Fantasy Football Free Agency Preview: Running Backs

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Fantasy Football Free Agency Preview: Running Backs

Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football Free Agency Preview: Running Backs


Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hello everyone and welcome to the second edition of this fantasy football free agency preview series. After covering the quarterbacks last week, we will dive into the running backs today. This is one of the deepest running back free agent pools in history, and it’s sure to drastically change the fantasy football landscape. 

This list of names includes Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, and Miles Sanders, who all will be covered today. Each of these running backs have shown they can be very valuable fantasy assets, however in 2023 that will be determined by their landing spot. With that, here are the biggest free agent running backs, potential landing spots, and their 2023 fantasy outlook. 


Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley is perceived as the top free agent running back on the market, and is coming off his best season since his rookie year in 2018. This was also his first fully healthy season since then, as he accumulated 1,650 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was fourth in rushing attempts and sixth in targets for a running back as well, giving him one of the highest workloads in the league. 

However, despite improved offensive line play, Barkley once again was just average in a number of efficiency metrics. He was 34th in yards per carry, 21st in breakaway run rate (percentage of runs over 10 yards), and 31st in evaded tackles per touch (PlayerProfiler). This coincides with his numbers in previous seasons, as he has never been an efficient player, particularly as a rusher.

To make matters worse, Saquon Barkley didn’t receive as large of a receiving workload as many fantasy managers anticipated either. For most other running backs, 57 receptions for 328 yards would be considered a huge success. For a player who caught 91 receptions for 721 yards as a rookie, though, it was slightly disappointing. 

As talented as Barkley is as a player, it is clear he is nowhere near as gifted as a pure rusher as a Derrick Henry or Adrian Peterson. He’s been a volume-driven fantasy asset his whole career, and if he’s not going to get 100-plus targets, he’s not on the same tier as Christian McCaffrey or Austin Ekeler. 

Looking toward free agency, the most likely destination for Barkley is a return to the New York Giants. They haven’t been on the same page in negotiations, but recent reports suggest that they could come to terms on a deal north of $14 million per season. The franchise tag is also an option, however not definite because they may have to use it to sign quarterback Daniel Jones. 

For fantasy purposes, Barkley is in a tough spot because the best potential destinations aren’t likely to spend that much money on a running back. The Giants, Chicago Bears, and New England Patriots have been discussed as potential destinations, but none of these options move the needle much for me. 

He will be a borderline top five running back on any of these teams due to volume, but injury is always a risk too. In dynasty leagues, aging running backs are always extremely hard to sell. Nonetheless, I would explore trading Barkley for a late 2023 first-round pick + a 2024 first-round pick. 


Josh Jacobs

Josh Jacobs has his own argument to be considered the top free agent running back coming off his best season to date. He accumulated over 2,000 all-purpose yards on his way to an RB3 finish in fantasy football leagues. It couldn’t have come at a better time either, as Jacobs likely made himself quite a bit of money on his next contract. 

Concerns for Jacobs include the fact that this was by far and away his best season, as well as the early decline of running backs recently. It is a tough position, so running backs don’t typically age well into their later 20s. However, Jacobs is just 25 years old, and depending on his landing spot, there aren’t many running backs I’d take over him for the next two years. 

The most likely destination for Jacobs also appears to be with his current team, the Las Vegas Raiders. Jacobs has stated he would be willing to play under the franchise tag, and there have been rumors they are getting closer to a longer-term contract. It sounds boring, nonetheless, this would be best for his fantasy value as well. Players have a mixed history of changing teams in the middle of their careers, and Josh McDaniels has shown a willingness to give Jacobs a workhorse role. 

A return to the Raiders would lock Jacobs in my top eight dynasty running backs. This may not be saying much though considering the state of the running back position. There are only a few that could net multiple first-round picks in a trade offer, so Jacobs is most likely a hold. 

If he changes teams though, this would be a cause for concern that could make me reconsider. A move to Chicago or the Philadelphia Eagles could be perceived as a positive for many fantasy managers, in which case I’d be willing to move him for an early 2023 rookie pick (Superflex).


Tony Pollard

Tony Pollard is coming off a breakout season with the Dallas Cowboys, where he finished with 1,378 all-purpose yards on his way to RB8 overall finish. After playing second fiddle to Ezekiel Elliott his first three years in the league, he emerged as the co-starter in 2022. Pollard was also far more efficient than his backfield mate, as he seized more playing time throughout the year.

Unfortunately for Pollard, he suffered a broken leg in the team’s playoff loss against the San Francisco 49ers. While he is projected to be ready for training camp, this certainly at least slightly hampers his free agent prospects. The most likely destination is still back in Dallas, however, the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are also possibilities.

A return to Dallas seemed like a foregone conclusion; however, Stephen Jones made it clear they haven’t made any decisions yet. Unfortunately for Pollard, Elliotts’ current contract makes it certain he will be back in Dallas. We also know how much owner Jerry Jones loves Elliott, so Pollard will likely be looking at a committee role again.

Nonetheless, he would still have top-10 running back upside in 2023 given the talent of the offense around him. Not many running backs nowadays are in workhouse roles anyway, so it shouldn’t significantly affect his value. If everything goes well in his recovery, Pollard should be a safe bet for a 55%-60% snap count. 

If Pollard were to leave Dallas, he would likely be sharing a backfield there too, making mid to low-end RB1 production likely his ceiling. As stated previously, running backs have a mixed history of production, changing teams in the middle of their prime. Any offense he joins is unlikely to have as good an offensive line as Dallas either. Regardless, Pollard should have a lot of tread on his tires still, and I would be willing to pay a mid-first round pick for his services. 


Miles Sanders

After having a very successful first half of last season, Miles Sanders’ play tapered off at the end of the year. From weeks 15 to 18, his best fantasy finish was RB37 as we saw his playing time reduced. For his final five games, including the playoffs, he never had over a 41.5% snap share in any contest either. 

Despite him expressing his interest in rejoining the Eagles recently, the writing appears on the wall that he will be on a new team in 2023. Potential destinations include the Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and the Broncos, all likely in a committee role. If given a chance to lead a backfield though, there isn’t any reason to think Sanders couldn’t produce. He was fifth in rushing yards in 2022, and finished top 15 in yards per touch from 2019-2021.

However, for one reason or another, he fell out of favor in Philadelphia and a fresh start is best for him. His output will be entirely dependent on the team he lands on and who he shares a backfield with. As a result, he will carry a lot of risk this season until landing spots for rookies and other free agents are determined. 

As a starter, Miles Sanders would have top-15 upside at the position, but his floor is borderline RB3 in a committee. Most redraft leagues won’t be drafting for months, but dynasty fantasy football leagues don’t have the luxury of waiting. He would be impossible to sell for any kind of value right now, but could be an intriguing buy-low for contending teams. Sanders would be a great player to request in a larger deal, where he simply would be viewed as a throw-in.


More The Wright Way Network