Running backs ranked 40 thru 80 is money time for the fantasy managers looking to employ the RB Zero, RB Hero, or Wide Net approach to the position. If you can hit on a player or two from this group, they can improve your fantasy fortunes. Knowledge is the key. Not all third-string running backs are created equal. Good fantasy managers will know which backups are high-upside youngsters and which backups are aging veterans in the din of their NFL career. I recommend readers pay less attention to the rank of the players in this group, and more to their story, as the rankings from this group can be capricious. Pick out a dozen or so that you like, and make a point to get some of them.
41. Jerick McKinnon | 29 | Chiefs – If you didn’t notice, McKinnon started the AFC Championship game and put up 95 total yards on 15 touches. Clyde Edwards Helaire got some carries in the game and ran angry (getting benched will do that to a guy), but Jerick started the game and finished it getting most of the 4th quarter snaps. The former 3rd round pick from Georgia Southern came into the NFL with an incredible SPARQ score of 147.5. SPARQ is a metric developed by Nike to apply a single composite score to a player’s athleticism. To provide some context, NFL skill players average a 110 SPARQ score, McKinnon’s score places him in an elite territory with players like Calvin Johnson and Vernon Davis. This is also a great opportunity to remind readers of Jerick’s NFL Combine numbers 11-foot broad jump, 40.5-inch vertical jump,4.41 forty-yard dash, and a bewildering 32 bench reps. The first of many free agents to be in 2022 on this list, I wouldn’t be shocked if Jerick wound up back in Kansas City for another run.
42. Khalil Herbert | 23 | Bears – 6th round pick in 2021. Herbert is my kind of running back. A thick dude who can run fast with a low center of gravity and great balance. I also love the dudes who bet on themselves. After being relegated to a runningback rotation at Kansas, he transferred to Virginia Tech and went off. VA Tech allowed him to be the RB1 and he proved to be one tough turkey. Herbert was a primary playmaker for the Hokies who set the school record for all-purpose yards (358) in a single game. Khalil measures in at 5,9′ 215 lbs. I like to call these guys “Porkchop backs” meaty, tough, a little bit of fat but that don’t hurt nuthin’ because he still has delicious moves.
43. D’Onta Foreman | 25 | Titans – The big back from Texas just refuses to go away. After a short stint on the practice squad in Atlanta, D’Onta signed with the in 2021 and played well when called upon rushing for 566 yards at 4.3 yards per rush and three TDs. Foreman is an enormous running back checking in at 6′, 1″ 240lbs. A free agent in 2022, the burly back will likely have plenty of suitors.
44. Sony Michel | 26 | Rams – Sony has been on his game since joining the Rams. The former Georgia Bulldog has run hard and made plays in 2021 by rushing for 840 yards at 4.1 yards per attempt. A free agent in 2022, it’s anyone’s guess who will be Michel’s belle next year, but he should get a chance somewhere.
45. Myles Gaskin | 24 | Dolphins – More attempts did not produce better results for Gaskin and the Dolphins in 2021. It is safe to assume the Dolphins will be in the market for a new running back this offseason. He’s under contract with the Dolphins in 2022, so even if Miami brings in new talents at RB, Gaskin could maintain a role in the offense. Don’t throw him out yet, but don’t bend over backward to keep the former 7th round pick on your roster either.
46. Chuba Hubbard | 22 | Panthers – Got a long look in 2021 filling in for the injured Christian McCaffrey and collected 650 total yards and 6 TDs on 200 touches. That’s not bad for a rookie, but it’s not good either. Carolina took notice and got mid-season acquisition Ameer Abdullah more involved in the offseason down the stretch. Chuba’s checkered 2021 left a lot to be desired. He is still under contract with Carolina, so the Panthers will see what Hubbard has left in the cupboard.
47. Rex Burkhead | 32 |Texans – Rex does many things well on the football field. The former Patriot and Bengal is a good receiver and he can make a defender miss in the open field. The former Husker is a strong runner who can power through players in short-yardage situations. Burkhead took over as Houston starting running back in week 11 and carried the ball 103 times in the final seven weeks of the season. The 32-year-old veteran back signed a one year with the Texans and appears to be the prohibitive favorite to win the starting role in Houston.
48. Jamaal Williams | 26 | Lions – He’s big and he’s solid in the passing game, so he should continue to have a role with the Lions. The BYU product is not a game-breaker, but he could provide good fantasy production if pressed into a lead role.
49. Nyheim Hines | 25 | Colts – The 5′, 9″ 1955lbs scatback Hines is an excellent complement to Jonathan Taylor’s powerful running style. He catches the ball well and is dynamic in the open field. The Colts just signed the former Miami Hurricane to a three-year deal in September, so you would hope they have a plan for him. 12+ touches per game would be a great place to start.
50. Kenneth Gainwell | 22 | Eagles – The Green Mamba is an elusive and slender snake that ambushes its prey with a highly venomous bite that causes paralysis; and I think that description fits Kenneth Gainewell, too. The biting is metaphorical in Keneth’s case representing a breakaway play.
51. J.D. McKissic | 28 | Football Team – Perhaps the best 3rd down back in football. McKissic has accrued 157 receptions over the past three seasons. When healthy J.D. can provide consistent solid production, probably around 8-10 points per week, which is great for the 51st RB.
52. Ameer Abdullah | 28 | Panthers – Double-A looks recharged with Carolina. Ameer fits in well with the Matt Rhule offense and he’s been much better with the Panthers than he was with the Vikings. Abdullah is a former second-round pick who has shown glimpses of playmaking ability in the past. The former Nebraska Cornhusker became more involved in the offense as the season progressed and received 13 carries and 13 receptions in the final two games of the 2021 season.
53. Trey Sermon | 23 | 49ers – 2021 3rd round pick has yet to distinguish himself from the competition. Trey’s football career trajectory has turned downward. A trade or even a release might be in the best interest of both parties.
54. Chris Evans | 24 | Bengals – Evans is an exciting talent. He’s from Indiana. A football and track star in high school; Chris’ talent garnered scholarship offers from rival schools Michigan and Ohio State. Evans identified as an Ohio State fan, but Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was the first to offer Evans, so committed to and stuck with Michigan even after Urban came calling. Chris became a big-play player for the Wolverines right away. He averaged 7 yards per rush his freshman year. Wolverines RB coach Tyrone Wheatley called him the “Stephon Curry in the room. Meaning that he can create his own space, can win one on ones.” I would add that at 5, 11′ 220 lbs, he is powerful and good between the tackles. Struggles in the classroom and the 2020 pandemic season derailed his college career, but this guy oozes potential. Joe Mixon can be an elite NFL RB, I don’t know that Evans can be elite, but I’ll take a chance on his potential
55. Marlon Mack | 25 | Colts – 1st member of the “Not long removed from….” Club. I have put them all in a row here, Mack, Mike Davis, and Kenyan Drake. All three have put together solid NFL season in the past and could do so again in the future. They are all getting a little long in the tooth for an NFL running back, but Mack is the youngest and for that reason, he tops the list of three. Marlon had 2,000 yards rushing and 17 TDs combined in the 2018 and 2019 NFL seasons. After five seasons in Indy, Marlon will be a free agent in 2022. I expect an NFL to sign him in hopes Mack can still truck through NFL defenses as he did a few years ago.
56. Mike Davis | 28 | Falcons – Mike’s “not long removed from” season was 2020. He totaled over 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns with the Carolina Panthers that season. 2021 wasn’t a total loss either, Davis racked up 762 total yards with 4 touchdowns. The former South Carolina Gamecock was out-performed by fellow veteran journeyman Cordarrelle Patterson and lost his starting job in Atlanta. Davis is under contract for another year with the Falcons. He will hope to improve his fortunes in 2022.
57. Kenyan Drake | 28 | Raiders – Love “The Drake” – much like Mike Davis, his “not long removed from” season was in 2020 with the Arizona Cardinals. Kenyan tallied over 1,000 total yards and 10 touchdowns in the desert. Hate “The Drake” – his agent parlayed that 2020 season with the Cardinals to create a two-year $11,000,000 contract in Las Vegas with an infatuated Jon Gruden. The former 5-star recruit’s production sagged under the weight of his immense new contract. On top of that, the ardent head coach Gruden put Baby in a corner and failed to utilize him. Gruden is now gone, and Drake is injured. We may be witnessing another Las Vegas marriage that loses its luster in the sobriety of morning’s light.
58. Kylin Hill | 23 | Packers – The Green Bay Packers may have snagged the steal of the 2021 draft when they selected Kylin Hill in the 7th round. The four-star recruit had a great run at Mississippi State. Hill was a balanced and dynamic playmaker during his sophomore season. He ran for 734 yards (6.3 YPC) and caught 22 passes for four TDs. Kylin’s Junior year (2019) was even better! Hill piled on 1350 yards rushing and 10 TDs battling in the combative SEC. The 2020 pandemic season hit Hill hard. Kylin contracted COVID-19 and missed valuable time with the new coaching staff. He went from what could have been a 3rd or 4th round pick to a 7th rounder. Kylin Hill was a smart pick by the Pack. The former Bulldog caught 23 passes in the three games he played in 2020 and had only one drop, so he has good hands. Hill also displayed great ball security in college by having 448 consecutive touches without fumbling the ball. The Packers back faces a long rehab; after suffering a season-ending knee injury in late October. Let’s hope he returns to full health and realizes his considerable potential.
59. Tarik Cohen | 26 | Bears – He has been gone for so long it is easy to forget just how exciting Cohen was. Tarik was a blazer the last time he was on the field – 2,561 total yards in his first three seasons. The Bears back is a lottery ticket that’s worth a scratch.
60. Eno Benjamin | 22 | Cardinals – Benjamin was a ballyhooed back coming out of high school with a four-star rating and many schools fighting for his services. The battle came down to Arizona State and Iowa. Eno went to the desert and liked it there so much that he hasn’t left. He’s a strong and shifty runner who rarely fumbles (1 fumble in 335 touches his sophomore season), and catches the ball well out of the backfield (77 receptions in two years at ASU). Just to be clear, Eno is potentially a three-down back.
61. Tony Jones Jr. | 24 | Saints – This undrafted former practice squad member comes with a surprising amount of pedigree. Jones Jr. was rated a 4-star running back recruit by 247 sports. He transferred to IMG Academy for his senior year of high school and played baseball and football for the prospect powerhouse. Like many of the athletes coming out of the IMG Academy, Tony had plenty of Power 5 offers and eventually selected Notre Dame. TJJ chose to leave college early for the 2020 draft. Due to a loaded RB class, and a slowish 40 time (4.68 not that slow), Jones Jr. went undrafted. A bigger back, listed at 5’11 225lbs, Tony brings some power and displays surprising quickness. That lack of top-end speed did not prevent Jones Jr. from setting the Notre Dame bowl game record for the longest TD run (84 yards) in the 2019 Camping World Bowl. They have been playing football for a while in South Bend, so I’m not sold on his lack of breakaway speed.
62. Kene Nwangwu | 23 | Vikings – The most upside on this list Nwangwu’s testing numbers are elite. 4.29 forty-yard dash recorded at Iowa State’s pro day. 4.29 is a great time for a speedy wideout, but Kene Nwangwu is a 6′,1′ 210lbs running back who put up 22 bench reps at 225 lbs. Kene meets the three main requirements for an NFL player: big, strong, and fast. He hasn’t played a ton of RB. His biggest contribution to the ISU Cyclones was as a returner, he holds the school records for average kick return (26.8 yards per turn) and kick return yardage (2,470 yards). The Vikings drafted Nwangwu in the 4th round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He is a wildcard in the Vikings backfield and a player who might get a long look from a new coaching staff.
63. Jaret Patterson | 22 | Football Team – The plucky Patterson appears to be the backup in Washington, which means he will likely get a chance to play. Jaret does not waste opportunities. He is 5′ 8″ 195 lbs. Don’t let his size fool ya, this guy is a big problem for defenses. His numbers at Buffalo are legendary over 4,000 scrimmage yards, 53 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 per touch, that’ll play. Patterson has his detractors. His 4.5 40 time wasn’t great, he went undrafted (even after his colossal college numbers) he’s probably closer to 5′,7′ 180 lbs (hardly the size of an NFL running back), but this kid just keeps proving doubters wrong. Don’t be one of those doubters.
64. Jermar Jefferson | 21| Lions – This guy is a homerun threat on every play. It is not that Jefferson possesses blazing speed, he was clocked at 4.56 in the 40, Jemar’s big-play ability comes from his determination and acceleration. JJ shatters the line of scrimmage, quickly reaching top speed, and coasts his way into the endzone Jefferson burst onto the scene his freshman year starting 12 games. Jermar ran for 1380 yards, 12 TDs at 5.8 yards per rush. His freshman fireworks brought accolades. Jermar won the Pac12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award. Jefferson was a 7th round pick by the Lions, which means he is on a 4-year deal.
65. Gus Edwards | 26 | Ravens – Baltimore was missing some attitude on their offense this year, and that was due to the loss of Gus Edwards. The Ravens can be a physical offense with Edwards at tailback and human bulldozer Paul Ricard at Fullback. If the Ravens rehab staff can tighten up the slack adjuster on the Gus Bus, get a ticket for a few more trips to the endzone.
66. Ke’Shawn Vaughn | 24 | Buccaneers – Vaughn hasn’t shown much in the NFL since being drafted 76th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, but quote the greatest fictional baseball manager of all time “I got a hunch he’s due” – Lou Brown Major League. The players above him on the depth chart (Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard), will likely play elsewhere in 2022, and that should open the door to at least a part-time role in Tampa. The former Vanderbilt Commodore had good numbers in college with 2,712 yards from scrimmage in his final two seasons with Vandy. Those are hard-earned yards playing at football at Vanderbilt against SEC defenses. The coaching staff that liked him enough to select Vaughn in the top 100 is still in place with the Buccaneers. Expect to see an uptick in production in 2022. A good buy-low candidate.
67. Raheem Mostert | 29 | 49ers – The speedster is not far removed from being a solid fantasy contributor with 770 yards rushing and 8 TDs in 2019. Raheem has earned a long look from any team in need of help at the running back position. Age and injury history cap Mostert’s ceiling, but he could be a difference-maker if given a starting role.
68. D’Ernest Johnson | 25 | Browns – 3rd string in Cleveland, but Johnson is no slouch. At 5, 10″ 210 lbs, he can hold up against NFL punishment, and he has experience carrying the ball: He set the school record for total yards while he was at the University of Southern Florida, he then went to the Alliance of American Football and finished the season second in the league in rushing yards and scrimmage yards playing for the Orlando Apollo. D’Ernest’s most notable adventure came on a Thursday night in late October 2021. Filling in for a depleted Cleveland offense, Johnson rushed for 146 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, and two TDs. He finished the season with 534 yards on 100 carries – not bad for a third-stringer. He will be a free agent next season. Watch where D’Enest goes in 2022, whether it be school, camp, or just another football team.
69. Samaje Perine | 26 | Bengals – Made a big mistake in the AFC Championship gaming by running to the wrong side of the field on a screen pass, but Perine was in there because of his skills in all facets of the passing game catching, screen, and blocking. Samaje is also a load to bring to the ground and tough tackle at the goal-line. He won’t run away from many defenders, but he has his place in the game and might get ya through a sparse week.
70. Devonta Freeman | 29 | Ravens – Looked pretty good (6 TDs and 766 total yards from scrimmage) in the Baltimore backfield after injuries robbed the Ravens of their top two RBs. Freeman appeared to have more bounce this season than he has shown lately. If another NFL team sees fit to roster him in 2022, Devonta is worth a roster spot in Dynasty Leagues.
71. Jeff Wilson | 26 | 49ers – He was great in the Loki series on Disney+. No, wait, that was Owen Wilson, This is the guy from Idiocracy, A great comedy-turned documentary. No, No, that was Luke Wilson. The guy from Royal Tenenbaums – my favorite Wes Anderson film. No, no, no, that was Owen and Luke Wilson. This is Jeff Wilson, and he is neither nor none of those Wilsons. He is a backup running back for the San Francisco 49ers. This Wilson has 900 yards rushing and 9 TDs in the past two seasons with the 49ers. Jeff will be a 27-year-old free agent in 2022, so his story is yet to be written.
72. Ty Johnson | 24 | Jets – Started at Runningback for the Jets a few weeks this season and provided average production, 610 total yards, and 3 TDs with 34 receptions. The former 6th round pick from Maryland has one year remaining on his contract with the Jets. A smaller pass-catching back; Johnson is similar in style to budding star Michael Carter. Roster redundancy might render Johnson expendable – and leaving the Jets organization could be good for Ty’s career.
73. Craig Reynolds | 25 | Lions – Kutztown represent! I’m sure NFL Hall of Famer Andre Reed’s chest was swollen with pride watching fellow Kutztown alum tear through the Arizona Cardinals defense in December of 2021. If you missed that game, and haven’t seen Craig Reynolds, imagine a fire hydrant with arms and legs wearing a Detroit Lions uniform. He’s 5′, 11″ 230lbs, and he presents a tough tackle for defenders. Reynolds’ running style fits head coach Dan Campbell like an unbitten knee pad. The former Kutztown Bear is under contract for 2022 in Detroit.
74. Justin Jackson | 25 | Chargers – Patient intelligent runner who continues to fight off competitors looking to replace him from each draft class. The Northwestern alum has been a dependable backup with the Chargers over the past four seasons totaling 1,500 yards while maintaining an average per carry of 5 yards. Justin’s best season was in 2021 as he continues to improve his game. I am a firm believer in the theory that smart players get better, and Jackson is a smart player. Don’t be surprised if Los Angeles tried to replace him again this offseason; I won’t be surprised when he outplays his replacement.
75. Devontae Booker | 29 | Giants – After an inauspicious start to his career; the former 4th round pick from Utah looked good for the second year in a row. New York has been reticent to burden their oft-injured star running back Saqoun Barkley with a full-time role; which opened the door for Booker to play a role in the Giants offense. The former Ute gained 860 total yards on 185 touches, and that is solid production for the 75th running back off the board. He remains under contract with the Giants in 2022, so similar numbers next year are not out of the question.
76. Darrel Williams | 26 | Chiefs – “Ol’ One L” is a sturdy 5′, 11″ 224 running back who will be a free agent in 2022. Williams attended college at LSU and went undrafted in 2018. Kansas City picked up and held on tight until now. I trust Eric Bieniemy’s eye for talent, and I will keep an eye on where Williams winds up in 2022.
77. Kalen Ballage | 26 | Steelers – An old flame that will not die. I have been dreaming on Ballage since he was drafted by the Dolphins in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. He looks great on the hoof—6′, 2″ 230 lbs and he runs a 4.4 forty-yard dash. Kalen’s issues appear to be a lack of decisiveness and vision when he runs. He also runs a little upright and has more straight-line speed than acceleration. Ballage battled Benny Snell Jr. for 2nd string Steelers RB all season. Like many others on this list, he is a free agent in 2022, and when you consider his enviable size and speed, Kalen is worth keeping an eye on.
78. Dontrell Hilliard | 25 | Titans – Hilliard hopped onto the scene late in the 2021 season, quickly racking up 437 yards at an impressive 6.3 yards per carry. Dontrell carved out a role for himself as the Titans’ primary pass-catching back, an important role for Tennessee. Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is a competent QB who reads the field well and understands the importance of a check down. Tennessee’s offense also designs many passing plays with the running back as the primary receiver. A free agent in 2022, don’t be surprised if there is a reunion between the Titans and Hilliard next season.
79. Phillip Lindsay | 27 | Dolphins – Lack of effort will never be an issue for Lindsay. He certainly gives it his all; launching his body into the fray on almost every run. But at 5′, 8″ 190lbs, Phillip can’t hold up to the punishment NFL defenders dole out. The courageous Coloradoan has battled through too many injuries for a 27-year-old. This former Buffalo and Bronco can boast about his 2,800 career rushing yards, 20 career TDs, and respectable 4.5 YPC (Yards Per Carry), but his better days are likely behind him. I’m not sure that this Phil needs to be fed anymore NFL carries.
80. David Johnson | 30 | Texans – He could be remembered as the return in the worst trade in Texans franchise history, but he shouldn’t. David Johnson has put together a good NFL career; featuring 6,800 total yards and 57 total TDs. I root for David Johnson – not because we share an alma mater (though it doesn’t hurt his cause). David Johnson comes from Clinton, Iowa, a tough, blue-collar town located along the Mississippi River. David wasn’t recruited by the two major state Universities, Iowa and Iowa State. He made them pay for their egregious omission by putting up 477 total yards and 5 TDs against the two schools. Johnson has beaten the odds throughout his career, and I just couldn’t let myself rank the fellow University of Northern Iowa graduate outside the top 80. Panther Pride!
Thank you for reading the final 40. Running backs 80-120 will be out next week.