10. Cam Akers – LAR
Unless you drafted him last year, you may have forgotten that Cam Akers demanded a high price tag in 2022 fantasy drafts, and his owners were largely disappointed with the lack of production. The Rams’ offense crashed to shocking lows in 2022, as they suffered perhaps the worst Super Bowl hangover in years. Stafford spent much of the year dealing with a pesky elbow injury, the offensive line crashed and burned, and injuries decimated the defending Super Bowl champions on both sides of the ball.
In spite of all that, Akers turned out to be a bright spot for the offense in the season’s final weeks. He averaged 17.7 PPR points per game in the last six weeks of the season, posting six touchdowns in that time as well. Akers rushed back from an Achilles tear in his sophomore season but never looked the same until the end of last year.
Now heading into his fourth year, Akers could return to form at a fraction of his 2022 price tag. Also encouraging is that Darrell Henderson Jr. is no longer battling Akers on the depth chart, although the Rams did spend a sixth-round pick on Ole Miss RB Zach Evans. Still, McVay has expressed that he hopes to see big things from Akers in 2023, a surefire sign that he will be the Rams’ lead back for the foreseeable future.
9. Isiah Pacheco – KC
If you have grown disillusioned with Kenneth Walker III following the Seahawks 2nd round draft choice of Zach Charbonnet, then allow me to direct your attention toward Isiah Pacheco as your next favorite target. Pacheco, much like Walker, is a speedy and efficient runner who took over his backfield as a rookie in 2022.
Pacheco also benefits from playing in the best offense in the NFL, alongside superstars Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, where he will see plenty of opportunities in the red zone. He sports a 99th percentile speed score, and his 5’10, 216 lbs frame allows him to produce effectively if given a heavy workload.
He also managed to rank 10th in the league with 4.8 true yards per carry and should sit firmly ahead of Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire on the Chiefs depth chart. Pacheco was at his best when it mattered most for Kansas City, rushing for 76 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries in their Super Bowl win over the Eagles. I expect them to reward his reliability by making him the surefire lead back of their offense.
8. James Conner – AZ
James Conner was phenomenal in 2021, breaking the Cardinals’ franchise record for rushing touchdowns en route to finishing as the RB5 overall. In 2022 he struggled with inefficiency early on for the Cardinals, and then injuries settled in before he looked like his old self again in the final weeks of the season. However, if you did hold onto Conner for those final weeks, then you managed to gain RB1 production from a player with a solid workload in the running and passing game for your fantasy playoff run.
Truth be told, James Conner is not a player who is going to wow you athletically, ranking in the 6th percentile in burst score and the 65th percentile in speed score. However, he is a 233 lbs, 6’1 bruiser who dominates in short-yardage and goal-line situations. His 15.4 fantasy points per game ranked 9th among all running backs last year, so he ultimately did manage to produce at his ADP. On top of that, Conner’s 53.2% route percentage ranked 10th in the, and his 28.8% dominator ranking indicated that he was a major focal point for the Cardinals’ offense.
With DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown, and Kyler Murray all struggling with injuries in recent years, Conner may be this offense’s safest fantasy asset. Furthermore, his production remained solid when backup quarterbacks filled in for Arizona last year, so do not fret over Kyler Murray potentially missing a huge chunk of the season.
Despite all of this, Conner’s stock has fallen quite a bit this year, and I see no real reason for it. Conner tends to miss time with injuries, but at the running back position I think some leniency is necessary when it comes to missing games. The Cardinals drafted zero competition for Conner in the backfield, an indication that new head coach Jonathan Gannon is prepared to run him into the ground this year. I view Conner as a safe bet to produce RB2-level production, with RB1 upside if he can stay healthy. He may not be flashy, but he certainly gets the job done.
7. JK Dobbins – BAL
It seems like it has been ages since J.K. Dobbins was a dominant running back at Ohio State, where he played well enough to earn a 2nd round draft billing from the Baltimore Ravens. At the time, Dobbins ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, with a 114.6-speed score that ranked in the 96th percentile for all NFL players.
Since then, however, Dobbins missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL and then was limited to just eight games with the Ravens in 2022. Nevertheless, Dobbins managed to put up impressive numbers as a runner when healthy and could form a nasty one-two punch with Lamar Jackson in 2023.
Dobbins had an evaded tackles per touch rate of 43.4% in 2022, good for 2nd in the entire league. He also ranked fourth in the NFL with 5.2 true yards per carry, and 3rd in the league with a breakaway run rate of 10.9%. These metrics indicate that Dobbins still has the burst and explosion that made him such a highly touted prospect, so concerns over his injury history may be just a bit overblown.
Injuries are so difficult to predict, but with Dobbins’ current draft ranking in the toilet despite operating as the lead back in a run-heavy scheme, he could be a league winner if he gets a little luckier in the injury department.
6. Devon Achane – MIA
The Dolphins drafted Devon Achane in the third round of the NFL Draft, and as long as their running back room remains the same Achane could be a heavy favorite to overtake the backfield. There have been whispers about Dalvin Cook to Miami, which would change the expectations for Achane, but as long as the backfield remains as is he has a very good chance to take over this backfield. His current competition consists of oft-injured Raheem Mostert and former 49er Jeff Wilson Jr. Achane is exceptionally speedy, garnering comparisons to Chris Johnson.
His 4.32 40-yard dash ranked in the 99th percentile, yet many saw it as disappointing given how highly regarded he is as a speedster. He even clocked in at 22.2 mph on a kick return in 2021, a number that only the fastest in the game have reached.
He enjoyed a young breakout in his sophomore season at Texas A&M and he produced against elite competition, both good indicators of potential NFL success. He boasts elite agility and footwork, along with his rare talent as a straight-line sprinter. By all accounts, Achane is an alluring rookie playing in a wide-open backfield. He deserves more recognition than he is getting, and I expect his stock to climb steadily throughout the offseason.