The TRUTH: Top RBs in 2023 Part 2 (Fantasy Football) 

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Like every year, Andy, Mike, and Jason have been digging deep into the top players at each position to uncover the TRUTH about each one of them and what they meant for fantasy managers in 2023. Last week they covered the top 10 running backs and now it’s time to continue with the lower half of the top 20.

Don’t forget to watch the whole episode on YouTube here:

And if you’d like to connect with the show, you can:

Let’s do a quick recap of how the TRUTH algorithm works. This is how it breaks down players’ performances in half PPR scoring:

  • Great Games are 21+ points.
  • Good Games are 12+ points.
  • Bust Games are under 7 points.
  • Missed Games are not considered by the consistency score.

Running Backs Overview

Last week the Ballers talked about how the running back position saw an overall decline in receiving work in 2023, with the fewest total RB receptions in the last decade and the lowest fantasy points per reception since 2011. Running backs were asked to block on 18% of passing plays, which is more than the previous season. This shouldn’t be considered a trend, but it is definitely a reason why the fantasy production from RBs wasn’t as exciting as usual.

11. James Cook | Bills

Age: 24.2 | ADP 7.05/RB30
17 games – 237/1122/2 + 54 targets for 44/445/4
2023 Consistency Rank: 21
1st Half: 25 / 2nd Half: 16

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Great Games Good Games Bust Games
12% 47% 35%

James Cook had a weird year. He was a huge value in fantasy drafts, but his bust rate is worrisome. He tied Jamaal Williams (2022) for the highest bust rate among the top 12 RBs since 2017. During the first half of the season, it was impossible to guess when he would have a good week. His consistency improved during the second half once the Bills fired Offensive Coordinator Ken Dorsey,  but even though he always played a big role in getting the team inside the red zone, he only had five carries inside the five-yard mark. The worst part is this should continue happening next year. The Bills might even add another important name next season, making it even harder for fantasy managers. Yes, the Bills have a great offense with an excellent offensive line, but it will be very tough to trust a running back with such a high bust rate in his range of outcomes.

12. Saquon Barkley | Giants

Age: 26.9 | ADP 1.09/RB4
14 games – 247/962/6 + 60 targets for 41/280/4
2023 Consistency Rank: 15
1st Half: 5  / 2nd Half: 20

Great Games Good Games Bust Games
29% 57% 29%

As the fifth most consistent running back during the first half of the season, Saquon Barkley was pretty impressive. But the Giants dealt with a lot of injuries and he was forced to do a lot with the little he got. He managed to put his highest yards after contact per attempt since 2019 and he destroyed the Giants’ divisional rivals. But he only had one game with over 100 yards and he was the fourth most RB involved in pass blocking. The real question for next year is: will he get franchised again by the Giants or will he have an opportunity to go somewhere else where can get paid and be a workhorse? Either way, he should continue being good for fantasy if he plays in a better, healthier offense.

13. David Montgomery | Lions

Age: 26.6 | ADP 7.06/RB31
14 games – 219/1015/13 + 24 targets for 16/117/0
2023 Consistency Rank: 5
1st Half: 12  / 2nd Half: 6

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Great Games Good Games Bust Games
7% 64% 7%

David Montgomery was already covered by the Ballers last week when they talked about Jahmyr Gibbs. In summary, the truth about these two talented RBs is that they both had a great season and it’s very likely that they will continue being used similarly in 2024.

14. Alvin Kamara | Saints

Age: 28.4 | ADP 6.08/RB25
13 games – 180/694/5 + 86 targets for 75/466/1
2023 Consistency Rank: 3
1st Half: 2  / 2nd Half: 11

Great Games Good Games Bust Games
23% 77% 15%

Drafting Kamara took a little bit of patience because he was suspended for three games, but he was great for fantasy (especially in PPR leagues) and his consistency rank proves it. He led all RBs in targets and receptions per game, and he was targeted on 32% of his routes, which is an insane number. His efficiency wasn’t great, especially on the ground. But despite this, he had so much passing volume that he was the RB2 in total fantasy points scored from Weeks 4 to 15. The biggest question is Kendre Miller, who was hurt all season. What would’ve happened if Miller had been healthy and dominant during those first weeks when Kamara was out? We’ll never know. Kamara is under contract for two more years, but he will be over 29 years old. Jason sees him as a top-12 RB in 2024, but Mike and Andy are less excited about him, so time will tell.

15. Tony Pollard | Cowboys

Age: 26.7 | ADP 2.08/RB8
17 games – 252/1005/6 + 67 targets for 55/311/0
2023 Consistency Rank: 20
1st Half: 22  / 2nd Half: 19

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Great Games Good Games Bust Games
6% 53% 35%

Huge. Wet. Bust. Tony Pollard was awful against great teams. His great and good games percentage was significantly below average. He was a very expensive investment in drafts and he didn’t deliver. He had the volume, but even though he had 59 more rushing attempts than last season, he ran for two fewer total yards. And it gets worse: he had the elite amount of 16 carries inside the five-yard mark and he only turned them into three rushing TDs. Pollard will be a free agent this offseason and some teams might want him (including the Cowboys), but chances are he won’t be a workhorse running back. His best-case scenario is to be a solid RB2 as a successful part of a committee.

16. Isiah Pacheco | Chiefs

Age: 24.8 | ADP 7.03/RB29
14 games – 205/935/7 + 49 targets for 44/244/2
2023 Consistency Rank: 13
1st Half: 23  / 2nd Half: 4

Great Games Good Games Bust Games
21% 57% 21%

He was drafted right before James Cook but he was much better. His consistency improved throughout the season and he became the engine of the Chiefs’ offense. He had the volume (18.1 opportunities per game) and he made the most out of it, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 84 total yards per game. No Chiefs RB had seen such a big workload in the Patrick Mahomes era since Kareem Hunt. Pacheco’s volume has been skyrocketing even further up into outer space during the playoffs, reaching an astounding 90% of the team’s RB opportunities in the AFC Championship Game. It might be time to forget about the seventh-round draft capital stigma and embrace what Isiah Pacheco can mean for fantasy.

17. Jerome Ford | Browns

Age: 24.3 | ADP Undrafted
17 games – 204/813/4 + 63 targets for 44/319/5
2023 Consistency Rank: 26
1st Half: 26  / 2nd Half: 24

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Great Games Good Games Bust Games
8% 23% 23%

Jerome Ford was a product of opportunity after Nick Chubb suffered the first big injury of the season. He wasn’t particularly special in the production department, but he was a top-24 RB 11 different times, so he was a worthy waiver add. It will be interesting to see how his role pans out at the beginning of next season with Nick Chubb coming back from injury.

18. James Conner | Cardinals

Age: 28.7 | ADP 6.03/RB23
13 games – 208/1040/7 + 33 targets for 27/165/2
2023 Consistency Rank: 19
1st Half: 24  / 2nd Half: 15

Great Games Good Games Bust Games
23% 54% 38%

Despite his age, James Conner had the first 1,000 rushing yard season of his career. He is a known commodity for the Cardinals and he should remain as the team’s lead back. There’s no reason for the Cardinals to add an important RB this offseason. But he often gets injured and he is not getting any younger, so he might be a valuable fifth or sixth-round pick this next draft season.

19. Kenneth Walker III | Seahawks

Age: 23.2 | ADP 4.06/RB16
15 games – 219/905/8 + 37 targets for 29/259/1
2023 Consistency Rank: 18
1st Half: 10  / 2nd Half: 30

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Great Games Good Games Bust Games
7% 53% 27%

Kenneth Walker had an elite first half of the season, but he constantly battled injuries during the rest of the year. This gave Zach Charbonnet the chance to earn a bigger role and this might turn into some form of RB committee. Still, a top-10 finish is in the cards for Walker next season if he continues making big plays and scoring touchdowns to compensate for his low receiving work. But we all know touchdowns aren’t a sticky stat and the biggest question here is the departure of Pete Carroll. Whoever becomes the Seahawks’ new head coach will determine how these two talented RBs will be used in 2024.

The guys decided to skip #10 (Gus Edwards) and #11 (Najee Harris), but it’s important to say that Gus Edwards was a great RB for fantasy even while sharing the backfield with Justice Hill. Edwards became the RB1 in fantasy from Weeks 7 to 11, mainly because of the goal line work and all the touchdowns he scored. On the other hand, Najee tied Raheem Mostert for fourth-most gains of over 15 yards, but his future is a mystery now that Arthur Smith will be his new offensive coordinator.

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Some Quick RB Notes Outside the Top 20

22. Brian Robinson Jr.

Brian Robinson is a competent running back and his situation could be a lot better next season if Antonio Gibson leaves as a free agent and the Commanders hire a more competent offensive coordinator. He averaged 13.5 fantasy points per game and had very good pass-catching numbers.

23. D’Andre Swift 

Swift’s season was very interesting. He started as the backup but then dominated when Kenneth Gainwell got injured. He had the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL and the eighth-most yards per carry, but he was basically ignored as a pass catcher from Week 12 on. That’s why his consistency rank dropped from eighth to 36th during the second half of the season.

24. Austin Ekeler

Another “big wet bust”, Austin Ekeler was among the worst RB picks for total fantasy points among top-five ADP picks ever. He was neither awesome nor excellent. There’s a chance he retires this offseason, but some team in need of a good, veteran, dart throw might pursue his services. We’ll see.

33. Jonathan Taylor 

His consistency during the second half of the season was third. He should once again be a first-round pick in 2024.

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36. Rhamondre Stevenson

Big bust. He will be entering the final year of his rookie deal. Depending on how far down he drops, he might become a value target with a new head coach and a new quarterback.

37. Aaron Jones

Forget about how good he was in the NFC playoffs, Aaron Jones was a huge bust during the season. He didn’t help fantasy managers. But the Packers’ offense is looking better so he might be a top-24 option next season.

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