Jeff Ratcliffe's Fantasy Football Running Back Tiers
Fantasy football draft season is here, so it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get ready for those drafts. One of the most useful weapons to have in your draft day arsenal is fantasy football tiers. With a tier-based approach, you can see how each player stacks up at his respective position. Tiers are slightly different from fantasy football rankings, because it’s not just a straight list of players. These groupings allow for a more flexible approach to drafting that you can ultimately build into your draft board.
To help you out on this front, let’s take a look at my 2023 fantasy football running back fantasy tiers. You can use these as they are or move them around to create your own set of tiers. We have you covered here at FTN with our Draft Kit content. With a Fantasy+ subscription, you get access to the 2023 Game Plan Draft Guide, our fantasy football draft cheat sheets, our rankings tool and fantasy football projections, and much more. Use promo code “Ratpack” for a discount on your subscription.
2023 Fantasy Football Tiers: Running Back
We have two marquee names at the top of the board, as both have been fantasy mainstays for a better part of the last half decade. Christian McCaffrey revived his status among fantasy’s elite options this past season and is set up for continued success in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Austin Ekeler is coming off a No. 1 fantasy finish and has scored 38 total touchdowns over the last two seasons. He should benefit from new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore but will also be entering his age-28 season.
This is a unique group of backs that we have to split into two groups. All of these guys have elite potential, but Tier 2B has major question marks. Jonathan Taylor’s situation remains very murk in Indy. As for Najee Harris, the third year back has not proven to be the most efficient back in his two professional seasons. Likewise, Joe Mixon’s declining efficiency makes it tough to endorse him as an anchor option. The addition of Ezekiel Elliott in New England complicates things for Rhamondre Stevenson, as Elliott could end up vulturing some goal-line work. For now, it’s best to exercise caution with all five.
As for Tier 2A, we have a rookie atop the tier. While that may prompt an angry response about how he hasn’t played a down in the NFL, the last time we saw a running back of Bijan Robinson’s caliber enter the league was five years ago. That rookie was Saquon Barkley, and he finished as fantasy’s No. 1 running back despite a lot of people saying the same things about him as they’re saying about Robinson right now. As for Nick Chubb, we could see a slight uptick in his usage with both Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson gone in free agency. Barkley resolved his contract situation and is locked in as a feature back in an offense that propelled him to a bounceback season last year. Derrick Henry is getting up there in age, but he’s showing no signs of decline. The Titans back posted 1,538 rushing yards and his fifth straight season with double-digit rushing scores. Unlike Stevenson, Tony Pollard ended up a big winner following Elliott’s signing with the Pats. With minimal competition for touches, he’s set up for a big year.
There are still some very interesting names at the position if you don’t end up with a top-six pick this year. Kenneth Walker flashed an enticing fantasy profile in his rookie season, though he should share the load with Zach Charbonnet. Likewise, Travis Etienne displayed a massive ceiling this past season, but he’ll also have competition for touches in rookie Tank Bigsby. Alexander Mattison doesn’t have the same competition for touches, but it’s important to note that we’ve never seen him as a true feature back for an entire season.
The third tier really needs to be subdivided, as Tier 3B isn't quite the same as the Tier 3A backs. Aaron Jones just doesn’t offer the ceiling of the other three. He’s getting up there in age and is in a full-blown timeshare with AJ Dillon.
Don’t expect to get any value with Jahmyr Gibbs in Tier 4A. Yes, he offers major upside, but we don’t quite know how the touches will be split with David Montgomery. We’re also seeing him rise up draft boards as we enter the heart of fantasy draft season. As for Breece Hall, the addition of Dalvin Cook really complicates things. He still offers a high ceiling but could end up in a full-blown timeshare.
As for the other side of this tier, you won’t likely get many “oohs” and “aahs” when you put their stickers on the board. However, Cam Akers and Dameon Pierce figure to see big workloads. At the same time, their respective teams aren’t the best on paper. Alvin Kamara will also get a bulk of the work in New Orleans, though he’ll start the season on a three-game suspension.
If you end up punting your second running back or going zero RB, this might be a good spot to start filling up your backfield. We have eight backs in this group who sit right on the edge of RB2 territory and figure to serve as early down options. Most (Miles Sanders, Isiah Pacheco, David Montgomery, AJ Dillon, Brian Robinson, Khalil Herbert) are likely to be in full-blown timeshares. James Conner figures to be the clear feature back in Arizona, though his upside is capped due to poor efficiency on what could be the worst team on paper entering the season.
The passing-down options of D’Andre Swift, James Cook and Antonio Gibson certainly offer a bit more juice, but with upside also comes weekly downside. Passing down backs are notoriously inconsistent from week to week.
We also have Tier 5C with three names who will move up if their questionable situations are resolved. White doesn’t have competition for touches, but the Bucs enter the season with an absolute mess at quarterback. Javonte Williams could move up out of this tier with a good showing in the preseason following his recovery from a torn ACL. His status will also give us more clarity on Samaje Perine. As of this writing, J.K. Dobbins seems to be over his “hold in,” but the Ravens back still figures to be a in a committee that will limit his workload. Dalvin Cook has officially signed with the Jets, but questions remain on New York’s planned touch distribution.
We’re getting deeper into drafts with this group of players. Tier 6A has several timeshare/committee backs. Most are on the wrong side of the committee. We also have our priority handcuffs in this tier. Note that some of these names are much lower in our rankings tool. However, players like Matt Breida and Rico Dowdle make this list because they’re handcuffs for the top tier-backs.
It's tough to find decent options at running back late in your draft, but you have a few names to look for in Tier 7A. At the same time, Tier 7B gives you players to avoid in the late rounds. None of these players offer enough fantasy upside to warrant a late-round pick. You’ll also see some of the non-priority handcuffs in Tier 7C. This group typically isn’t worth rostering because they’re handcuffs to players who are outside of the top two tiers on this list.
At this point, these players aren’t draftable in regular-sized leagues. However, it’s worth monitoring them as we move through fantasy draft season and into the NFL regular season. Keeping watch lists is a great way of staying on top of deeper names who have the potential to emerge as fantasy assets in the future.