With my quarterback tiers released earlier this week, we move on to the running back position. For the last few years, there's been a debate in the fantasy football world between the traditional heavy RB strategy and its counterpart, the "Zero RB Strategy." Like any huge clash, subdivisions have also formed, including the popular "Hero RB Strategy."
But we're not here to argue one strategy versus another. Regardless of your preferred strategy, the discussion of our running back tiers here should provide some guidance for draft day.
2022 Fantasy Football Running Back Tiers
Tier 1: The Elite
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
I've been in plenty of drafts already this season, and these two RBs nearly always go in the first two picks in some order. And on the rare occasion they last longer, they are universally gone by the fifth pick, which cannot be said about any of the RBs in the next tier.
And it's completely understandable. Taylor has the higher floor, as he has been healthier over the past couple of seasons and has over 30 TDs to his name during the time. McCaffrey, meanwhile, has battled injuries the last couple of seasons but has a much higher ceiling. When healthy in 2019, he had 19 TDs and a league-leading 2,392 yards from scrimmage. Hard to argue against taking either as the top overall pick.
Tier 2: First-Round Options
Derrick Henry, Tennesee Titans
Austin Ekeler, Los Angles Chargers
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
These backs rarely are taken before the very first receiver is drafted, but all of worthy of a first-round pick for one reason or another. But there are also limitations to each as well. Henry has been a yardage monster year after year, for example, but does not contribute very much in the passing game. Harris will get a ton of touches and likely targets as well, but it is simply the sheer volume that makes him attractive. Swift might have the highest upside of anyone in this tier but also has the most limited track record.
Tier 3: Other Potential RB1s
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints;
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Each one of these running backs could be the number one fantasy back this season. However, the prevailing conventional wisdom says otherwise. Whether it is competition from teammates, health, legal issues, or some combination, most experts view them as lesser options. However, they have that No. 1 overall upside that the RBs in the tier below this don't.
Tier 4: Top 20
Breece Hall, New York Jets
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers
Expect most of the backs in this tier to be in the top 20 RBs selected on Draftmas.
Tier 5: HUGE upside, but questions abound
Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers
I challenge you to find someone who likes all the backs in this tier. I also challenge you to find someone who refuses to draft any of the backs in this tier. This is the "gamblers tier." None will likely finish as the alpha running back, but they each could easily finish as an RB1 this season. They might be first-rounders next year, but they rarely even crack the second round this season.
Tier 6: Lead back potential
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Chase Edmonds, Miami Dolphins
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Ken Walker III, Seattle Seahawks
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons
Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos
James Cook, Buffalo Bills
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
Mark Ingram II, New Orleans Saints
Each of these backs has the potential to be a stud if they are given the ball 20 or more times a game this season. Unfortunately, I don't think that happens with any regularity for any of them this season. But every one of these options could have at least one mammoth game if not more. However, when you draft them, you don't know when that game or games will be.
Tier 7: Worthwhile Second Options
Ronald Jones II, Kansas City Chiefs
Darrell Henderson Jr., Los Angeles Rams
Michael Carter, New York Jets
Isaiah Spiller, Los Angeles Chargers
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
Raheem Mostert, Miami Dolphins
If any of these players are your RB1, it will likely be a very rough season for you this year. I wouldn't even want any of them as my RB2. Correction. Unless I'm in a 16-team league, I wouldn't want them as my RB3 either. But ... if the top guy goes down, you could be sitting pretty. And if you are really lucky, some might even be reliable sources of six to nine fantasy points each week.
Tier 8: Menacing Smile Worthy
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons
Brian Robinson Jr., Washington Commanders
D'Ernest Johnson, Cleveland Browns
I have tons of shares of these backs across various teams, especially in my keeper/dynasty leagues, so I might be a little biased. But I like the three rookie backs in this tier, especially this year. I didn't "steal" them because my fellow owners knew exactly what I was doing. They had probably considered it themselves. However, when you grab each of these, there will likely be at least one owner seething about it. And if you can identify him or her, you can look at them and flash a menacing grin their way.
Tier 9: Other RB5 options
Marlon Mack, Houston Texans
Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears
Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
Sony Michel, Miami Dolphins
Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals
Tyrion Davis-Price, San Francisco 49ers
I could have thrown another 20 names in here. Once you get this deep, it depends on what you want. Want some insurance for Fournette? Grab White. The same is true for Herbert and the Montgomery owners. Davis-Price is not necessarily the handcuff for Mitchell, but could easily be a goal-line back and vulture some TDs. Mack might actually be the lead back for Houston, but that might be like a mild sandstorm. It's going to be unpleasant, it won't last long, and if you just keep your mouth and eyes closed as it happens, you will get through it.
— Tiers by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.