Damien Harris took his game to another level this past season, helping fantasy football managers dominate several weeks while finishing as a solid RB2. As he enters his age-25 campaign, how should dynasty fantasy football managers value Harris in 2022 and beyond?
Damien Harris’ dynasty profile for 2022
One year after selecting RB Sony Michel in the first round of the NFL Draft, the New England Patriots snagged Harris in Round 3. Michel was coming off an impressive rookie campaign, compiling 931 rushing yards and 6 TDs on 209 attempts (4.5 yards per carry). But when Michel was knocked out for eight games in 2020, Harris immediately leapfrogged over Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor to seize the bell-cow role. Within a year, Michel would be shipped off to the Rams for far less than the team paid for him.
We’ll get to Rhamondre Stevenson shortly. But for now, it’s important to note that Harris began the 2021 campaign with a clear shot at a bell-cow role. He did everything possible to secure it, amassing an impressive 929 ground yards and mindboggling 15 rushing scores on just 202 carries. For context, only one RB with 10+ touchdowns (rushing and receiving) in 2021 had fewer touches than Harris did.
Harris is already No. 22 on New England’s all-time rushing yards list, and he’s averaging at least 0.5 yards more per carry than every other RB ahead of him. Another season like this one in 2022 would make him an all-time Patriot great in terms of RB production — incredible for a guy who’s still squarely in his prime.
Yet, sterling efficiency and big-game abilities notwithstanding, investing in Harris in 2022 and beyond means investing in someone who might not be a weekly bell cow. It also means bracing for the possibility he bolts from New England when his contract expires, generating more unknowns than some dynasty managers feel comfortable with. Assuming Stevenson continues to eat into Harris’ overall ceiling, we might have already seen Harris’ best.
Fantasy projection for Harris
About seven weeks ago, the PFN Fantasy analysts and I independently assembled initial dynasty fantasy rankings for 2022. I ranked Harris as the RB19, while Jason Katz and Tommy Garrett placed him at No. 26 and No. 27, respectively.
Our collective rankings assumed Harris will continue to be a fantasy contributor, at least in the near term. The questions concern how long he’ll remain relevant, and for which team(s).
Will Harris be the Patriots’ bell cow in 2022?
For most of his 20+ years at the helm, head coach Bill Belichick has cycled through starting running backs like it’s a sport unto itself. Fumble at the wrong time? You’re out. Late for a team meeting right after a 201-yard, 4-touchdown outburst? You’re out. There are three truths in life: The sun rises, cats hate humans, and no New England RB’s job is secure.
Harris should enter this season as the No. 1 back. He probably has 3-4 more years of startability remaining, which should keep him fantasy-relevant through the middle of this decade. Nevertheless, his role remains in flux, through no fault of his own.
Lacking a strong role in the passing game (only 23 receptions these past two seasons), Harris remains highly tough and TD-dependent. His yards after contact and broken-tackle rate were below those of Stevenson, who poses the biggest threat to Harris’ 250-touch upside.
Realistically, we’ll see Harris continue to eat up yards and goal-line scores (he had 9 TDs from the 4-yard line or closer in 2021) in a presumably improved offense, as New England probably will bolster their subpar passing attack this offseason. Another 1,000-yard, 10+ TD season seems realistic. But he’ll need to keep the starting job to be an RB2 again, and near-term slippage into high-end RB3 territory remains quite possible — at least until/unless he has a backfield largely to himself.
How to assess Harris’ contract situation
Signed as a rookie in 2019, Harris will be a free agent after the 2022 season. If this franchise likes what it sees from Stevenson, Harris could go the way of Michel and find a new home on an RB-needy team before the trade deadline.
On the other hand, New England could commit to a contract extension, with an eye toward pairing him with Stevenson for at least two more years, or perhaps moving Stevenson if they’re comfortable riding Harris as their workhorse.
Harris’s fantasy ceiling — the basis for my more aggressive RB19 dynasty ranking — assumes he’ll either get traded, sign a contract elsewhere after the season, or renew with New England as a bell cow over a struggling Stevenson. But if Stevenson shines, the first two scenarios would be more likely, making Harris an intriguing fantasy asset as we wait to see where he’d land.