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Profiling the 2022 Rookie Running Back Class for Fantasy Football

rachaad white fantasy football rookies rankings NFL draft sleepers running backs

For redraft leagues, the offseason is filled with an extensive amount of draft prep to build the best team possible come summertime, including the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, dynasty leagues required 365-day dedication; trades and other moves are consistently happening to improve your roster construction, similar to how it'd be if you're an NFL general manager. That's what makes playing in a dynasty league so exciting. It is as close as you get to being your own general manager. If you're a contending team, this is the time when you're likely to target players who can contribute for you right away. Meanwhile, if you're a rebuilding team, you should be looking to trade your veterans for picks/young players. Or, perhaps, you're in the middle, and are trying to bake your cake and eat it too – winning while staying young.

Regardless of your team standing, the rookie draft is a critical part of a dynasty draft. In redraft, knowing which rookies to target is very important. Could you imagine if you knew that Elijah Mitchell or James Robinson would turn into high-end running backs?

Today, we'll be taking an early look at the running back position, with a top-five ranking, as well as an overall view of the incoming fantasy football rookies class. You can also read about the WR rookie class and TE rookie class. To help with this, I will be using my own prospect grading/projection spreadsheet, which takes a look at a player's college production, athleticism, and expected draft capital to try to project how many points they'll score at the next level, based on historical research.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

Breece Hall, Running Back, Iowa State

  • Projected PPG: 14.73

Over the past three seasons, the top running back drafted has come out of the SEC. However, that is likely to change this year, thanks to Breece Hall.

Hall checks an extensive amount of the boxes you're looking for. From the time he stepped onto Iowa State's campus, he was their lead back, giving him one of the youngest breakout ages in this entire running back class. Meanwhile, he more than delivered. For starters, he improved his Pro Football Focus rushing grade every season:

  • Freshman: 78.5 PFF rushing grade
  • Sophomore: 85.7 PFF rushing grade
  • Junior: 86.3 PFF rushing grade

Halls' 0.27 missed tackles forced per attempt is in elite territory, and speaks to the elusiveness he brings to the table. Furthermore, there is no doubt about his athleticism after an extremely impressive showing at the combine. By running a 4.39 40-yard dash at 217 pounds, his speed score ranked in the 98th percentile, while his burst score was right behind (94th percentile). 

In other words, expect Hall to excel as an outside runner, making him an ideal fit for zone-rushing schemes. That being said, he brings plenty of power as well, making him the most complete runner in this class. Truly, there isn't any major wart to pick in terms of rushing ability.

Plus, Hall also made plenty of progress as a receiver. Over the first two years, Hall's PFF receiving grades were 61.8 and 62, respectively. This year, though, he raised his PFF receiving grade to 80. Now, with an average depth of target of negative 0.6 yards, it's unlikely Hall emerges as anything else than an option in the screen game, but it was nice to see him command a 10.7% target share.

With a combination of a long track record of production and superb athleticism, Hall has the makings of a high-end contributor right away. If there's one running back that can sneak into the first round, it's him. Get ready for some explosive runs at the next level!

 

Kenneth Walker III, Running Back, Michigan State

  • Projected PPG: 14.53

As tremendously skilled as Hall is, it’s still a tight competition for the #1 running back in this class. Why? Well, Kenneth Walker is a very talented prospect in his own right.

Walker followed a much different trajectory than Hall. He spent the first two years of his career at Wake Forest, where he was quite efficient, but didn’t quite have the workhorse role that you’d want for a running back with expected high draft capital. Prior to the 2021 season, when he transferred to Michigan State, there wasn’t much buzz about him whatsoever.

Then, this past college season happened. Walker rushed for 1634 yards, averaged 4.46 yards after contact/carry, and earned a 90.7 PFF rushing grade. Whether it was making plays after contact or demonstrating explosiveness (53.9% breakaway rate), he did it all as a runner. His 50.2% dominator rating, ranking in the 99th percentile, is absolutely absurd. 

To make matters better, Walker then put on a show at the combine. He ranked in the 96th percentile in speed score with a 4.38 40-yard dash at 211 pounds, albeit with closer to average testing numbers elsewhere. This definitely boosted his draft stock, which could lead to him getting the investment from a team we want to see.

The one area in Walker’s game that is concerning is his receiving ability. Even in his breakout year, he commanded just a 5.4% target share with 89 receiving yards, along with a pedestrian 61.8 PFF receiving grade. Thus, there is going to be more pressure for him to produce as a  rusher, which lowers his ceiling and may make him more of a boom-or-bust player.

A running back with limited to no expected production in the receiving game isn’t a profile to usually chase in fantasy football. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this concerned me a lot about Kenneth Walker. At the same time, when it comes to his missed tackles forced (.33/carry), production after contact, and overall explosiveness, there’s so much to like as a runner. Hopefully, he can have a Nick Chubb-esque trajectory to fantasy success in spite of his limited receiving capabilities; it’s safe to say he isn’t your typical runner of the football!

 

Rachaad White, Running Back, Arizona State

  • Projected PPG: 13

If you thought Kenneth Walker had an interesting college career, Rachaad White takes it to a different level. He was in junior college until his senior (redshirt junior) year of college, where he transferred to Arizona State. However, since the Pac-12 didn't play a full season due to COVID-19, meaning he wasn't able to showcase his talents.

That led to White coming back for his fifth year of college, where he absolutely exploded. In 11 games, he had close to 1500 yards from scrimmage, demonstrating a true all-around skillset. Rushing ability? He earned a 90.5 PFF rushing grade and was productive both after contact and in terms of missing tackles. Receiving ability? He earned a 90 PFF reaching grade and gad 2.25 yards/route run last season.

Simply put, you're not going to find a better weapon in the receiving game than White. His 18.9% target share was in the 98th percentile, while he lined up as a wide receiver (slot or out wide) on 16.4% of his snaps. Plus, he tested out well as an athlete at the combine (84th percentile speed score, 87th percentile speed score), combining his production with strong athleticism.

Sure, White doesn't have as strong of a track record as the other players in this class. However, if he did, we could be talking about a player talked about a lot more than he is right now. I currently have his projected draft capital set for the fourth round, which is enough for him to rank third for me.

While his projected draft capital ideal, it's enough of an investment for me to see him at least growing into a high level receiving back, though the rushing production is there as well. I don't see the limitations that others may see, and, sometimes, you just have the chase a talented prospect! Translation: don't be surprised if White ends up as arguably the top value from this rookie draft class!

 

Isaiah Spiller, Running Back, Texas A&M

  • Projected PPG: 11.72

Remember CJ Spiller? I always felt that he was an underrated contributor, and he did catch Drew Brees' 400th touchdown pass! Anyways, this isn't about CJ Spiller!

Rather, it's about Isaiah Spiller, who is likely to be the third running back off the board after a strong college career. Like Hall, he came into the SEC as a freshman, and immediately made an impact for Texas A&M. He practically rushed for 1000 yards in all three seasons, while his PFF rushing grade improved every single year.

When it comes to creating yardage after contact, Spiller stands out. He averaged 3.73 yards after contact/carry during his college career, and is cited as being a tremendously powerful runner. Even though he played in a predominantly zone-rushing scheme in college, that would appear to make him an inside runner who can play off a more explosive back, a la Mark Ingram compared to Alvin Kamara.

That's going to be one of Spiller's calling card. For starters, he doesn't have the explosiveness as some of the other running backs in this class. He didn't test at the combine, so there is less to go off of from him, but most scouting reports see his as a 4.45-4.5 40-yard dash type of runner.

Plus, his 23.7% dominator rating actually ranked below average, and he doesn't necessarily stand out in any area. In terms of receiving, he did improve to a 79.6 PFF receiving grade this past season, which could be a sign of things to come. Hopefully, this translates to the NFL level, and can help his overall fantasy number.

With projected day-two draft capital, Spiller is certainly someone to have on your radar. There are some similarities in terms of prospect profile to Sony Michel, who, although not a world-beater, has been a productive rusher in certain situations. I don't see a significantly high ceiling here, though he should be at least an effective committee back. Hey, that has plenty of value, and his draft capital could lead to him having a better role than we hoped for. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

 

Tyler Allgeier, Running Back, BYU

  • Projected PPG: 11.72

One of the biggest surprises during the 2020 season was the rise of BYU's high-scoring offense. This led to quarterback Zach Wilson ascending to being the #2 overall pick, but it isn't though the offense didn't have talent.

Standing right behind during that fantastic season was running back Tyler Allgeier. While he didn't make much of an impact during his first two seasons in college, he really turned it on during the 2020 season, earning a 93.1 PFF rushing grade and averaging 7.6 yards/carry.

With 4.40 yards earned after contact/carry throughout his college career, Allgeier is a menace you don't want to deal with if you're a defender. For perspective, on the 20-80 scouting scale, that number ranks as an 80; essentially, the 100th percentile. Furthermore, he also evaded plenty of tackles (.29 missed tackles/carry), and was a true workhorse for BYU.

With a 10% target share and a 74.1 PFF receiving grade, Allgeier also showcased the ability to make some impact as a receiver. His average depth of target of negative 2.7 yards indicates that receiving ability is more limited than those numbers would indicate, though, so I guess we'll have to see.

Really, the main concern with Allgeier is with his athleticism. His 4.6 40-yard dash actually translates into a 65th percentile speed score with his 224-pound frame, but you're not going to expect him to cut to the edge and blow past defenders at the next level. That being said, there are some similarities to James Conner here; the athleticism isn't fantastic, but he makes up for it with his size and ability to produce after contact.

We'll have to wait and see what Allgeier's draft capital is; that will have a noticeable effect on his value. I ultimately see him settling nicely as the more powerful runner of a committee, though he isn't simply a thumper. He isn't going to be a sexy pick in rookie drafts, but I'd consider him to have a notably high floor.

 

Rookie Running Backs Overview

Outside of these five players, the one running back I'd try to target at his likely price is Jerrion Ealy. The former two-sport (baseball) player posted PFF rushing grades of 90 and 87.3 over his past two seasons, respectively, while he was tremendous after contact (3.82 yards after contact/carry) and in terms of missing tackles (.32 missed tackles/attempt). He didn't test well in terms of athleticism and isn't the biggest of running backs, though I guess you have to trust the production?

In general, this isn't the strongest of running back classes, as it's unclear if any prospect will earn round-one draft capital. Compared to others, I don't see why Breece Hall shouldn't get it, as he's one of the more complete running back prospects in recent years. Outside of him and Walker, the best pure runner in this class, there aren't any more players I'd count on to be the lead back. As talented as I believe is Rachaad White is, he may not have the draft capital to get there, so this may be a rookie draft where you look at other positions.

That being said, these five running backs can certainly be useful contributors to your fantasy team. Now, we just have to wait and see where they land!



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