The NFL running back landscape changes every year. Everyone knows that. But this spring, it’s got the chance to change radically.
Not only are the free agent running backs hitting the street among the best players at their position, but the 2023 NFL Draft is chock full of fine young talent.
It’s a perfect storm for teams like the Dolphins or Panthers, both of whom don’t currently have a lot of capital at the position. It also offers a chance to reboot a run game for teams that wish to move on from older veterans, like the Bears, Bengals, Vikings, Cardinals and Saints might. The Giants and Raiders qualify for this category if they so choose to move on from their starters.
You get the point: As many as 20! NFL teams may opt to reshape their RB room this offseason, leading to some incredible changes in Fantasy values for the position.
Here are the veterans you need to know about
NYG • RB • #26
Barkley figures to be a sure-fire Fantasy stud pretty much wherever he plays, though it’s assumed the Giants will do everything in their power to keep him. We’ve seen him struggle behind iffy offensive lines before, and we’ve certainly not forgotten his injury history. Any contending team with a capable offensive line and a playcaller with dreams of targeting his running back would be perfect for Barkley. Unless he ends up in a disappointing landing spot, figure Barkley will be a first-round pick between sixth and 12th overall.
LV • RB • #28
Jacobs was franchised, all but ensuring he’ll stay in Vegas in 2023. There’s going to be some skepticism with Jacobs, though. He led the league in rushing and put up an unreal 19.3 Fantasy points in the final year of his rookie deal. Before then, he had back-to-back-to-back seasons with just over 14 PPR points per game and anywhere from 1,200 to 1,316 yards. Some good touchdown production, too. That’s good enough to call him a top-15 back, but it’ll be tough to anoint him as a top-5 choice. Perhaps he’ll be motivated for a pay day again this year since the franchise tag guarantees one year, but that won’t push his Fantasy draft stock. He’s expected to be taken after 20th overall, potentially closer to 30th overall.
DAL • RB • #20
The Cowboys loved getting nearly 1,400 total yards and 12 touchdowns out of Pollard, and Fantasy managers enjoyed 15.6 PPR points per game. He has since been franchise-tagged, a signal that the Cowboys intend to utilize him as much if not more in 2023. He averaged 14.5 touches per game last year — any bump from there would be huge. Ditto that for his snap counts, which were under 60% in all but two games. He needs to be a clear-cut lead back for an offense to have a shot of being taken as a top-15 pick. Until then, he’s in that Round 2/Round 3 wheelhouse.
CHI • RB • #32
Montgomery has over 1,000 touches through four seasons in Chicago with just six games missed. He’s proven to be a stable workhorse with good receiving numbers and the make-up to be a great short-yardage back. The clock’s ticking on how much longer he’ll be effective in the league, and there are definitely questions about his explosiveness, but he may very well be the perfect combination of reliable, physical and affordable for any team looking for a short-term fix.
PHI • RB • #26
All Sanders has done through four NFL seasons is average 5.0 yards per carry. All Sanders did in 2022 was help generate rushing production for the NFC-champion Eagles with 11 touchdowns in 17 games. Yet he might be left to graze the open market as a second-tier free-agent running back because he’ll be 26 years old with a reputation of being injury-prone and one-dimensional (just 20 catches last year). Ideally he’d be a lead back somewhere, but it’s more likely Sanders will share the rushing workload no matter which team signs him. No one was really excited to take him in 2022 Fantasy drafts but they sure were happy with his final numbers (12.7 PPR points per game was good enough to finish top-24). The same thing could happen in 2023.
Damien Harris: Injuries have been the primary downfall for the Patriots run-down grinder with a surprisingly strong 4.7 yard-per-carry average. The 26-year-old is the very definition of a late-round sleeper, provided he lands with a team willing that won’t sleep much on him.
Leonard Fournette: Still offers veteran know-how and third-down skills. He’ll be in a spot where taking him with a pick after Round 7 makes sense.
Devin Singletary: When he played, Singletary wasn’t too bad. He’s got solid hands, solid speed and juke moves to buy him extra yards. Expect to draft him late.
Kareem Hunt: The one-time first-round Fantasy darling probably isn’t going to be a feature back again unless injuries push him into such a role. But he’s displayed good hands and red-zone success with the Browns and could easily be a backfield mate who swipes 12 touches every Sunday.
Jamaal Williams: It’s hard to see him thrusting his hips for any team other than Detroit. They made a champ out of him just by making him a part-time grinder and a full-time touchdown scorer. He’ll be bench depth no matter where he lands.
The landing spots
The Dolphins’ cupboard is bare! Aside from Salvon Ahmed, they’ve got no one at running back. Expect them to pick up a one-cut runner at a discount in free agency and another in the draft. Their most talented RB will be chased heavily in Fantasy.
The Panthers traded Christian McCaffrey and got by on D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard for the rest of 2022. Hubbard remains but there’s otherwise a clear landing spot for a running back to go and thrive under new coach Frank Reich.
Da Bears can become da bomb on the ground if they find a speedster to match Justin Fields‘ rushing attack. They already have Khalil Herbert but pairing him with another roadrunner could make things troubling for opposing defenses.
The Bengals haven’t committed to Joe Mixon as their running back for 2023. If they pivot off him then their new lead back could be amazing. Imagine this offense with Saquon Barkley or Bijan Robinson.
Is this the year the Vikings put Dalvin Cook into a smaller role — or off their roster? He seemed to decline in 2022. This offense has already taken a step forward under head coach Kevin O’Connell, they could do it again with a fresher running back in the middle of their huddle.
Cam Akers finally looked like his old college self toward the end of last season, but before that he looked like toast. He was also nearly dumped from the Rams. His contract is cheap but that might not be enough of a reason for Sean McVay to lean on him as his main RB again.