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 continue with running backs, moving to the Chiefs’ backfield.

Last season, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. Part of what started to make the offense hum down the stretch and into the post-season was finding the right combination in the backfield. While rookie Isaih Pacheco got a lot of notice for his power rushing, it was veteran Jerrick McKinnon who added a lot of the punch out of the backfield. Can he do it again?

The Case for Jerrick McKinnon

Once upon a time, McKinnon was going to be a lead back. After showing flashes of his talent with the Vikings, he signed a free-agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers. But he appeared in just 16 games and carried just 81 times in three seasons under contract with the 49ers. In 2021, McKinnon moved over to the Chiefs, but it was in 2022 that the offense found its feet by pairing him with Pacheco.

The younger Pacheco is the runner, taking most of the carries. But it’s McKinnon that gets the passing downs and is a Red Zone threat. That saw him garner 71 targets, catching 56 passes for 512 yards and nine touchdowns. That, combined with his rushing, helped him finish as RB20. Most of that, too, came down the stretch. McKinnon only caught 17 passes in the first seven weeks, exploding down the stretch for 39 receptions and eight touchdowns from Week 8 on. This off-season, the Chiefs brought McKinnon back, seemingly creating the same backfield combination alongside Pacheco.

Perhaps even more encouraging if you are hoping for a repeat is that the Chiefs’ actual receiving corps is even less experienced than last year. That could make McKinnon, along with all-world tight end Travis Kelce, the focal points in a re-shaped passing game.

The Case Against Jerrick McKinnon

The first concern has to be health. While the McKinnon we saw in 2022 was reminiscent of the player that excited fantasy fans when he signed with the 49ers in 2018, it’s fair to wonder if it’s repeatable. McKinnon played in all 17 games and saw a career-high in targets. He also became a big factor in the Red Zone, catching nine touchdowns. All that is what helped propel his fantasy value. If he can’t stay on the field or his role shifts, that could change.

The second question is whether his role remains the same. The most crucial area is likely the Red Zone. The Chiefs have young gadget receivers in Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore, that could get more looks, and they could use Pacheco or Clyde Edwards-Helaire more in the backfield. If McKinnon’s workload is slashed, you’d be relying on him getting in the end zone to retain weekly value.

The Bottom Line

McKinnon was a big surprise down the stretch in 2022. If you were able to grab him and throw him into a lineup, he might have propelled you toward the fantasy playoffs. But should you trust it again? His current ADP is RB42. His backfield mate, Pacheco, is going as RB26. The Chiefs are a more pass-heavy team, and Pacheco doesn’t profile as a big part of the passing games. Touchdowns can be fluky, but at his current price, I like McKinnon. I don’t want to rely on him as my RB2, but I’m happy to stash him at a discount with the hope we see more of 2022, and he becomes a great flex-worthy option.

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.

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