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2022 NFL Draft: Top Running Back Prospects Could Provide Fantasy Value

Which of these players could be the next Javonte Williams or Elijah Mitchell?

The 2022 NFL Draft (April 28-30) has a handful of promising running back prospects and in fantasy, you never know who could emerge late in the season. We may see another draft with no running backs selected in the first round. That said, this usually means we’ll see some gems talent on Days 2 and 3.

Every year, there are rookie backs who make fantasy impact. Javonte Williams emerged as a serious every-down player with the Broncos and rewarded fantasy managers who were patient enough to reap rewards. For the 49ers, Elijah Mitchell instantly overtook Trey Sermon as the must-have rookie option.

The NFL Combine (March 1-7) will help us get a closer look at all the prospects, but most of what we need to know has already been played out on the field and put on tape.

It’s important to remember that most of the evaluation process can only account for what we can see, what we can measure. There are always unknown factors of what a player has between his ears and what pounds inside his chest.

Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III runs vs Michigan

Ranking rookie running backs' fantasy potential

1. Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

Height: 5’10”. Weight: 210.

Age: 21 (will turn 22 during 2022 season)

2021 stats: 1,636 rushing yards, 13 receptions, 89 receiving yards, 19 total TD

Dynasty ADP: 7.12, Pick 84 (RB29)

Rookie draft ADP: 1.06

Elusive with visible top-end, home run speed. Surprisingly physical and doesn’t shy away from defenders. Didn’t see many passes but I think there’s some upside here. Sharp cuts and decisive eyes find running room. Great snap in his footwork. Enough gas to take over games and run over offenses with 20-plus carries. Limited receiving chops could halve fantasy scoring potential.

Would love to see Walker in a zone-blocking run scheme that can best utilize his speed and one-cut burst. He can outrun the contain edge and challenge defenses laterally. Excellent ball security.

Runs a bit upright. Needs to stay within the play script and tries to do too much. Will likely need more reps to shore up pass-blocking.

MORE: Kenneth Walker III scouting report

Burning question: Will evaluators see enough speed for a zone-blocking run game?

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Draft position: Late-first round

Best fantasy fit: Atlanta Falcons

Player comp: Cam Akers

2. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

Height: 6’1”. Weight: 225.

Age: 20 (will be 21 for 2022 season)

2021 stats: 1,011 rushing yards, 25 receptions, 189 receiving yards, 7 total TD

Dynasty ADP: 5.06, Pick 54 (RB22)

Rookie draft ADP: 1.02

An aggressive runner with barbarity in his movements. This does lead to some wasted movement in his run mechanics but he is decisive enough to get north-south rapidly. Remarkably underused as a receiver and can provide more than his stats illustrate. Relies on a quick beat of patience and vision before picking a lane. In the faster NFL, how will that patience translate in tight spaces? Really great ability to keep his feet, square up and stay balanced after contact while keeping his forward momentum.

Top-end speed isn’t there. Will need to learn to make himself a smaller target as speedy linebackers will swallow up his large frame.

MORE: Isaiah Spiller scouting report

Burning question: With running backs becoming situational specialists, do his talents add up to a featured role?

Draft position: Early second round

Best fantasy fit: Arizona Cardinals
Player comp: A.J. Dillon

Iowa State RB Breece Hall

3. Breece Hall, Iowa State

Height: 6’1”. Weight: 220.

Age: 20 (will be 21 for 2022 season)

2021 stats: 1,472 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards, 23 total TD

Dynasty ADP: 4.08, Pick 44 (RB20)

Rookie draft ADP: 1.04

Hall was once the consensus top back in this draft class, but I don’t believe that will hold up on draft day. Absorbs contact well and shows good balance. His 40-yard dash time around the internet is listed in the low 4.4s and I’ve seen as low as 4.39. These pre-draft 40 times have to be taken with a grain of salt, but there’s just no chance that’s legit. It doesn’t translate to the tape when the pads are on. Burst is lacking and needs open field to hit full-stride speed. Some might call this patience, but I prefer downhill runners who get their forward momentum rolling immediately. Not every back can be Le’Veon Bell and hesitate to explode through the traffic.

Hall would benefit from being on a team that wants to run the ball and wear down defenses à la the Titans or Ravens. His three-down skills are questionable to me as his hands look adequate. That split backfield may not yield ideal fantasy production, but we’re talking about fit—not points!

Great lower-body strength and can churn through traffic. Lacks explosion but shows a decent ability to shift his body and deflect defenders in tight spaces. Saw 800 total touches in his three-season collegiate career, which is a lot, but youth is on his side.

MORE: Breece Hall scouting report

Burning question: Will his inevitable 40-yard dash time disappointment plummet draft stock?

Draft position: Late second round

Best fantasy fit: Baltimore Ravens
Player comp: A taller Chris Carson

4. Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

Height: 5’9”. Weight: 195.

Age: 20 (will be 21 for 2022 season)

2021 stats: 1,002 rushing yards, 42 receptions, 359 receiving yards, 17 total TD

Dynasty ADP: 9.04, Pick 104 (RB36)

Rookie draft ADP: 1.12

Short strider without a second gear. Decent burst and gets up to full speed quickly. Good change of direction and should show well during the combine’s shuttle and cone drills. Uses his low center of gravity well to absorb contact and maintain forward momentum. Will certainly be an asset as a pass-catcher given he did play at receiver during his time with the Fighting Irish. Receiver skills could inflate his fantasy potential beyond the sum of his RB talents.

When running in traffic, he too often stutters and chops to find the lane rather than staying at top speed downhill. Stays low and compact between the tackles, but needs to keep his head up in crowded spaces to find the open field. Doesn’t make himself a target and rarely gets blown up by tacklers. Excellent in pass-protection and doles out punishment on blitzers. Everything on paper says he should be a consummate team-first player.

MORE: Kyren Williams scouting report

Burning question: Will teams give him an opportunity to be more than a scat back?

Draft position: Second round

Best fantasy fit: New England Patriots
Player comp: Michael Carter

5. James Cook, Georgia

Height: 5’11”. Weight: 190.

Age: 22 (will turn 23 for 2022 season)

2021 stats: 728 rushing yards, 27 receptions, 284 receiving yards, 11 total TD

Dynasty ADP: 16.03, Pick 183 (RB56)

Rookie draft ADP: 3.06

On pure ability, he would rank as the third-best back in this class. But his skill set isn’t a natural fit in a traditional running back role, which limits his every-down and fantasy scoring potential.

I’m not sure what Georgia was doing with him, but he should have seen the ball far more frequently. They used him as a gadget player which didn't do his talents justice. In 2020, he had seven touchdowns on 61 touches (11.4 percent) and in 2021, he had 11 touchdowns on 140 touches (7.8 percent). For a broader context, that’s comparable to Austin Ekeler’s 20 total touchdowns on 276 touches in 2021 (7.2 percent). Some guys just have a nose for big plays and finding the end zone and I don’t discount that.

Cook is a smooth-running athlete. Top-end speed might not translate in a 40-yard dash, but on tape, Cook flies past guys like Forrest Gump. When he gets the ball in his hands, you can see him turn it on and he’s looking to get upfield like he's mashing the Madden turbo button.

With all the talk from fantasy analysts about finding the next Deebo Samuel hybrid, while Cook doesn’t have the route-running chops, he can contribute as a runner and receiver.

Adequate vision, not built to run between the tackles. Get him in space and let him go. Would be best if he added some strength to his lower half as he is a bit slight. Pass protection concerns. Younger brother of Dalvin Cook.

MORE: James Cook scouting report

Burning question: Will the coaching staff commit to using him creatively to maximize his talents?

Draft position: Early second round

Best fantasy fit: Kansas City Chiefs
Player comp: A compact Cordarrelle Patterson

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