Ooooo, this draft was spicy from the beginning, with six receivers being drafted in the first round. On top of creating a lot of first-round drama and trade activity, it guaranteed deprioritization of the running back position. Beyond that, nothing went as expected for rookie running back destinations. Now that it is finished, we need to assess these landing spots to prepare for our rookie drafts.
I will grade each of the first ten running backs drafted. Each grade will be a composite of how I see the fit and dynasty upside. Let’s dig in and see what we should be excited about in 2022.
Running Back Fits and Upside
Breece Hall – New York Jets
Breece Hall lands in New York with the Jets, who have had one of the best drafts. They kind of won thrice on this selection. They acquire the consensus #1 RB in the draft, prevent him from landing with a division rival, and they did it without spending round one capital.
The Jets wanted a bigger body with better capabilities than what was on the roster. The Jets drafted Michael Carter in 2021, and he performed well in Outside Zone (OZ). New York ran the 5th most OZ in the league last season, but how does Hall fit here? He fits extremely well, having run 48% of his carries in the scheme in 2021. Despite that, Hall had more success running Inside Zone (IZ). The Jets may want to combine his prowess on IZ with that of Carter’s in OZ. It’s totally possible they want him to take over completely, but that appears unlikely.
Hall’s versatility, size, and well-rounded skill set virtually demand him to be the primary runner. A change-of-pace role is surely in Carter’s future. Mike LaFleur should be sleeping well at night and dreaming up plays to maximize this duo. Despite the unexpected landing spot, the fit is excellent, and we should see a high ceiling of fantasy production. Grade: A-.
Kenneth Walker III – Seattle Seahawks
Kenneth Walker III was the most explosive RB in college football last season. Perhaps he can bring his explosive play and yards-after-contact prowess to the pacific northwest. What better landing spot is there for a running back than an offense everyone knows wants to run the ball? Better yet, there will be plenty of rushing if the Seahawks intend on using Drew Lock or Geno Smith as the signal-caller.
How does Walker fit here? Walker ran Zone ~80% at Michigan State with an even split between IZ and OZ. He was equally effective in both schemes, and this seems to be a straightforward fit given Seattle’s own 2:1 ratio of OZ to IZ. Seattle runs Zone about 60% of the time, which could increase to feature Walker more prominently.
There are some concerns to consider. The 2022 opportunities could be limited. Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are still on the roster, but they are both basically on 1-year deals for 2022. Drafting Walker in 2022 rookie drafts is making the selection where you can see the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’
Another concern is Walker’s pass-catching ability. I believe this to be overblown. Walker has flashed receiving ability in college and continued to do so at the Combine. The ‘known’ of his explosive ability in space plus the evidence of his hands should be enough to solidify confidence in his total upside. If he can also learn to pass-protect, he might actually be the best value in this class. Opportunity, fit, and potential unrealized upside? Grade: A-.
James Cook – Buffalo Bills
Personally, James Cook is one of my favorite rookies, and this landing spot has me more excited about his future. Cook was graded as the second-best runner in the class per Running Back Vision’s Advanced Success Rate (RBV-ASR). Full disclosure, the metric appears to decline as runners get more volume. With that said, his college sample size is commensurate with my expectations of his usage in Buffalo.
Georgia featured Cook as a heavy Zone runner with a ~45%-30% lean to Outside Zone. Buffalo only ran Zone about 43% of the time, but that is because of the heavy amount of scrambles, and designed QB runs they implement. I fully expect this to change to protect the franchise that is Josh Allen.
Cook and Devin Singletary will likely split the carries that come off Allen’s shoulders. This split will cap the appearance of Cook’s upside initially. We must consider Cook’s explosiveness advantage in the trenches and through the air. James Cook displayed some exceptional downfield receiving ability at Georgia. Ken Dorsey will exploit the mismatches created by Cook’s presence through Josh Allen’s rocket arm. Wheel routes, deep overs, and targets in space are coming, folks! The split carry situation with the explosive passing game upside creates positive circumstances for your roster. If Cook’s ability between the tackles translates, dare I say he has Alvin Kamara upside in one of the best offenses in football?Grade: B+.
Rachaad White – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The fourth RB off the board is Rachaad White. A nice mover within the trenches with good size, we can expect Rachaad White to contribute to the Bucs’ offense. The challenge for White will be pass protection, and we all know how opportunities disappear if you fail to protect Brady.
The actual fit is an additional concern. Rachaad White’s college success came primarily in Zone and Power schemes, but Tampa Bay ran the fourth-lowest percentage of Zone in 2021. They were in the top 10 in running Power and top five in pulling plays. Rachaad White was one of the top graded RBs in Power ASR per RBV, so that part works. Will his prowess in Zone translate to the heavy Gap scheme of Tampa Bay? The tape says his vision, pacing, linebacker manipulation via pad level, and his agility in the trenches are more than enough for him to adjust to the Buccaneers’ run scheme distribution.
If he learns to use his size in 1-on-1 situations and learns to pass protect, the only thing he has to overcome is Leonard Fournette. Fournette’s contract is the biggest factor that devalues White’s upside. Per Ovetthecap.com, Fournette is likely locked in until 2024, when the Bucs could release him for minimal cap consequences. Selecting White in your rookie drafts is a true exercise in GM patience. The fit isn’t perfect, but it has upside. The opportunity seems sparse now, but we need to remember that Fournette has had injury issues in the past. Grade: C.
Tyrion Davis-Price – San Francisco 49ers
A bit of a surprise here in draft capital, prospect, and landing spot. This could be a “death knell” of sorts for Trey Sermon, but we will see. Davis-Price ran a lot of Inside Zone and Counter at LSU while grading as the best pass-blocking RB in the class. He must be here primarily for the pass blocking because the 49ers’ run scheme distribution was heavy OZ, Counter, and Deebo! The fantasy upside is minimal from a fit and opportunity standpoint. Grade: D.
Brian Robinson Jr. – Washington Commanders
The fifth RB selected, Brian Robinson Jr., ends up in Washington with Antonio Gibson. This has a very “split-backfield” feel to it which brings opportunity concerns. With that said, Robinson brings an additional level of toughness to running between the tackles. Gibson is more of a slasher, whereas Robinson plays more like a hammer. I could see these two working in a situation where Gibson softens the opponent through Outside Zone plays and his explosiveness. Then Robinson could come in as a ‘hammer’ and finish games.
What does the fit look like? The Commanders run about 42% OZ and 22% IZ with a 9% wrinkle of Power. These schemes are exactly where Robinson succeeded. At the very least, Robinson will be a good complement to Gibson in OZ. He seems to have a good understanding of defensive flow and backside blocking, which will continue to stretch the defensive lines and linebackers.
Overall, Gibson’s presence caps the opportunity, but I could see him getting to snaps early. The compatibility with the Commanders’ scheme distribution is excellent. Robinson is sure to contribute as a pass protector, which will be nice for Carson Wentz. He should also be a solid contributor in the passing game. Grade: C+.
Dameon Pierce – Houston Texans
Dameon Pierce, one of my favorite prospects in this draft, lands in a backfield with many questions. Can Marlon Mack seize a lead role after virtually taking a year off? Will Rex Burkhead continue to be a factor in the run game at 31 years old? Do we want to tether any portion of our dynasty rosters to this offense?
There is upside here in opportunity and situation. We don’t know what Marlon Mack will be, and it is a possibility that he could fail. Rex Burkhead’s age and historical usage should keep him as a pass-catching specialist. If Mack fails, Pierce could walk into a situation with a lot of tread on his tires. Now that situation appears ugly looking back at 2021.
Houston’s ASR was terrible per RBVision, coming in dead last in the NFL.
The situation looks dire when looking in reverse, but looking forward, there is hope for any running back in this offense. Laremy Tunsil was injured most of 2021, and right tackle Tytus Howard was kicked inside to guard for a chunk of the season. With them back in their intended positions and the selection of Kenyon Green, this run game could improve substantially. Add in the potential of the passing game improving, and we can begin to see it.
Houston had an even distribution across Zone, Gap, and Power. A major contributor is his top-level burst, where he clocked in at a 1.51s 10-yard split (T-4th). The good thing is Pierce has already shown some top-level effectiveness in OZ and Power per RBV-ASR. He was incredibly efficient, scoring 16 times on 119 total touches. The compatibility is there due to his scheme versatility, and his toughness as a runner will be desirable to the coaching staff. Grade: B-.
Zamir White – Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders selected Zamir White. This happened one spot in front of the Chargers, which I had projected as an excellent fit to complement Austin Ekeler. Alas, that did not happen, and White finds himself behind Josh Jacobs. White brings 4.4 speed, and 1.50 10-yard split acceleration to the table. With the nickname ’Zeus,’ Zamir White is expected to bring additional power and toughness to the backfield.
Jacobs’ presence all but ensures Zamir White’s opportunities to be capped in 2022, but Jacobs is a free agent in 2023. The Raiders did not exercise the fifth-year option, solidifying the possibility of moving on completely. If White proves a suitable replacement for Jacobs, the Raiders will opt to save some money. Therefore, White is an option that requires patience, but there is injury opportunity upside. Jacobs hasn’t been “injury-prone” per se`, but he also hasn’t been the model of health either. Jacobs missed time/games six times in three years. This isn’t a lot, but in two of those seasons, the injuries came right at playoff push time. This is hard to swallow for dynasty managers and NFL teams alike.
Zamir White excelled in Inside Zone and Power, allowing the Raiders to run a more balanced Zone heavy scheme. He could spell Jacobs in a more significant way in 2022, which would keep Jacobs healthier. This will allow us and the Raiders to assess White’s translation to the NFL. This is fair, given his injury history with two ACL tears. Zamir White has enormous upside if everything goes well. Grade: B-, but only because we have to wait.
Isaiah Spiller – Los Angeles Chargers
Most college RBs run-heavy Zone scheme, and Spiller is no different. This shifty back will provide effective movement between the tackles and on the edge. He offers some explosiveness burst to get to the second level, and his landing with the Chargers makes sense. Spiller is an instant upgrade on Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III, but does he have enough to reasonably split snaps with Austin Ekeler? That remains to be seen.
What we do know is that Spiller is solid in Zone schemes and good in Power (based on a limited sample size). He is also a solid pass-catcher with some downfield upside. He is not the pass-catcher that Austin Ekeler is, but his ability is enough that it is a legitimate threat.
What does his future look like? In the near term (through 2023), he will not challenge Ekeler for snaps, but he should have the opportunity to prove worthy. Maybe he can prove enough to give management something to think about when Ekeler’s contract comes up. Even if they retain his services for another contract, they could begin to lighten his load and feature Spiller more. On the surface, I didn’t like this fit at first, but this situation could be underrated. Grade: B-.
Hassan Haskins – Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans selected Hassan Haskins 131st overall in the fourth round. Any runner going behind Derrick Henry feels automatically devalued. While true, we found out that Henry is not invincible, and we saw the value of the running back behind him. D’Onta Foreman took that high-volume run game in 2021 and revitalized his career a little bit.
About 55% of the Titans’ run game was Outside Zone and Gap. Haskins will be an excellent fit for the OZ part of the run game. He didn’t run much Gap scheme at Michigan, but he was stellar at it when he did. Can he translate his apparent Gap prowess to the NFL? The evidence is there, but a small sample size does not build confidence. Haskins will definitely be a stylistic fit as a downhill runner who wins with play strength and contact balance.
He will earn some early snaps. He has the pass-protection chops to be dependable, and he can contribute as a check-down option out of the backfield. In the future, Haskins could establish himself as the successor to Henry. Derrick Henry will be 29 years old by the time his contract ends in 2024, and the way the NFL looks at successive RB contracts is not favorable. This could be the window for Haskins. Selecting Haskins in your rookie drafts must have the long game in mind. Grade: C-.
Tyler Allgeier – Atlanta Falcons
Now, this was an interesting landing spot. Allgeier seemed like a higher-end prospect on the surface, but the Combine revealed a middle-of-the-pack athlete. Producing the fourth-most rushing yards, 3rd most scrimmage yards, and second-most TDs in 2021 will certainly elevate a player.
Per RBV-ASR, he is good in Outside Zone and Power, but Atlanta paired their OZ runs with a heavy amount of Gap scheme in 2021. It’s the gap scheme frequency that initially had me worried.
I actually think he’s a better projection for gap because I think his skill at diagnosing angles or pursuit is a liability for zone at the next level. Good enough at BYU but not NFL>— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) April 30, 2022
We should be able to see how his play speed translates to the NFL. He took advantage of a lot of runs to the field at BYU, but the NFL’s hash marks change that quite a bit. He seemed to have a decent amount of speed on tape, which is a sure contributor to his 2021 stat line. Perhaps he can play faster in Gap scheme runs where the hole is designed rather than developed.
The fit presents some questions, but what about the opportunity? Cordarelle Paterson has re-signed this off-season, and he is a likely obstacle to touches. Patterson performed fairly well in the two schemes Atlanta featured, and we can expect him to begin 2022 as the starter. On the other hand, he is 31 years old. We should expect Allgeier to be worked in sparingly as he adjusts to NFL speed and running Gap in Atlanta’s scheme. As an average pass-catcher, we should expect very little in this phase of the game. Patterson should maintain his hold on the pass-catching role, so there is not much in the way of opportunity there.
Tyler Allgeier’s start in the NFL appears to have a murky appearance with all the questions highlighted above. He has value as the ’heir apparent, but he has to climb the ’prove-it’ mountain to take over the lead role this year. Grade: C+.
What do we do with all these running backs? Of course, this is a decision heavily influenced by roster construction and competitive status. In a rebuilding situation, it depends on how close you are to being competitive. If you are close to being competitive, then this is where I am drafting for immediate impact. This includes runners like Hall, Walker, and Cook. On the other hand, if you are a year from being competitive, you want to look in the direction of Dameon Pierce, Zamir White, and Tyler Allgeier (but mostly for opportunity’s sake. Looking further out is challenging because that will be the halfway point of these rookie contracts. Even still, it is worth looking for those guys who could be stepping into a lead-back vacancy in 2024. This crop includes Isaiah Spiller, Rachaad White, Hassan Haskins, and Brian Robinson Jr. All of the options listed for each situation are in my personal order of preference.
If you are competing right now but struggling at running back, Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III are obvious choices. Usually, competing teams aren’t drafting high enough to snag these guys, so they must target later options strategically. The two I am looking at for immediate impact are James Cook and Dameon Pierce. These two simply have the upside in usage or likely opportunity that I would want on my competitive roster. Everyone else requires patience that competing teams may not have.
Continue to follow me @FFB_Vern for my football insights and commentary. In the future, you can look forward to the return of the “Tracking Translation” series, which will be sure to cover some of these RBs and a few of the receivers at the start of the next season. Between now and then, you will see more from me in the event of any significant movement in the running back landscape. Until then, make sure you have DynastyGM in your arsenal of dynasty tools. It will help you acquire the picks necessary to maneuver the draft. Good luck in your rookie drafts!