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 moving on to running backs, tackling the first eight units in the NFC. Rankings appear in ascending order.
No. 16: Arizona Cardinals
On the Roster: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Corey Clement, Ty’Son Williams, and Emari Demarcado
About: Almost every team now runs some type of running back by committee, so the depth of units has never been more important. That’s why it was easy for me to place the Cardinals in this slot. Not only do they not have a dominant lead back, but they also have the shallowest depth chart. Conner has been a starter the past two seasons, doing well in his stint with the Cardinals. He’s rushed for more than 750 yards in each season, adding 22 rushing touchdowns. Behind him are a lot of potential contributors, including Ingram, former Eagle Clement, and former Raven Williams. But none has done much as an NFL rusher. Hence this position for the Cardinals. Conner has some RB2 upside but also is an injury risk. He has missed six games the past two seasons, and frequently missed games during his four-year stint with the Steelers, too. All that leave the Cardinals with one of the least predictable backfields in the league.
No. 15: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On the Roster: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Patrick Laird, Ronnie Brown, and Sean Tucker
About: This is only a moderate step up from the Cardinals. I like White and his potential, but it’s also possible Conner is better than any of the backs on the Buccaneers. What’s inarguable is that the Buccaneers have better depth. White had a solid rookie season, rushing for 481 yards and catching 50 passes. Now that Leonard Fournette is gone, there is more room for him to run. Edmonds comes after splitting last season between the Dolphins and Broncos. It was a forgettable 2022, but Edmonds had a solid run in Arizona. He rushed for 1,551 yards and caught 128 passes in four seasons with the Cardinals. Beyond that, the Buccaneers have a veteran in Laird and a player in Vaughn who was once a Third-Round pick. He hasn’t had much of a role yet, but still could. The Buccaneers also got an interesting undrafted rookie in Tucker. He has medical issues that create risk, but Tucker was a strong performer and Syracuse and could be a good addition. If the Buccaneers end up signing Ezekiel Elliott, they could go higher.
No. 14: Los Angeles Rams
On the Roster: Cam Akers, Kyren Williams, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers, and Tiyon Evans
About: The Rams are here because I like Akers as a lead back more than the lead backs below him. The question is if the Rams like him. No one had a weirder 2022 season than Akers, who was the team’s starter, then a healthy inactive who appeared to be on the trading block, then the starter and workhorse again. Akers rushed for 786 yards and seven touchdowns, catching 13 passes. It was a career-high for Akers, who will enter 2023 again as the starter and another year removed from his Achilles injury. Behind him, the Rams lack experience, but they have a couple of players that interest me. Williams was a Fifth-Round pick in 2022 that didn’t get many snaps. Evans was a promising prospect that slipped to the Sixth Round in this draft. I’m curious to see how they get used, but both are stashes for me in dynasty.
No. 13: Chicago Bears
On the Roster: D’Onta Foreman, Khalil Herbert, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer, and Trestan Ebner
About: The Bears saw veteran David Montgomery move on, creating an opening. They have three interesting candidates to be part of that solution. The first is Herbert, a Sixth Round pick out of UCLA in 2021. Herbert has filled in for Montgomery well, rushing for 1,164 yards and six touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry his last two seasons. He has some explosion but hasn’t ever carried the load full-time. Foreman, meanwhile, is on his third team in three seasons. But he had strong showings behind Derrick Henry in Tennessee in 2021 and in Carolina in 2022. Last season, he rushed for 914 yards and five touchdowns on 203 carries last season. The final interesting candidate is Johnson, a rookie out of Texas. Johnson rushed for 2,190 yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons with Texas, playing in a backfield with Bijan Robinson. I like the group for the Bears.
No. 12: Washington Commanders
On the Roster: Brian Robinson, Jr., Antonio Gibson, Chris Rodriguez, Jr., Jonathan Williams, Jarrett Patterson
About: The Commanders have a solid backfield led by a strong tandem. Down the stretch, the Commanders used Robinson and Gibson effectively. Robinson, a rookie who had a rough injury to start the season, rushed for 797 yards and two touchdowns. Gibson, now in his fourth year, added 546 yards rushing and caught 46 passes last season. He also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2021. I like the pairing at the top. The Commanders also have rookie Rodriguez and veterans Williams and Patterson to add depth. They likely won’t all make the roster, but the Commanders have a solid group.
No. 11: Carolina Panthers
On the Roster: Miles Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, Raheem Blackshear, Spencer Brown, and Camerun Peoples
About: The Panthers are building something. New coach Frank Reich is coming to build a new culture. The team got their quarterback of the future in Bryce Young and has been busy in the free agent market. That includes in the backfield, where the team acquired former Eagle Sanders to lead the way. Sanders is coming off a career year, rushing for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also appeared in all 17 games in 2022. Sanders has been an asset in the passing game, too, catching 50 passes as a rookie. Behind him, the primary contributor figures to be Hubbard, who split the role with Foreman after Christian McCaffrey was traded last year. Hubbard has rushed for 1,078 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons. He’s a solid second back option. There isn’t a lot beyond that, but I like the duo at the top.
No. 10: Dallas Cowboys
On the Roster: Tony Pollard, Malik Davis, Deuce Vaughn, Ronald Jones, and Rico Dowdle
About: Pollard is great. He earned the Franchise Tag after a season when he rushed for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns, catching 39 passes and adding three more touchdowns. He’s an explosive player and is finally the lead dog for the Cowboys. But, behind him are a lot more questions than answers. Jones is a veteran who has had some good seasons, but he faded from view his last season in Tampa Bay and again last season in Kansas City. Davis and Dowdle lack experience, and Vaughn is a rookie. The Cowboys could bring back Elliott, but if they don’t, there are questions, especially with Pollard returning from a broken leg. I like the lead back, but the unit isn’t proven, so they landed in this spot.
No. 9: New York Giants
On the Roster: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Eric Gray, Gary Brightwell, and Jashaun Corbin
About: Barkley is the best individual runner on this list. He is probably a better individual runner than some of the teams that will appear in Part 2. But this is about the strength of the unit. Barkley had a career-high 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, good enough for him to earn the Franchise Tag. His biggest challenge has been staying healthy, but Barkley has three 1,000-plus yard seasons in five years with the Giants. Behind him, there are some questions. Breida is a decent role-playing back, while Gray is an interesting rookie drafted in April. I like some of the potential, but like other teams on this list, it’s unproven.
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.