There are three key events leading up to a new season that significantly alter fantasy football values. The first of these events is free agency (the other two are the draft and preseason).
As we inch toward the official start of the 2023 NFL year, teams are preparing by releasing players. One of those players set to be released is Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette. Let’s examine the fantasy impact of Fournette’s release on Rachaad White and the Bucs’ backfield.
Leonard Fournette’s Release Makes Sense
Less than one year ago, Fournette signed a three-year, $21 million extension with the Bucs. He was set to be the clear RB1 for at least the next couple of years.
Well, things change quickly in the NFL. With Tom Brady retiring, the Bucs are likely embarking on a mission to rid themselves of older players. It’s probably time for a rebuild. Older running backs are just not part of that.
Helping make the decision for the Bucs was Fournette’s dreadful play in 2022. While he was still one of the best pass catchers in the league, commanding a 10.2% target share and leading all running backs in catch rate, his rushing ability and general explosiveness declined considerably.
MORE: 2023 Dynasty RB Rankings
Fournette averaged 3.5 yards per carry, a full-yard decrease from 2021. He only had three runs of 15+ yards all season, a 1.6% rate, which was 52nd in the league. His evaded-tackles-per-touch rate was well outside the top 30.
Fournette did still manage to finish as the last RB1, averaging 14.2 PPR fantasy points per game. However, he did that solely on the strength of his passing-game role. Just 37% of Fournette’s fantasy points came from rushing.
How Does Fournette’s Release Impact Rachaad White’s Fantasy Value?
The clear decline in Fournette’s performance led to the Bucs increasing rookie Rachaad White’s role as the season went on. White only averaged 8.2 ppg, but he also didn’t have a consistent role until Week 10. From that point forward, White averaged 11.2 ppg. While still not particularly good, it showcases the increase in usage.
The immediate reaction I see across the fantasy landscape is a bunch of tweets that all basically say the same thing: “Rachaad White szn.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I do not believe it is going to be, nor ever will be, “Rachaad White szn.”
We’ve established Fournette did not play well last season. Many people think he’s done. Well, what if I told you White was even worse?
White’s evaded-tackles-per-touch rate was just a single percentage point better than Fournette’s. His 2.54 yards created per touch was 0.3 worse. His 4.3 yards per touch was 0.2 worse. He was less involved in the passing game despite being billed as a receiving back. Nothing about White’s performance suggests he is capable of being a lead back in the NFL, let alone a three-down back.
The Bucs drafted White at the very end of the third round. That is not exactly the type of draft capital that gives running backs substantial job security. Nor does it provide an inside track to the job.
My concern with White is there are multiple paths to failure and not many that lead to success.
Why Rachaad White Might Not Be the Lead Back in 2023
Both Fournette and White benefited from Brady’s checkdowns. The two combined for over a 20% target share. I already covered how large of a percentage Fournette’s fantasy points came from receiving. If the Bucs start Kyle Trask, are we really expecting anywhere near the same level of production?
Another way White fails is the Bucs are not set at running back. Currently, they roster White with Ke’Shawn Vaughn behind him. If the Bucs really believed in Vaughn at all, they wouldn’t have signed Fournette or drafted White. Vaughn is fine as an RB3, but he’s not a viable RB2.
Will the Bucs sign a veteran to put behind White? Or will they sign a veteran to push ahead of White (at least in a timeshare)? There’s also a decent chance they draft another running back, perhaps on Day 2, with higher draft capital than White. Any of these scenarios would instantly lower White’s fantasy value.
Finally, the easiest way White fails is he’s just not very good. We have seen plenty of running backs who are far worse than White have short bursts of incredible success.
White very well may be just a replacement-level talent who volumes his way to around 800 yards and 5-6 touchdowns on a bad offense. If White is viewed as a top-24 running back but averages 10-11 ppg this season, that’s nowhere near good enough.
Dynasty managers have the ability to act now. If you have White, I would absolutely look to sell. Based on my assessment of the situation, it can only get worse. White’s maximum value will be now before the Bucs sign a veteran or draft someone.
The only way White’s value increases between now and the preseason is if the Bucs don’t do either of those things. If that happens, then I’ll be wrong about the time to sell White.
I still think moving White is the right course of action. Even if he enters the season as the clear lead back, I’m not expecting anything more than a fantasy RB3.
In redraft leagues, White will be an easy fade for me. Unless something drastically changes, the hype surrounding him will far exceed the production I believe he can provide.
I’m expecting White to be ranked well inside the top 24 running backs for the 2023 season. Obviously, I have no idea what my rankings will look like come June/July, but I’d be surprised if I wasn’t well below the consensus on White.
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