Six Running Backs Buried on the Depth Chart who could produce in 2023
Below I outline six running backs who could break through a roster log jam to bring fantasy return in the upcoming season.
Kendre Miller, New Orleans Saints
The Saints have a clear running back pecking order, having brought in Jamaal Williams on a three year, $12 million deal to be the thunder to Alvin Kamara's well-established lightning. With two running backs making a combined $14 million a year, quite a bit more than many running back rooms across the NFL, it's assumed that Kendre Miller, the new rookie brought in by the Saints, could be buried in this depth chart and not see a ton of touches. But I think there should be significant optimism that Miller can ascend quickly.
It starts with Kamara's suspension for the first three weeks of the NFL season. Miller will immediately slot into the pass-catching role vacated by Kamara. Beyond that, I think Miller begins to eat into Kamara's greater share throughout the season. Third-round draft capital is not spent lightly on running backs, and Karama's production and efficiency has been slipping over the past couple of years. With Williams not much of a pass catcher, Miller could see significant work. And if there is a Kamara injury, Miller could be the steal of the draft.
Devon Achane, Miami Dolphins
The continual buzz out of camp is that Devon Achane was well behind Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert. On top of that, he incurred a shoulder injury that limited him for the majority of the pre-season. Given his roster standing and injury status, he's dropping down dynasty rookie drafts slipping well into the second round depending on league type.
I believe that's a mistake. Opportunity share looked bleak, but with Jeff Wilson Jr. landing on the PUP already, and Raheem Mosert's own injury history, Achane could easily be the lead back by week 2. Additionally, the buzz on Achane has been immense. The athletic and big play ability meshes with what the Dolphins are trying to do on offense. Once he gets his feet under him, he's a likely candidate to inherit passing downs. All this to say, patience in Achane could pay off in a big way by mid to end of the season.
Israel Abanikanda, New York Jets
The Jets quietly have the most stacked running back collection in the league. Dalvin Cook needs no introduction given his success and gaudy numbers. Breece Hall was a revelation last year for the Jets putting up over 100 scrimmage yards per game before his injury. And they have Michael Carter who has carried the bell cow role for the team before. But behind all four of those RBs is Israel Abanikanda, who has his own skill set and talent.
Unfortunately, a leg injury in the Jets' second pre-season game put Abanikanda out for multiple weeks and pushed him to the roster bubble. But the Jets let go of Zonovan Knight over Abanikanda, showing their faith in the rookie. Abanikanda was a beast last year at Pitt, clearing 100 yards in nine of his eleven games with the Panthers. An instinctive zone runner, Abanikanda has a lot to offer. With injury-prone running backs in front of him, he's someone to keep an eye on.
Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears
Gone is David Montgomery from the NFL's heaviest rushing team. The Bears are expected to lean heavily on Kahlil Herbert in 2023 after he put up 5.7 yards per carry on a non-insignificant sample size of 129 carries in 202. But, for a team that ran 558 times last year, there are more than enough carries to go around.
The next running back on the depth chart is D'Onta Foreman, a totally fine running back with a 4.3 yards per carry average on 443 career carries. But may I present you with a much better option, it's the current third string (for now) running back Roschon Johnson out of Texas. Understandably overshadowed by Bijan Robinson, Johnson was also extremely productive in college, averaging over 5.6 ypc and flashing excellent hands out of the backfield. I'm a huge fan of Herbert, but it's not hard to imagine a world where Johnson forces his way into a near-split backfield with him at some point. Given the volume afforded to running backs in this offense, I think they could both be fantasy-relevant.
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
When checking depth charts across the league, the majority of the teams list their running backs as first, second, third, and in some cases, fourth string. And then you have the Eagles, who simply listed all four of their tailbacks in the first-string spot. Who is the buried player if everyone is first string?
With their bell cow back out the door in Miles Sanders, the Eagles have a plethora of candidates to fill the running back role in 2023. They've brought in DeAndre Swift from Detroit, signed an oft-injured but productive when-healthy Rashaad Penny, and still have Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell on the roster who saw 100 carries combined in 2022. It's a total guess how the carries shake out here, so drafting one of these players is a total crap shoot, but I think Gainwell should be getting more buzz. The reason for that is Gainwell was the most trusted receiving back last year, his 23 catches were almost equal to that of all other passes caught by other running backs. So while I still think he will be limited as a lead rusher Gainwell should still see looks as a potential PPR player. And if he fully secures the third down role in Philadelphia, he will vastly outperform his ADP.
Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers
Not groundbreaking or particularly buried, but this article can only exist with at least mentioning Jaylen Warren. It's basically an open secret that Warren is pushing Najee Harris for carries and could see significant touches this season. And while that seems to indicate a potential 60/40 Harris to Warren split, I think Warren could easily be the leadback by the end of this season. Harris has been extremely inefficient as a running back while Warren, in a small sample size, has been the opposite. If a dynasty owner in your league isn't wise to this impending switch, it'd be smart to make a move for Warren now, and I would take him significantly higher than his current re-draft ADP.
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