Undervalued Running Backs

Each year, a handful of Running Backs catch lightning in a bottle and blow their pre-season Consensus ADP out of the water. While the recipe for success isn’t the same from season to season, we can certainly reference some examples from previous seasons while looking to find similar situations in 2022.

When looking for some examples of players who fit the description, let’s take a look at Final Season position vs pre-season ADP in a PPR format. Our historical ADP data is referenced from Fantasy Data.

2021 Leonard Fournette RB6 vs ADP RB36
2020 Kareem Hunt RB10 vs ADP RB27
2019 Derrick Henry RB2 vs ADP RB21

Without going in to detail about why these players were drafted so late, the common point between them is that they returned a significant value relative to pre-season ADP. They may or may not have won you a Fantasy Championship but they definitely got you into the playoffs. This kind of bullseye draft selection is exactly what we strive for in our pre-season preparation.

The goal is to highlight some Running Backs who I expect to outperform their current ADP throughout the 2022 season. Here are 3 players from 2022 who I expect to out-perform expectations this year:

Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles ADP RB27

  • Efficiency: 5.5 yards per rush attempt in 2021
  • Past production: 13.67FPTS/G in 2019 and 14.20FPTS/G in 2020
  • Skilled in both rushing and pass catching roles
  • Drafted within a half round of D’Andre Swift + Josh Jacobs in 2021
  • Philadelphia ranked 2nd in Rush Attempts during the 2021 season
  • Age 25 season (prime)
  • This is a contract year for Miles Sanders

Sanders 2021 season was convoluted by injury and a clouded sense of opportunity sharing the spotlight with Jalen Hurts. We came into the season with an understanding that Kenneth Gainwell would play a role in the pass catching game and potentially cut out some of Sanders 3rd down role. What ended being a bigger item of concern, for fantasy purposes, was the highly coveted RZ rushing opportunities which Jalen Hurts took away. Hurts rushed for 10TD’s and 784 yards on the season, well above the league average at his position. So why the optimism for Sanders going into 2022?

To start, we’re looking at a player who rushed for a 5.5 Y/A in 2021. Good enough to rank 5th best amongst RB’s in the top 50 on the year. Efficiency is a difficult trait to come by amongst NFL players so its easy to think that a player who’s average FPTS/G went from 13.67/G in 2019 and 14.20/G in 2020 leading up to the 2021 season which was on track for a fringe 15.0FPTS/G season. His 2021 Fantasy ADP certainly supported that notion with Sanders being taken within half a round of Josh Jacobs and D’Andre Swift. Now leading into 2022 your looking at a mid 6th round option in PPR formats. Sanders is the player who can fill a flex spot on your roster while your league mates are drafting QBs. I’m recommending Sanders as a moderate advantage due to ceiling out of your flex spot in 2022. As an RB who showed us he could produce as an RB2 in FPTS/G through 2019 and 2020 we already know he is capable, now show us healthy.

AJ Dillon – Green Bay Packers ADP RB25

  • PFF’s 5th highest graded RB
  • Potential to split carries 50/50 with Aaron Jones in 2022
  • Big build which is well suited to late season rushing performances in cold weather games at Lambeau Field
  • Held a 91.9% reception rate in 2021 making him relevant on every page of the playbook
  • Age 24 season (low mileage)
  • Aaron Jones a trade candidate in 2022 and a cut candidate for the 2023 season lending towards Dillon becoming the lead back of the future in Green Bay

The Green Bay offense will surely have a new look in 2022. Davante Adams and MVS both left the team which opens up a significant opportunity for players to step up in their absence. Between Adams and MVS they totaled 1,983 yards, 149 touches and 224 TGT’s in 2021. This vacant opportunities certainly creates room for a number of players to emerge. The Packers will have their hands full distributing those targets, in specific, to a number of players widely expected to absorb them in 2022.

AJ Dillon is the constant in the Green Bay Packers offense between the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Dillon lead the Packers in rushing yards (803), rushing TD’s (5), attempts (187) and catch% (91.9). While your competition is zoning in on Aaron Jones to leap into contention for a top 10 RB finish in 2022, you should be looking to collect AJ Dillon in your drafts at a 3.5 round discount over Jones. This is even a pairing you can roster on a weekly basis knowing that Jones will see an uptick in pass catching opportunities come 2022.

Elijah Mitchell – San Francisco 49ers ADP RB24

  • Fantasy Pros currently projects Mitchell for 278 Rush ATT in 2022 – 6th best amongst Running Backs
  • San Francisco uses a run heavy approach under Kyle Shanahan which employs misdirection and lateral movement aimed at setting up holes for speedy backs
  • Mitchell is currently the only Running back under contract for 2022 who possess the speed (4.38 40-yd dash) to run with the San Francisco offensive scheme
  • Being knocked due to the yearly changeover in the lead back role by San Francisco in each of the last 5 seasons

Mitchell finished the 2021 season as the RB14 in FPTS/G after playing in only 11 contests. He clearly established himself over Trey Sermon, who was thought to be the emerging back in San Francisco after the team moved up to draft him in 2021. The choice which the 49ers made to draft Tyrion-Davis Price this year isn’t one of initial concern to Elijah Mitchell. TDP ran a 4.48 40yd dash after measuring 211lbs at the 2022 combine. This was 10lbs lighter than LSU listed him at in 2021.

To run effectively in a Kyle Shanahan system, a player needs to possess 4.40 speed in order to hit the holes that the 49ers offensive line works to open. Mitchell is the only back with upside in the 49ers backfield leading into 2022. This player type always outperforms the draft capital investment. Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida are some good examples to reference. With San Francisco projecting to be amongst the top 10 teams in rushing attempts, Mitchell makes a fine choice in terms of volume and role security.

Given the ADP range of these Running Backs a prudent way to work them into your pre-draft strategy would be to focus on drafting WR and/or TE early knowing that these players will still be available to you in the subsequent rounds. Given that I am a huge proponent of drafting an RB early, regardless of format, I would like to add that these players line up best as my RB2 or better yet, Flex options. Overall, I think that these Running backs will outproduce their current ADP by seasons end.

For anyone asking who my choice of the bunch is, its AJ Dillon. I will happily draft him in round 5 or 6 of redraft leagues in 2022. I look for him to finish inside the top 15 backs this year and to even push to be considered as an RB1.

David Carey – @87_Carey

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