The running back position is one that fantasy football managers have battled with for years. The position comes with such a short shelf-life and massive turnover that trying to project who is going to be valuable come championship time is often a fool’s errand.
Well, I’m the fool who is going to try. Here are six running backs that I love at their current cost, and I’ve intentionally jumped around the board in an effort to help you no matter where in your draft you are!
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Top RBs To Draft in Fantasy Football in 2023
Volume drives the production at running back more than any other position. You’ll notice that thread throughout my analysis. Volume for the expensive backs is something they enter the season with.
But for the value options, the path to consistent work is more what has my eye.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
There was speculation for most of the summer that the ‘Boys would bring back Ezekiel Elliott. Didn’t happen.
Tony Pollard has done nothing but impress on the NFL stage and now has a role to himself in an offense that, at least publicly, has said they want to run the rock more. Am I missing something about why he’s not sniffing first rounds of fantasy drafts?
#PFN365's @KyleSoppePFN previews the entire fantasy football landscape for the #Cowboys. While Tony Pollard might not be Barry Sanders 2.0, the stats are eerily similar for both No. 20's as Pollard steps up to the starting role in Dallas!
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) August 2, 2023
No, I’m not penciling in Pollard for every one of the 2,346 yards and 17 touchdowns that he and ‘Zeke combined for last season, but he doesn’t need all of that to produce top-15 overall production. Nearly 40% of Pollard’s career carries have picked up at least five yards, a level of efficiency that places him squarely among the elite.
Then there’s the pass-catching. It was a different offensive system, granted, but Pollard finished last season with 75 of his 51 career air yards. Yep, 147.1% of his career total given that running backs are often targeted behind the line of scrimmage. That usage could change, but Dallas saw what he could do as a legit route runner.
In Pollard, I see no real risk, and his modest draft position at the moment leaves plenty of room for him to return in a big way on your investment. I have him labeled as a first-rounder, but that’s not a price you have to pay in most drafts.
Congratulations on winning the first two rounds if you go this route.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are a loaded roster. Yet, at cost, the player on that team that I get most often is Joe Mixon. And it’s not close.
Mixon saw 27 more targets last year than in 2021 despite running one fewer route, an ode to his ability to adjust with the times. For me, this is how he retains strong value because his backup, Chase Brown, averaged over 12 carries per reception during his final two collegiate seasons. The role in the passing game seems secure, and all the man has done is produce on the ground.
Mixon is one of five RBs with 1,200 yards and nine TDs in each of the past two seasons, a trend that I like to continue through 2023. That floor is valuable at this point in the draft, and the potency of this offense as a whole makes Mixon something like Apple stock — it’s hard to profit in a major way, but you’re unlikely to lose value this year.
Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears
Chicago’s backfield is being treated as a known split, but that’s not how I have it evaluated. Yes, Roschon Johnson (fourth-round pick) is an interesting piece, and D’Onta Foreman is coming off of a strong season in Carolina (4.5 yards per carry on 203 attempts), but, in my opinion, this valuable role is Khalil Herbert’s to lose — and I don’t think he does.
On the ground, Herbert’s first two seasons compare favorably to what we saw from Pollard during Years 2-3, and you already know how I feel about Pollard!
Last season, both David Montgomery and Herbert were top-10 fantasy backs on a per-carry basis, something that I think is more reflective of the leverage provided by Justin Fields’ athleticism than anything, and that Herbert will once again get to take advantage of.
The Bears have seen every carry of Herbert’s career — 13.4% of them have picked up at least 10 yards. None of Chicago’s first four opponents ranked better than 15th in preventing yards per carry to the RB position a season ago, so this could be a wheels-up situation for Herbert from the jump, giving you tremendous value all season long.
Brian Robinson, Washington Commanders
Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry. There’s your list of players who averaged more carries per game than Brian Robinson from Week 10 on last season. No, he’s not a perfect prospect, and this offense isn’t going to be explosive, but the volume should be safe, and there’s room for growth.
Let’s not forget that Robinson’s rookie season was far from standard, as his career was in question at one point following a gunshot wound. With a “normal” lead into the 2023 season, it’s possible that this run game is more tailored around his strengths, with Antonio Gibson filling those blind spots as opposed to a committee situation.
If you like Robinson to clear 15 touches on a weekly basis, even if most of it comes via the handoff, he’s a steal at his current asking price. Additionally, if Washington’s offense can approach league average, there is league-winning upside to be had.
De’Von Achane, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were in the Dalvin Cook sweepstakes at one point, but they ultimately did not land the veteran, leaving the door open for one of their three running backs to return significant value on their ADP.
Which Dolphins running back pays off is a difficult question, and I’m not against taking two shots in the later middle rounds in an effort to potentially land “the guy” in a high-powered offense. But if I can only have one, give me the rookie.
De’Von Achane picked up 6.4 yards per carry during his time at College Station and profiles as a big-play option. However, I’m more intrigued by the situation than I am the prospect.
Raheem Mostert’s health has been an issue his entire career, so him coming off of a career year in terms of usage as he enters his age-31 season doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Nor does the checkered health history of Jeff Wilson Jr., who is also coming off of a season that saw him reach new touch levels. You’re playing the long game at this point in the draft, and Achane is very much a player I expect to gain value as the season wears on.
Ty Chandler, Minnesota Vikings
Preseason hype is useless most of the time, but the Vikings putting air in the tires of Ty Chandler after the first week certainly doesn’t hurt this idea. At the end of the day, this late in the draft, I’m less targeting players and more targeting unstable situations.
Alexander Mattison is the featured back in Minnesota with Dalvin Cook now in New York. That much we know, but what we don’t know is just how good Mattison is. Under four yards per carry in each of the past two seasons isn’t overwhelming, and the fact that Minnesota was linked to veterans this summer also is not a positive.
Chandler is a bet against Mattison. A risk-free bet that comes with the support of a consistent offense. That profile is exactly how I like to spend the final pick(s) of my drafts.
We are all busy people, so I’ll save you the time of reading similar analyses across a few different profiles. These running backs are all options that I like more than the industry. I think the majority of people are underrating just how valuable a potent offense can be for a reasonably featured back:
- Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs
- James Cook, Buffalo Bills
- Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles