Running Backs to Avoid (2022 Fantasy Football)

If there’s one thing I’d be interested in the results of more than anything else in this world, it would be a psychoanalysis of the relationship between fantasy football managers and professional football players. Occasionally I have to stop myself and assess why I am so willing to exert the amount of energy I do into being a staunch advocate on behalf of individuals who are extremely unlikely ever to know who I am. It ultimately speaks to the power of fandom.

At its core, sports fandom is tribalism. Without diving into the sociological minutiae of it all, we split ourselves into facts of interest and cheer for specific outcomes because it is fun. irrational? Sure, but it’s fun. The point where my understanding stops is “hate,” particularly in fantasy football. Often questions like “why do you hate ____?” or statements such as “wow, I guess you really hate ____” come up when we share our rankings and analysis. I don’t think anyone “hates” a certain running back you like simply because they disagree. It’s a false dichotomy.

We should all hope to see these athletes succeed, but the game of fantasy football requires parsing through different factors to make fair assessments. Being out on a player because of red flags in his athletic profile, the circumstances of his situation of him, or an opaque outlook of his workshare opportunity should not be classified as “hating” them. This is my long-winded way of saying I do not “hate” any of these running backs. Feel free to @ me if you disagree, but never use the “hate” word. Here are a few running backs I would avoid in fantasy football ahead of the 2022 NFL season.

Antonio Gibson (RB–WAS)

The Commanders may have fallen short of the NFL playoffs, but Gibson’s late-season surge certainly helped fantasy managers reach theirs. Through Week 8, the team put together a 2-6 record, and Gibson himself was off to a frustrating RB18 overall start in point per reception (PPR) scoring. After a bye week in Week 9 and overcoming an early-season shin/calf injury, I have finished the year as the RB6 overall in PPR in that span. When in good health, Gibson performs for fantasy purposes. But, what truly worries me about him moving forward is twofold: JD McKissic returning and the losses on the offensive line.

When he came out of the University of Memphis in 2020 as a converted wide receiver, much was made of Gibson’s pass-catching acumen. While he has been able to chip away at the disparity in targets between himself and McKissic (44 to 110 in 2020 and 52 to 53 in 2021), McKissic’s decision to re-sign with the team on a two-year deal instead of packing his bags for the Buffalo Bills as initially reported during the legal tampering period keeps the proverbial thorn in Gibson’s side. McKissic’s presence alone as a pass-catching specialist caps Gibson’s receiving upside. But what about touchdowns? Players who lack in receiving can overcome in PPR through scoring TDs.

Per Sharp Football Stats and Football Outsiders, respectively, the Washington Commanders had a 44% success rate in red zone rushing and a 4.28 adjusted line yards rating (18th) in 2021. Not great. To some degree, this lack of success has to do with the offensive line’s ability. The Commanders’ line has only gotten worse by losing former All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff to a free agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars and releasing guard Ereck Flowers in 2022. Unless the line is meaningfully addressed in the NFL Draft or the team seeks help in the remaining free agent market, it is hard to imagine Gibson will be able to do much good running into a human brick wall consistently. It is hard to feel anything besides pessimistic about Gibson in 2022.

Damien Harris (RB–NE)

Speaking of running backs who score a ton of TDs to overcome a lack of receiving, how about Damien Harris? Per our Touchdown Regression Report here at FantasyPros, Harris ranked third in the adjusted rushing TD% category in 2021. What does that mean? In plain terms, many of his fantasy points came from getting into the end zone over raw rushing production. It is unlikely Harris will repeat his 2021 production next season. Additionally, there is an unintentionally offensive Rhamondre Stevenson-sized elephant in the room.

desde Week 9 through the end of the year, Harris and Stevenson finished RB19 and RB26 overall in PPR scoring. That is a close margin. To further highlight how close the two of them were during that period, Stevenson out-touched Harris on a per-game basis 14.6 to 13.1, per 4for4. In Harris’ defense, he played one fewer game in that span. Still, the intended illustration here is that a) this backfield may be more in question than people care to admit, and b) it is tough to replicate fantasy success if a player relies too much upon reaching the end zone.

Looking at Harris’ RB14 overall year-end finish is incredibly misleading. Expanding upon the frustrating nature of predicting the Patriots backfield would take me well over the desired word count initially outlined by my editors. My advice is to be conservative with this running back at cost to keep it brief.

Chase Edmonds (RB–MIA)

After a controversy-laden offseason, the Dolphins replaced ex-head coach Brian Flores with former San Francisco 49ers OC Mike McDaniel as their new play caller. What comes to mind immediately is, “Oh wow, the Dolphins will be the Niners of the AFC East,” and a subsequent copy-and-paste of their playbook and high-volume, run-heavy scheme onto the Miami roster. It is a reasonable launching point as a frame of reference for what the team could look like with a new hire coming in from the outside.

The Dolphins opened the free agency tampering period with a bang, giving the former Arizona Cardinals back a two-year, $12.6 million contract. The initial reaction is, “They gave him a lot of money, so Chase Edmonds is the guy.” But not so fast! Not to brush aside the additions to the offensive line, the signing of Cedrick Wilson, and the re-signing of Mike Gesicki, but what happened subsequently regarding the blockbuster trade for superstar Tyreek Hill cannot go unnoticed. The Miami personnel moves suggest a trend toward building an offense to support the passing efforts of former top-five NFL Draft selection Tua Tagovailoa. Pairing Hill with last year’s first-round selection and WR13 overall in PPR Jaylen Waddle is a rather large statement indicating that a robust aerial attack may be the idea in mind for McDaniel, not an absurdly run-heavy scheme.

Additionally, veteran Raheem Mostert is being brought into the fold on a short-term deal to join incumbent Myles Gaskin as depth. Neither Mostert nor Edmonds is that different from an archetypal standpoint; both are under 6 feet tall, barely over 200 pounds, and profile as speed specialists with some receiving acumen. Suppose we are to believe McDaniel will bring some element of the Niners offense to Miami. In that case, the team acquiring a larger running back through the NFL Draft who can operate more like a “thunder” to the Edmonds/Mostert “lightning” is a reasonable prediction at this stage. Frankly, this is merely hypothetical, and we won’t know how this situation will play out until the end of the month at the earliest, but there’s room for a healthy dose of skepticism. File this one as a red-flag TBD as we look ahead.

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