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Biggest Fantasy Football Running Back Breakouts of 2023

Breece Hall - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

In the high-stakes world of fantasy football, the running back position is the cornerstone of many winning strategies. Whether it's securing crucial yardage, making key receptions (in PPR formats), or finding the end zone, their multifaceted contributions can make or break a fantasy team's fortunes.

Yet, what truly sets the running back position apart is the prospect of finding a hidden gem, whether it be a late-round steal or a savvy waiver-wire pickup. These under-the-radar talents have the potential to catapult a team from obscurity to playoff contention, and maybe even championship triumph.

Now, let's embark on a journey through the landscape of the 2023 fantasy football season, where we'll unveil the names of some of this season's breakout stars, those few select individuals who emerged from the shadows to carve their places in the saga of fantasy football history.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

Biggest Running Back Breakouts of 2023

Note: Listed ADPs are from Sleeper; RB end-of-season rankings are based on ESPN's PPR scoring

Kyren Williams, Los Angeles Rams - ADP: N/A (likely undrafted) | 2023 Rank: RB7

It wouldn't be a breakout list without Kyren Williams. Williams truly epitomizes the breakout player this season, defying initial expectations by going undrafted in most fantasy leagues only to emerge as the seventh-ranked running back overall.  Despite missing five games to an ankle sprain, Williams consistently dominated, showcasing his prowess as a touchdown machine with at least one score in nine out of 12 games, including five multi-touchdown performances.

Before his injury sidelined him, Williams ranked fourth in fantasy points per game in weeks one through six. Remarkably, when he returned, he seamlessly resumed his strong performance, finishing the final seven games as the third-ranked running back, despite missing week 18. When healthy and on the field, Williams unequivocally proved himself as a top-five fantasy football running back.

It's not often that you can say you picked up a top-five caliber running back off the waiver wire. Williams not only surpassed his expectations, but he also positioned himself as the Rams' future feature back. He's poised for a top-five RB finish this upcoming season.

Here are several key statistics that reinforce the notion that Williams' breakout was no fluke:

  • Averaging 95.3 rushing yards per game, Williams boasted the NFL's best per-game average.
  • With an impressive five yards per carry, he tied for fourth-best in the league (among RBs with at least 6 carries per game).
  • His 96 runs of five yards or more ranked second only to Christian McCaffrey's 109.
  • Williams delivered two 30+ point fantasy performances, a feat only achieved by Christian McCaffrey (RB1) and Raheem Mostert (RB5).
  • He also recorded five top-five running back fantasy performances on the season, with two of them claiming the number-one spot for the week.

Breece Hall, New York Jets - ADP: RB14 | 2023 Rank: RB2

It's crazy to think that Breece Hall suffered an ACL tear just a little over a year ago, yet he managed to recover so quickly. Despite this setback, Hall ended the season as the second-ranked running back in PPR leagues, trailing only the Offensive Player of the Year, Christian McCaffrey.  While Hall's involvement in the passing game was undoubtedly influenced by the Jet's quarterback struggles, resulting in numerous dump-off passes to him under pressure, his ability to contribute as a receiver was exceptional. Leading all running backs with 76 receptions and 591 receiving yards, Hall showcased his versatility as more than just a traditional ball carrier.

Additionally, he excelled in the run game, delivering two of the season's top-five rushing yard performances with 178 yards against the Patriots and 177 against the Broncos, while coming up just six yards shy of reaching 1,000 rushing yards for the season. Hall proved himself to be a true dual threat among running backs, finishing fourth in rushing yards after contact (490) and first in receiving yards after contact (209).

Hall managed to secure a second-place finish among all running backs, even though he scored just nine times. He outperformed players such as Raheem Mostert (21 touchdowns), Kyren Williams (15 touchdowns), and Travis Etienne (12 touchdowns). During the last six weeks, with Hall scoring five times, he emerged as the top fantasy running back over that period. When he's scoring, Hall transforms into a fantasy powerhouse.

At just 22 years old, Hall has two more years on his contract with the Jets, marking only the beginning of what appears to be a promising career ahead. Imagine him alongside a potent offense and a formidable offensive line -- the sky's the limit for his potential. Expect him to fly off the board early in this year's fantasy drafts.

Raheem Mostert, Miami Dolphins - ADP: RB45 | 2023 Rank: RB5

Despite Raheem Mostert's familiarity as a fantasy football asset, this season proved to be his best yet. While injuries plagued him in his early career, he has since enjoyed relatively good health, missing only a handful of games in the past two seasons. When he's on the field, Mostert's exceptional speed, and more recently, his innate ability to find the end zone, make him a dominant force. He tied Christian McCaffrey for the league lead with 21 total touchdowns, with 18 of those being rushing touchdowns -- four more than CMC's 14.

In addition to his career-high in touchdowns, Mostert also achieved a notable milestone by surpassing 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his nine-year career. During the first nine weeks of the season, he went on a tear, averaging 18.9 fantasy points per game, securing his place as RB-2 during that span. What truly set him apart from other fantasy running backs, however, was his big-game potential. He notched four top-five running back finishes on the season, including one as RB-1 and another as RB-2. Furthermore, he tallied six multi-touchdown performances, surpassing all other running backs in fantasy football.

While coming off his best season yet, Mostert, at 31 years old, faces competition from 22-year-old De'Von Achane who is poised to take over in due time. Mostert will remain a factor in the upcoming fantasy season, being in the final year of his contract, but we can expect a transition toward Achane, who represents the future of the Dolphins.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions - ADP: RB12 | 2023 Rank: RB10

Although Gibbs didn't exceed his fantasy draft expectations by much, primarily due to a slow start to the season, he ended up finishing the final 12 weeks as RB-4. During that stretch, Gibbs produced six top-three running back finishes, including an RB-1 performance in week 8 against the Raiders. While it made sense for the Lions to gradually integrate him into his rookie season, once they unleashed him, he quickly emerged as one of the most electrifying running backs of the year.

Gibbs possesses an innate ability to break free for long runs, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, the third-highest in the league (among running backs with at least 6 carries per game). He also managed to record ten rushes of 20 yards or more, placing him second in that category among all running backs this season. His big-play potential is remarkable, and with offensive coordinator Ben Johnson returning for another season, there's certainty he'll find ways to get Gibbs the ball even more next season.

Arguably the most exciting attribute of Gibbs' game is his effectiveness as a receiver. A significant reason why the Lions drafted Gibbs in the first place was to utilize him alongside Montgomery as a change of pace back, but also because of his value as a receiving threat. Gibbs ended the season eighth in running back targets (71), tied for ninth in running back receptions (52), and 16th in receiving yards (316). It's worth noting that Gibbs played under 50 percent of the snaps the first four weeks of the season and also missed two games due to a hamstring injury, so these numbers could have been much higher.

Gibbs' potential has only scratched the surface, and he'll continue to improve with more opportunities. Although the Lions signed David Montgomery to a three-year contract before the 2023 season, they revealed their intentions toward the end of the year with Gibbs handling the bulk of the touches out of the backfield. Expect him to be a top-five running back this upcoming fantasy season.

Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - ADP: RB28 | 2023 Rank: RB4

Rachaad White presented a puzzle for fantasy managers heading into the season. Even though his rushing efficiency numbers were low in 2022 (3.7 yards per carry), he showcased promise as a receiver. This trend continued into 2023, where he excelled as a receiver but struggled as a runner (3.6 yards per carry). However, his receiving skills exceeded expectations, as he finished the season with 64 receptions (fourth among RBs), 549 receiving yards (third among RBs), and three receiving touchdowns (tied for fourth).

Adding to his impact, he scored six touchdowns on the ground and gained 990 rushing yards, despite his inefficiency. White's versatility earned him ample opportunities out of the backfield (272 carries, tied for second among RBs) and allowed him to accumulate a substantial amount of yards and touchdowns. Furthermore, he averaged 90.5 all-purpose yards per game, ranking sixth among running backs who played at least 12 games.

White's receiving prowess makes him a valuable fantasy running back, particularly in PPR leagues. Despite a slow start, he finished as RB-2 from weeks seven to 18, with four top-seven finishes, including a first-place finish in week nine against the Texans. His consistency during this stretch, with only one game below 13 fantasy points, highlights his reliability.

While concerns persist about his rushing efficiency, his reliability as a receiver makes him a worthwhile pick in PPR fantasy drafts moving forward. Additionally, White's durability -- he hasn't missed a game in two seasons -- sets him apart in a position prone to injuries.  Although there is a chance that the Buccaneers opt to add another running back this offseason, White is likely to remain their primary option. Expect another top-10 RB finish, with the potential of falling into the 10-15 range.

 

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