As we embark on this journey together into 2022 positional rankings, it only makes sense to start at the top of the top. Of course, we all know that means RBs and more importantly top 5 RBs. Sometimes it makes the most sense to justify why the top backs from the previous year can’t repeat before just anointing a new group of elite backs. A couple of key factors come into play when dropping or increasing a player’s rank. Of course, the first factor does this player have a clearer path or more competition for touches and playing time. The next factors include changes in the coaching staff, offensive line, and surrounding talent. Finally, we should identify outliers in the previous season. For example, did a player score more TDs than normal and can they repeat that again? These factors have been taken into consideration and here is the list. See how these rankings compare to the latest ADP on the Razzball ADP Tool!
1. Jonathan Taylor – A lot of people will question Jonathan Taylor’s ability to be the best RB in fantasy again in 2022. Taylor was the worst RB1 overall finisher since 2015. His lack of passing game usage caps his upside. Instead, we should view JT’s 2021 as just the beginning. Early on in 2021, the Colts were showcasing Marlon Mack giving him touches in Weeks 1-6. This capped JT’s PPG to 16.9. However, after a big game in Week 6, the Colts turned JT loose, and from Week 7-18 he rolled to a solid 24 PPR PPG. That would have tied Saquon Barkley’s 2018 RB1 finish. The next argument for JT is the acquisition of Matt Ryan. Ryan is a clear upgrade on Carson Wentz which should lead to more positive game scripts. JT averaged a ridiculous 26.8 PPR PPG in wins in 2021. This improvement at QB should not only allow JT to match his stats from down the stretch last season but should offer him a new ceiling in 2022.
2. Christian McCaffrey – Christian McCaffrey is an absolute cheat code in fantasy when healthy. If it wasn’t for his recent struggles with injuries, he would be a slam dunk for #1. However, because of his 30 PPR PPG upside he ranks #2 instead of much lower on these rankings. JT is the only player with the floor and ceiling accompanied by the lack of injury concern that should be valued over a player like CMC (IMO). Last season CMC averaged 18.1 PPR PPG while only scoring two TDs. If we apply his career 5% TD rate to his 2021 touches his PPG jumps to 22.4 (RB2 in PPR PPG in 2021). Heading into 2022 the Panthers have made a few upgrades that should help put CMC back into elite company. Drafting Ikem Ekwonu in round one and bringing in veterans Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett on the inside has vaulted the Panthers offensive line 7 spots in PFF’s preseason offensive line ranking. The next upgrade is the acquisition of QB Baker Mayfield. Mayfield when healthy should provide CMC better QB play to help him find the end zone more in 2022.
3. Austin Ekeler – Austin Ekeler had a breakout campaign in 2021 and on the surface, it looks like it will be hard to match. Ekeler’s 20 total TDs and 1,558 total yards were both career highs. However, Ekeler didn’t have a major spike in efficiency, but instead, it was a bump in volume. Ekeler saw a career-high 276 touches roughly 52 more than the his previous career high in 2019. Heading into 2022 we should first point out that his 21.6 PPR PPG was over three PPG higher than Leonard Fournette at RB4. This cushion shouldn’t be taken lightly as if we apply Ekeler’s career efficiency to his touches from 2021, he still would average 19.5 PPR PPG. That would still put him ahead of Fournette as the RB3 in 2021. The Chargers’ offense heading into the 2nd season with Joe Lombardi is bring back all of their key starters. This level of continuity makes it likely that this offense will be inside the top 5 in NFL in scoring which in turn should make Ekeler an elite back again in 2022.
4. Derrick Henry – Derrick Henry busted out of the gate on an absolute tear. In the first eight games of the season, he was cruising to a ridiculous 23.4 PPR PPG. This put him a full point ahead of JT and over five PPG higher than the field. Let’s just put that into perspective. Henry could lose 20% of his production from 2021 and still be the RB3 in PPG behind just JT and Ekeler. Now that we know how good Henry was last season, the question must be WHY ISN’T HE HIGHER? Well for starters the situation around Henry is deteriorating. The Titans’ offensive line that once was inside the top 10 lost two staters this offseason and is now ranked 27th in PFF’s offensive line rankings. Next, the skill position group around Henry has major question marks. Rookie Treylon Burks is an unknown and Robert Woods is coming off a major injury. Sicscore.com has given Henry a clean bill of health so even if he regresses a bit, he’s still got plenty of wiggle room to finish in the top 5.
5. D’Andre Swift – D’Andre Swift is probably the first bold take of this article as he slips into the top five. Swift was already on his way to a top five finish in 2021. Weeks 1-11 or his first 10 games of last season Swift averaged 18.7 PPR PPG. That would have been good for RB4 last season. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as Head Coach Dan Campbell was a part of the Saints coaching staff that featured Alvin Kamara. Kamara was able to put an RB1 overall finish on his resume in 2020. Heading into 2022, things are looking up for Swift as the surrounding talent around him has improved. D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams instantly provide vertical threats to open up things underneath in the pass game and on the ground. Next is the continued improvement of the offensive line. PFF ranks the Lions in the top three in their offensive line grades as they return all five starters heading into 2022. This continuity up front should allow Swift to improve on his 4.1 YPA. If Swift can become more efficient on the ground to go along with his elite pass game usage, it would allow him to improve on his strong start to 2021 making him an elite option this season.
Sources: Razzball, Sharp Football Stats, Player Profiler, RotoHeat, Fantasy Pros, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, Spotrac.com, Overthecap.com, Ourlads, Bestball 10s, Underdog Fantasy, and NFC