2022 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: RB rankings show why Christian McCaffrey is still the top pick


In most fantasy football leagues this season, there won’t be much of a question about who to pick with the #1 pick overall. Jonathan Taylor was the No. 1 running back in 2021 after leading the NFL with 1,811 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns — plus 40 catches for 36 yards and given his age (23) and lack of injury concerns (missed no games last season, just two in five years from the start of his college career), he will be the first pick in almost every league.

But he’s not my #1 running back for 2022. That’s still Christian McCaffrey to me, and I’m OK with being the breakaway here. As good as Taylor was in 2021, he didn’t actually have a great season by the RBs’ #1 standards; His 22.2 PPR points per game was the lowest by a top-ranked RB since Devonta Freeman’s 21.4 in 2017.

In fact, Taylor wasn’t even the top scorer per game in 2021; Derrick Henry was. McCaffrey was at 18.2, but if you take out the two games he left early with injuries, he was averaging 23.6 points per game. His last three seasons? 30.1, 29.3 and 23.8. Injuries have been a problem – he’s only played 10 games in the last two seasons – but I have little doubt that McCaffrey is still the best fantasy player when he’s healthy. Hell, McCaffrey is just one game down with more than 24 PPR points (seven) than Taylor over the last two seasons, despite playing 22 fewer games.

“If he’s healthy” is a stretch, but McCaffrey’s injuries weren’t serious enough to require surgery, nor were recurrent injuries of particular concern. I’ll concede that he takes more risk than Taylor based on their track record, and he might even take more risk than a typical running back.

But nobody is touching McCaffrey’s advantage thanks to his passing skills, and unless I have good reason to think that role will change significantly, I’ll still treat McCaffrey as the best option in the position. That means I still consider McCaffrey #1 overall, although the beauty of it is that I don’t even have to make the best pick to end up with my best player; In drafts I’ve done so far, he’s sometimes dropped to fourth place. I will take him there every time.

Here are my 48 best running backs for 2022:

  1. Christian McCaffrey
  2. Jonathan Taylor
  3. Alvin Kamara
  4. Austin Ekeler
  5. Najee Harris
  6. Derrick Henry
  7. Dalvin Cook
  8. Leonard Fournette
  9. D’Andre Swift
  10. Joe Mixon
  11. James Conner
  12. Aaron Jones
  13. David Montgomery
  14. Nick Chub
  15. Javonte Williams
  16. Saquon Barkley
  17. Ezekiel Elliott
  18. JK Dobbins
  19. Josh Jacobs
  20. Antonio Gibson
  21. Cam Akers
  22. Breece Hall
  23. Travis Etienne
  24. Elijah Mitchell
  25. AJ Dillon
  26. Damien Harris
  27. Miles Sanders
  28. Kareem hunt
  29. Devin Singletar
  30. Chase Edmonds
  31. Tony Pollard
  32. JamesCook
  33. Cordarrelle Patterson
  34. Clyde Edwards Helaire
  35. Rashaad Penny
  36. Kenneth Walker III
  37. JD McKissic
  38. Jamal Williams
  39. Kenneth Gainwell
  40. Alexander Mattson
  41. Dameon Pierce
  42. Darrell Henderson
  43. Melvin Gordon
  44. Rhamondre Stevenson
  45. Nyheim Hines
  46. James Robinson
  47. Gus Edwards
  48. Michael Carter

Here are a few more thoughts:

  • Henry missed more than half the season and didn’t look good on his return to the field in the playoffs. Of course, even “didn’t look good” still meant 12.2 PPR points in a limited role, so the floor stays high. A healthy Henry might be the second best player in fantasy, but he’s 28, has been busy lately, and just got off his foot injury, so I see him as a bigger risk than McCaffrey. Add to that the fact that he’s only caught four passes in his last five games after it seemed like that would make up a bigger part of his game early on and I’ll probably end up underrating Henry, to draft him in most leagues.
  • Kamara had 16 touchdowns on 187 carries in 2020; He only had four to 240 in 2021. There’s no guarantee the Saints offense will be any better than it was a year ago, but I think it’s quite likely, which means we should see a return to double-digit touchdown territory . The more important question might be whether he sees a significant increase from his career low of 3.6 receptions per game. I expect we’ll see some improvement in that regard too, which is why I’ll be higher than consensus at Kamara this season. A healthy Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas would go a long way in making me feel better about this call.
  • Medium-efficiency, high-volume rookie running backs are usually pretty good bets to break out, although in the case of Harris, there are some questions about how much his role in the passing game will take on with Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. I expect Harris will remain an every down factor for the Steelers with Mitchell Trubisky/Kenny Pickett and I think we’ll see more efficiency from him in all facets of the game. The question is if that’s enough to overcome what he might lose in goals. I think he will be fine, and beyond that there are significant benefits.
  • In my first run, Leonard Fournette was my RB6 and James Conner was RB7. I ended up moving them down a bit, but I think I’ll still end up designing a lot of both. Fournette’s role in the passing game should still be very strong following the re-signing with the Buccaneers, especially with Tom Brady back. Brady has always thrown a lot at his running backs, and with Chris Godwin possibly limited to the start of the season, it’s not unreasonable to expect a similar passing game role to last season when he had 84 goals in 13 games. Conner’s passing role is a little less secure, but he was very effective when the Cardinals missed Chase Edmonds last season and averaged 23.3 PPR points per game in the last seven games he played. If he averages nearly five goals a game, Conner will be an RB1.
  • I don’t like any of the rookie running backs for this season. Hall is the top rank by consensus and he’s my top rank, but at RB22 it’s pretty unlikely I’ll end up drafting him much. I still think the Jets offense probably won’t be very good, and I’m not sure Zach Wilson will throw the ball to him often enough to make up for that. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong and he ends up trailing three with huge weekly upside potential, but I think there’s still potential in the guys placed ahead of him so I’m not sure whether paying the rookie premium makes the most sense this season.

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