Four RBs who are set to break out this season

Special to Yahoo Sports

Workhorse running backs are few and far between in today’s NFL and in fantasy, and the obvious ones are pretty easy to peg. Najee Harris, Jonathan Taylor and Joe Mixon were the only running backs in the league to top 75 percent of their respective teams’ backfield touches in 2021, with Alvin Kamara (65.4 percent) and David Montgomery (64.6%) each falling right below that mark despite only playing in 13 games each.

Those five backs essentially made up the entire “elite usage” tier of running backs who controlled the backfield throughout the entire season, rewarding fantasy managers who spent the high draft capital required to get them on their squads.

What we’re doing here today is looking for candidates who could either come out of nowhere and earn that sort of usage or give us fantasy production in other, more niche ways, like catching the ball out of the backfield or converting ample goal-line opportunities.

A Look Back at 2021

A sixth-round rookie, injury beneficiaries and a surprising receiver-turned-running back top the list of 2021 breakouts. Most of the players listed below were part of ambiguous backfields, and give us at least one criteria of what to look for in future candidates.

2021 Fantasy running back breakouts2021 Fantasy running back breakouts

2021’s top fantasy breakouts at the running back position. (Photo by 4for4.com)

There were a number of breakouts at our disposal last season, with many of them remaining off of draft boards throughout the summer months. While D’Onta Foreman and Boston Scott were plug-ins later on in the season, Cordarrelle Patterson and Elijah Mitchell were useful throughout the year, delivering week-winning performances on a number of occasions. All four are good examples of why we should keep a trigger-happy finger on the waiver wire, particularly at the running back position.

It would be difficult to mention either James Conner or Leonard Fournette without also mentioning the other, so we’ll consider them their own group. Both backs were being taken in the eighth round of drafts before eventually finishing back-to-back as the RB6 and RB7, all while outperforming the likes of Najee Harris, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones, to name a few. For comparison’s sake, the sixth running back off the board in 2022 would cost you the 1.08 according to current average draft position, meaning Conner and Fournette performed as back-end first-round selections for the price of eighth-round draft capital. That’s exactly the kind of gold we will be looking for below.

2022 Breakout Candidates

Let’s apply some of the scenarios that we saw last year and in prior years to find some comparable situations in the middle-to-late rounds of your upcoming — or ongoing — drafts. Some of the frameworks for breakout production from above will be repeated in our coming season, and if we pair positive scenarios with what has historically been the most predictable running back stats, we may be able to replicate top-end production from middle-of-the-road draft capital.

[Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now!]

Chase Edmonds, Dolphins

Current ADP: 10.5 (RB35)

Reason for Breakout – Backfield ambiguity, year-to-year targets/game stickiness

If we excuse the Week 9 performance in which he only received one snap before going down with an injury, Chase Edmonds sneakily finished 2021 as the RB22 in fantasy PPG, and that was while teammate James Conner had a 239-touch season himself. Conner’s 18-touchdown season overshadowed Edmonds’ year, but it was still much stronger than the fantasy football community is giving him credit for. Now he is in Miami, and almost assuredly the RB1 for the Dolphins despite how murky the backfield looks on a macro level. As Conner Allen dug into earlier this offseason, Edmonds is guaranteed $6.1M in 2022, with Raheem Mostert ($1M) and Sony Michel ($850K) showing a huge discrepancy in pay. The fourth option (for now), Myles Gaskin, would cost the team $2.54M if kept on the roster, or a piddly $21K in dead cap if he is released.

The 30-year-old Mostert had a career-high of 22 targets back in 2019, while Michel has all of 73 targets across 55 career games, which would open the majority of the passing-down work for Edmonds, who has 120 targets over the previous two seasons. If the newly signed Dolphin can mix in along the goal line at all, he would far outkick his current ADP.

[Visit 4for4, where 92% of subscribers made the playoffs, for more]

Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots

Current ADP: 10.6 (RB36)

Reason for Breakout – Increase in role

With 30-year-old James White suffering the same hip injury that forced Ryan Fitzpatrick into retirement, and Brandon Bolden following Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas, the coveted New England pass-catching back role could be served to Rhamondre Stevenson on a silver platter. Despite playing 138 fewer snaps than Damien Harris, Stevenson only had three fewer targets (18) than his counterpart throughout the season, and maybe better yet, allowed only one pressure in pass protection.

New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) is a fantasy breakout candidateNew England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) is a fantasy breakout candidate

Rhamondre Stevenson could be doing a lot more of this during this fantasy season. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In addition to passing-game increases, Stevenson may have done enough in his rookie season to begin eating into Harris’ ground-game work this year as well. Of 50 qualifying running backs (min. 100 carries), Stevenson ranked sixth in yards after contact/attempt (3.1) and seventh in broken-plus-missed tackles (18.8%) while Harris ranked 30th and 25th respectively in those two categories. Stevenson has a definite path to see more of the field in 2022.

Tyler Allgeier, Falcons

Current ADP: 13.9 (RB51)

The Falcons could very well be a disaster this season, but Tyler Allgeier presents a wild card that only consists of him, WR/RB hybrid Cordarrelle Patterson and journeyman Damien Williams. Allgeier’s ceiling may be capped if his 54 career college targets are any indication, but he was a between-the-tackles banger throughout college (77 forced missed tackles were sixth-most in the nation), an area of Patterson’s game that is lacking.

Dameon Pierce, Texans

Current ADP: 13.6 (RB 46)

As I touched on after the NFL draft, I’m not the biggest fan of Dameon Pierce’s game, but there’s no denying he landed in a spot that could provide an immediate return when he would have wallowed further down the depth chart elsewhere. Sharing the running back room with a number of faces he could easily be leapfrogging (Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, Royce Freeman, Dare Ogunbowale), the rookie makes for a sneaky-good selection in point-per-carry leagues, for those of you in that niche league-type.

Check out the full version of this article — with five more breakout candidates — on 4for4.com

Justin has been playing fantasy sports since he booted up a Sandbox Fantasy Football league on his Gateway computer in middle school. After nearly two decades in the restaurant industry, he’s focusing his attention on making a living inside of the sports industry.

More from 4for4.com: 12 Winners and Losers in PPR Formats

Stay ahead with 4for4 Fantasy Football’s accurate rankings, advanced tools and data-driven content.

Listen to the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast