In the newest addition of this series I will be examining Running Backs to sell this 2022 off-season. These are all players who are top twelve Running Backs according to most outlets, but who have reached a certain age/usage mile marker. No other position in the league has a shorter career span than a Running Back. Because of this I think it is important to sell these players this off-season while they can still fetch a high return in dynasty leagues. As usual all references to specific ADP are taken from DLF. Also, if you would like to read my first article on which Quarterbacks to sell this off-season you can do so here.
Christian McCaffrey has been one of the pillars of the fantasy football landscape since rattling off three straight top 12 Running Back finishes from 2017-2019. This includes an RB2 finish, and an RB1 finish overall in back to back years. As a result, he became the number one Running Back in dynasty football over that span. The last couple of years have not been as kind to the Carolina running back though. He has only played in 10 games the past two seasons, three of those being ones he left early or was limited. The Carolina offense also struggled in 2021, and McCaffrey wasn’t able to find scoring opportunities. He scored two touchdowns in seven games last season compared to averaging 1.32 per game the previous two years.
Despite his decline in production the last couple of seasons, McCaffrey remains a top 5 dynasty running back in many’s eyes. This is far too rich a price for me, and one that I would be looking to cash out on at this point. McCaffrey still has the highest ceiling in fantasy. However, he turns 26 this Summer, and is coming off of two injury plagued seasons. Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley are cautionary tales of just how quickly running back values can decline. DLF provided a great synopsis on running backs as they age in their 2022 Dynasty Draft Guide. The data they provided showed that no running back over the age of 26 years old has produced a top 6 positional finish over the last three seasons. In addition, only two have finished in the top 12 in that span, and 68% of the top 24 backs were between the ages of 23-26 years old.
To summarize, running backs historically decline swiftly after the age of 26. Running back production past the age of 27 is almost non-existent in recent history outside of Mark Ingram. A talented running back will always have believers claiming that they will defy the age cliff. However, I tend to lean on historical data to avoid succumbing to recency bias. McCaffrey is coming off of two injury plagued seasons. In these situations I’d rather sell a year too early rather than a year too late. This isn’t to say trade him away for nothing, but exploring add ons to pivot to a younger back such as Swift, Williams, or Harris would be a savvy move.
Ekeler is another running back that I’m going to highlight who has particularly high value still for his age and usage. After being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Ekeler played behind Melvin Gordon his first two years in the league. However, Gordon held out the first four games of the 2019 season due to a contract dispute. This allowed Ekeler to take control of the backfield on his way to a RB8 fantasy finish. Injuries slowed him down in 2020, but Ekeler finished as the RB2 overall last season. Overall, it has been an outstanding career for the former UDFA out of Western Colorado. For fantasy purposes, he’s been fantastic when given volume and likely won many managers a championship last year.
Nonetheless, he is going to be 27 years old this off-season, and will be going into his 6th NFL season. I highlighted in the McCaffrey section how poor of a history running backs have had at this age recently. No matter how productive they are at this stage in their careers this usually marks a steep decline in their dynasty value as well. Yet Ekeler is still seen unanimously as an early round start up pick according to most analysts. This is despite significant drops in value to similarly ranked backs like Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb. I believe this is a great time to sell an older back that still holds uniquely high value in dynasty manager’s eyes. Too many talented backs have fallen off quickly after their 5th or 6th season in the league. It is a brutal position, and running backs have a hard time maintaining the volume it requires to be a fantasy relevant player for a long period of time.
There is nothing to dislike about Ekeler’s situation and his recent production. Once again though I tend to lean on historical trends which suggest now is the time to sell. If Ekeler were to be injured or fall short of high RB1 expectations, he would lose a significant portion of his value. At this point as a manager you’d be left to hope he defies age regression as he would be nearly impossible to trade. Instead, I like to be proactive in moving on from veteran players. Explore your league for trade opportunities to see what is available. I would look to package Ekeler and a low end WR2 for a top five Running Back, or top ten Wide Receiver who will hold value longer.
Barkley is not someone I expected to highlight in this article as I expected his value to drop further this off-season. He is coming off of two injury ridden seasons, appearing in only 15 of his team’s last 33 games. Barkley missed almost the entire 2020 season with a torn ACL, but significant ankle sprains in 2019 and 2021 also sidelined him for extensive periods of time. Dynasty managers will be expecting him to stay healthy for the bulk of the season this season. Another significant injury would mark three straight years. He’s only 25 years old so there is still time for him to live up to expectations. However, If he can’t remain healthy in 2022 he will be at risk of dropping significantly down dynasty rankings.
|Rushing Yards||Yards Per Carry||Receptions||Yards Per Reception|
My concerns about Saquon Barkley aren’t solely due to his injury history though. His play on the field has left something to be desired recently as well. The chart above shows Barkley, his backup Devontae Booker, and some of their 2021 season totals – per ESPN. As we can see Barkley was no more effective than Booker was overall last season. In his limited opportunities in 2020 he averaged 1.8 yards a carry, and he hasn’t averaged over 5 yards since his rookie season. He is also an immensely talented receiving weapon out of the backfield. Nevertheless, he has only 3.54 receptions per game over the last 3 seasons. This compares to 5.69 receptions his first year in the league. Barkley’s raw talent is undeniable, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations since his outstanding 2018 season.
To conclude, the Giants offense is what concerns me most about Barkley’s situation. His struggles have not been entirely his fault. The Giants have been a poor team since he entered the league, finishing in the bottom half in total offense each season. This includes finishing 31st each of the last two years. Their new head coach Brian Daboll is coming off of a very successful run as the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. He is going to get the Giants moving in the right direction but it likely won’t be this season. The Giants still have a poor offensive line, and a quarterback with limited upside in Daniel Jones. Even though Barkley should finally be fully healthy, it will be hard for him to produce a high end RB1 season. So much of running back production relies on touchdowns, and there will be fewer to come by in a bad offense. By the time it takes the Giants to put a viable team around him, I fear Barkley will be 27-28 years old. While he still holds an RB8 dynasty ranking according to DLF, I would be looking to sell for a player in a better offensive situation.
What do you think about these running backs that you need to sell? You can follow Emerson on Twitter @Dynasty_Analyst to keep up with his work. He’ll be back with another article for sells at the Wide Receiver position after the NFL Draft. Keep your eyes peeled for more articles from our great Dynasty team, coming soon. Remember to tune into the 5 Yard Dynasty livestream every Tuesday at 8 pm (GMT)!