1) Christian McCaffrey
While Ekeler was the #1-scoring RB last season, one can anticipate that the crown will likely go to McCaffrey with a full offseason under CMC’s belt in San Francisco.
Furthermore, I hate to admit it but Kyle Shanahan’s running scheme is an absolute perfect fit for McCaffrey, and I’m excited to see a full season of him in San Fran.
The 49ers have shown the ability to get virtually any running back they plug in going (see Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Surmon, Raheem Mostert, etc.), so finally having one of the most-talented players in the league to plug into that spot should yield massive rewards for both the 49er offense and McCaffrey.
McCaffrey has the speed to take any well-blocked run to the house, the power to shake off defensive lineman and DBs alike, and the short-area quickness to crumple any defender like they’ve been sniped by an expert marksman.
Brock Purdy ➡️ Christian McCaffrey
— Coach Yac ???? (@Coach_Yac) January 8, 2023
McCaffrey’s combination of skills resulted in the following accolades among running backs in 2022 despite being traded mid-season:
- 7th in rushing yards
- Tied for 5th in rushes for 20+ yards
- 9th in carries
- Tied for 7th in rushing TDs
- 2nd in receptions and targets to only Ekeler
- 1st in receiving yards
- Tied for 2nd in receiving TDs
Finally, McCaffrey’s volume could end up being the best in the league next year, as despite learning multiple playbooks he managed the 3rd-highest snap percentage of any 2022 RB as he was on the field for 73% of his team’s snaps (per FantasyPros).
Once he was acquired by San Francisco, McCaffrey averaged 14.5 carries and 5.6 targets per game, and his dual-threat usage should only increase in Year 2 on the 49ers.
First @CMC_22 touchdown catch in the red and gold ????
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 30, 2022
McCaffrey’s volume should remain productive too, considering the 49ers were the NFL’s 6th-highest scoring offense.
Additionally, since the 49ers also have George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk, teams can’t load the box and focus on stopping CMC each week, leaving defensive coordinators scratching their heads when game-planning against this offense.
2) Austin Ekeler
As fantasy’s top-scoring running back last season, you can’t go wrong picking Austin Ekeler in this season’s draft.
He’s essentially tied with McCaffrey for the best receiving back in the league title, and his awareness, vision, and surprising strength are sights to behold for any football fan.
Ekeler’s jukes and relentlessness proved difficult for defenders of all shapes and sizes in 2022.
Check out his impressive ranks among 2022 RBs:
- 1st in PPR scoring
- Tied for 2nd in rushing TDs
- 1st in receptions and targets
- 2nd in receiving yards
- Tied for 2nd in receiving TDs
- 16th in rushing yards
Like CMC, Ekeler is surrounded by an abundance of talent which bolsters his fantasy stock.
Our fantasy hero Austin Ekeler is officially back ???? pic.twitter.com/Q7gwlxgDxL
— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLFantasy) October 2, 2022
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are both Pro-Bowl talents, and Allen has been an All-Pro in his own right for nearly a decade.
Throw in Josh Palmer and defenses can’t possibly thinking about creeping a safety down into the box for run support with the Chargers’ myriad of outside talent.
Justin Herbert is also one of the most-talented quarterbacks in the league at this point, so being possibly the best receiving back in the league is an especially valuable skillset in the Chargers’ offense.
Ekeler saw plenty of volume to go along with his impressive stat totals as his 763 total snaps ranked 6th among all backs.
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2023
Impressively, Ekeler also finished the season better than he started, and showed no signs of slowing down towards the back half of the season despite his insane workload.
In the final eight weeks of Ekeler’s season, he never finished with fewer than 70 total yards in a game, averaged five catches per game, and scored eight total TDs.
3) Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry slides in at the number three slot on this list as a result of rebounding from injury to finish 4th among all RBs in fantasy points and making a monumental step forward in terms of his receptions and receiving skillset.
It would likely surprise many fantasy enthusiasts to learn that Derrick Henry had more receiving yards than Saquon Barkley, Aaron Jones, Najee Harris, D’Andre Swift, Tony Pollard, Dalvin Cook, and Nick Chubb considering how Henry’s receiving numbers usually shake out.
Derrick Henry's best plays from Week 3 vs. Raiders #LVvsTEN
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) September 26, 2022
Henry’s impressive passing-game jump aside, he ran with his usual gusto last season, leaving countless helpless and terrified defenders in his wake.
The Titans’ offense is completely built around Henry now more than ever with A.J. Brown gone, and Henry showed his injury two seasons ago was indeed a fluke as he was more than capable of shouldering possibly the highest total offensive load of any player on this list.
In fact, Henry led all RBs in carries last season while cracking the top-10 in receiving yards among RBs.
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2022
In addition to cracking the top-5 in fantasy scoring among RBs, Henry finished the 2022 season with the following RB ranks:
- 2nd in rushing yards
- 1st in carries
- 2nd in rushes for 20+ yards
- Tied for 2nd in rushing TDs
- 9th in receiving yards
- Tied for 4th in carries for 1st downs (per ESPN)
- 4th in total fantasy points
Derrick Henry did all of this despite facing the 2nd-most 8-man boxes of any RB in the league (per Next Gen Stats), and the most 8-man boxes of any RB with over 210 rushing attempts. Which begs the question: has Henry proven he’ll produce regardless of how bad the Titans are?
While the Titans need to add some offensive talent long term to prevent defenses from keying on Henry, it didn’t seem to matter last year as Henry dominated most weeks despite stacked boxes.
Derrick Henry's Top Plays at the Bye ????
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 16, 2022
Henry’s game-by-game breakdown was equally impressive. He ran for 80+ yards in just over 70% of his games in 2022, had 30+ receiving yards in 41% of his games, and averaged 2.4 targets per week.
Furthermore, while Henry’s carry share might be concerning for some, Tennessee’s superior run blocking combined with the Titans limiting him to 8th among all RBs in snap count (per Fantasy Pros) despite his massive carry total shows how committed they are to his healthy dominance.
The lone negative in Derrick Henry’s fantasy stock is unfortunately his surrounding talent with the exception of the Titans O-line.
The Titans were 8th-worst in scoring last season so fantasy owners drafting Henry will have to rely on his volume and talent while making peace with his lack of scoring opportunities in 2023.
4) Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley silenced all the naysayers last season (at least the ones capable of rational thinking and logical reasoning) en route to scoring the 5th-most fantasy points of all 2022 fantasy backs.
In 2022, Barkley also achieved these rankings among running backs:
- Tied for 5th in rushes for 1st downs
- 4th in YPG
- Tied for 5th in rushing TDs
- Tied for 3rd in carries for 20+ yards
- 4th in carries
SAQUON TO THE HOUSE ????
????: FOX pic.twitter.com/GvPirYvcUl
— New York Giants (@Giants) January 15, 2023
Barkley is a unique, once-in-a-generation talent who creates must-see highlights every week. He reminds me of Adrian Peterson in his prime with his stunning combination of size and speed, and he truly has every move in the running back “bag”.
Barkley and prime AP/AD both have the ability to burn any defender at any position with their speed, while also driving fear in the hearts of opposing tacklers with their ability to truck through anyone at will.
Last season, Saquon returned to form after two relatively unproductive, injury-plagued seasons.
.@SAQUON BARKLEY ON 4TH DOWN.
— NFL (@NFL) December 24, 2022
He had at least 80 total yards in 65% of his 2022 games, saw at least one target in every game, averaged 4.5 targets per game, and scored touchdowns in over half his weeks.
Per Next Gen Stats, Barkley also clocked the 16th-fastest speed of any ball carrier (all players, not just RBs) in the NFL in 2022.
His pure talent aside, a monumental factor lifting Barkley’s fantasy stock is the confidence the Giants organization has shown regarding his workload.
In addition to the impressive statistics listed above, Barkley also led all NFL RBs in snap percentage and total snaps as he was on the field for a whopping 80% of all of the Giants offensive plays in 2022.
Barkley is a true every-down, do-it-all back as he almost never leaves the field. He is the Giants power back, speed/scat back, receiving/third-down back, and goal-line back.
This role is especially useful on a team that runs the ball like it’s 1970, and it is worth noting the Giants’ 1st-down rush percentage was the 4th-highest of any team (per NFL.com).
The only risk that possibly comes to mind with drafting Barkley is injury, but after staying healthy while handling the most snaps of any RB in the league last season, health shouldn’t prevent any owner from drafting him in the top-5 in 2023.
5) Josh Jacobs
Simply put, while Jonathan Taylor and others loom over Jacobs’ ranking like the cloud of cancerous/toxic gas that descended on East Palestine, Ohio in February (don’t worry, the governor and some EPA officials fake-drank one sip of purified water to prove its okay to breathe the air and drink the water there 24/7 throughout one’s lifetime), Josh Jacobs simply scored too many fantasy points to not crack the top-5 in 2023.
Maybe that wasn’t simply put.
While arguments can certainly be made for Jonathan Taylor, Pollard, Stevenson, Chubb etc. for cracking the top-5, it’s important to remember that Josh Jacobs finished as fantasy football’s 3rd-highest scoring RB last season and looks to be in the prime of his career.
JOSH JACOBS WALKS IT OFF IN OVERTIME ????
— ESPN (@espn) November 28, 2022
While finishing behind only Ekeler and CMC in fantasy points among RBs, Jacobs also managed the following RB rankings:
- 1st in rushing yards
- 2nd to only Derrick Henry in carries
- Tied for 3rd in rushing touchdowns
- 10th in receptions
- 8th in receiving yards
- 11th in targets
- Tied for 5th in carries for 20+ yards
- 3rd to only Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook in total snaps
- 2nd to only Barkley in snap %
Josh Jacobs is good at football.
MAKE THAT 3‼️
????: CBS pic.twitter.com/ouvXpgxPO8
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) October 23, 2022
Jacobs is a tenacious rusher who runs behind his pads. His balance and seemingly planetary center of gravity is awe-inspiring, as are many of his highlights from 2022.
Combine his power with his agility, acceleration, and vision, and you have one of the most productive running backs in the NFL.
Josh Jacobs running with authority ???? @iAM_JoshJacobs
— NFL (@NFL) October 11, 2022
The Raiders feed Jacobs much like the Titans and Giants feed Dhenn and Saquon, and remarkably enough Jacobs led all backs in rushes resulting in first downs with 93. The next closest RB (Nick Chubb) had over twenty less rushes for first downs.
Moreover, while Jacobs had a slow start to the year that may have tanked many fantasy teams, the owners that did stay afloat likely made the playoffs and went far.
After Week 3, Josh Jacobs had over 100 total yards in a over half his games while averaging 3.8 targets per week.
6) Tony Pollard
Pollard has been one of the best-kept secrets on the Cowboys roster for years now, buried by Jerry Jones’ obsession for watching Zeke slam his helmet into his center’s back fifty times a game.
I genuinely think Jerry Jones might believe football games are won and lost based on which team’s offensive line has more facemask marks on their asses rather than points scored.
With Zeke gone, Pollard should now be the sole beneficiary of Jerry Jones’ second-favorite obsession: running the ball.
Don’t let Pollard’s diminutive size fool you: his balance and strength is as good as any traditional “bell-cow”-type back. Check out this spectacular display of those traits below, as Pollard tight-roped the sideline to squeak in for his 10th TD of the season:
Tony Pollard has 10 TD's in his last 6 games
— FantasyPros (@FantasyPros) December 11, 2022
Pollard is one of the most explosive backs in the NFL, and his acceleration in short areas is incredible to watch.
His pure speed often leaves defenders diving at his ankles or confusingly looking around for Pollard like he’s a set of lost car keys. Like Rams defenders found out on this play, you can’t tackle what you can’t catch or see:
TOUCHDOWN TONY POLLARD!!!
— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) October 9, 2022
Despite Zeke stealing 231 carries last season (10th-most in the league), Tony Pollard still managed the following marks among 2022 RBs:
- 16th in rushing yards
- 7th in yards per attempt (per ESPN)
- Tied for 3rd in carries for 20+ yards
- 6th in rushing TDs
- 24th in carries for 1st downs
- 12th in receiving yards
- Tied for 4th in receiving TDs
With Ezekiel Elliot gone, Pollard will be able to take the reigns of an offense and a team built around the run, and built around scoring.
In 2022, the Dallas Cowboys ranked 5th in scoring and 2nd in rushing touchdowns.
TONY POLLARD SCORES HIS THIRD TD ⚡️
— ESPN (@espn) October 30, 2022
A final interesting Pollard stat to note: despite finishing with fewer carries than Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Kenneth Walker III, Pollard finished above all of them in fantasy points as he scored the 8th-most fantasy points of all RBs despite playing second fiddle to Elliot much of the season.
Considering the Cowboys ranked top-5 in a variety of offensive statistics, and considering Pollard’s workload will only increase in 2023, his enormous upside could result in a fantasy MVP-like season.
7) Rhamondre Stevenson
Rhamondre Stevenson finally got enough run to show what he could do in 2022. The 2021 fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma put all his doubters (and most NFL scouts and draft analysts) to shame with his 2022 performance.
Last season, among RBs, Stevenson ranked:
- 7th in fantasy points
- 12th in rushing yards
- 4th in receptions
- 7th in receiving yards
- 3rd in targets to only Ekeler and CMC
- Tied for 5th in rushes for 20+ yards
- 10th in YPC (per ESPN)
- 8th in total snaps
Happy birthday to #Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson ????
The (now) 25-year-old rushed for 1,040 yards and 5 TD in his second NFL season: pic.twitter.com/gf7d3CXGHg
— Mike Kadlick (@mikekadlick) February 23, 2023
His ability to keep his feet moving and churn through tackles is fun to watch, as many of his runs leave you questioning how he wasn’t tackled or how he broke free from a mass of bodies.
Stevenson’s stiff-arms are deadly, and his creativity and determination for breaking tackles is up there with Derrick Henry.
With Damien Harris now in Buffalo, the Patriots RB carousel may have finally come to an end (at least for a season), since it looks like the 2023 Patriots backfield will be Stevenson’s to lose.
— Binge Sports (@BingeSports) October 16, 2022
It’s worth remembering that Stevenson started garnering his initial snaps by gaining the confidence of the New England coaching staff as a better pass-catcher than Harris and Brandon Bolden, so Stevenson should garner both the goal-line snaps and the receiving work with both backs gone (as evidenced by his 5.2 targets per game last season).
The upside to drafting Stevenson is his workload and receiving ability combined with his youth, but the downside is definitely the system he plays in.
The Patriots offense was abysmal for much of last season, and them ending the season tied for 6th-worst in rushing TDs was no accident.
— Binge Sports (@BingeSports) November 6, 2022
As long as Stevenson stays healthy though, he should finish as a top-10 fantasy RB regardless of New England’s quarterback or offensive coordinator.
8) Nick Chubb
Chubb plays with an astoundingly proficient offensive line, in a system that’s more built around the run than possibly any team in the NFL.
His ability to break tackles is possibly the best in the league as his stiff arms, spins, jukes, and truck moves look like something out of a 99 overall RB in a pre-2010 Madden game.
The fact that he had over 100 total yards in a colossal 65% of his games last year provides some evidence, as do Chubb’s following rankings among 2022 RBs:
- 3rd in rushing yards and attempts
- Tied for 9th in YPC (per ESPN)
- Tied for 3rd in rushing TDs
- 2nd to only Josh Jacobs in rushes for 1st downs
- 7th in total snaps
- 6th in fantasy points
their families are watching, Nick! ????
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 18, 2022
Given the fact that Chubb was a top-6 back in virtually every stat that matters when it comes to fantasy in 2022, one could easily make the case that Chubb deserves to be ranked higher – especially with Kareem Hunt gone.
Likewise, the Browns’ confidence and reliance on the run game is so blatantly obvious for any football fan, and they ran the ball the 7th-most of any team on 1st down last season.
Everyone knows about Chubb’s toughness as a between-the-tackles runner and the Derrick Henry-like fear he imposes on defenders with the punishment he dishes out, but few appreciate the deceptive pace he uses to break long runs like he’s CMC or Tony Pollard.
Nick Chubb spins out of a tackle for the 33-yard TD!
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2022
It might surprise many fans that Chubb led all players in carries for 20 yards or more with a stupendous 13 (three more than Derrick Henry, Justin Fields, and Kenneth Walker III who all came after him).
If you’re looking for one further stat to give you a chub for Chubb, look no further than the fact that he led all 2022 RBs in Rush Yards Over Expected (whatever the fuck that means) by over 100 yards, per Next Gen Stats.
Nick Chubb has another touchdown!
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
9) Jonathan Taylor
It’s difficult to rank the fantasy MVP from just two seasons ago lower than the Top-5, but that’s exactly what a significant injury can unfortunately do.
Taylor was shut down after Week 11 last year, leaving fantasy owners who took him unanimously #1 overall in the summer choking on regret.
Although, the last time Taylor was healthy he looked as powerful, explosive, and decisive as he did during his fantasy MVP season.
His injury came at a tragic and critical time for fantasy owners as he looked to be regaining his momentum during the most crucial time of the fantasy season.
After his sixth game of the year against Washington, Taylor went on a tear were he broke 90 total yards in four straight games, grabbed three passes in three straight games, and had over 100 total yards in half of his final four healthy weeks.
Despite recording less than 200 carries and fewer than 30 receptions, Taylor still cracked 1,000 total yards in 2022, as hard as that is to believe.
Taylor also finished among the top-25 RBs in rushing yards, yards per carry, and fantasy points per game. His 82 rushing yards per game was also good for 4th among all backs.
Despite Taylor’s upside, it’s easy to be bearish on his 2023 fantasy stock considering his injury last season and considering the lack of talent surrounding him on the Colts.
After all, the Colts were dead last in scoring in 2022 and were 3rd-worst in rushing touchdowns.
Their offensive line isn’t what it used to be, and their QB is still unproven.
In the face of all the relative adversity that is Jim Irsay’s cocaine playground, Taylor has too much raw ability to pass on as long as he looks back to his old self by preseason.
As long as he stays healthy in 2023, Taylor will have a top-10 season again if Anthony Richardson plays like he’s capable of and the Colts improve their run-blocking, especially near the goal-line.
10) Kenneth Walker III
Walker surprised everyone last season as the rookie burst onto the scene, seemingly to the surprise of the Seattle coaching staff as well.
Walker is like Clinton Portis in his prime with his startling combination of break-tackle ability and home-run threat.
His decisiveness and acceleration through holes is remarkable for a rookie, and those skills often result in long TD runs like this:
Kenneth Walker III goes 69 YARDS and the @Seahawks take the lead!
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
Phenomenal runs aside, Walker’s production showed up on the stat sheet.
Although he never received more than eight carries until Week 6 and missed two games, here’s how Walker’s stats ranked among all 2022 RBs:
- 18th in fantasy points
- 11th in rushing yards and carries
- Tied for 6th in rushing TDs
- Tied for 2nd in rushes for 20+ yards to only Nick Chubb
Once Walker received the starting nod (Week 5 against the Cardinals), his production started to show its true potential. In the following 11 weeks, Walker had over 100 total yards in 35% of his games while scoring nine TDs down the stretch.
If you watched Walker run in 2022, you know the immense ability he has – but you also know that ability is capped by Seattle’s lack of scoring, and at times atrociously inexcusable run blocking.
The Seahawks ranked easily within the bottom half of the league in both overall scoring (10th) and rushing scoring (11th) last season.
However, the Seahawks have been historically built around the run and effective running backs who often make chicken salad out of chicken shit when it comes to their surrounding talent (Ricky Watters, Shaun Alexander, Marshawn Lynch, Rashaad Penny for a split-second, etc. and now Walker), so I’d bet on the organization re-invest in the production of the running game sooner rather than later.
One final bullish Walker stat to take home? He clocked the 2nd-fastest time of any ball carrier last season according to Next Gen Stats.