One of the most exciting things in fantasy football year in and year out is seeing which players bounce back into form. These players could be returning from injury, going to a new team, getting a new coach, or just flat out produce better after having a below average year. In 2020, we saw Austin Ekeler go from RB4 in 2019 to RB26 due to injuries. After remaining mostly healthy in 2021, Ekeler returned to fantasy relevance and finished the year as RB2. Just like any other year, 2022 should have some players bounce back from a poor season in 2021. Let’s take a look at five potential running back bounceback candidates for 2022.
No. 5) Dalvin Cook
After finishing the 2019 season as RB6 and the 2020 season as RB2, Dalvin Cook has cemented himself as a top-tier fantasy RB. However, 2021 presented issues for Cook. Both legal and health issues seemed to impact his play and he finished the year as RB16. The Vikings didn’t address running back in the draft until round five when they selected Ty Chandler. While that is a running back added to the room, Cook’s workhorse status is not in question. The Vikings have also brought in former Rams offensive coordinator, Kevin O’Connell, as their new head coach. Early reports from Vikings OTAs indicate that Cook will be used more as a receiver next season as well. If that comes to fruition, he would be a PPR monster.
"In multiple formations, Cook lined up in bunch wide receiver sets."
Looks like we could see Dalvin Cook be more involved in the passing game this year. https://t.co/aArMhDNtWo
— Vikes (@vikesinsider) May 18, 2022
Cook has never played a full season, and he doesn’t necessarily need one to produce great numbers. In the two seasons mentioned earlier, he only played in 14 games. Cook averaged 20.9 (No. 2 among qualified running backs) Fantasy Points Per Game in 2019 and 24.1 (No. 2) Fantasy Points Per Game in 2020. 2021 wasn’t necessarily a bad year either, averaging 15.9 (No. 9) PPG. He finished with 1,159 (No. 5) rushing yards, but only scored six (No. 27) touchdowns. In 2020 he scored 17 times, and in 2019 he scored 13 times. Look for positive regression in the touchdown department next season, as well as more receptions. Both of those factors combined should lead to another top 6 finish in 2022.
No. 4) Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley started his career with a bang, finishing as RB1 in his rookie campaign. Year 2 wasn’t shabby either as he finished as RB10 after only playing 13 games. Then in 2020 he tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus requiring surgery and ending his season. In 2021, he didn’t return as explosive and suffered a low ankle sprain in Week 5, resulting in four missed games. In the 13 games he played in 2021, he averaged 11.4 (No. 27) Fantasy Points Per Game and only scored four (No. 39) touchdowns. With an offseason of healing and a new offensive minded coach coming to New York, look for him to bounce back in 2022.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley, who has dealt with multiple injuries in recent years, looks healthy and explosive at OTAs. https://t.co/e9kge3qBc9
— TheGiantsWire (@TheGiantsWire) May 19, 2022
In 2018, Barkley averaged 7.6 targets per game and had 91 (No. 2) receptions. In 2021, he averaged 4.4 targets per game and only had 41 receptions-No. 19 in the league. Hopefully the Giants and Daniel Jones target him more in 2022 to fully utilize his profile. He has about as perfect of a profile that you can get with 96th-percentile 40 time, 100th-percentile Speed Score, 98th-percentile Burst Score, and 96th-percentile bench press. If he can remain healthy, he will be one of the most dynamic backs in the league. It’s his contract year as well, so it’s time to prove it.
No. 3) Christian McCaffrey
When discussing explosive fantasy players, Christian McCaffrey basically tops the list. In 2019, he finished as RB1 by nearly 160 points. He averaged 29.3 Fantasy Points Per Game on the heels of 1,387 rushing yards and 116 receptions taken for 1,005 yards. He also scored 19 TDs. In 2020, he was doing it again, but he couldn’t remain healthy. He averaged 30.1 Fantasy Points Per Game in the three games he did play in 2020. In 2021, he could not stay healthy and only played in seven games. His production went down tremendously, averaging 18.2 Fantasy Points Per Game in those games. His ADP of 3.2 shows that people aren’t worried about his injury history and expect him to stay healthy in 2022. If he does stay healthy, 2022 will be a fantastic year for him.
Most games with 10+ receptions since 2019…
Davante Adams – 12
Michael Thomas – 9
Cooper Kupp – 8
Tyreek Hill – 7
Christian McCaffrey – 7
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) March 29, 2022
The Panthers didn’t address running back in the draft, but did bring in D’Onta Foreman as insurance in case McCaffrey down. His touches should not be affected by Foreman’s arrival, and Chuba Hubbard didn’t do much to eat into his role either. The Panthers will have to depend on McCaffrey next year as their quarterbacks are Sam Darnold and Matt Corral. He should see plenty of short pass work. In 2019, he averaged 8.9 targets per game. Whereas in 2021, he only averaged 5.9 targets per game. That is one area where he will look to get more work in 2022.
No. 2) Derrick Henry
In 2020, Derrick Henry finished as RB1 after rushing for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns. In 2021, he was on pace for another 2,000 yard year while also boasting 154 receiving yards in seven games. Unfortunately, he broke his foot in Week 8 and missed the rest of the season. He played less than half of year and still finished as RB22. It is undeniable that if he returns to form, he will be a top fantasy asset.
Derrick Henry is one of the favorites to win the rushing title in 2022. https://t.co/k8GqByRSP9
— The Titans Wire (@TheTitansWire) May 19, 2022
In his return from the broken foot in the playoffs, Henry ran the ball 20 times for 62 yards and TD. Not fantastic production, but still solid. It was encouraging to see him handle a small workload and finish out the game. It’s a promising sign considering there is still a whole offseason ahead for him to heal up. The Titans did draft running back Hassan Haskins but he is not Henry’s competition, he is Henry’s insurance. He should still see at least 20 carries a game next season. If the 28 year-old can remain healthy, look for a great bounce-back in 2022.
No. 1) Cam Akers
2021 Season Rank (PPR): RB144
2022 could be both a breakout and bounce-back season for Cam Akers. While he hasn’t technically produced a great fantasy season yet, he has shown flashes of what he’s capable of. Looking at his 2020 playoff run is a great place to start. In two playoff games, he ran the ball 46 times for 221 yards and two TDs. That is very solid production from a rookie running back in the playoffs. Unfortunately, in the 2021 offseason Akers tore his Achilles tendon.
"Cam Akers is RB6 on dynasty rankings right now, which is fair considering he is the workhorse on one of the best offenses in the league."
Divisional Dive: NFC West – @J_Footballwine
— PlayerProfiler (@rotounderworld) May 14, 2022
Akers did return in 2021, but split carries with Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson as he was being eased back in. He displayed some flashes but couldn’t quite get things going in the playoffs like he did in 2020. With Sony Michel gone, and a full offseason, he will look to return to form and finish as a top running back. He is the dynasty RB6 for a reason. He should be the main running back on the defending Super Bowl Champ Rams, which provides tons of upside.