Scott Engel is in his 12th year as the official Fantasy Football writer and analyst for Seahawks.com. He is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hall of Fame. Scott is a four-time FSWA award winner and a 13-time nominee. You can find more of his fantasy football analysis at The Game Day and on RotoBaller.com.
Running backs used to dominate the early picks in fantasy football drafts of past seasons. Fantasy players always wanted guys who would take on the majority of a team's workload, and in most leagues, you have to start two of them.
In today's NFL, though, we are seeing more timeshares and committee situations in the NFL at running back. The Seahawks are projected to feature a strong duo of Kenneth Walker III and very promising rookie Zach Charbonnet , as one example.
In 2019, a total of 12 running backs finished with 245-plus rushing attempts. Only four running backs reached that marker in 2020, and five surpassed the total in 2021. In 2022, eight RBs had 245-plus carries, but three of them are no longer playing for the same team in 2023, so they may not be able to get back to the threshold of 245 attempts.
The view of the position has certainly changed in recent seasons and is reflected in Average Draft Position Reports. According to fantasypros.com, only three of the top 12 picks in Points Per Reception formats (PPR) are RBs, whereas we sometimes saw approximately three-quarters of the first round dedicated to RB choices.
So what drafters want to know this season is, when should they make the move for the first running back? Many fantasy players will be aiming for the high statistical floor superstar WRs early on, and Travis Kelce usually is taken in the first round, too, because he is in a tier of his own at tight end.
I provide my top 30 RB rankings for the 2023 fantasy football season here, and even deeper ranks from me are available at RotoBaller.com. Every draft is different, but after absorbing and reviewing my recommendations here, you will feel better prepared to navigate the RB position on draft day.
2023 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings And Positional Outlook
San Francisco's Christian McCaffrey remains a top 3 overall pick because of his outstanding dual-threat abilities. Last season, he stayed healthy and was only one of two fantasy RBs to score over 350 points and average over 21 points per game. No other RB scored more than 330 points or averaged over 19.3 points per game. McCaffrey has finished as a top 2 fantasy RB in three of the past five seasons and he is regarded as the biggest fantasy football prize at his position for those who land an early first-round pick.
Annual receiving standout Austin Ekeler was the top scorer at RB in 2022, with 372.7 points and an average of 21.9 points per game. He will frequently be picked in the top half of the first round this season, as Ekeler has finished in the top 4 at RB in three of the past four years. If you miss out on McCaffrey, nabbing Ekeler is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Being able to draft one of those two prime RBs is an advantage for fantasy players who end up with a pick in the top half of the first round.
After McCaffrey and Ekeler are off the board, there is a perceived minor drop-off to the next players at the position. Atlanta Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson will be a first-rounder in most drafts. Last season, Atlanta ranked second in run/pass ratio and it is apparent the Falcons will continue to see the running game as a crux of the offense. The team used the No. 8 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on Robinson, a clear signal that he will be a major part of the game plans right away. Robinson is a significant threat as both a runner and passer, and he should be a top RB target in the back half of the first round.
Fantasy players who take a running back in the first round will likely have to strongly consider a WR pick in round two, to assure themselves of landing a top 12 to 15 player at the position. The drafters who go for a WR or Kelce in the first round will still have chances to land a quality RB1 type in round two.
Dallas' Tony Pollard is set to become a true featured RB for the first time in his career this season. He has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his career, and Pollard rushed for a new personal high of nine TDs in 2022. He should function as a prolific fantasy RB1 on one of the better offenses in the NFC.
The always-dependable Nick Chubb has the look of a top 5 fantasy RB for 2023, and he is a solid second-round pick. He finished as RB6 last season, and Chubb might see a heavier all-around workload this year as part of what should be a steadier Cleveland offense with Deshaun Watson starting at QB from the outset. The 27-year-old veteran runner may not share a good amount of touches with another notable RB as he did in recent seasons.
Giants superstar Saquon Barkley finished third behind McCaffery and Barkley last season in total points (328.3) and points per game at RB (19.3). He is my No. 3 ranked RB, but often drops to the second round. Josh Jacobs is coming off a career season and represents the end of the top 8 running backs I prefer to draft as an earlier RB1 option.
Derrick Henry will usually go off the board in the second round, and he remains worthy of RB1 status. New England's Rhamondre Stevenson is expected to operate as a clear No. 1 runner for New England this season, and there is definite appeal to taking him as a possible RB1 in the third round.
Joe Mixon remains the lead RB for a top-notch Bengals offense, and he is one of my preferred targets outside of the top 10 RBs. It is optimal to land one of the top 8 as a projected fantasy RB1. The second-year Jet will be drafted as a back-end RB1 in many leagues.
Speedy Lions rookie Jahmyr Gibbs is also a very tempting RB2 pick, as he has instant and much potential as both a runner and receiver. Travis Etienne will remain the lead RB for a rising Jacksonville offense and he should be an efficient RB2. Miles Sanders, who rushed for a career-high 11 TDs with the Eagles last year, appears to be ticketed for significant volume in his first season with the Carolina Panthers.
After delivering a breakout rookie season in 2022, Kenneth Walker III is positioned as an upside fantasy RB2 for the 2023 campaign. He was a top 8 fantasy RB last season from when he took over as a regular starter for the Seahawks in Week 6 until the end of the fantasy season in Week 17. Walker rushed for nine TDs from Weeks 5 through 12 as he became a must-start fantasy player.
Walker is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field and he continued to improve as an inside runner as his rookie season progressed. Charbonnet will be a good fit as his complement, as the second-round NFL Draft pick can grind out yardage while also being productive as a pass-catcher. I have been targeting Charbonnet as one of my favored RB4 selections.
Dameon Pierce flashed potential as a rookie in 2022 and he can be a quality fantasy RB2 over a projected full season in 2023. Aaron Jones remains a viable RB2 option as the Green Bay offense transitions to Jordan Love as the QB. Healthy volume is appealing when considering Alexander Mattison, Rachaad White, and Cam Akers.
Other RBs to keep on your watch list throughout the draft include Antonio Gibson, who can operate as an effective dual threat for Washington, and James Cook, who is coming off a strong preseason and is an appealing upside type after the fourth round. Samaje Perine could see a decent amount of work for Denver, and Dolphins rookie De'Von Achane fits right in as a speed merchant in the explosive and fast-racing Miami offense. Jamaal Williams led the NFL with 17 rushing TDs in 2022 and he might approach double figures again with the Saints this season.
Of course, you always want to target the top NFL backups to your projected starters as fantasy insurance types in the later rounds if they can be landed. Some more experienced fantasy football players will employ the "Zero RB” strategy, in which they totally avoid the position for the first few rounds and target value and sleeper plays in the middle and later rounds. I have never aimed for a "Zero RB" approach by design, yet depending on the flow of any draft, such a build has become possible on the fly. Every draft has its own unique series of picks, and your plan for drafting RBs should not be a rigid one.
Scott Engel's Top 30 Fantasy Running Backs For The 2023 Season
1. Christian McCaffrey
2. Austin Ekeler
3. Saquon Barkley
4. Bijan Robinson
5. Nick Chubb
6. Tony Pollard
7. Derrick Henry
8. Josh Jacobs
9. Rhamondre Stevenson
10. Joe Mixon
11. Najee Harris
12. Jahmyr Gibbs
13. Travis Etienne
14. J.K. Dobbins
15. Miles Sanders
16. Kenneth Walker III
17. Aaron Jones
18. Alexander Mattison
19. Dameon Pierce
20. James Cook
21. Rachaad White
22. Cam Akers
23. Breece Hall
24. James Conner
25. Javonte Williams
26. Isiah Pacheco
27. Jonathan Taylor
28. Dalvin Cook
29. Alvin Kamara
- 30. Brian Robinson Jr.
Take a look at photos of running back Zach Charbonnet during his two years at Michigan (2019-2020) and two years at UCLA (2021-2022). Charbonnet was selected by the Seahawks with the 52nd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.