2022 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: RB rankings show why Christian McCaffrey is still the top option


In most Fantasy football leagues this season, there won’t be much of a question about who to take with the No. 1 overall pick. Jonathan Taylor was the No. 1 running back in 2021 after he led the NFL with 1,811 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns – plus 40 catches for 36 yards and given his age (23) and lack of injury concerns (no games missed last season, just two in five years, dating back to the start of his college career), he’s going to be the top choice in nearly all leagues. 

But he’s not my No. 1 running back for 2022. That’s still Christian McCaffrey for me, and I’m okay being the outlier here. As good as Taylor was in 2021, he didn’t actually have a great season by the standards of No. 1 RBs; his 22.2 PPR points per game was the lowest by a top-ranked RB since Devonta Freeman’s 21.4 in 2017. 

In fact, Taylor wasn’t even the top scorer per game in 2021; Derrick Henry was. McCaffrey was at 18.2, but if you take out the two games he left early with injuries, he averaged 23.6 points per game. His previous three seasons? 30.1, 29.3, and 23.8. Injuries have been an issue – he’s played just 10 games the past two seasons – but there’s little doubt in my mind that McCaffrey is still the best playing in Fantasy when healthy. Heck, McCaffrey has just one fewer game with 24-plus PPR points (seven) than Taylor over the past two seasons, despite playing 22 fewer games. 

“When healthy” is assuming a lot, but McCaffrey’s injuries haven’t been serious enough to require surgery, nor have they been the kind of recurring injuries that tend to be especially worrisome. I’ll grant he carries more risk than Taylor, based on their track records, and he might even have more risk than your typical running back.

But nobody touches McCaffrey’s upside thanks to his pass-catching chops, and unless I get a good reason to think that role is changing significantly, I’m still going to treat McCaffrey like the top option at the position. This means I’m still viewing McCaffrey as the No. 1 overall pick, though the nice thing is, I don’t even have to get the top pick to end up with my top player; he’s fallen to fourth in drafts I’ve done so far at times. I’ll take him every time there. 

Here are my top 48 running backs for 2022:

  1. Christian McCaffrey
  2. Jonathan Taylor
  3. Alvin Kamara
  4. Austin Ekeler
  5. Najee Harris
  6. Derrick Henry
  7. Dalvin Cook
  8. Leonard Fournette
  9. D’Andre Swift
  10. Joe Mixon
  11. James Conner
  12. Aaron Jones
  13. David Montgomery
  14. Nick Chubb
  15. Javonte Williams
  16. Saquon Barkley
  17. Ezekiel Elliott
  18. J.K. Dobbins
  19. Josh Jacobs
  20. Antonio Gibson
  21. Cam Akers
  22. Breece Hall
  23. Travis Etienne
  24. Elijah Mitchell
  25. AJ Dillon
  26. Damien Harris
  27. Miles Sanders
  28. Kareem Hunt
  29. Devin Singletary
  30. Chase Edmonds
  31. Tony Pollard
  32. James Cook
  33. Cordarrelle Patterson
  34. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
  35. Rashaad Penny
  36. Kenneth Walker III
  37. J.D. McKissic
  38. Jamaal Williams
  39. Kenneth Gainwell
  40. Alexander Mattison
  41. Dameon Pierce
  42. Darrell Henderson
  43. Melvin Gordon
  44. Rhamondre Stevenson
  45. Nyheim Hines
  46. James Robinson
  47. Gus Edwards
  48. Michael Carter

Here are some more thoughts on the position:

  • Henry missed more than half the season and didn’t look great in his return to the field in the playoffs. Of course, even “didn’t look great” still meant 12.2 PPR points in a limited role, so the floor remains high. A healthy Henry may be the second-best player in Fantasy, but he’s 28, has a big recent workload, and is coming off that foot injury, so I do view him as a bigger risk than McCaffrey. Add in the fact that he only caught four passes in his final five games after looking like that would be a bigger part of his game early on, and I’m probably going to end up with Henry ranked too low to draft him in most leagues.
  • Kamara scored 16 touchdowns on 187 carries in 2020; he had just four on 240 in 2021. There’s no guarantee the Saints offense is better than it was a year ago, but I think that’s pretty likely, which means we should see a return to the double-digit touchdown range. The more important question might be whether he sees a significant increase on his career-low 3.6 receptions per game. I’m assuming we see some improvement in that regard too, which is why I’m going to be higher on Kamara than the consensus this season. A healthy Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas would go a long way toward making me feel better about that call. 
  • Middling-efficiency, high-volume rookie running backs tend to be pretty good bets to break out, though in Harris’ case there are some questions about how much his passing game role will carry over with Ben Roethlisberger retired. I’m expecting Harris to remain an every-down factor for the Steelers with Mitchell Trubisky/Kenny Pickett, and I think we’ll see more efficiency from him in all facets of the game. The question is whether that’s enough to overcome whatever he might lose in targets. I think he’ll be fine, and there’s significant upside beyond that. 
  • In my initial run, Leonard Fournette was my RB6 and James Conner was RB7. I ended up moving them down a tad, but I imagine I’m still going to end up drafting plenty of both. Fournette’s role in the passing game should still be very strong after re-signing with the Buccaneers, especially with Tom Brady back. Brady has always thrown to his running backs a ton, and with Chris Godwin potentially limited to start the season, it’s not unreasonable to expect a similar role in the passing game as last season, when he had 84 targets in 13 games. Conner’s passing game role is slightly less assured, but he was very effective when the Cardinals were missing Chase Edmonds last season, averaging 23.3 PPR points per game over the final seven games he played. If he is averaging close to five targets per game, Conner is going to be an RB1. 
  • I don’t love any of the rookie running backs for this season. Hall is the top-ranked by consensus and he’s my top-ranked, but at RB22, it’s pretty unlikely I’m going to end up drafting him much. I still think the Jets offense probably isn’t going to be very good and I’m not sure Zach Wilson is going to throw him the ball often enough for him to make up for that. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong and he ends up a three-down back with huge weekly upside, but I think that potential exists with the guys ranked ahead of him, too, so I’m not sure paying the rookie premium makes the most sense this season.