Five Running Backs to Avoid in 2023

Friday, Jul 14, 2023 at 12:28 pm ET


Five Running Backs to Avoid in 2023

There are plenty of reasons to avoid certain players. Sometimes it's injury-related. Sometimes it's team-related. Perhaps it's simply where they're being drafted. Finding value is always important when drafting, and overpaying for a player can have season-long consequences. Imagine drafting a guy in the 4th round when you could have had him in the 5th or 6th. There is a lost opportunity cost to doing that and the consequences can be felt every week.

These are the running backs that we're (somewhat) avoiding in our drafts this season.

Alvin KamaraAlvin Kamara, RB Saints
The elephant in the room with Alvin Kamara is his availability. After an assault charge during the Pro Bowl, he managed to escape any punishment last season, but his court case is on the horizon with league punishment likely following suit. As if that weren't enough to worry about, this once elite running back saw significant declines in both efficiency and productivity last year. His yards after contact per attempt was the lowest of his career, and we watched him barely involved in the passing game the second half of the season. He also lacked the kind of consistency that we've come to expect from him. Nearly 20% of his fantasy points came in just week last season.

Let's not forget that the Saints went out and acquired last season's most efficient red-zone running back in Jamaal Williams. They also still have Taysom Hill who vultured touchdowns last season. What are we to make of this and Kamara's potential near the goalline when two very viable options exist for the Saints to score?

We'd still take a flyer on Kamara, but absolutely not where he's being taken right now. Early drafts have him coming off the board in the seventh round. That's far too rich for our blood. If he falls closer to the 9th/10th round, he makes sense to stash. At that point, the risk/reward discussion becomes more tangible. Until then, a looming multi-game suspension and ambiguity around his role/productivity become less factors than they do a few rounds earlier.

Jahmry GibbsJahmyr Gibbs, RB Detroit
In PPR formats, Jahmyr Gibbs is coming off the boards in the 4th round. According to our consensus ADP, Gibbs is the 17th RB being taken in drafts so far. That's right after Joe Mixon is being taken. Honestly, this feels too expensive. His teammate and the Lions starting RB David Montgomery is coming off the boards three rounds later as the 27th running back taken. The upside is there for Gibbs in his first season - especially if he fills that pass-catching back role - but expecting him to do what no other Lions' RB since Barry Sanders has accomplished seems a stretch.

Gibbs is quick (4.36 40-yard dash) but he's not particularly big (5'9", 199 lbs). He's in a great offense for running backs and could certainly end the year as a nice fantasy RB2, but there are likely safer options in the fourth round of your draft. Hopefully his ADP drops a bit as we get closer to August making him a more equitable draft pick. Right now, he's a great flex option with the potential to slide into the RB2 spot for your team.

Javonte WilliamsJavonte Williams, RB Denver
Paging through the fantasy football history book, it's rare for a running back coming off ACL surgery to produce the kind of numbers that we saw before their injury. There's no reason to think that Javonte Williams will buck that statistical trend, especially because his injuries were more numerous and severe. Williams injured not only his ACL, but his LCL and PCL ligaments as well. Whether comments from team officials or wild speculation on social media, it's fair to say that there are conflicting reports about his current status and his availability for Week 1. We would not be surprised to see him land on the PUP list to start the year.

In his first season and then in the limited time that we got to see him play last season, his potential was clearly on display. If he can get healthy, his potential under Sean Payton begs for comparisons to former fantasy-elite stud Alvin Kamara, and it's easy to see how intoxicating those similarities are. That's the kind of league-winning upside that is very attractive; however, the odds of that happening in 2023 are slim...at least for redraft leagues. For dynasty leagues, Williams is a no-brainer (assuming he's even available). The kid is only 23 years old. He's got time to make a comeback.

He's currently coming off the boards in the sixth or seventh rounds depending upon format, and he's being taken between David Montgomery and Isiah Pacheco. Both of those players are healthy and not expected to miss time demonstrating the current value vs potential value that he brings to the table.

Rachaad WhiteRachaad White, RB Tampa Bay
Rachaad White presents an interesting exercise in reading between the lines. The Bucs let Leonard Fournette go and they didn't really address the RB position in this year's NFL draft leaving many fantasy analysts concluding that Tampa Bay is going to extend him every possible courtesy to succeed here. There's also very little competition from Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Chase Edmonds, so White will sit atop the depth chart for some time.

While it's reasonable to think that White's expected role and workload are accurate, there is little consensus at the moment on what we can expect from him from a fantasy production standpoint. Without Tom Brady under center, this offense changes significantly. Whether it's Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask leading the team out of the tunnel in Week 1, neither is an exciting option for any skill player. Couple that with the challenges that the Bucs' offensive line experienced and it sure seems like an uphill battle for White.

That being said, it should also be noted that despite these obstacles, White has very viable potential to exceed expectations. This is where his ADP factors in, and like Williams above, we'd like to see that drop just a bit to make him a more equitable pick. Unlike Williams though, we're not anticipating much ADP movement - largely because of the expected volume and lack of competition for touches. White is coming off the boards in the 6th round, and while this might seem nit-picky, we'd love to see him fall a round later. Looking at our Movers and Shakers data, we may very well get our wish as he has slid three spots over the past three weeks.

SwiftD'Andre Swift, RB Philly
The D'Andre Swift experiment in Detroit is over. 2023 sees Swift in Philadelphia where he'll compete for touches with Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Gainwell. Penny will likely be in the mix for the early downs and Gainwell will see some of the targets that really has come to define Swift's role as a pass catcher. Nobody expects Gainwell to supplant Swift, but it's not like Philly threw a lot of passes to their backs last year. They didn't need to. Unfortunately, that doesn't bode well for Swift's production value.

We still like Swift - just not at his current ADP in the early fifth round. His durability is a concern (at least three missed games EVERY season) as is his schedule and role on the team. He faces seven Top-10 fantasy defenses - essentially half of the regular fantasy season. His volume as a pass-catcher is projected to take a healthy dip this year, and he'll be in a RBBC all year. He was frequently inconsistent in Detroit, and it's hard to imagine a change of scenery dramatically changing that. Could he finish as a fantasy RB2? Potentially, but where we'd really like to see Swift on our rosters is in the flex spot.

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