The NFL’s free agency period will officially begin on March 16th, and there should be a flurry of moves this offseason as teams try to replicate the success that the Rams and Bengals achieved after being aggressive last offseason. There are some big-name veteran running backs in the 2022 free agent class like Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, and Cordarrelle Patterson. However, the biggest dynasty sells may be more under-the-radar names. The below running backs could see a decline in their respective dynasty values in just a few short weeks due to surrounding factors like overall offensive decline or additions to their respective backfields.
2022 Pre-Free Agency Dynasty Sells: Running Backs
Many were baffled when Seattle spent their first-round draft pick on Rashaad Penny back in 2018. Since then, he’s missed 28 games due to injury before finally showing up in the back half of the 2021 season. However, many dynasty GMs are still remembering Penny’s recent incredible stretch of fantasy performances from the last few games of the year. Over his last five starts when fully healthy, Penny averaged 18 carries and 134 rushing yards per game. Over that span, Penny’s 22.0 fantasy points per game in PPR scoring ranked second among running backs behind only James Conner‘s 23.3 points per game. Penny also ranked first among all running backs in breakaway run rate last year with 15 rushing attempts that went for 15 or more yards despite having totaled just 119 carries on the season.
While impressive, the caliber of opponents that the Seahawks played against to end the season should be noted. In three of his final five starts, Penny ran the ball against the Texans, Bears, and Lions. All three of those opponents ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in terms of rushing defense DVOA. And while his Week 18 opponent, the Cardinals, ranked sixth in rushing defense on the year, they missed multiple defensive starters over the second half of the season due to injury and allowed the 13th most rushing yards last season. Against those four opponents, Penny averaged 20 carries for 158 rushing yards per game. In contrast, against the only above-average run defense in those final five games, Penny rushed 11 times for just 39 yards against the Rams in Week 15.
Another glaring concern is the fact that Penny scored six touchdowns over those last five games, which padded his fantasy stats. Again, his ability to break long runs and find the end zone are positive traits, but it would be foolish to expect him to replicate that kind of production with whichever team he’s playing for in 2022. Additionally, that was the first stretch of healthy games that Penny has put together in his four seasons in the league. Recent dynasty trades per DLF’s trade finder include Penny for the 1.11 and 2.11 rookie picks and Penny plus Odell Beckham for Amari Cooper. Most savvy dynasty GMs will be wary of trading for Penny, but clearly some are overvaluing him based on his most recent performances. Penny is likely to return to a committee role even if he stays healthy in 2022 and should be among the priority dynasty sells for any return of a second-round rookie pick or more.
It’s unfortunate that Travis Etienne suffered a Lisfranc foot injury last August without ever having played a snap in a regular-season game. He subsequently had surgery on his foot in September and has been rehabbing since, targeting a return during training camp prior to the 2022 season. Still just 23 years old, Etienne will have a better chance than most players returning from a season-ending injury in that he could win the starting job during training camp since his fellow Jacksonville running back, James Robinson, tore his Achilles in Week 16. Even though Cam Akers was recently able to return from his Achilles tear in under six months, there’s no guarantee that Robinson will be ready for the start of the 2022 season, as recovery from these injuries typically requires nine months to a year. But even with Robinson’s injury, Etienne carries plenty of risk and is among the top dynasty sells prior to free agency.
For one, Carlos Hyde‘s contract runs through 2022. While unlikely to play a major role at 31 years old, Hyde is an adequate depth player and could still take some touches here and there, particularly near the goal line. There’s also the risk that the new regime in Jacksonville could add additional depth to the backfield via free agency with their current top two options both coming back from major injuries. The Jaguars have the third-most salary cap space heading into the offseason with over $56 million to work with, and incoming head coach Doug Pederson has historically used a committee backfield. During his tenure in Philadelphia, even after drafting Miles Sanders, Pederson utilized Boston Scott as a receiving role and deployed Jordan Howard as a goal-line back. Pederson has no loyalty to Etienne or Robinson given that Robinson was signed while Doug Marrone was head coach, and Etienne was drafted under Urban Meyer.
There’s plenty to like about Etienne as a player, but his current dynasty value doesn’t account for the risks. Recent dynasty trades per DLF’s trade finder include Etienne and a 2022 second-round rookie pick for Jaylen Waddle and Etienne plus Courtland Sutton for Najee Harris. And based on this Twitter thread, Etienne’s consensus value is around the 1.05 rookie pick, which is far too high considering the risk of Robinson or another running back cutting into his workload. Etienne is worth a late first-round rookie pick considering the lack of prospects with elite upside in the 2022 draft class, but as Etienne himself also has dubious prospects of becoming a true difference-maker in fantasy, he should be a sell for a mid first-round rookie pick or better. And in the unlikely event that Etienne can be packaged with a small piece for an upper tier player like Waddle or Harris, that should be a #SmashAccept.
Had he tested as a running back instead of a wide receiver at the 2020 NFL Combine, Antonio Gibson‘s combine results would’ve mirrored those of Jonathan Taylor. But over their two seasons in the league, their career trajectories have been on different paths. In 2021, the Colts finally realized that Taylor deserved the majority of the touches in the backfield, but in contrast, Gibson was mostly relegated to an early-down role. His workload and efficiency were limited in part due to his playing through a stress fracture in his shin during the first half of last season. Still, his workload and target share alongside a healthy J.D. McKissic are concerning.
Gibson was declared fully healthy following Washington’s Week 9 bye last year, and he played in two full games with McKissic prior to McKissic suffering a concussion and neck injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season starting in Week 13. In those two games, Gibson averaged a 56 percent snap share and just two total targets as a receiver. Only after McKissic was injured did Gibson’s role expand to a 65 percent snap share and 4.8 targets per game over his final six games. Head coach Ron Rivera has already indicated interest in retaining McKissic, and McKissic has likewise stated his interest in remaining in Washington. Barring a breakdown in salary negotiations, it seems probable that McKissic will stay with the team for 2022 and potentially beyond in his receiving role.
Dynasty GMs holding Gibson may feel optimistic that Washington could expand Gibson’s touch share in 2022, but that doesn’t seem likely based on his injury history and Washington’s desire to use a committee backfield. The newly-renamed Commanders may not feel comfortable giving Gibson a large workload going forward considering his toe and shin injuries in his first two seasons in the league, making Gibson among the top dynasty sells before free agency begins. Recent dynasty trades per DLF’s trade finder include Gibson plus Michael Thomas for Dalvin Cook plus a 2022 first-round rookie pick and Gibson plus Hunter Henry for Kyle Pitts. Gibson is not a must-sell by any means, but his early-down role limits his fantasy ceiling in PPR formats, and his dynasty value could take another hit if and when the Commanders extend McKissic.
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