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It isn’t an overstatement to say that the 2023 offseason will ignite one of the wildest running back markets in NFL history. Running backs are the most volatile asset in Dynasty fantasy football leagues, and this offseason's free agency class, NFL Draft, and potential cap casualties will only stroke the flames. While a lot of Dynasty managers have taken a "Do not touch" approach in regard to running backs this offseason, having a sound process could help you accrue roster value.
When pontificating about the current running back landscape, it’s important to take an agnostic approach. Whatever role you think exists today could be irrelevant tomorrow. I’ll lean on two idioms in my attempt to group and assess the running back position right now.
“Chaos is a ladder.”
“Cream rises to the top.”
When shuffling players around backfields, talent will prevail. Roles and production will be easier to project closer to Week 1. But for now, only two things matter: age and talent.
Let's start by looking at free agency. This class is extremely deep and headlined by some of the best young running backs in the league.
- Saquon Barkley (Franchise tagged as of 3/7)
- Josh Jacobs (Franchise tagged as of 3/6)
- Tony Pollard (Franchise tagged as of 3/6)
- Miles Sanders
- David Montgomery
- Damien Harris
- D'Onta Foreman
- Rashaad Penny
- Alexander Mattison
- Jamaal Williams
- Jerick McKinnon
- Devin Singletary
- Kareem Hunt
- Boston Scott
- Ronald Jones II
- Darrell Henderson
- D'Ernest Johnson
- Jeff Wilson
- James Robinson
The franchise tags have impaired the overall value of the running back class, but it still makes a highly formidable and deep group.
In addition to the list of running backs above, plenty of clunky contracts tied to veterans could be wiped off the books. Although the Buccaneers have already said Leonard Fournette will be a cap casualty, there are others to watch.
Potential Cap Casualties
- Leonard Fournette
- Dalvin Cook
- Joe Mixon
- Derrick Henry
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Chase Edmonds
- Gus Edwards
- Nyheim Hines
Throwing these running backs into the free agency pool will only increase potential mayhem.
And we haven’t talked about rookies yet! We’ll keep them out of this article. But on April 29th, we’ll have to adjust again. There is an exciting new group of running backs joining the league.
- Bijan Robinson
- Jahmyr Gibbs
- Zach Charbonnet
- Devon Achane
- Zach Evans
- Kendre Miller
- Tank Bigsby
- Sean Tucker
- Deuce Vaughn
All of these guys have the chops to carve out immediate roles in NFL backfields, and some will siphon an immediate three-down gig.
In this article, I’ll place players into buckets and rank them inside those groupings. These aren’t meant to be a flat list of rankings, but rather groups of archetypes with different player values within.
Let’s start with the most elite group, the youngest and most talented.
1. Blue Chips
You can split this into two tiers based on preferences. Some Dynasty managers will knock Taylor and Walker for their lack of pass-catching. Others will want to see more consistency from Etienne. And, of course, with Hall coming off of a rookie-year ACL tear, some managers have recovery concerns. But this tier is made exclusively of running backs under 25 with RB1 in their range of outcomes. Barring injury, all four of these backs are guys you can plug into your lineup without thinking twice, hopefully for the next three-plus years. These players are all valued somewhere between rookie 1.02-1.05. Don’t sell low on these guys, even if you’re rebuilding.
2. Second-Contract Bellcows
Age is the only thing separating these running backs from the group above. All of these backs have produced elite RB1 seasons in their careers. But being 25 or older gives them a shorter shelf life than the Tier 1 guys. These are the backs that contending teams should target and rebuilding teams should sell. Although outliers like Adrian Peterson and Derrick Henry have produced well into their 20s, history shows that production turns down after age 25. Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler’s 2022 campaigns marked the first time any running backs above the age of 26 had a top-five fantasy season since LeSean McCoy in 2016. These guys may provide elite seasons for years to come, but they will probably trend downward in the next few years. We’re still talking about Dynasty RB1s here. While they’re still valuable assets, they should be reserved for teams in contention.
3. Young and Talented, But...
There is a relatively quick fall-off after the top-eight, and now we’re staring at volatile assets. These players have shown enough to warrant the risk of acquiring them. But the bottom can quickly fall out from their value. Just last year, guys like Travis Etienne and Josh Jacobs would have been in the Young and Talented, But... tier. However, Antonio Gibson and Elijah Mitchell also would have been grouped here before falling down the ranks. Swift and Harris have eye-popping prospect profiles, but inconsistent production and injuries keep them from being Tier 1 backs. Williams and Dobbins each suffered brutal knee injuries. While a full recovery would be enough to move them up, Dynasty managers must see it first. Stevenson and Pollard have posted absurd efficiency metrics throughout their short careers, but the lack of draft capital makes Dynasty managers wonder if the production is an apparition. These players all have a wide range of outcomes. Any could find themselves in the Blue Chip or Intriguing Upside tier a year from now.
4. Wrong Side of the Age Curve
This tier is small, and it’s difficult to gauge the value of these backs in Dynasty leagues. All are 27 or older, beyond when we can expect elite output. Managers will laugh at you for putting an older back on the trade block. But all three backs finished inside the top half of RB1s just last year. From a value standpoint, you can fold these backs into the Young and Talented, But... tier. But acquiring Ekeler, Chubb, or Henry should only be done by actively contending teams. While you could be receiving next year’s overall RB1, these backs can just as easily fall off the age cliff. Much like the previous tier, these are also highly volatile assets. The difference is that the high-end range of outcomes doesn’t have the expected longevity of hitting on a younger back.
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