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4 Reliable First Round Running Backs | #FantasyFootball

We've already run through three fantasy running backs who make me nervous heading into the 2022 season. But who can you feel good about selecting with your first pick? Which running backs are destined to rack up huge numbers this upcoming NFL season?

We'll get deep into the weeds and dig through the data so you can feel confident heading into your fantasy football draft.

2022 First Round Fantasy Football Running Backs

When selecting a running back early, you need a guy who will be the star of the show. An excellent fantasy running back has top billing and no co-star. An ensemble cast can win an Oscar or a Super Bowl, but it won't win your fantasy league. We want Tom Hanks in Cast Away, not John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

Stats that are important beyond your usual carries and touchdowns are red zone touches, snap share, receiving targets, and total touches (carries + receiving targets). Opportunity is equal to production for running backs. Durability is another concern - that's why Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey are absent from this list, I'm dubious of their ability to finish the 2022 season.

Jonathan Taylor

The obvious one-one draft pick. It doesn't matter what fantasy site website you look at, Jonathan Taylor's ADP (Average Draft Position) is one. Even in PPR (Point Per Reception) leagues, Taylor is coming off the board first. The only player with a remote chance of dethroning him would be Christian McCaffrey due to the threat of a 250+ carry and 100+ reception season, but as we covered earlier, McCaffrey is a possible injury liability.

In 2021 Taylor racked up 1800 yards on 332 carries and found his way into the endzone 18 times on the ground. He added another 40 receptions and two touchdowns through the air. Taylor was the Indianapolis Colts offense. Some people are worried about the Colts running less with the upgrade at quarterback, which may be true. However, Matt Ryan threw to his running backs more than any other quarterback in 2021!

Taylor was a one-man show in Indianapolis - he got nearly 70% of the total snap share (4th in the league), led the league in total red zone touches by nearly 30 attempts, and led the league in goal-line carries with ten more rushes than the next guy. And just in case all that isn't enough to convince you, Taylor was 2nd in the NFL in explosive plays (rushes of 10+ yards). So he's a threat to rack up yards and take it to the house from anywhere on the field.

Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler's rushing stats don't jump off the page, but in a PPR league, he's a stud. If any running back is likely to go over 200 carries and 100 receptions, it's Ekeler. He's the Los Angeles Chargers' number one running back and number three receiver, so he's not coming off the field often. Ekeler was top ten in total snap share, and I don't think rookie Isaiah Spiller will be changing that cause he's a zero in the passing game.

Ekeler was 2nd to only Taylor in total red zone touches with 63 and led the league in red zone touchdowns. Justin Herbert has a big-time arm, but he's not shy about dumping it to his running back and working his way into the endzone methodically. Austin Ekeler is also a pretty solid pass blocker, giving the Chargers all the more reason to keep him on the field. If you're willing to look beyond his rushing stats, you'll see Ekeler is a must-draft player in fantasy if you get the chance.

Joe Mixon

All the offseason chatter is about how much better Joe Burrow will be behind a revamped offensive line. What about Cincinnati Bengals' running back, Joe Mixon? Behind the worst offensive line in the league, Mixon still got over four yards per carry. Like Taylor and Ekeler, the Bengals don't have much reason to take him off the field because they don't have a good backup running back.

Mixon was 5th in the league in snap share, and 5th in total red zone touches. He punched the ball into the endzone 13 times on the ground and was an underrated threat in the passing game - snagging 42 receptions and adding another three touchdowns. Mixon was also tied for 3rd in the league in goal line carries - Zac Taylor didn't let a garbage offensive line, Joe Burrow, and an incredible receiving core deter him from handing the rock to his running back.

If Mixon can match his nearly 300 carries from 2021, I expect his yardage to go through the roof with better blocking and teams worrying about getting beat deep.

Dalvin Cook

I'm breaking one of my rules by rolling with Dalvin Cook cause he's a bit of an injury risk. But the numbers are too hard to ignore, he's one of the best home run hitters in the league, and the Minnesota Vikings rarely take him off the field.

While he'll most likely get injured, he does it on schedule. Cook will be injured for three or four games, and it's three or four games exactly, never less, never more. That will require you to dip back into the running back pot a little earlier than desired or handcuff him with his backup, Alexander Mattison. But Cook's upside cannot be ignored.

When he's healthy, the Vikings keep Dalvin Cook on the field for more than 70% of the offensive snaps. That's high for a running back. He only had six touchdowns in 2021, but that number will go up in 2022 - He was 3rd in red zone rushing attempts and 6th in total red zone touches, all while missing four games. Any talented running back with that number of attempts near the endzone will typically see double-digit touchdowns - that's why I think Cook's six touchdown total in 2021 was an outlier.

The best part of Dalvin Cook's game is his big play ability. He ranked 3rd in explosive play percentage, had the 3rd most rushes over ten yards, and the 2nd most rushes over 15 yards. If you put the ball in Dalvin's hands, he's a threat to go yard from anywhere on the field. That, combined with his red zone volume, makes it too difficult to leave him off this list when evaluating fantasy running backs.

He's not the biggest threat in the passing game but still averaged 44 receptions a year over the past three seasons.