Drafting running backs has become a little different than it was in prior years. With running backs being selected later, owners need to be smart as to when they choose to detour away from drafting wide receivers.
Here are five running backs that are worth targeting after the first 30 picks. I’ll be referencing Apex’s ADP in this article.
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Breece Hall – 31.1 Overall, RB13
Last year there was a tendency to underestimate Breece Hall as a prospect. Despite his freakish size/speed combination and receiving chops, owners let the running back slide – not treating him like an elite prospect.
Before tearing his ACL in Week 7, Hall was well on his way to proving any doubters wrong. He led all running backs with at least 60 rush attempts with 5.8 yards per carry, combining elite yards before contact and after-contact numbers.
Hall also displayed dynamism as a receiver – drawing a target every three routes (behind only Christian McCaffrey out of running backs with at least 20 targets). Hall was excellent after catching the ball, finishing second with 2.27 yards per route run and averaging 6.8 yards per target.
In terms of PPR points per game, Hall was the RB7 as a rookie last season. To make matters more impressive, he received just eight or fewer carries in 4 of his 7 games.
Hall would be a first-round pick in fantasy leagues if it weren’t for his ACL tear. Unfortunately, studies indicate that running backs are generally less efficient and score fewer fantasy points per game in their first season back from the ACL injury. Thus, we are receiving a discount.
We’ve seen both optimism and pessimism about Hall’s readiness for Week 1. In June, the Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt said he’s “skeptical” Hall will have a “seamless return” to the Jets lineup. Hall said “I’ll be ready for the first game” in an NFL Network interview. Jets HC Robert Saleh said Hall “looks really good” as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Hall reportedly hit 23 MPH on GPS recently, with Saleh acknowledging the second-year running back is “in really good shape.”
If Hall is healthy, you’re drafting the potential RB1 in the third round of fantasy drafts. Is the injury risk concerning? Yes. But you must take risks to win fantasy leagues and Hall is the type of risk that can pay off in a huge way.
Remember to keep an eye on the news, as Dalvin Cook signing with the Jets would result in a cheaper price for Hall. Even if Cook joins the Jets, I’d expect Hall to remain the top dog if healthy.
Kenneth Walker III – 47.7 Overall, RB17
Like Hall, Kenneth Walker was electric as a rookie last season. Out of players with at least 100 rushing attempts, Walker finished with the 4th best evasion percentage behind only Josh Jacobs, Aaron Jones, and Tony Pollard. Walker was excellent before contact (2.1 yards per attempt) and showed the ability to force broken and missed tackles at a high clip.
Walker would be more expensive if it weren’t for the Seahawks’ addition of second-round pick Zach Charbonnet. Charbonnet’s counting stats were impressive, but he wouldn’t be the first Chip Kelly running back to underwhelm at the NFL level. Charbonnet’s analytical college profile leaves something to be desired and he doesn’t have any special athletic traits. As an athlete, Walker is much more unique.
|Player||BMI||40 Time||Speed Score|
|Kenneth Walker||31.2 (75th)||4.38 (98th)||114.7 (96th)|
|Zach Charbonnet||29 (30th)||4.53 (70th)||72nd (72nd)|
Walker’s size/speed combination is special – even at the NFL level. I don’t believe that Charbonnet has the skills to supplant him, except for some receiving work. Walker is an excellent arbitrage play to RBs like Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry, who are also at risk of being off the field on third downs.
J.K. Dobbins – 59.6 Overall, RB21
I’ve written about Dobbins this summer and there’s a strong argument that he is the prime running back target in 2023. An elite prospect who has performed well at the NFL level, Dobbins’ cost doesn’t match his talent. His “hold-in” situation looks unlikely to have any impact on this season.
D’Andre Swift – 66 Overall, RB24
Like the other running backs on this list, D’Andre Swift is oozing with talent. Due to nagging injuries, he’s been a frustrating player to own in fantasy leagues. Last year after a 175-yard Week 1 eruption, he did not top 56% of the offensive snaps for the remainder of the season. In fact, Swift only topped 41% of the offensive snaps in five games.
Despite his injuries and lack of playing time, Swift finished as one of only four RBs to top 2.5 yards before contact and 2.5 yards after contact. Even in what many would consider to be a down year, Swift finished as the RB17 in PPR points per game. In 2021 and 2020, he finished as the RB10 and RB18 respectively in PPR points per game. On a per-game basis, Swift has never finished as low as he’s being selected.
While there are viable concerns about projectable targets on an offense that finished second-to-last in RB receiving FPOE last season, the Eagles ranked No. 2 in rushing FPOE. There are few runners who are more efficient than Swift and on an offense that generated tons of open running lanes, he has the potential to be lethal.
James Cook – 79 Overall, RB29
With the departure of Devin Singletary, James Cook steps into the lead role for the Bills. Josh Allen’s rushing ability has left drafters weary of the Bills’ backfield. Additions of Damien Harris and Latavius Murray are Cook’s current competition, as pass-catching specialist Nyheim Hines sustained a season-ending injury while jet skiing.
Murray, at 33 years old, is simply replacement-level talent at this stage of his career. It would be a devastating development for the Bills if he is taking playing time away from their 2022 second-round pick. Harris has proved a solid rusher but has never caught more than 18 passes in a season. On a team that targeted running backs 112 times last season, Cook’s receiving ability should provide him with a solid floor.
Although he only rushed 89 times as a rookie, Cook was explosive when given the opportunity. He is one of only four RBs to average above 2.5 yards before and after contact.
If Cook is able to gain a stranglehold on the rushing and receiving work in this backfield, he could be a league winner. The Bills’ draft capital investment would lead us to assume they’d like to head in that direction.
Bills OC Ken Dorsey on RB James Cook: “We’re really excited about him and what he can do.” He spoke on the versatility Cook provides and even used the term “three-down back” potential. High praise for the second-year runner.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) July 27, 2023