Every year, it takes me longer and longer to write the introductory
paragraph for this series. That’s partially because I’m
slowing down some (hit the big 5-0 a while back), partially because
I’m distracted (summertime!), but mostly because there are
only so many ways to say the exact same thing over and over and
over again. In its most basic form, that thing is this: The players
who won you fantasy championships last year aren’t very likely
to do so this year. That’s it. That’s the only point
I’m ever trying to make and the rest—who, specifically,
is most likely to derail your championship dreams this season—is
just details. I’ll be back next summer to say the exact same
thing a slightly different way, but in the meantime, here are those
details, the most likely Top 10 dropouts for 2022.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s
Non-PPR league scoring.
Who Missed the Cut in 2020 (7/10): D. Henry, D. Cook, A. Jones,
D. Montgomery, J. Jacobs, J. Robinson, & K. Hunt
There was a lot of turnover in the RB ranks last season, per the
usual, but for the first time in recent memory, most of the Top
10 backs from a year prior managed to stay very fantasy-relevant
in 2021. Six of the seven fell no further than RB24 and the last
managed to avoid complete scroll-down shame, checking in at RB48.
2020’s top ground gainer, Derrick Henry, suffered a broken
foot in a Week 8 win over Indy, costing him the rest of the season
but not Tennessee’s Divisional Playoff game. Ryan Tannehill
cost the Titans that one (ba dum tss!). Amazingly, Henry was still
able to average a career best (not to mention NFL best) 21.1 FPts/G.
That’s almost precisely how many points Dalvin Cook averaged
a year before, but the Vikes’ meal ticket was again done in
by injuries in 2021, missing four games overall. He’s five
seasons in as a professional and has yet to make it cleanly through
a full slate.
Aaron Jones and David Montgomery, Cook’s NFC North foes, also
missed action last season, costing them both a chance at re-cracking
the Top 10. Jones has more to worry about moving forward—the
looming specter of AJ Dillon—but should remain highly sought
after in PPR leagues (six receiving TDs in 2021, 2nd overall at
the position). Montgomery, meanwhile, is a rare three-down back
with minimal competition who only needs defenses to take his QB
Josh Jacobs wasn’t as impacted by Kenyan Drake’s arrival
in the desert as “some” would have thought, but he did
post a career low 217 carries. Though somewhat mitigated by a career
high 54 receptions, the Bama product missed a couple games and that
was enough to keep him on the periphery of the Top 10 (RB14) rather
than in it. James Robinson wasn’t even close to the periphery,
unfortunately, the result of three missed games and perplexing underutilization.
The former UFA from Illinois St. carried the ball nearly 80 times
fewer than he had in 2020, when he was the focal point of Jacksonville’s
offense, just one of Urban Meyer’s many disastrous decisions.
Our final RB dropout of 2021, Kareem Hunt, missed more than half
the regular season due to a calf injury, predictably toppling all
the way to RB48 last season. He still averaged 13.7 FPts/G through
Week 6, however, which was barely off Nick Chubb’s full-year
average of 14.1. The two should form one of the league’s very
best tandems again this year provided they can stay healthy.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:
ARI: If there was a bigger statistical outlier than Conner’s
18 total TDs last season (15 rushing and 3 receiving), I can’t remember
it. His rushing fundamentals—752 yards and 3.7 YPC—simply don’t
support that level of red zone success, especially when you consider
he shared touches with Chase
Edmonds almost exactly 60/40. Here’s how many touchdowns Edmonds
scored last year: two. There’s something to be said for having a
nose for the goal line and Conner was certainly the heftier of the
two Cardinals (read: a better goal-line option), but…that’s a fairly
Don’t get me wrong. The former Pittsburgh product (Panther,
then Steeler) is an easy guy to root for. How many college-age cancer
survivors do you know of who have gone on to star in the NFL? Conner
does it with a throwback combination of size, power, and determination,
a style that probably should have cost him more games than it has
(multiple in every professional season, a la Dalvin Cook). Nevertheless,
it has cost him games and, were it not for an unbelievable number
of six-pointers last season, likely would have cost him a Top 10
finish, as well.
There are definitely some things breaking in Conner’s favor
as he attempts to replicate that RB5 ranking. First, his former
tag-team partner, Edmonds, has moved on to Miami this season, replaced
by Darrel Williams, late of Kansas City. Second, Arizona will be
without DeAndre Hopkins for six weeks to start the 2022 campaign
(PED suspension), likely forcing Coach Kingsbury to lean on the
ground game more early on. Nevertheless, Williams seems like a pretty
solid plug-and-play for the departed Edmonds and losing Hopkins
could end up focusing more attention on the ground attack. I’m
confident Conner takes a big step back this year. Ezekiel Elliott,
DAL: Zeke’s 2021 numbers seem a lot more sustainable—1,002
yards, 10 rushing TDs, and a reasonable 4.2 YPC average—and he’s
one of only three Top 10 backs to play in every game last year,
an increasingly uncommon feat for the league’s best rock toters.
Still, the trendline’s been pretty obvious for the Cowboys’ $90M
man the last couple years and, barring a mini renaissance in his
seventh professional season, there’s reason to believe his Top 10
days are in the rear-view mirror and that Dallas may not get great
ROI on that 90 large.
For starters, Zeke’s carries have dropped off considerably
the past three seasons. From 2016-2019, the former Buckeye averaged
almost 21 carries per game, leading the league twice during that
stretch (2016 and 2018). In the two years since, he’s averaged
16.3, and 13.9, respectively. Granted, most other running backs
are also seeing a reduction in work (Derrick Henry excluded), but
the days of Elliott carrying the league’s heaviest workload
are almost certainly over. Additionally, the reason for that reduction
has less to do with age (he turned 27 the day I typed this) and
more to do with the guy nipping at his heels on the depth chart.
Tony Pollard, the third-year man from Memphis, is barely two years
younger but looks to be five years Elliott’s junior when he
carries the pigskin, flashing uncanny quicks and playmaking ability.
He averaged a stellar 5.5 YPC in 2021 and garnered a career-high
169 touches, also contributing heavily in the passing game.
Zeke won’t fall off a statistical cliff, but the numbers and
my gut tell me Pollard becomes an even bigger part of the Dallas
offense this season (think Javonte Williams v. Melvin Gordon), costing
his teammate a repeat Top 10 finish.
Harris, NE: If you’re running short
on time and want the CliffsNotes version, read what I wrote about
James Conner above. The two shared some eerily similar statistical
lines in 2021—202 rushing attempts and 15 rushing touchdowns—and
came mostly from out of nowhere to achieve Top 10 status. Conner’s
ADP heading into last season was RB33 (12-team standard leagues)
and Harris’ was RB30. That they finished RB5 and RB8, respectively,
had almost everything to do with those aforementioned paydirt visits.
This was especially so in Harris’ case since he brought almost
nothing to the table as a receiver. Despite the early loss of passing
game specialist James White, Harris managed only 18 receptions all
season, or exactly the same number Tennessee’s seldom targeted
Derrick Henry tallied in seven fewer games. White is slated to return
to action in 2022, but even if he doesn’t (currently on the
PUP list as he recovers from hip surgery), the Pats scooped up hybrid
RB-WR Ty Montgomery this off-season and still have J.J. Taylor on
the roster, though Brandon Bolden has moved on.
The more existential threat to Harris’ Top 10 status appears
to be stunt double Rhamondre Stevenson, who commanded an impressive
133 carries in his rookie year out of Oklahoma and who also, like
Harris, averaged 4.6 YPC. This 60/40 split didn’t result in
anything close to equal scoring production (sound familiar?) but
even a slight leveling of that scoring load this coming season could
cost Harris a Top 10 repeat. This is especially true if White makes
a full recovery or rookie Pierre Strong Jr., whom New England spent
a fourth-round pick on, proves ready to contribute immediately.
Strong was the fastest back in the draft and Coach Belichick has
always preferred committees. Be cautious of Harris.