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One-Man Backfields to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts - Running Back Workehorses

Najee Harris - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

We're talking about fantasy football here, and in fantasy, volume is the key to rostering and fielding a winning team. While everything boils down to that concept, seeking volume calls for looking deeper than just the name and reputation of players. Put a great running back in an RBBC backfield and his volume – and thus his fantasy outcome – will drop without question. The touches and opportunities will go down and with them the chances at scoring fantasy points.

With that in mind, it makes sense to pursue backfields with clear and very well-defined roles. Even if the players in those backfields are not top-tier options, they will get all of the opportunities they can handle, which will ultimately benefit them. Those players might not be that good, but they will compensate for it just on pure volume. And the exact opposite is also true: great ball carriers can rack up points even on low volume, separating themselves from the pack.

Today, I will explore some backfields that enter the 2022 season with a clear option at the No. 1 running back and who is poised to rack up chances on both the rushing and receiving sides of the game. Let's get to it!

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Tennessee Titans (Derrick Henry)

The most obvious pick for this column and one getting into unicorn territory these days. The times for true bell-cow rushers to abound in the NFL are long gone – so much so that in the past 22 seasons only 106 times has a rusher carried the rock more than 20 times per game on average, while only eight men did it in the past five years. Of course, Derrick Henry claimed that accomplishment in all of the last three seasons he's played logging 303, 378, and 219 (in just 8 games!) rushing attempts in 2019, 2020, and lastly 2021. Talk about a bona fide RB1.

Henry's volume numbers are insane, but so is his workload and the expected injury woes. Yes, it took King Henry three seasons to finally explode (topped at 13.4 carries/G before 2019, has 20+ in all last three seasons), but after five years of a grueling workload, his body just couldn't sustain the physical stress anymore and surrendered after halfway through last year's campaign. We'll see how that evolves, but if there is one man poised and sitting in a prime position to put up numbers one more time, that's Henry in Tennessee.

The Titans moved on from WR1 A.J. Brown, QB Ryan Tannehill is closer to his retiring than to his most performing peak, and Tennessee will have to rely heavily on Henry (once more) if the Titans want to make a deep postseason run. Henry projects (via PFF) to the largest rushing attempt share of all RBs in 2022 (72.3%) with Cook the closest rusher but already down at a 68.2% share. PFF calculates their projections assuming full-season availability, and in that case, Henry would be the RB2 with nearly 1,600 yards and 14 TDs over the whole 17-week 2022 season. Nothing to hate here with a more than guaranteed full-time role as the RB1 player in the Titans' offense.


Pittsburgh Steelers (Najee Harris)

While there was not a single rusher picked in the first round of the latest NFL draft, there were two in last year's and for the first time since 2018. Of course, only one of them got to play as Travis Etienne had to sit the year out injured. The other one? An extraordinary Alabama product doing it in Pittsburgh. It can't be argued that Najee Harris truly and literally hit the ground running – 1,200 rushing yards on 307 carries including 7 TDs, and a bonus 467-yard mark on the receiving end of 74 completed passes for three more scores. Not bad for a start.

Harris, of course, had Pitt's backfield all for himself with Benny Snell getting the second-most carries... at 36. Yikes. Nothing has changed in the Steelers backfield entering 2022, as the rotation of Harris-Snell-Anthony McFarland will stay the same through next season as things stand. Not only that, but Pittsburgh drafted a very non-mobile quarterback in Kenny Pickett while also signing a stay-put Mitchell Trubisky to man the pocket in principle.

To add it should be added that the Steelers lost three of their top-five wideouts from the 2021 season (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington) so it'd make sense for them to give Harris the bulk of the offensive opportunities while grooming Pickett. After debuting with an RB3 tally in PPR formats, Harris is projected to a near re-do as PFF has him as the 2022 RB4 with 1,100+ yards and 8 TDs with the third-largest rushing share among all rushers (64.8%) and the largest combined opportunity share among RBs (79.6%; seven percentage-points above second-best Christian McCaffrey).


Indianapolis Colts (Jonathan Taylor)

As you know if you have read some other of my works, I don't like to bet on players coming off a number 1 season such as Cooper Kupp or the very own Jonathan Taylor. Taylor's rookie season in 2020 was pretty much on par with (slightly worse, I know) that of Najee, and JT finished as the RB6 of that year in PPR leagues. Not bad, indeed. Only, you know, he got to appear in two more games last season, and with his ridiculous average of 21.9 FPPG, that was enough for Taylor to snatch the RB1 position in 2021 with a stupid 373.1 total PPR points over the full year.

Taylor went from an already-high workload of 232 carries to 332 (15.5 per game as a rookie to 19.5 last year) while averaging more yards per carry and scoring, somehow, 18 (!!!) touchdowns in his 17 games played. That scoring tally, of course, has to and will regress. Those TD numbers had been reached 10 times since 2000 and only once from 2010 on (LeGarrette Blount in 2016).

That said, it's not that Taylor won't have the chances and opportunities to at least make a run (no pun intended) to that mark for the second consecutive season. Indy has lost receivers T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal and while Carson Wentz is off to Washington... it's not that his replacement in Matt Ryan will be out there scrambling like a madman. JT has the fourth-highest rushing attempt share among rushers in PFF's projections (62.7%) while also boasting a 9.6% target share among all skill-position players in Indianapolis 2022 roster.


New York Giants (Saquon Barkley)

The riskiest pick of the column, this one. I wanted to add some saucy take to it though, so who better to help me at that than your boy Saquon Barkley from Big Blue? I know you're probably thinking I've lost my damn head, but bear with me for a minute. The folks over PFF see Barkley as a 270+ carry, 1,000+ yard rusher come 2022. It is not that crazy, considering the Giants are entering the new year with a bare-bones squad and an even thinner backfield.

New York was good to ink Matt Breida during the offseason, but that's pretty much everything they have as Saquon's insurance policy. Barkley will also be playing under the threat of a non-existent future with his deal expiring after next season. If there is a season to prove his worth, it's definitely this one. Of course, there are health concerns floating above Barkley's name. The soon-to-be-fifth-year-man has appeared in 28 games in the last three seasons combined and only in 15 total in the past two. Last year, though, he was able to stay on the field for 13 full games getting 162 carries over the year.

Barkley logged 261 and 217 carries in his first two years as a pro when he looked like the next great rusher of the NFL (RB1 and RB10 finishes). That progression was cut short in 2020 when he could only play one and a half games, bouncing back in 2021 for a still-low RB30 campaign. PFF believes in a comeback, and it could happen considering he is expected to get around 56% of the Giants' carries (above the likes of CMC, D'Andre Swift, or Austin Ekeler) while also getting 9% of the team targets. As long as he can remain on the field, the Big Blue backfield will be all for him to work into and use how he pleases. Here's hoping he can stay healthy and put up numbers after a couple of years to forget.

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