Is the workforce RB becoming extinct?
Star Runningbacks seem to be losing ground!
Plot twists aren't just for movies—they're taking center stage in the NFL as well. Running backs, once the gladiators of the gridiron and the stars of our cherished fantasy teams, now find themselves amongst the lowest-paid and most easily replaceable players in the league.
As the passing game has evolved, so has its shine. With the glitz of star-studded quarterback play, the glamour of beautifully executed routes by wide receivers, and unpredictability that rivals the mind-blowing Chiefs vs. Bills game a few years back, it's clear that a new era is upon us. But where does that leave the humble (but not really), once-heroic running back? Players like Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard are left either riding the pine or holding out for contracts that reflect the value they bring to their respective teams. In fact, it's become such a tough gig that some college running backs might start considering NIL deals instead of going pro.
Fantasy Football Impact
In the world of fantasy football, this running back conundrum is enough to drive even the most casual player absolutely bonkers. Just when you think you've got a handle on it, everything slides south.
Gone are the days where reaching a few spots up to secure a workhorse running back was a surefire strategy. The same was true in dynasty leagues, where top draft picks often resulted in you discovering the next Barry Sanders or Walter Payton.
But welcome to the new era of the passing NFL, where fresh faces like Kenneth Walker III light up the field in their rookie year, only to face a time-share fate when another hot-shot rookie comes on the scene. Take Tyler Allgier for example; despite posting a 1,000 yard rushing season as a rookie, he now seems doomed to play second fiddle as the Falcons' latest draft pick, Bijan Robinson, struts his stuff.
Strategy Moving Forward
So, how do you navigate these fantasy football tempests? Some are leaning towards the "Zero RB" strategy, where wide receivers are snatched up as quickly as the latest fashion trend, while the running back picks are left for the later rounds. This approach to fantasy football is the embodiment of the "go big or go home" mindset.
On the other hand, there's the "Hero RB" strategy. This tactic embraces the chaos, selecting one high-end running back with an early round pick, then filling out the rest of the roster before choosing any other RBs. It's risky, but it might just be audacious enough to work.
Let's examine some backfields to buy and sell in 2023:
Sell: Miami Dolphins Jeffery Wilson and Raheem Mostert led the Dolphins' backfield in 2022, essentially splitting the carries 50/50. The Dolphins also drafted Devon Achane. The Dolphins only ran the ball around 38% of the time in 2022. Although I admire Achane's potential, I advise steering clear of this backfield in your fantasy drafts for 2023.
Buy: Arizona Cardinals James Connor dominated the Cardinals' backfield in 2022, and the Cardinals made no significant additions to the backfield for 2023. While the Cardinals aren't projected to perform well this year and ran the ball only 38% of the time in 2022, Connor is a bonafide workhorse who won't cost a fortune to acquire.
Sell: Kansas City Chiefs The Chiefs' backfield in 2022 presented a complex picture for fantasy players. It consisted of Isaiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, all of whom I believe will be splitting time this season. Pacheco is likely to get most of the carries but be absent in the passing game, while CEH and McKinnon will be involved in the passing game but likely split those touches. It's a cloudy situation in Kansas City this year - best to avoid it.
Buy: Detroit Lions The Lions were one of the top five teams in terms of total carries in 2022. Their backfield was completely revamped in the off-season. Jamaal Williams was replaced by David Montgomery and DeAndre Swift was replaced by Jahmyr Gibbs in the draft. Despite the high draft capital invested in Gibbs, I believe Montgomery, who will lead the Lions in carries this season, holds more value. Moreover, he will be significantly cheaper to acquire than other top options.
Whether you're playing the game or playing the odds, remember, there are no sure bets in the unpredictable world of the NFL. But hey, isn't that why we love it? Strategy, suspense, and a hearty serving of chaos. Bring on the new season, and for goodness sake, pay these guys already!