Deciding which top running backs to invest in during your fantasy football draft can make or break your 2023 season. Is it better to invest in RBs in a complementary role on high-scoring offenses… or do you select a back that projects to be the bell cow in an offense that is expected to struggle as a whole?
Well, I’ve crunched the numbers… watched the tape… and have decided on my four RBs you shouldn’t leave your draft without for 2023.
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Top RBs To Draft in Fantasy Football in 2023
The RB position in the NFL has changed dramatically since the turn of the century. For some context, 23 running backs ran for over 1,000 yards during the 2000 season. In comparison, only 22 rushed for over 1,000 yards over the past two seasons… combined.
It’s also worth noting that the regular season expanded to 17 games in 2021. So there are fewer players rushing for 1,000 yards a season with more regular-season games as we head into the 2023 season.
Without further delay, let’s take a closer look at some of the running backs I’m targeting heavily heading into the 2023 NFL season.
David Montgomery, Detroit Lions (ADP: RB31)
It’s not exactly fun to lay on the tracks of a popular fantasy hype train, but unfortunately, that’s exactly where I find myself with RB Jahmyr Gibbs.
The departure of Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift — who accounted for the 2,070 total yards and 25 TDs out of the Lions’ backfield last season — are no longer in the picture for the 2023 season, leaving both Gibbs and David Montgomery to compete for the leading role.
Gibbs is the more dynamic playmaker and better pass catcher of the two, but he wasn’t featured much in short-yardage situations in college and has never seen more than 200 total touches in a season during his collegiate career.
Montgomery, meanwhile, has seen 200+ carries every season of his four-year career and, thus, is more suited for that amount and short-yardage work.
Williams saw 262 carries last year, 57 of which came in the red zone. While Williams was great last year, Montgomery still finished with more broken tackles and higher rushing yards after contact per attempt in 2022.
If the roles play out in a similar fashion, Montgomery is the RB you should draft from this backfield.
Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans (ADP: RB17)
When trying to sift through some of these middle-round RBs, it’s important to identify a workload floor you can really feel confident investing in. Dameon Pierce passes this test with flying colors.
In 2022, Pierce was one of just six RBs to see 26+ carries in two or more games and saw fewer than 10 carries just once in his 13 games played.
He averaged 19 touches per game in 2022, which would generate over 320 total touches when scaled out over an entire 17-game season. That is the benchmark you ideally want your RB2 to hit to return on your mid-round investment.
There were eight running backs who saw 300+ total touches in 2022. Do you know how many of them finished outside of the top 15 RBs in PPR formats? Zero.
How many broken tackles did y'all count 👀
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) October 9, 2022
The fantasy ceiling may not be in the league-winner category, but if Pierce maintains his per-game volume from last season, it’s hard to imagine him not returning RB2 value in 2023.
Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers (ADP: RB19)
Speaking of middle-round RBs with a heavy workload, Miles Sanders is in line for a lot of work in 2023. Sanders finished his four-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles with a stat line of 259-1,269-11 on the ground, proving he’s capable of being an efficient lead back.
Sanders joins a Panthers backfield which is made up of Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear. No offense to those two, but neither feels like a real threat to get Sanders off the field very much in 2023.
Not to mention, he’s in an offense where he won’t have to contend with his own QB for goal-line work and could benefit as a checkdown option in the passing game in an offense that doesn’t have an established go-to wide receiver.
Similar to Pierce, Carolina’s offense probably isn’t going to excite many fantasy managers on draft day, but the volume should be there for Sanders to return RB2 value for your fantasy team.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: RB3)
Bijan Robinson is a special talent. There is simply no other way to describe his ability as a running back.
Sure, trusting a rookie with your first-round fantasy pick isn’t a strategy I would normally recommend, but Robinson is an exception to that rule.
He’s joining a Falcons team that ran the ball more than any other squad in 2022. Robinson is a dynamic, three-down running back who will be the featured player in a run-heavy offense.
A great example of what a rookie RB can do with a heavy workload would be Najee Harris back in 2021. As a rookie, Harris wasn’t particularly efficient with a 3.9 yards-per-carry average in his rookie season, but his overwhelming 381 total touches generated 1,667 total yards and an RB3 finish in PPR formats.
No offense to Harris, but Robinson projects as a far better big-play option at the RB position. If he gets north of 300+ touches this season — which I strongly believe he will — expect Bijan to be in the mix for a top-five RB in 2023.