Everyone has been scared of the running back dead zone for years. The dead zone has generally been rounds three through six. Running backs in this range have struggled historically compared to wide receivers and even tight ends in the same span.
A couple of factors go into the running back dead zone. The top one is fantasy players pushing running backs up in the ADP after seeing an early run at the position in the first two rounds. However, that has changed over the past year or so. The general public has become more willing to draft wide receivers early in their drafts. With more wide receivers getting drafted in the first two rounds, running backs have been more appropriately ranked and drafted.
While the dead zone still exists, there are multiple running backs in that range that fantasy players should target during their drafts. Below are five running backs inside the dead zone that fantasy players want to draft this season.
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5 Running Backs to Target Inside the Dead Zone
Najee Harris (PIT): ADP 30.3 | RB11
After an excellent rookie season, Harris was a fantasy disappointment in 2022. The former Alabama star was the RB14, averaging 11.9 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. However, he dealt with a foot injury for part of the season but played better in the second half of the year. Harris averaged 86.4 scrimmage yards and 14.7 fantasy points per game over the final eight contests, making him the RB4 during that span.
Meanwhile, the Steelers didn’t add any competition to their backfield. While Jaylen Warren should have a larger role in 2023, Harris remains the lead back. More importantly, Pittsburgh improved its offensive line in the offseason. Therefore, he has too much upside to be a mid-third-round pick.
Jahmyr Gibbs (DET): ADP 37.7 | RB14
While Bijan Robinson deserves every ounce of hype as the top rookie running back, let’s not forget about Gibbs. The Lions surprised everyone when they selected him 12th overall in the NFL Draft. However, he has significant fantasy value as a rookie. Last year D’Andre Swift was the RB22, averaging 11.9 half-point PPR fantasy points per game despite averaging only 7.1 rushing attempts per contest.
Yet, he finished second on the team in targets, only behind Amon-Ra St. Brown. Despite Jamaal Williams having a top-12 finish after leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns (17), Swift was productive for fantasy players. Gibbs steps into the role but with the ability to play more than 42 percent of the snaps.
Joe Mixon (CIN): ADP 46.7 | RB17
Many labeled Mixon a do not draft candidate earlier this offseason. However, everything went in the star running back’s favor over the past few months. The Bengals lost Samaje Perine in free agency after the veteran had the best year of his career. Then, Mixon and the team recently agreed to a reworked contract.
Meanwhile, he ended last season as the RB12, averaging 15 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. Furthermore, he had the best year of his career in the passing game, posting career highs in receptions (60), targets (75), and receiving yards (441). With Perine out of the picture, Mixon should have an even larger role in the passing game this season.
Miles Sanders (CAR): ADP 59.3 | RB20
Everyone remembers how awful Sanders was in 2021 after failing to find the end zone of his 163 touches. However, the veteran bounced back last season. He was the RB13, averaging 12.2 fantasy points per game. Furthermore, Sanders had 11 rushing touchdowns, beating his career total entering the season by two. Yet, the veteran has more potential upside in Carolina.
Last year Jalen Hurts limited Sanders’ rushing upside by totaling 13 touchdowns, the second-most in the NFL. That won’t be the case with the Panthers. Meanwhile, running backs averaged 116.5 targets per year in the four full years Frank Reich was with the Indianapolis Colts. Don’t be surprised if Sanders has a career year in the passing game.
Cam Akers (LAR): ADP 60.3 | RB22
There are two types of fantasy players with Akers – lovers and haters. Thankfully the haters are keeping the back’s ADP lower than it should be. The former Florida State star ended last season on fire. He was the RB2 over the final four weeks, averaging 18.3 half-point PPR fantasy points per game. Furthermore, Akers forced a missed tackle on 22.7 percent of his rushing attempts during those four weeks.
More importantly, he set career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2022 despite all the issues in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, the Rams didn’t do anything to threaten Akers’ featured role this season. Despite being the RB22 off the board, he has top-10 upside in 2023.