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Top Five Rookie Running Backs for Fantasy Football - 2023 NFL Draft Class Analysis

Jahmyr Gibbs - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

With the NFL Combine in the rearview and the NFL Draft fast approaching, it's time for fantasy football managers in Dynasty leagues to start diving into the research process for 2023.

While the perceived value of running backs has dropped in the eyes of NFL front offices over recent years, the importance of a quality RB in fantasy football leagues can't be overstated. That's especially the case when discussing Dynasty leagues, as drafting the right rookie RB can help your squad be competitive for years to come.

As the NFL Draft – and Dynasty league drafts – draw closer, it feels like the right time to dive into some of 2023's best running back prospects. This early-look article will dig into the top five Dynasty options of this year's rookie class in an in-depth fashion, as well as briefly touch on some additional, notable RBs in what is roundly considered a very deep class of running back prospects.

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Bijan Robinson, Texas, Jr.

  • Height: 5'11"
  • Weight: 215
  • Age: 21.2
  • 2022 Stats: 1,580 Rushing Yards, 6.1 Yards Per Carry, 18 Rushing TDs, 19 Receptions, 314 Receiving Yards, Two Receiving TDs
  • Rookie RB Dynasty Rank: #1
  • Player Comp: Saquon Barkley

We might as well start at the top, right? Robinson is the best – and most complete – running back prospect since Saquon Barkley. A five-star high school recruit, the Arizona native put together a sterling collegiate career at the University of Texas, winning the Doak Walker Award last season as he amassed 1,894 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs in 2022.

Robinson is equally comfortable running inside and outside. He shows vision and burst when hitting inside holes, while also possessing the speed and elusiveness needed when turning the outside corner. Robinson has a natural balance that allows him to play the game with both quickness and power.

Though not a prolific pass catcher while at Texas, Robinson flashed soft hands and rock-solid route-running ability while averaging a chunky 16.52 yards per reception in 2022. He appears comfortable catching the football and capable of picking up the blitz when needed, which makes NFL teams drool over the possibilities of his three-down-back skill set.

In a different era, we'd be discussing Robinson as the possible number-one overall pick in the NFL draft. He's that talented. While those days are gone and the perceived value of running backs continues to plummet, don't be surprised if Robinson is the highest RB drafted since Barkley in 2018. The team that snags him on draft night will likely expect him to make an instant impact and his playing time will reflect that.

His fantasy potential is off the charts. Robinson is the clear-cut top overall rookie in traditional-scoring dynasty formats and it's not particularly close.


Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama, Jr.

  • Height: 5'9"
  • Weight: 199
  • Age: 21.1
  • 2022 Stats: 926 Rushing Yards, 6.1 Yards Per Carry, Seven Rushing TDs, 44 Receptions, 444 Receiving Yards, Three Receiving TDs
  • Rookie RB Dynasty Rank: #2
  • Player Comp: Alvin Kamara

After playing his first two seasons of college ball at Georgia Tech and tallying 1,974 all-purpose yards with 13 TDs for the Yellow Jackets, the former four-star prospect transferred to the University of Alabama ahead of the 2022 season. Playing against SEC competition did little to slow Gibbs down, as he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception for the Crimson Tide last year while hauling in 44 catches.

While Gibbs is by no means tiny, his average size means that he's likely not going to single-handedly carry the load for an NFL offense. However, he is an electric runner that possesses elite burst and the ability to change direction on a dime. Gibbs won't run over many NFL defenders, but he's a patient runner that lets blocks develop, while also being elusive and tough to tackle. His elite speed and shiftiness allow him to erase angles when he gets outside the tackles. Gibbs possesses dynamic acceleration in the open field.

Gibbs' rushing ability makes him far from one-dimensional, but the passing game is where he'll likely shine at the NFL level. The Georgia native is a natural and effortless pass catcher with quality hands and the instinct to find soft spots in coverage. He'll be a matchup nightmare at the professional level if he lands in the right offense with the right amount of imagination.

In any other year, Gibbs would be the rookie RB1 in dynasty drafts – especially after clocking a blistering 4.36 in the 40 at the NFL Combine – but he just so happens to be in a class with Bijan Robinson. This puts the 'Bama back almost in a tier by himself – clearly below Robinson, but clearly above everyone else.


Zach Charbonnet, UCLA, Sr.

  • Height: 6'0"
  • Weight: 214
  • Age: 22.2
  • 2022 Stats: 1,359 Rushing Yards, 6.9 Yards Per Carry, 14 Rushing TDs, 37 Receptions, 321 Receiving Yards, 0 Receiving TDs
  • Rookie RB Dynasty Rank: #3
  • Player Comp: James+Conner" data-id="18983">James Conner

What is clear in this rookie class of running backs is that Bijan Robinson and Jahymr Gibbs are the consensus top two backs. What isn't entirely clear is who comes next in the pecking order, as talent evaluators start to split on opinion as we get past Robinson and Gibbs.

Zach Charbonnet is firmly in the mix as the number-three RB prospect of the 2023 class. After playing his high school ball at California powerhouse Oaks Christian School, Charbonnet spent the early portion of his collegiate career at the University of Michigan. Despite rushing for 726 yards and 11 TDs as a freshman, he became locked in a committee backfield situation during his sophomore season, often taking a backseat to future NFL players Hassan Haskins and Chris Evans, as well as young Blake Corum.

After the shortened 2020 COVID season, Charbonnet returned home to California by transferring to UCLA. With a clear path to playing time, he thrived in Chip Kelly's zone-blocking scheme, rushing for 1,137 yards and 13 TDs in his junior season. Charbonnet surprised some by returning to UCLA for his senior season, but he did not disappoint, gaining a massive 6.9 yards per carry in 2022.

At 6'0", 215 lbs, Charbonnet is a true throwback that runs with speed and power. Despite running with a classic upright style that's rarely seen with smaller, modern backs, the recurring theme throughout Charbonnet's scouting reports is his tremendous contact balance, a trait that - along with his prototypical size - helps him to easily shed defenders. His 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine belies the concerns that some scouts have about his breakaway speed. He had just two gains of 40+ yards in 2022, which leads to questions about his home-run ability.

His size and skill set translates to his strength being a traditional, between-the-tackles runner in early-down situations. He will fit right into stretch and zone-blocking schemes as a downhill runner that lacks elusiveness and legitimate game-breaking speed. Despite his physicality, Charbonnet doesn't really impress as a pass blocker, and while he's a passable receiver, he'll likely be utilized as an early-down grinder at the NFL level.


Devon Achane, Texas A&M, Jr.

  • Height: 5'8-1/2"
  • Weight: 188
  • Age: 21.5
  • 2022 Stats: 1,102 Rushing Yards, 5.6 Yards Per Carry, Eight Rushing TDs, 36 Receptions, 196 Receiving Yards, Three Receiving TDs
  • Rookie RB Dynasty Rank: #4
  • Player Comp: Reggie Bush

Once we get outside of Robinson and Gibbs, Devon Achane is perhaps the most exciting prospect of the 2023 class. A track athlete in both high school and at Texas A&M, Achane possesses elite speed and explosiveness, which he displayed both on the field while in college and at the recent NFL Combine, where he blazed a 4.32 40-time that was the fastest at the running back position this year.

His compact stature will likely keep him from being a true three-down back in the NFL, but his dynamic home-run ability should make the team that drafts him eager to get him on the field in some capacity, most likely as a complementary back, as well as a kick returner.

Although Achane is a capable runner between the tackles, he truly shines in space. He's a deadly perimeter runner that can turn any play into a touchdown. You can make the argument that he was underutilized as a pass-catcher at A&M, where he hauled in just 36 catches in 2022. Despite that lack of volume, Achane flashed good hands and strong route-running capabilities when given opportunities as a receiver.

Most NFL teams will view him as a pass-catching back, at least initially, and his playing time will likely be limited as a result. From a fantasy perspective, he should be viewed as a boom-or-bust player that will likely be a volatile producer due to the role he'll play wherever he lands.


Tank Bigsby, Auburn, Jr.

  • Height: 6'0"
  • Weight: 210
  • Age: 21.6
  • 2022 Stats: 970 Rushing Yards, 5.4 Yards Per Carry, 10 Rushing TDs, 30 Receptions, 180 Receiving Yards, 0 Receiving TDs
  • Rookie RB Dynasty Rank: #5
  • Player Comp: LeSean McCoy

The former four-star high school prospect was a productive, three-year player at Auburn. Bigsby cranked out 834 rushing yards as a freshman in 2020 and topped 900 rushing yards in each of his subsequent seasons on the Plains.

Just as his Nickname indicates, "Tank" possesses prototypical NFL size (6'0", 210 lbs) that allows him to almost always fall forward when finishing off runs. Even with his large frame and traditional downhill running style, Bigsby does possess surprising lateral quickness with the ability to deploy a devastating jump cut in LeSean McCoy-like fashion.

Stuck in a slumping Auburn program, it's fair to wonder how much Bigsby's lack of a supporting cast hurt his production, although he still averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season – breaking an impressive 60 tackles – while playing behind one of the SEC's worst offensive lines. He did showcase a fierceness in pass protection, which NFL coaches love. While it's a little talked about skill in the fantasy football world, it's a trait that will likely accelerate his path to playing time as a rookie.

Bigsby certainly profiles as an early-down back thanks to his size and skill set. However, he did reel in 62 catches during his three-year college career. While his strength undoubtedly lies in his rushing ability, the big back has proven himself to be an average pass catcher while running a limited route tree at Auburn. He has the potential to improve as a receiver at the pro level.


Additional Notable Prospects

Zach Evans, Ole Miss, Jr.

After spending the first two years of his college career at TCU battling both injuries and backfield mate KenDre Miller, Evans transferred to Ole Miss ahead of the 2022 campaign.

Though he tallied over 900 rushing yards in his lone season in Oxford, Evans once again failed to earn complete control of a backfield, as he ceded work to Ole Miss freshman Quinshon Judkins as the season progressed. He possesses NFL size (5'11", 202 lbs) with an explosive burst but has been consistently limited by nagging injuries during his college career.

Kendre Miller, TCU, Jr.

A teammate of the aforementioned Evans for two years at TCU, Miller was the less-heralded prospect of the two, yet earned playing time through both his tenacity and Evans' injuries. He blossomed as the Horned Frogs' clear lead back in 2022, gaining 1,399 yards on the ground and finding the end zone 17 times.

Miller runs with an undeniable ferociousness that helped him to break 109 tackles and average 3.8 yards after contact during his TCU career. While his size is above average (5'11", 215 lbs), his lack of elite athleticism and explosiveness could hamper him at the pro level.

Roschon Johnson, Texas, Sr.

We don't often talk about second-string college running backs as legitimate NFL prospects, but there are some extenuating circumstances at play with Johnson, who played second-fiddle to Bijan Robinson at the University of Texas. A four-year contributor, Johnson elected to stick it out in Austin rather than bolt for the transfer portal and start elsewhere.

Despite all the accolades that Robinson garnered in 2022, Johnson's impressive size (6'0", 219 lbs) and intangibles have landed him on NFL radars. A rugged runner, he possessed the highest broken tackle rate in the country over the last two seasons and was near the top in yards after contact. Johnson is a physical pass blocker and possesses the type of maturity and motor that coaches love.

Tyjae Spears, Tulane, Jr.

Strong displays at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine have made Spears a rising prospect on many draft boards. He rebounded from a torn ACL in 2020 to post two productive campaigns at Tulane. Spears rushed for 1,586 yards last season and was second in FBS with 19 rushing TDs. He finished his college career with an eye-opening average of 7.0 yards per carry.

Spears has the size of a complementary back, but his role in Tulane's passing game was frustratingly small. He hauled in just 22 catches in 2022, displaying average-at-best hands and route-running skills, which raises questions about his ability to find a role right away in the NFL.

Sean Tucker, Syracuse, Jr.

A ripped athlete that ran track both in high school and while at Syracuse, Tucker was a reliable workhorse for the Orange and handled 506 touches across his final two college seasons, which he converted into back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2021-22.

Tucker's athleticism allows him to break tackles and he's proven to be dependable on the ground. He'll need to find work as an early-down back in the NFL, as both his pass-blocking and receiving skills need lots of work. Tucker had 10 recorded drops at Syracuse and looks uncomfortable handling anything more than check-downs. His pass protection ability also leaves lots to be desired, which will significantly hinder his chances of playing time at the next level.

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