Anybody that thinks the last five rounds of a fantasy draft do not matter is missing a golden opportunity to add impact players. Anybody that thinks a kicker in the 13th round is a solid choice because those picks are throwaway picks that never have an impact is missing a golden opportunity to find a diamond in the rough. The late rounds of fantasy football drafts are an excellent time to find great value at the running back position. You never know if young players are going to make the jump to elite fantasy players, and you never know how injuries are going to impact touches in the backfield. There have been eight running backs since 2012 that were ranked 140th or lower in ADP at the beginning of the season that went on to have a Top-10 fantasy season among running backs.
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Late-Round RB Draft Targets
Top-10 Fantasy Running Backs since 2012 – Drafted 140th Overall or Later in 2022
|FRANK Among RB
When looking at potential stars in 2023 that will come from the late rounds of fantasy drafts, there are three things you want to consider. First, what is the contract situation of the starting running back? Second, how established is the starting running back on the team with the current coaching staff? Third, how old and how many touches does the starting running back have in his career?
Contracts matter in the NFL, owners do not like to pay boatloads of money to backup running backs. This is the Ezekiel Elliott example of the last few years. The Cowboys gave him a six-year contract worth $90 million in 2019. Even though Tony Pollard was the better running back the last couple of seasons, it took an Elliott injury for Pollard to see enough touches to break out as a fantasy star last year. Even with that injury, Elliott had 248 touches to Pollard’s 232 touches. Contracts matter; the more money a starting running back is being paid, the harder it is for the backup running backs to take his job.
Second, head coaches love to install their guys when they take a head coach position. The Chicago Bears have been a great example of this in the last few years. Jordan Howard was great as a rookie in 2016, and he had a solid second season in 2017, racking up 2,858 yards and 16 touchdowns in those two seasons with John Fox calling the shots. Head coach Matt Nagy comes in the following season, and he wanted to install his offense with running backs that can run his system, so he went with Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery. Howard was phased out of the offense and off the team by 2019. Matt Eberflus took the head coaching job last year, and he used Montgomery and Khalil Herbert in his first season. Montgomery is now in Detroit, and Herbert has competition from D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson. New head coaches create opportunities for new running backs and can kill the value of successful holdovers from the previous regime.
Third, running backs tend to fall off faster than any other position. Running backs struggle to stay healthy and effective over the age of 30 years old. They also struggle to remain relevant after 2,000 carries. The last 30-year-old running back to lead the league in rushing yards was Adrian Peterson at 30 years old back in 2015. The last one before him was Curtis Martin back in 2004. The best running backs tend to have tread left on the tires. Identifying the backups of older running backs can be a good strategy because older running backs tend to break down faster and open up opportunities for younger players that nobody expects to have an impact.
Here are some running backs from the later rounds that I think could be excellent bargains in 2023. All of them are ranked 140th or lower among all players and 45th or lower among fantasy running backs.
The Saints have some experience in the backfield, but there are some questions. Alvin Kamara still has a possible suspension coming his way from the Las Vegas fight that happened in 2022. Jamaal Williams is coming off an RB1 season in Detroit, but he is 28 years old. Miller could see a role in New Orleans this year. The Saints used a third-round pick on him in the 2023 NFL Draft, and he had 1,515 yards from scrimmage with 17 touchdowns at TCU last year. At 5′ 11″ and 215 pounds, he has both the size and speed to be a featured back if Kamara has a lengthy suspension or Williams does not have the same success he had in Detroit in 2022. Miller currently has an ADP of 140, and he is the 45th-ranked running back.
Singletary had some good years in Buffalo, but he was never able to establish himself as a dominant featured back. Singletary had 4,122 scrimmage yards and 20 TDs in four seasons with the Bills. He never had less than 956 yards from scrimmage in a year but never more than 1,099 yards. The Bills deemed it was time to move on, and he signed a one-year prove it deal with Houston and slates to be Dameon Pierce‘s backup this year.
Pierce had a solid rookie campaign with 1,104 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns, but he was drafted when Lovie Smith was the head coach, and now DeMeco Ryans is calling the shots. Ryans comes to Houston from a 49ers team that used a ton of running backs, and it remains to be seen what the split will be between Pierce and Singletary. Singletary is worth a flyer as the 47th-ranked running back and 146th-ranked player.
Bibsby was a very talented player at Auburn, tallying 3,351 yards from scrimmage and scoring 25 touchdowns in three seasons. Bigsby isn’t the fastest running back in this class, but he has a nice blend of speed and power. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, and he also benched 225 lbs 21 times. When you combine those athleticism numbers with his college production, there is a chance for him to develop into an NFL starter.
Travis Etienne Jr. is the only player standing between Bigsby and significant carries. I cannot see Bigsby having a huge role with the Jaguars as long as Etienne Jr. is healthy, but Bigsby is currently 49th among fantasy running backs and 151st overall. That is great value for a player that is second on the depth chart on one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL.
Gainwell was only a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he has 177 touches for 953 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in two seasons with the Eagles. I do not think he has shown enough that he will start atop the Eagles’ depth chart, but the two backs in front of him never stay healthy. D’Andre Swift had only 16 starts in three seasons and was traded by the Detroit Lions to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick in 2025 and a swap of seventh-round picks. Rashaad Penny played in only 43 games over the last five seasons. He signed a one-year contract as a free agent. Gainwell has a chance to step into the lead role with experience in this offense and a history of staying healthy. Playing with Jalen Hurts, he would have instant fantasy value as the lead running back in this offense. Gainwell can be taken as the 50th-ranked running back and 152nd-overall player.
Johnson had the unfortunate situation of playing behind Bijan Robinson, who went eighth in the NFL Draft to the Atlanta Falcons. That did not stop Johnson from having 107 touches for 682 yards and six touchdowns at the University of Texas last year. The Bears liked Johnson enough to make him the 115th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Bears had the worst scoring defense in the NFL, an offensive line that needs upgrades, and an offense that needs more receiving weapons for Justin Fields. They thought enough of Johnson to take him in the fourth round, despite having both Herbert and Foreman on their roster. Herbert is only in his second year, and Foreman is on his fourth team in six seasons and has never had a 1,000-yard season. Johnson is a great flyer as the 52nd-ranked running back and 156th-ranked player.
Ford is exactly what you are looking for in a handcuff. Nick Chubb is one of the best running backs in the NFL. The Browns could have brought Kareem Hunt back, but they opted to let him become a free agent. They could have signed a free-agent running back, but they have not added a veteran yet. They could have drafted a running back in the 2023 NFL Draft, but they did not select one. All of that points to the Browns liking what they have in Ford. They would have made it a bigger priority to find a backup running back if they were not impressed with Ford.
Ford did not see a ton of touches last year. He had only eight touches for 12 yards as a rookie, as his main role was kick returner. Ford had 215 carries for 1,319 yards, 21 receptions for 220 yards, and 20 touchdowns in 2021 at the University of Cincinnati. Given what he showed in college and the Browns’ lack of urgency to add another running back, Ford is a great late-round pick as the 176th overall player and 59th-ranked running back.
Joe Mixon has had a great run with the Bengals. He has topped 1,400 yards from scrimmage in four of his last five seasons, and he has scored 46 touchdowns in those seasons. He has been the face of their running game, but the Bengals want him to take a pay cut, and if he does not agree to one, he could be looking at becoming a free agent before the start of the regular season. That means that Brown would be competing with Trayveon Williams for the starting gig.
Brown has a lot of upside in an offense led by Joe Burrow. Brown is coming off a season where he tallied 355 touches for 1,883 yards and 13 touchdowns at the University of Illinois. Williams has been with Cincinnati for four years. He had chances to shine when Mixon missed 10 games in 2020 and two games in 2022 with injuries. Williams has 55 touches for 302 yards and no touchdowns in four seasons with the Bengals. I think the smart money would be on Brown earning the bigger share of the timeshare if Mixon is released. Brown is a great value as the 60th-ranked running back and 190th overall player.
Bill Belichick loves running back by committees, and Strong Jr. is a good receiver and had a 4.37 second 40-yard dash time at the 2022 combine. New England Patriots beat writer Evan Lazar has written this offseason that Strong is on the “James White track” to playing time in 2023. Strong had only 17 touches last year, but if he has a James White role in 2023, he is going to be a steal as the 67th-ranked running back and 227th overall player.