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Fantasy RB Tiers 2022: Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey and Then Everyone Else

Use this breakdown of the top fantasy running backs to make smart draft decisions.

We are inching closer to the start of the 2022 NFL season, and with that we’re seeing an obvious increase in the number of fantasy drafts. That makes it more important than ever to put your players into positional “tiers.” Unlike my regular player rankings, which you can also find on Sports Illustrated, tiers group players of similar value together. So, if you miss out on a particular player you can see others on his tier.

UPDATED: August 31, 2022

Fantasy Tiers: QB | RB | WR | TE

Tier 1 – The Elite
Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

Taylor is the consensus No. 1 running back (and player) in fantasy football after posting a breakout campaign in 2021. His 1,811 rushing yards led the entire league, and his 20 total touchdowns was good enough to tie Austin Ekeler for first among all players. At the age of 23 (this season), Taylor should remain a fantasy star. McCaffrey has missed all but 10 games the last two year due to injuries, but he averaged around 30 fantasy points per game in 2018 and was over that total in four games last season. 

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) races up the field during a training camp practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

Tier 2 – High RB1s

Austin Ekeler, Chargers
Najee Harris, Steelers
Derrick Henry, Titans

Henry was on pace to rush for over 1,990 yards last season before going down with an injured foot. Workload might be an issue for the freight train in shoulder pads, but he’s still a high-end runner in all fantasy leagues. Ekeler will likely see touchdown regression, but he’s a dual-threat back with a high points-per-touch average who plays in an explosive Chargers offense. Harris is a true workhorse who should continue to deliver the mail for coach Mike Tomlin in his second season. He’ll be a top-five pick.

Tier 3 – Mid RB1s
Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Joe Mixon, Bengals
Alvin Kamara, Saints
D'Andre Swift, Lions
Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers

All five of these running backs could finish the season in Tier 2, but for now they’re all being selected as mid-RB1s in most drafts. Cook has been an elite fantasy back and he could see more chances as a pass catcher under new coach Kevin O’Connell. Swift has big upside due to his receiving chops, but he needs to avoid nagging injuries to meet expectations. Kamara appears to be safe from an NFL suspension, at least for 2022, so his value is rising. Fournette averaged a career-high 18.3 fantasy points per game a season ago, and he’ll remain the top back in a Buccaneers offense that will score lots of points.

Tier 4 – Low RB1s
Aaron Jones, Packers
Saquon Barkley, Giants
Javonte Williams, Broncos

Any one of this quartet could push into Tier 3, but each comes with risk, too. Jones is going to lose carries to A.J. Dillon, but he should see more work as a pass catcher in a new-look Packers offense that no longer has Davante Adams. Barkley has high RB1 potential, but he’s failed to meet expectations the past few years. The hope is that new head coach Brian Daboll will be able to resurrect the Barkley we knew when he was a rookie. Kamara, who has looked great in camp, should be a top-10 fantasy runner as long as he isn’t faced with an in-season suspension for an off-field issue. Williams has top-five upside, but can he reach it with Melvin Gordon in the mix? That’s the $100,000 question in Denver’s backfield. 

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Tier 5 – High RB2s
Nick Chubb, Browns
James Conner, Cardinals
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys 

Chubb should remain the pounder in the Browns offense, but he’ll lose touches to Kareem Hunt in a shared backfield. The RB5 last season, Conner will likely experience touchdown regression even though his role in Arizona projects to increase a bit without Chase Edmonds. That’s the reason he’s not among my RB1s heading into drafts. Elliott is ranked at his lowest point since he entered the NFL, but that could make him a bargain in drafts. He was a top-5 runner last season before suffering a knee injury that had him running in quicksand in the second half. Even with Tony Pollard in the mix, I can still see Zeke having a productive 2022 campaign in the stat sheets. 

Tier 6 – Mid RB2s
Travis Etienne, Jaguars
David Montgomery, Bears
Breece Hall, Jets
A.J. Dillon, Packers

Etienne is a popular breakout candidate, but will James Robinson’s return slow his rocket ship to stardom? Montgomery will lead a run-based attack in Chicago, though Khalil Herbert could earn more touches. Hall should lead the Jets backfield in touches, though Michael Carter will camp his ceiling in the receiving categories.  Dillon led the Packers in carries and rushing yards and figures to see a bigger role in 2022, but Jones will limit him to mid to low RB2 value. 

Tier 7 – Low RB2s
Chase Edmonds, Dolphins
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Dameon Pierce, Texans 
Elijah Mitchell, 49ers

Edmonds' stock is on the rise after the Dolphins released Sony Michel. Jacobs was the RB12 a season ago, but the selection of rookie Zamir White and a potential committee has caused his stock to decline a bit. Pierce, who looks like the Texans No. 1 running back, has seen his stock rise substantially. He’s being drafted as a low RB2 or flex in most leagues. Mitchell could be a 1,000-yard back in San Francisco, but durability issues and the emergence of Trey Sermon in camp make him a risk-reward No. 2.

Tier 8 – High RB3s/Flex
Tony Pollard, Cowboys
Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Antonio Gibson, Commanders
Cordarrelle Patterson, Falcons
J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
Kareem Hunt, Browns
Rashaad Penny, Seahawks

All of these backs will likely be in committees in 2022, making it tough to trust them as more than flex options. Pollard should see enough touches to have stand alone value in Dallas. Stevenson should split the workload with Damien Harris in New England, and Edwards-Helaire will share touches with Jerick McKinnon in what looks like a committee in Kansas City. Hunt will continue to see work in Cleveland behind Chubb in a Browns offense that will be run heavy until Deshaun Watson returns. Penny, who popped at the end of last season, is the favorite to start in Seattle, but can he avoid injuries? 

Tier 9 – Mid to Low RB3s/Flex

Damien Harris, Patriots
Cam Akers, Rams
Miles Sanders, Eagles
Devin Singletary, Bills 
Darrell Henderson, Rams

Harris will share work with Stevenson, but I like the latter's upside as a pass catcher in New England. Harris will see goal-line work, though, making him a low flex. Akers has lost value in drafts as he heads into what looks like a committee with Henderson. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Henderson start in Week 1. Singletary looks like the leader in the Bills backfield, making him a viable middle-round flex starter.

Tier 10 – High RB4s

Ken Walker, Seahawks
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
James Robinson, Jaguars
James Cook, Bills
J.D. McKissic, Commanders
Nyheim Hines, Colts
Michael Carter, Jets

Walker's (hernia) status for Week 1 is in question, but he's still very draftable as a No. 4 back with upside. Robinson and Gordon are projecting as the second options in their respective backfields.  McKissic, Cook, Hines and Carter will no doubt be used as a pass catcher for their their respective teams. All of them will have more value in PPR formats, of course.

Tier 11 – High Handcuffs
Raheem Mostert, Dolphins
Alexander Mattison, Vikings
Jamaal Williams, Lions
Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles
Isaih Pacheco, Chiefs
Khalil Herbert, Bears
Rex Burkhead, Texans
Rachaad White, Buccaneers

If you’re like me, you look to handcuff your top runners in drafts. Mattison, Williams and Gainwell are among the top options, and the latter two could have standalone flex value at times regardless. Gainwell could even push Sanders for touches, and Mostert would see more work if Edmonds were to go down, but he's clearly in the top two in Miami's backfield rotation.

Tier 12 – Low Handcuffs
Damien Williams, Falcons
Mark Ingram, Saints
Zamir White, Raiders
D'Onta Foreman, Panthers
Brian Robinson, Jr., Commanders
Tyler Allgeier, Falcons
Dontrell Hilliard, Titans
Joshua Kelley, Chargers

Fantasy managers looking for some late-round running backs should consider the likes of Ingram, White, Allgeier, Hilliard, Williams and Ingram, who could all see bigger roles if injuries occur to the starting running backs ahead of them. I’m projecting Foreman as the top handcuff for CMC, but Chuba Hubbard is also in the mix for the Panthers.

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!