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All this talk about mock drafts and player rankings in the NFL has us ready for some early 2023 fantasy prep. The glory days of workhorse running back seem to be a thing of the past, but tailbacks in the modern game are still the most valuable commodity in fantasy drafts.
Running backs took up seven spots of the top ten players in Average Draft Position (ADP) for half-PPR leagues. In addition, four of the top five scorers among RBs, WRs, and TEs were running backs. While snagging one of the top guys requires a high draft pick, the stability that a 15+ point per game back provides to a fantasy roster is well worth it.
That is not to discount the top receivers or Travis Kelce, but we’d like to give the running backs some love in this article. We’ll look ahead to the 2023 fantasy season in this piece and focus on the running backs that could make-or-break championship hopes.
Last Updated: May 2, 2023
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Two backs finished inside the top ten among all players last season in half-PPR leagues, with 14 eclipsing the 200-point mark for the year. LA Charger Austin Ekeler was the top running back, posting 319.2 points to put his name fifth on the list of 2023 fantasy scorers, the best of any non-quarterback.
San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey rewarded fantasy managers who cast doubt aside and selected him early in Round 1 last year, finishing with 313.9 points. That was good enough to be RB2 and was seventh-highest across the league overall. CMac and Ekeler were second and third in ADP last season, respectively.
The consensus top overall pick, Colts All-Pro Jonathan Taylor, missed six games due to ankle injuries last season and was ultimately placed on IR. Meanwhile, a back that had struggled with injuries for a few seasons, New York Giant Saquon Barkley, stayed healthy and racked up 16 points per game to finish the season as RB6.
Other top players at the position last year include Las Vegas Raider Josh Jacobs (RB3), Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (RB4), and Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns (RB5). Those three players finished as the NFL’s top three rushers last season in that order.
All of the names mentioned above in our recap of the 2022 season are still considered top options at the running back position for this year. Players like Henry, Jacobs, and Chubb did most of their damage on the ground, with the first two accumulating 340+ carries and all three hitting 1,500+ rushing yards. Ekeler, on the other hand, got to 300+ touches by catching 107 passes and scored 18 rushing & receiving touchdowns to lead all players.
There is some context to be aware of for each player’s contract situation. Jacobs, Barkley, and new Cowboys’ starter Tony Pollard were each franchise tagged by their teams, meaning each player will earn just over $10 million unless they sign a long-term deal before the season.
In addition, Ekeler requested permission from the Chargers to seek a trade after offseason negotiations between the two sides fell through. He is the only running back to post 300+ fantasy points each of the last two seasons, but according to Spotrac, his earnings this year would rank 13th among running backs. That would tie him with David Montgomery, who signed with Detroit this offseason after ending the 2022 season as RB23.
Pollard emerged as the better option in Dallas last season, beating out Ezekiel Elliott to retain the starting job this year despite suffering a leg injury in the Cowboys’ playoff loss to San Francisco.
Other players who emerged from crowded backfields last year include Seattle’s Ken Walker III, RB16 in his rookie year, and New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson.
Stevenson had his first 1,000-yard season as a pro and racked up nearly 1,500 yards of total offense to earn the RB11 spot in 2022. All three players look set to receive a full season’s workload as the clear-cut top option in their team’s backfield.
Two running backs were selected in the first 12 picks of the NFL Draft. Texas standout Bijan Robinson was the eighth overall selection by the Atlanta Falcons, and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs went 12th to Detroit. The last time this happened was in 2017 when LSU’s Leonard Fournette was drafted fourth by the Jaguars, followed by the Panthers selecting Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey eighth overall.
Robinson is projected as a top-ten fantasy back this season and joins a backfield with Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for 1,035 yards as a rookie last season, and Cordarrelle Patterson, who had over 800 total yards and eight touchdowns in 2022.
Gibbs enters the fold in Detroit after Jamaal Williams departed for New Orleans in free agency. Williams posted 1,066 yards on 262 carries last season and led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns. Gibbs could inherit a healthy amount of those goalline touches since D’Andre Swift is now in Philly.
We mentioned Henry in the section detailing the best options at the position, and that is still true despite the Titans’ All-Pro having run the ball 22.7 times per game since the 2019 season. The last players to accumulate 1200+ carries in a 55-game stretch were LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander from 2003-07.
Tomlinson, being the Hall of Famer he is, still rushed for 1,110 yards the following season, but at an average clip of 3.8 yards. For Alexander, 2008 was his final season in the NFL. In short, this sustained rushing volume is difficult to maintain, and Henry could be at a tipping point despite looking as strong as ever in 2022.
Players like Williams and Miles Sanders, who left their organizations in free agency, will be adjusting to their new surroundings. Seeing how they follow up on impressive performances a season ago will be interesting. Of course, it could still go according to plan for them, but there are more variables to consider than if they had remained with their previous teams.
We mentioned Swift when discussing Jahmyr Gibbs, but they'll also have to compete with Montgomery. The former Bear signed with Detroit in free agency and is one of six players to have carried the ball 900+ times and rushed for more than 3,600 yards since 2019.
We’ll check back in as training camp openings get closer and look forward to another year of chasing fantasy glory.
Most seasoned fantasy football experts will tell you that running back is the most important position on your team. However, does that mean you should build your entire draft strategy around running backs? Check out this Q&A section to find out.
Your fantasy football draft strategy should not be solely based on the RB position, as there are other important positions to consider as well. While RBs tend to be the most valuable players in fantasy football due to their high usage rates and ability to score points both rushing and receiving, it's important to also consider the value of other positions such as QB, WR, and TE.
The specific strategy you use will depend on your league's scoring system, roster size, and draft order, among other factors. It's generally a good idea to have a balanced approach that considers the relative value of each position and prioritizes the best players available in the early rounds while filling out your roster with solid contributors in the later rounds.
It's important to stay flexible and be willing to adjust your strategy based on how the draft is unfolding, as unexpected runs on certain positions or players can impact the value of players at other positions. Overall, a successful fantasy football draft strategy involves a combination of research, preparation, and adaptability.
Yes, a top fantasy football RB should be able to catch a lot of passes. In many standard fantasy football leagues, RBs earn points not only for rushing yards and touchdowns but also for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. As a result, RBs who are involved in the passing game can provide an additional source of value to fantasy teams.
RBs who are effective pass catchers can accumulate points through short passes and screens, as well as longer receptions down the field. They can also be valuable in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues, where RBs who catch a lot of passes can be particularly valuable due to the extra points they earn for each reception.
Ultimately, the value of an RB in fantasy football will depend on a variety of factors, including their role in their team's offense, their overall skill set, and the scoring system used in the league. However, in general, RBs who can catch a lot of passes are often highly sought after in fantasy drafts due to their ability to provide consistent and reliable point production.
Some RBs are known for their ability to catch passes and are used frequently in their team's passing game. For example, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara are two RBs who are often drafted early in fantasy football drafts due to their abilities as both rushers and receivers. Other RBs may not catch as many passes but can still be valuable fantasy contributors due to their rushing abilities.