Fantasy football analyst Matt Harmon is revealing the highlights of his positional projections for the 2022 season. Next up, here are the running back projections that stood out to him.
Javonte Williams has a capped ceiling
Most in the fantasy community probably get this one by now but it’s worth repeating: Javonte Williams isn’t going to get a workhorse role with Melvin Gordon back on the roster.
Here’s how I project the Broncos rushing share:
Javonte Williams - 53%
Melvin Gordon - 30%
Russell Wilson - 12%
Everyone else - 5%
Just between Gordon and Williams, that’s a slightly better than 60/40 split in favor of the younger back. I’ve got the target share figure higher for Williams but Gordon is going to get in the mix there, as well. Last year, Williams checked in at 11 percent and Gordon at 8 percent. I’ve got the gap between the two similar for this season but lower shares for both with the wide receivers expected to handle more work now that Russell Wilson in town.
Again, that usage skews pretty heavily toward Williams. And even in that scenario he barely projects as a top-15 back with 1,345 yards from scrimmage and nine total touchdowns.
Taking Williams at his RB11 ADP likely won’t lose you your league and he does have fantastic talent with big injury upside if Gordon misses time. However, don’t be surprised if there are some frustrating weeks along the way.
Antonio Gibson is stuck
Nothing is more problematic in fantasy football than a running back stuck in the empty carries, “Between the 20s” role.
These are the guys without access to all the goal line work and aren’t the exclusive receiving option in the backfield. The ceiling on these players is capped and the floor is never as reliable as you think because they’re so gamescript dependent.
It looks like Antonio Gibson might be the prime candidate to fall into that dreaded role this year.
We know that J.D. McKissic is locked in as the primary pass-catcher and main player in the hurry-up offense. I’ve got him projected for a 10% target share of this offense and Gibson at 6%, which might be too high.
It sounds like the team specifically drafted Brian Robinson to take some of the grinder carries away from Gibson. You don’t have to be high on Robinson as a player to believe he’ll be a thorn in Gibson’s side. Gibson has been a big scorer so far in his career with a 4.2% touchdown rate through two seasons but I sliced him to 3.5% with the expectation he’ll cede some short-yardage work to Robinson.
All that makes it impossible to squeeze Gibson into the top-24 backs in projections. He’s not a total red-light pick at his ADP just because he could benefit from injury chaos narrowing down this backfield. If all things are equal though, it'll be hard for him to squeeze out much fantasy juice in this tough role.
Believe in James Conner
Given his RB18 and 31st overall ADP, it seems like there’s some hesitancy on James Conner. There shouldn’t be.
You can say a lot about Kliff Kingsbury’s middling tenure as the Cardinals head coach but he’s rolled out some effective rushing offenses. I’ve currently got the Cardinals with the 11th-most rush attempts in the NFL since they play so fast.
In my projections, Conner gets a conservative 49% share of the team carries and at 4.0 yards per carry that gets him close to 900 yards on the ground. Don’t put too much stock in his low YPC from last year. He was handling short yardage carries so often that the figure is deflated. The big key for Conner is his receiving work. He held a 10% target share last year and that was with Chase Edmonds in the mix.
Conner has a receiving pedigree from his days in Pittsburgh and was the passing-down back when Edmonds was hurt last year. I feel comfortable projecting a 9 to 10% target share for this season.
Unless he gets hurt — and in fairness, he has had injury issues in the past — there’s almost no way Conner doesn’t beat his current ADP. He’s a great RB2 selection.
Cordarrelle Patterson is probably undervalued
Cordarrelle Patterson had a 12% target share and a 38% share of the rush attempts last season. If you project anything close to those numbers again in 2022, he’s going to come out way higher than his RB43 ADP.
Sorry, that is just way too low.
The Falcons didn’t add another running back that we can immediately assume usurps carries. Rookie Tyler Allgeier has the eye of some in the fantasy community but he was a Day 3 pick. Veteran Damien Williams isn’t a needle-mover at this point. Patterson can still creep close to a 40% share of the rushing offense.
I expect the passing game to mostly funnel through Kyle Pitts and Drake London. Beyond them, perhaps Bryan Edwards sprinkles in but there’s more than enough room for Patterson to shave off 10-11% of the targets in a hybrid role.
Apparently, drafters are still looking at Patterson as a fluke but the Falcons brought him back after being the first team to successfully nail down a role for him. He might be tough to predict on a weekly basis but he’s going to straight-up give you more points than many of the other players going in his draft range.
Lack of passing work is a killer for Joe Mixon
Back in his college days, Joe Mixon was a strong receiving prospect. You wouldn’t know it based on his NFL usage.
The current Bengals staff in particular has been adamant they don’t want to ask too much of Mixon as a receiver. They want to use Samaje Perine as a third-down back to give Mixon a breather after handling the early downs and also don’t want to take targets from their great receiver trio. The first one doesn’t make too much sense but I can get behind the second reasoning.
Mixon was capped at a 10% target share last year and I’ve got him in that range once again. It’ll be tough for him to clear 50 catches and with touchdown regression likely coming on the ground, he’s a tough sell as a no-doubt top-eight back in fantasy.
Tony Pollard has standalone value
I’ve never been one of these Tony Pollard zealots that have screamed about how he’s better than Ezekiel Elliott into the Twitter void for years. But I do find myself buying into the standalone value case for Pollard this year.
Pollard had an 8% target share in this offense last year but with the extreme lack of depth at wide receiver on this depth chart, I bumped him up to 9% this year. Even that is enough to get him over 45 catches. Remember that Dallas ranked second and seventh the last two years in plays per game and second and sixth in pass attempts. I’d argue Pollard actually has upside to carve out an even bigger share of the passing looks and we’re really looking at an upside case if he gets to 11% or so.
Elliott hovered around just 50% of the team rush attempts last year and even if you give him a slight bump — and I think you should — Pollard can maintain a share north of 25%. Perhaps the split is closer than that but it doesn’t need to be for Pollard to hit.
That gives him just shy of 1,000 yards from scrimmage for Pollard and with just four to five touchdowns, he projects right around RB30. That’s right around where he goes off the board in drafts.
So Pollard can return value on his ADP with a pretty conservative usage projection. We know he also has massive injury upside. In the event of an Elliott injury, Pollard would rocket up inside the top-10 fantasy backs. He’s a green-light pick for me.
James Cook can muddy the target tree in Buffalo
The Bills made it obvious all offseason they wanted a pass-catching upgrade in the backfield. General manager Brandon Beane openly fumed to the media about Washington swooping in last minute to re-sign J.D. McKissic after Buffalo agreed to terms with the veteran back. The team still made a big investment at the position when they drafted James Cook in Round 2 of the NFL Draft.
Cook was lauded by scouts for his skills as a receiver and route-runner and figures to hold that role for the Bills, at a bare minimum, this year.
The Bills’ intent carries more weight to me than the argument that “Josh Allen has never thrown to his running backs.” Talent dictates target distribution and the Bills have not had a good option to throw to at running back the last few years. I remember when “Cam Newton didn’t throw to his running backs” prior to Christian McCaffrey arriving in Carolina.
I don’t expect Cook to suddenly become a McCaffrey-type receiver out of the backfield — or anything close. I do think he can shave off an 7 to 9% target share for this team as a rookie. That’ll only get him into the 50-target neighborhood with starting back Devin Singletary still holding a share around 3 to 5%.
Cook has some middling fantasy value in that role but he needs to seize early down work to truly hit. He’s a reasonable bet at his RB40 ADP just to get exposure to the Bills’ offense.
His greatest impact is what he might do to the non-Stefon Diggs pass catchers in this offense. If Cook is siphoning targets away, it leaves a smaller piece of the pie for guys like Gabriel Davis or Isaiah McKenzie to soak up as they embrace new roles. If the latter gets up near a 14% target share and Dawson Knox absorbs more looks in his second season, Davis could come in just shy of 120 targets on the season.