Thursday, June 30, 2022

Fantasy Football: Get to know the 2022 rookie running backs from best fits to NFL comparisons and more

In an ideal world, you’d get to watch as much sports as you want. In the real world, pesky things like sleep, family, and eating have a tendency to get in the way. Even for someone like me who does this for a living, I can’t keep up with everything.

For example: I don’t get to watch much college football. There was a time when my Saturdays were spent on the couch watching college football all day long, but that just isn’t reality anymore, which means that by the time draft season comes around, I’m playing catch up. I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard.

The good news is there’s still time to get caught up. The NFL Draft starts Thursday at 8 p.m., which gives us three days to get up to speed before coverage begins, and we’re going to make use of that time. In today’s FFT newsletter, I’ve got breakdowns of the top running back prospects from this year’s draft class for you to get to know, thanks to deep dives from Dave Richard, Heath Cummings, and Dan Schneier – who have been deep-diving the incoming rookie class for the past few weeks, all of which you can find here, along with Heath’s updated Dynasty rankings — including for rookie-only drafts. Tomorrow, you’ll get to know the top wide receivers from the class, and Thursday we’ll get to the quarterbacks and tight ends. 

We’ll also have instant reactions to the draft right here in your inbox after day one and day two, along with winners and losers from the draft as a whole next week – and the Fantasy Football Today podcast will be recording after each day of the draft to give more insights from Dave, Heath, and Jamey Eisenberg, too. And, of course, you can watch all of the draft coverage live on CBS Sports HQ, beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. – we’ll be breaking down the draft from every angle, including the Fantasy side, all weekend. 

Plus, you’ve got a chance to win a spot in the 2022 FFT Podcast League by correctly predicting the top 10 picks in this year’s draft. The most accurate prediction will be guaranteed a spot in this year’s league, where you’ll get to prove your mettle against Adam Aizer, Jamey, Dave, and Heath. Sign up here.

And now, here are the running backs you need to know about from the 2022 class.  

Breece Hall, Iowa State

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USATSI

Age: 20 

5-foot-11, 217 pounds

Few players carried as heavy a load as Hall did, sporting a 43.9% dominator rating and an 11% target share, per RotoUnderworld.com. He rushed for 1,472 yards and added 302 yards through the air in 12 games – Xavier Hutchinson was second on the team with 1,005 total yards in 13 games. Hall then went on to dominate the combine, putting up a 4.39 40-yard dash and 40-inch vertical jump. He was a Doak Walker finalist and first-team AP All-American, as well as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2021. Pretty good. 

Best Fantasy fits

Buffalo Bills: “Teaming up with Josh Allen in Year 1 has to be the best possible fit for Hall for a multitude of reasons. For starters, defenses have shifted to using two-high safety looks quite frequently to take away deep passing windows from Allen — daring the Bills to run. Devin Singletary found some success running against these lighter boxes during the stretch run, but Hall would immediately step in as an upgrade over Singletary as a runner. He would provide an even greater upgrade as a receiving option for Allen” … Also: Las Vegas Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs

Dynasty outlook

“Hall enters rookie drafts in Dynasty leagues with an excellent outlook thanks to his early breakout age and his upside in the passing game (translatable right away). He will be 21 years old his entire rookie season in the NFL. Hall was the first running back off the board and the first player selected overall in our recent rookie-only mock and he will consistently be one of the first players drafted — in any format.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “Contact balance is king for Hall … Hall enters the NFL with no question marks about his durability … Hall broke out at an early age, taking over the lead job as a freshman … legitimate breakaway speed that shows up on long runs on the game film where he often beats safeties.”

Weaknesses – “Hall is not a one cut-and-go type of runner and that can sometimes be a problem as he has more build-up speed … He runs a bit high — in part due to his 6-1 frame … Sometimes Hall takes too long to get vertical and drive through contact when it’s his best option … has much more experience running zone, so he best fits a team that uses predominantly a zone-based blocking scheme in the run game.”

NFL comparison

“When I watch Hall, I’m reminded of prime Arian Foster. Like Foster, I think Hall would best fit a Shanahan-esque one-cut and go zone-based blocking system. He has Foster’s patience and even provides as much or more breakaway ability — with a thicker frame and better yards after contact ability than Foster had.”

Kenneth Walker, Michigan State

kenneth-walker-1400-us.jpg

USATSI

Age: 21

5-foot-9, 211 pounds

Walker transferred to Michigan State and mad his impact immediately known, rushing for a 75-yard touchdown on his very first carry. He rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns and sported a 50.2% dominator rating, and then dominated the combine, too, with a 4.38 40-yard time and 96th percentile speed score. He’s got everything you want from a modern running back, seemingly, except for proven pass-catching ability – his 5.4% target share ranked in the 32nd percentile among draft-eligible backs, per RotoUnderworld.com. Questions about his pass-catching role make Walker one of the most controversial rookies in Fantasy circles. 

Best Fantasy fits

Atlanta Falcons: “Walker’s experience fits with the Falcons’ zone and RPO systems, and they have a massive need to build up talent at the position. In fact, he may even get pressed into third-down work sooner than later. There’s a path to 250 touches as a rookie here with big upside for the long term.” … Also: Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills

Dynasty outlook

“The only way Dynasty managers would be truly unhappy with Walker is if he landed on a team with a young running back already on staff. The Broncos, the Jets, the Commanders and the Lions would all be nightmarish because he’d unquestionably share for the next several seasons. On the other hand, teams in dear need of an early-down back would give him the platform to make a larger-than-expected impact right away with plenty of chances to surge by 2023. What may be best for Walker is to find a team that has a veteran back on the way out, work in tandem with him for a year, and then take over as a three-down dominator by 2023. In our most recent standard rookie-only mock, Walker went No. 2 overall.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “Not a backfield dancer — gets the ball and gets going … thick, strong thighs to go with well-developed lower legs … frequently utilized a counter-step off the snap to get linebackers leaning the wrong way … reliably and patiently followed his play assignments and stuck with his blockers until a play seemed dead, then would try to bounce outside and freestyle his way to bonus yardage … Paired incredible vision with rare-to-find burst once he saw a lane to hit … Change-of-direction and start-stop skills were gifts … Very good long speed made him a certified gamebreaker. Registered an explosive rush (12-plus yards) on 15.2% of his carries last year … Wasn’t targeted often in passing game (25 targets over three seasons) but frequently secured passes in stride. Untapped potential here … Good-faith pass blocker who wasn’t technically sound but did enough to recognize blitzers and got the job done.”

Weaknesses – “While his burst and top-end speed were undeniable, the acceleration between these points waned from solid to good … Walker’s game was speed and agility. While he never feared contact, he did not often win with power at the college level … Coaches will have to either live with his freelancing style or work hard at making Walker stick to the play design … It’s not a lock he will ever be a three-down player because of minimal experience in pass game and in pass protection. Walker ran 154 routes over three years … Had modest seasons at Wake Forest before his breakout year at Michigan State … Was told his football career was over before his senior year of high school because of blood clots. Needed to take blood thinners for three months in order to get cleared to play. No published reports about the status of his health and whether or not this issue may resurface again.”

NFL comparison

“Walker has the floor of Ronald Jones and the ceiling of Dalvin Cook. The blend of his snap-quick agility and speed is undeniable; it’s how he adapts to the physicality of the NFL game and whether or not he’s allowed to develop his receiving work that will make the biggest difference. There is potential for him to be a three-down, 18-touch back as soon as Week 1 of 2023.”

Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

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USATSI

Age: 20

6-foot-0, 217 pounds

Spiller rates out better from a production standpoint than he does in terms of measurables, which makes him a bit of a controversial prospect. He had 3,500 yards from scrimmage over three seasons, including 74 catches. That’s impressive stuff coming in the SEC, especially since he was locked into a big role as a freshman. However, his 4.69 40-yard dash time at the combine disappointed, and he’s on the thinner side – as Heath says in his prospect profile for Spiller, “Below-average speed combined with below-average girth is not an inspiring combination.”

Best Fantasy fits

Houston Texans: “The Texans are one of the few teams with a clear opening for a three-down back. Spiller should easily pass Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead on the depth chart on an offense that should be improved from a year ago. Running backs in Pep Hamilton’s system averaged 111 targets per year from 2013-2015.” … Also: Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals

Dynasty outlook

“Assuming Spiller is a Day 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, he’ll likely enter my Dynasty rankings around RB20 behind guys like Elijah Mitchell and Travis Etienne but ahead of A.J. Dillon and James Robinson. He’d had top-12 upside if he could earn a three-down role in his rookie season and he has the potential to be a borderline No. 1 back in PPR for the next five to seven years. If Spiller falls to Day 3 like Michael Carter did last year, the landing spot will determine whether he’s a low-end No. 2 back for Dynasty purposes or closer to No. 30 at his position.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “His proven skills in the passing game give him three-down upside, which gives him top-12 upside … acceleration on tape looks better than his measurables suggest … footwork is borderline elite, he’s very light on his feet … frame suggests that his low BMI could be solved in his first couple of years in the league … age gives you hope for further growth, and also a longer window if he does hit. Spiller is three years and five months younger than Najee Harris.”

Weaknesses – “While Spiller is a willing blocker, he has much to improve on in that area if he’s actually going to play three downs in the NFL … lack of top-end speed could prevent him from consistently making big plays in the NFL … if he does add weight to his frame he’ll have to do so without sacrificing speed, because he doesn’t have any to give up … can get a little greedy dancing looking for the big play instead of taking the short gain.”

NFL comparison

“The upside comp is easy to see on film and in his description. When things go right, prime Le’Veon Bell looks like it is well within Spiller’s range of outcomes. He has the same light feet and a similar build. As we saw, when Bell lost one step, he wasn’t close to the same back. A more fair comp for the first couple of years might be Antonio Gibson. Like Gibson, there’s enough to clean up with Spiller that a team may want to limit how they use him early in his career.”

Dameon Pierce, Florida

james-cook-georgia-usatsi.jpg

USATSI

Age: 22

5-foot-10, 218 pounds

Pierce never really got every-down work in college, but he has the potential skill set to fill that role at the next level if he lands in the right spot. He topped out at 106 carries in his most active season out of four at Florida, so any team that takes him hoping for a bigger role will be projecting something they haven’t necessarily seen. Of course, you could have said something very similar about Javonte Williams a year ago, and now he’s one of the most valuable players in Fantasy. 

Best Fantasy fits

Buffalo Bills: “The Bills are the best fit for any rookie running back, but I like Pierce especially to fit into what they do in Buffalo. The past two backs they drafted in Devin Singletary and Zack Moss both shared the ability to create yards after contact and force missed tackles. Pierce does it better than either of them and he’ll immediately step in as their passing downs back due to his pass protection. Although the Bills will change coordinators, they promoted from within, and not much is expected to change. That’s great news for Pierce if he lands in Buffalo.” Also: New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dynasty outlook

“Pierce has been a major riser in Dynasty drafts over the last month of draft season. In our most recent rookie-only superflex mock draft, with quarterbacks pushing down skill players overall, Pierce still found his way to the 3.02 pick at the top of the third round ahead of players who were previously being selected before him earlier in the cycle including Alec Pierce, Jalen Tolbert and Tyler Allgeier. Pierce’s ability to force missed tackles and potential to emerge as an every-down back make him an excellent target in your Dynasty drafts.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “Low center of gravity allows for Pierce to have excellent contact balance and the ability to run through arm tackles … nifty footwork and the ability to stop and start on a dime despite rocked-up build … Elite level ability to force missed tackles — Pierce forced the third-most missed tackles per touch … Pierce is the most consistent tackle breaker in the entire class … willingness and ability to stand up against all types of pass rushers in pass protection … Better than expected receiving ability and route running … Protects the football — zero fumbles in 2021.” 

Weaknesses – “Breakaway speed is not there. Pierce ran a 4.59 40-yard dash and doesn’t look much faster as a straight-line runner on tape … Never carried the load at Florida … burst is there in short field, Pierce isn’t going to have major breakaway ability at the next level … Only average lateral agility — he wins in other ways; 7.53 3-cone drill puts him in the 3rd percentile.”

NFL comparison

“When I watch Pierce, I see a similar player in run style and build to former Bucs and Raiders running back Doug Martin. He’s not quite as fast as Martin was but he offers more strength and a more advanced passing downs profile (entering the NFL). If you’re looking for a throwback comp, I see a little bit of former Chargers back Natrone Means in Pierce’s game.”

James Cook, Georgia

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Age: 22

5-foot-11, 199 pounds

If you’re a believer in the importance of good role models, then you’ll love that Cook has a pretty good one in older brother Dalvin Cook. The younger Cook doesn’t have his brother’s size and strength, but he proved capable of hitting big plays in college. The problem is, he was never a true focal point for the Bulldogs offense, with double-digit carries in just five games over four seasons. Can he be a three-down back in the NFL? That’s the question. 

Best Fantasy fits

Buffalo Bills: “Throughout his tenure as general manager of the Bills, GM Brandon Beane hasn’t been shy about targeting the running back position on late Day 2 (Round 3). He located two backs he loved and he went out and got them both in Round 3 — Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. While Singletary had a nice stretch at the end of 2021, he hasn’t fully established himself as the alpha, and there is room for another playmaker in this offense. Considering how many opposing defensive coordinators shifted to playing the Josh Allen-led Bills from a two-high safety shell, this is among the best fits for any running back. Cook’s skill set in the passing game also helps his projection here.” Also: Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants

Dynasty outlook

“Cook has been falling in the rookie mock drafts I’ve participated in until this point, and I believe his lack of size and touches at the collegiate level have a lot to do with it. I’ve been seeing Cook come off the board consistently in Round 3 — at times toward the middle or back end. I understand the concerns, but as we’ll get to below in the scouting report, the elite traits outweigh those. And that’s way too far of a fall. Cook will be a target of mine at the end of the second round in standard rookie drafts with a skill set that translates very well to any Fantasy league that awards points for receptions.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “The breakaway speed is real with Cook and he might even have a slight edge on his brother in that regard — the 4.42 40-yard dash shows up on tape via his game speed … Incredibly quick feet allow him to change direction, press the line of scrimmage before cutting to get vertical … Near identical run style to his brother Dalvin gives him a leg up for any team that brings him into an outside-zone heavy run blocking system … Total mismatch against linebackers as a receiving option — Georgia even found success lining him up on the boundary and in the slot — in motion … Acceleration after his cuts is noticeable on tape and a major asset … shows flashes of advanced mental processing in his ability to set up cutback linebackers and safeties … Shows a willingness to pass protect and has a few high-level pass protecting reps.” 

Weaknesses – “Cook has a slight frame that brings question marks as to whether or not he’ll be able to hold up with a heavy workload … not a tackle breaker via power by any means … Contact balance is not a concern necessarily but also not an elite trait for Cook … only eclipsed 100 total touches in one season.”

NFL comparison

“A smaller version of Dalvin Cook in running style is apt, but factoring in the frame, former Falcons running back Devonta Freeman might make the most sense as an NFL comparison given their running styles and size.”

Other RB to know …

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