Dynasty Report: An Early Look at Three 2023 Rookie Running Backs
The month of August generally signals the beginning of redraft season. However, for some, it also marks the start of college football, which offers dynasty managers an opportunity to follow a new group of prospects who could declare for the 2023 NFL Draft. Because it’s never too early to look ahead, over the next couple of weeks, I will be previewing some of the best prospects in what is shaping up to be a very impressive rookie class. We will start things off with the Running Back position! For each player, I will be providing a brief overview of their skillset, production profile, and their closest comps using my rookie prospect model. Keep in mind that the model will use a player’s current level of production as a baseline, assuming they maintain their averages to close out their career. In addition, I will also be using mock drafts (via the NFL Mock Draft Database) as a proxy for draft capital. But considering there are multiple variables in play, a player’s trajectory could still change depending on how their final year unfolds. At the very least, this article should give you a high-level overview of how the 2023 class compares to the last decade of NFL prospects.
Jahmyr Gibbs – University of Alabama
While we did not have a single first-round running back selected in this year’s draft, the 2023 class could have two selected on day one. One of those players is Jahmyr Gibbs from the University of Alabama. Gibbs is a true Junior who previously played his first two seasons with Georgia Tech, flashing a dual-threat skillset that makes him such a unique prospect. When you watch him on the field, the first thing that stands out is his shiftiness and ability to make defenders miss. And after avoiding that initial tackle, Gibbs has showcased the breakaway speed to take it to the house from anywhere on the field. We see these skills on full display as a rusher, receiver, and returner, making him a truly versatile weapon. By far the most intriguing statistic in his profile is his receiving production, averaging an impressive 20.8% receiving yards market share in his first two seasons. To put that number into perspective, the only day one and two RB prospects since 2013 to average a greater than 15% receiving yards market share in college are Christian McCaffrey and David Johnson.
What makes Gibbs an even more impressive prospect is his continued dominance since day one of his collegiate career. We have seen time and time again that an early breakout and sustained production will generally lead to a more successful career in the NFL. The fact that he broke out in his age-18, true freshman season already puts him in elite company as a potential first-round prospect. Therefore, when I plug his numbers into my running back model, he immediately stands out as one of the best prospects over the last decade. Assuming he is drafted in the late first round (per the NFL Mock Draft Database), Gibbs grades as a 95th percentile running back, heavily driven by his high market share production and efficiency. Unfortunately, the glaring negative in his profile is his size as Alabama currently has him listed at only 200 pounds. Regardless, when I filter on RBs with a similar production profile in the 200 to 210 lb range, Gibbs’ closest comps are:
As of right now, his trajectory is likely closer to Bernard, especially if he slips into the early second round. However, CMC would be the best-case scenario, which should be an attainable ceiling especially if he can put together a truly elite year at Alabama. And as part of an intriguing offense led by Bryce Young, it would not surprise me if he set career-highs across the board in his Junior year.
Taking an early look at the 2023 RB class through my prospect model:
• Bijan Robinson: 97th percentile
• Jahmyr Gibbs: 95th percentile
This assumes first-round capital for both + they maintain their current production profile
Can’t wait to see this RB class in the NFL 🔥
— Marvin Elequin (@FF_MarvinE) August 17, 2022
Bijan Robinson – University of Texas
If you are looking for a running back prospect that checks all the boxes, look no further than the University of Texas’ Bijan Robinson. Similar to Gibbs, Robinson was an immediate contributor for his team, though not necessarily the unquestioned RB1. He initially split reps with Roschon Johnson and Keaontay Ingram – a recent 6th-round draft pick by the Cardinals. But once he received his opportunity, Robinson never looked back. In his final two games as a true freshman, he converted 24 touches into 443 yards and 6 touchdowns. No, that is not a typo. Robinson averaged an absurd 18.5 yards per touch in his final two games as an 18-year-old freshman. Fast-forward a year, and Robinson had an impressive Sophomore breakout season, totaling over 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns as the RB1 for the Longhorns. What makes Bijan so special is his combination of size, strength, and elusiveness. Listed at 220 pounds, he is very light on his feet and is effortless at changing direction, allowing him to create yards even when the line breaks down. He also rarely goes down at the first point of contact due to his incredible strength and contact balance. You combine all of that with a very capable receiving skillset and Bijan should immediately slot in as a three-down running back in the NFL.
If we dig a little deeper into Bijan’s production, one of the impressive aspects of his profile is the significant leap he took into his Sophomore year. Averaging over 2.00 yards per team play in his second season not only signals elite production but also puts him in rarified company. Among all prospects drafted in rounds one and two since 2013, only seven running backs have achieved that mark in their second collegiate season:
- Christian McCaffrey
- Leonard Fournette
- Saquon Barkley
- Jonathan Taylor
- Dalvin Cook
- Nick Chubb
- Breece Hall
Outside of Breece Hall who is still an unknown commodity, that would put Bijan in elite company assuming he is drafted within the first two rounds. And based on recent mock drafts, he is almost guaranteed to be taken on day one, which would only solidify an already impressive prospect profile. If we combine his projected draft capital along with his production, my running back model has Bijan graded as a 97th percentile prospect. As a result, the running backs that grade similarly are:
And hypothetically, if Bijan were to slip to the second round, his closest comps become Jonathan Taylor (98th percentile) and Nick Chubb (95th percentile). Needless to say, Bijan is shaping up to be one of the best RB prospects we have seen over the last decade. And assuming he continues to improve in his Junior year, he should be the unquestioned 1.01 in dynasty rookie drafts next season.
Sean Tucker – Syracuse University
Why is this running back class so intriguing? Because, unlike the last two drafts, we might have up to five running backs who check most of the boxes we look for in a prospect. In other words, if you have a top-5 rookie pick in 2023, you might just land an impactful running back for your dynasty team. One of those prospects is Sean Tucker out of Syracuse, who is my favorite running back outside of Robinson and Gibbs. A powerful runner with track-level speed, it only takes a slight opening for Tucker to get into open space. He shows patience at the line of scrimmage and possesses impressive burst off of his cuts. And while he only weighs 205 pounds, Tucker is not an easy runner to take down. He keeps his feet moving through contact, which allows him to frequently extend plays. From a production standpoint, the most eye-opening number in his profile is the 39.2% weighted team dominator rating in his second season. As a true Sophomore, Tucker accounted for nearly 40% of his team’s offense, showcasing his ability to be a featured running back. And while not the most versatile receiver, his 13.9% receiving yards market share indicates that he can be a capable option in the passing game as well.
Remember the impressive list of Sophomore running backs who achieved at least 2.00 yards per team play and were drafted in the first and second rounds? A list highlighted by Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor, and Christian McCaffrey? Bijan Robinson is not the only prospect who could join that group as Tucker had an equally impressive Sophomore campaign. As a result, the only potential issue in his profile is his size. At only 205 pounds, Tucker is closer to Gibbs’ frame than he is to Bijan. In addition, unlike the two running backs I mentioned above, Tucker is more likely to be a second-round pick unless he has an even better campaign in his Junior year. But even with second-round capital, he still possesses an intriguing prospect profile. If I filter on all running backs since 2013 that were drafted in round two, weigh between 205 and 215 pounds, and possess a similar production profile, the closest comps for Tucker are:
Injuries aside, Cook and Dobbins are two of the best prospects we have seen in recent history. If Tucker can come anywhere close to their potential, we could be looking at a running back with top-12 fantasy upside. And while he is unlikely to receive day one capital, Tucker’s production profile, athletic ability, and early-declare status (assuming he declares after the 2022 season) point to a very succesful future in the NFL.