Our look at the best fantasy values by position heading into the 2023 NFL season continues with running backs. The projected draft position listed for each player is based on 12-team league formats.
Projected draft position: Rounds 5-6
Following the departure of Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison should receive the vast majority of running back snaps for the Vikings this season. Over Mattison’s last five career starts, he has averaged over 130 scrimmage yards per game and 23.3 fantasy points per game. He is a good enough receiver to be utilized as a three-down back, and there’s no one on the roster to really push him for that job. Mattison has a chance to be the biggest steal of fantasy football drafts this year.
Projected draft position: Late in Round 2
Pollard averaged the seventh-most fantasy points per game among running backs last season, while only seeing 193 carries on the year. He averaged 1.0 fantasy points per touch in 2022, which ranked second among RBs with 200-plus touches, behind only Austin Ekeler. Ezekiel Elliott was released and left behind 248 touches from last season. Pollard is finally getting the chance to be the clear RB1 in Dallas and he offers the upside to finish as the top fantasy scorer among running backs in 2023.
Projected draft position: Mid-to-late Round 2
It seems concern about Derrick Henry’s age is pushing his draft cost lower than it should be. He's nearing 30 years old, a milestone that has spelled doom for the NFL careers of running backs in the past. However, Henry had the fourth-most total fantasy points and points per game among running backs in 2022. He was the RB1 in fantasy points per game in 2021 and the RB3 in 2020. Henry has led the league in rushing attempts per game in each of the last four seasons, while scoring double-digit touchdowns in each of the last five seasons. Don’t overthink it. All this man does is dominate fantasy leagues.
Projected draft position: Round 9
I expect the Bears to be one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL this season. They might even be the best. Justin Fields’ mobility keeps defenses on their toes, giving his running backs more space to break loose. Khalil Herbert is competing with D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson for snaps, but Herbert proved he is a more than capable back whenever given the chance as David Montgomery’s backup for the past two seasons. He is one of just seven RBs to average five or more yards per carry since the start of the 2021 season (min. 200 carries). Herbert had 12-plus carries in four games last season and averaged 18.4 fantasy points in those games. Whichever Bears RB leads the team in touches will be a steal in 2023 fantasy drafts, and I like Herbert’s chances the most.
Projected draft position: Round 3
After a lackluster 2022 season, Najee Harris is being drafted at his floor fantasy value in 2023. In a disappointing year, Harris still finished as the RB14 last season. Fantasy managers should remember that Harris suffered a Lisfranc injury in training camp last year and entered the season at less than 100 percent. From Weeks 1 through 8, Harris averaged just 13.5 carries per game, 3.3 yards per carry and 9.4 fantasy points per game. We saw his usage greatly increase after the Steelers’ Week 9 bye. From Weeks 10 through 18, Harris averaged 18.2 carries per game, 4.1 yards per carry and 14.2 fantasy points per game. A healthy Harris will see massive volume in 2023. At his current draft cost, Harris is a safe pick with very high upside.
Projected draft position: Round 6
Akers has yet to prove that he is a reliable fantasy asset over the course of a full season, but he should have every chance to finally carry a large workload in 2023. After missing a couple games while he and the team were at odds, it appeared the two sides were headed for a divorce last season. The Rams listened to offers for Akers before the trade deadline, but ultimately kept him, and he was finally utilized as a workhorse back to close out the 2022 season. Over the last three games of the year, Akers averaged 23 touches, 136 scrimmage yards and 21.6 fantasy points per game. With Akers at the top of the depth chart entering 2023, this could be the year that he finally breaks out for fantasy managers. His draft cost is very reasonable for the upside he brings to the table.
Projected draft position: Round 4
Miles Sanders figures to see heavy usage in his first season with the Panthers as they allow rookie QB Bryce Young to get acclimated with the pro game. Sanders signed a four-year, $25.4 million contract this offseason after leading the NFC-champion Eagles in rushing in 2022. D’Onta Foreman led the Panthers in rushing last season after the team traded Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers, but Foreman departed in free agency and Carolina did not draft a running back this year, leaving the RB1 lane wide open for Sanders, who has had 15 career games with 17-plus carries. He averaged more than five yards per carry and nearly 20 fantasy points per game in those contests.
Projected draft position: Round 11
If Rashaad Penny’s health can just hold up for a full season, he could be a league-winner at his current draft price. He has been historically efficient throughout his career. Penny currently holds the highest yards per carry average by any RB with 300-plus career carries in the Super Bowl era (5.7). Penny has had 11 career games with 12-plus touches, and he averaged 19.8 fantasy points per game in those contests. He now gets to play on a top-tier offense, behind an elite offensive line. He’s competing against D’Andre Swift and Kenneth Gainwell for carries, but the sky is the limit for Penny if he can win the starting job and his body holds up.
Projected draft position: Round 3
A 55-point day in Week 9 inflated Mixon’s fantasy production, but he still had a solid 2022 season overall. Mixon saw a career-high 75 targets last year and that number could increase in 2023 with the departure of Samaje Perine, who seemed to take far too many third-down snaps. If Mixon stays healthy, I expect him to easily exceed 300 touches in 2023 for the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the most electric offenses in the NFL. His value is hard to pass up if he is available in the third round.
Projected draft position: Round 6
After releasing Leonard Fournette this offseason, the Bucs should give Rachaad White every opportunity to earn a three-down role in 2023. His efficiency was poor as a rookie in 2022 (3.7 yards per attempt). However, he only had five games with 15-plus touches and he averaged 13.6 fantasy points in those games. White certainly needs to show more consistency to earn a full workload this year, but the top competition behind him for snaps isn’t particularly formidable (Chase Edmonds, Ke’Shawn Vaughn). With his receiving ability, White offers top-12 RB upside and could be a steal in the sixth round.