Deadspin predicts every '1K' player for the 2022 NFL season, Part I: RBs

Deadspin predicts every '1K' player for the 2022 NFL season, Part I: RBs

We dive deep in the weeds to pinpoint best bets and longshots to reach 1,000 yards of offense — your fantasy team will thank us

Derrick Henry is a no-duh yes, come on now.
Derrick Henry is a no-duh yes, come on now.
Image: Getty Images

One thousand yards on the ground or through the air has long been a benchmark of success in the NFL. Having a 1,000-yard season under your belt makes any defense have to account for you when game-planning. Sure, there are some lesser-known players who had a career year or two surpassing 1,000 yards — Brian Hartline, Harry Douglas, Kenny Britt, CJ Spiller, Peyton Hillis, Chris Ivory... you get the point — but it takes more than just luck to reach that milestone. It takes skill, consistency, and a system that plays to its players’ strengths.

Halfbacks have had a much harder time reaching this milestone in recent years. In the 2000 NFL season, 23 players eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground. That number fell to just nine in 2020. Since 2015, only once have more than 12 players hit the millennium mark on the ground: 2019 (16). In 2015, it was as low as seven.

Receivers have thrived in this new era. Last year, 18 receivers surpassed 1,000 yards and five more were within 33 yards of hitting the mark. Since 2010, there have been at least 15 receivers hitting 1K through the air every season. In 2019, there were 29 such receivers, the highest mark of all-time. This will be the year we see 30 players reach that threshold. Why? Well adding a 17th game to the schedule surely helps a lot. Now, receivers and running backs only need to average roughly 59 yards per game in order to hit 1,000 on the season. In 16 games, that number was 62.5. That may not seem like a big difference...but it is. That 3.5 yards per game adds up to 56 or 60 yards depending on whether we’re referring to a 16 or 17-game schedule.

Before I get into the list, I will be breaking down the players listed into categories:

  • The No-brainers: players who will certainly reach 1,000 yards and need zero explanation
  • The Probables: players who will likely reach 1,000 yards
  • The Bubbles: players who will just barely reach 1,000 yards
  • The Just Missed’s: players who will barely miss 1,000 yards (about 800-999 yards). Think of this as an honorable mentions list.

Oh, and before I forget, the likelihood that a player misses time due to injury will play a factor in this list. The best ability is availability. I don’t care how talented someone like Saquon Barkley is. If he can’t play, he won’t reach a grand on the ground.

Today we look at the rushers, tomorrow the wide receivers.

Let’s say a tailback averages 4.2 yards per carry — a good amount, but nothing insane. Despite having a whole extra game this season, that back would still need to average 14 carries per game to reach 1,000 yards. If that same running back were to average 5.0 yards per carry, he’d only need 12 carries per game. That’s how we’re going to measure each player’s potential to reach 1,000 yards on the ground: their yards per carry compared to the likelihood that they receive the number of carries per game necessary to reach the 1,000 yard milestone.

So here... we... go...

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The No-Brainers:

The No-Brainers:

Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb
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Derrick Henry (TEN)

Dalvin Cook (MIN)

Christian McCaffrey (CAR)

Nick Chubb (CLE)

Aaron Jones (GB)

Jonathan Taylor (IND)

Right, enough said. I think we’re done here with the bleeding obvious. Moving on to where it gets a bit more interesting...

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The Probables: 1. Saquon Barkley (NYG)

The Probables: 1. Saquon Barkley (NYG)

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Saquon is obviously one of the most talented backs in the world and he obviously has the skill set and workload to reach 1,000 yards. However, Barkley’s injury history raises my brow. Barkley has missed 17 games over the last two seasons, and a torn ACL does nothing to help alleviate my worries. According to Sports Injury Predictor, Saquon has an 81 percent chance to miss games due to injury in 2021. One or two games, I wouldn’t worry about Barkley missing out on 1,000 yards, but four or five. That’s when I start questioning whether or not Barkley could hit the milestone. Dave Gettleman made an effort to improve the team’s aerial attack in 2021 by signing free-agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay and drafting Florida receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round. I fully expect Barkley to reach 1,000 rushing yards if he stays healthy. However, if the former number two overall selection misses a few games, especially with all these new passing weapons added to Daniel Jones’s artillery this offseason, Barkley could just barely miss out.

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The Probables: 2. David Montgomery (CHI)

The Probables: 2. David Montgomery (CHI)

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After Chicago’s bye week in 2020, Montgomery averaged over 5.1 yards per carry and nearly 20 carries per game. In the final six games of that regular season, Montgomery recorded 598 rushing yards. If Montgomery can maintain anywhere close to that pace for 2021, he’ll undoubtedly reach 1,000 yards several weeks before the end of the season. However, Montgomery sits in this category because of Matt Nagy’s history of using him. Nagy has been under fire from several Bears fans due to his lack of creativity on offense and for the poor usage of his players. For the first several weeks of the 2020 season, Montgomery was used sparingly to say the least despite Montgomery being arguably the best weapon Chicago had (perhaps even more so than Allen Robinson). Montgomery only saw 20 carries once prior to the team’s bye week last season and, surprisingly enough, it was in a loss to New Orleans. Even when Montgomery started picking up his production circa Week 12, it still took Nagy three weeks to start feeding Montgomery more. With several Bears fans calling for Nagy’s job this season, I fully expect Nagy to rely more heavily on his young RB, but there’s still a shred of doubt in my mind, and that’s why he’s here.

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The Probables: 3. Joe Mixon (CIN)

The Probables: 3. Joe Mixon (CIN)

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I almost put Mixon in the no-brainer category, but the fact that he missed 10 games in 2020 on just 3.6 yards per carry was just too much to put him at the top. Mixon is a phenomenal back with a lot of tools working in his advantage heading into 2021. The Bengals improved their offensive line, and while it’s still not incredible, it’s much better than what Mixon has worked with in the past. Not to mention, the Bengals recently returned O-line coach Frank Pollack to Cincinnati after a 2-year stint with the Jets. Mixon has stated publicly that he’s “excited” to work with Pollack. The only thing going against Mixon is his leg. While he has never torn an ACL or MCL, he has sprained his right ankle twice. Bengals’ coach Zac Taylor has stated that Mixon is “feeling good” and ready to go, however.

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The Probables: 4. Antonio Gibson (WAS)

The Probables: 4. Antonio Gibson (WAS)

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Let’s be real. Defense didn’t really respect Washington’s passing attack last year. Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, and Dwayne Haskins were not going to do any serious damage. While Ryan Fitzpatrick is definitely no world-beater, he is clearly better than anything Washington had last year. With opponents having to respect the pass more in 2021, it’s even more likely that Gibson reaches 1,000 yards. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. He’s not quite a no-brainer seeing as how Washington’s backfield is still semi-loaded with Peyton Barber, JD McKissic, and Lamar Miller, but Gibson is clearly the feature back in this offense. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year, and that number will almost certainly rise or at least stay the same in 2021. Meaning, at worst, Gibson would need just 12.5 carries per game. That’s absolutely doable.

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The Probables: 5. Cam Akers (LAR) — Damn.

The Probables: 5. Cam Akers (LAR) — Damn.

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Updated, July 20, 2021 at 11:30 a.m. ET: Unfortunately, since the publishing of this article, Cam Akers tore his achilles during a training session and will be forced to miss the entirety of the upcoming season. In his stead awaits Darrell Henderson, Xavier Jones, and Raymond Calais. Henderson seems to be the clear-cut favorite to take over Akers’ role. However, Henderson was supposed to take over Todd Gurley’s role when the 2017 AP Offensive Player of the Year departed, and we all know how that worked out. The Rams have not shown any interest in making Henderson a feature back, so even with Akers’ injury, it seems far-fetched to assume Henderson will surpass 1,000 yards on the ground.

Now to the next level down...

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The Bubbles: 1. Josh Jacobs (LV)

The Bubbles: 1. Josh Jacobs (LV)

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This isn’t about Jacobs. This is about the new man in town, Kenyan Drake. Drake has been a solid back who’s reached 1,000 total yards from scrimmage each of the last three years, although he’s never reached 1,000 yards solely on the ground. Last season, Drake averaged enough yards per game to warrant a 1,000-yard season, but unfortunately, the former Cardinal and Dolphin had to missed one game and that was enough for him to stay under 1K yards for the season. So, how much will Kenyan Drake’s presence affect Josh Jacobs’ workload? While a Jacobs optimist might say “Not at all. Jacobs is clearly the stronger back. The team will continue to rely on Jacobs for rushing attempts next season,” the pessimist (me) might say “Well, the Raiders aren’t paying Drake over $5 million a year to sit on the sidelines.” While Jacobs’ biggest competition for carries in 2020, Devontae Booker, is gone, Drake will likely take an even bigger workload than Booker did. Throw in the fact that Jalen Richard saw the field more often as the Raiders found themselves down late in games, and it’s hard to be certain that Jacobs reaches 1,000 yards even in a 17-game season.

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The Bubbles: 2. Najee Harris (PIT)

The Bubbles: 2. Najee Harris (PIT)

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The Steelers love using their running backs. So, Harris should have ample opportunity to reach the millennium milestone. At least one rookie running back has reached 1,000 yards on the ground every season since 2012. Harris will be that guy this year. He doesn’t have much competition in the backfield. He’s part of a system that loves to run, and he’s on a team that should find themselves up late in games more often than not. Even with the departure of long-time Steelers’ guard David DeCastro, Harris will be handed the ball more than enough times to make up for the probable lack of yards per carry. It won’t be pretty, but Harris will reach the mark.

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The Bubbles: 3. Chris Carson (SEA)

The Bubbles: 3. Chris Carson (SEA)

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Carson saw his rushing attempts per game drop by seven between 2019 and 2020. While the Seahawks’ star is clearly far from washed up, Pete Carroll doesn’t seem to want to use Carson that much. Letting Russ cook is never a bad thing, and Carson has proven himself a capable pass-catcher, but Carson just didn’t have the workload in 2020 to inspire optimism that he’ll eclipse 1,000 yards again in 2021. Carson has been going all-out this offseason in the hopes that he can return to Pro Bowl-caliber form. As long as he can stay healthy, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

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The Bubbles: 4. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)

The Bubbles: 4. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)

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This is just a matter of whether or not John Harbaugh wants to deploy his greatest backfield weapon often enough. Dobbins has shown that he has the skill to reach 1,000 yards. He’s just been part of a committee thus far. If Harbaugh lets Dobbins run loose, he’ll easily surpass a thousand yards, and that seems likely given that Harbaugh has had nothing but nice things to say about Dobbins. The team knows they have a special talent in their hands. So, in 2021, don’t be surprised when they utilize him often.

And now...

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Just Missed:

Just Missed:

Kyler Murray
Kyler Murray
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Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) — Fight me. Tony Pollard keeps cutting into his usage, and Zeke has clearly lost a step since earlier in his career.

Austin Ekeler (LAC) — Immensely talented, but hasn’t proven he can handle the workload of a 1,000 yard back yet.

Alvin Kamara (NO) — Rushing numbers are far worse without Drew Brees. He’ll probably see much more time as a receiving option.

Raheem Mostert (SF) — Health and Trey Sermon are the biggest factors.

D’Andre Swift (DET) — He’s going to face a lot of stacked boxes.

Myles Gaskin (MIA) — Hasn’t shown the efficiency necessary to warrant a workload that will produce 1,000 rushing yards.

James Robinson (JAX) — His role in passing downs will likely be mitigated by Travis Etienne’s presence.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) — Showed flashes, but wildly inconsistent in his rookie year. If used more, could definitely eclipse 1K.

Miles Sanders (PHI) — Health, and the fact that he will face a ton of stacked boxes.

Chase Edmonds (ARI) — Hasn’t shown he can handle an every-down workload yet. James Conner will likely cut into his early-down carry opportunities

Damien Harris (NE) — Bill Belichick loves his committees.

Lamar Jackson (BAL) — The additions of Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman show that Baltimore will be relying more heavily on the pass in 2021. Jackson can’t throw for under 3K yards again.

Kyler Murray (ARI) — Most of his rushing yards come from scrambles, but with the additions of AJ Green and Rondale Moore, it’s likely that Murray will be able to find open receivers more often leading to less rushing attempts.

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