By the time you're reading this, there could be several backfields that look dramatically different thanks to veteran free agents still looking for jobs. We're talking about Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt, and where they sign could change the Fantasy outlook for a few running backs.
Depending on where those running backs end up, they could all be considered sleepers, especially considering their average draft position in mid-June on FantasyPros. Cook is still being selected in Round 4 following his June 9 release from Minnesota, but that will change. And Elliott, Hunt and Fournette are all being drafted in Round 12 or later.
The running back landscape changes quickly, especially when you turn 27 and start to slow down. But that doesn't mean these guys are completely done as quality Fantasy options if put in the right situation, so stay tuned to the news until they all find a new home.
While those four will command headlines in their new destinations, there are some other sleeper running backs I plan to target this season -- and you should as well. With that in mind, here are five guys who could make a big impact in 2023.
Let's start with Roschon Johnson, who could be the No. 3 running back in Chicago to open the season, but he might prove to be the Bears' best backfield option as the year goes on. Johnson will compete with Khalil Herbert and D'Onta Foreman for touches in Chicago, but that might be easier competition than what Johnson had in college since he played behind Bijan Robinson at Texas.
Johnson could work on passing downs for the Bears right away, but it could take time for him to see a significant number of carries. However, if that happens, he could emerge as a No. 2 running back or flex option in all leagues. That's not bad for a running back with a Round 13 ADP.
Tank Bigsby has a Round 14 ADP, and he should open the season as the handcuff to Travis Etienne in Jacksonville. Bigsby will have to prove he's better than D'Ernest Johnson, JaMycal Hasty and Snoop Conner to be No. 2 on the depth chart, but I like Bigsby's chances. The third-round rookie from Auburn could play in tandem with Etienne, and if Etienne were to miss any time, Bigsby could be a starter in all leagues.
Israel Abanikanda is basically going undrafted in June, but that should change if he ends up No. 2 on the Jets depth chart ahead of Michael Carter and Zonovan Knight. With Breece Hall (ACL) still limited this offseason, Abanikanda could make an immediate impact right away, and The Athletic reported that Abanikanda is "pushing to start" if Hall is out to begin the season. The fifth-round rookie from Pitt was one of my favorite sleepers prior to the NFL Draft, and he will be one of my favorite sleepers again if Hall is still struggling in his recovery.
When the Vikings released Cook, it opened the door for Alexander Mattison to become the starter in Minnesota. It also allowed Ty Chandler the chance to move up the depth chart, and he should be the handcuff for Mattison. Chandler barely played as a rookie in 2022, but he looked good in the preseason as a fifth-round pick from North Carolina. He will have to prove he's better than Kene Nwangwu and DeWayne McBride, but Chandler could be the new Mattison as a popular backup running back to roster in all leagues. Like Abanikanda, Chandler is basically going undrafted in June.
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Jerome Ford might be in the best position of the five running backs we've mentioned here, but he also could see added competition prior to training camp. Hopefully, the Browns leave him as the handcuff to Nick Chubb, and Ford could be a steal on draft day with a late-round pick. His June ADP is Round 17.
With Hunt no longer in Cleveland, there are a lot of vacated touches in the Browns backfield. The non-Nick Chubb carries over the past three seasons are 136, 190 and 240, and Ford has been impressive this offseason. The Athletic reported that Ford is "headed for a much larger role" with Hunt gone. I plan to have Ford on a lot of my Fantasy rosters if he remains the No. 2 running back for the Browns heading into Week 1.
Now, here are some other sleepers to consider this season based on the June ADP. All of these players are being selected after pick No. 100 overall as of June.
Smith had a standout season in 2022 in his first year as the starter in Seattle, and he could be even better this year. But Fantasy managers are choosing to ignore Smith since he's being drafted as the No. 15 quarterback. He finished 2022 as the No. 5 quarterback in total points and No. 9 in points per game at 20.5. Since then, Seattle committed to Smith as the starter in 2023 and added talented rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba to an already quality receiving corps with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Smith has the chance to improve on last year's production when he passed for 4,282 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while also running for 366 yards and one score. He had 11 games with at least 20 Fantasy points, and hopefully, he continues to not "write back" after everyone wrote him off. He's a great fallback option as a No. 1 quarterback in all leagues.
If Jameson Williams wasn't suspended for the first six games, then we could be talking about Goff as a low-end starter in all leagues. Instead, he's the No. 16 quarterback in early drafts, and that makes him a steal. Without Williams for most of last season, Goff finished as the No. 8 quarterback in total points and No. 14 in points per game at 19.4. Once Williams returns in Week 7, Goff could become a weekly 20-point-per-game producer. He already has a standout receiver in Amon-Ra St. Brown, and the Lions upgraded their pass catchers this offseason with Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta and Marvin Jones. In 2022, Goff had 4,438 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions, along with 73 rushing yards, and I expect him to improve this year. And maybe Goff finds another touchdown or five after Jamaal Williams scored 14 touchdowns from the 4-yard line or closer last season, including 10 from the 1-yard line. Like Smith, Goff is a great quarterback to wait for on draft day in all leagues.
Perine's Round 9 ADP in June will skyrocket if Javonte Williams (knee) is potentially limited or out to start the season, so keep that in mind. But if Perine stays in this range, then he's easily my favorite sleeper for 2023. The Broncos made Perine their main running back addition this offseason, and new coach Sean Payton is excited about his new toy. Perine had four games in 2022 with the Bengals with double digits in touches, and he scored at least 13 PPR points in each outing. "If you really watch Perine and study the tape, you see him on early downs, and you see him playing third down," Payton said in March. "He's a really good receiver. ... He's big, he's physical, he's smart, he's tough. He's built to last. That was an important piece for us knowing the injury that we're dealing with. He was really important." Perine could be a starter in all leagues if Williams is out and a potential flex if he's sharing touches with Williams this year.
Gibson is no longer someone to covet as a starter in Fantasy leagues for now, but he will hopefully be a pleasant surprise in new offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy's system. While Brian Robinson Jr. should lead the Commanders in carries, Gibson should have a prominent role in the passing game. He had a career-best year in 2022 in targets (58), receptions (46) and receiving yards (353), and hopefully that's a sign of things to come. We'll see how Bienemy plans to use Gibson, as well as his rapport with new quarterback Sam Howell, but this new offense should be a good fit. And if Robinson were to miss any time, Gibson could slide in as the main running back in Washington once again. He had eight games with double digits in carries in 2022, and he averaged 12.0 PPR points per game over that span. I love Gibson at his June ADP in Round 9.
It might take an injury for Kenneth Walker III for Charbonnet to become useful for Fantasy managers in his rookie campaign. Or Charbonnet could prove to be better than Walker early in the season. We're not sure what Seattle coach Pete Carroll will do with his backfield, but I plan to roster Charbonnet on plenty of my Fantasy teams, especially with his Round 9 ADP in June. The second-round draft pick from UCLA has a tremendous skill set after running for 3,346 yards and 39 touchdowns in college at 5.9 yards per carry, and he added 75 receptions for 589 yards. He could have an immediate role in the passing game, but he could be a star if given the starting job. You also could be frustrated with Charbonnet on your roster if Walker continues to dominate the workload, but I'd be surprised if Charbonnet doesn't contribute in Fantasy and reality in some capacity each week. Given Walker's June ADP in Round 5, I'd rather wait and draft Charbonnet if you want a piece of the Seattle backfield this year.
We know Mitchell will become a star if Christian McCaffrey were to miss any time, and Mitchell is the ultimate handcuff. But Mitchell might have a bigger role than you think in tandem with McCaffrey. It makes Mitchell one of the best players to roster with his Round 10 ADP in June. Mitchell and McCaffrey only played six games together in 2022 after McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco, including the playoffs. In those six games (four in the regular season), McCaffrey had 67 carries but Mitchell still had 62. Now, McCaffrey dominated playing time and had a big role in the passing game, but it wasn't like Mitchell was only playing in garbage time. The 49ers clearly value Mitchell as a runner, and the team likely wants to take work off McCaffrey to keep him healthy. Now, you likely won't know when to use Mitchell while McCaffrey is healthy, and Mitchell only averaged 8.5 PPR points per game in those six outings. But I still want Mitchell on my Fantasy team because he could emerge as a league winner.
Davis is a post-hype sleeper who failed to deliver as a breakout in 2022. His CBS ADP last year was No. 60 overall, but he finished with just 48 catches for 836 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 12.8 PPR points per game. That number is a little skewed because he had four games with at least 16 PPR points and six games with six PPR points or less. Now, you can make some valid excuses for Davis, who injured his ankle in Week 1 and missed Week 2. He seemed fully healthy in Week 5 against the Steelers when he had three catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns on six targets, and he followed that up with three catches for 74 yards and a touchdown on six targets at Kansas City in Week 6. Then, in Week 9 at the Jets, Josh Allen hurt his elbow, and the Bills' passing game wasn't as explosive. As a result, Davis averaged just 10.0 PPR points per game in his final eight outings. I'm expecting Davis to bounce back in 2023 since he's still a big part of Buffalo's offense, and you can get him much cheaper this year with a June ADP in Round 9. That should end up being a steal this season.
Moore needed to leave the Jets, and the Browns seem thrilled to have him after he was traded to Cleveland in March. He looked poised for stardom in New York as a rookie in 2021 when he averaged 12.5 PPR points per game, but Moore struggled as a sophomore at 5.4 PPR points per game due to poor quarterback play, as well as the coaching staff's seeming frustration with him. With the Browns, he gets to play with the best quarterback of his career in Deshaun Watson, and Moore should be the No. 2 receiver on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper. There's competition for targets with Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cedric Tillman and David Njoku, but Cleveland is already finding ways to manufacture opportunities for Moore. During minicamp, Moore lined up outside, in the slot and in the backfield, and all the reports on Moore so far have been positive. I love that you can draft him in Round 10, and he could be a third-year breakout receiver in 2023.
There's a lot of change in Green Bay this season with Jordan Love taking over for Aaron Rodgers, and the receiving corps will also look different with Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb gone. Christian Watson and Doubs will be the top two targets, with rookie Jayden Reed also in the mix, and we'll see how everything comes together in 2023. While Watson is a breakout candidate, Doubs is a nice sleeper to target, especially with his June ADP in Round 14. In 2022 as a rookie, Doubs started off playing well with at least 13 PPR points in three of his first eight outings. He then missed four games with an ankle injury and struggled down the stretch, but Matt LaFleur is optimistic about Doubs in his sophomore campaign. "I want to temper this comparison here, but he has some Davante Adams type movement skills," LaFleur said at the NFL league meetings. "He has to learn when to use it and how to harness that. But he has that twitch that you're looking for. I don't think there's a route that he won't be able to run." We'll see if Love can support Watson and Doubs to a high level, but there's little risk and plenty of reward to draft Doubs with a late-round pick in all leagues.
I'm somewhat fascinated with the Texans passing game this season, and I want to have at least one of their receivers on my Fantasy roster, especially since you can draft Collins, John Metchie III and Tank Dell in Round 14 or later based on their June ADP. C.J. Stroud will hopefully allow at least one of these guys to thrive, and Collins is my early favorite as he enters his third season in the NFL. He only played 10 games in 2022 and finished the season on injured reserve because of a bad foot, but prior to going down he had a solid stretch of games. From Weeks 10-13, Collins had 36 targets and averaged 11.2 PPR points per game. I think he's capable of much more than that, and we'll see if new Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik can help Collins create plays in space since he was the passing game coordinator for the 49ers. Collins should emerge as at least a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in all leagues this year.
One of the things I'm looking forward to watching in training camp is how the Bills use Kincaid. After Buffalo traded up in the first round of the NFL Draft to select Kincaid from Utah at No. 25 overall, I hope there are big plans ahead. While he's listed as a tight end, the expectation is the Bills will use Kincaid as a big slot receiver. He should be a big part of Buffalo's passing game along with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, and that's a good thing since Kincaid is catching passes from Josh Allen. At Utah, Kincaid finished 2022 with 70 catches, 890 yards and eight touchdowns, and he could be a standout playmaker in the NFL. While he might struggle as a rookie given the history of first-year players at the tight end position, he still has the potential to succeed in a big way given his expected role and quarterback. His June ADP is Round 11, so he's easily worth the gamble given his upside.
Johnson quietly had a nice Fantasy season in 2022, and he scored at least 11 PPR points in six of his final 10 games. He should have the chance to build on that with new quarterback Derek Carr, and we know Carr loved using his tight end with the Raiders given his rapport with Darren Waller. Now, we'll see what the Saints receiving corps looks like if Michael Thomas (toe) is healthy enough to join Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, and we're still awaiting the status of Alvin Kamara, who could be facing a suspension. But early reports this offseason had the Saints using Johnson as a big slot receiver, which could be amazing for his production. He has the potential to be a starting Fantasy tight end in all leagues, and his June ADP is fantastic in Round 12. Johnson could be a nice surprise this season with Carr now under center in New Orleans.