Another draft season has come and gone, injecting the league with another crop of talented rookie running backs. This class lacked the “elite” top-tier talent that warrants true first-round discussion and as a result, the class was labeled as an “ok” and “solid” group. Obviously, this group does not hold a candle to the 2023 class. The 2021 class had a pretty good season overall as rookies but could 2022’s crop of rookie running backs be in for a similar output? Anything is possible once the season kicks off.
In the past, rookie running backs require opportunities to produce. Looking back at the leaders from the last five years, Najee Harris, Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and Kareem Hunt all got said opportunities. The average number of carries during their rookie season was 263.
To determine which 2022 rookie running backs will lead the group in rushing, a question must be answered: which running back has the most favorable path to have the necessary opportunities? The options are plentiful, to say the least.
Looking at the landing spots for these rookie running backs, the obvious choice is Breece Hall with the New York Jets, especially if you factor in the draft capital and scheme fit. But is he the only choice? Not necessarily.
Kenneth Walker has a chance in a Pete Carroll-led Seattle offense that wants to establish a consistent running attack, though Walker has two veteran backs in front of him. That being said, both vets struggle with injuries and lack the explosive play ability that Walker adds to the offense. If he keeps the competition close through training camp and preseason, Carroll is bound to give Walker ample opportunities to produce.
The Washington Commanders drafted Brian Robinson Jr in the third round. Concerns regarding Antonio Gibson’s long-term status with the Commanders made the selection of Robinson understandable. If Gibson cannot cure his fumbling issue and remain healthy, we might see Robinson faster than expected.
Head Coach Ron Rivera is an old-school coach that wants to run the football and be physical, therefore Robinson has a real shot to cut into Gibson’s carries. Robinson gives them a physical downhill presence between the tackles and with that, this offense could look eerily similar to the model the Colts used with Wentz in 2021 as far as limiting the quarterback’s throwing attempts and opportunities to turn the football over.
My dark horse is Dameon Pierce as he was selected by the Houston Texans to add talent to their uninspiring running back room. Pierce is a tough, hard-hat-and-lunch-pail type of running back, and plays with a good base to absorb contact while he continues to fight for extra yardage.
As such, Pierce can potentially win this job during training camp. If so, the Texans’ goal is to build around quarterback Davis MIlls and make his life easier. A tough and reliable rushing attack is a great start. But for the opportunities to present themselves, Pierce has to take the bull by the horns and never look back.
All of the aforementioned running backs have the opportunity to step in and earn valuable reps as rookie ball carriers. But, who will lead the rookie class in rushing in 2022?
I am still going with Hall. The Jets coaching staff has connections to San Francisco Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, who loves to ride the hot hand. Hall will share reps with second-year running Michael Carter but this offense will lean on the run game to remain balanced in their attack to help support second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.
This philosophy will allow Wilson to attack defenses off play-action for chunk plays down the field. Hall should be viewed as Carter’s Javonte Williams, a.k.a. the bigger and stronger back that is leaned on with a greater workload.
It should be exciting to watch during the season. Anything is possible, especially when it pertains to running the football.