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 finishing up my AFC Running Back group rankings. To see the first eight teams and Part 1, click HERE. The teams appear in ascending order.
No. 8: Cleveland Browns
On the Roster: Nick Chubb, Jerome Ford, Demetric Felton, Jr., John Kelly, Jr., and Nate McCrary
About: The Browns have an absolute stud in Chubb. In his five years in Cleveland, he’s rushed for 6,341 yards and 48 touchdowns. His weakest season was the 996 yards he rushed for as a rookie. He’s a Top 10 option and figures to continue to play well for the Browns. But he’s never been involved much as a receiver. That might not matter much, given that Deshaun Watson hasn’t traditionally thrown to backs in his career. In addition, the Browns lack depth and experience. The team’s two best backs behind Chubb—Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson—both left this off-season. That leaves Ford, a second-year player, as the primary backup, with a few other developmental prospects on the roster. That keeps the Browns from jumping up higher on this list.
No. 7: New England Patriots
On the Roster: Rhamondre Stevenson, James Robinson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong, Jr., Kevin Harris, and J.J. Taylor
About: Stevenson took a big step forward in his second year. With veteran Damien Harris injured, Stevenson took the lion’s share of the workload, rushing for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns, catching 69 passes. Stevenson proved he’s a three-down workhorse, and now he’s the unquestioned lead dog in the backfield. His passing game prowess gives him a slight edge over Chubb for me, but it’s the pieces behind him that give the Patriots the edge over the Browns. Taylor and Montgomery are role players, while Harris and Strong are developmental guys. But Robinson is an interesting addition. He didn’t contribute a lot to the Jets after being traded during the 2022 season, but as a rookie, he rushed for 1,070 yards and was on his way to another 1,000-yard season before getting injured in 2021. That gives the Patriots a great secondary back.
No. 6: Los Angeles Chargers
On the Roster: Austin Ekeler, Isaiah Spiller, Joshua Kelley, and Larry Rountree
About: Ekeler is a great and diverse player, the reason he’s been RB1 in fantasy the past two seasons. He’s a three-down back and explosive. Ekeler rushed for 915 yards and 13 touchdowns, catching 107 passes in 2022. He’s a great performer, and this could be his swan song for the Chargers, so I expect him to play hard yet again. The question is what’s behind him. Rountree and Kelley haven’t done much in the past few seasons, while Spiller came in with promise but was a non-factor as a rookie. That’s what keeps the Chargers as a group from rising higher on this list. Ekeler is great; behind him are questions.
No. 5: Baltimore Ravens
On the Roster: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Keaton Mitchell, and Owen Wright
About: The Ravens have a couple of rookies at the end of this group, but it’s mostly about the top three. All of them have suffered major injuries in the past couple of seasons, but the hope remains all will be healthy and available this season. If so, we could see this Ravens’ rushing game soar behind Lamar Jackson and an improved passing offense. Dobbins, entering his third season, is a talented player whose full potential has yet to be unlocked. He’s rushed for 1,325 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry for his career. I still believe in the potential, which is why I have the Ravens higher. Behind him, Edwards doesn’t get a lot of love, but he’s been a consistent contributor. He has 2,585 yards and 13 touchdowns in four seasons, with a career average of 5.2 yards per carry. That’s a strong one-two duo, with Hill a great potential role player behind them.
No. 4: Tennessee Titans
On the Roster: Derrick Henry, Tyjae Spears, Hassan Haskins, Julius Chestnut and Jonathan Ward
About: The Titans’ backfield is about one man—King Henry. He’s earned that reputation, rushing for 8,335 yards and 78 touchdowns in seven seasons for the Titans. He’s a beast on the field and as dominant a running back as there is. If we were only grading on the No. 1 back, the Titans might be higher. But this is a group effort, and behind Henry are more questions than answers. Haskins was drafted to be the reserve in 2022 but didn’t show much. This year the team added Spears, but there are questions about his knee. I like the Titans’ potential with Henry, but it’s an open question what happens to the unit if he gets injured.
No. 3: Jacksonville Jaguars
On the Roster: Travis Etienne, Tank Bigsby, JaMychal Hasty, D’Ernest Johnson, and Snoop Conner
About: The Jaguars have one of the deepest running back rooms in the AFC. After missing his rookie year due to injury, Etienne rushed for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns, catching 35 passes in his first season on the field. I like his talent and ability enough that they’d be decently high on the list. But he also has a great group behind him, with journeymen Hasty and Johnson and the addition of an interesting rookie in Bigsby. The Jaguars are an ascending offense, and they have a great group of backs with potential. That was good enough for me to place them here on this AFC list.
No. 2: New York Jets
On the Roster: Breece Hall, Zonovan Knight, Michael Carter, Israel Abanikanda, and Travis Dye
About: A lot of the off-season focus for the Jets has been on the quarterback—Aaron Rodgers—and the receivers. That makes sense. But quietly, the Jets have one of the best running back rooms. That starts with Hall, who rushed for 463 yards and four touchdowns, catching 19 passes before getting hurt just a little bit into his seventh game. He seemed to be on track for Rookie of the Year consideration and remains a Top 5 dynasty option. The hope is he’s back healthy to start the season, and the Jets’ backfield starts with him. Behind Hall, the Jets have a strong pair in Knight and Carter, who carried the load in the back half of the 2022 season. Carter is a good receiver, and Knight showed flashes as a runner. I like that pair behind him. Then the Jets went and drafted Abanikanda, just adding to the depth in the room. With the quality in the group and the top-end talent in Hall, I seated the Jets at No. 2 in the AFC.
No. 1: Indianapolis Colts
On the Roster: Jonathan Taylor, Zack Moss, Deon Jackson, Evan Hull, and Jake Funk
About: Taylor is the best running back in the AFC. He’s a Top three option in Dynasty for me and a player entering year four who is a force for his team. He suffered an injury at the end of the 2022 season, but he’s still rushed for 3,841 yards and 33 touchdowns, catching 104 passes. He’s a three-down workhorse and one of the league’s best. Behind him, the Colts have an interesting group. Hull is a rookie, while Funk and Jackson are solid depth. Moss gives them an interesting No. 2 back. He was drafted in the Third Round by the Bills with some promise but struggled to find his spot there. He was traded to the Colts last season and now provides a great second option for the Colts. That’s what helps cement the Colts as my top backfield group in the AFC.
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.