SPOTLIGHT ON…The 2022 Running Back Class
Throughout the past two off seasons I have taken a deep dive into the fantasy production of the rookie Running Back (RB) class. This season is no different. Here I look at five of the 2022 rookies and show you what I’ve learned.
Below I dig into some of the data with some visuals. If you don’t want to read all that, here is a summary of the main points:
- Breece Hall is a STUD! Except for his very first game on an NFL field, he outperformed the average Running Back with the same opportunity share in EVERY game he played. He might have a slow start to this season (if the Jets ease him back into work) but he’s a guy fantasy managers should want on their dynasty roster.
- Kenneth Walker is a talented RB but his fantasy production is volatile. The lack of receiving work and the addition of Zach Charbonnet will cap his upside, but his explosiveness means he can turn any play into a TD.
- Rachaad White is a receiving RB with potential upside. He struggled as a rusher in 2022, but no Tampa Bay Running Back excelled. He needs to maintain his receiving work and improve as a rusher to increase his value in 2023.
- Isiah Pacheco is an average, volume dependent RB. He needs to keep the starting role in Kansas City to provide fantasy relevance going forward.
- James Cook is an undersized RB with a game predicated on elusiveness and explosiveness. He has both receiving and big run ability but is unlikely to command high value rushing touches (red zone and goal line). His fantasy production is likely to be volatile as he will need targets and/or big runs to be a high-level fantasy Running Back.
Breece Hall – KTC rank RB2
After being drafted as the first running back in both the NFL and dynasty drafts, Breece Hall burst on the scene in 2022. He scored more than 10 PPR points per game in all of the games he played before an ACL tear derailed his rookie season. This meant he outperformed the average running back with the same opportunity share in every game aside from his very first start (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Breece Hall’s weekly PPR points plotted against opportunity share.
Here’s how he scored those points compared with the average running back (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Breece Hall’s percentage of PPR points obtained through rushing and receiving compared to the average RB in 2022
As you can see, the way Hall scored his points was very similar to the average in 2022. Hall did the same as everybody else, just better. This is also shown in the data (average RB based on RBs receiving 50 touches or more in the fantasy season) (Figure 3).
|RUSHING METRIC||BREECE HALL||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Yards per carry||5.8 (2nd)||4.4||+1.4|
|Rush yards after contact||4.1 (2nd)||3.0||+1.1|
|Rush yards per game played||66.1 (15th)||49.6||+16.5|
|Evaded tackles per game played||3.4 (17th)||2.5||+0.9|
|RECEIVING METRIC||BREECE HALL||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Receptions per game||2.7 (16th)||2.0||+0.7|
|Receiving yards per game||31.1 (6th)||14.6||+16.5|
|Yards per target||6.8 (12th)||5.3||+1.5|
|Yards after catch per game played||24.4 (14th)||15.4||+9.0|
Figure 3: Breece Hall’s rushing and receiving metrics compared to the average RB in 2022
Hall’s ACL injury was unfortunate but it was a clean tear. No other structures were affected, meaning his recovery should be faster and less complex than we’ve seen with JK Dobbins.
Hall gets a new QB this year in Aaron Rodgers, who is known to frequently target running backs (Aaron Jones was the 8th most targeted RB in 2022). This may increase his receiving work and, therefore, his upside even more.
Hall’s injury may mean a slow start to the 2023 season if the Jets choose to ease him back into work. Based on his 2022 season, fantasy managers should have no qualms about what Hall can do when healthy and there appears to very little argument for not wanting Hall on your dynasty rosters.
Kenneth Walker – KTC rank RB10
Following a slow start due to pre-season hernia surgery, Kenneth Walker became the lead back for the Seahawks due to another unfortunate Rashaad Penny injury. His weekly fantasy production was quite variable. Walker vastly out produced the average running back in weeks 7 and 9 but under produced in 7 of the 14 games he played (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Kenneth Walker’s weekly PPR points plotted against opportunity share.
Walker showcased his explosiveness with 15 big plays last season. In fact, 47.6% of Walker’s rush yards came from big plays. However, Walker gained zero or negative yards on 24% of plays (7% more than the average RB) which may account for the weekly fantasy volatility.
Here’s how Walker scored his fantasy points compared with the average running back (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Kenneth Walker’s percentage of PPR points obtained through rushing and receiving compared to the average RB in 2022
More of Walker’s fantasy points came from rushing and less from receiving than the average RB. This is unsurprising as Walker didn’t have an extensive receiving profile in college and the Seahawks didn’t utilise Walker that way either. Here’s a breakdown of some rushing and receiving stats (Figure 6).
|RUSHING METRIC||KENNETH WALKER||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Yards per carry||4.7 (24th)||4.4||+0.3|
|Rush yards after contact||3.2 (24th)||3.0||+0.2|
|Rush yards per game played||66.9 (13th)||49.6||+17.3|
|Evaded tackles per game played||3.6 (15th)||2.5||+1.1|
|RECEIVING METRIC||KENNETH WALKER||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Receptions per game||1.9 (36th)||2.0||-0.1|
|Receiving yards per game||11.1 (44th)||14.6||-3.5|
|Yards per target||4.6 (53rd)||5.3||-0.7|
|Yards after catch per game played||15.0 (31st)||15.4||-0.4|
Figure 6: Kenneth Walker’s rushing and receiving metrics compared to the average RB in 2022
After flashing upside in weeks 7 and 9 where Walker finished as the PPR RB 3 and 2, many hoped that Walker would command a workhorse role in 2023. The Seahawks, however, had other ideas, drafting Zach Charbonnet in the third round.
Charbonnet’s North-South running style will be a nice compliment to Walker which Pete Carroll will look to utilise. Whilst the addition of Charbonnet certainly caps Walkers’ upside, his ability to break off big runs makes every touch a possible TD.
“A TALENTED RB2”
Walker is a talented runner with an explosiveness which can threaten a TD with every run. The addition of Charbonnet in the backfield and the lack of receiving work will limit the PPR upside. Fantasy managers may want to hold Walker until there is more clarity in the Seattle backfield.
Rachaad White – KTC rank RB24
With Leonard Fournette re-signing with the Buccaneers last season, White worked in a committee backfield. White’s role did slowly increase and he started all games from week 10 onwards. White’s fantasy production was on the whole average but he had 3 weeks (week 4, 13, and 16) where he clearly outperformed the average running back (Figure 7).
Figure7: Rachaad White’s weekly PPR points plotted against opportunity share.
White’s strong fantasy performances were a result of good receiving performances, rather than any rushing prowess. This is also shown with how White scored his fantasy points compared with the average running back (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Rachaad White’s percentage of PPR points obtained through rushing and receiving compared to the average RB in 2022
In weeks 4,13 and 16 (the 3 games White outperformed the average RB), he had 15 targets, 108 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns versus 19 rush attempts, 70 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown. White’s receiving work also shows stronger in the data (Figure 9).
|RUSHING METRIC||RACHAAD WHITE||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Yards per carry||3.7 (63rd)||4.4||-0.7|
|Rush yards after contact||2.4 (67th)||3.0||-0.6|
|Rush yards per game played||31.1 (49th)||49.6||-18.5|
|Evaded tackles per game played||1.6 (52nd)||2.5||-1.1|
|RECEIVING METRIC||RACHAAD WHITE||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Receptions per game||3.3 (12th)||2.0||+1.3|
|Receiving yards per game||19.3 (19th)||14.6||+4.7|
|Yards per target||5.0 (43rd)||5.3||-0.3|
|Yards after catch per game played||21.3 (19th)||15.4||+5.9|
Figure 9: Rachaad White’s rushing and receiving metrics compared to the average RB in 2022
White struggled as a rusher in 2022 but the same can also be said for Leonard Fournette. Both backs were below average in yards per carry, big runs, and yards after contact. They were also both hit at the line of scrimmage at an above average rate. The struggles weren’t exclusive to the running back room however, with the entire Tampa offense regressing from the previous couple of years under Tom Brady.
The poor rushing metrics remain a concern for White but there is a chance that White could improve his rushing metrics with a new offensive co-ordinator and improvements on the offensive line. Fournette has also moved on, clearing the way for White to take on a bigger role.
To become a consistent fantasy asset, White will need to improve his rushing metrics whilst also maintaining strong receiving work. With Tom Brady’s retirement, this is reliant on the new Bucaneers starting QB (Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask) providing consistent RB targets. Baker Mayfield does have a history of targeting his RBs at a similar rate to Tom Brady (Figure 10).
|YEAR||BAKER MAYFIELD RB TARGET PERCENTAGE||BAKER MAYFIELD AVERAGE RB TARGETS PER GAME||TOM BRADY RB TARGET PERCENTAGE||TOM BRADY AVERAGE RB TARGETS PER GAME|
|2021||21.35% (@CLE)||5.8||19.3% (@TBB)||8.2|
|2022||29.47% (@CAR)||8.8||20% (@TBB)||8.5|
Figure 10: Baker Mayfield and Tom Brady RB target percentage comparison
This makes a similar target share possible but Baker hasn’t had a strong WR duo, like Godwin and Evans, to pass to either. However, if the offensive line play doesn’t pick up, the QB may have no choice but to dump the ball off to White.
“RECEIVING RB WITH POTENTIAL UPSIDE”
As the current lead back in Tampa, White has a big opportunity this season. Whilst it is unlikely that the talent is enough for White to become a three down back, his receiving talent will give him some fantasy value going forward. White does have some potential upside if he develops but it is highly doubtful that he will become a fantasy RB1. Fantasy managers should consider acquiring him for a second-round pick on the chance he develops his rushing and becomes a more reliable fantasy asset but be sure to temper expectations.
Isiah Pacheco – KTC RB29
As a seventh-round pick, expectations were low for Isiah Pacheco in 2022. But, as the coaches soured on Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH) and he got injured, Pacheco took the lead in the Kansas City backfield. Interestingly, he posted distinctly average fantasy performances over the course of the entire fantasy season (Figure 11).
Figure 11: Isiah Pacheco’s weekly PPR points plotted against opportunity share.
Pacheco was mainly utilised as a runner. With Jerick McKinnon used more in the receiving game, Pacheco’s involvement was limited. This is demonstrated by the way Pacheco scored his fantasy points compared with the average running back (Figure 12).
Figure 12: Isiah Pacheco’s percentage of PPR points obtained through rushing and receiving compared to the average RB in 2022
It is clear that Pacheco was utilised far less frequently in the receiving game than the average running back. However, there was one game where Pacheco was quite heavily involved – the AFC championship game. In this game, Pacheco had six targets and five receptions for 59 yards (two more targets than McKinnon, the third most on the team). This appeared promising, but by the very next game Pacheco had reverted back to zero targets during the Super Bowl It seems that there may be occasional weeks where Pacheco is used in the receiving game, but this cannot be relied upon.
Although Pacheco was a feel-good story in 2022, he was selected in the seventh round for a reason. This is shown in his stats, which are average once again (Figure 13).
|RUSHING METRIC||ISIAH PACHECO||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Yards per carry||4.7 (23rd)||4.4||+0.3|
|Rush yards after contact||2.9 (38th)||3.0||-0.1|
|Rush yards per game played||47.9 (38th)||49.6||-1.7|
|Evaded tackles per game played||1.4 (55th)||2.5||-1.1|
|RECEIVING METRIC||ISIAH PACHECO||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Receptions per game||0.8 (62nd)||2.0||-1.2|
|Receiving yards per game||8.1 (52nd)||14.6||-6.5|
|Yards per target||9.3 (3rd)||5.3||+4.0|
|Yards after catch per game played||9.8 (45th)||15.4||-5.6|
Figure 13: Isiah Pacheco’s rushing and receiving metrics compared to the average RB in 2022
With average performance, a running back like Pacheco requires volume to boost his fantasy production. In 2022, despite becoming the lead back from week 10, Pacheco only exceeded at 50% snap share in 3 games (week 10, 12 and the AFC conference game). With CEH still on the roster and Jerick McKinnon re-signed, it seems unlikely that Pacheco will see an increase in volume to propel him to RB1 status (having finished as the PPR RB39 with zero RB1 weekly finishes in 2023).
“AVERAGE VOLUME-DEPENDENT RB”
With average talent, Pacheco will need to maintain the starting role to see continued fantasy relevance. As we have seen in 2022, even as the starter, Pacheco did not command a high snap percentage and this will likely continue in 2023. If Pacheco keeps the starting role he will likely be a low end RB2 this season, but without a reliable receiving role he must maintain this volume. Fantasy managers may want to look to sell him as the starting running back to someone who is looking to get a piece of the Chiefs offense.
James Cook – KTC RB30
Despite being selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft, James Cook had a quiet rookie season. After fumbling on his first NFL touch, Cook did manage to work his way into the rotation and he saw an increased role through the second half of the season. His fantasy production was relatively unremarkable except for two games where he scored over 15 PPR points and outperformed the average RB (week 13 and 16) (Figure 14):
Figure 14: James Cook’s weekly PPR points plotted against opportunity share
Cook actually obtained his fantasy points through a similar amount of rushing and receiving to the average RB (Figure 15).
Figure 15: James Cook’s percentage of PPR points obtained through rushing and receiving compared to the average RB in 2022
Let’s take a further look at Cook’s stats (Figure 16).
|RUSHING METRIC||JAMES COOK||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Yards per carry||5.8 (3rd)||4.4||+1.4|
|Rush yards after contact||3.0 (34th)||3.0||0.0|
|Rush yards per game played||30.8 (50th)||49.6||-18.8|
|Evaded tackles per game played||1.3 (57th)||2.5||-1.2|
|RECEIVING METRIC||JAMES COOK||AVERAGE RB||PERFORMANCE VS AVERAGE|
|Receptions per game||1.3 (52nd)||2.0||-0.7|
|Receiving yards per game||11.6 (42nd)||14.6||-3.0|
|Yards per target||5.6 (30th)||5.3||+0.3|
|Yards after catch per game played||8.2 (53rd)||15.4||-7.2|
Figure 16: James Cook’s rushing and receiving metrics compared to the average RB in 2022
Although Cook appeared to struggle when assessing him using these metrics, there are clear reasons for this. Cook’s opportunity share was lower than the majority of RBs as he worked his way into the offense, and yards after contact/catch and evading tackles are not how he plays the game. As a smaller back, Cook excels in evasiveness and explosiveness. Both of which allowed him to be third in the league in yards per carry, as well as being first in big run percentage (13.75%) and yards before contact (2.8).
Unfortunately, Cook’s smaller stature also precludes him from a three-down role. This brings the concern that Cook will not see the high value carries (in the red zone and at the goal line). Last season, Singletary saw all of the goal line touches and 72% of the RB red zone touches. The Bills signed Damien Harris this offseason who, just two seasons ago, had an NFL high 15 rushing touchdowns. Harris is the ideal goal line back. If Cook isn’t going to get the high value touches, he needs to have the volume, the receiving work and to continue to break off big runs.
In the two games Cook scored over 15 PPR points, he had six receptions (week 13) and three big runs (week 16). It’s going to be difficult for Cook to maintain such a high big run rate and the Bills target their RBs at a below average rate which doesn’t guarantee targets. There will certainly be weeks where Cook will see his fair share of targets, but these are unlikely to be reliable. That is, unless Josh Allen significantly reduces his rushing. The Bills have threatened this for a couple of seasons but it has yet to materialise. Allen had a career high 124 rush attempts in 2022.
“UNDERSIZED ELUSIVE RB RELIANT ON RECEPTIONS AND BIG RUNS”
James Cook is not a three down running back. Cook’s game is predicated on elusiveness and explosiveness. Cook is unlikely to get the high value touches in the offense. So he will need to see targets and pull off big runs to be a high-end fantasy asset. This is a big demand of Cook who will need everything to fall into place for this to happen. His weekly fantasy scoring is likely to be volatile and he is best suited on best ball dynasty teams.