Fantasy Football Rankings Differences: Saquon Barkley among undervalued running backs

ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing positional series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. We continue the series with a look at the running backs I like better than consensus. The running backs I like less than consensus will be coming soon.

One analyst goes against consensus rankings: QBs | RBs who should go higher | RBs who should go lower | WRs who should go higher | WRs who should go lower | TEs

Running backs I like more than consensus

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (ECR = RB10 vs DDD = RB4)

Barkley has been a fantasy bust each of the last two seasons, as an ACL tear ended his 2020 season early, and a fluky sprained ankle suffered after the whistle effectively ruined last season for him. In four games before last season’s injury, Barkley averaged 80 yards from scrimmage and had three touchdowns despite playing two top-10 run defenses and seeing a limited workload coming off major surgery. While he might very well carry greater injury risk than other running backs, Barkley also still possesses No. 1 overall fantasy upside given his three-down role.

Just one year older than Najee Harris, Barkley remains in his prime (with a modest career workload) and maybe most importantly, saw major offseason upgrades both at offensive line (drafting tackle Evan Neal in the top-10) and the coaching staff. Brian Daboll has already stated a desire to use Barkley plenty in the passing game, and it’s an offense that could make a major leap with Kadarius Toney and Wan’Dale Robinson looking like serious problems for opposing defenses as well.

Barkley topped 2,000 yards and 90 catches while scoring 15 touchdowns as a rookie, showed up in the proverbial “best shape of his life” while another year removed from knee surgery and has arguably the best system/teammates of his career, so he’ll be a top-12 fantasy pick in higher-staked fantasy leagues.

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D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions (ECR = RB8 vs DDD = RB5)

Swift led all running backs in targets (67) and catches (53) last season before suffering a shoulder injury on Thanksgiving. He ultimately led all backs in expected fantasy points per game via receiving, although it might be worth at least noting his receiving production dropped after Detroit switched play-callers later in the season (when he was also playing through an injury).

Swift is clearly one of the league’s premier receiving backs capable of dominating at the goal line (and between the 20s) while running behind a Detroit offensive line that’s one of the best in football. The Lions are capable of actually scoring points this season too, with newcomer DJ Chark impressing while joining Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson (and a coach willing to be aggressive on fourth downs).

Swift is another back with an injury history, but all running backs enter the season with health risk. I’d draft Swift ahead of Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry and Najee Harris.

D'Andre Swift is one of the best receiving backs in fantasy football, while also being counted on in the Lions' ground game. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
D'Andre Swift is one of the best receiving backs in fantasy football, while also being counted on in the Lions' ground game. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars (ECR = RB20 vs DDD = RB15)

Etienne is an unknown after missing his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, but he’s reportedly looked explosive throughout summer and 100% back to health. And while James Robinson has avoided the PUP list for now, he’s unlikely to be fully recovered from last year’s Achilles tear (suffered in late December) until midseason if at all in 2022. While questions remain surrounding Jacksonville’s management, the switch from Urban Meyer to Doug Peterson is an immeasurable coaching upgrade, so it’s safe to expect a better performance from Trevor Lawrence in Year Two as well.

Etienne is a special prospect, who scored 78 touchdowns in four years at Clemson, is capable of catching 80+ passes from his college QB this season and will almost certainly cost a much higher fantasy pick in 2023.

Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills (ECR = RB33 vs DDD = RB23)

Singletary was treated as Buffalo’s lead back down the stretch last season and finished as fantasy’s RB2 over the final month as a result. However, the Bills drafted James Cook after trying to sign J.D. McKissic, as Singletary admittedly struggles as a receiver (he ran the sixth most routes among backs last season but ranked No. 31 both in target share and yards per route run). While ostensibly losing passing down work no doubt hurts his upside, Singletary is somehow not being drafted as a top-30 RB despite being the lead back in arguably the NFL’s best offensive system. The Bills ran 189 more plays on offense than the Seahawks last season, which is equivalent to roughly three games worth.

Singletary saw a whopping 31 red-zone opportunities (including nine goal-line carries) over the final six games last season including the playoffs, when he scored eight touchdowns. With so much hype surrounding the rookie Cook (and even some Zack Moss talk), Singletary is underrated in fantasy drafts.

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Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks (ECR = RB28 vs DDD = RB22)

After returning from injury in Week 13 last season, Penny was fantasy’s top scoring back over the final six games and ended the year leading all backs in rush yards over expectation. While the downgrade at QB from Russell Wilson and a shaky Seattle offensive line don’t help, Penny looks like a true star capable of rising above his situation.

The Seahawks drafted Kenneth Walker, but coach Pete Carroll historically prefers veterans to draft capital, and Chris Carson retired. Penny racked up 39 touchdowns over his last two years in college, and while he’s also burdened by an injury history, that’s created a rare opportunity in which one of the league’s very best running backs isn’t even being drafted as a top-25 fantasy RB.

Honorable mention: Alvin Kamara (+5 ECR), Breece Hall (+3 ECR), Elijah Mitchell (+5 ECR), AJ Dillon (+5 ECR), Chase Edmonds (+5 ECR), Rhamondre Stevenson (+7 ECR), Rachaad White (+17 ECR), Khalil Herbert (+16 ECR), Eno Benjamin (+37 ECR), Dontrell Hilliard (+55 ECR), Isiah Pacheco (+56 ECR)

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