How to Find the RB1 for Fantasy in 2022

The search for the holy grail, the RB1, consumes most fantasy owners. Fantasy teams in the past with players like Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, and Todd Gurley were much more likely to win the fantasy championship. However, drafting the RB1 is an illusive task. Over the last 10 seasons a running back has never finished as the number one scorer in back-to-back years. This means that it is very unlikely Jonathan Taylor will repeat as the RB1 this season, despite him being the consensus 1st pick in drafts. I took a look at fantasy RB1s from the past 10 seasons to see if there were any trends we could use to identify the RB1 for 2022.

  1. The last 8 straight RB1s were 25 or younger. However, Adrian Peterson in 2012 and Jamaal Charles in 2013 were both the RB1 in their age 27 season. This means that, due to their age, players like Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, and Austin Ekeler will most likely not finish as the RB1 in 2022.

  2. 9 of the last 10 RB1s were drafted as the RB14 or higher in fantasy drafts. The only exception was Devonta Freeman in 2015 whose ADP was RB40.

  3. Every RB1 from the last 10 years was on a team with a top 20 offense. 6 of these players were on a team with a top 10 offense.

  4. 9 of the last 10 RB1s did not have another running back on their roster with more than 90 carries. The one exception was Alvin Kamara in 2020 who shared the backfield with Latavius Murray. However, the Saints had a top 5 offense so there were more than enough opportunities for Kamara to succeed. While a lot of people expect D'Andre Swift to break out this year, this pattern limits his ability to be the RB1 because he splits carries with Jamaal Williams. I do not believe the Lions offense will be able to finish top 5 in the league and compensate for his lack of carries.

Now, let's take a look at the few players who could satisfy all of these criteria for 2022:

Javonte Williams: Williams checks the boxs for age and ADP. He is only 22 years old and is currently being selected as the RB11 in drafts. The Denver offense also looks to take a huge step forward in 2022 with the addition of Russell Wilson and will definitely be top 20. The only question mark for Williams is will he become the bell-cow running back in Denver. The Broncos brought back Melvin Gordon who had 203 carries last season, the same amount as Williams. However, Williams received significantly more work in the passing game than Gordon (53 targets for Williams to only 38 for Gordon), and from week 10 on Williams played 53% more snaps than Gordon. Overall, Williams is a much more talented and explosive player than Gordon. He was 7th in the NFL last year in Extra Yards Created Per Touch, while Gordon was 26th in that category. Even if Williams doesn't take control of the backfield and continues to share some carries with Gordon, he can take a similar path to the one Kamara did in 2015 because of how explosive the Broncos offense projects to be.

Najee Harris and Saquon Barkley: Both Harris and Barkley could be the RB1 in 2022 and each for very similar reasons. Both players are under 25 and are being selected as top 14 running backs in ADP. In addition, the running back depth charts behind them are very thin and neither of their backups project to receive more than 90 carries. However, both the Steelers and the Giants finished outside the top 20 in offense last season. But there is hope, both Todd Gurley in 2017 and Jamal Charles in 2013 finished as the RB1 after their teams both had the worst scoring offense in the NFL the year prior. Could a change at QB for the Steelers and the addition of new Head Coach Brian Daboll for the Giants propel these offenses and running backs to stardom as well?

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