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. After looking at quarterbacks first, today I transition to running backs.

First up is Samaje Perine, who moves from the Bengals to the Broncos. He signed a decent contract as a free agent and becomes the primary backup to Javonte Williams. With Williams coming off a significant knee injury, there’s potential opportunity for Perine. Will he rise to the occasion? Let’s consider the evidence.

The Case for Samaje Perine

Perine is a journeyman back. He was first drafted the Fourth Round of the 2017 NFL Draft by Washington. But it’s really been the past three seasons with the Bengals where Perine has come into his own. In 2022, he was an invaluable part of the Bengals attack, often on the field in key stretches late in the game. He’s a strong blocker, but he also contributed as a runner and receiver.

In 2022, he rushed for 394 yards and two touchdowns, catching 38 passes and adding four more touchdowns as a receiver. That was good enough to finish as RB34 on the season. That was part of his appeal for the Broncos. Regardless, he figures to contribute this season. But he could be a key cog for the team early in the season with Williams still trying to work himself back. The Broncos don’t have much depth.

Beside Perine and Williams, the Broncos have just four other backs on the roster, including fullback Michael Burton. The other running backs include Tony Jones, Jaleel McLaughlin and Tyler Badie. None has much experience, meaning Perine is the clear option to lead the backfield if Williams isn’t ready Week 1, or at least not ready to carry a full load.

The Case Against Samaje Perine

It’s basically experience and competition. Let’s start with the latter, meaning Williams. The Broncos saw his potential as a three-down workhorse when he was drafted. While he split with Melvin Gordon his rookie season, Williams started taking a bigger share of the workload by the end of the year. To start 2022, he was set to be a focal point of the offense before suffering an injury in Week 4. The fact the Broncos haven’t brought in more backs might be the best proof that Williams is on track to return to full health to start the season.

Additionally, we haven’t seen Perine carry the workload for a full season. Only once in his career has, he carried more than the 95 times he did in 2022. That came his rookie season, when he saw 175 carries and rushed for a career-high 603 yards. Can he carry a full load? Last season we saw him post 38 carries over a two-game stretch, but in nine games he had four carries or fewer.

The Bottom Line

I like Perine in 2023. His ADP is RB35, which is fair and in line with last year’s production. But I think he has a chance to best that. Even if Williams is healthy Week 1, I expect Perine to have a role. During the first three weeks in 2022, Williams split carries with Gordon. Perine was used to being a change-of-pace back behind a workhorse in Mixon with the Bengals, and there’s a reason the Broncos went to sign him in free agency. He’s a player that should be a decent weekly flex play.

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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