With plenty of fantasy drafts still to complete, using tiers to guide us through the draft process is a helpful tool for maximizing the value of your rosters when you’re on the clock. These running back tiers reflect my running back rankings but organize them in such a way that I can keep tabs on when to prioritize drafting a certain position based on supply and demand.
Running Back Tiers for 2023 Fantasy Football
Tier 1: Most Likely Overall RB1 Candidates
- Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers
- Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
- Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
- Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
The top running back tier are players with a combination of the highest floor and highest ceiling at the position. These are running backs I’m the most comfortable using a first-round pick on in 2023 fantasy football.
Both Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler have overall RB1 finishes in their careers. Saquon Barkley has come close, specifically as a rookie, as he holds the most receptions for a rookie running back (91) in NFL history. He led the New York Giants in targets and receptions in 2022, as well. The top three in this running back tier are good bets to log over 300 touches, a good chunk of which will come in the receiving game. They’re all focal points on playoff-caliber offenses with good odds of scoring each week, too.
Joining them is rookie Bijan Robinson. He’s the eighth overall pick from the 2023 NFL Draft. Arthur Smith is the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Previously, Smith was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. In two years in that role, running back Derrick Henry averaged 359 touches per season on his way to back-to-back rushing titles. In back-to-back seasons at the University of Texas, Bijan logged at least 221 touches and 1,422 all-purpose yards. As the Atlanta Falcons’ top pick, he is going to be heavily involved in their weekly game plan presenting a high floor for fantasy football. His receiving upside gives him the potential to be the top running back in fantasy football.
Tier 2: Overall RB1 Candidates That Can Be Had in Round Two
5. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
6. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
7. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
8. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
If you would rather target a wide receiver or Travis Kelce in the first round, the players in this running back tier can still yield overall RB1 numbers for your fantasy football team in 2023. All of these running backs can push for 300 or more touches this season. Chubb, Jacobs, and Henry have already done so in previous seasons.
All four of these running backs finished inside the top eight at the position in 2022. Josh Jacobs has back-to-back seasons of 50 or more receptions but has yet to report to the Raiders this season as he looks for a contract extension. Tony Pollard’s 2022 breakout will look to keep momentum as he assumes a much larger role out of the Cowboys’ backfield without Ezekiel Elliott present. Chubb and Henry are arguably the best pure runners in the NFL, but don’t present enough of a role in their team’s passing game to elevate their value in PPR leagues. They have little competition in their backfields, though, and are rare “bell cow” backs in 2023.
This running back tier shows the value in tier building. It’s hard to truly rank any of these running backs ahead of the others. If you want to take Derrick Henry over Tony Pollard, I can see why, and vice versa. Either way, the top eight backs in the top two tiers will be off the board by the end of Round Two so get one before they’re gone!
Tier 3: Running Backs To Draft If You Went WR/WR or WR/TE Early On
9. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions
10. Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
11. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
12. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
13. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
14. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
15. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
If you’re planning on targeting top wide receivers or mixing in Travis Kelce, early on, then this is the running back tier to target in Round Three or Four, if you’re lucky. This is the last group of running backs I feel truly comfortable heading into the seasons as my fantasy team’s RB1.
Every player in this running back tier is either a high-volume play, a PPR asset, or some combination of the two. Not all of the players here are on playoff-caliber rosters. However, their roles on their less-than-quality squads can still yield RB1 numbers in fantasy football.
We all know the risks with Jonathan Taylor at this point. He may not even play for the Colts, or at all, in 2023. Everyone below him is the lead-backs in their respective offense and can be taken ahead of him if his situation is unsettled at the time of your draft.
I have Jahmyr Gibbs higher than most. The only Detroit Lions running back from the 2022 roster currently on the 2023 roster is Craig Reynolds. He had just 23 rushes last season. Gibbs is the 12th overall pick from the 2023 NFL Draft who the Lions were considering at sixth overall before trading down to 12. He should have a massive role, specifically in the passing game with only Amon-Ra St. Brown as legitimate competition for targets. Gibbs will also be running behind one of the best offensive lines in football on his way to an RB1 fantasy football season as a rookie.
Tier 4: High-Volume RB2 Plays With Weekly RB1 Upside
16. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
17. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
18. Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers
19. Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
20. Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Alvin Kamara stands out in this running back tier as a player who could probably be considered higher in value. However, with a three-game suspension, and more competition in the backfield in Jamaal Williams and rookie Kendre Miller, Kamara likely doesn’t see the 270+ touches were are accustomed to. When he does return to the field, though, he should lead the three in touches. We know Kamara is one of the best receiving backs in the game which gives him that Weekly RB1 upside.
I do expect the Denver Broncos to run more in 2023, particularly in the red zone. If Javonte Williams is as healthy as the team suggests, he should see a good amount of work this season. If his return from an October 2022 ACL, MCL, and LCL tear is too much to stomach, selecting Miles Sanders, Dameon Pierce, or Rachaad White may be a better idea for you. All three backs can command a three-down role on their respective offenses. They all present a high floor based on volume alone but are capped a bit running on the Panthers, Texans, and Buccaneers.
Tier 5: Running Backs Outside the Top 12 Who Can Finish Inside the Top 12
21. Breece Hall, New York Jets
22. James Cook, Buffalo Bills
23. Dalvin Cook, New York Jets
24. Kenneth Walker, Seattle Seahawks
25. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
26. D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles
27. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
28. Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs
29. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
30. David Montgomery, Detroit Lions
31. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
I don’t think any of the players in this running back tier are outright locks to finish as an RB1 in 2023 fantasy football. They all need something or a few things to go their way in order for that path to the top to open up.
Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook are obviously going to be battling each other for touches. Both are returning from injuries so if one becomes unavailable, the other may prosper. James Cook has the most upside of this running back tier. He will need to thrive with a massive increase in snaps, touches, and workload from his rookie to sophomore season all while battling quarterback Josh Allen for rush attempts, specifically nearly the goal line.
Kenneth Walker is one of two rookie running backs to rush for 1,000 or more yards in 2022. Now he’s sharing the Seahawks backfield with rookie Zach Charbonnet on a team with one of the best groups of receivers and a strong passing game. James Conner needs to stay healthy and run wild on a Cardinals team likely to land the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Cam Akers is two years removed from a torn Achilles. He’s the lead back on a Los Angeles Rams team that has taken a few steps back since Akers was at his healthiest. Isiah Pacheco enters his sophomore campaign returning from shoulder and hand injuries. He should lead the Chiefs backfield in carries assuming they don’t add an experienced veteran into the mix.
J.K. Dobbins has a 5.9 yards per carry career average. However, that’s on just 226 carries over two seasons in three years time. David Montgomery can assume the Jamaal Williams role in Detroit punching in goal line touchdowns, but even that yielded just RB22 numbers. Alexander Mattison is the lowest in this tier but can soar to RB1 heights as the lead back for the Vikings. They are the third pass-heaviest offense from last season, though, with plenty of elite receiving options.
Tier 6: High-End Handcuffs and Players Who May Cause Headaches
32. A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
33. Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears
34. Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks
35. Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders
36. Brian Robinson, Washington Commanders
37. Jamaal Williams, New Orleans Saints
38. Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers
39. Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars
40. Samaje Perine, Denver Broncos
41. Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs
42. Ezekiel Elliott, New England Patriots
When I say “high-end handcuffs” for this running back tier, I’m talking about players like Jaylen Warren, Tank Bigsby, and Samaje Perine. If the starter in front of them were to miss time, these sorts of players would skyrocket into top-10 to 15 considerations in weekly rankings.
When I say “players who may cause headaches”, they are the other players in this running back tier who may take away value from other players on the roster that you’re actually starting in fantasy football. A good example of this is starting Rhamondre Stevenson, but watching Ezekiel Elliott rush for two touchdowns when the Patriots get within five yards of the end zone. All of these players should be on fantasy rosters ahead of the 2023 season.
As for Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson, I think they’re going to be as close to an even split in workload out of the Commanders’ backfield as you can be. On 63 snaps this season with Sam Howell under center this preseason, Gibson has played 33 snaps and ran 23 routes while Robinson accounts for 30 snaps and 16 routes.
Tier 7: Miami Dolphins Running Backs and Handcuffs Worth Flex Consideration
43. Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders
44. Damien Harris, Buffalo Bills
45. Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons
46. Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers
47. Rashaad Penny, Philadelphia Eagles
48. De’Von Achane, Miami Dolphins
49. Jeff Wilson Jr., Miami Dolphins
50. Raheem Mostert, Miami Dolphins
51. Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
52. Devin Singletary, Houston Texans
It’s no secret the Miami Dolphins are looking to upgrade their running back room. Reports suggest they looked into trading for Raiders back Jacobs and are interested in Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. Either way, this team ranks 31st in rush attempts, 27th in rushing yards, and 27th in rushing touchdowns from last season. Choosing which player to start is a guess until further notice.
Every other player in this running back tier would see an increase in value if the starter in front of them were to miss time for any reason. As of now, though, they may each have enough of a role to yield flex-worthy numbers. Given their role, you’re most likely hoping for them to score a touchdown to make their start worth it.
Tier 8: Late-Round Handcuffs
53. Jerome Ford, Cleveland Browns
54. Kendre Miller, New Orleans Saints
55. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
56. Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
57. Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans
58. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
59. Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears
60. Matt Brieda, New York Giants
You don’t necessarily need to grab the handcuff for your starters from this or any running back tier. It’s not a bad idea to diversify the running back handcuffs on your roster. Given how common running back injuries can be, having a few lottery tickets, from other teams, early on in the season could benefit you in a big way especially if other managers in your league become desperate to trade. Your own running back handcuff is great insurance, but clogs up your roster if their services are never needed.
For more great rankings and analysis, make sure to check out our 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!
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