No matter how many mock drafts you complete in preparation for your league’s big day, tough decisions will invariably present themselves during your draft. In many cases, the split-second choice you make between two similar players close in the rankings can make or break your entire fantasy football season (no pressure). At RB, two such players — “handcuffs” Rhamondre Stevenson and AJ Dillon — have breakout potential but affordable ADPs, putting both on the radar as major draft-day steals.
These backs have a lot of similarities, from their roles to their comparative stats, abilities, and upside. Let’s break down each player’s 2022 fantasy outlook and determine which one you should select first in your draft.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2022 fantasy cheat sheet
Rhamondre Stevenson fantasy outlook, projections 2022
2021 finish: RB36 overall, RB36 in average scoring
Considering the circumstances in Stevenson’s 2021 rookie season with the Patriots, it’s pretty amazing that the Oklahoma product ended up with 606 rushing yards and five touchdowns. This production came despite not playing in five games, garnering five or fewer carries in three games, and surpassing 11 touches just five times. He finished the campaign with just 133 carries and not even 150 total touches.
When he enjoys being in Bill Belichick’s good graces, Stevenson certainly delivers. His 4.6 yards per carry in ’21 easily led all rookie RBs who logged at least 100 carries. PFF graded his season an 84.9, the third-best grade doled out to any RB. He caught 14-of-18 targets and averaged 8.8 yards per reception. He had just two fumbles despite playing to contact.
And at 6-0, 230 pounds, playing to contact is certainly one of Stevenson’s strengths. His size and strength help him power through tackles and gain chunk yardage with his solid breakaway speed (think of a moderately faster David Montgomery). Stevenson broke 16 tackles in 133 carries last season — the only other back with that many broken tackles in under 200 rushing attempts was Dillon, who finished with 187 carries.
It’s Stevenson’s efficiency that should have all fantasy owners salivating. The aforementioned 4.6 yards per tote is great — but dive deeper and you’ll see he averaged 2.7 yards after contact per rushing attempt (YACON/A). Among backs with at least 100 carries, only Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, and Rashad Penny averaged more YACON/A. Stevenson also had 20 big-rush plays of at least 10 yards, meaning he gashed opponents for 10-plus rushing yards on 15 percent of his carries.
Belichick, who affectionately refers to his second-year back as ‘Mondre, has hinted at the possibility of the Pats’ offense featuring Stevenson more in the passing game this year. He praised his pass-blocking and ability to pick up blitzes, no small praise from the legendary coach who just lost local legendary pass-catcher James White (retirement) and Swiss Army knife Brandon Bolden (signed with Raiders). If Bill trusts Stevenson’s instincts, there seems to be little doubt that New England will be moving the 24-year-old closer to a 50-50 split with RB1 Damien Harris.
With fellow second-year man Mac Jones under center, Stevenson and Harris will be relied upon plenty in the running game. Belichick and former Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to keep Jones on a tight leash in his rookie season, opting instead for a ground-and-pound physical approach on offense. The goal, it often appeared, was to wear down front-sevens.
That approach could once again provide rewarding results, as New England is projected to have the second-easiest running back schedule in the NFL this season. Behind a perennially strong run-blocking line, expect a solid return on investment if you draft Stevenson anywhere in the range of 45-50 overall. He should be considered a high-ceiling RB2 or solid weekly flex option until we know more about his ultimate role in this year’s Patriot offense.
AJ Dillon fantasy outlook, projections 2022
2021 finish: RB21 in overall scoring, RB32 in average scoring
While Stevenson is a big, strong back, Dillon is an absolute tank for Green Bay. At 6-0, 250 pounds, he is the same weight as Derrick Henry despite being three inches shorter. He’s almost as tough to tackle in the open field as King Henry, too. In his second year as a pro, the BC product amassed 518 total yards after contact, 111 of which came after catches. All said, PFF graded Dillon as the fifth-best RB in the NFL.
Playing for back-to-back MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers has helped Dillon immensely, as defenses rarely sell out to stop the run for fear of Rodgers calling a quick audible and exploiting them through the air. Dillon averaged a healthy 4.3 yards per carry last season and caught a whopping 34-of-37 pass attempts.
Rodgers has lauded Dillon’s pass-catching abilities, likening his abilities to Packers RB1 and hybrid extraordinaire Aaron Jones. He even suggested that Dillon will be featured in myriad ways on passing plays this season. With former All-Pro Davante Adams now in Vegas, Marquez Valdes-Scantling in Kansas City, and rookie Christian Watson apparently not adapting quickly enough, none of this comes as a surprise.
Of Jones and Dillon, Rodgers said: “We’ve got to get our best 11 on the field, and it seems like those two are both in the best 11. I think 50 catches for both those guys is realistic.”
That certainly provides some tantalizing fodder for fantasy owners, but with Adams no longer in the picture and the passing game a shell of what it once was in Lambeau, will Jones and Dillon see the same levels of success they have enjoyed thus far in their respective careers?
Questions like those don’t seem to be asked enough with this team, especially the backfield. Opposing coaches and defensive units will likely be well-prepared if Green Bay adopts a newfound run-first and dink-and-dunk approach. Dillon went from 5.3 yards per carry in his rookie season to 4.3 last year. Will he continue regressing?
Fantasy drafters seem mesmerized by Dillon’s massive frame, his MVP quarterback, and his total 2021 numbers that easily surmount Stevenson’s. However, when you break everything down to upside, efficiency, and system, you arrive at a much different overall picture.
Stevenson’s 50.5 yards on 11.1 carries per game last year bested Dillon’s 47.2 on 11.0. His 4.6 yards per carry beat out Dillon’s 4.3. His 2.7 average yards after contact topped Dillon’s 2.2. With the second-year back rightly attracting the attention of his head coach, he seems like the easier choice to see a bigger year-to-year usage uptick and in turn provide more value. The biggest worry with Stevenson is goal-line work, as Damien Harris is well established in that role, but given Stevenson’s size, he could easily take over inside the five.
We like both Stevenson and Dillon and wouldn’t pass on either in the mid-to-late 40s of a draft, but Stevenson offers the most upside.
The pick is … Stevenson
To get RotoBaller’s take on Stevenson vs. Dillon — or any four players you might be considering in your draft — check out their exclusive “Who to Draft?” tool below: