Now that we're done with the 2023 rookie RB class, it's time to see how the 2022 RB class performed as rookies last year. Right now, I think it's a Big 3 featuring Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, and Dameon Pierce with a few promising starters that could jump another tier. For the record, these aren't exactly lined up with my 2023 fantasy football rankings.
Even if we ding Hall's efficiency because of a 79-yard receiving TD on a broken play wheel route and a 34-yard rushing TD on a reverse in a 2-RB set, we can appreciate just how explosive Hall is for a bellcow-sized back. He led the class in breakaway run rate, receiving yards per game, and inside the 10-yard line carries per game. It's hard to find a skillset that well rounded. On tape, Hall was less jumpy at the line of scrimmage than I expected after his college film (that was my lone prospect concern with him), and I firmly believe he'll be one of the top fantasy RBs for the next half decade, assuming his torn ACL doesn't linger. He should ramp up to borderline top-5 RB status after he gets his legs underneath him.
Don't let the Seahawks obsession with sticking with their non-positional value board (see: another RB in Round 2) fool you. Walker is quite good. He's one of the most electrifying RBs on the ground, finishing with the 4th best "Boom" run rate per SIS. His 84.8 PFF rushing grade was also top-10. Walker has burst, bend, and backside vision. He's also a pain to bring down, showcasing a solid 3.1 yards after contact. His weaknesses are also evident, however. He dances too much, resulting in a way-too-low 35% success rate (behind a mediocre OL I should note). He also doesn't run fancy routes, nor graded out well in pass protection (29.5 PFF grade). Walker is athletic enough to not drop the ball when thrown to him and he's a threat for a big play on a dump off pass, but he's mostly a home run threat early-down rusher with room to grow as a 22-year-old. Zach Charbonnet is almost the exact opposite player and is expected to spell Walker on passing downs. Whoever gets the goal line carries will be the better pick at cost.
He's one of the most underrated RBs in the league. Period. Pierce is just a thicc dude that fights really damn hard. He forced a very strong 0.28 missed tackles per carry (best in the class) and averaged the most touches per game (19.7). His physicality keeps him on the field inside the 10-yard line (1.2 reps per game) and in pass protection (4.6 reps per game), and his size-adjusted wiggle led to the most rushing yards per game (72) behind a quite mid Texans OL. This year, Houston could have a top-10 OL with multiple upgrades coming in addition to a better coaching staff and QB. Pierce offers plenty of upside in a mini bellcow role, especially if he improves his hands and consistency as a rusher. Aside from lackluster long speed, his biggest weakness right now is being too jumpy at the line of scrimmage. He's better than his middling 40% success rate.
This is a tier break from potentially really good to overall solid and consistent.
Now replaced by the far more explosive Bijan Robinson, Allgeier showed a consistent playing style as a rookie. Coach Arthur Smith and an underrated OL (84 PFF run blocking grade) paved massive holes for Allgeier, who finished with the most yards over expected per carry (+0.8) and second-most yards after contact (3.6) in the class. He did so by wasting very little movement on all carries and lowering his shoulder at contact. There was almost zero jukes all year, but he was wildly efficient. His size kept him on the field for pass protection, though he doesn't offer much route running or yards-after-catch juice as a receiver. That's why he'll be a fantastic complement to Robinson for the next half decade. Allgeier averaged 15.3 touches per game once being named the starter last year, so there's insurance upside well into the double digit rounds.
This is a tier break, and I think the rest of these RBs have clear limitations. It's impossible to rank early-down RBs vs. passing-down RBs, so don't get all tilted on the internet.
An undrafted free agent, Warren earned more playing time during his rookie season, especially on passing downs. In fact, I think Warren is one of the best passing backs in the class. He has the size to hold up in pass protection and was successful on check-downs in the flats. His 80 PFF receiving grade was the best in the class, and he's a good fit with Kenny Pickett. Warren runs hard with a low center of gravity, which led to a rock solid 0.25 missed tackles forced per carry and 3.1 yards after contact. I'm skeptical this playing style would hold up on more touches, but Warren is a welcomed No. 2 complement and pinch-hit bellcow if needed. I hope Najee Harris loses weight to add more explosion, now that Warren offers quality snaps as his change-of-pace.
This ranking requires a bit of projection, as I think he'll be more explosive in year two after starting last season with a tragic gunshot wound. Robinson's pre-draft weakness was below-average speed, and that was very evident as a rookie. If it improves, we may have a decent early-down rusher. Robinson averaged 18.1 touches per game and even held his own in pass protection. His size is an asset (especially in fantasy), and he's a consistent between-tackles rusher with a decent 43% success rate and 81.0 PFF grade. There's little wasted movement and a fall forward mentality, despite an upright build. Washington's OL was disappointing last year, but that lackluster speed certainly aided in his concerning 2.7 yards after contact and 3% breakaway rate. There was never receiving upside in his profile, so for now, Robinson is an emerging short-yardage and early-down hammer that will pick up the yards blocked for him. A surprising amount of RBs are unable to do that.
From Week 10 through the Super Bowl, Pacheco took over as the early down grinder for the Chiefs, averaging 77 rushing yards per game. He's a flashy, ball of energy with plus athleticism. He surprises second-level defenders with burst (+0.8 yards over expected) and he's big enough to bang between the tackles (1.2 inside the 10-yard line carries per game). With the Chiefs' creating so much space in the box, burst and pure will is all that's needed to be successful. Now, Pacheco is far from a complete player. While he runs hard, he only forced 0.12 missed tackles per carry, which was one of the very worst in the class. He doesn't have much wiggle, nor contact balance because he has too crazy of feet. More importantly, his tempo is rushed. Pacheco wasn't trusted in passing situations either, only seeing 1.3 pass block reps per game and 1.0 catches per game. None of his catches came on third downs or inside the 10-yard line either. Pacheco is best as a change-of-pace early-down rusher. He's also already 24 years old.
There was only one game where he play more than 44% of the Bills' snaps, and that was Week 18. He's a complement only, lowering his overall ceiling. Cook wasn't trusted in pass protection (1.0 rep per game), but he was manufactured targets to utilize his speed and shiftiness. His 0.22 targets per route run were second best in the class, though he only caught 1.2 balls per game because why would you want Josh Allen to be throwing to his RBs? Cook's rushing skills are one dimensional. He can rip big plays in light boxes (10% breakaway rate is very good). He won't see touches in short yardage or the red zone. In fact, he only saw 7.7 touches per game as a rookie. I thought Cook played to his lackluster size and didn't have the creation of outliers at his size. Cook will be Damien Harris' change-of-pace in 2023.
He needs to play faster. While a decent enough athlete, White's methodical playing style prevents him from being a difference maker. Right now, he's a reliable passing down back (3.0 catches per game led the class), who was a nice fit with check-down Tom Brady. Moving forward, he'll need to create on his own. His rookie season is reason for concern. White's -0.2 yards over replacement, 2.4 yards after contact, and 0.12 missed tackles forced per carry were at or near the very bottom of the class and the NFL as a whole. He simply wasn't running fast enough to break any tackles, which thus led to a minuscule 0.3 inside the 10-yard line touches per game. While he has nice vision, White likely needs a hammer to complement this backfield.
A small sample GOAT, Mason led the class in PFF rushing grade, success rate (53%), yards after contact (4.2), and yards per carry (6.0). A portion of that came on a 55-yard near touchdown where he made one safety miss, then got caught from behind. That sums up his game. Mason is a physical rusher with a very stocky frame. He doesn't have game-breaking burst however. He profiles as an early-down bruiser and core special teamer. In fact, he didn't have a single target and only 11 pass blocking snaps. The Niners didn't trust him there, leaving him with a low ranking despite some interesting small sample efficiency. Remember the name for #TeamPreseason, yet don't get carried away in normal fantasy football with both Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell clearly ahead of him.
The Jets' OL was a disaster when Knight began playing late in the year. In fact, 49% of his carries he was hit behind or at the line of scrimmage. Wild stuff. When he had chances to operate, Knight had some burst and wiggle. His 0.34 forced missed tackles per carry and 0.46 forced missed tackles per reception both led this rookie class. He runs a little bit heavier than his weight and runs a little faster than his forty time. Knight's efficiency was tanked by environment in 2022, but he has the skills to push Michael Carter as Breece Hall's change-of-pace. I thought Carter looked slower in 2022 but was impressed by him in 2021. This is a true competition.
This is a tier break.
His playing time was minimized due to injury, but Williams looked pretty similar to his college profile on limited reps. His lack of size stands out immediately and will keep his ceiling relatively low, especially because he doesn't offer the athleticism of most passing-down backs. Williams doesn't run fast enough to break arm tackles or run by defenders, both as a rusher (0.14 missed tackles forced per carry) and receiver. Where he wins is by being observant and reliable. He finds soft spots in zone, catches the ball cleanly, and is aware in pass protection. If Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford want to avoid negative plays at RB, then Williams could be a snap-eating change of pace RB. Anything beyond that would be very unexpected.
On very limited reps, Davis at least offered some straight line burst in a Tony Pollard like role. The differences between the two are staggering, however. Davis got tangled at the line of scrimmage on a large clip of his carries, and he doesn't have the requisite power to be a workhorse. On just 38 carries, he only had four missed tackles (0.11 per carry) and 2.1 yards after contact. This wasn't too far off his college profile either, where he was mostly used as a pass-game complement (then to Dameon Pierce). If Dallas views Pollard as bulky enough to consistently run up the middle, Davis can be good enough as a receiving back to be their No. 2. I still think Dallas should bring in someone heavier. It's the smallest RB room in the NFL.
There wasn't enough playing time to go off of for a full profile. I will say that he has the requisite size and play speed to soak up NFL touches. If I had to guess where he would've been in my rankings on a bigger sample it'd be in the RB7-10 range here.
There's some upside here, but not enough film to make a declaration yet. Strong is all burst, and he connected on a few massive plays. In fact, he had 100 yards on 10 carries, plus caught all of his targets. Strong is an ideal change-of-pace to Rhamondre Stevenson, and I'm confident he'll outplay James Robinson for the No. 2 job.