We're in for a changing of the guard at the RB position soon. It may not come in 2023, necessarily, but we're going to have some new faces at the top of a position that has been dominated by the 2017 NFL Draft class for a while now.
That class famously featured two running backs, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, in the top 12, along Fantasy mainstays like Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, and more who have made up a disproportionate share of the high end of the position over the past six seasons. But that class is aging out: Fournette doesn't have a team as of right now; neither does Kareem Hunt, and Mixon and Cook are still cut candidates heading into the June 1 marker. And, of course, Kamara's lingering legal troubles seem likely to end in an suspension from the league at some point.
If you look at the consensus RB Rankings for the Fantasy Football Today team, you'll notice that the position is starting to get just a little old, at least by RB standards, where a recent piece by Mike Braude found that 85% of top-12 RB seasons happen between the ages of 22 and 28. McCaffrey turns 27 in a few weeks, Austin Ekeler is already 28, Nick Chubb turns 28 during the season, Derrick Henry is already 29, and Aaron Jones and Cook are 28. These guys are all closer to their last touchdown than their first, surely, and yes, as a soon-to-be 35-year-old, this whole discussion makes me feel impossibly old.
In yesterday's newsletter, I went through the updated QB rankings with the NFL Draft and free agency out of the way, but it's the other positions that are really going to be shaken up. Specifically running back, where we had two top-12 picks spent on running backs, which immediately puts Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs in the must-start discussion. Let's see where they fall, and how the position looks heading into the quiet part of the offseason.
RB Rankings Update
Let's start with how Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings are ranking the position:
There are no real surprises here at the top – Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler were the best players at the position last season, the only two to average 20 Fantasy points per game in PPR scoring. McCaffrey is going to be the consensus No. 1 back and probably the No. 2 pick in most leagues, but I do have at least some concerns. The 49ers offense has a lot of questions with Brock Purdy coming back from elbow surgery, and they've got an awful lot of mouths to feed. That wasn't an issue for the most part last season, though in the four games where Elijah Mitchell was active alongside McCaffrey last season, McCaffrey's per-game scoring dropped to 15.3 PPR points per game – he was at 22.7 per game in his 13 other games after the trade (not counting the short week after he was acquired). I think McCaffrey is a lock to be a No. 1 RB, but I'm just a teeny-tiny bit concerned about his chances of being the No. 1 back.
Ekeler's trade request is hanging over him this offseason, but nobody really seems to expect him to be moved, so he'll return to a high-volume offense where he should be in line for 200-ish carries and 100-ish targets. He's right at the age where running backs tend to fall off, and if we start to hear that he might hold out for a new deal, he could move down, but for now, he remains a contender for the No. 1 pick.
There are questions here about both, though not enough to really push Saquon Barkley into the discussion with them. Barkley had an awesome 2022, raking up 1,650 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 16 games, and it's not unreasonable to think he could improve on those numbers if the Giants offense gets better; it's also worth noting that after he averaged 19.98 PPR points per game in his first nine games a year ago, he fell to 15.8 over the final nine, including the playoffs. He just may not be that elite playmaker anymore.
I'll take Jonathan Taylor over Barkley, personally, and it's worth noting that, while the consensus has Barkley ahead of Taylor, it's a difference of Barkley being ranked seventh in the overall consensus while Taylor is eighth. I'm not 100% convinced Anthony Richardson is going to be an automatic improvement for the Colts offense, but I do think he should be pretty good for Taylor's Fantasy value – running quarterbacks tend to help their running back's efficiency. Taylor probably won't see many targets from the mobile Richardson, but that's never been what made him a great Fantasy option – it was always about Taylor's explosiveness as a runner, and Richardson could help him get back to being a super-efficient runner. I'm not projecting a return to 2021 production, but I've got him clear of Barkley as my No. 3 RB.
I've got Josh Jacobs as my No. 5 back, but I can't exactly argue with having Bijan Robinson there. The Falcons made him the No. 8 pick in the draft with the intention of making him the focal point of their offense, and it's an offense that just saw Tyler Allgeier put together a 1,300-yard pace over the final nine games of last season. Robinson is a pretty solid bet for 300-plus touches and could challenge for the No. 1 RB spot.
Of course, Jacobs just had a 2,000-total yard season while leading the league in touches, so we're kind of hoping Robinson does what Jacobs just did last season. It's reasonable to not expect a repeat performance from Jacobs, but I see no reason to think the Raiders are going to go away from him, either. He's about as good a bet for 300-plus touches as anyone, and this offense probably won't be much worse than it was a year ago. Jacobs feels like a pretty safe Round 1 pick to me.
It feels like there's probably a dropoff after Jacobs, especially with Tony Pollard coming off foot and ankle surgeries. He could absolutely crack the top-six, but it feels like there's just enough risk there to group him with Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry. Speaking of Henry, this might actually be the first year where I'm at least as high on him as the consensus – he's my RB8. Yes, he'll be 30, and yes, there's been a dip in his play of late. However, he also finished last season as RB4 in per-game scoring, 1.4 points per game clear of Barkley. The bottom could fall out, but it hasn't happened yet, and if he makes it to the second round, I don't mind taking the chance.
I think the most interesting player in the top 12 at the position might be Rhamondre Stevenson. He slowed down just a bit toward the end of the season, but he also finished as RB12 in per-game scoring in 2022 despite just six touchdowns – accounting for non-touchdown production, and he was the No. 8 RB last season. With Damien Harris out of the picture and the Patriots offense hopefully better equipped than they were a year ago now that they actually have an offensive coordinator, it's not unreasonable to think Stevenson takes another step forward. He'll be one of my favorite targets at the position.
The question for Travis Etienne is whether he can work his way into a bigger role in the passing game. We kind of kept waiting for it to happen during his rookie season, but he ended up with zero games of more than three receptions. He was an efficient and explosive runner, but even after he became the starter for the Jaguars, his per-game average of 14.0 PPR points per game was pretty underwhelming. The Jaguars offense could take a step forward, and I'd bet on Etienne improving on last year's five touchdowns either way, but unless he unlocks a bigger receiving role, I think he's more likely to just be a fringe RB1, not someone who actually helps you win a Fantasy championship.
Here's where those top-12 backs fall in the overall consensus ranks, by the way:
- Christian McCaffrey, SF -- OVR: 3
- Austin Ekeler, LAC -- OVR: 6
- Saquon Barkley, NYG -- OVR: 7
- Jonathan Taylor, IND -- OVR: 8
- Bijan Robinson, ATL -- OVR: 10
- Josh Jacobs, LV -- OVR: 12
- Tony Pollard, DAL -- OVR: 15
- Derrick Henry, TEN -- OVR: 16
- Nick Chubb, CLE -- OVR: 19
- Rhamondre Stevenson, NE -- OVR: 24
- Aaron Jones, GB -- OVR: 29
- Travis Etienne, JAX -- OVR: 30
And it's worth noting that, while I'm splitting these backs up into groups of 12, there's basically no difference between how we have the bottom of the top-12 and the top of the top-24 ranked:
Here's where those first five rank overall:
There's a pretty big tier running from RB11, Aaron Jones, to RB17, Miles Sanders, with just seven spots separating them in the overall ranks. Which is to say, if you prefer Sanders to Jones, you should probably just take Sanders.
The two guys who could move a lot rather quickly among this group are Hall and Mixon. If Mixon returns to the Bengals, he's going to be a must-start Fantasy RB just because of the value of that role in the Bengals offense – the starting running back for the Bengals combined for 248 carries and 89 targets last season. It increasingly looks like Mixon will be back, so he'll probably end up ranked higher than this come the summer, even if we're not entirely sure at this point if he's much better than an average player.
In Hall's case, it all comes down to how he's recovering from his torn ACL. The most recent thing we heard was that he's "expected to be ready for Week 1," and if that holds true, you're going to see him make a big leap up the rankings, because Hall looked like the total package before the injury.
He was making plays in the passing game and consistently breaking off big runs, which is the kind of combination that makes for a potentially elite Fantasy option. It's fair to question just how good the Jets offense will be after Aaron Rodgers looked kind of washed up last season, but it would be hard to be worse than what they got last season when they finished 29th in scoring. Hall has the skills to be the No. 1 RB in Fantasy this time next year, and the biggest question is simply how he recovers from a serious knee injury.
There's a nice little tier drop after that, and the next tier is pretty large:
18. Dalvin Cook, MIN -- OVR: 46
19. Jahmyr Gibbs, DET -- OVR: 48
20. Kenneth Walker III, SEA -- OVR: 50
21. Rachaad White, TB -- OVR: 51
22. J.K. Dobbins, BAL -- OVR: 52
23. James Conner, ARI -- OVR: 56
24. David Montgomery, DET -- OVR: 57
25. Cam Akers, LAR -- OVR: 60
We are deep into the RB Dead Zone by this point, and you can feel it. You've got an RB who seems likely to be cut (Cook) and both parts of a committee (Gibbs, Montgomery). You've got a couple of backs who might not be very good and are in terrible offenses (White, Conner, Akers) and a couple of backs we think are good but who don't really catch passes and might not get a work-load role as runners (Walker, Dobbins).
It's not a bad group, necessarily, but there are a lot of ways things could go wrong for a lot of those backs, and not necessarily a ton of paths to huge upside. I think my favorites are probably Gibbs – his pass-catching potential could be huge even in a timeshare with Montgomery – Dobbins, and Conner. The latter two seem like relatively high-floor players with locked-in roles, but they could unlock some upside too – Dobbins if the Ravens go with less of a committee in the post-Greg Roman era, while Conner could be a top-12 back if Kyler Murray gets back healthy relatively quickly and that Cardinals offense is better than we expect.
And, let's take a look at the RB3 range in the rankings:
We don't have to spend too much time on this group, but I will say that Javonte Williams obviously carries some pretty significant upside if he's ready to go by Week 1, though that is a big question mark coming back from a knee injury that required the repair of multiple ligaments. We'll know more as we get closer to training camp, and it's very unlikely he'll actually be ranked in this range by then – he'll move up a lot if he's on track for the start of the season.
My other favorite option in this range is probably D'Andre Swift now that he's in Philadelphia. I don't actually love the landing spot, given the competition for goal-line touches, Philadelphia's likely desire to use multiple backs, and the fact that Jalen Hurts probably isn't going to throw to his backs very often. Swift feels like a solid RB2 with high weekly upside, but not necessarily someone who has RB1 upside in this offense.
There's your consensus top-36 RB rankings in the aftermath of free agency and the NFL Draft, from Dave, Jamey, and Heath. Below, you'll find my full updated rankings for the position:
Chris' RB Rankings
- Christian McCaffrey
- Austin Ekeler
- Jonathan Taylor
- Saquon Barkley
- Josh Jacobs
- Bijan Robinson
- Tony Pollard
- Derrick Henry
- Rhamondre Stevenson
- Nick Chubb
- Travis Etienne
- Aaron Jones
- Joe Mixon
- Breece Hall
- Miles Sanders
- Dalvin Cook
- Najee Harris
- Kenneth Walker
- Dameon Pierce
- JK Dobbins
- James Conner
- Javonte Williams
- D'Andre Swift
- David Montgomery
- Jahmyr Gibbs
- Rachaad White
- Alvin Kamara
- Isiah Pacheco
- Cam Akers
- Alexander Mattison
- Khalil Herbert
- AJ Dillon
- Brian Robinson Jr.
- Zach Charbonnet
- Devone Achane
- Raheem Mostert
- Jamaal Williams
- James Cook
- Antonio Gibson
- Samaje Perine
- Jeff Wilson
- Devin Singletary
- Jeric McKinnon
- Chase Edmonds
- Chuba Hubbard
- Malik Davis
- Elijah Mitchell
- Damien Harris