The approach of training camp also means the approach of the fantasy season. Fans across the world will tune in as their favorite teams pad up in preparation of the season. Training camp will give us a preview of what to expect when the season begins. Mock drafts will appear, scouting reports and daily updates to the depth chart will dominate the fantasy community. The big names and hardware-hoisting skill players begin to unfold as competitors craft their roster. One key component that factors into the success of both a professional and fantasy football team is the depth. Who is able to step up during an injury? A bye week? Who is going to have legs for the second half? Gridiron Heroics takes a look at the fantasy running backs that should be rostered on your bench come September.
Kareem Hunt – CLE
A healthy Kareem Hunt in Cleveland could showcase the best one-two combo in football. Limited to just eight games last season, the soon-to-be 27-year-old is also on a contract year. The Toledo product has struggled to recapture his rookie performance, but an 11-touchdown 2020 season should reassure fantasy owners. The lack of a home for next year is always extra motivation for a professional and Hunt should see plenty of reps to show the league what is capable of. Hunt still scored five times in limited action last season, mainly due to his double-digit carries in five straight games. He could still see an RB-1 type of workload, especially with the quarterback spot still up in the air. Nick Chubb is the lead for the Browns, but Hunt is more than capable of carrying the load.
Tony Pollard – DAL
Similar to Hunt, Tony Pollard is entering a contract year after three seasons in Dallas. The Memphis product has been quite impressive during his short career. In 46 games, the 25-year-old has rushed for just over 1,600 yards with a total of 10 scores. Pollard should see an increase in reps in ’22, which has been consistent over his career. However, fantasy owners should look at Pollard as a potential beneficiary to some RB-1 privleges. Ezekiel Elliott failed to touch the 100-yard mark after week five last season. Pollard boats an appealing 5.1 yards-per-attempt over his career. Should Elliott struggle to handle the running responsibilities, the call could turn to Pollard as Dallas weighs its backfield future. I think Elliott is the first Cowboys running back off the board, but Pollard is a very smart handcuff to stash.
Chuba Hubbard – CAR
Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard had a busy rookie season for a fourth-round pick. Hubbard appeared in 17 contests, with 10 starts after another injury sidelined starting running back Christian McCaffrey. The Oklahoma State graduate carried the ball 172 times and produced five touchdowns. Not bad for a rookie, but a 3.6 yards-per-attempt season needed to be improved. Hubbard is more than capable of carrying a team with his legs thanks in part to his 2,000 yard, 21-touchdown season as a sophomore. The quarterback position needs to improve this year and McCaffrey hasn’t touched double-digit games in two years. If McCaffrey lands on injured reserve for a third-straight season, Hubbard will assume starting responsibilities for the second-straight year.
Eno Benjamin – ARI
It’s still early in the 2022 NFL year but the Arizona Cardinals have been pretty vocal about second-year back Eno Benjamin. The local product out of Arizona State only received 34 carries across nine games last year as a rookie. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury praised Benjamin earlier this summer, stating the 23-year-old looked like a starting running back during workouts. He will compete for the backup job this pre-season as James Conner handles first-team responsibilities. Benjamin will square off with new arrival Darrel Williams, who is coming over from Kansas City on a one-year deal. Arizona will also have to figure out how to move the football without star wideout DeAndre Hopkins who is facing a six-game suspension. The competition for backup reps will be a tight race and both Cardinals backs are smart options. However, the praise from the head coach is something to like early on. Benjamin is definitely on the radar in Arizona.
J.D. McKissic – WSH
J.D. McKissic enters his third year in Washington and will likely play backup to Antonio Gibson for the third straight year. The soon-to-be 29-year-old was limited to just 11 games last season and 48 carries. Commanders fans will remember McKissic’s 2020 season, when he appeared in all 16 games. The Arkansas State product rushed the ball 85 times and added an additional 80 receptions to his stat-sheet. The 165 touch season could be duplicated or even improved on entering another year with head coach Ron Rivera. The Commanders also brought in former Colts and Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz to compete for the QB job, the effect that has on the offense is not yet known. Still, when looking for depth, a healthy McKissic on the bench could result in consistent touches later in the season, especially in a league that values receptions.
Hassan Haskins – TEN
Tennessee Titans running back Hassan Haskins is my lone rookie on this list. The fourth-round selection out of Michigan should slot in behind starter Derrick Henry smoothly in his first season. Don’t expect Haskins to take any carries away from Henry, it’s more so if Henry will be able to handle his usual 300-carry workload. The Titans leaned on D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hillard when Henry missed the last nine games of 2021. Foreman is gone and Hillard will compete with Haskins. Henry’s return affirms the run-first approach in Tennessee, the involvement of Haskins will be interesting to monitor. The big-bodied back found the end zone 20 times his final year in the college ranks. I would look at Henry more than I look at Haskins as the former rushing champion will take every carry if capable. Haskins could be the beneficiary if Henry takes a step back in a run-first Titans offense.
The depth chart competitions of the NFL pre-season will be closely monitored by the football world. The running back battles will be intriguing to say the least with several teams still making final decisions at skill positions. The free agency market boasts several recognizable names at the position but 22 running backs went drafted back in April. As starting and backup jobs are won and lost next month, keep an eye on who wins the backup running back gigs across the league.
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