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Early 2023 Fantasy Football Breakout Running Backs: Rachaad White, Isiah Pacheco, And More

Rachaad White - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

The NFL draft is approximately a month away, best ball tournaments are in full swing, and free agency is well underway, making it the perfect time to look at early breakout candidates for next season.  

Every year, some players exceed their previous career highs, leveling up to the next tier. Accurately identifying those players is very valuable because you can trade for or draft them at their current value, which will be a discount compared to their final production. While there is no crystal ball or a time machine to know for sure who will fit that description, there are some indicators that we can look for, including youth, opportunity, past production, draft capital, and underlying metrics such as elusive rating.

This article will focus on running backs, a position where the depth chart is constantly changing. It's also a spot where teams continue to favor youth, often electing to draft a replacement instead of paying aging veterans. Below you'll find six names with a strong path to breaking out and reaching that next tier in 2023.

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Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

White garnered a lot of interest entering the season because of his receiving ability and the possibility that he could overtake Leonard Fournette for the starting job. It took until Week 7 for him to carve out a role, but he never saw fewer than seven touches the rest of the season after that, aside from Week 18 when they rested their starters.

His breakout moment came in Week 10 against Seattle, capitalizing on an injury to Fournette. He rushed for 105 yards on 22 attempts, most of which came in the second half. Fournette missed their next outing against Cleveland, where White showcased his pass-catching prowess, finishing with nine receptions for 45 yards. The passing attack is where he excels, which is a question mark now for the Buccaneers, who lost the GOAT Tom Brady to retirement. They currently have sophomore Kyle Trask and veteran Baker Mayfield on the roster.

The team also released Fournette.

His absence will thrust White into a starting role for a team with needs in other positions, plus they're dealing with cap issues. Thus far, the team has added Chase Edmonds, who was cut by the Dolphins in favor of Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert, before being signed and cut again by the Broncos. It sets White, who was drafted 91st overall in 2022, up nicely to be at least the 1A, if not a workhorse, depending on whether they make any additional moves at the position.


Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles

Gainwell spent his sophomore season competing with Miles Sanders and Boston Scott for touches but made his mark in the playoffs. In those three games, he totaled the most rushing and receiving yards of the three backs, with 181 and 55, respectively. He also took over for Sanders during the Super Bowl after he went down due to injury. Although the playoffs were where he shined, he still led the backfield in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season, despite playing an average of 28% of the offensive snaps with a season-high of 42%.

Scott re-signed with the team on a one-year deal worth two million dollars, but Sanders, who accounted for 259 rushing attempts and 26 targets, is headed to the Panthers. Losing Sanders opens up a lot of work for the remaining backs. In addition to bringing back Scott, Philly added Rashaad Penny on a one-year deal worth even less than Scott's. He'll receive $1.35 million with only $600,000 guaranteed.

We all know the situation with Penny at this point. He's talented and explosive but cannot stay healthy. Penny started his career playing 14 of 16 games in his rookie season with Seattle. However, he's since played in 28 of a possible 66 games. He managed just five in 2022 before suffering a broken fibula. You can bet on one of two things happening in 2023, either Penny's role and workload get reduced in an attempt to keep him healthy or he plays in fewer than 17 games.

Regardless of which one occurs, there will be plenty of upside for Gainwell so long as he maintains the receiving role because he only needs 40-45% of the offensive snaps to be productive, especially if he can earn additional goal-line carries.

We know the team will continue to pound the rock and projects to be in positive game scripts frequently again in 2023, providing plenty of volume. They also have an excellent offensive line and one of the league's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks, opening up running lanes for the backfield. Gainwell is a great bet to jump into the top 36 with a top-24 upside given Penny's injury history.


James Cook, Buffalo Bills

Cook was another fan favorite entering last season, who many drafted very high based on the expectation he would lead the backfield. Unfortunately, he finished third on the team in attempts behind Devin Singletary and Josh Allen. He also trailed Singletary in receptions. While the overall output was disappointing, his explosiveness was undeniable. He finished 17th in breakaway runs (15-plus yards) with 17 of them, despite only carrying the ball 89 times. Furthermore, he finished with the 15th-highest yards per route run of all tailbacks at 1.43, averaging 8.57 yards per reception.

He, too, has an improving situation. Singletary signed with the Houston Texans, creating a void that has been filled by Damien Harris, who is a talented runner but has never excelled as a receiver. Plus, Nyhiem Hines carries a zero dead cap hit, meaning he could be cut for nothing to save $3.5 million, a move the team could make, especially after adding someone in the draft or free agency. Cook's second-round draft capital also makes him the favorite to be the starter.

The other thing worth noting is the possibility the team decides to run the ball more frequently. They finished third in pass rate over expectation last season, indicating an aggressive approach. They were 16th in rushing attempts but showed an inclination to attack opponents on the ground during the second half of the season. From Week 10 on, they averaged 29.4 attempts per game, compared to 24.4 in the first nine weeks. Cook has a real chance to emerge as a top-24 back with spike weeks.


Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs

Ever since Kareem Hunt was released in 2018, the Chiefs have struggled to find a true starting caliber RB option. It's safe to say they've given up on Clyde Edwards-Helaire despite his first-round draft capital. He'll remain a depth piece this season because of his contract, but he can be cut for no dead cap hit next offseason to save over five million dollars. Thus, he's not a part of their future.

After making a regrettable pick on Edwards-Helaire, the team seems to have struck gold with their seventh-round selection in 2022, acquiring Pacheco, who was extremely impressive. He generated some buzz during training camp and the preseason, which was hard to trust given his draft capital. It took until Week 9 for him to really secure the lead-back role, but over the final nine games, he carried the ball 126 times for 633 yards and four touchdowns. His full-season pace would be 238 carries for 1,196 and eight touchdowns. He was effective as a ball carrier, totaling eight breakaway runs and averaging nearly five yards per carry.

There's also an opportunity for growth in the passing attack, where he caught only 13 passes all season largely because of Jerick McKinnon. The good news is both McKinnon and Ronald Jones are free agents. The team will definitely make more moves to fill out their depth chart, but so long as they don't seek out a new starter in the first three rounds of the draft, there's a strong case for Pacheco to produce top 24 numbers as a reliable tailback in a deadly offense.


Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons

The 2022 rookie class keeps making an appearance on this list. Allgeier quietly finished 13th in rushing yards at the position with fewer attempts than every player ahead of him. He also finished with the second-most 40-plus yard runs and the ninth-most 15-plus yard runs, averaging 4.93 yards per carry. Furthermore, his elusive rating of 88.7 was the sixth-best and his rushing yards over expected were the seventh-best. It's evident he's a talented player who can be efficient and carry the workload for an offense that loves to attack their opponents on the ground.

His primary competition was Cordarrelle Patterson, who finished with 144 carries and 21 receptions. Caleb Huntley also factored in with 76 attempts. However, in the seven games Allgeier started, he averaged 16 carries for 73 yards and 0.3 touchdowns. The glaring issue with his production is how often he found the end zone. Much of that had to do with Patterson cashing in eight times. Both Patterson and Huntley are still with the team, but that may actually benefit Allgeier because they'll be more inclined to move forward with the current group, enabling him to take that next step and operate as the starter for the whole year.


Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears

Herbert showcased his talent last season, enabling the Bears to feel comfortable moving on from David Montgomery. In the three games Herbert has played without Montgomery in 2021 and 2022, he's finished as the RB11, RB9, and RB1 in half-PPR scoring. He also produced a top-25 finish in five of his other 12 games last season with Montgomery active. The underlying metrics also support his explosiveness, finishing fifth in effectiveness, fourth in rush yards over expected, and 12th in elusive rating. There's no question he has the ability to deliver great performances, even on fewer touches.

His opportunity takes a bit of a hit because the team signed Travis Homer and D'Onta Foreman to round out their backfield. Foreman profiles as a big-bodied bruiser who can get the tough yards and make big plays, evidenced by his 12 breakaway runs. Herbert will need to earn the majority of that role to crack the top 24 but has a strong chance to do so because of his youth, familiarity with the system, and established role.

It's also possible that multiple backs could succeed because the offense is trending upward. They added D.J. Moore to pair with Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, and Chase Claypool, which will take some pressure off the ground game. Montgomery and Herbert faced eight defenders in the box (near the line of scrimmage) a combined 47.9% of the time in 2022. Opposing defenses were willing to let Justin Fields try to beat them through the air in favor of taking away the rushing threat he and the backfield posed, which could shift significantly. Chicago ranked 23rd in points scored and dead last in passing attempts, leaving a lot of room for improvement.

Herbert has a chance to be a steady contributor with massive upside if he secures the starting role and the offense improves.

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