Congratulations, folks! We’ve made it! After months of waiting, fantasy football draft season is upon us. After spending the past four months analyzing, assessing, and curating my rankings, I’ve settled on a handful of “my guys.” Here are the top four RBs I am not trying to leave any fantasy draft without.
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Top RBs To Draft in Fantasy Football in 2023
Every year is different. Some years, there are only a couple of guys at a particular position I really like. Other years, there are a bunch. So, the number in the article title will likely be different each year and for each position.
This year, I have four RBs going in various parts of fantasy drafts that I don’t want to leave without. I’ve listed them in ADP order.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: RB4)
If you read my QB version of “my guys,” you probably noticed how I kind of cheated with Jalen Hurts. Well, I’m doing it again, and there’s nothing you can do about it!
Bijan Robinson is a locked-in first-round pick in just about every fantasy draft. I don’t think anyone would dispute that he belongs in the first round. And if they do, well, my mother taught me if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
This is more about the notion that Robinson is somehow too risky to be selected early in fantasy drafts because he’s never played NFL football before. Umm … I don’t care? Why should I?
The last rookie running back to go top 10 in the NFL Draft and not finish as an RB1 was C.J. Spiller back in 2010. Since then, we’ve seen five running backs taken inside the top 10. All of them posted RB1 numbers as a rookie.
Historically, rookie running backs get fed early and often. Robinson is a three-down back and was pegged as the best prospect since Saquon Barkley. The most run-heavy offense in the NFL drafted him, and the Falcons will consolidate their touches around their three main studs.
I have Robinson at RB3, but most relevant is the fact that I would take him as high as fifth overall once Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Christian McCaffrey, and Ja’Marr Chase are off the board. So, assuming those guys go top four and I pick anywhere after pick No. 5, I am taking Robinson.
Bijan Robinson is going to be the consensus 1.01 in 2024 fantasy drafts.
— Katz (@jasonkatz13) August 18, 2023
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: RB15)
Admittedly, I do think part of Joe Mixon’s depressed ADP stemmed from concerns over a possible suspension. In the wake of his recent “not guilty” verdict, I expect his ADP to rise a bit. Even so, I don’t think he will reach the point where I’m still not aggressively drafting him.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about Mixon for most of the summer. But a lot of that was due to concerns that had nothing to do with football.
Mixon renegotiated his contract with the Bengals and had his criminal charges resolved in his favor. The Bengals let Samaje Perine walk and only replaced him with rookie fifth-rounder Chase Brown.
The other two backs behind Mixon are Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans. This is the least competition for touches Mixon has had in his entire career.
This also may be the best Bengals offense he’s been a part of. They are going to score a lot of points. Mixon displayed pass-catching upside with a seventh-best 13.9% target share last season.
Yes, his 16.7 ppg was buttressed largely by his 55-point outburst in Week 9. But he still would’ve averaged 14.1 ppg without that game.
Mixon is slated for elite volume on an elite offense. His role is secure, and I don’t think he is a declining talent. Mixon is being drafted at his floor. I’ve got him all the way up to RB9, the highest in our PFN consensus rankings. Once the middle of the third round hits, give me all the Mixon.
Samaje Perine, Denver Broncos (ADP: RB38)
We go from Mixon to the guy who used to back him up. It was last year, filling in for Mixon, that Perine showcased the ability that got him signed by the Broncos. Perine saw at least a 65% snap share from Weeks 11-13. In those games, he scored 30.2, 19.3, and 21.5 fantasy points.
Is Perine largely a replacement-level talent? Sure. But replacement-level does not mean “bad.” Perine is very serviceable. He works in a committee and as the every-down back in a pinch.
I love all of the positive reports coming out of Broncos camp regarding Javonte Williams’ knee. For starters, I hate injuries. So, it’s great to see Williams ahead of schedule.
From a fantasy perspective, the positive news only serves to keep Perine’s ADP depressed, allowing me to draft him at a much cheaper cost.
Even if Williams is fully healthy, I’m projecting this backfield to be a committee. At worst, Perine is probably on the 40% side of a split.
There are just so many ways for Perine to smash this ADP. First, Williams could just not be as healthy as he seems, thrusting Perine into a lead-back role for the majority of the season.
Second, the Broncos could ease Williams into action, setting up Perine to be an every-week RB2 over the first half of the season before settling into an RB3 role.
Third, Williams could aggravate his injury (or sustain a new one), giving Perine handcuff upside.
Fourth, this could just straight up be a committee, much like Sean Payton did with the likes of Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, and Alvin Kamara throughout his time in New Orleans.
I have Perine ranked at RB33 and am not trying to leave any draft without him.
Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: RB50)
OK. For starters, this ADP is fake. You are never getting Jaylen Warren this late in drafts. Plus, once you get this far down in ADP, it matters less and less. Taking the RB50 at RB40 is a lot different than taking the RB20 at RB15.
But why is Warren going so late? By the end of last season, he had worked his way into a 60-40 split with Najee Harris. From an efficiency standpoint, Warren was flat-out better than Harris.
Warren’s evaded-tackles-per-touch rate was fifth in the league, and his 5.6 yards per touch was 11th. Of course, we know it’s easier to be more efficient on lesser volume. If Warren sees more work, his efficiency will go down. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe he will remain more efficient than Harris.
The Steelers have first-round draft capital committed to Harris. As a result, I don’t see any scenario where they completely flip the timeshare in Warren’s favor.
Nevertheless, if Harris continues to average fewer than 4.0 yards per carry and continues to be inefficient, Warren can and will earn more touches, just as he did last season. This is exactly what I’m banking on.
I have Warren ranked as my RB39. Suffice it to say I will roster him in a lot of leagues this season.