested with an average 51st percentile burst score and did not participate in agility drills. The main question surrounding Walker is his potential impact (or lack thereof) as a receiver.
|100||Kenneth Walker III||41||90.1||0.61||1635||13||0.59||0.23||4.38||211|
Interestingly, Walker is the highest draft pick on this list outside of David Wilson. The closest comp, Jamaal Charles, provides plenty of giddy optimism. The next two (Wilson and Derrius Guice) were excellent prospects who unfortunately reside as some of the big “what if’s” in the minds of fantasy owners.
Landing on the Seahawks isn’t excellent, but as indicated by their invested draft capital, they clearly value Walker’s talent. He’ll look to supplant former first-round pick Rashaad Penny and simultaneously hold off Chris Carson’s comeback bid.
James Cook, Buffalo Bills
The younger brother of Dalvin Cook, James Cook was selected 63rd overall by the Buffalo Bills. A four-year player at Georgia, we would’ve preferred to see Cook produce more early in his college career.
During his first two college seasons, he rushed just 72 times in 23 games. His playing time was boosted as a junior when Cook finished with a 55 percent running back dominator rating. He was frequently involved in the passing game, accounting for 12 percent of Georgia’s receiving yards. As a senior, he lost some of the receiving production but had his best collegiate rushing season.
Weighing in a 199-lbs, Cook isn’t the biggest running back. His 4.42 forty-time and 66th percentile college target share provide optimism that he can be a solid satellite back. His comparable players paint a similar picture.
Clearly, the comparable players are highlighted by their speed and pass-catching ability. None of these backs were workhorses for their entire college career. Interestingly, Cook has one of the lowest rush yard market shares on this list.
Regardless of his college production, the Bills liked Cook enough to invest end-of-second-round draft capital in him. Look for the Bills to feature him as a receiver out of the backfield, while Devin Singletary handles more of the rushing attempts.
Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rachaad White began his college career at tiny Mt. San Antonio. After dominating for one season, he transferred to Arizona State. As a 21-year-old sophomore, White had a 71 percent running back dominator rating in his COVID-shortened 2020 season. Last season, he excelled as a workhorse finishing with an 82 percent dominator rating, finishing with 183 rushes and 43 receptions in 11 games.
While he’s already 23.4 years old, White is an excellent athlete. He tested with an 84th percentile speed score and 87th percentile burst score.
White reminds me of the Buccaneers’ selection of Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Vaughn, like White, is an older prospect that combines workhorse ability in the run and pass game, with above-average athleticism.
|28||Duke Johnson Jr.||77||106.64||2.09||1652||38||0.6||0.29||4.54||207|
White’s comparable players combine several NFL hits and misses. He’s obviously a solid NFL depth but can White be an above-average NFL player? Can he become Tom Brady’s trusted pass-catcher as a rookie running back? White has stated his desire to be the starting running back, but this is clearly Leonard Fournette’s job until further notice.
Tyrion Davis-Price, San Francisco 49ers
Being selected as a running back for Kyle Shanahan is always noteworthy. Just last year, we saw Trey Sermon disappoint as a third-round pick while Elijah Mitchell was a fantasy afterthought who became a difference-maker as a sixth-round pick in the NFL draft.
Tyrion Davis-Price was used mainly as a rusher as a freshman and while his role grew significantly as a sophomore, his true breakout was as a junior. Davis-Price had a 72 percent running back dominator rating, being relied on heavily as a rusher. His college production indicates that he’s more likely to be used as an early-down rusher than as a receiver.
At 211 lbs., Davis-Price ran an impressive 4.48 forty. His speed/size combination is good for a 90th percentile speed score. In the agility drills, Davis-Price tested at just 23rd percentile for a running back.
A favorable outcome for Davis-Price, a la Miles Sanders or Damien Harris, would be the undisputed early-down rusher. Obviously, Elijah Mitchell will make that very difficult for Davis-Price. However, this pick does seem to close the book for Trey Sermon – meaning if Mitchell were to go down, Davis-Price could have a huge impact.
ESPN’s Mark Wagoner noted the 49ers “envision [rookie RB Tyrion Davis-Price] emerging as a bigger, more powerful complement” to Mitchell as the season progresses.
Brian Robinson, Washington Commanders
We generally like prospects who break out early – unfortunately, Brian Robinson didn’t top 96 carries until his fifth season at Alabama. As a 22-year-old, he dominated with over 1,600 total yards.
Robinson, like Davis-Price, profiles as an early-down grinder. At 225 lbs., Robinson has an 85th percentile speed score. However, his burst score (15th percentile) and ability score (7th percentile) leave something to be desired.
|100||Brian Robinson Jr.||98||50.07||0.96||1343||35||0.28||0.11||4.53||225|
Damien Harris looks like the early-down grinder high-end outcome – the rest unfortunately look like misses.
Behind Antonio Gibson, Robinson will have trouble getting on the field. Undrafted Jaret Patterson was exciting for analysts who love production, but the selection of Robinson paints an ugly picture for his Washington future. Throw in J.D. McKissic to the mix, and this backfield looks like a fantasy football mess.
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
A four-year played at Florida, Dameon Pierce hovered around a 20 percent running back dominator rating during his first two seasons. He broke out as a junior hitting a 59 percent running back dominator rating. In his four seasons, Pierce wasn’t heavily used as a rusher or receiver but was involved in both facets.
Pierce’s 218 lb. frame gives him a solid 69th percentile speed score. His 4th percentile agility score is concerning for his prospects as an impact receiver.
Like Harris, Pierce was lightly used in college and is a bigger back with decent speed. Unfortunately for Pierce, Harris was lightly used because he was playing with Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Najee Harris, and Josh Jacobs. Pierce does not have the same excuse.
Pierce’s optimism should arise from the Texans’ paltry depth chart. Facing competition from a 26-year-old Marlon Mack coming off an Achilles tear and a 32-year-old Rex Burkhead, Pierce is a candidate to become this year’s Cordarrelle Patterson as a rookie running back.
Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders
Following the departure of D’Andre Swift, Zamir White was used as the early-down grinder while James Cook played on passing downs. White wasn’t overly productive, maxing out at a running back dominator rating of 31 percent as a 21-year-old sophomore.
At 6’0” 214 lbs., White ran a 4.4 forty – good for a 95th percentile speed score.
|65||Roy Helu Jr.||105||70.92||1.13||1245||5||0.46||0.22||4.4||219|
You can quickly see how hard it is for a 4th round rookie running back to have success in the NFL. With a profile that likely pigeonholes him to contributing solely on the ground, White will be forced to compete with Josh Jacobs for early-down work.
Isaiah Spiller, Los Angeles Chargers
One thing we love is young players excelling. As an 18-year-old true freshman, Isaiah Spiller had an excellent 51 percent running back dominator rating. He continued as a workhorse as a sophomore before ceding work to Devon Achane as a junior. As a receiver, Spiller had at least 20 catches in each of his three collegiate seasons.
For the reasons mentioned above, Spiller was an exciting prospect prior to a disastrous NFL combine. He ran a 20th percentile forty time and leaped to a mere 24th percentile burst score.
This is an interesting group of heavily used college players who were selected outside of the first 120 picks. A player like Marlon Mack represents the high outcome hit, while there are several misses.
The Chargers and Austin Ekeler himself have frequently discussed limiting his touches. While Joshua Kelley is likely phased out, Spiller will have the chance to siphon some of Ekeler’s touches.
The Athletic’s Daniel Popper considers rookie Isaiah Spiller the “front-runner for the No. 2 running back job” heading into training camp.