The big wave of Free Agency is over, as is the 2023 NFL Draft. Now it’s time to look forward. Over the next few articles, I’ll be looking at team’s fantasy units by conference, ranking the groups. Today I’m swinging over to the AFC side of the running back ledger. First up today are the No. 16 to No. 9 groups. As always, units appear in ascending order.
No. 16: Miami Dolphins
On the Roster: Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, De’Von Achane, Salvon Ahmed, Myles Gaskin, and Chris Brooks
About: Miami is a riddle. For years, they’ve seemed a prime candidate to pick up a franchise running back. And yet, the Dolphins have mostly passed in free agency and the draft. With Mike McDaniel and his power running scheme in town, the team signed veteran Mostert and Chase Edmonds last off-season. Edmonds wasn’t a fit, ending up traded to the Broncos, while the Dolphins traded for another former 49er, Jeff Wilson. With Wilson, Gaskin, and Mostert all free agents at the end of the season, it seemed logical the Dolphins would bring one back and look toward the future. Curiously, the team brought all of them back, joining Ahmed as they seemed to be running it back in 2023. Then the team drafted Achane, and now it’s something of a five-person party. The thing is, the individual ceiling for any of them doesn’t seem that high, and as a group, it’s hard to tell who is going to stand out. Miami has a lot of running backs, but I’m still not bullish on any of them. So, they land in the No. 16 spot.
No. 15: Buffalo Bills
On the Roster: James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, and Nyheim Hines
About: The Bills are another team that figured to be looking to get better at running back. The team entered 2022 led by Cook, a Second-Round pick, Devin Singletary, and Zack Moss. They dealt Moss for Hines during the season, using the latter mostly as a Special Teams ace. This off-season, the team let Singletary walk in free agency, signing former Patriot Harris and journeyman Murray. Murray and Hines figure to be depth and role players, leaving a top-end combination of Cook and Harris. Harris had some strong years in New England, rushing for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021 before injuries slowed him in 2022. Cook, as a rookie, showed flashes. He rushed for 507 yards on only 89 carries, averaging 5.7 yards per carry while catching 21 passes. I like Cook’s potential, and Harris has been a solid if unspectacular, runner. It’s a decent top-end duo with decent depth, but it didn’t impress me as much as some other options.
No. 14: Kansas City Chiefs
On the Roster: Isaih Pacheco, Jerrick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, La’Michal Perine, and Deneric Prince
About: The Chiefs have a great offense. They have the best quarterback and tight end, creating an incredible passing game. By contrast, the rushing game is a few steps behind most teams. But it’s not for lack of trying. On the roster is Edwards-Helaire, once a First-Round pick that many expected to thrive. Instead, in his third season, he’s little more than a role player and depth. So, too, is Perine, originally a Fourth-Round pick of the Jets. It really comes down to Pacheco, the runner, and McKinnon, the all-purpose back. Pacheco rushed for 830 yards and five touchdowns, averaging nearly five yards per carry as a rookie. He’s like a 1,000-yard runner this year, but he’s just a First and Second-Down option. McKinnon, meanwhile, thrived as the compliment to Pacheco. He caught 56 passes for 512 yards and nine touchdowns. Together, they make a formidable combination. But neither back could carry the load on their own, and I don’t love the Chiefs’ depth. So, I dropped them here.
No. 13: Houston Texans
On the Roster: Dameon Pierce, Devin Singletary, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale, and Gerrid Doaks
About: This was a very close call with the Chiefs, but I like Pierce better as a lead back and Singletary as the No. 2. Like other teams on this list, the Texans have a backfield rounded out by some role players. Boone can carry the ball, but he’s also a Special Teams ace. Ogunbowale is more of a niche player, and Doaks is depth. But Singletary was decent as a lead option for the Bills. He’s on a one-year deal here and likely a complimentary back, but he can run and catch. In four years in Buffalo, Singletary rushed for 3,151 yards and 16 touchdowns, catching 145 passes. He gives them experience and versatility. Pierce, as a rookie, took control of the Texans’ backfield before late-season injuries hampered his finish. Still, he rushed for 939 yards and four touchdowns, catching 30 passes in 13 games. He is poised to have a strong sophomore season in an improving Texans offense. That was enough for me to give this group the edge over the Chiefs.
No. 12: Cincinnati Bengals
On the Roster: Joe Mixon, Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, and Chris Evans
About: Mixon is the best individual runner on this list so far. In his six years with the Bengals, he’s rushed for 5,378 yards and 40 touchdowns, catching 231 passes. His production sputtered a bit last season, as he averaged less than four yards per carry and often came out during passing downs. Still, he’s the best back for the Bengals and figured to get a bell cow workload. Behind him are more questions than answers. After their primary backup left for Denver, the Bengals have development guys in Williams and Evans back and drafted Brown in April. So, if Mixon goes down, it’s unclear what kind of production this unit could produce. So, I have them lower here, especially given some of Mixon’s off-field issues.
No. 11: Las Vegas Raiders
On the Roster: Josh Jacobs, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden, Zamir White, and Brittain Brown
About: Jacobs was simply incredible in 2022. He had a career year, rushing for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught more than 50 passes for the second year in a row. It was enough for the Raiders to slap the Franchise Tag on Jacobs. If he repeats his performance in 2023, he could again be one of the best backs in the league. But that’s a question. So, too, is what’s behind him. The Raiders have journeymen in Abdullah and Bolden and a second-year man in White that has little experience. I like Jacobs, but I couldn’t justify popping the Raiders any higher.
No. 10: Denver Broncos
On the Roster: Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Tony Jones, Jr., Damarea Crockett, Tyler Badie, Tyriek McAllister, and Jacques Patrick
About: Maybe I’m a homer. I’m not ruling it out. But I like Williams a lot. In his two years, one splitting with Melvin Gordon and one shortened by injury, Williams has rushed for 1,107 yards and caught 59 passes. He looks poised to explode and is projected to be ready by Week 1. There’s a reason many are still bullish on Williams in Dynasty. Behind him, the Broncos have a collection of prospects. They also added Perine, who was a solid contributor for the Bengals last season. He rushed for 394 yards and caught 38 passes behind Mixon in 2022. He’s a solid No. 2 option, which is a luxury the Raiders and Bengals don’t have. So, I have the Broncos a touch higher.
No. 9: Pittsburgh Steelers
On the Roster: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland, Jr., Jason Huntley, and Alfonzo Graham
About: And the last team on today’s list is the Steelers, another team with a great lead back and some questions beyond that. I love Harris. He’s the individual back I have the highest in my dynasty rankings. In two seasons, he’s rushed for 2,234 yards and 14 touchdowns, catching 115 passes. He’s a three-down stud. He started slow in 2022, plagued by injuries, but closed strong. I don’t have questions about Harris. Behind him, though, there’s not a lot to feel confident about. The best option is Warren, who was decent in stretches in 2022. He rushed for 379 yards, averaging nearly five yards per carry, and 28 receptions. I like Warren’s potential enough to help cement them in this spot ahead of the Broncos, Raiders, and Bengals.
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.