Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Fantasy Football Week 3 Running Back Rankings: Does Derrick Henry still belong among the elite?

Fantasy Football Week 3 Running Back Rankings: Does Derrick Henry still belong among the elite?

Chris Towers unveils his early Week 3 running back rankings

Tennessee Titans v Buffalo Bills
Joshua Bessex / Getty Images

It’s too early to draw any sweeping conclusions about the 2022 NFL season. Two games is just too small a sample size to drastically change your opinion on any player in any position. That being said, if you drafted Derrick Henry this season, you probably aren’t feeling particularly good about it. And you probably shouldn’t.

The case for Henry as an elite Fantasy option over the years has been based on the idea that he’s such a physical outlier that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t catch passes. Henry was such a good bet for 20-plus carries in any given week that he has brought a significant floor to the table, but he’s also a rare big-play threat in the running game, which gave him upside to match nearly any running back. He brute-forced his way to Fantasy dominance over the past three seasons.

But he sure didn’t look like that kind of play Monday night, as the Bills held him to 25 yards on 13 carries, with a long run of 9 yards. Sure, the Bills might just be one of those teams who does that to every team they face – their front seven especially may be so dominant that it renders analysis of any of their opponents moot for that week.

But Henry also didn’t look great in Week 1. He rushed for just 82 yards on 21 carries against a Giants defense that went out and surrendered 100-plus yards to Christian McCaffrey this week. And, in his last game of 2021, he also had just 62 yards on 20 carries, giving him 3.1 yards per carry over 55 opportunities over his past three games. And those three games are his only ones since coming back from foot surgery last season. Suddenly, Henry is a 28-year-old, 250-pound running back who hasn’t looked like himself since coming back from a serious injury, and that’s a lot of red flags stacked on top of each other. 

Again, it’s too early to say Henry is finished. He has earned the benefit of the doubt, and it’s especially easy to excuse Henry’s struggles against Buffalo. But, if he isn’t a one-of-a-kind difference maker as a runner anymore, it’s going to be tough for him to be an elite Fantasy option. 

Here are my top-60 players at RB for Week 2.   

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  1. Christian McCaffrey vs. NO — The Panthers offense has been a disaster so far, and McCaffrey’s relative lack of involvement in the passing game has been a big part of that. He’s still playing nearly every snap — 91% in Week 2 — so I don’t have really have any concerns about McCaffrey’s role. This offense just needs to be better. I think it will be, but this is an especially tough matchup. 
  2. Jonathan Taylor vs. KC — Even in a game where the Colts were surprisingly trailing from the start, Taylor played 74% of the snaps in Week 2. He ran 22 routes, compared to just 14 for Nyheim Hines, and that bodes very well for his upside moving forward, even if he was targeted just one time. 
  3. Saquon Barkley vs. DAL
  4. Austin Ekeler vs. JAX — There’s been a lot made about Ekeler’s lack of opportunities near the goal line through two games, but it’s worth noting, the Chargers have run seven plays from the 5-yard line or closer, and Ekeler has been on the field for five of them. They just happened to come on consecutive plays on a Thursday night primetime game. I’m not sure there’s much to worry about here — yet. 
  5. Leonard Fournette vs. GB — Fournette has played 80% of the snaps for the Bucs so far, and outside of garbage time of Week 1, he’s really the only running back who has touched the ball here. His role makes him elite. 
  6. Joe Mixon @NYJ — Mixon ran three times as many routes as Samaje Perine in Week 2, continuing a trend I thought might have been a mirage in Week 1. With his locked-in 18-plus carries per week, an increased role in the passing game would make Mixon one of the true elite backs in Fantasy once this offense gets going. It’s something to keep watching, but it’s a good sign for Mixon so far.
  7. Dalvin Cook vs. DET
  8. Najee Harris @CLE — Despite his injury, Harris got 20 of 25 RB touches in Week 2, as the Steelers really didn’t opt to limit his usage at all. That’s a good sign for his short-team value, though this still looks like a pretty bad offense, and Harris’ long-term injury risk remains elevated. He’s a must-start back as long as he’s healthy, but I would still be trying to sell Harris if I can.
  9. Aaron Jones @TB — Jones and AJ Dillon have combined for a 29% target share, and I think that might remain the case moving forward, as Aaron Rodgers seems like he’ll have to spread the ball around all season long. That makes both running backs viable starters, though I still think Jones is the better player. 
  10. D’Andre Swift @MIN — Swift only got seven touches in Week 2, but he still played 51% of the snaps and was heavily involved in the passing game despite his ankle injury. He’ll cede more touches to Jamaal Williams than we might prefer, but he’s a big play machine who gets a bunch of high-value touches. His struggles staying healthy are the only real long-term knock on him. 
  11. Derrick Henry vs. LV
  12. Javonte Williams vs. SF — Williams got 15 carries to 10 for Melvin Gordon in Week 2, which looked more like the split we were expecting. Combine that with Williams running a route on 20 pass plays compared to just nine for Gordon, and that’s exactly the usage we were hoping for from him. You should feel better about him than after Week 1. 
  13. David Montgomery vs. HOU — Both Montgomery and Khalil Herbert ran the ball well in Week 2, but Montgomery had 15 carries to just four for Herbert. Herbert has a role, but it’s still a clear complementary one, with Montgomery having played 71% of the snaps. He’s a volume-based RB2 with a good matchup this week. 
  14. Nick Chubb vs. PIT
  15. Antonio Gibson vs. PHI — Week 2 wasn’t quite as promising for Gibson as Week 1 was, as the pass-heavy game plan lead to a bigger role for J.D. McKissic. However, he still got 14 carries and four targets while running only one fewer route than McKissic. I’m still viewing him as close to a must-start RB for Fantasy.
  16. Alvin Kamara @CAR — I’m hopeful that Kamara’s rib injury explains his limited usage in Week 1, especially since it was serious enough to cost him last week’s game. That’s the glass-half-full approach, at least.
  17. Josh Jacobs @TEN — Jacobs has 29 of 33 rush attempts by Raiders running backs so far this season, so his role seems pretty secure. He’s only been targeted twice despite running routes on about half of Derek Carr’s dropbacks, so it’s not unreasonable to expect more involvement in the passing game. Jacobs isn’t a star, but if you’ve got two better options at running back right now, you’re in a good spot.
  18. AJ Dillon @TB — It’s been interesting to see Dillon get more carries than Jones in both games so far, especially since Dillon out-carried Jones 10-7 in the first half. It wasn’t just that he got more carries to close the game out. He’s been a priority in each game, and is a must-start Fantasy option, more or less.
  19. Cordarrelle Patterson @SEA — Patterson split carries with Tyler Allgeier in Week 2 and ran a route on just 13 of 32 pass plays. He won’t be worth using in Fantasy if that’s his workload moving forward, though I do wonder if the Falcons were just especially careful with his usage after a heavy workload in Week 1. I expect more passing game usage moving forward. It didn’t help that he bobbled his lone target Sunday, leading to an interception.
  20. Miles Sanders @WAS
  21. Darrell Henderson @ARI — Henderson was the lead back for the Rams in Week 2, but Cam Akers had a much bigger than expected role, playing 27 snaps to Henderson’s 35. That really complicates things. Henderson got fewer carries, but was more involved in the passing game and got one touchdown from inside the 10-yard line. If Henderson is the passing downs and short-area back, he can remain a must-start Fantasy option, but I’m worried that it might not take much for Akers to overtake him as the primary back after seeing his role increase so much in one week. I’m definitely wary of Henderson now.
  22. Ezekiel Elliott @NYG — Even in a game where Tony Pollard was ripping off chunks of yards early, Elliott more or less got his usual workload, and even ran 18 routes to Pollard’s 12. There’s no sign of this turning into anything close to an even split yet, which means Elliott remains a boring starting RB. 
  23. Jeff Wilson @DEN — Wilson split carries with rookie Tyrion Davis-Price in Week 2, and it wasn’t like Davis-Price got a bunch of late touches, or something — it was pretty even throughout the game, with Wilson getting 18 carries and Davis-Price ending up with 14. Wilson ran well, better than Davis-Price, so I expect him to remain the lead back, and with Davis-Price suffering a high-ankle sprain that will cost him multiple weeks, Wilson’s path to consistent 15-plus-carry games is pretty clear.
  24. James Robinson @LAC — Robinson has been one of the best stories in the league so far, with 34 carires and four targets through two games. He’s looked pretty good overall, though I do think there’s a path for him losing snaps to Travis Etienne if the younger guy starts to show real, undeniable spark. So far, he hasn’t separated himself, while Robinson has provided a steady presence. Robinson is clearly the best Fantasy option of the two, though Week 3’s game script could benefit Etienne more if the Jaguars fall behind early. 
  25. Kareem Hunt vs. PIT — If you viewed Kareem Hunt as a disappointment in Week 2, that just means you haven’t been paying attention to Kareem Hunt over the past few seasons. His usage was basically identical to Week 1, he just happened to get the touchdowns that week, while Nick Chubb got them in Week 2. Hunt is a viable starting option at RB, but he’s not a must-start guy for a reason. 
  26. Damien Harris vs. BAL — Harris left the game late with a knee injury, but told reporters afterwards he was fine. He has remained the primary rusher for the Patriots, however he did see his passing game role shrink in Week 2, to just nine routes run. That probably keeps him in the RB3 range, where you’re hoping he finds the end zone to be worth starting.
  27. Clyde Edwards-Helaire @IND — An unusually efficient start to the season and two early touchdowns have made Edwards-Helaire’s Fantasy value look better than I think it actually is. He’s running routes on less than half of his team’s pass plays and has 15 carries across two wins. This team is never going to make a point of establishing the run, and Edwards-Helaire is never going to be a priority in the passing game, so I’m still viewing him as an RB3. Consider selling if anyone view him as more than that.
  28. Eno Benjamin vs. LAR — It sounds like James Conner’s ankle injury isn’t that serious, but I’m projecting him to miss this week’s game for now. That pushes Benjamin in the RB3 range, because I expect him to see a bigger role in the passing game than Darrel Williams, though Williams is also in this range because he’s likely to see more goal-line work. Neither is a must-add on waivers, but both could be worth starting if Conner is out. 
  29. Nyheim Hines vs. KC
  30. Rhamondre Stevenson vs. BAL — With Ty Montgomery on IR, Stevenson was the passing downs back for the Patriots, running a route on 23 of 38 pass plays. That led to two targets, and he’ll need to be more of a focal point as a receiver to be much more than just a low-end starting option for Fantasy. 
  31. Michael Carter vs. CIN — The Jets were still playing from behind and still threw the ball 40-plus times, but Carter and Breece Hall were much less involved this time around. Carter did at least get five targets and was the snaps leader at running back, but with Ty Johnson also getting a handful of snaps in, this doesn’t look like a great situation. If you have to start one Jets back, I’d still make it Carter for now, but I’m not excited about him or Hall right now.
  32. J.D. McKissic vs. PHI
  33. Dameon Pierce @CHI — The Texans talked about getting Pierce more involved after Week 1, and that’s exactly what they did, as he played 63% of the snaps — including 20 of 41 pass plays. I still view him as more of an RB3, but if he’s going to be more than that, this is the kind of role he’ll need. 
  34. Chase Edmonds vs. BUF — Edmonds looked like the No. 1 back for Miami after Week 1, even running the third-most routes of any play on the team. In Week 2, however Raheem Mostert had 11 carries to Edmonds’ five and matched him in pass routes run. That makes Edmonds much tougher to trust, at least as long as Mostert is healthy. Neither is more than a fringe RB3 right now.
  35. Breece Hall vs. CIN
  36. Cam Akers @ARI — Akers went from looking like a complete nonentity to leading the Rams in carries in one week. I’m still treating Darrell Henderson like the primary back for the Rams, but it’s muddy enough that Akers should have a role. Hopefully we’ll get some clarity one way or the other, because this could be a frustrating split moving forward.
  37. Darrel Williams vs. LAR
  38. Tony Pollard @NYG
  39. Devin Singletary @MIA
  40. Travis Etienne @LAC — It isn’t a great sign for Etienne that Robinson also ran more routes than him, in addition to dominating the rushing work. Etienne still has some Fantasy appeal given that the Jaguars have made a point of scheming up touches for him in the red zone early in his career, but he’ll need to be the clear passing downs back to be worth starting, and I’m not sure he’s even that right now.
  41. Jamaal Williams @MIN
  42. Raheem Mostert vs. BUF
  43. Zack Moss @MIA
  44. Melvin Gordon vs. SF
  45. J.K. Dobbins @NE — Dobbins was ultimately not cleared for Week 2, but I’m assuming he’ll be back this week. And the Ravens need him — Lamar Jackson had more yards on his 79-yard touchdown in Week 2 than Kenyan Drake, Justice Hill, and Mike Davis have combined through two games.
  46. Rashaad Penny vs. ATL — This Seahawks offense might be so bad that there isn’t room for Penny to be viable for Fantasy if his splitting snaps. If he’s splitting snaps three ways, like he was in Week 2, he almost certainly won’t be worth starting. Even in a pretty good matchup, I’m treating him like a fringe Fantasy option at this point. 
  47. Tyler Allgeier @SEA — Allgeier split carries with Cordarrelle Patterson, but he ran a route on just four plays, so I’m not sure he’s got much Fantasy appeal right now. You’re hoping he gets an opportunity to fall into the end zone if you start him, but I’m not sure he’d get the first opportunity ahead of Patterson down by the goal line either. 
  48. Sony Michel vs. JAX
  49. Alexander Mattison vs. DET
  50. Kenneth Walker vs. ATL
  51. Kenneth Gainwell @WAS
  52. Mark Ingram @CAR
  53. Jordan Mason @DEN — Mason figures to be the next man up with Tyrion Davis-Price suffering an ankle injury, but he’s yet to see the field on offense despite being active for the first two games, so I don’t know how safe that assumption is. He’s a fine stash if you added him last week, but I’m not sure what to expect just yet.
  54. Rex Burkhead @CHI
  55. Kenyan Drake @NE
  56. Khalil Herbert vs. HOU
  57. Ameer Abdullah @TEN
  58. Rachaad White vs. GB
  59. Samaje Perine @NYJ
  60. D’Onta Foreman vs. NO

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