Must-Have Running Backs (2023 Fantasy Football)
It’s never too early to look at fantasy football. Running back is a position devalued by many NFL clubs. Yet, it remains an integral position for fantasy football. Unearthing undervalued players at the position can create a critical edge for winning leagues. The following running backs are must-have options because they’re undervalued relative to their talent level, usage or both.
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Must-Have Running Backs
Let’s take a look at a few running backs I’m targeting in 2023.
Josh Jacobs – Free Agent: 22.8 Underdog Fantasy ADP and RB7
I’ve traditionally been critical of Jacobs. However, his 2022 campaign was nothing short of phenomenal. The Raiders declined his fifth-year option and promptly used him as a bell cow. Now, they’ll probably have to pony up a multi-year deal or franchise tag him to avoid losing him in free agency after he dominated.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), among 45 running backs who had at least 100 rushes in 2022, Jacobs was eighth in Yards After Contact per Attempt (3.40 YCO/A), first in missed tackles forced (90) and tied for sixth in their Elusiveness metric.
Jacobs wasn’t just efficient on the ground, either. He was a workhorse. As a result, per Pro-Football-Reference, Jacobs was first in rushing yards per game (97.2) and tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (12).
He was also a capable receiver. Jacobs averaged 3.1 receptions and 23.5 receiving yards per game. Therefore, he can be a genuine every-down back. Presumably, Jacobs will be force-fed the ball on any team that invests in him in free agency. But, even with uncertainty about where Jacobs will play in 2023, he’s a top-five running back and a reasonable choice as early as the RB3.
Tyler Allgeier – Atlanta Falcons: 74.4 Underdog Fantasy ADP and RB25
The Falcons appear to have struck gold in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft. Unfortunately, there’s the rub. It’s not unusual for running backs who weren’t selected on the draft’s first two days to fall down the depth chart, despite their impressive rookie campaign.
For instance, Michael Carter had a promising rookie season for the Jets in 2021, and they popped Breece Hall in the second round of the 2022 draft. Hall overtook Carter on the depth chart and thrived before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Further, even after Hall was injured, Carter didn’t recapture the primary running back role. So, the risk for Allgeier is apparent.
Yet, he’s less risky than Dameon Pierce, average draft position (ADP) considered. Like Allgeier, Pierce was excellent as a rookie. Additionally, Pierce was a day-three pick, getting popped by the Texans in the fourth round. So, why is there such a substantial gap in their ADP? Pierce is selected as the RB19 at an ADP of 54.8 at Underdog Fantasy. Meanwhile, Allgeier is getting picked 20 picks later as the RB25.
Missing on Allgeier won’t hurt too badly at his ADP. And, again, he was outstanding last year. Allgeier was fifth in Yards After Contact per Attempt (3.58), tied for ninth in missed tackles forced (51) and third in Elusiveness Rating among running backs who attempted at least 100 rushes last year.
The big-bodied back averaged 64.7 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Sadly, he had only 1.0 receptions and 8.7 receiving yards per game. Allgeier finished the year on a high note, though. He had at least 95 scrimmage yards in his last four games, scored a touchdown in two contests and eclipsed 100 rushing yards twice. As a result, Allgeier was the RB8 in points per game in half-point point-per-reception (PPR) formats from Week 15 through Week 18.
Atlanta’s run-first tendencies and top-shelf run blocking are also plusses for Allgeier’s potential in 2023. According to Football Outsiders, the Falcons were fifth in Adjusted Line Yards (4.68). Thus, gamers should be willing to invest a top 70 pick on Allgeier.
Rashaad Penny – Free Agent: 158.4 Underdog Fantasy ADP and RB49
Penny signed a one-year deal to stay in Seattle last year, betting on himself. Unfortunately, he was injured. Injuries have been a consistent problem in Penny’s five-year career. Nevertheless, Penny hasn’t had the same recurring injuries. So, is he injury prone? Maybe. Penny might also have merely been unlucky.
After Penny was injured last year, Seattle’s second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Ken Walker, was superb. Thus, Penny will likely need to ply his trade for a new team in 2023. He’ll almost certainly have to settle for a prove-it one-year deal or a multi-year contract that’s largely incentive-laden.
Any NFL team or fantasy squad that takes a chance on Penny is investing in a talented big-play back. First, according to StatHead, Penny’s 5.7 yards per carry in his first five years in the NFL was the fifth-highest mark among running backs who carried the ball at least 330 times. Interestingly, Jamaal Charles was directly ahead of him, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Penny also showed no signs of his previous injuries slowing him in 2022. Instead, he was a home-run hitter. Penny averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 69.2 rushing yards per game in five contests. Moreover, out of 69 running backs who toted the rock at least 50 times in 2022, Penny was first in yards per attempt (6.1), first in Yards After Contact per Attempt (4.23 YCO/A), fifth in Elusiveness Rating and had six rushes for more than 15 yards on only 57 attempts. Penny’s 10 rushes of 10-plus yards were also eye-catching. Penny wasn’t perfect, but he was RB27 in half-point PPR points per game in Week 1 through Week 5, despite only 15 snaps in his final game in 2022. Finally, Penny was optimistic in December about his rehab from surgery for a fractured fibula and high-ankle sprain, enhancing his chances of proving his health to a potential suitor and beginning the year healthy. So, Penny is a dreamy late-round dart.
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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.