As an analyst, I am constantly attempting to identify players who have the potential for their Fantasy Football production to outweigh their draft cost. I just recently dropped my 32 NFL Teams – 32 Fantasy Football Sleepers article with this exact intention. Paying off when it comes to production over cost, in general, is one thing, but taking it even further and identifying players who can finish Top 12 for Fantasy in their position for points per reception (PPR) leagues is another. With that in mind, today I’m gonna run down some of my favorite running back values for 2023 fantasy football drafts.
The Running Back position in Fantasy Football is one of the tougher ones to hit on when comparing pre-season ranking vs. actual outcome following any given season. The list of variables is long when it comes to running back success – health, total touches, teammate competition, offensive lines, quarterback play, pass-to-run ratio, scoring opportunities, actual skillset, etc. Each year we do end up having surprises for Fantasy Football when it comes to this position, usually do to the impacts of those variables. Below are some examples of a running back – Average Draft Position ADP vs. actual Fantasy finish in total running back points scored (PPR):
- Josh Jacobs, Raiders – RB20 vs. RB3
- Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots – RB36 vs. RB7
- Tony Pollard, Cowboys – RB34 vs. RB8
In the above three cases, we had a running back drafted well outside the Top 12, that ended up finishing Top 12 for the position in Fantasy scoring. Hitting on these sort of running backs is huge for your team’s Fantasy success within your league. Identifying the candidates that are being drafted outside the top 15 but have the ability and opportunity to finish as a top 12 Fantasy running back now can help you prepare for your Fantasy Football drafts. Below are those candidates.
Top Running Back Values for 2023 Fantasy Football
Joe Mixon, Bengals – RB15
Looking at Joe Mixon’s ADP, the multiple concerns are likely baked into this. There was an off-field incident in January that drew concerns of a possible suspension, which now looks unlikely. Then there were contract questions, that later resulted in Mixon taking a pay cut with his eye on a Super Bowl. Joe Burrow had the fifth-highest passing attempts in 2022, which pushes the “pass-first” narrative on the Bengals as well.
In 2022, Mixon had a career-high 60 receptions, which ties to that “pass-first” tag on the Bengals but gives him a massive PPR boost. 60 receptions was the fifth most for a running back last season, and Mixon had the sixth most receiving yards with 441. 826 rushing yards was underwhelming for the position, especially seeing that in 2021, 2019, and 2018 he rushed for over 1,100 yards. In 2021, Mixon scored 16 total touchdowns, which regressed to nine last season but it is still encouraging to see him have that on the resume. All in all, for three straight seasons Mixon has averaged over 16 Fantasy PPG, which is a top 10 mark for the position, and he hit this mark in four of his last five seasons played.
For 2023, we will continue to see Joe Burrow leading this offense through the air, especially with one of the league’s best wide receiver duo in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. As we have seen in 2022, this is a good thing for Mixon with that PPR boost in receptions, and we can expect him to hit 40+ receptions. Realistically, another 800-yard season on the ground makes sense but we may certainly see a double-digit total touchdown season again for Mixon in 2023. With very little running back room competition, the total touches should enable Mixon to finish as a top 12 running back in one of the league’s premiere offenses.
Aaron Jones, Packers – RB16
I am truly surprised Aaron Jones’ ADP is where it is right now after the numbers he put up in 2022. Being 28 years old can put a wary eye on running backs with fear of a decline. AJ Dillon’s presence has been another concern when it comes to Aaron Jones, with Dillon rushing the ball 186/187 times the last two seasons. Aaron Rodgers is now a Jet, which means Jordan Love will enter his first year as the starter in Green Bay as well.
In 2022 Jones finished with career highs in rushing yards (1,121) and receptions (59). Both of those statistics were individually top 10 for the position. Jones showed high efficiency with his fourth season above five yards per carry, and also finished top 10 in both evaded tackles (80) and breakaway runs (14). 2022 marked his third season over 1,000 rushing yards, and second over 1,100. The 59 catches in 2022 were seven more than 2021, showing that upside in PPR formats. For four straight seasons, Jones has finished top 12 in Fantasy PPG for the position, showing consistency in Fantasy production.
Jones will continue to have the presence of Dillon but is again a candidate to hit the 1,000 rushing / 50 reception combination mark. The rushing efficiency through his career has been encouraging, and even if the Green Bay offense takes a step back in 2023 we should still see a ton of Jones specific volume. I think it is fair to think easy outlet passing plays for a first-year quarterback to the veteran running back will be featured in the playbook.
Dalvin Cook, Free Agent – RB20
At the time of writing this article, Dalvin Cook is still a Free Agent floating out in the open. There have been ties to the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, but nothing is solidified as of right now. This of course impacts Cooks’ ADP, especially with the fear that he may not sign until a time after the season starts, potentially after an injury occurs.
2022 was a down year for Cook in Fantasy PPG, ranking 14th with 14. For the previous three seasons in a row, Cook ranked #9, #2, and #2 in PPG with 15.9, 24.1 and 20.9. For four straight seasons, Cook has rushed for over 1,100 yards and in three of those four seasons scored double-digit touchdowns. From 2018-2022, Cook has already ranged from 34-53 receptions and 224-519 receiving yards showing his capabilities to get involved in the passing game to some degree as well.
Cook is 28 years old, and unlikely to make progress in any aspect of his game. Two things are for certain though – 1) he has touched the football a lot across the last four straight seasons (283+ touches in all) and 2) has racked up total yardage consistently. If there are simple asks for Fantasy Football, it is that your Fantasy running back touches the ball a lot and gets a lot of yards. Simple as that.
The landing spot puts an asterisk next to Cook’s name for this category. We knew he operated as a workhorse back in Minnesota, but we are unsure of who his future running back teammates will be. Using the two rumored spots, a healthy Breece Hall is much different than a Jeff Wilson or Raheem Mostert. Who is teammates are will be an indicator of what type of role Cook ends up having in 2023, and what his volume will look like. In the event the landing spot allows him to touch the ball plenty though, he will continue to have top 12 upside for the position.
JK Dobbins, Ravens – RB24
Another submission for this article’s category with an asterisk. JK Dobbins was placed on the physically unable to participate list (PUP), which may be concerning since he had a major injury in 2021 or it can be precautionary.
I pulled all of the games that JK Dobbins touched the ball 10+ times through all of his career games (including playoffs), and he averaged 12.59 rushing attempts, 73.59 rushing yards, 5.72 yards per carry, .59 rushing touchdowns and 14 Fantasy points. For perspective, in 2022 14 Fantasy points who have ranked RB7 in PPG. 2022 was a rough ride for Dobbins in his first season back from an ACL tear, but we still saw some flashes that included two weeks of 120+ rushing yards. Rookie season from Weeks 11-17, Dobbins scored a touchdown in every single one of those games. In both 2022 and 2020, Dobbins was a top five running back in juke rate and breakaway runs. So doing the math here… we see a running back who is Fantasy productive when getting the touches, who has shown to have touchdown upside and has a good combination of explosiveness and efficiency.
Baltimore’s offense looks like the best it has ever been since Lamar Jackson entered the league in 2018. The Ravens have one of the league’s best tight ends in Mark Andrews, former 2021 first-round draft pick Rashod Bateman, 2023 first-round selection Zay Flowers, and a veteran with a great resume in Odell Beckham Jr. on the team. The Ravens hired a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken who is going to push for a more balanced attack and increase the speed of play. To me, this is a great offense to have a substantial role in, which Dobbins should have pending health. Seeing his ability to score is very intriguing to me, seeing the state of the offense and factoring in that they may be in scoring positions often. Jackson will snipe some red zone opportunities, but a hot take of mine is that Dobbins is a candidate to lead the league in rushing touchdowns for 2023.
D’Andre Swift, Eagles – RB26
The biggest concern over time for D’Andre Swift has been health, not talent. Swift has played in 13 – 13 – 14 games since entering the league, with some of those games played still not being at 100% health. Swift now is in a new home, which is very familiar to him as his hometown in Philadelphia. Rashaad Penny has also been added to the Eagles. He has shown tremendous rushing upside but also has been plagued with injuries playing just one of five seasons over 10 games.
When playing 50%+ of the snaps, Swift has averaged 16.54 PPG. Across his career, he has averaged and ranked 13.7 (#15) in 2022, 16.1 (#8) in 2021 and 14.6 (#15) in 2020. Although those PPG marks did not translate into great overall finishes due to missed time, he has never averaged Fantasy PPG beyond RB15. Efficiency has been evident through ranking:
- #2 in yards per touch in 2022
- #5 and #6 in yards per route in 2022 and 2020
- #10 and #11 in 2022 and 2022 for yards per reception
- #5 for 2021 in yards created
- 5.5 – 4.1 – 4.6 yards per carry the last three seasons
Swift’s upside is closely tied to the receiving work he has earned, catching 48-62-46 passes the last three seasons while again missing some time. Many will point to the Eagles not throwing the ball a lot to the running back position, but my argument back would be that they have not had a talent in that aspect of the game like Swift to my recent memory. We have a running back who has been effective for fantasy when healthy, who has pass-catching upside, has been highly efficient and now is in one of the league’s best offenses in Philadelphia. I have always been a Swift truther, and if there was ever a time for a major breakout to happen for him it is in 2023.
Antonio Gibson, Commanders – RB34
This will be the final player added to this list, so it minds well be a spicy take. The obvious concern about Antonio Gibson is the presence of Brian Robinson, who out-carried Gibson 205 to 149 while playing in three fewer games. Gibson also averaged the 28th most Fantasy PPG in 2022 with 11.1 and had career lows in rushing yards (546) and touchdowns (5).
On to the positives, Gibson caught a career-high 46 passes in 2022, as well as had a career-high 353 receiving yards. The pass-catching upside is what is encouraging for Gibson, as he has had back-to-back seasons catching over 40 passes. In both 2021 and 2020, Gibson scored double-digit touchdowns and ranked #17 (14.3) and #16 (14.4) in Fantasy PPG for the position. In 2021 and 2020 Gibson ranked #5 and #13 in evaded tackles, and #11 and #15 in yards created.
Washington hired Eric Bienemy as their new Offensive Coordinator, who was previously with the Super Bowl Kansas City Chiefs in the same role the last five seasons. Last season in the Chiefs offense that was guided by Bienemy, Jerick McKinnon caught 56 passes for 512 receiving yards and scored 10 touchdowns. The obvious hope is that Antonio Gibson is Bienemy’s new Jerick McKinnon, which lines up well with Gibson’s NFL resume along with him being a former college wide receiver. Gibson is the best overall playmaker in the Commanders’ backfield, so even further the hope is that he takes back some of that rushing work and is one of the featured weapons in this Washington offense that will be led by a first-year starter in Sam Howell. Heavy receiving work, another double-digit touchdown season, and a bump in rushing work can be huge for Antonio Gibson in 2023.
Who are your favorite running back values for the coming season? Drop some names in the comments below. For more great rankings and analysis, make sure to check out our 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!
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