Fantasy Football: MId-Round Running Backs To Target Or Avoid

By Martin Richardson

After the success of players like Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase, 2023 looks like the year that people are seriously taking a Wide Receiver with the first overall pick in their Fantasy leagues. I’m not against it; and with a later first round pick this year, if either of those three are there, I would seriously think about it. 

And what if I do? Where does that leave me? Potentially without an elite level running back for me to count on week after week. Or does it? Doing the maths, there is no way in a ten or twelve team league, you would miss out on a starting running back in your first two or three rounds. The only issue would be that it is not the glamorous name of Austin Ekeler or Derrick Henry that will be on your team. But you could easily have Bijan Robinson or Nick Chubb early on to go with your shiny, elite WR should you go down that route. 

So where do you go next? Getting valuable RBs to compliment that elite WR is vital. Having looked over the teams and the preseason games, I think there are some real value targets in the mid rounds of whatever draft you are doing.

Who To Target

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Alexander Mattison

First of all, let’s start with the most obvious call – Mattison takes the reins as lead back at the Vikings after previously being back up to recently released Dalvin Cook, now finally at the Jets. This is not just a pick based on the fact he is now the Vikings starting RB, it is based on what Mattison has previously done in Cook’s absence. In 2021, with Cook injured for four games, Mattison led the league in touches (105) and yards (518) over that time. If those numbers were applied to a whole season that’s over 2000 yards, which is crazy. Now, I am not saying that he will be knocking on the door of Derrick Henry’s rushing record, but even if you take some of those numbers and distribute them to the rest of the offense, Mattison could still be a great shout to take in your Fantasy league. 

What also helps Mattison’s case for true RB1 status in Minnesota is that he has no real competition to make it a committee situation. Therefore, without Cook in the way, he could well be in line for a bigger season, building on his six total touchdowns in 2022.

Javonte Williams

Given the injury he sustained, some of you may be thinking: are you sure? But he is ready to go and was not included on any PUP lists and will be ready for week one, which is incredible. In his rookie year he was showing all the signs that he was going to be a top player for the Broncos, ending with 203 carries leading to 903 yards and four rushing touchdowns, plus 43 receptions for 319 yards and three receiving touchdowns. 

In his second year, a season that was not the best at all for the Broncos (Sorry Aaron Rodgers, no I am not blaming ‘your coach’), he suffered a season ending injury in Week 4. But could he now be in line for a bounceback third season that would propel him to being a top draft pick in 2024? With Sean Payton as the Head Coach, and reports coming in from training camp that he is laying down the law with the O-Line and penalties, as well as having Russell Wilson looking sharp in the Red Zone, Williams could bounce back this year. Whilst I am reluctant to compare Williams to Alvin Kamara, I do wonder if Payton will be tempted to utilise Williams in a similar way that made Kamara a success with the Saints. And if that is the case, then Fantasy leagues watch out.

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Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery

I mention later on how I was burned by the Eagles’ decision to have three running backs on the depth chart who all score Fantasy points and when you have Miles Sanders on your team in a playoff run… I digress and I’m not annoyed at all. Honest. But I mention it here because I think it could happen again at the Lions. They took Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round of this year’s draft, much to the shock of many draft gurus, and clearly they see him as someone who can fill a need and become a really interesting piece on offence. Being as fast as he is, he could be that elusive back that gets a lot of targets from Goff in the air. Which is great for the Lions fans, but perhaps not for Fantasy fans. 

Gibbs could very well do all the leg work and get all the yardage; but the money plays could well go to recent acquisition David Montgomery who in two or three Red Zone plays could get you over fifteen points. Whoever you go for, be prepared for the other to take some points away from you. So, how do you choose? I’m leaning to Gibbs because of the weight of the first-round pick. However, whichever you choose will get a chance to have an impact on offence. The Lions have a fantastic O-Line and both Gibbs and Montgomery will benefit from that. Just look at what that line was able to do for Jamaal Williams and his 17 touchdowns.

Who To Avoid

There are always some names with legacy appeal and players where you think ‘this is the year’ and ‘fresh start on a new team’ etc. But here are some running backs I think that you should avoid in your draft this year, even if they have moved teams or are a year further into their current situation. 

D’Andre Swift

How the mighty have fallen. That’s a little harsh, but it is somewhat true. He was tipped to have a great year last year, but it was his Lions teammate Jamaal Williams who took the headlines thanks to those 17 touchdowns. Don’t get me wrong, Swift could be great and it’s possible he could end up being the RB1 that people thought he was going to be last season. He now has an elite QB in Jalen Hurts and maybe he can elevate Swift’s game to the level we thought it would be. 

However, Swift’s strength is that he is an excellent catching back, as we saw with the one-two punch of him and Jamaal Williams in Detroit. And what don’t the Eagles do – throw to their RBs very much. Miles Sanders was their RB1 last year and had only twenty catches in his seventeen games. Let’s face it, when you have a Wide Receiver duo of AJ Brown and Devonta Smith, you’re throwing to them at every opportunity and not your running back.Plus, the Eagles also added Rashaad Penny who could be a Red Zone threat, and let’s not forget Kenneth Gainwell is also kicking about in the running back room. Gainwell is also very good as a catching back and, speaking from personal, bitter experience of having Miles Sanders in his Fantasy team last year (did I mention that at all?), has the ability to be just the right person to throw to in situational football for a go ahead touchdown.

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Isaiah Pacheco and the Chiefs

I will state this now: this is perhaps my most ‘out there’ take. 

When you have Mahomes, anything can happen. Which is not necessarily what you want when you are looking for someone to get you ten or more points as an RB2 type player. The Chiefs love McKinnon as a catching back and brought him back for 2023 after he was a difference maker for them last year. Which again, isn’t great for Pacheco’s numbers as he is not a catching back: he only had a total of 14 targets all season, compared to McKinnon who had 71 targets in the air, 9 of which were catches in the end zone. What is a positive is that Pacheco had the fifth most rushing yards in the final nine games of the season and look where that led them by the end of the season. 

They still have Clyde Edwards Helaire who may well be the water boy at this point, and who I’m sure has burned someone reading this. All of that coupled with Travis Kelce who is just an animal on offense, I have no idea if Pacheco is going to get the numbers that you would need for him to be a starter in your Fantasy team. He could well end up being a capable player for fantasy, but the more I use words like ‘could’ and ‘might’ or ‘maybe’, the more I just prefer to look for more sure-fire options like James Cook or even James Conner who are being drafted in a similar range to Pacheco. 

I hope this has helped you in some way – and I will be getting some wide receiver names to you soon to help with any drafts that you have coming up.

Feature Image Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images



A Yorkshireman living in Lancashire, Martin is a massive NFL fan but his heart belongs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also a huge Fantasy Football enthusiast and spends far too long crunching the numbers! Follow him at @MRBucsFan31