11) Bijan Robinson
If I hadn’t gotten antsy and made my top-10 RB list before the draft, Bijan Robinson would have undoubtedly cracked it.
He was the top running back in this season’s draft, and after Atlanta drafted him eighth overall, you know they’ll be relying heavily on the rookie in 2023.
After all, they were previously relying on a guy wearing #84 who had been a gadget and special teams player his entire career to be their RB.
TOUCHDOWN NUMBER THREE FOR BIJAN ROBINSON ???? ???? pic.twitter.com/khvJyRqk63
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 16, 2021
In addition, the Falcons ran the ball like they were the Baltimore Ravens last season, and you can expect them to do much of the same to take the pressure off their questionable and unproven passing game.
Robinson is more than capable of handling the load, as evidenced by the fact that he was 10th among all college backs in total scrimmage plays in 2022 (per Sports Reference).
Last season, among all NCAA RBs, Robinson was:
- 2nd in total scrimmage yards
- Tied for 2nd in total TDs
- 6th in rushing yards
- Tied for 5th in rushing touchdowns
- 1st in yards per carry among all RBs with 240+ carries (per Sports Reference)
- 8th in yards per catch
- 10th in receiving yards (despite being 73rd in catches with only 19, per Sports Reference)
Bijan Robinson scores from 40+ yards out after a nasty cut at the second level!
— Hudson Standish (@247Hudson) September 18, 2022
Bijan Robinson is a pure three-down, do-it-all back who might be the best RB to come out of Texas since Ricky Williams.
Robinson can run right through any defender’s chest or make a quick cut to crumple almost any opponent to their knees.
Check out this play from last season that should have been stopped for a two-yard loss, which Robinson instead turned into a touchdown – courtesy of his awe-inspiring acceleration and agility:
Not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR touchdowns for Bijan Robinson today! pic.twitter.com/nqRMuqy9TS
— PlayerProfiler College (@Profiler_CFB) November 19, 2022
Robinson has prolific quickness and awareness in tight spaces, and is a scout’s dream in terms of his decision making and the way he runs behind his pads.
Again, the fact that the Falcons run the tits out of the ball and have an unproven passing game creates a situation where they almost have to rely on the highly-drafted Robinson, bolstering his fantasy stock like he’s NVIDIA and the Falcons are groveling for his A.I. technology like it’s oxygen in their lungs.
In 2022, the Falcons were 1st in total rush attempts, 3rd in rush yards, 10th in rush TDs, and ran the ball on 1st down the 6th-most of any team (per NFL.com).
12) Jahmyr Gibbs
Much like Bijan Robinson, the Lions’ draft investment in Jahmyr Gibbs’ (picked 12th overall) and the composition of his new team (Jamaal Williams and Swift both gone) virtually guarantees that he’ll at least receive top-15 volume in his rookie year.
Gibbs’ trademark is definitely his explosiveness, as he seemingly requires almost zero space or momentum to hit his top speed and leave hapless defenders in the dust.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 17, 2022
This leaves his coaches salivating over how to get him the rock, and that will likely be the case in Detroit to with his versatility as Gibbs grabbed the 5th-most passes of all NCAA RBs, was 3rd among NCAA RBs in receiving yards and tied for 2nd in receiving TDs, and was 13th among all college backs in average yards from scrimmage per touch in 2022 (per Sports Reference).
With Gibbs’ ridiculous sub-4.4 speed, all he needs is good blocking to hit his home run balls – which the Lions have proven their offensive line can provide the opportunity for in spades.
Jahmyr Gibbs goes off again and then hits them with the "Night, Night." pic.twitter.com/u3hN9uu6Ze
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 1, 2022
The Lions have one of the best run-blocking lines in the NFL, and last season they scored the 3rd-most rushing TDs, ran for the 11th-most yards, and were 3rd in total scoring – trailing only the Chiefs and the Eagles.
While Gibbs will have to fend off David Montgomery for touches, you can have faith that a Lions organization that was incredibly excited to draft the blazing-fast back will at least eventually favor the younger, shiftier player with the heavier investment.
— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2023
13) Travis Etienne Jr.
With James Robinson gone for good, Etienne finally got a chance to show NFL fans why he was a key piece of Clemson’s championship runs, with a breakout season coming off a major injury.
A dynamic, young, versatile back who offers value on every down, Etienne is a key cog in the Jaguars’ offensive machine. Much like Gibbs, Etienne is a home run threat every time he touches the ball, and his unique pace and balance allows him to sprint through arm tackles with ease.
Furthermore, he will finally get a full healthy offseason under his belt entrenched as the Jags’ starter, which should only improve his feel of the offense and chemistry with Trevor Lawrence.
— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2022
It’s worth noting that under a new coaching staff, Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars made a massive leap from laughable to competent last season, as the Jacksonville was 11th in total scoring in 2022.
Despite never getting more than 13 carries until Week 7, Etienne achieved the following statistics among last year’s RB crop:
- 2nd to only Nick Chubb in Rush Yards Over Expected
- 4th in Rush Yards Over Expected Per Attempt (per Next Gen Stats)
- 8th in rushing yards
- 8th in yards per carry (per ESPN)
- Tied for 9th in carries for 20+ yards
- 11th in total snaps
- Tied for 15th in carries resulting in 1st downs
- 15th in receiving yards
- 14th in YAC (per ESPN)
- 13th in carries
- 17th in total fantasy points
- Tied for 20th in rushing TDs
- 22nd in targets
TRAVIS ETIENNE GOES 62-YARDS TO THE HOUSE ????
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) January 1, 2023
Despite the Jaguars being extremely cautious with Travis Etienne’s workload for the first half of the season (never got more than 13 carries until his 7th game), he still broke 1,000 yards, and his yards per carry ranked ninth while his yards per target ranked fourth among RBs.
Another factor that helps Etienne’s fantasy value is the fact that his talent level is so high that the Jaguars know he can be used as anything from a third-down back to a goal-line bruiser, and his TDs should improve next season.
TRAVIS ETIENNE IS HAVING HIMSELF A DAY ????
He has the Jags up late in the 4th.
— ESPN (@espn) October 30, 2022
After Week 7, Etienne broke the 100-yard mark in 45% of his remaining games and had at least three targets in 64% of his remaining games.
While the Jaguars did draft an RB in the 3rd round this offseason, Etienne enthusiasts should not be deterred. It’s hard to hate on a player who missed his entire rookie season just to put up 1,400 total yards in his first season back.
Looking for one final Etienne stat to put any doubts aside? In his first season coming off a major injury, he was clocked as the NFL’s 8th-fastest ball carrier in 2022 according to Next Gen Stats.
14) Breece Hall
Like showing up to a McDonalds high as kite at 3am just for them to tell you the ice cream machine is broken, Breece Hall tearing his ACL in Week 7 was unfortunate to say the least.
The 2022 second-round pick started the season splitting times with previously-hyped Jets RB Michael Carter before taking over on the majority of downs, going for five consecutive top-15 fantasy weeks prior to the injury.
Breece Hall does it again! ???? @BreeceH
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2022
If he had been able to finish his rookie season, he likely would have finished among the top-10 RBs in fantasy scoring considering he was RB8 on the season and was clocked as the NFL’s 3rd-fastest ball carrier at 21.87 MPH (per Next Gen Stats).
Breece Hall also had two games with double-digit targets in his short six weeks healthy and was sixth at RB in fantasy points through Week 6. He finished second among last season’s RBs in both yards per carry and yards per reception.
Breece Hall going, going, gone! @BreeceH
— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2022
In the three games that Hall was available to receive the full workload (at least 10 carries), he had 75+ total yards in all his games, scored a TD in every game, and had at least two catches.
The Jets were pretty horrendous offensively last season and don’t have many offensive statistics to tout, but the upgrade of Aaron Rodgers over Zach Wilson is like using a dishwasher after washing dishes by hand for the last year.
Watch Breece once, then the defender once… Wicked cut ???? pic.twitter.com/YcAQ9l76MP
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 14, 2022
The Jets do also have an at least decent offensive line as they were 12th in rushing yards before contact per attempt (per Pro Football Reference), and have the offensive weapons on the outside (Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore) to prevent teams from constantly stacking the box against them.
15) Joe Mixon
Joe Mixon heads into 2023 Perine-less and the undisputed feature back in one of the NFL’s top offenses.
While I’m not significantly optimistic (as evidenced by his ranking here) considering the Bengals’ growing passing game, Joe Burrow’s play, and possibly the best trio of receivers in the league, Mixon’s 2022 numbers were unignorable and he finished (among RBs):
- 6th in fantasy points per game
- 10th in total fantasy points (despite missing 3 games)
- 5th in receptions
- 6th in receiving yards
- 7th in targets
- 11th in snap % (per FantasyPros)
- Tied for 14th in rushing touchdowns
- 17th in carries
- 26th in rushing yards
- 27th in broken tackles (per Pro Football Reference)
The fact that Mixon is such a capable receiver is incredibly useful for this Bengals offense as Joe Burrow is growing every season and passing lanes are becoming more open for everyone.
Furthermore, the Bengals offense is becoming more productive every season and can now be considered in elite status, as Cincinnati cracked the top-10 in scoring last season.
As a young, mostly-healthy core, the entire Bengals team should take another significant step forward in 2023.
16) Najee Harris
Najee Harris had a significant reduction in volume and production last season, disappointing many fantasy owners who spent first round picks on the young, promising back.
In a relatively stagnant Pittsburgh offense lead by Kenny Pickett who’s still clearly growing as he’s entering just his second NFL season, Harris might not have many scoring opportunities in 2023 and will likely rely on volume over production once again.
Although, the bottom line is that Harris will receive top-15 volume in both the rushing and receiving department, is entering just his third season, and has the size, speed, strength, durability, and break-tackle ability to continue being an every-down back.
In 2022, Harris managed to start all 17 games and achieved these impressive stats among RBs:
- 15th in total fantasy points
- 20th in fantasy PPG
- 5th in carries
- 14th in rushing yards
- Tied for 14th in rushing TDs
- 15th in receptions
- Tied for 7th in rushing TDs
- 18th in targets
- 5th in efficiency (per Next Gen Stats)
- 9th in rush attempts per broken tackle (per Pro Football Reference)
- 7th in broken tackles
- 9th in yards after contact
Harris averaged over three targets per game, had at least eight carries in every game, caught at least two passes in 65% of his games, and had 70+ scrimmage yards in 59% of his games.
While the Steelers were relatively inefficient as an offense and were 5th-worst in total scoring and 8th-worst in yards per carry, the fact that the young Kenny Pickett needs to lean on the running game works in Najee Harris’ favor.
Despite being so unproductive, the Steelers at least did run the ball the 11th-most of any team on first down in 2022, had the 10th-most rushing attempts, and were 14th in rush yards before contact (per Pro Football Reference).
Harris leads the NFL with 694 touches since entering the NFL and has scored double-digit TDs in both years, and he’ll likely receive similar volume once again next season.
That volume alone combined with a full healthy season would land Harris in easy top-20 RB territory.
17) Dameon Pierce
Dameon Pierce was impressive to say the least in his rookie season. Unfortunately, much like Breece Hall it was cut short as a devastating ankle injury caused Pierce to miss his final four games.
In the face of potential durability concerns at such a young age, Pierce did show last season that he’s a tenacious, relentless rusher who keeps his feet churning with a determination that relishes contact.
Pierce has no shortage of tricks in his running back bag to pull from either, as he shows a willingness to use everything from his shoulder pads to his quick spins and hesitation moves to shake defenders with ease.
Prior to losing the rest of his season, Pierce was fantasy’s RB14 by PRK prior to missing his final weeks.
Additionally, despite missing essentially a quarter of the season Pierce still managed to achieve some splendid stats among 2022 RBs including:
- 14th in carries
- 16th in rushing yards
- 5th in yards after contact (per Pro Football Reference)
- 6th in yards after contact per attempt
- 4th in broken tackles
- 7th in rushing yards per game
- 3rd in rush attempts per broken tackle – trailing only Lamar and Jonathan Taylor
- Tied for 12th in carries for 20 yards or more (per ESPN) and tied for 12th in carries resulting in first downs
- 20th in Rush Yards Over Expected (per Next Gen Stats)
- 21st in fantasy PPG
- 27th in receptions
The Texans were an offensive disaster last season (5th-worst in total scoring and 2nd-worst in rushing yards), but you have to expect after the improvements they made over the offseason in addition to drafting C.J. Stroud will levitate this offense at least a little.
Shaq Mason and Laremy Tunsil are solid anchors for the offensive line as well, and if the Texans can improve their offensive line play by even 10% around those two pieces then they’ll have a much easier time run blocking in 2023.
Considering it was “only” in ankle injury, Dameon Pierce should be healthy for the 2023 season, and he will also likely receive top-15 volume as one of the few offensive bright spots that can take pressure off rookie C.J. Stroud, on a team relatively devoid of offensive playmakers.
18) Aaron Jones
Despite the fact that the Aaron Rodgers-less revolution in Green Bay will likely result in some offensive inefficiencies at least in the short term, Jones’ 2022 numbers are unignorable and the cheese heads will likely have to rely on Jones even more in 2023.
Besides, he did just finish top-10 in total fantasy points among RBs in addition to accruing these impressive figures among 2022 backs:
- 12th in fantasy PPG
- 9th in total fantasy points
- 8th in yards after contact (per Pro Football Reference)
- 7th in yards after contact per attempt
- 12th in broken tackles
- 16th in rush attempts per broken tackle
- 8th in targets
- 10th in receiving yards
- 6th in receptions
- 9th in rushing yards
- Tied for 2nd in receiving TDs – trailing only Jerick McKinnon
- 10th in Rush Yards Over Expected (per Next Gen Stats)
- 12th in Rush Yards Over Expected per attempt
- Tied for 17th in carries for 20+ yards
- 16th in total snaps
- Tied for 12th in carries resulting in 1st downs
- Tied for 2nd in receiving TDs – trailing only Jerick McKinnon
- 15th in carries
— NFL (@NFL) September 19, 2022
Aaron Jones is a dependable receiver, between-the-tackles rusher, and home run hitter wrapped up into one supremely sensational running back.
With Aaron Rodgers, Allen Lazard, and Randall Cobb gone, the Packers’ offensive pieces would seemingly give Green Bay coaches no choice but to wear Jones down as much as they possibly can to take the pressure off Jordan Love – especially since they also have A.J. Dillon eagerly and readily awaiting the call up.
Aaron Jones hit the Marshawn Lynch celebration on his TD run ????
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 13, 2022
Jones is definitely in “buyer beware” territory however as A.J. Dillon is eating more and more of his work every year, and the Packers’ offense wasn’t great in 2022 even with Rodgers.
After all, in 2022 the Packers ranked outside of the top-10 in virtually every significant offensive statistic last season and were 6th-worst in rushing TDs, 16th in rushing yards before contact, and Aaron Jones only scored two rushing touchdowns.
19) Alexander Mattison
With the Dalvin Cook release now finally officially official, it is Alexander Mattison who is set to take lead-back duties in one of the league’s top offenses in Minnesota.
Regardless of how talented Mattison is or isn’t, it shouldn’t matter as long as Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson are healthy – and as long as Mattison maintains his stranglehold on RB1 duties.
ALEXANDER MATTISON ????
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 28, 2021
Last season, the Vikings were 7th in total scoring and 6th in total scrimmage plays, including some offensive performances for the ages along the way.
For his part, Mattison has done his job when he’s been subbed in for Cook the majority of his fill-ins in the past. Throughout the four games Cook was injured in 2021, Mattison led the NFL in touches, rushing yards, and fantasy points over that span.
Over his last four starts, Mattison has averaged 23.5 carries, five targets, 4.75 receptions, 148.25 Yards From Scrimmage, one TD, and 25.1 PPR points per game.
Plus, Mattison did average 5.4 yards per carry and score twice during the one game in 2022 that he received 10 carries.
Alexander Mattison will finish as the RB ___ this season ???????? pic.twitter.com/D50PhnvyCQ
— Sleeper (@SleeperHQ) June 8, 2023
The funny thing is Mattison has much of Cook’s same skillset, as both backs are tough runners up the middle while possessing the speed to work outside and take it to the house at will.
At 25 years-old without the normal wear-and-tear a normal 25-year-old NFL RB would have due to his career backup role to Cook, Mattison should be at the current peak of his physical prime, so a full season as RB1 will be at the very least be interesting to see if Mattison can deliver, and I expect he will.
20) D’Andre Swift
Swift’s ability to plant his foot in the ground and sprint straight to the endzone is unlike any other player on this list.
While the term “home run hitter” can certainly be used for other RBs on this list, Swift is the very definition of one.
His spectacular speed and ability to make defenders miss in space are beautiful sights to behold for any football fan, and a healthy 2023 season behind Philadelphia’s elite offensive line should be genuinely fun to watch.
D'Andre Swift is expected to be traded at some point today. Eagles have 4 picks on Day 3 and ten picks in 2024 at their disposal. pic.twitter.com/LQusU4H30B
— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) April 29, 2023
Despite getting inconsistent snaps in the 14 games he did play in 2022 and surrendering nearly all goal-line snaps to Jamaal Williams, Swift still outscored Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Dameon Pierce, Miles Sanders, Travis Etienne, and Kenneth Walker III on a fantasy PPG basis as he ranked 16th among last year’s RBs in fantasy PPG (per ESPN).
Among 2022 backs, Swift also ranked:
- 3rd in YPC among all RBs with 90+ carries with 5.5 (per Next Gen Stats)
- Tied for 7th in receiving TDs
- 11th in receiving yards
- 12th in receptions
- 10th in targets
- 21st in total points
- 26th in rush yards over expected per attempt (per Next Gen Stats)
D'Andre Swift breaks loose for 51 yards on the second play! @DAndreSwift
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
It will be interesting to see what Swift does on a team surrounded by competence for once in his life, as Philly’s offense overall – and team – is miles away from Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions.
The Eagles were 6th in rushing yards last season, 1st in rushing TDs (by 6), 2nd in total first down rushes (per Pro Football Reference), 3rd in rushing yards before contact (YBC), 4th in YBC per attempt, and were 2nd in total scoring to only the Chiefs.
If you’re looking for the tipping point for your Swift confirmation bias in 2023, consider this: Swift was 10th among not just all RBs – but all players – in 2022 scrimmage yards per touch (per Pro Football Reference), trailing Justin Fields and Lamar Jackson in 8th and 9th place.