Dynasty Ultimatums: 5 RBs Entering Make-or-Break Fantasy Seasons

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The 2023 NFL season is finally just around the corner, bringing with it a plethora of unanswered questions for many notable players. As dynasty managers, it is crucial to maintain honesty with ourselves regarding realistic expectations for these players. It can be challenging to lose faith in a player we once acquired with high hopes. One effective strategy is to establish dynasty ultimatums for players on our rosters who face considerable uncertainties. In this article, we will discuss controversial running backs who are entering make-or-break years, highlighting the specific goals that they need to accomplish in the upcoming season to fulfill their current expectations.

D’Andre Swift, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

The running back position can be quite challenging to evaluate in dynasty leagues. While having elite running backs is crucial for a championship-caliber roster, they also tend to have extremely short and unpredictable careers. D’Andre Swift, once regarded as a top option at the position, has seen a significant decline in value heading into the 2023 season. Swift truthers are now finally facing the harsh reality that he may never fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon him. Recognizing this, the Detroit Lions made the decision to trade him to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. The upcoming season will ultimately test whether Swift can continue to maintain RB2 value for your dynasty teams.

Despite his relatively young age of 24, Swift is viewed to be in a make-or-break season. He is additionally entering the final year of his rookie deal. His injury history has raised concerns about his sustained longevity in the league. However, it is worth noting that Swift showcased impressive efficiency in 2022, averaging the second-most yards per carry average (6.3) among all running backs in the league. Despite not meeting the high expectations set for him, Swift finished the season as the RB22. He accomplished this while sharing a backfield with last year’s leader in rushing touchdowns, Jamaal Williams (RB8). Notably, both running backs had snap percentage averages below 45%. This suggests that although Swift is not ideally suited for a bell cow workload in the NFL, he can still be effective in a complementary role.

There is already a surplus of talent in the running back room in Philadelphia, which could limit Swift’s opportunities and playing time. The addition of Rashaad Penny indicates a role as a short-yardage and goal line back, while Kenneth Gainwell is expected to earn targets in the offense, given his familiarity and trust within the system. Additionally, Boston Scott will inevitably carve out a role for himself, especially when they face the Giants. These factors make it challenging to envision Swift being on the field for over 50% of snaps. Consequently, he will need to maximize his limited opportunities and be highly efficient in order to present a weekly fantasy floor. To maintain his current dynasty value, Swift must finish within the top 20 at the position and prove himself as the most valuable running back on the team in 2023. If he fails to do either, it is difficult to envision a team offering him a substantial contract following the season.

*Least amount of total targets to the RB position in 2022:

PHI 61
CHI 62
BAL 63
LAR 63
ATL 66

Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans

Rarely do we find ourselves concerned about the declining value of a dynasty asset following a promising rookie season. Unfortunately, this is very much the case when it comes to Dameon Pierce. In his first year with the Houston Texans, Pierce exceeded expectations despite being drafted in the fourth round. After a quiet start to the season, his production surged between Weeks 3-10, ranking as the RB13 during that time frame. However, his performance took a noticeable downturn thereafter, with his yards per carry average dropping from 4.8 to 3.0. Eventually, carrying the offensive load for the majority of the season proved to be too much for the talented rookie. Pierce suffered a high ankle sprain, forcing him to miss the final month of the season. Despite his impressive professional debut, the future appears uncertain for Pierce, particularly as we approach the upcoming season.

With a first-time head coach and a rookie quarterback leading the way, it is highly likely that the Texans will continue to heavily rely on their running game in 2023. While this could be advantageous for Dameon Pierce truthers, it is important to note that the team has also added Devin Singletary to their running back room. Singletary is a dependable veteran who excels both as a runner and as a pass-catching threat. Having been a pivotal component of Buffalo’s winning offense for multiple years, his veteran leadership could prove to be significant for a young offense bracing for anticipated growing pains. Additionally, he is highly regarded for his pass protection skills, making him a valuable asset on third downs to protect C.J. Stroud.

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To silence his doubters and continue to prove his worth, Pierce must persevere despite the team’s bolstered running back room and the addition of a new coaching staff who did not select him. While Pierce is currently viewed more in RB2 territory, he must perform at an exceptional level to solidify his role with the team, especially considering his relatively low draft capital. His dynasty ultimatum is to finish as a top-15 running back in 2023, demonstrating that he is deserving of a lucrative future contract despite the several obstacles placed in front of him.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Cam Akers faced a slow start in 2022, following his recovery from a devastating Achilles injury. He additionally had to deal with persistent trade rumors, which were fueled by speculation of a rift with head coach Sean McVay. However, he defied the odds and emerged as a true league winner to close out the season. Despite it being a wasted year for the Rams after winning the Super Bowl just a year prior, Akers had a tremendous second half to the season. In fact, he finished as the RB4 from Week 13-17. He also finished as the RB23 or better in every game during this timeframe, including three weeks in the top 10. In the final six weeks of the season, he showcased his talent by accumulating 549 rushing yards and six touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per carry. Akers’ remarkable comeback and return to form were particularly notable given the challenges most players face after such a severe injury.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Although he is entering his fourth NFL season and is still only 24 years old, the future of Cam Akers‘ dynasty outlook will likely hinge on his performance in 2023. With a history of significant injuries and entering a contract year, there are valid concerns about his role, especially after facing challenges last season. However, there is currently a lack of significant competition on the team’s depth chart. The current running back room features Kyren Williams, Sony Michel, and sixth-round pick Zach Evans, none of whom possess the skills to be a significant threat to Akers. Furthermore, with a healthy Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp leading the way, the team is poised for a strong season, potentially creating increased touchdown opportunities for their talented running back.

Despite the uncertainties surrounding Cam Akers, he possesses the potential to emerge as a solid RB2 for your fantasy football rosters in the upcoming season. Maintaining a positive relationship with McVay and the coaching staff will be crucial to ensure his opportunities remain plentiful this season. While the outlook for this year appears promising, the future beyond 2023 is clouded with uncertainty. As Stafford and Kupp continue to age and rumors circulate about McVay’s potential departure, Akers’ long-term role with the team appears unpredictable. To secure his future and earn a significant contract as a team’s starting running back, Akers must impress both on and off the field in 2023. His dynasty ultimatum is to finish the season as a top-20 running back and continue to earn lead running back opportunities and usage. Ultimately, his health and next contract will determine the trajectory of his dynasty potential moving forward.

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Another running back entering a crucial contract year in 2023 is J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens. Similar to Akers, Dobbins showcased his exceptional talent in the latter half of the 2022 season. Remarkably, he averaged 99.25 rushing yards per game after returning from injury in Week 14. It is worth noting that he accomplished this without a single game with a snap percentage exceeding 50% during that period. Despite displaying a noticeable limp throughout those games, Dobbins now has had a complete offseason to fully recover and regain his strength. With these factors at play, 2023 could shape up to be a standout year for him.

The upcoming season could bring significant changes to Baltimore’s offensive approach compared to previous years. In addition to having a healthy and committed Lamar Jackson in 2023, the team made substantial upgrades to their wide receiver corps through both the draft and free agency. Notably, they signed Odell Beckham Jr. and drafted the highly regarded prospect Zay Flowers. These additions are poised to play a crucial role in the offensive strategy under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Monken is renowned for implementing a pass-heavy offense that often yields high-scoring results. Although this can be viewed as negative for the fantasy outlook of a running back, there is reason for optimism. During his tenure as the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2019, Nick Chubb accumulated the second-highest rushing yards in the league (1,494) and scored eight rushing touchdowns. A similar season would be the ultimate goal for Dobbins to strive for in 2023.

Despite being recognized as one of the league’s most talented runners, J.K. Dobbins‘ career has been largely defined by injuries. Over his three NFL seasons, he has been active in only 23 games due to various injuries. Most notably, he missed the entire 2021 season due to a torn ACL. Even if Dobbins manages to put his injury history behind him and stay healthy throughout the 2023 season, there remains a significant drawback for fantasy football purposes. He has received just 32 targets in the 23 games he has played at the professional level. Additionally, he shares rushing opportunities and touchdowns with Lamar Jackson, who is considered the team’s most formidable rushing threat despite being a quarterback. These factors make it challenging to envision Dobbins finishing the season as an RB1. However, he still has the potential to deliver an admirable fantasy season as an integral part of the Ravens’ exciting offense. The future of his dynasty value hinges on his ability to maintain good health. Another major lower-body injury could severely impact his longevity in the league. To satisfy his dynasty ultimatum, Dobbins needs to finish the 2023 season as a top-15 running back while staying active for the majority of the games. His next contract and ongoing health concerns will ultimately shape his dynasty outlook moving forward. 

Devon Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins

Concluding the running back section of this series, we turn our attention to the highly intriguing yet controversial rookie, Devon Achane. Achane possesses tremendous talent and happens to be the fastest player in this year’s draft class, clocking in at a remarkable 4.32 in the 40-yard dash. He demonstrated impressive productivity during his time at Texas A&M, including over 1,000 rushing yards in his final collegiate season. However, there is one significant concern surrounding his transition to the NFL: his lack of size. Standing at just 5’9” and weighing 188 pounds, he falls well below the size thresholds typically desired when evaluating running back prospects. This raises legitimate doubts about his ability to handle a substantial workload at the professional level, which could greatly limit his fantasy upside. It is possible that Achane will be viewed as a gadget player in the NFL, reliant on an offense that designs manufactured touches to maximize his impact. While this can be advantageous in real football, it often does not translate well for fantasy purposes.

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Luckily, Achane landed with the ideal team to fully capitalize on his unique abilities. The Miami Dolphins saw enough potential in the speedy prospect to draft him in the third round of this year’s draft. He will primarily be competing for touches with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, both of whom were brought back this offseason. It is worth noting that both of their new contracts will have them set to hit free agency in 2025. While neither player is considered elite, they are expected to have significant roles in the upcoming season. Fortunately, Mike McDaniel is the perfect coach to maximize the unique skill sets of all three players. Given Achane’s exceptional speed and youth, it is easy to envision McDaniel incorporating him into the team’s weekly game plan. The Dolphins have positioned themselves as one of the league’s top offenses heading into 2023, with the dynamic wide receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. As long as Tua Tagovailoa remains healthy, the team should be poised for tremendous success in the upcoming season.

While we have thoroughly discussed the potential obstacles Achane may face in finding success in the NFL, it is important to envision a scenario where things align favorably for him. There is a reasonable chance that Achane could emerge as the lead back at some point this season, despite his size concerns. It is worth noting that he managed to lead the nation in yards per carry (7.0) in 2021, indicating his ability to defy the size thresholds we typically associate with running backs. However, if the team opts to deploy a three-headed committee approach, the situation could become complicated. The Dolphins had the second-lowest rushing rate last season, averaging only 22.8 rushing attempts per game. Nevertheless, Achane’s exceptional speed is bound to result in some explosive plays in 2023, which keeps his ceiling remarkably high, even with unpredictable weekly floors. Ultimately, Achane’s dynasty ultimatum will be predicated on his immediate usage in 2023. The future of his dynasty outlook hinges on proving that he can overcome his limitations and translate his collegiate production to the professional level. To achieve this, he must earn significant usage and carve out a defined role in the offense, rather than being utilized as a gadget player.  For now, dynasty managers who have Achane on their rosters must hope and pray that Dalvin Cook decides to sign with another team. Adding a player of Cook’s caliber would undoubtedly hinder Achane’s immediate success in his rookie year.

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Dean says:

I’m big on Akers this year. I used to love Swift, but I just can’t see that he’s going to be that valuable. Would rather have Penny.

Matt says:

Damien Pierce is that dude

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