Running Back Draft Rankings for 2023

Drew DeLuca continues our annual Draft Rankings series with an overview of running backs for the 2023 fantasy football season.

Training camps are in full swing, bringing with them the official start of “peak” fantasy football draft season. Running backs have been in the news in recent weeks given the controversy over disproportionate pay: as teams are granted higher salary cap numbers by the league, the comparative value of running back salaries continues to drop.

Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants avoided a lengthy impasse with a recent one-year deal that pays slightly more than the franchise tag. However, as of this writing, one of last year’s top fantasy running backs, Josh Jacobs, remains unsigned after refusing to sign his franchise tag. Jacobs has not yet reported to camp with his Las Vegas Raiders teammates. Meanwhile, star running back Jonathan Taylor is still at odds with Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, so his prospects for 2023 are likewise in flux.

Contract situations aren’t the only challenge to those compiling rankings: despite the recent signings of Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook, a number of high-profile running backs remain unsigned, including Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, and Frank Gore. Just kidding about the last one, but rest assured that Kenyan Drake has signed on with his fifth NFL team. Okay, before we get chippier than Deebo Samuel answering questions about the Philadelphia Eagles, let’s dive right into our 2023 Running Back Draft Rankings.

The first tier is a party of one: the 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey is the undisputed top running back in this year’s class. Barkley headlines the next group, followed by Nick Chubb, rookie Bijan Robinson, and veteran pass-catcher extraordinaire, Austin Ekeler, who led the NFL in touchdowns over the past two seasons. While touchdown regression is possible for Ekeler in a new offense, a solid case can be made for him or anyone else in this tier to challenge McCaffrey as the overall RB1 this season.

Just below this group is another tier led by Tony Pollard and future Hall of Famer Derrick Henry, with Rhamondre Stevenson, Najee Harris, and Jonathan Taylor rounding out both the tier and the Top Ten at the position. Some may wonder why Taylor isn’t near the top of this list, but a bitter holdout is weighing down his prospects, as is the presence of a rookie quarterback who’ll likely display a tendency for scrambling instead of checking down in passing situations.

Two high-upside options kick off the next tier. Former Clemson standout Travis Etienne should handle the bulk of the work in a Jacksonville Jaguars offense on the rise. Meanwhile, Jacobs (mentioned above) is higher on most boards, but he carries substantial risk at this stage in the draft given both his contract situation and the pounding he took last year from logging nearly 400 touches.

This time last year, Andy Richardson of Fantasy Index analyzed data for all running backs with 350 or more touches over a 15-year period. He speculated that Jonathan Taylor and Najee Harris, the only two running backs to cross that threshold in 2021, wouldn’t perform at a level commensurate with their expectations in 2022. Those two players subsequently finished as the RB33 and RB14, respectively, and neither provided a desirable return on the extremely high draft capital invested by their fantasy managers.

Inclusive of these two, there were 43 running back seasons with 350 or more touches between 2007 and 2022. Slightly more than half (23, or 53.5%) saw follow-up finishes as an RB1 (Top 12) the following season. However, since 2015, only 5 of 14 (35.7%) of these players have been able to repeat the feat. Jacobs (390), Derrick Henry (382), and Barkley (352) have the dubious distinction of appearing on this year’s “350-Plus” watch list.

Below are Drew DeLuca’s Top 40 running back rankings as of August 15, 2023, complete with a few notes on each player. His up-to-date rankings are available on, where our updated QB List Staff Rankings will likewise soon be available. Both sets of rankings appear in the Top 25 of FantasyPros’ Multi-Year Accuracy Rankings (2020-present). Be sure to bookmark them to find the latest updates as we update our rankings in lockstep with training camp injuries and depth chart changes going forward.

2023 QBList Running Back Rankings


Below are the best of the rest of this year’s running back. Be sure to pay special attention to the players highlighted below. Jeff Wilson, Jr. in particular rockets up the list after the New York Jets signed Dalvin Cook, ending speculation that the former Pro Bowler could end up in Miami, rendering Achane (above), Wilson, and Raheem Mostert (below) essentially useless for fantasy purposes. Achane offers the highest upside of any Miami back, but Wilson is the best “floor” bet for consistent production.

Roschon Johnson is one of the highest-rated pass blockers in this year’s draft class, and his PFF Elusiveness score ranked in the Top Three in this draft class, even higher than Bijan Robinson’s. Granted, many of his touches came later in games against demoralized, worn-down opponents, but his talent shines through on tape nonetheless. However, Johnson enters a crowded backfield: he needs to beat out incumbent Khalil Herbert, who hasn’t shown he can carry the load for long stretches, as well as free agent addition D’Onta Foreman, who was productive in Carolina after the Panthers traded away Christian McCaffrey.

While pending legal issues swirl around Joe Mixon (see above), Chase Brown is vying with Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams for the RB2 role in Cincinnati. Neither Evans nor Williams was able to leapfrog Samaje Perine for meaningful playing time last season. Evans saw only three touches in 12 games last year for the Bengals, and Williams has earned only 55 total touches and ten targets in four NFL seasons. With Perine now a member of the Denver Broncos, an opportunity exists for Brown to slide into a highly-productive supporting role with standalone value.

Three other rookies to watch are Tyjae Spears, Kendre Miller, and Tank Bigsby. Spears is well-positioned to inherit a large chunk of carries in a high-volume Tennessee Titans rushing offense should the aging Derrick Henry break down or show signs of wear. Miller’s path is more convoluted, as mentioned above, and he’s currently dealing with a minor injury that’s hampering his acclimation into the Saints’ offense. Bigsby is higher on many analysts’ lists, and while I don’t believe he offers much standalone value, he’s certainly a priority handcuff target in later rounds who could be highly productive in the event of an injury to Etienne.

Another interesting late target is Leonard Fournette, a familiar name who needs only a team to play for. Some believe Fournette’s best days are behind him, but he powered through a foot injury last year behind an abysmal offensive line and can still offer passing game utility at a minimum to a team in need later this month. Meanwhile, former Georgia Bulldog Zamir White played sparingly for the Las Vegas Raiders last year, but he could skyrocket up draft boards if Josh Jacobs continues to hold out (or breaks down after compiling 390 touches last season).

Kenneth Gainwell is getting a lot of buzz right now, but he’s a rotational back for the Philadelphia Eagles who’ll play a larger role at the start of the season as Rashaad Penny or D’Andre Swift become more familiar with the offense and its blocking schemes. Gainwell does offer incremental potential value in the event of an injury to Penny or Swift, a scenario that would surprise no one.

Other late darts to consider include Joshua Kelley of the Los Angeles Chargers, who could play a larger rotational role in Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore’s new scheme. UDFA (undrafted free agent) Sean Tucker from Syracuse is an explosive player who could carve out a huge role for himself on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team strapped for draft capital and cap space that has a bare cupboard at the running back position. Tucker was viewed by many scouts as a potential Day 2 pick in this year’s draft before a cardiac condition caused many teams to take him off of their boards entirely. Tucker has since been medically cleared and is participating in practices and games this preseason.

Dallas Cowboys second-year running back Malik Davis is another player to watch; he is going undrafted in many leagues. There were whispers about Ezekiel Elliott rejoining the Cowboys, which did not happen. This potentially opens the door for Davis to play a meaningful role and offer standalone value. Also, keep an eye on rookie Evan Hull from Kentucky, who could step in and spell Jonathan Taylor for the Indianapolis Colts. If Taylor’s holdout persists, or if he’s bitten by the injury bug for the second consecutive season, Hull could potentially play a much larger role.


Best of the Rest: 2023 Running Backs

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Dustin Bradford, Frank Jansky & Ken Murray / Icon Sportswire

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