As we move toward the 2023 NFL Season, I’m turning my focus to a series of sleeper candidates. I’ll be offering four players at each of the positions—QB, RB, WR, and TE—that I think can make a positive impact for you in fantasy. This will be a list of veteran players, as we already have our expectations set for the class of 2023. Today I’m taking a look at my last running back, one that is more of a long shot.
Today I’m looking at Jaylen Warren, who was an undrafted rookie free agent for the Steelers last season. Warren wasn’t on anyone’s radar prior to the season. After all, the Steelers have a star running back in Najee Harris. But his steady performance appearing in 16 games, makes him an interesting prospect heading into this season.
The Case For Jaylen Warren
Warren was a steady contributor in 2022. He didn’t start any games, but by the end of the season, he was clearly the second option for the Steelers. He carried 77 times for 379 yards and a touchdown. While it doesn’t sound incredible, his 4.9 yards per carry does catch the eye. In addition, Warren played a role in the passing game. He saw 33 targets, catching 28 passes for 214 yards. That showed his ability to contribute and be at least a change-of-pace back.
He also has some opportunity. We’ve seen reserve backs on the Steelers who have talent spring into bigger roles before. That was the path James Conner used at one point, and even Le’Veon Bell before him. Harris is a solid back, but one injury and the role could be wide-open. Warren showed his ability to out-pace the other competition last year, and the Steelers haven’t made any substantial moves in that direction this year. In fact, Warren’s production in 2022 might even be strong enough for him to have flex appeal even if Harris is healthy.
The Case Against Jaylen Warren
It starts with draft capital—as in he has none. That’s not definitive, as we’ve seen backs drafted low or not at all have an impact. It’s also a small sample size. He only had two games with 10 or more carries in 2022, and he had nine games with four or fewer carries. Passing game production and scoring opportunities help, but those are hardly a lock.
Then there’s his competition. Harris had something of a down year in 2022, and despite that, he saw 272 carries for 1,034 yards and 53 targets, adding 10 touchdowns. He’s a bellcow back, and his draft capital reflects that. Some of his reduced production could owe to starting the season with lower body injuries. As a rookie, Harris saw 307 carries and 94 targets, while backup Benny Snell saw just 36 carries and four targets. Is Warren better than Snell? Likely he is. But that doesn’t mean he can get on the field if Harris is healthy and humming.
The Bottom Line
There has been a lot of buzz about Warren this off-season. That’s likely helped his ADP to reach RB51. While that’s not incredible draft capital, it falls in a range where those taking him expect they could play him, especially in deeper leagues. That brings us to Harris. Was last year about injuries, or will Warren earn some playing time? I think he’s worth a stash at the right price, but if I’m grabbing him, I’m not banking on him being a startable piece until we see how the division of work plays out in September.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.