There are plenty of strategies for drafting your fantasy football team. Often most are built around when to address the running back position: either you draft your stud backs early or you wait and hope you can draft a breakout star in later rounds.
Obviously I’m here to talk about the latter.
Having a late-round running back breakout gives your team a huge advantage as it allows you to stockpile on elite options at the other three positions. Finding backs to target with that potential is imperative.
Looking through Underdog’s current ADP, here are four running backs all going in the eighth round or later, who could offer RB1 upside in 2022 if you squint hard enough.
Dameon Pierce (RB29, 8.06)
Let’s start with the man of the hour. Pierce has taken fantasy manager’s hearts by storm this preseason and for good reason. The fourth-round back averaged a staggering 7.8 yards per attempt this preseason, best among backs with at least 10 attempts.
All of Dameon Pierce’s touches Preseason Week 4. pic.twitter.com/B5lXWG5MA6
— Zareh Kantzabedian (@ZKantzFF) August 26, 2022
Now if you’ve been reading NerdBall all off-season, you’d already be privy to the man, the myth, the legend. Our own Nic Bodiford has had the rookie ranked a top-36 back since June.
Pierce has firmly locked down the Texans’ RB1 spot which means he’s about to see a size-able workload. Any running back set for a large touch count is a must-target in fantasy land. Last year, 23 running backs saw at least 220 touches. 86% of them finished a top-24 back in .5PPR. 47% finished an RB1. There was almost a 50% chance that if a back saw 220+ touches in a season he finished an RB1 last year. (Fun fact: Cordarrelle Patterson—another guy on this list—was the only RB1 last year who didn’t see 220+ touches.)
I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but Pierce feels like 2020 James Robinson: a talented rookie back on a terrible team who just gets so much work he’s bound to finish at least an RB2. Going in the eighth round, Pierce is a perfect back to draft if you’re waiting on the position.
Kareem Hunt (RB32, 8.11)
You’ll have to scroll down quite a ways to find where Hunt finished in .5PPR total points last year. He finished as the RB48 but not because he played poorly, but because he missed half the season. Hunt averaged 12.4 FPPG last year which, had he played all 17 games, would’ve been good enough for him to finish the RB9. That would’ve made two years in a row in which he’d have finished an RB1 (he finished RB10 in 2020).
Advanced metrics also put Hunt’s 2021 season among the RB1 elites. He finished RB8 in both NECC rating (consistency and efficiency) and PER rating (equalized FPPG). Getting one of the most consistent and productive fantasy backs last year at the end of the eighth round is just good fantasy business.
With Jacoby Brissett set to start in Cleveland for the first 11 games of the season, the duo of Nick Chubb and Hunt will likely be heavily relied upon to open the year. Last year with Baker Mayfield, the Browns ranked sixth in run rate, running the ball 46% of plays. I’d expect a similar game plan until Deshaun Watson returns. We’ve seen both Chubb and Hunt eat in this offense before, and I expect them to do it again.
Cordarrelle Patterson (RB37, 9.12)
I’m very confused about the fantasy community’s view on Patterson this year.
Clearly, the general populous doesn’t think Patterson will repeat his 2021 season in which he finished the RB9 in .5PPR as his ADP is RB37. I understand why there might be some trepidation around Patterson putting together back-to-back RB1 seasons. His breakout came at age 30 which is very rare to see. Up until 2021, Patterson was an elite punt/kick returner but not much else. There’s eight years of data to show that Patterson isn’t the elite running back/wide receiver hybrid that we saw last year.
With that being said, is that enough to drop a clear RB1 one year, all the way down to RB4 territory the following year? It’s the same coaching staff in Atlanta that created Patterson’s breakout and it’s not as though the Falcons went out and heavily invested in the RB position. Yes they drafted Tyler Allgeier but did so in the fifth round. And even if there’s now competition in the backfield, Patterson has proven he doesn’t need a lot of touches to put up elite fantasy scoring.
As I mentioned above, Patterson was the lone RB1 last year who did not see 220+ touches. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as Patterson was the fourth-best back in terms of NECC rating, just behind Austin Ekeler, Jonathan Taylor, and James Conner. He was also sixth in PER ranking among backs, yet again demonstrating how productive he was with each touch.
Even if Patterson doesn’t hit the RB1 ceiling he did last year, I have a hard time believing he doesn’t finish a top-24 option assuming he plays a full season. I’ll never pass up an RB2 in the ninth round.
Brian Robinson (RB41, 11.04)
All eyes have been on Washington’s backfield this preseason. Maybe not all eyes, but there’s been plenty to watch. Antonio Gibson, after finishing a top-10 fantasy back last year, has seen his role drastically decrease to the point of being the team’s primary kick returner. Meanwhile, rookie running back Brian Robinson has emerged as the seeming favorite to start Week 1.
Another rookie who’s made the most of his preseason touches, Robinson has shown the ability to get downhill, run hard, and pick up all the yardage he can:
6 of Brian Robinson 8 runs VS the Chiefs resulted in either at least five yard run or a first down. #HTTC
— Wizskins (@Itswizskins) August 22, 2022
It’ll be interesting to see exactly how the touches in Washington get spread around between Gibson, Robinson, and J.D. McKissic this season. Given how the rookie has run, I have to think Robinson has earned himself a big piece of the pie. Drafting a back who could see a starting load in the 11th round is a no-brainer.
Editor Note: This article came out prior to the report that Brain Robinson was shot in an apparent carjacking. We wish the best and a full, healthy recovery for Robinson.