2022 Fantasy Football Free Agent Running Backs

by Emily Lefco
2022 Fantasy Football Targets and Touches Trends Through Week 10

Welcome to the 2022 Fantasy Football Free Agent Running Backs preview. Here we review 12 of the top free-agent running backs this NFL offseason.

It is difficult to predict whether these running backs will thrive or barely survive again.  It is all dependent on which team they may land on and the team's respective scheme dictating the running backs' play.

Given these unknown conditions, it is even harder to say if these players will produce well in Fantasy Football. Early March free agent moves will likely enlighten us.

On top of these 12 running backs potentially changing teams this offseason, the 2022 NFL Draft features guys like Kenneth Walker III, Isaiah Spiller, Breece Hall, Kyren Williams, Tyler Allgeier and more entering the NFL!

We gathered contract projection data from Pro Football Focus and players' statistics from FantasyPros.

The players are listed in order of current contract projection data, decreasing in value.

2022 Fantasy Football Free Agent Running Backs

1. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Foournette took full command of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backfield over Ronald Jones. Giovani Bernard took on most of the duties as the primary pass-catching back.  Though, Tom Brady frequently utilized Fournette's capability as a pass-catcher. Fournette is a powerful runner who has only fumbled twice since his rookie campaign back in 2017.

He would do well on a team that uses a rotational back in a gap-heavy scheme, like that run by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ideally, his role would have him rotate with a player who is better suited to take on the passing game.

There is some concern of future impending injuries based on his injury history. He missed the last three games and a wild-card round with a hamstring injury.

However, he gained 812 yards on the ground and scored eight rushing touchdowns on 180 carries when he was healthy. He also added 69 receptions (third-most in the NFL) on 84 targets for 454 yards and two more scores.

Though Fournette lost some value when he played in Jacksonville, he strongly recovered his value in Tampa Bay. However, if he remains with Tampa Bay, his ceiling will not be as high without Tom Brady under center.

Still, if he returns, look for Fournette to remain a top-10 Fantasy running back.  He was a low ADP draft pick in 2021, below the likes of James Robinson and Miles Sanders. But, like Cordarrelle Patterson, we will see a rise in his ADP rank in 2022.

Leonard Fournette's contract projection is two years, $16 million.

2. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

James Conner's ADP will also rise in 2022 after a strong campaign in 2021 for the Cardinals. He both shared the lead with and took over for Chase Edmonds.

In his lone season with the Cardinals, Conner had a monster year, producing 752 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on 202 carries.  He added 37 receptions on 39 targets for 375 receiving yards and another three scores as Arizona's most productive running back.

As one of the best short-yardage and goal-line runners in the NFL, and with good hands out of the backfield, he provides value as an outlet in the rushing and passing games. In addition, he would fit well in a scheme that features a power back in a running back rotation.

With a relatively high fumble rate, little breakaway speed, and durability in question, teams may not want to play him as a workhorse for an entire season.

Notably, Conner wants to return to the Cardinals in 2022.  And, with fellow running back Chase Edmonds also hitting free agency, re-signing Conner could make a lot of sense.

If Conner signs and Edmonds goes elsewhere, the 26-year-old would have low-end RB1 Fantasy value heading into 2022 as the Cardinals' lead back.  But with many other key offensive contributors on expiring contracts, it is unclear whether the Cardinals will bring Conner back.

He will have plenty of interest from teams searching for a running back in free agency after his fantastic 2021 campaign. And his ADP rank will likely increase.

Conner's 18 touchdowns (third highest in the league) in 2021 will likely yield a contract easily higher in value than the one-year, $1.75 million contract he had with the Arizona Cardinals this past season.

James Conner's contract projection is two years, $13 million.

3. Cordarrelle Patterson - Atlanta Falcons

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Largely undrafted and picked up off the waiver wire, this was a breakout season for Patterson. He became the Falcons’ most consistent offensive weapon and arguably the team's most valuable player. Consequently, we will see a natural rise in his average draft position (ADP) in 2022.

Patterson's 2.23 yards per route run was second-best among running backs. He is a natural slot receiver with great hands and receiving skills. A hybrid athlete, Patterson is good enough at running back and wide receiver to be a real match-up threat. As a result, he can exploit significant mismatches against opposing teams.

Patterson finished the 2021 season with a career-high 153 carries for 618 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. He added 52 catches on 69 targets for 548 yards and five more scores. He would fit well with a team that will cater to his versatility at different positions.

With a nose for the end zone, it would be wise for the Falcons to keep the veteran playmaker. Patterson has been campaigning intensely for the Falcons to re-sign him. However, if he leaves Atlanta for another organization, Fantasy managers should not expect a repeat in 2022.

However, now that he is past 30 years old and has had diminished returns late in the year, he may not see a substantial deal come his way.

Cordarrelle Patterson's contract projection is two years, $16 million.

4. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

While Chase Edmonds had an underwhelming season with the Arizona Cardinals, this was primarily due to injury. He was banged up in 2021 with a shoulder injury before being placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

In 2020 , he played in all 16 games. However, in 2019, he missed an extensive stretch with a hamstring injury.

Despite being plagued with injuries for much of his career, Edmonds has strengths in agility and receiving out of the backfield.  Yet, he has never led a team in snaps and doesn't force missed tackles at a high rate. With that said, he still might fit into a change-of-pace running back scheme.

He ceded the lead back role to James Conner while on injured reserve with an ankle injury. As a result, Edmonds is at his premium in a complementary role with someone who can split time with him on early-down runs.  Edmonds was a solid complement to Conner despite missing five games during the regular season.

He posted career highs in carries (116) and rushing yards (592) while scoring twice.  Edmonds also caught 43 of 53 targets for 311 yards.  After that uptick in production, the 2018 fourth-rounder is slated to enter free agency this offseason.

It is unclear whether Chase Edmonds' career will continue with the Cardinals or not.  While Edmonds does not precisely have the stats to back him, he certainly has potential. Yet, he always seems to end up falling behind someone on the depth chart.

Chase Edmonds' contract projection is two years, $12 million.

5. Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos

Melvin Gordon played too well for rookie running back savant Javonte Williams to over the Broncos backfield. Gordon saw 203 carries for 918 yards and eight touchdowns. He also added 28 receptions on 38 targets for 213 yards and two more touchdowns in the air.

Gordon forces missed tackles and accelerates well through the hole. Unfortunately, he has fumbling hands and poor receiving out of the backfield.  Gordon has missed only two games since joining the Broncos over the past two seasons.

Gordon would do well as an early-down back as part of a committee scheme. The question is whether the Broncos work to keep him around or if they lean on Javonte Williams.

Gordon held onto the lead role and proved he could still contribute on the ground at a high level. There is no reason to think he cannot again take the lead in 2022.  If he sticks around in Denver, he could see a slightly smaller workload.

Melvin Gordon's contract projection is two years, $12 million.

6. Sony Michel, Los Angeles Rams

Sony Michel was traded from the New England Patriots when they declined his fifth-year option.  Michel eventually did a solid job after taking over the starting role from Darrell Henderson (MCL sprain) in Week 13. Cam Akers missed the first 17 weeks of the season due to a torn Achilles.

The extra work down the stretch helped him compile 845 yards on 208 carries and four touchdowns on the ground. In addition, he produced 21 receptions on 33 targets for 128 yards and another touchdown through the air.  He proved to be a well-rounded runner and offered pass protection with good efficacy for the Los Angeles Rams.

However, as a receiver, he doesn't bring much to the table and has a high percentage of runs for a loss or no gain.  He has been little more than being a downhill runner through his four NFL seasons.  He received sporadic work and primarily served as a blocker during passing plays with the Rams.

With Akers and Henderson already under contract for 2022, there's a good chance Michel will be looking for a new home once NFL free agency opens.  Michel would likely fit well with a scheme toward an early-down rotational back. The door remains open for Michel to make a dent on the Fantasy end inside the red zone.

Sony Michel's contract projection is two years, $8.5 million.

7. J.D. McKissic, Washington Commanders

McKissic is a great receiver out of the backfield. With his lack of size/physicality, he struggles to create after contact, though. He was placed on IR after sustaining a neck injury and concussion in 2021.  To date, no long-term concerns have been eminent.

McKissic was one of the team's most versatile playmakers in 2021 before his injury. He carried the ball 48 times for 212 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, he tallied 43 catches for 397 yards and two touchdowns through the air. McKissic has racked up more than 120 receptions for 986 yards and four touchdowns as a pass-catcher in the past two seasons.

McKissic is a good fit as a third-down receiving back in a spread offense. Getting him on the perimeter as a pass-catcher would fill a role for teams that lack any reliable tight ends or inside receivers.

However, reports indicate that Washington wants to bring him back in 2022. After that, though, Jaret Patterson could potentially take on a more prominent role behind lead-back Antonio Gibson.  There should certainly be value for McKissic in PPR formats, assuming he returns to Washington next season.

J.D. McKissic's contract projection is two years, $5 million.

8. Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

Williams avoided any significant injuries in 2021. Yet, his injury history has been filled with the typical lower-body injuries we frequently see in running backs. Nevertheless, he is a physical runner, and he can handle a role of a pass-catcher.

Williams rushed for 558 yards on 144 attempts and six touchdowns.  He also hauled in 47 catches for 452 yards and two scores over 17 regular-season games.

However, he's not without limitations: Williams is not an elusive runner and offers little pass protection.  Williams is probably best-fit as an RB3-type on depth charts as a downhill runner in a gap scheme. But, Williams has shown versatility in Kansas City's spread offense.

Darrel William's contract projection is two years, $4.5 million.

9. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers

A coaching staff favorite, Justin Jackson, excels as a decisive runner in the rushing game and has reliable hands out of the backfield for the passing game. However, in 2021 he received his lowest-graded season in both areas. Still, the 2021 campaign wound up being a career year for the 25-year old.

Jackson set career highs in carries, rushing yards, receptions, and receiving yards. A third of his total production came in the Week 16 loss against the Texans, with Austin Ekeler (COVID-19) sidelined.  While Jackson has not sustained any significant injuries lately, he has had soft tissue injuries throughout his years.

His scheme fit/role would be best as a depth option at running back. Jackson has struggled to stay healthy. Given his challenges in pass protection, his role is likely fastened in as a receiving back type.  Jackson is also not explosive enough to create offense out of structure or after contact.

This offseason, an unrestricted free agent, it is unclear whether the Chargers will bring back Jackson on a short-term deal. Recent draft picks Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree could be asked to take over as the optimal No. 2 behind Ekeler.

Jackson remained one of the more valuable insurance policies entering Week 16. He was also involved enough in 2021 to warrant Fantasy consideration. That may change if he moves on from the Chargers.

Justin Jackson's contract projection is two years, $4.5 million.

10. James White, New England Patriots

James White nearly earned his seventh straight receiving grade above 80.0 before a season-ending hip injury. White was limited to only three games and just 63 snaps. However, it's important to note that White has been relatively healthy until the hip injury in recent years.

While he will never be a high-volume runner nor effective with all run schemes, he moves the chains. He is one of the league's best pass-catching running backs with his crafty route-running ability.

He would do best in a scheme built for a pass-catching running back. White still has plenty to offer at 30-years-old as he is challenging for opposing linebackers to cover.

Brandon Bolden is also a pending unrestricted free agent, so it remains to be seen who will be joining New England's top early-down options Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson in the team's 2022 backfield.  However, it's plausible that White will be brought back to reclaim a complementary role, provided he fully recovers from his hip issue.

If he is healthy, there is a role for White as a high-volume pass-catcher out of the backfield or in a change-of-pace role.

James White's contract projection is one year, $2.6 million.

11. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

Rashaad Penny has been one of the more highly critiqued first-round picks of the last several years. He battled injuries throughout his four seasons. However, Penny ended this past season as the top running back in the league, and it wasn't even close.

Penny rushed the ball 119 times for 749 yards and six touchdowns - leading the NFL with 6.3 yards per carry. In the final five games, Penny had 92 carries for 671 yards and six touchdowns - an incredible 7.3 yards per carry!

Injury questions will always circumvent Penny. Still, he was incredibly productive over the final weeks. As a result, this may influence any future contracts.  Over his final five games, Penny rushed for over 135 yards four times!

However, his weaknesses include his proneness to injury and producing very little as a receiver. Penny would do well as a high-upside runner in a committee. His combination of size, speed, and physical running style enables him to run through contact and provide an effective rushing attack.

After it seemed like he would be limping into free agency this offseason, he might have run himself into more long-term security.  Penny displayed just enough in his limited play when he was healthy in 2021 for a team to potentially gamble on the former first-round pick.

Rashaad Penny's contract projection is one year, $2 million.

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12. Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

Raheem Mostert has elite speed when healthy. The 29-year-old had just two carries for 20 yards in the season opener this year before his season-ending knee injury.

He's not necessarily trusted in pass protection and is not a shifty runner.  Mostert also has durability issues with his recent past injury.  Nevertheless, he would do well with a team that values the lead back in an outside zone scheme.

Raheem Mostert's contract projection is one year, $1.75 million.

Check out our latest 2022 NFL Mock Draft!

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