• Running Back Outlooks for 2022: Top-Tier

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    Join me as I take an early look at the running back outlooks for 2022 and give my thoughts on who could finish in the top five.

    The 2021 fantasy season is over, but it is never too early to look ahead to the next season. This season was different from the past five seasons because of the injuries to top players, especially at the running back position. In the past five years, there has been an overlap of four players on the total points and points per game list. This season, there were only two players that overlap.

    Let's look at the running back outlook, and see who will be top five in 2022.

    Who Will Stay in the Top Five?

    Jonathan Taylor

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    Many people had Taylor as one of the top backs coming into 2022. I, however, had him outside of my top five. Not because of talent but because of the way the Colts share the workload. That started off to be the case but, in six out of the last eight games, Taylor had over 20 carries.

    I do not see that changing as there is still a lack of faith in Carson Wentz and belief Taylor will continue to see an increase in receiving work.

    Austin Ekeler

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    Austin Ekeler had one of his best seasons in 2021. While I do think that his TDs are not sustainable, I think he still is a top-five RB in 2022. Ekeler's 20 TDs were nine more than his career-high, though he had an increase in attempts and rushing yards.

    Ekeler also had one of the lowest catch percentages of his career. So, even if you take his high in TDs before 2021, he still would have finished as RB5 with 283 points.

    Najee Harris

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    Najee Harris had a great season in 2021 but many contribute that to his large amount of targets. Ben Roethlisberger is gone but, with either a rookie or the QBs on the roster, I think Harris will still be given many targets in 2022. He had over 1,000 yards but his average was low. So, with a better line, Harris' yardage could go up. I think he will have more TD opportunities with a QB who has a stronger arm.

    Who Will Fall Out of the Top Five?

    Christian McCaffrey

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    While McCaffrey finished top five in points per game, he only played in 10 games total in the last two years. I do still see CMC as a great player and think he will have a bounce-back year, but not enough to be top five. I think the Panthers may try to limit touches a little more and who knows what the QB situation will be.

    Derrick Henry

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    Henry was on pace to break his rush attempt high and targets for his career before his injury. Most have been waiting for the cliff for him to decline, but it has not happened yet. While I do think Henry will continue to be a top 10 back, I see the Titans limiting his carries, given the success of D'Onta Foreman to end the season (21st in PPR from week 10-18)

    Joe Mixon

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    Joe Mixon had by far the best season of his career, and the Bengals offense looks to stay explosive in 2022. I do not see him falling too far, but definitely outside the top five mostly because of the end of the season. Mixon was top three in fantasy points Weeks 1-12 but fell to RB 9 from Weeks 13-17. Another issue is 30% of his targets were in two games to end the season.

    James Conner

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    Conner had a great year with the Cardinals and was great receiving the ball with his largest average at 10.1 receiving yards. The problem, though, was his efficiency in running the ball — he averaged his lowest with 3.7 ypc. I see a regression in his 18 touchdowns. He had 16 runs inside the 5 and 10 that resulted in TDs. Along with the injury of Chase Edmonds for a chunk of the season, I see Conner falling out of the top five.

    Leonard Fournette

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    Leonard Fournette revitalized his career in Tampa Bay, but a lot of that had to do with Tom Brady relying on him out of the backfield. In 2021, Fournette averaged six attempts per game and an over 80% catch rate. Fournette saw his highest yards per carry in 2021, so I think he could still be a top 15 RB. However, without the high targets, I do not see him as a top-five RB.

    Who Will Break Into the Top Five?

    D'Andre Swift

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    Swift has some injury concerns. It didn't happen this season, but he was really hitting his stride before the Week 12 injury against the Bears. The two games before his injury, he had over 260 rushing yards and only five receiving yards. It was nice to see him make that impact on the ground as much was through the air before that.

    Swift was in the top eight RBs through Week 12, and that was with only seven TDs, much lower than the rest of the top 10. I see the Lions' offense improving which will give him even more scoring chances that can help propel him into the top five.

    Dalvin Cook

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    Dalvin Cook is a great running back, but having him on your team, means always knowing he will miss games. This year he missed three games, but the difference was his lowest TD output and his lowest receiving numbers in the past four years.

    This year, Cook only converted 25% of his attempts inside the five (12) to TDs compared to the last two years of 46% on 37 attempts. With a new offense and his normal TD rate, he should be well within the range to be a top-five RB again.

    Well. There you have it. my Running back outlook for 2022. Whether I'm right or not, only time will tell.

    Thanks for checking out my — obviously — way too early running back outlook. Once free agency and the draft are completed, there will be updates to my rankings. You can read all my work on my IDP Guys Author Page and find me on Twitter @hayeb3

    Brandon Haye

    Dog & Craft Beer Lover. Go Browns, Jags, & Wolverines. Devy Dude for IDP GUYS and fantasy football analyst
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