Fantasy Court: The Case Against Isiah Pacheco in 2023 (Fantasy Football)
This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court Series. Don’t forget to check Dan Lovi’s opposing view in his article The Case For Isiah Pacheco in 2023.
The fantasy world is infatuated with Isiah Pacheco. He shined during the second half of the 2022 season and had some flashy moments during the postseason. Especially in the Super Bowl, where he contributed to the Kansas City Chiefs championship with a rushing TD.
Yes, he found a way to the heart of the fantasy community. But Your Honor, drafting Isiah Pacheco as the RB28 is preposterous. That’s too high of a price for a running back that’s part of a committee in which he might not even be the leader. There are many reasons why I think drafters should look elsewhere in the seventh round, and I will enlist them here.
The Elephant In The Courtroom: Draft Capital
Draft capital is more important than many people realize. NFL teams are business organizations that invest in assets and expect a return on those investments. One of the different currencies they have to make these investments is draft picks. First-round picks are rarely used on running backs. That’s why when an RB is picked in the first round it’s an indicator that he will be heavily used because the team has to get a lot of value from that pick to prove it was worth it.
As Marvin Elequin said in this article from 2021 about draft capital and its correlation to early fantasy production, opportunity is king for the RB position and higher draft capital generally leads to more opportunities. Following that same logic, lower draft capital makes it easier for coaches to stop using RBs even when they have shown talent because the pick the team invested in them is worth practically nothing.
Isiah Pacheco is talented. There’s no doubt about that. But he was selected as the 251st overall pick in the seventh round. And history has shown us that talent and a productive rookie season aren’t enough to guarantee sustained success for RBs.
Let’s take a look at the only running backs selected outside the first five rounds that have finished inside the top 24 in FPPG in their rookie season over the past 10 years, to see what happened after that special first campaign.
Elijah Mitchell, 2021, Selected 194th Overall in the 6th Round
James Robinson, 2020, Undrafted Free Agent
Phillip Lindsay, 2018, Undrafted Free Agent
That’s the whole list, so let’s keep in mind how rare it is for a late-round RB to have a successful rookie campaign. The three of them finished inside the top 15 in that first season but fell out of it the following year and failed to score more than 12.4 fantasy points per game ever again. Kudos to Phillip Lindsay, who remained somewhat relevant during his sophomore season. But after that, he followed the same path as the rest, because teams don’t care about players that didn’t cost them much. They can move on to the next shiny new toy.
You might have noticed that Isiah Pacheco is not on this list. He finished his rookie season 44th in fantasy points per game. His teammate Clyde Edwards-Helaire was selected 32nd overall. This will most likely be his last year as a Kansas City Chief and they will run him to the ground to get the most out of that first-round pick from 2020. That’s how draft capital logic works.
Don’t Be Fooled By What He Did In The Playoffs
Isiah Pacheco shined bright like a diamond in the postseason. But even the most boring rock can look like a precious stone when there aren’t any other gems around. I’m not calling Clyde Edwards-Helaire a diamond by any stretch of the imagination. He might not even be the best RB in Kansas City. He isn’t Andy Reid’s favorite one, that’s for sure. But he wasn’t around when Isiah Pacheco shined, and that’s something we have to consider.
Both Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon had a great stretch during the second half of the season. But they were compensating for the lack of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Again, I’m not saying CEH is the sole owner of this backfield, but during the weeks he was healthy, he was way more productive than Isiah Pacheco, mainly because he was more involved in the passing game.
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of the picture, opportunities increased naturally for Pacheco. That’s why he finished having a much bigger snap and opportunity share, which led to an increase in fantasy points per game during that second half of the season (10.9 FPPG from Weeks 10 to 18). But even though Pacheco played in seven more games, CEH had more receptions and receiving yards and scored more fantasy points per game and opportunity.
Kansas City’s Workhorse RB Years Are Long Gone
Instead of guessing who is going to be the main guy in this backfield, we should ask ourselves if such a position even exists in Kansas City anymore. For many years, Andy Reid convinced us that his coaching style needed a workhorse RB. And fantasy football managers were very grateful for that. We enjoyed five amazing 1,000+ yard seasons from the great Jamaal Charles, a very solid one from Spencer Ware, and a couple of very good ones from Kareem Hunt. Those running backs were the cornerstone of their team and their volume reflected it.
RB Snap Leader
Since 2017, no Kansas City RB has had more than half of the team’s snaps. Everyone expected Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be Andy Reid’s next workhorse in 2020. He fitted the mold perfectly and when he was drafted in the first round we all got hyped up. But things have changed – not only in Kansas City but in the NFL in general. Great teams have learned that relying on one workhorse RB is risking their whole season. That’s why the RBBC (running back by committee) approach has been on the rise during the past few seasons.
What does being the Chiefs’ RB1 mean nowadays? None of them is a great fantasy asset when everyone is healthy. CEH had the majority of work and the most FPPG while they all shared the backfield in 2022, and the results weren’t something to be excited about. Looking at the whole season, Jerick McKinnon finished with the biggest slice of the snap pie. So where does this leave our hopes and dreams for Isiah Pacheco? Even if he somehow becomes the leader of the pack, his aspirations in a full healthy backfield are as high as what CEH managed to do at the beginning of the season.
As you can see, your honor, Isiah Pacheco is a risky draft pick in 2023. His draft capital makes him a disposable piece in a backfield he shares with two running backs that could see more opportunities and that are way cheaper than him. Jerick McKinnon is being drafted as the RB43 and Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the RB54. Even though Pacheco showed a lot of talent when CEH was out with injury (weeks 12-18), he was the RB26 in FPPG during that span. His current ADP is RB28, so he is being drafted at his ceiling. Drafters are taking CEH’s slice of the pie out of the equation completely.
I have nothing against Pacheco and his talent, but history and snap competition might complicate things for him at his current price. So I strongly suggest looking into much more safe and interesting players around his ADP, like Tyler Lockett and Diontae Johnson. Or if you’re looking for an RB, Antonio Gibson might be an option with better upside.