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Top Five Impact Rookie RBs for 2023 Fantasy Football

Tank Bigsby - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Each season, the NFL welcomes a new group of players via the league's draft. These first-year players often intrigue fantasy managers due to their blank slates of careers. Sure, many underperform expectations and fail to amount to any fantasy relevance. Others, though, emerge as members of the NFL's elite class of superstars, and this potential proves to be irresistible for many.

Running backs are no exception to this. The most successful rookie running back in the past five seasons was New York Giants tailback Saquon Barkley in 2018. Barkley finished as the league's RB1 in total points and RB2 on a per-game basis. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor also had an incredible rookie year in 2020, averaging 16.9 PPR points per game, the eighth most at the running back position.

Last year, Kenneth Walker III was the top rookie RB, averaging 13.5 points per game for the Seattle Seahawks, and the New York Jets' Breece Hall likely would have exceeded Walker's season production if he had not gotten injured. Which first-year running backs have a chance to match their influence this year? Let's take a dive into the top five rookie running backs who have a chance to make an immediate impact in 2023.

 

Bijan Robinson - Atlanta Falcons

While with the University of Texas, Bijan Robinson started garnering hype as an elite draft prospect all the way back in 2020 as a freshman. Robinson totaled 899 scrimmage yards and six total touchdowns in just nine games in a crowded Longhorn backfield. As he grew older, his production began to rise even further. In 2021, Robinson gained 1,422 scrimmage yards and 15 total touchdowns in 10 games. He entered the 2022 campaign as the obvious top pick in 2023 rookie drafts.

In 2022, Robinson put up 1,894 yards and 20 touchdowns. Robinson was a consensus 2022 All-American and won the Doak Walker Award for the nation's best running back. He also finished ninth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, earning the second-most votes among RBs behind just Michigan's Blake Corum. Robinson certainly delivered on his five-star rating as a recruit.

Robinson's efficiency was elite. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry at Texas, and he also gained 13.4 yards per reception. On that note, he did quite a bit of damage as a receiver, with 60 catches for 805 yards and eight scores in his collegiate career. It's no surprise that the Atlanta Falcons took him with the eighth pick in this April's draft, making him the highest-drafted running back since Barkley in 2018.

Robinson's highlights and stats weren't the only reason for his hype, of course, although those are all very impressive. At 5'11" and 215 pounds, Robinson has the frame of a strong runner, and he also possesses a 90th-percentile Speed Score and an 82nd-percentile Burst Score. Robinson's talent has already been on full display even in limited preseason action. His very first carry, against the Cincinnati Bengals, demonstrated his great burst and agility.

Robinson's landing spot in Atlanta is ideal for his fantasy prospects. The Falcons ran the ball the most of any team in the league last season, and they averaged the second-fewest passing attempts per game. Moreover, head coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone have both returned for 2023, so the team's run-first approach should persist. Robinson is staring at a heavy workload, which makes him a great fantasy asset.

The rookie does have some capable teammates in the backfield, though. Tyler Allgeier impressed as a rookie in 2022, gaining 1,035 yards on 210 carries (4.9 YPC) and finishing fifth in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Cordarrelle Patterson has also played well for Atlanta over the past two seasons, but his usage diminished as Allgeier emerged last year. All in all, Allgeier should siphon some work away from Robinson, but the Texas product is still the clear alpha in an RB room that will see plenty of work.

Why is Robinson the clear alpha? Rookie running backs who were drafted inside the top-10 picks have had an excellent track record as of late. Saquon Barkley (2018), Leonard Fournette (2017), Christian McCaffrey (2017), Ezekiel Elliott (2016), and Todd Gurley (2015) have all posted great rookie seasons for fantasy managers. Even mega-bust Trent Richardson (2012) put up decent numbers in 2012.

 

Player Scrim Yds Recs TDs PPR Pts PPR pts / Gm
Saquon Barkley 2,028 91 15 385.8 24.1
Leonard Fournette 1,342 36 10 230.2 17.7
Christian McCaffrey 1,086 80 7 228.6 14.3
Ezekiel Elliott 1,994 32 16 325.4 21.7
Todd Gurley 1,294 21 10 208.6 16.0
Trent Richardson 1,317 51 12 254.7 17.0

 

Robinson is currently being drafted as the RB3, behind just Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler, and ninth overall. While the hype is immense, this is a fitting draft position for Robinson given his talent and landing spot. He should prove to be a top-tier fantasy option every week, delivering major returns the entire season to the Falcons for their draft pick and to fantasy managers for theirs.

 

Jahmyr Gibbs - Detroit Lions

For 2020 and 2021, Jahmyr Gibbs was a dynamic playmaker for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In his freshman season, Gibbs gained 763 scrimmage yards and scored seven touchdowns. During his sophomore year, he gained 746 yards on 143 carries (5.2 YPC), 470 receiving yards on 36 catches (13.1 YPR), and scored six touchdowns. Gibbs's production led to him receiving significant attention in the transfer portal before his junior year.

For his final collegiate season, Gibbs left Atlanta for Tuscaloosa, rushing for 926 yards on 151 attempts (6.1 YPC), earning 444 yards on 44 receptions (10.1 YPR), and finding the endzone 10 times. His 1,370 scrimmage yards ranked third in the SEC, and his 6.1 yards per carry ranked fifth in the conference. Gibbs's agility and versatility earned him comparisons to Saints RB Alvin Kamara throughout the year.

Gibbs is a smaller running back at 5'9" and 199 pounds. However, he more than makes up for that with his speed. Gibbs ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, giving him a 99th-percentile time and a 92nd-percentile Speed Score. The Detroit Lions were so enamored with Gibbs's athleticism, production, and potential that they defied public opinion and made him the 12th player off the board in this year's NFL Draft.

 

Like Robinson, Gibbs has arrived at a strong destination for fantasy purposes. The Lions supported two top-20 RBs last season in terms of points per game: D'Andre Swift (15th) and Jamaal Williams (18th). Part of the reason for this was Detroit's quality offensive line; the team averaged the 10th-most yards per carry before contact last season. That line not only remains intact for 2023 but even returns guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai from injury.

Another component of the Detroit backfield's success was their involvement—particularly Swift's—in the passing game. Swift was ninth among all tailbacks in targets despite missing three games, and with him now in Philadelphia, those looks will be heading to Gibbs. Gibbs's 14.7 percent target share at Alabama was a 93rd-percentile number; he is a talented receiver and will be utilized by Detroit as such.

Detroit made another key acquisition at the running back position this offseason: former Chicago Bear David Montgomery. The belief is that Montgomery and Gibbs will coexist in the backfield, with both being major contributors to the team's offense. Indeed, the situation draws another parallel between Gibbs and Kamara; for his first two years in New Orleans, Kamara shared a backfield with Mark Ingram, and both were great fantasy options.

Gibbs's ADP over the past month has been as the RB12. While this may be a little rich given his inexperience and the presence of Montgomery, it certainly goes to show that the expectations for Gibbs as a rookie are high. His ability to be a fantasy RB1 cannot be overlooked, and he should be considered safely in the RB2 range. That makes him clearly among the top five impact rookie RBs for fantasy football this season.

 

Zach Charbonnet - Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks drafted former Wake Forest and Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III in the second round in 2022. Walker had a strong rookie season, finishing the year as the RB18 (RB16 in points per game) having rushed for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns. Importantly, Walker was also the RB11 from Week 5 onward after Rashaad Penny was injured. This is what made the team's decision to draft running back Zach Charbonnet in the second round this year particularly puzzling.

Charbonnet began his college career at Michigan, where he had a strong freshman season in 2019. The young tailback ran for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns, with the latter number being the fourth-highest figure in the Big Ten that season. However, Charbonnet was relegated to a lesser role in 2020 during the COVID-shortened season, and he entered the Transfer Portal ahead of his junior year.

In 2021, Charbonnet joined the UCLA Bruins. Los Angeles ended up being where he truly shined, as he rushed for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first year under Chip Kelly. Last season, he improved even further, gaining 1,680 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns in just 10 games while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. He led the Pac-12 in rushing yards, scrimmage yards, and yards per attempt, and he also finished second in rushing touchdowns.

At 6'0" and 214 pounds, Charbonnet has good size for the position, and with a 78th-percentile Burst Score and a 72nd-percentile Speed Score, he has good athleticism as well. He was also a quality receiver at UCLA, maxing out at 37 catches for 321 yards (8.7 YPR) last season and having a 14.5 percent target share (93rd percentile). Charbonnet can do a lot of things well, and he will quickly find a role with the Seahawks.

The big question is, how large will that role be? Walker is a very viable option in the backfield and is the team's number-one running back. With the eighth-highest breakaway run rate and 12th-best juke rate last year, Walker has proven that he can be quite effective at the NFL level already; Charbonnet has not. Indeed, Walker was even the second-place finisher in last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, so Charbonnet has a ways to go before he can establish himself as a player of equal caliber.

Nonetheless, Charbonnet's talent was on full display at UCLA, and his second-round draft capital is also extremely encouraging. Moreover, Walker sustained a groin injury early in training camp and was held out of the team's three preseason games, giving the rookie a chance to shine. Charbonnet produced several highlights in his August action, including a long run against the Cowboys.

Charbonnet has been drafted lately as the RB38, which is a fair spot for him. He should not be drafted too much higher than that due to his being stuck behind Walker on the depth chart, but he also cannot fall too low given his status as one of the best insurance options in fantasy football. Charbonnet should not be counted on as a starter by fantasy managers, but he is an excellent choice to fill an early bench slot.

 

Devon Achane - Miami Dolphins

Devon Achane proved to be a very explosive player during his time at Texas A&M. Despite sparse action as a freshman in 2020, Achane was electric on his 48 touches, averaging 8.5 yards per carry and gaining 97 yards on only five receptions. As a sophomore, he ran for 910 yards on 130 attempts (7.0 YPC), picked up 261 yards on 24 catches (10.9 YPR), and scored 10 total touchdowns. Expectations were high for Achane entering 2022.

Unfortunately, Achane was unable to replicate his elite efficiency on a larger workload as a junior. The Aggies had a very disappointing year with just five wins, and that decline leaked into their top running back's numbers. Achane's yards per touch fell from 7.6 to 5.6, and he gained just 127 more scrimmage yards in 2022 than in 2021 despite having 78 more touches. Still, his profile was good enough for the Miami Dolphins to take him in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Considering Achane has a height of just 5'9" and a weight of only 188 pounds, he will never be a bruiser in the backfield. Thankfully, his speed more than makes up for that fact. His 4.32-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine was a 99th-percentile mark, led his position group, and earned him an 88th-percentile Speed Score. However, his Burst Score was quite lackluster as an 18th-percentile figure, and his overall Athleticism Score was just 34th of 43 running backs in this year's draft class.

With Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. also in Miami, Achane will need to work to achieve fantasy relevance this season. His likeliest path is receiving a lot of action in the passing game. His 14.7 percent target share in college was at the 93rd percentile, and his low mark of 5.6 yards per catch last year was much lower than his averages in previous seasons. His skillset should lead to plenty of long runs after catches.

At the same time, his path to meaningful carries is very hazy. Wilson was traded to Miami in the middle of last season, and he played seven games alongside Mostert. Extrapolating their numbers in those seven games across a full season would have yielded the following stat lines: 172 carries for 857 yards and five touchdowns for Wilson, and 153 carries for 736 yards and five touchdowns for Mostert. Both backs are capable, so Achane may struggle to be active on the ground.

The shoulder injury that Achane suffered against Houston in the preseason further complicates matters. While head coach Mike McDaniel announced that Achane escaped anything severe, he is still considered "week-to-week." This will put his availability for Week 1 in jeopardy, meaning he could be deprived of opportunities to make an explosive impression early in the season.

While there are many concerns swirling around Achane, it is important to maintain sight of the positives as well. He is an electric player who has the potential to bring the Dolphins great returns on their third-round investment. Achane has an ADP of RB41 at the moment; his floor is very low for fantasy managers this season, but his ceiling is also relatively high should events unfold favorably.

 

Tank Bigsby - Jacksonville Jaguars

Tank Bigsby had a very productive three-year career for the Auburn Tigers before entering the NFL. He began his time on the Plains with 834 rushing yards and five scores in 10 games as a freshman. In 2021 Bigsby's volume increased, as he toted the ball 223 times for 1,099 yards (4.9 YPC) and found the endzone 10 times. He also doubled his receiving production, going from 11 receptions for 84 yards to 21 grabs for 184 yards.

Bigsby's junior season featured similar success on a slightly smaller volume; he had 970 yards on 179 carries (5.4 YPC) and 10 rushing touchdowns. His usage in the passing game also expanded further, as he caught a career-high 30 passes for 180 yards. Bigsby ended his career at Auburn having finished inside the SEC's top-five rushing yardage leaders in each of his three seasons, and his rushing attempts every year were top-eight.

Standing 6'0" tall and weighing 210 pounds, Bigsby's name is relatively apt among running backs. His 4.45-second (hand-timed) 40-yard dash time, 73rd-percentile Speed Score, and 21 bench press reps paint a picture of a decent but unremarkable athlete, but Bigsby's consistent production in an otherwise mediocre series of Auburn offenses was impressive enough to win the respect of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags selected Bigsby in the third round, four slots after Achane was taken by Miami.

Expectations for Bigsby should be somewhat tempered in 2023. This is because of Travis Etienne Jr.'s presence in the Jacksonville backfield. Etienne was last year's RB17 (RB23 in points per game), and he returns as the number-one RB for the Jaguars this season. He ended last season with the fifth-most breakaway runs, the 10th-most yards per touch, and the 17th-most yards created per touch, so Etienne is an efficient player at the NFL level. He is also involved in the passing game; Etienne ran the 15th-most routes and had the fifth-highest yards per reception among RBs.

Etienne poses a major obstacle between Bigsby and a big role. However, should Etienne surprisingly falter or suffer an injury, Bigbsy would be able to take over as a three-down running back. He not only possesses the requisite size and power to be a valuable runner, but the gradual expansion of his receiving numbers at Auburn was very promising as well. Bigsby's 15.3 percent target share by the end of his career was a 94th-percentile figure and speaks to his ability to be active in both facets of the offense.

Providing further encouragement is the positive impression Bigsby has left on observers throughout preseason and training camp. Through his three preseason outings, Bigsby rushed for 159 yards on 28 attempts, good for an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Moreover, per PFF, Bigsby played 36 percent of the snaps with starters in the team's final preseason game versus Miami. He does need to contend with JaMycal Hasty to be the team's RB2, but that battle should not last long.

Bigsby's current ADP is the RB43. Considering he is clearly a backup behind Etienne, it is difficult to select him much higher than at this slot. Still, Bigsby's arrow has been pointing up over the past month, and he may end up demanding a larger role than anticipated sooner rather than later. He is a quality sleeper option for fantasy managers to draft onto their benches, and he also provides great value as an insurance option for those who draft Etienne as well.



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UFL Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 8: QB, RB, WR, TE Rankings and Analysis (2024)

Week 7's UFL action did not disappoint, as the game of the week between St. Louis and Birmingham came down to the wire and delivered some impressive fantasy outings. The Renegades grabbed their first win of the season in an explosive 47-point offensive showing, the Panthers featured two new quarterbacks, and the Brahmas won a... Read More


UFL RANKINGS, FANTASY FOOTBALL,

Free UFL Betting Picks - Best Bets, Odds, Predictions for Week 8

Another 5-3 week is nothing to be upset about. Plus, that was a fun week to kick back and watch from a results standpoint. The Renegades grab their first win of the season in dominant fashion, the Stallions beat the Battlehawks in a game that lived up to the expectations and gave positive tidings for... Read More


Christian McCaffrey - Fantasy Football Rankings, DFS and Betting Picks, NFL Injury News

Early PPR Rankings for 2024 Fantasy Football Drafts: Justin Jefferson, Josh Jacobs, Stefon Diggs, Trey McBride, Malik Nabers, Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Hey, RotoBallers! The 2024 NFL Draft is over, and it's an exciting time for football as players are starting to report to offseason workouts. The heart of fantasy football draft season is around the corner. Week 1 will be here before we know it, and it's never too early to start preparing for your fantasy... Read More


Jaylen Wright - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, RB, NFL Draft Sleepers

Fantasy Football Dynasty League Rookie/Free-Agent Draft Review: FFPC Deeper Targets

In the offseason and preseason, as soon as the NFL Draft is over, I eagerly jump into slow fantasy football drafts. I am a big fan of the slow draft format. It extends the fun over many days and always gives me something to look forward to throughout the day. Waking up to find out... Read More


Chase Brown - Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

Second-Year Fantasy Football Players Who Will Break Out in 2024 - Sophomore Bounce-Back Candidates

For many years, fantasy football players tried their best to avoid rookies in drafts. Recently, it's become more common for rookies to make an impact. We've seen players like Ja’Marr Chase, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley finish in the top five at their positions. Even last year, we saw C.J. Stroud and Puka Nacua emerge... Read More