The NFL draft has come and gone. Rookie fever is slowly settling. Teams are beginning to practice and we’re making our way into summer, so it’s time to shift our focus from dynasty and the rookies to redraft season. As we prepare for the upcoming season by analyzing ADP and taking part in mock drafts, I look at two running backs that I am aggressively pursuing for the 2023 fantasy football season.
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Must-Have Running Backs
Let’s take a closer look at two must-have running backs.
Rhamondre Stevenson took a massive leap in year two. He rushed for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns, and he made even bigger strides in the receiving game. Garnering 88 targets, he put up 69 catches for 421 yards and a TD. This resulted in Stevenson finishing as the overall RB7 in PPR leagues. He was also an RB1 in points per game, finishing as the RB11 with 14.7 points per game.
We know Stevenson is a great runner. His 1,040 rushing yards was twelfth-best in the league at the position, and his 5.0 yards per attempt was tied for third-best among running backs who exceeded his rushing total. With an expected uptick in rush attempts on an offense that is lacking pass-catching weapons, Stevenson should easily set a new personal best in rushing yards.
Stevenson is in line for the lion’s share on the ground, especially with the departure of Damien Harris, who logged 462 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 106 attempts. New England did not add any other RBs in the draft. Right now the only players behind Stevenson are Pierre Strong, who saw only 10 rushing attempts last year, 2022 sixth-round pick Kevin Harris, who recorded just 18 rushing attempts, and a 30-year-old Ty Montgomery coming back from injury.
While I do expect Montgomery to take some of the receiving work away from Stevenson, I do not believe it will be as much of an impact as some are fearing. Stevenson showed he is more than capable as a receiving threat; his 88 targets were third in the league at the position behind only Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey. He also ranked fourth and seventh in the league in receptions and yards, respectively. He is effective on the ground and in the air, and he’ll have an upgrade at offensive coordinator which should provide more scoring opportunities. All of this makes Stevenson a locked and loaded RB1.
We finally saw the Tony Pollard breakout that the entire fantasy community has been waiting for. Finishing the year as the RB8 overall and RB9 in points per game with 15.6, Pollard was the definition of a league-winner. He recorded his first 1,000-yard season, rushing for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns on just 193 attempts. In the receiving game, he added 39 catches for 371 yards and three scores on 55 targets. This was all done while splitting the backfield with Ezekiel Elliott, who had 231 rushing attempts himself.
With Elliott currently gone, the running back room behind Pollard includes undrafted second-year player Malik Davis, journeyman and potential cut-candidate Ronald Jones, and sixth-round undersized rookie Deuce Vaughn. The backfield will run through Pollard. Even if Dallas decides to bring back Elliott, I think Pollard has proven himself and should be the main guy.
Last season, Dallas ranked sixth in rushing attempts and ninth in rushing yards, and there has been talk from head coach Mike McCarthy that he wants to run the ball even more to allow his defense to rest. This bodes well for Pollard, as he excelled in efficiency, sporting 5.2 yards per attempt. Couple this with a high-powered offense that can move the ball and Pollard should see plenty of meaningful touches with numerous chances to score.
In addition to his solid ground game, Pollard’s 371 receiving yards ranked 12th at the running back position, which was ahead of players like Saquon Barkley, Travis Etienne, and Dalvin Cook. His 9.5 yards per reception was second-best among running backs who had more receiving yards than him. Pollard is a big play just waiting to happen; with true game-breaking ability, he is a threat anytime the ball is in his hands.
When looking for high-ceiling, difference-making players, we want running backs with these kind of receiving abilities. Stevenson and Pollard alike find themselves in great spots for the 2023 season, and both should easily be top 12 running backs. With great efficiency on the ground and pass-catching prowess, both players can make a legitimate push for the overall RB1 in fantasy this year. Draft accordingly.
Honorable Mention: J.K. Dobbins (RB – BAL)