Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler both land in the top 10 recommended players to draft in Stokastic’s Best Ball package. But when digging into the top 10 players, is it splitting hairs, or is one a clearly better choice than the other? Split hairs with us as we look at Ekeler and Henry head-to-head.
2022 Best Ball Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings
The Case for Derrick Henry (Brady Goodman)
Opportunity, Efficiency, and Production
Derrick Henry’s picture is in the dictionary next to “NFL workhorse running back.” His 2021 stats are bewildering considering that he missed nine complete games. He was top 10 in rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns and longest run, and he did it all in only eight games. Statically, he is the elite of the elite, and it’s not even close. Henry was on pace to easily best Jonathan Taylor in every rushing category in 2021.
Tennessee Titans Offense Overview
Expect the Titans to once again have one of the better defenses in the NFL, which in turn leads to a slower game pace. The Titans were second in time of possession in 2021. For Mike Vrabel, it makes much more sense to run Henry straight up the gut over and over and over and over than to put the ball in Ryan Tannehill’s hands. Tannehill is going to have a tough time reaching a spot on the top 15 quarterback list again with the current Titans receiving core. The best hope at wide receiver for the Titans is Robert Woods, who is coming off of a torn ACL. After Woods, the Titans pass catcher list gets quite thin. Henry’s spot in the passing game also looks to be improving. He was one reception short of his career high in eight games in 2021. And with the loss of A.J. Brown, Henry is certainly going to be more involved in the passing scheme in 2022.
Derrick Henry’s 2022 Range of Outcomes
It needs to be repeated: The most shocking stat to come out of fantasy football in 2021 has to be the fact that Derrick Henry missed nine games and was still a top-15 running back. Imagine any other player pulling that off. He missed nine games and still had a better fantasy season than Dalvin Cook and Josh Jacobs. In his range of outcomes, his worst case seems to be missing half of the season and still ending up as a top-10 running back. There is no reason Henry can’t get back to his spot in the top three overall players, where he ended in 2020 and 2019.
The Case for Austin Ekeler (Nathan Otto)
Opportunity, Efficiency, and Production
Austin Ekeler did not disappoint in his first season as the lead back for the Los Angeles Chargers. He contributed 1,558 yards from scrimmage on 276 total touches, yielding 5.6 yards per touch, eighth best for running backs. His 21.5 fantasy points per game and the 63 red zone touches trailed only Jonathan Taylor at the position, while he led all running backs in targets (94), yards receiving (647) and total touchdowns (20).
Los Angeles Chargers Offense Overview
The Chargers ran the fifth-most plays per game in 2021 (66.4) and the most in 2020 (70.4). Justin Herbert is entering his third year as the starter, which could lead to an expanded offense. Ekeler has seen his opportunity and snap share increase consecutively over the last four seasons and is a focal point of the team’s red zone attack.
When compared to larger running backs in the league, his utility as a passer makes him much more effective in the red zone. He isn’t just getting slammed into the back of his offensive lineman against stacked boxes. Rather, the Chargers use Ekeler on both inside and outside runs, as well as in the passing game. This makes it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to defend, and that versatility is the pillar of why Ekeler is better than Henry.
Austin Ekeler’s Range of Outcomes
Ekeler is among an exclusive group of running backs that have a chance to lead their teams in carries while being top-three receiving options. He proved last year that he can be a short yardage back and has the durability to stay effective through the entire season. Many predicted a dip in efficiency following Melvin Gordon’s departure, but for the second straight season, Ekeler was top 10 in yards created per touch. This offense is one of the elite groupings in the NFL and has the makings to take another step forward. It will be hard for Ekeler to replicate the 20 touchdowns, but he has the makings to finish as RB10 or better for the third time in four seasons.
Conclusion and CTA: Ranks and Projections (Both)
Ekeler is a great fantasy player; he catches passes and is very active in the Chargers offense. However, Henry is in his own tier. If he plays a complete season, he will have over 1,500 yards rushing, double-digit touchdowns and double-digit receptions. He may even reach those numbers if he only plays half of the season. Henry’s current Underdog Milly ADP is No. 4, and his Stokastic recommended draft position is 3.4.
However, the Chargers are a superior offensive attack to the Titans, and Ekeler’s dual-threat skill set makes him tougher for defenses to take out of the game. He holds the most variance amongst Stokastic’s expert rankings out of the top running back selections, but Matt Savoca has him as the RB2 on the board, behind Taylor. When drafting one of the elite options on the board, the goal is to get someone who isn’t matchup dependent and is attached to superior quarterback play. Ekeler currently is being drafted outside the top-10 in Best Ball on all major platforms while projecting for the fifth-most fantasy points at the running back position.
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