Top Dynasty Rookie Running Backs (2023 Fantasy Football)
The NFL offseason is nearly upon us. While others (and myself in the coming weeks) focus on 2023 way-too-early fantasy football rankings, 2023 free agency and NFL team needs, let’s take a look ahead to the 2023 NFL draft and what it has to offer in terms of dynasty fantasy football talent.
Throughout the draft season, I’ll be delivering prospect overviews at every fantasy position to keep tabs on the top dynasty prospects. For those looking to dig deeper, be on the lookout for the highly-coveted FantasyPros NFL Draft Guide.
Let’s dig into the top incoming rookie running backs for dynasty fantasy football leagues in 2023 – with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.
Note that I will be referring to a player’s dominator rating at length in this piece. It’s also included in the table below.
For those who are new or unfamiliar with the terminology, dominator rating considers both rushing and receiving yards for the running back position. It’s critical to target running backs with upside in the passing game, especially in our PPR-happy fantasy leagues. In layman’s terms, dominator rating is just a way of capturing how productive a player was in their offense in a way to even the playing field when comparing running back prospects. If you are interested in comparing this year’s class to prospects from the last two seasons, be sure to check out the table at the bottom featuring 2021, 2022, and 2023 class dominator rating.
Top Dynasty Rookie Running Backs
Anytime a running back draws first-round buzz in today’s NFL, you better pay attention. That’s the case with Texas running back Bijan Robinson, who is the consensus No. 1 RB across all draft publications. And for good reason. B-Rob finished the 2022 season as PFF’s second-highest-graded rusher in the FBS, tallying 18 rushing TDs and 1,575 rushing yards en route to a 37% dominator rating in his final year as a Longhorn. He forced 104 missed tackles (40% broken tackle rate) which have shown to be super predictive of success rushing at the NFL level. And among last year’s class, only Breece Hall posted a higher dominator rating (40%). But only citing Robinson’s junior year hardly captures everything he could accomplish at the college level. As a true freshman, he ranked second in the FBS in yards after contact per attempt (6.09). His 27% career dominator rating ranks top-5 in the 2023 Draft Class. Factor in that Robinson also finished 3rd among RBs in yards per catch (16.5) with zero drops and there’s no question as to why he’s the 1.01 already in rookie drafts. At 6-foot, 220 pounds, Robinson has the requisite size and all the tools to be a three-down running back who never leaves the field.
Jahmyr Gibbs spent his first two college seasons at Georgia Tech, posting a 24% dominator rating as the team’s RB1 alongside future San Francisco 49er running back, Jordan Mason. In both his years at Georgia Tech, Gibbs finished second in PFF receiving grade among RBs.
However, he elected to not stay at GT for his junior year and instead transferred to Alabama to be the Crimson Tide’s next RB1. He led Alabama with 926 rushing yards and flashed receiving ability by catching a team-leading 44 passes for 444 receiving yards. Gibbs finished third in the FBS in receiving yards among RBs in 2022, one year removed from leading all RBs in the nation in receiving yards (470). He also flashed his explosiveness by ending the year fifth in the class in PFF’s breakaway run rate (53%).
Devon Achane finally got the chance to be the clear-cut No. 1 running back for the Aggies in 2022 with Isaiah Spiller drafted to the NFL and the uber-explosive Achane did not disappoint. The Texas A&M running back speedster rushed for 1,100 yards and 8 rushing TDs while catching 36 balls for 196 yards on 44 targets. Good for a 33% dominator rating a year after earning a 26% dominator rating while splitting time with Spiller. And although Achane will likely go through the wringer from NFL draft pundits when it comes to his smaller stature – 5-foot-9, 185 pounds – he put any “can he handle a large workload” concerns to rest in his final game versus LSU. Achane totaled 38 carries for 215 rushing yards and two TDs after missing a few games with an injury. The speedster also offers top-tier kickoff return ability, which will surely help boost his draft stock and get him active on game days. Achane finished as PFF’s 3rd-highest graded kick returner among 2023 draft-eligible players.
Sean Tucker immediately stepped into the RB1 role for Syracuse as a freshman carrying the ball 137 times for 626 yards and 4 rushing TDs in a truncated 2020 season. He did enough to earn a 23% dominator rating and more importantly lock up the starting gig heading into a 2021 breakout campaign. Tucker BLEW UP with over 1,500 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs as a sophomore with 1,014 of his total rushing yards coming after contact. The impressive efforts bestowed Tucker a 38% dominator rating – a top-5 mark among all the best seasons from his 2023 running back draft class. And although he took a slight step backward as a rusher in 2022, he still earned a 30% dominator rating with increased usage as a receiver. Tucker commanded 52 targets – tying Jahmyr Gibbs for the most RB targets in the class. His impressive three-year career with the Orange cultivated into a 32% dominator rating – the second-highest mark among RBs I sampled from the 2023 Draft Class featured in this article.
Zach Charbonnet started his college career at Michigan in 2019, where he started ahead of the future NFL draft selection, Hassan Haskins. But in 2020, Charbonnet’s numbers regressed in a six-game season for Michigan due to COVID-19. He split time with Haskins again, while also losing out to work to another NFL-drafted Chris Evans and up-and-coming running back star, Blake Corum. Charbonnet was part of a major running back by the committee as a Wolverine so he transferred to UCLA in 2021 and immediately saw his production skyrocket. He would post a 25% dominator rating as a junior, finishing third among all RBs in PFF rushing grade. Charbonnet’s 2022 senior production was also elite, as he finished 4th in PFF rushing grade among all RBs topping his grade from the year before. But more importantly, for fantasy purposes, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back improved on his receiving game, catching 37 balls for 320 yards on 44 targets. He posted the 5th-highest PFF receiving grade among his draft class.
Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby has been a force for the Auburn Tigers since he first stepped on the school campus. He took over as the team’s starting running back as a freshman in 2020, earning a 20% dominator rating. Bigsby would build off his hot start as a sophomore with a 25% dominator rating followed by a career-high 27% dominator rating his junior year. The 6-foot, 213-pound back finished 6th in yards after contact per attempt (4.16), 11th in forced missed tackles, 11th in PFF rushing grade and 7th in breakaway run rate among his 2023 draft-eligible RB peers.
It’s hard to look past the sheer dominance Deuce Vaughn displayed in his three years at Kansas State. Vaughn totaled over 4,800 yards from scrimmage and 43 TDs en route to a class-leading 35% career college dominator rating. He led the Kansas State backfield the minute he stepped foot on campus in 2020 leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards (31% dominator rating). And Vaughn built on his start with an elite sophomore season that saw him finish as PFF’s second-highest graded running back behind only future Houston Texan, Dameon Pierce. The Kansas State product was once again heavily involved as a receiver, commanding a team-high 66 targets for 49 catches and 441 receiving yards. Vaughn ended 2021 with the second-highest single-season dominator rating (48%) in his draft class. The 5-foot-6, 176-pound undersized back had his sights set on an ultra-productive junior year to boost his NFL draft stock, but he took a slight step backward with the “worst” dominator rating of his career (28%). However, the term “worst” is relative here because 1,561 rushing yards is hardly a poor season.
DeWayne McBride has been doing it all for the UAB Blazers over the last three seasons, totaling a top-5 dominator rating (27%) for his excellent efforts. He ranks first in the class in career yards per play (4.18) for being so efficient anytime he is on the field. His production is captured in his PFF grades with him finishing 2nd, 8th, and 3rd in PFF grading the last three seasons respectively. Aside from being a complete afterthought in the passing game, McBride checks off a lot of boxes you want to see from a smaller school prospect and he easily saved his best for last as a junior, finishing second in the FBS in rushing yards (1702, 155 yards per game), second in yards after contact per attempt (4.6) and 5th in dominator rating (35%) among the 2023 draft class. With desirable size, McBride is emerging as one of my favorite sleeper running backs in the incoming class.
Keaton Mitchell (RB – East Carolina)
Keaton Mitchell broke out all over the place in 2022, putting him firmly on the NFL Draft radar. He followed up an underrated sophomore season – 1,117 rushing yards – with an elite junior season that saw him earn a 28% dominator rating as PFF’s third-highest graded rusher in the FBS (96.1) behind only Blake Corhum and Bijan Robinson. Mitchell was a big play waiting to happen, ranking first in his draft class in breakaway run rate (58%) with a nation-high 31 carries of 15-plus yards. His size at 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds will likely prevent him from being a workhorse at the next level, but there’s no denying the juice in the open field Mitchell has to offer.
Kendre Miller spent his first two seasons in a two-way platoon with Zach Evans before the latter transferred to Mississippi. Miller did flash talent in a limited sample size, leading the FBS in yards after contact per attempt (5.06) in 2021. But with Evans gone in 2022, Miller was thrust into the RB1 role for the Horned Frogs where he posted a career-high 23% dominator rating. Miller rushed for nearly 1400 yards at 6-foot, 220-pounds, and his size is enticing as is the efficiency he displayed on a per-play basis at the college level. Miller’s career of 3.14 yards per play ranks 4th best in the class.
Zach Evans spent his first two college seasons at TCU, seeing seldom usage alongside fellow 2023 draft prospect Kendre Miller. Evans was the clear frontrunner in the backfield to start his sophomore campaign but suffered a turf toe injury that cut his 2021 season short. Evans would go on to transfer to Ole Miss at the start of the 2022 season, where he posted his best college counting stats to date with a 17% dominator rating. However, he failed to fully take over at the backfield as he did at TCU, losing out on touches to freshman running back Quinshon Judkins. The fact that Evans has struggled to fully take over a backfield at the college level is a major red flag as he makes his way into the NFL, but his efficient play when on the field suggests he can deliver when called upon. His career average of 3.47 yards per play ranks second-best among the incoming rookie RBs I sampled for this article. Yards per play is a great indicator of future success with recent late-round standouts in that category the past two years including Elijah Mitchell, Rhamondre Stevenson, Rachaad White and Tyler Allgeier.
Israel “Izzy” Abanikanda didn’t do much at Pittsburgh during his first two years there, but he finally broke out in 2022 as the team’s No. 1 running back. He rushed for 1,426 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to a 39% dominator rating. Abanikanda would go on to finish as PFF’s 8th-highest rusher in his draft class.
Mohamed Ibrahim is no young pup having spent the last five years as the Golden Gophers RB1. At 24 years old, he will be one of the older RB prospects entering the 2023 NFL Draft. However, there’s no denying that Ibrahim’s experience will help him be an immediate producer, as that’s all he did in the college ranks. He earned a 31% career dominator rating, capped off by an insane 39% dominator rating in 2022. He rushed for 1,675 yards and 20 TDs coming off an injury-plagued 2021 season that limited him to just 32 snaps. He led all running backs in rushing first downs and it was great to see Ibrahim recapture his 2020 form – a year in which he posted an absurd 50% dominator rating. He will surely be knocked in the draft due to his older age, but there’s no denying that Ibrahim can be productive and handle a heavy workload as a rusher.
Chris Rodriguez Jr. has spent the last five years with the Wildcats totaling a solid 23% career dominator rating but what’s most impressive about Rodriguez’s college tenure was the 2020 season; one which saw him post a 33% dominator rating after he took over the starting RB1 role. Rodriguez rushed for 785 yards and 11 TDs in nine games, finishing as PFF’s second-highest graded running back in the FBS sandwiched between Javonte Williams and Tyler Allgeier. And his success continued from there, with 1,300 rushing yards in 2021. Entering 2022, Rodriguez Jr. was forced to miss time to start the year but his return was immediately felt as he finished the year as PFF’s eighth-highest-graded RB averaging 113 rushing yards per game and a 37% broken tackle rate. C-Rod earned a 36% final season dominator rating when you remove the production from his teammates during the four games he missed to open the 2022 season.
Chase Brown (RB – Illinois)
Illinois running back Chase Brown tied Mohamed Ibrahim and Israel Abanikanda with a final-season dominator rating of 39% – a number that ranks first among the RBs I sampled from the 2023 incoming draft class. Brown was crazy productive, rushing for 1,632 yards and 10 TDs. His 329 carries ranked second in the nation and his 83 forced missed tackles ranked 3rd. Brown rushed for at least 100 yards in all but one game that he played in 2022. However, Brown benefited substantially from massive volume as his efficiency left more to be desired. His career 2.4 yards per play ranks 3rd-worst among the RBs I sampled from this year’s class.
|Player||Age||Class||School||Career Dominator Rating||Final Season Dominator Rating||Best Season||Best Season (Year)||Yards per play|
|Deuce Vaughn||21||Junior||Kansas State||35%||28%||46%||2021||2.78|
|Devon Achane||21||Junior||Texas A&M||24%||33%||33%||2022||2.81|
|Keaton Mitchell||21||Junior||East Carolina||23%||28%||28%||2022||3.05|
|Zach Evans||22||Junior||Ole Miss||15%||17%||17%||2022||3.47|
Other Running Backs Sampled:
Tyjae Spears (RB – Tulane)
Tyjae Spears posted a 31% dominator rating in his final season at Tulane, finishing 5th in the FBS in rushing yards (1,586), second in rushing TDs (19), and fourth in yards after contact per attempt (4.55).
Travis Dye (RB – USC)
Travis Dye transferred to USC after a career year at Oregon in 2021, where he posted a 30% dominator rating. At USC his dominator rating dropped to 14% as he split time with other backs and missed time due to injury. The redshirt senior is already 23.5 years old and is coming off a season-ending injury that presents an uphill battle as he prepares for the NFL Draft.
Tavion Thomas (RB – Utah)
Tavion Thomas posted the third-highest yards per play (3.28) among RBs that I sampled from the 2023 Draft Class. The strong efficiency stems from his 2021 season which was his first year at Utah after he transferred from Cincinnati. Thomas finished that year as PFF’s 9th-highest-graded running back which fueled a 26% dominator rating. His number dipped in 2022 due to a toe injury suffered against Oregon.
Kenny McIntosh (RB – Georgia)
Per usual of most Georgia running backs, Kenny McIntosh had to bide his time before getting the opportunity to shine in the Bulldogs’ offense. With Zamir White and James Cook drafted to the NFL in 2022, McIntosh got his shot to perform. He led Georgia in rushing yards (824) and thrived as a receiver out of the backfield. McIntosh earned a PFF’s highest receiving grade among all RBs in the FBS (86.8) due in part to compiling the second-most receiving yards among RBs (509). With some serious size 6-foot-1, 210 pounds – and dynamite receiving profile, McIntosh could have some serious fantasy football appeal in the right situation. It shouldn’t be overlooked that in 2021, McIntosh was posting better per-snap numbers than both White and Cook as both a rusher/receiver as PFF’s 8th-highest graded RB in the FBS among running backs with at least 50 carries.
CAREER DOMINATOR RATINGS (2021-2023 Draft Classes)
|Player||Class||School||Career Dominator Rating||Class|
|Deuce Vaughn||Junior||Kansas State||35%||2023|
|Breece Hall||Junior||Iowa State||33%||2022|
|Rachaad White||Senior||Arizona State||31%||2022|
|Kenneth Gainwell||RS Sophomore||Memphis||27%||2021|
|Chuba Hubbard||RS Junior||OSU||27%||2021|
|Pooka Williams Jr.||Junior||Kansas||27%||2021|
|Jermar Jefferson||Junior||Oregon State||27%||2021|
|Kyren Williams||Junior||Notre Dame||27%||2022|
|Devon Achane||Junior||Texas A&M||24%||2023|
|Kenneth Walker III||Junior||Michigan State||23%||2022|
|Isaiah Spiller||Junior||Texas A&M||23%||2022|
|Keaton Mitchell||Junior||East Carolina||23%||2023|
|Pierre Strong Jr.||Senior||South Dakota State||22%||2022|
|Kevin Harris||Junior||South Carolina||22%||2022|
|Demetric Felton||RS Senior||UCLA||21%||2021|
|Khalil Herbert||RS Senior||VA Tech||20%||2021|
|Larry Rountree III||Senior||Missouri||20%||2021|
|Zonovan Knight||Junior||NC State||17%||2022|
|Kylin Hill||Senior||Miss State||16%||2021|
|Brian Robinson Jr.||Senior||Alabama||15%||2022|
|Zach Evans||Junior||Ole Miss||15%||2023|
|D’Vonte Price||Senior||Florida International||13%||2022|
|Trey Sermon||Senior||Ohio State||12%||2021|
SINGLE SEASON DOMINATOR RATINGS (2021-2023 Draft Classes)
|Player||Final Season Dominator Rating||Best Season (Year)||Best Season Dominator Rating||Class|
|Larry Rountree III||42%||2020||42%||2021|
|Kenneth Walker III||34%||2021||34%||2022|
|Pooka Williams Jr.||25%||2018||32%||2021|
|Pierre Strong Jr.||28%||2021||28%||2022|
|Brian Robinson Jr.||22%||2021||22%||2022|