Colle fantasy production is all about systems and anticipating production for the upcoming season. Year-to-year variance makes this incredibly difficult, which is why projecting past results onto future seasons is a losing approach. One piece of the puzzle is identifying likely regression candidates – both good and bad. Spotting players who overperformed last year helps avoid bad picks at cost, and spotting underperformers gives us potential value selections being unfairly discounted.
Last week, I talked about quarterbacks and which players will likely regress to the mean in 2022. This week, we’re talking about returning running backs.
Here is how the RB position breaks down in yards per touchdown, both receiving and rushing:
Yards Per Touchdown: Running Backs
|Position||Rush Yards/TD||Rec Yards/TD|
Running Backs – Negative Regression (Bad)
Running backs are easier to spot obvious cases of regression than quarterbacks. Their production, especially on the ground, is system-oriented unless they’re a mega-talent at the position. In the receiving game, most backs top out near 400-500 yards for elite receivers, but at a collegiate level, RBs aren’t targeted the same way they are in the NFL. Knowing that, most overperformance is going to come from rushing touchdown luck.
Based on our expectations above, running backs score on the ground every ~110 yards and through the air every ~174 yards. Some break the mold, but overall, that’s what the nation’s RBs average. Given that, some production is sustainable but only to a certain degree.
Running Back Overperformance
I think we have to kick it off with Tavion Thomas. Thomas outperformed his touchdown expectation by a whopping 10.9 touchdowns over expected. He was the primary goal-line back for the Utes but split carries during the year with Micah Bernard and TJ Pledger. In 2021, Thomas ranked 136th (among RBs with 50 or more carries) in breakaway rush rate at 7%. He needs ten-zone and goal-line touches to repeat last season, but at almost 11 touchdowns over expected, unless he gets substantially more work, he’s likely to disappoint.
I’ll call out the hilarity of this one. Eastern Michigan’s Samson Evans is another clear regression candidate. With only 316 yards last year, he scored 13 touchdowns for the Eagles – clearly, that isn’t sustainable. South Florida’s Jaren Mangham sits in this bucket as well after scoring 15 touchdowns on 671 yards. Ultimately, any player with double-digit touchdowns on under 1,000 yards is a clear regression candidate.
Rasheen Ali is another player likely to regress. He scored 9.4 touchdowns over expectation despite scoring almost a full touchdown under expectation in receiving. His 1,400-yard season with 23 touchdowns is likely unrepeatable, especially when you consider Henry Colombi takes over at QB for the Thundering Herd. I like Ali, but a less efficient offense and likely touchdown regression require some pumping of the breaks.
I expect a few players to perform above expectation again in 2022. First, TreVeyon Henderson. The Ohio State mega prospect has been as advertised at the collegiate level, and given how high-powered the Buckeyes offense is, I’m not worried about him missing TD opportunities. He also tallied a 10% breakaway rush rate, meaning he’s still a threat to score from anywhere on the field. For the same reasons, Bijan Robinson isn’t a player to worry about this year either. Compared to his peers, he was only 3.1 touchdowns above expectation, but the Texas product is one of the best RBs in the country.
A final callout here is App State RB Camerun Peoples. With 14 touchdowns on 926, Peoples was the goal-line back for the Mountaineers this year. His backfield mate, Nate Noel, shows up on our positive regression list because this distribution of touchdowns between the two (14 to 4) is likely too extreme given the yardage differential.
Running Backs – Positive Regression (Good)
Despite some unlikely overperformances last year, there was also a handful of RBs we should see a better season from in 2022.
Running Back Underperformance
Northern Illinois, now Memphis RB Jeyvon Ducker led all returning FBS running backs in this category last year. His 7.8 touchdowns below expectation were by far the highest, a full 1.5 touchdowns below the second-ranked player. In 2021, most touchdowns in the Huskies’ offense were sniped by fullback Clint Ratkovich. This year, Ducker moves onto Memphis, so it’s more difficult to project how his role changes, but given he had only three touchdowns on 1,184 yards, a similar workload should pot him in the double-digit score conversation.
Like Camerun Peoples, Nate Noel should be substantial regression. App State is a team that will feature two RBs. With 1,124 yards, he scored only four touchdowns despite an expected rate of 10.2. He and Peoples likely meet in the middle somewhere but don’t discount an improvement from the explosive Noel in 2022.
A player I like a lot in 2022 is Ellis Merriweather, who ranks third on this list. Despite playing at UMASS, his 1,136 yards last year for a 1-11 team. If you exclude the Florida State game (a matchup where you wouldn’t start him), in Merriweather’s last six contests, he averaged 147.3 yards per game. He will naturally score more touchdowns this season with improvements around the program and the return of Don Brown.
Two Illinois RBs make this list which tells us two things. First, Chase Brown could be in for a monster season if things break right for him. He posted two 220+ yard games last year and two others over 115 yards. Having only five touchdowns on his workload should adjust. Second, Brown should lead that charge if Illinois can convert more yardage into scoring opportunities. That also benefits RB Joshua McCray, who scored only twice on his 545 yards. The entire offensive unit needs to be better in 2022, but there’s reason to think if it plays out that way, we could see a boom season for the Illini RBs.