NFL Backfields Shaping Up to Be 2022 Fantasy Football Nightmares

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVAugust 27, 2022

Set Number: X163914 TK1

For years, there has been no more coveted asset in fantasy football than the workhorse running back. Show me a back who averages more than 20 touches each and every week, and I'll show you a first-round fantasy pick.

There's a reason why Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts is the consensus No. 1 overall selection in fantasy drafts in 2022. And why Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers has an ADP of seventh overall at Fantasy Pros.

The problem is that's the list of running backs who averaged 20 or more touches in 17 games last season. There were only four who topped 300: Taylor, Harris, Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals and Antonio Gibson of the Washington Commanders.

The 21st -century NFL is all about limiting the wear and tear on players at the position. There are shared touches and pass-catching specialists who play on third downs.

In 2022, the league is filled with committee backfields.

Now, some of them aren't so bad. Last year, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon of the Green Bay Packers both eclipsed 220 total touches and posted top-25 fantasy numbers in PPR scoring systems. So did Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams of the Denver Broncos. The year before that, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns both cracked the top 12 with at least 200 touches.

But some backfield committees are less productive and more confusing. Some don't have the roles of the players clearly defined. Others lack a clear No. 1 back. And some have both problems—and more.

As a matter of fact, over a quarter of the NFL's teams feature backfield committees that have the potential to become a fantasy nightmare in 2022.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate Fantasy Pros PPR ADP)

Atlanta Falcons: Cordarrelle Patterson (RB29); Tyler Allgeier (RB52); Damien Williams (RB83)

Last season, there wasn't a bigger surprise in fantasy football than Patterson, who topped 200 touches and 1,100 total yards on the way to a top-10 fantasy finish. Per Josh Kendall of The Athletic, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has indicated he'd like to scale Patterson's workload back a bit in 2022, much to Patterson's chagrin.

"Me and Coach, we talk about it a lot, so we'll see," Patterson said. "I just want the ball. Just get me the ball—that's all you have to do. I'll do the rest. You know me. I'll play any position. It's not hard, man."

It's possible that Patterson will again be the clear touch-leader for the Falcons, with the rookie Allgeier taking over the Mike Davis role from last year and Williams, a journeyman veteran, serving as a change-of-pace option. But Patterson is a 31-year-old converted receiver, and it's possible that Allgeier and Williams will take away enough touches on the ground to put a sizable dent in Patterson's upside.

Buffalo Bills: Devin Singletary (RB30); James Cook (RB41); Zack Moss (RB78)

Down the stretch last year, Singletary was a featured back for the Bills. He topped 20 touches in three of the season's last four games and led all running backs in PPR points over that span. But the Bills used a second-round pick on Cook, and while speaking to reporters, the rookie out of Georgia said he's eager to help the team in any way he can.

Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

"Just trying to do whatever to help the team win," Cook said. "That could be running back, receiver; just help the team win."

Cook is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and he reportedly impressed the coaching staff in training camp and shone in Buffalo's second preseason game against Denver. With Cook potentially taking over as a change-of-pace and third-down back and Moss possibly poaching some short-yardage and goal-line looks, Singletary's odds of getting many of those 20-touch games this year aren't great.

Houston Texans: Dameon Pierce (RB40); Marlon Mack (RB50); Rex Burkhead (RB87)

Last year, it was Burkhead who led the Texans with 427 rushing yards. But the team made an effort to improve the running game in the offseason, signing Mack, a five-year veteran, in free agency and drafting Pierce out of Florida in the fourth round.

Pierce was one of the rookie stars of the preseason, including with a six-carry, 37-yard, one-touchdown performance in his team's exhibition finale against the 49ers.

However, Pierce's preseason showing has also sent the fantasy community into a frenzy, with analysts lining up to anoint him as the next surprise star at the position. That is going to send his ADP through the roof.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Pierce never had more than 106 carries in a season in college and has one 15-carry game since high school. Mack is no worldbeater, but he's a capable vet who has been a featured back and has two seasons of 1,000 total yards on his NFL resume. Burkhead is still going to be the primary third-down back. And the Texans were dead last in total offense last year.

Don't overpay for a share of this mess. You'll regret it.

Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB26); Isiah Pacheco (RB57); Jerick McKinnon (RB66)

In 2020, the Chiefs used a first-round pick on Edwards-Helaire, who gained 1,100 total yards and finished as a top-25 PPR option as a rookie. Edwards-Helaire's numbers were way down last year, though, and after the Chiefs drafted Pacheco in 2022, many predicted a committee attack in Kansas City this season. And that's fine with Edwards-Helaire.

"I'm not a selfish guy—far from it," Edwards-Helaire said, per Ed Easton Jr. of Chiefs Wire. "I could care less whoever's getting the ball. But it's like, man, if we get the ball, and we get down the field, and we winning games, like, why complain about it?"

Edwards-Helaire wasn't terrible last year, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But he wasn't great either. With Pacheco impressing in the preseason and McKinnon likely to earn some passing-down work after logging at least 15 touches in all three playoff games last year, this could be a true committee backfield.

That's going to make it difficult for Edwards-Helaire to live up to his ADP.

Miami Dolphins: Chase Edmonds (RB34); Raheem Mostert (RB47); Sony Michel (RB65)

On some level, the Miami backfield is interesting. New head coach Mike McDaniel spent five years as the running game coordinator (2017-20) and offensive coordinator (2021) in San Francisco, and per Matt Barbato of Fantasy Pros, the 49ers rushed for the 11th-most yards in the league over that span. San Francisco finished seventh in rushing in '21, McDaniel's first year as offensive coordinator.

Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

However, glance at the new-look depth chart, and any smiles quickly fade.

The Dolphins added three backs in the offseason, but all have question marks. Edmonds topped 900 total yards last year but has never averaged even 10 carries per game. Mostert has averaged 5.7 yards per carry over his career, but he has also missed 24 games over the past two campaigns. Michel is a two-down grinder who barely topped four yards a pop last year.

Myles Gaskin led the team in rushing a year ago but appears to be buried on the depth chart.

Edmonds looks like the best bet to lead the Dolphins in backfield touches this season, but given his relative price tag and Mostert's injury history, Michel may actually be the best fantasy value.

New England Patriots: Damien Harris (RB27); Rhamondre Stevenson (RB35); Ty Montgomery (RB115)

As you can see from veteran scatback Montgomery's basically nonexistent ADP, this is essentially a two-man race between fourth-year veteran Damien Harris and second-year pro Stevenson. And in truest Bill Belichick fashion, the longtime Patriots head coach told reporters that both could be used in an every-down role in 2022.

"When you play players on every down, then you're looking at a different type of player and a different set of responsibilities," he said. "Some of those are advantages for us. Some of them may not be advantages. Those guys have all improved. But it's a lot. They're looking at all three downs, not really just third down. And so we have to plan accordingly on that."

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Well, that clears things up.

This could be a situation in which both backs become fantasy-relevant a la Jones and Dillon in Green Bay. But it'll also be a backfield that goes with the hot hand, with less defined roles, and that could make trusting either back as a fantasy starter a dicey proposition.

New York Jets: Breece Hall (RB22); Michael Carter (RB38); Tevin Coleman (RB111)

This wasn't supposed to be a committee attack. After making Hall the first running back drafted in 2022 at No. 36 overall, the belief was that the Iowa State product would assume a three-down role in short order. But a funny thing happened on the way to fantasy stardom.

Per Rich Cimini of ESPN, Carter remains the team's lead back, and he told Brian Costello of the New York Post that he won't be giving up the job without a fight.

"I feel like I've shown that every time I get chances, I take advantage of them," Carter said. "I just pray that turns into more opportunities."

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Carter wasn't bad as a rookie. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry, caught 36 passes and topped 900 total yards on the way to a RB29 PPR finish. Even if you believe that Hall is a superior talent who will eventually wrest lead-back duties—a reasonable assumption—that could take awhile. And even once the rookie does, Carter will still have a role.

Hall may be immensely talented with a bright future. But he's a risky RB2 pick in 2022.

Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders (RB28); Kenneth Gainwell (RB48); Boston Scott (RB76)

When he has been healthy, Sanders has been an effective back, averaging over five yards per carry in each of the past two seasons for the Eagles. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen told reporters that Sanders looked more explosive than ever on the practice field this summer.

"We know he's an explosive player, but even in individual, the way he's running, he's running hard, he's taking care of the football, he's hitting it, he's seeing it well," he said. He made a few plays the other day where he jump-cut through the line of scrimmage and hit it. I mean, it's been good to see."

Talent has never been the issue with Sanders. Neither has per-touch productivity. But thanks in large part to nine missed games over the past two years, he has only topped 200 touches in a season once. The Eagles led the league in rushing last year, but they did so with four players logging at least 80 carries, with quarterback Jalen Hurts leading the team in that category.

Don't expect a huge shift in philosophy in 2022.

Washington Commanders: Antonio Gibson (RB24); Brian Robinson Jr. (RB45); J.D. McKissic (RB46)

The Commanders weren't supposed to have a committee attack in 2022. Gibson was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021 and one of just four running backs to log 300 touches. But the fumbling issues that plagued Gibson last season continued into training camp, and while the veteran was working with the reserves and returning kicks, Robinson was impressing offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

"Brian's been great. He's a real serious guy. Football is extremely important to him," Turner told reporters of the rookie. "He takes a lot of pride in being a physical runner, but he can run too. I was happy and impressed with him the way that he ran."

With Robinson potentially stealing early-down work from Gibson, the third-year pro could be in quite the pickle. J.D. McKissic has caught 123 passes over the past two seasons as Washington's third-down back. With that said, Robinson has yet to record a carry in a game that counts, and Gibson may be the most well-rounded running back on the roster.

This backfield could be in flux well into the season. And as the workload share shifts back and forth, fantasy managers will be left scrambling to keep up.


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