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2023 Fantasy Football Burning Questions: Running Backs

Rhamondre Stevenson - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Running backs no longer purely dominate the first round of fantasy football drafts. The Zero RB theory has gained increased popularity among players in recent seasons. Stock up on more durable and dependable skill-position players, say the backers of that approach.

Yet, there are also still many fans of the Zero WR strategy, and others will simply take the best available players with their early picks. There are varying views on how to draft running backs, yet some RBs will still inevitably be heavily targeted in the first four rounds of most drafts.

In our third installment of the early preseason 2023 Fantasy Football Burning Questions series for 2023 (I have already covered QBs and WRs), we look at the most compelling topics at the RB position. You can now view my early RB rankings for 2023 in the RotoBaller Fantasy Football Season Pass, using promo code KING for an additional discount. The analysis here leans toward PPR formats.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:


Fantasy Football Running Backs: Answering The Big Questions For 2023 Drafts

Question: Is Bijan Robinson worthy of the No. 1 pick at the position?

Answer: If you play in multiple best ball leagues, you can take the shot on Bijan Robinson over Christian McCaffrey to diversify your fantasy shares. But the 49ers' superstar is obviously more proven. The Falcons have a heavy commitment to the running game, though, as they were second in run/pass ratio last season without a potential standout RB like Robinson.

I am comfortable picking the Atlanta rookie second at the position. Robinson should be the engine of the Atlanta offense and he has a high floor as a dual threat in an ideal scenario.

Question: Will Rhamondre Stevenson have a big breakout season with Damien Harris gone?

Answer: Even though Pierre Strong Jr. could play a change of pace role, Rhamondre Stevenson is set to operate as the true No. 1 RB for the Patriots. Consider that Stevenson rushed for five TDs last season and should now get much more of the goal-line work. It seems like the Patriots have not employed a true featured back since the days of Corey Dillon. But Stevenson appears to be ticketed for a significant workload with more potential short-yardage work.

Stevenson's ceiling could be a slightly less outstanding version of Derrick Henry, but the offense around him is mediocre and he also may battle much defensive attention. I like the projected volume, yet I cannot push Stevenson too high inside the top 10 if the offense sputters around him and sometimes drags the output down.

Question: Is Breece Hall worthy of an RB1 pick?

Answer: The Jets’ projected top RB has an uncertain outlook for training camp in his return from an ACL injury, and we don’t know how effective he can truly be early in the regular season. Breece Hall is certainly not ranked in my top 10 and barely makes it into the top 12. He is on shaky ground for me as the No. 12 ranked RB and the stock could drop more depending on published reports during the summer. I am tabbing rookie Israel Abanikanda as a later pick in best ball drafts.

Question: Will Travis Etienne be worthy of a top-12 pick at RB?

Answer: There have been some indications already from the Jacksonville coaching staff that Travis Etienne could share some reps with other newly acquired and drafted RBs. Yet, he will still be the lead RB and a versatile playmaker on a rising offense. There are also myriad pass-catching options now to further spread out the offensive distribution, though.

When drafting Etienne, you will have to hope for great efficiency, and we should get it from him. Yet, he may frustrate fantasy players at times with a seemingly inadequate amount of heavier volume, so Etienne is more of a top-15 RB to me.

Question: Who is your favorite value play among the top 20 RBs?

Answer: Dameon Pierce. He was the clear lead RB for a bad Houston team last season, as he had six 80-plus-yard rushing games between Weeks 3 and 10. The Texans’ offense should begin to improve this season, and Pierce has some Marshawn Lynch-like abilities in terms of his tackle-breaking. He should be the main goal-line option and will see a lot of work over Devin Singletary. Pierce is a tough and tenacious runner, and he should be a solid fantasy RB2 in 2023.

Question: How do you view Kenneth Walker III with Zach Charbonnet now in the picture?

Answer: Talking to former Seahawks RB and analyst Robert Turbin on the Sunday RotoBaller show on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio recently, I received further confirmation that Kenneth Walker III will remain the lead RB for Seattle. Yet, the rookie could play a key role on third downs, and possibly steal some goal-line work.

Walker is capable of hitting on a big play from anywhere on the field, while Zach Charbonnet will be an ideal physical complement who can also catch passes. This could be an Aaron Jones/AJ Dillon type of situation. Since Walker is less of a receiving threat, I view him more as a mid-range fantasy RB2.

Question: What can we expect from Alexander Mattison as the lead RB in Minnesota?

Answer: Alexander Mattison is certainly not as explosive as Dalvin Cook was. The former Viking was one of the most exciting pure runners in the league. Yet, when a front office clears a path for a player to be a key part of their offense, I do take note. Mattison, according to StatMuse, has five total TDs and four 90-plus-yard rushing outings in six career games as a starter.

Mattison is a determined runner who should be able to handle a significant workload and convert on frequent scoring opportunities. I am not overly pumped about Mattison, yet will surely draft him as a respectable fantasy RB2 just outside of the top 20 at the position.

Question: Will you be making fantasy investments in Cam Akers?

Answer: The list of RBs who have never effectively recovered from Achilles injuries is long, yet the list of those as talented as Cam Akers in that regard is short. He did perform enough late in the year in 2022, and the eventual rebirth of D’Onta Foreman does offer additional hope that not all RBs will have their outlooks destroyed by Achilles injuries.

The Rams remain committed to Akers as their No. 1 RB. While we have to temper expectations on the upside, I will take the shot on Akers as a low-end RB2.

Question: Is Samaje Perine a true sleeper candidate?

Answer: Most of us know the Javonte Williams injury outlook, which urges heavy caution, and how well Samaje Perine functioned when he was pushed into an increased role with the Bengals last season. The important analysis here is how to project Perine’s role in a revamped offense under Sean Payton and Joe Lombardi. In the past, they have demonstrated a lean towards a timeshare situation in the backfield.

Russell Wilson has been a very good play-action passer in his better seasons, so his RBs are essential to success. Perine has a real possible floor as a flex RB, so I like taking him as a high-end RB4.

Question: Will James Cook become a viable fantasy starter?

Answer: When the Bills let Devin Singletary walk, there was some initial increased interest in James Cook. We did not see enough of him as a pass-catching threat in his rookie year. The Bills have not brought in much additional weaponry in the passing game, so we could see that projected role expand in his second year. Buffalo also brought in Damien Harris, though, and he figures to be the inside runner that the team has been lacking for a while.

I do like Cook’s versatility, but the arrival of Harris has me skeptical that Cook can be more than a flex streamer.

Scott Engel's fantasy and betting analysis is also featured at The Game Day.

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