2022 Rookie Running Back Reactions: Part Two

Hutchinson Brown

The Rookie Reactions series is back! In my last article, I wrote about the first half of the rookie running backs and their dynasty fantasy football futures. In this article, I will focus on the rest of the rookie RBs worth mentioning in dynasty. There are a lot of interesting names left, including…

Kenneth Walker, SEA

Walker had a pretty tough first off-season compared to most of the 2022 rookies. He sustained multiple injuries that put his availability for week one into serious question. He did not touch the ball that first week, and put together just 29 touches in the four weeks after.

After that, Pete Carroll gave him the keys to the backfield and he went on a tear. In his last ten healthy games, Walker finished as a top 24 running back eight times in full PPR scoring. He put up over 1,000 rushing yards even with all his injuries and setbacks, and overall had a very impressive rookie year. I personally would prefer Garrett Wilson, but some may even say he was the rookie of the year.

As a rookie, he was given the lead role quickly and he crushed his opportunity. The Seahawks have very little competition for Walker on the depth chart, and it should not be expected that Seattle spend heavy capital on the running back position this off-season. Walker is set up for the workhorse role for Seattle for the next handful of years in an offense that should be steadily productive with Geno Smith, DK Metcalf, and this young offensive line.

While playing for Wake Forest and for Michigan State, Walker never showed us his true potential as a pass catcher. While there were some good leaked practice videos, it never showed on the field, and he never hit 15 catches in a single season. Based on his rookie year in the NFL, it seems that Seattle has found something in Walker, who saw 35 targets even with injuries throughout the season.

Walker showed us a lot of great things in 2022, but he also showed us a reason to be potentially concerned about injuries. He sustained multiple off-season injuries, and dealt with small injuries during the 2022 season. Thankfully, they will likely will not affect him long-term, but injuries may be the downfall and the one thing we may worry about with Walker, like Seahawks fans always did with Chris Carson. I hate to predict injuries or label a player as injury prone, but he showed reasons to be concerned last year. I do have hope he can get around it though, we have seen plenty of players do it before.

In dynasty, I think Walker is properly valued, and at this point, it is tough to buy him. He is priced as a top-three dynasty back and most managers who own him likely will not sell him for just anything after a very impressive rookie season. If you want to make any trade that involves cutting ties with Walker, make sure you are very excited about what you are receiving back. Selling a back like him should get you top dollar in return.

Isiah Pacheco, KC

Pacheco has been one of the best stories to watch this year. No one knew his name coming into draft season, and he ended up getting selected in the seventh round of the draft. He made a couple of highlights in camp leading up to the season, but really began to make an impact at his first-ever NFL game. He had never gone to an NFL game before, but in his debut against the Cardinals, he ran the ball 12 times for 62 yards, and scored his first-ever touchdown. Later, in the Super Bowl – in that same stadium – he ran for 76 yards, a score, and helped Kansas City win the Lombardi Trophy.

Pacheco had ups and downs, but eventually found himself in the lead role. From week ten on, Pacheco was averaging just under 12 fantasy points per game, and led the Chiefs’ running backs in snaps and touches. He was outproduced for fantasy purposes because Jerick McKinnon found his role as a specialty pass-catching back in the offense, and he got lucky with touchdowns as well.

This off-season will be a very interesting one for Pacheco. He showed a lot of talent to this team and helped them to another ring. Adding onto that, touchdown vulture and pass-catching specialist McKinnon is a free agent, and at his age there is a good chance that he is not re-signed by Kansas City. If he is let go, you may just assume that of course Pacheco would be the workhorse back for the future. However, it may not be that simple. Pacheco is a seventh-round pick, and it would not be very difficult for Kansas City to replace him through the draft or free agency this off-season.

You may ask: why would they want to add running backs if Pacheco looked so good? I may sound like a broken record here with how many times I have brought up pass-catching ability with the running back position in this series, but it is that important. He rarely showed to have the ability to catch the football, or pass block especially well. Due to that, the Chiefs will likely seek to add a running back who can fill that role this off-season. That could mean re-signing McKinnon or bringing in a different player. The Chiefs also have a late first-round pick in this upcoming draft, which they could very well use on a running back like Jahmyr Gibbs, or even Bijan Robinson if he falls, which would cement Pacheco to a secondary role in this offense.

My advice on Pacheco in dynasty is to hold onto him if you have him now, and in free agency, if he is even for a week alone in the backfield due to McKinnon being let go, look for a big-time offer from another manager wanting him. The idea of him being alone in the backfield will have dynasty players hot and bothered, and you may be able to find a great return, sending him off your dynasty squad as a result. If there is no trade you love, I do not mind holding either. The Chiefs have learned their lesson with drafting a first-round running back just a couple of years ago with Clyde-Edwards Helaire, there is a chance they decide to ride it out with their potential late-round steal in Pacheco and see what he can do rather than investing a lot of cap space or draft picks in a running back.

James Cook, BUF

Coming into the draft class, Cook was one of the many backs swirling behind Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker to be named the third-best running back of the 2022 class. He showed a great sense of speed, athleticism, explosiveness, and demonstrated a special ability to catch passes. But, standing at 5 feet, 11 inches and weighing in at 190 pounds, there were valid concerns about his ability to handle a big workload in the NFL.

Selected by the Buffalo Bills at pick 63 overall, and thrown into the Josh Allen-led juggernaut offense, there were many reasons dynasty players were excited about Cook’s potential in fantasy football. He shot up rookie drafts and was selected in the first round in most rookie drafts.

After his rookie season, there is a lot to question and a lot to observe. On Cook’s first-ever carry in the big league, he fumbled the football, and did not touch the ball again in that game. He was not fantasy-football-relevant for the majority of the season. There were a few games here and there when he was able to slide into fantasy football relevance, but he was mostly an insignificant piece of this offense until the very end of the season, when he actually played very solid football.

Cook could have a solid NFL career, and maybe get a ring or two in Buffalo. However, for fantasy football, it is a different story. When you look at this Buffalo offense, you may initially think a running back would do great in this situation because the offense is just that productive. When you really think about it, Buffalo is actually a bit of a disaster for fantasy running backs. If you look at every NFL running back room over the past three years and combine their fantasy points, Buffalo would rank 19th, 24th, and 29th in those three years.

The Bills already have a pretty pass-happy offense – they have been eighth, seventh, and tenth in the past three years in pass attempts per game. That already limits how many carries go around. Adding onto that, their quarterback Josh Allen is an excellent runner himself, and designed runs will come his way, which steals from the running backs. He does not only take rush attempts though – he also steals rushing touchdowns on the goal line, and he scrambles instead of dumping off to the running back position as well. The upside for a running back in this offense is just so capped due to Allen’s skillset.

Cook is a must-sell in dynasty fantasy football. He is a talented player, but he is not a workhorse back, or maybe not even a lead back for that matter. At 190 pounds, he is just simply not a player who can take 16+ touches per game and be a player to grind the clock down with. He is a gadget player who you give the ball to 8-12 times a game, getting potential explosive plays. The Bills are not the right offense for that. They have plenty of explosive playmakers already, and Allen does not throw to the running back position. Cook is simply just not set up for success in this offense.

If he had gone to a team like the 49ers, that would be so much better, assuming they then would not make a move for Christian McCaffrey mid-season. There will be dump-offs waiting for him from the pocket passers they have in San Francisco, and Kyle Shanahan would be able to let Elijah Mitchell take work on the ground so Cook will not be physically overwhelmed with too much volume. Unfortunately, that is not the hand we have been dealt with Cook. He is not set up for success with his skillset in this offense. It just does not line up.

Due to the fact he is young and attached to a great quarterback in Allen, you may be able to exploit that and sell for a decent value. I would be looking an early second-round rookie pick type of value, or possibly more if you find the right manager.

Rachaad White, TB

Like the aforementioned Cook, White was one of the many backs thrown in the mediocre tier behind Walker and Hall. He was pretty good as a runner, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in his last year with Arizona State. What enticed the fantasy football community was his ability to catch the ball extremely well. He ended up on a great team for that in his rookie year with the Buccaneers and their 45-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who loves dumping off to the running back position.

Taking a clear backseat to Leonard Fournette for the majority of the year, White did not help our fantasy teams most of the season, averaging 6.4 touches per game in weeks one-nine compared to Fournette’s 18.1. However, Fournette was playing so poorly through the season, showing us clear signs that he has lost a step. In weeks ten and twelve, Fournette was playing hurt, and White showed major flashes, so much so that a major change was made. In weeks 13 through 17, the Bucs gave Fournette about two fewer touches per game compared to his first nine games, and gave White an eight-touch per game boost. There was a clear transformation in this backfield, and White became a fantasy force throughout the fantasy football playoffs.

Looking toward White’s future, it is extremely bright. Fournette is going to be cut by the Buccaneers and that leaves White with very little competition for the workhorse role in this offense.

There are possible worries that White may be crushed by some incoming competition, but Tampa Bay is not in a situation where that will be easy to do. Currently at 55 million dollars over the cap and holding only one top-80 pick in the NFL Draft, White will likely be in a situation where he is the clear lead back of the offense in 2023.

Tampa Bay is going to have a big change coming soon. Tom Brady is no longer the quarterback of the Buccaneers, so who will be their 2023 starter?

The draft seems out of the realm of possibility. The Buccaneers just simply do not have the capital to make that move easily. They could draft a rookie at 19 if Anthony Richardson or Will Levis fall, but I see that as unlikely looking at the current excitement about those two prospects and the Buccaneers’ current roster.

The NFL Draft seems like an unlikely scenario for the Buccaneers to find their quarterback, so there are two main scenarios, one of them being their second-round rookie from a couple of years ago, Kyle Trask. Rumors have floated that he could start, but it feels unlikely they would put a team that can compete on the shoulder of a second-year player who has only thrown 23 career passing yards.

The second possibility is trading for a quarterback or signing a free agent. The Buccaneers do not have immense draft capital, and are currently 55 million dollars over the cap. Their best option in my personal opinion would be Jimmy Garoppolo, who will be cheaper than likely all of the starting-caliber quarterbacks available to sign, and you do not have to sign him to more than a one-year deal if you do not want to.

No matter who plays quarterback for the Buccaneers, we will be at a point where White will be valuable to this offense. Trask – and all of the quarterbacks in free agency or trade – are not running quarterbacks, which sets up dump-offs to White often. Adding on, outside of maybe Aaron Rodgers, we are not looking at any special talents at the quarterback position. The Buccaneers’ run game and their defense is what will win them games.

It will be tough to acquire White after it was made clear Fournette would be released. However, I would still like to if I can, but do not get too desperate. While he is worth putting some faith in, he is no guarantee.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I have loved doing this series and am excited to continue it with the receivers. Come back soon for the beginning of the rookie wide receiver reactions!

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2022 Rookie Running Back Reactions: Part Two