Running Back Preview: Values, Breakouts & Busts (2023 Fantasy Football)
While the 2022 NFL season is over, fantasy football is a year-long thing. Therefore, it’s never too early to look ahead to next year.
Today, I look back at the 2022 season, highlighting some of the top ADP values, breakouts and busts at the running back position, while also taking an early look at potential candidates in these areas for the 2023 season.
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Fantasy Football Running Back Analysis
Let’s take a look back at 2022 and what we can glean for 2023.
2022 General Review
Last year was a slightly down season for running backs, as zero players averaged 19 or more half-point PPR fantasy points per game. In 2021, three running backs averaged over 19 fantasy points per game: Derrick Henry (23), Jonathan Taylor (20.8) and Austin Ekeler (19.3). However, no other running back averaged over 16.8 fantasy points per game that year. By comparison, four players averaged at least 17.8 fantasy points per game in 2022: Ekeler (18.8), Christian McCaffrey (18.5), Henry (17.9), and Josh Jacobs (17.8).
2022 Top ADP Values
Josh Jacobs (LV)
Speaking of Jacobs, what a difference a year makes. In 2021, he was the RB14, averaging 13.3 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. After the Raiders hired Josh McDaniels as their head coach, the team declined Jacob’s fifth-year option. The veteran running back responded with the best year of his career, totaling 393 touches for 2,053 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns. More importantly, he averaged 17.8 fantasy points per game, a 19.7% increase over his previous career high in 2020. Hopefully, Jacobs returns to Las Vegas next year, but landing with a team like the Atlanta Falcons wouldn’t be bad for fantasy players.
While fantasy players were hoping that D’Andre Swift would break out in 2022, Williams stole the show in Detroit. After 13 rushing touchdowns over the first five years of his career, the veteran running back led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns this season. Furthermore, he had his first 1,000-yard rushing season and a career-high 262 rushing attempts. Williams had an ADP outside the top-48 running backs heading into last season and was considered a high-end handcuff with decent flex appeal in non-PPR leagues. Yet, the former BYU star ended the 2022 season as the RB8, averaging 12.9 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. The popular Week 1 waiver wire add turned into a league winner.
2022 Top Breakouts
After years of playing second fiddle to Ezekiel Elliott, Pollard broke out in 2022. Over the first three years of his career, the running back averaged 7.1 half-point PPR fantasy points per game and 2.7 rushing touchdowns per season. However, the former Memphis star was the RB7 this year, averaging 14.3 fantasy points per game while scoring a career-high nine rushing touchdowns. Pollard also played a massive role in the passing game, finishing fourth on the team in receptions and third in receiving touchdowns this year. Unfortunately, a broken leg in the playoffs will hurt the running back’s free-agency outlook. Yet, Pollard should get drafted as a top-12 running back in 2023.
Stevenson split the backfield with Damien Harris as a rookie. He had 133 rushing attempts, while Harris had 929. The reason why Harris was the RB13 in 2021 while Stevenson was the RB41 is the touchdown differential, as Harris had 10 more than Stevenson. However, the backfield workload shifted this year, with Stevenson becoming the featured back. The former Oklahoma star had almost twice as many rushing attempts as Harris. More importantly, he had a massive performance in the receiving game. After having 14 receptions as a rookie, Stevenson had 69 in 2022, the most on the team. With Harris becoming a free agent in March, Stevenson could have an unchallenged backfield next year.
2022 Top Busts
Jonathan Taylor (IND)
Heading into the 2022 season, Taylor was the near-consensus No. 1 pick in redraft leagues. The superstar running back averaged 5.5 yards per rushing attempt in 2021 while leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,811) and rushing touchdowns (18). After a massive Week 1 performance with 161 rushing yards and 25.5 half-point PPR fantasy points, Taylor started to struggle. Over the next three weeks, the former Wisconsin star averaged only 55.7 rushing yards and 6.7 fantasy points per game. He also missed six games in 2022 because of multiple ankle injuries, including the fantasy playoffs.
While he had been a superstar running back the past few years, Kamara struggled last season. Over the first five years of his career, the former Tennessee star averaged 13.4 scrimmage touchdowns per year. However, in 2022, he had only four touchdowns in 15 games. Furthermore, Kamara has seen his yards per rushing attempt average drop lately. After averaging five yards per rushing attempt over the first four years of his career, the superstar running back averaged only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt over the past two years. Between the decline in his production, age and pending NFL suspension, Kamara will be on my “do not draft” list for next season.
2023 General Preview
The top players at the position are not the same ones as a few years ago. For years McCaffrey, Kamara, Henry and Dalvin Cook were the best running backs in fantasy football. Yet, fantasy players will see several new names at the top of the draft board in 2023. Ekeler and McCaffrey will likely be the first two running backs drafted next year. However, expect to see Saquon Barkley, Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker and potentially Bijan Robinson all considered top-12 draft picks.
2023 Potential ADP Values
After starting his rookie year slow, Akers averaged 4.5 yards per rushing attempt and 13.2 half-point PPR fantasy points per game over his final five contests. He then averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt and 20.4 fantasy points per game in the playoffs. Unfortunately, a torn Achilles cost Akers most of the 2021 season and impacted his 2022 season. More importantly, the young running back ended the year on fire with three straight 100-yard rushing performances. Furthermore, Akers was the RB4 in half-point PPR scoring, averaging 16.8 fantasy points per game over the final six weeks of the year.
Green Bay heads into the offseason with several massive decisions to make. One of those decisions is the future of Jones. The star running back had a career-high 1,121 rushing yards this year. However, the Packers can save up to $16 million in salary cap space by releasing the veteran running back this offseason. Given their uncertain cap situation, Green Bay likely moves on from Jones, giving Dillon the featured role. Last year Dillon was the RB25 in half-point PPR scoring, averaging nine fantasy points per game on 214 touches. Had the young running back had a 22% increase in touches, Dillon would have averaged 11.2 fantasy points per game in 2022, making him the RB15.
2023 Potential Breakouts
Unfortunately, Dobbins has had his career impacted by injuries like Akers. After ending his rookie season as the RB21, averaging 10.6 half-point PPR fantasy points per game, Dobbins missed the 2021 season with a severe knee injury. The young running back missed eight games this past year, recovering from a knee injury a year ago. However, Dobbins was outstanding to close out the regular season. Over his final four games, the former Ohio State star averaged seven yards per rushing attempt and 11.6 fantasy points per game despite playing only 43% of the snaps. Over a 17-game pace, Dobbins would have been the RB15 last year with his 11.6 fantasy points per game average.
Cook started his rookie season slowly but ended the year on a hot streak. Over the first nine games of the year, the former Georgia running back scored fewer than 6.1 half-point PPR fantasy points in all but two contests. Meanwhile, Cook averaged six yards per rushing attempt and 8.8 fantasy points over his final seven games as a rookie. Furthermore, he had more than 13 touches in only one of those contests. More importantly, Devin Singletary is a free agent in March and likely won’t return to Buffalo. Unless the Bills spend a high draft pick on a running back, Cook will have the chance to breakout next year as the team’s lead back.
2023 Potential Busts
The former Oklahoma star ended the year as the RB12, averaging 15 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. Mixon had nine total touchdowns and 1,255 scrimmage yards this season. However, 55.6% of his touchdowns and 25.4% of his fantasy points came in the Week 9 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Therefore, Mixon averaged only 12 fantasy points per game and had only four touchdowns in the other 13 games he played in 2022. More importantly, he played under 60% of the snaps in all but one of the final seven games to end the year after the team started to split the backfield work between him and Samaje Perine. If he is back in Cincinnati next year, Mixon will likely find himself in a committee situation.
Alvin Kamara (NO)
As mentioned above, Kamara was a bust in 2022. His four scrimmage touchdowns and 10.3 half-point PPR fantasy points per game were career lows. Furthermore, his two rushing touchdowns ranked 62nd in the NFL last year, behind several fantasy irrelevant players, including Boston Scott and Raheem Blackshear. More importantly, the star running back has averaged only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt over the past two years. Kamara is facing a potentially lengthy suspension after allegedly assaulting a man at the Pro Bowl a year ago. Between the decline in his production, age and pending NFL suspension, Kamara won’t return to his star form.
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Mike Fanelli is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @Mike_NFL2.