The Great RB Dead Zone Resurrection of 2022 is Upon Us

by Joel Ybarra · Draft Strategy

The running back “dead zone” is dead. Dead zone running backs have traditionally been those backs drafted in rounds three through six of fantasy drafts the past two seasons. But a shift is about to take place. The RB Dead Zone will be the fertile ground out of which multiple RB1s will be harvested in fantasy leagues in 2022. Start adjusting your draft plans now.

The Old Guard

The following chart contains the RBs being picked in the first two rounds of 2022 fantasy drafts based on current ADP. Also known as the pre-dead-zone backs. They are listed here along with their ages in September 2022.

2022 1st- and 2nd-round RB’s 

Notice the above list is riddled with “old guard” running backs. Eight out of 11 of these backs were also taken in the first two rounds in 2021. And they are a year older in 2022. When the 2022 season begins, seven out of 11 of these backs will be 26 years or older. They will be past the age apex and past their peak production windows!

The “Dead Zone”

Now let’s look at the running backs that would typically be “dead zone” backs in the coming 2022 season. These are the backs currently being drafted in rounds 3-6 by ADP. Listed along with their ages in September 2022 and their NFL draft pedigrees:

2022 “Dead Zone” RB’s

Assessing these 2022 “dead zone” backs, we find a few things.

Nine of these 12 backs will be pre-age apex and squarely in or right on the cusp of their peak production windows (24 to 26 years old) in the 2022 season!

Five of the backs listed above (Saquon Barkley, Antonio Gibson, Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins and Travis Etienne) have been injured for significant time the past two seasons, keeping them from reaching peak production. At least as of yet.

The draft pedigrees of these 2022 “dead zone” backs are impressive when held in contrast with the 2021 dead zone backs:

Average NFL Draft Pedigree:

  • 2022 dead zone – 2.88 (not including Breece Hall)
  • 2021 dead zone – 3.54 (not counting undrafted players)

First Round NFL Draft Picks:

  • 2022 dead zone – 4
  • 2021 dead zone – 1

Undrafted NFL Players:

  • 2022 dead zone – 0
  • 2021 dead zone – 3

Four Living Dead RBs to Draft in 2022

The 2022 dead zone is full of proven talents. Let’s zoom in on a few of the ascending talents positioned to achieve premium production in 2022. These are the backs to target in the so-called “dead zone.”

The Case for Saquon Barkley

The case for Saquon Barkley rests on his elite athleticism. His 99th-percentile SPARQ-X score is made possible with a 40-time, Speed Score, and Burst Score all eclipsing the 96th-percentile. Barkley is one of the greatest prospects ever to enter the NFL and has already achieved elite production as a pro; with two top-10 fantasy RB finishes in his first two seasons.

Saquon Barkley Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Injuries hampered his output the last two seasons. There was also the anemic Giants offense that scored a league-low 24 touchdowns in 2021. They’ve hired an offensive minded coach in Brian Daboll. They also released Devontae Booker. The Giants will surely add backfield depth ahead of the 2022 season. But a healthy Barkley will look to establish his value in 2022 before entering free agency in 2023.

The Case for Cam Akers

The case for Cam Akers is based on the value placed on him by the Rams’ organization. He proved his value during his rookie season, averaging 118.3 yards from scrimmage in his final six contests. He tore his Achilles in the 2021 preseason. By some miracle of modern science, he resumed a dominant role in the Rams’ backfield later that same postseason. He out-touched Sony Michel 75 to 29 in the 2021 postseason. The Rams have not re-signed Michel as of April 20, 2022. They look to rely heavily on Akers this year, squeezing all the value they can out of his rookie contract. The Rams still apparently fancy themselves championship contenders; continuing to optimize their offense with high-potential free agent signings like Allen Robinson. This is a strong indicator of scoring opportunities for Akers.

The Case for J.K. Dobbins

J.K. Dobbins was a primo prospect emerging from Ohio State in 2020. A second-round pick at 5-10 and 227-pounds, with a 4.37 (99th-percentile) 40-yard dash. He leads the Ravens backfield heading into the 2022 season; an ascending offense driven by Lamar Jackson and other young talents in Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews.

Dobbins’ value is currently diminished into the dead zone by his 2021 injury and projected 2022 backfield competition. How soon we forget he averaged 5.75 yards per carry in the second half of his rookie season. He scored eight touchdowns over 12 games spanning the end of the regular season and playoffs. Dobbins is still in the meat of his rookie contract in 2022 and looks to be the lead back in Baltimore once healthy. Regardless of any Ravens backfield signings.

The Case for Travis Etienne

Travis Etienne was taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. Though he has not yet gotten a chance to prove himself at the NFL level. He racked up bountiful rushing production in college (two 1,600-yard rushing seasons) and pass-catching prowess (a 48-reception senior season). He enters the 2022 season as a question mark due to injury after suffering a pre-rookie year Lisfranc injury. But age is on his side. He will be under 24 years old entering the 2022 season. The consensus is that the Jaguars are in a position to improve in all football facets after a stabilizing coaching change and adding free agent offensive pieces that will augment young talents Trevor Lawrence and Etienne.


In the first and second rounds of 2022 fantasy drafts, start by drafting WR-WR or WR-RB. If you go WR-RB, you could have Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase, or Justin Jefferson, a second-round RB, AND THEN hammer “dead-zone” backs in rounds 3-6. If you are really concerned about missing out on a first-round running back, keep in mind Leonard Fournette, Tony Pollard and A.J. Dillon will also still be available after round 6 (past the dead zone). There are plenty of upside RB’s available in rounds 3-8 in 2022, leaving you tons of flexibility to not take running backs in rounds 1-2. The RB dead zone is the place to be in 2022! IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!!!

Read more about the game theory behind drafting dead zone backs in Jakob Sanderson’s article here.