Extra Yards 2022 – The Catching Carriers
The second in the Extra Yards series looks at those pass-catching Running Backs.
NFL teams can’t often go wrong with a first and second-down workhorse. A Derrick Henry or Nick Chubb will churn up the yards. But fantasy prospects for these players often come back to touchdown dependancy. If they get stuffed by aware defenses, it hits fantasy line-up value.
On the other hand, third-down Running Backs may get the PPR points, but they don’t see the same use as their carry-hogging team-mates.
You need the man in the middle – the best of both worlds. And this is where Extra Yards can come in handy.
We would start out with Christian McCaffrey, but the Niners new crown jewel seems like an easy out. He’s very good at rushing and very good at receiving. All but the greenest of fantasy players would know him. So let’s acknowledge him and move on.
First up is a familiar face from a previous edition. He is known just as well as CMC, but including a repeat performance from 2020’s article was too good to miss…
The Chargers’ lead Running Back has been on many fantasy radars for years. Since Melvin Gordon’s contract hold out, Ekeler has not looked back. His 2022 was a particular highlight. He strengthened his camaraderie with the fantasy community. And, on the field, he staked a claim for a very valuable fantasy asset. His 2022 rushing was a strong showing, as shown below.
2022 rushing: 204 carries, 915 yards, 13 touchdowns
PFF stats consistently place Ekeler in and around the top 20 Running Backs in many areas. This includes total yards (17th), Yards After Contact (20th), Forced Missed Tackles (13th) and Carries of 10+ yards (15th).
And that touchdown return?
It was good enough for second in the NFL (alongside Derrick Henry). The duo came joint runner-up only to the unstoppable Jamaal Williams’ 17 scores. The fantasy stats alone would have put Ekeler comfortably into RB2 territory.
But it’s the pass-catching that pulls Ekeler’s standing towards the top.
2022 Receiving: 123 targets, 107 receptions for 709 yards and 5 touchdowns
Ekeler’s target share alone was good enough for 17th across all skill positions – that includes Wide Receivers and Tight Ends! Receptions were even better – good enough for 5th overall – and completion percentage (87%) placed him 3rd!
10 out of Ekeler’s 17 games had the Running Back complete 5 receptions or more. By itself, that’s a beautiful complement to a healthy ground game. But 3 games saw double figure receptions. And, with an average of 7.9 yards per reception, those extra plays all add up!
Can we expect Austin to show the same in 2023? Barring any injuries, it’s very likely. But this is the last season in a three-year contract at the Chargers. So redraft fans should make the most of an incredibly talented player in his current situation. For one more year, at least!
The Patriots often have a carousel of Running Backs in their stable, but something seems to have stuck with Stevenson. Was it pass-catching prowess that kept Rhamondre in the squad?
2022 rushing: 210 carries, 1041 yards, 5 touchdowns
You can find Stevenson at the top of the Patriots’ rush attempts, amassing 210 carries over a full 17 games. This was nearly twice as many as second-placed Damien Harris, although Harris played only 11 games. Four other Running Backs also saw action during the regular season. But their combined ground-based efforts don’t come close to Stevenson’s share.
Stevenson also showed some impressive returns from his efforts. 14% of his carries went for 10 yards or more, which was one of the best percentages of any Running Back with over 200 carries. And he totted up the sixth most YAC, despite having far less attempts than those around him in the rankings.
Overall, Stevenson’s stats provide a pleasant read. But the fun doesn’t stop there…
2022 Receiving: 87 targets, 69 receptions for 421 yards and a touchdown
Stevenson’s target level ranks him third in 2022 Running Backs. There’s good company in McCaffrey and Ekeler. But the Patriot back’s touchdown percentage is much lower that his peers. And he saw the highest percentage of pass blocking snaps made by Running Backs in the top 10.
Then there’s the number of drops and fumbles that have come during those pass-catching plays. Ironing out these mistakes would be a path to extra improvement. And seeing a reduction in pass blocking could further improve Stevenson’s opportunities in 2023.
And don’t forget the new coordinator. Matt Patricia is gone. The relief was palpable after a disjointed, disappointing 2022 offensive plan. In his place comes former Texan Bill O’Brien. O’Brien has had his fair share of regular season success. He’s lead the Houston outfit to the top of their division on several occasions. The volatile AFC East could be a perfect battleground for his play-calling.
But will O’Brien get to use Stevenson? He hasn’t got the ability to make a David Johnson-type trade in his current position. And the Running Back is still in his rookie deal. So I’m excited to see what plans are in store for 2023.
An injury derailed his 2020 season, and COVID did the same in 2021. But Saquon came back to lead the Giants backfield throughout 2022. He (and the Giants) didn’t disappoint, making the playoffs for the first time in six years.
2022 Rushing: 295 attempts, 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns
Barkley saw a level of carries not seen since his rookie year. Although the efficiency didn’t quite meet that first year, the stats themselves are encouraging. This is a player two years out of a season-ending injury, and one year off a bout of COVID.
The Giants, with their new found vigour under Brian Daboll, didn’t hold back. Barkley was used early and often. The player repaid the coach’s favour with four games of 100+ yards rushing. And Saquon didn’t go two games without scoring a touchdown.
The use continued into the receiving aspects of the Giants’ game plan…
2022 Receiving: 73 targets, 57 receptions for 338 yards
In addition to his valued contribution on the ground, Barkley was useful in the air. He finished above Darius Slayton as top receiving target for the Giants’ Quarterbacks. 7 of 17 games had him targeted 5 times or more.
Again, like his ground game, the efficiency doesn’t quite match up with his rookie season. Chief indicator among them is the lack of receiving touchdowns – a far cry from 4 scores in his first year. But, like Rhamondre Stevenson, Barkley saw over 80 pass-blocking snaps in 2022. His 83 pass blocks was one of the highest amounts for Running Backs who saw 25 targets or more.
2023 sees Brian Daboll enter his second year as head coach, and Daniel Jones stands on the brink of a big fat contract. With Quarterback questions hopefully put to rest, it all lies with the Giants management. Draft picks could provide extra stability to the offensive line. And, in turn, could allow Saquon to move away from pass-blocking. That could get those extra fantasy points with his pass-catching role.
But that only works if the Giants keep him!
Barkley’s contract came to an end at the culmination of the 2022 season. So this is another decision the New York brass have to make. If they decide against keeping him, he’s looking like one of the hot prospects in free agency.
If so, keep an eye on whoever takes him on. If their offensive line is a strong one, we could see the usage that may keep Barkley as an NFL workhorse for the time being.
Rob – @5YardRob