Fantasy Football: Best anchor RBs in Rounds 1-3 on Underdog Fantasy

2WAYNT7 New York Jets running back Breece Hall (20) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

New York Jets running back Breece Hall: Hall is an overall RB1 contender over a year removed from his ACL reconstruction (ACLR) surgery.

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor: Taylor will thrive in Indianapolis’ run-pass-option (RPO) scheme with the team’s injury-riddled 2023 season no longer an issue.

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Fantasy managers playing on Underdog Fantasy have found excellent success by drafting one elite early-round running back while spending all remaining early-to-mid-round picks on passing-game assets. The article below details three running backs that Underdog Fantasy drafters should target as their RB1 anchor. 

RB Breece Hall, New York Jets

New York Jets third-year running back Breece Hall is an overall RB1 contender playing in a significantly improved offensive environment in his second season post-ACLR. Underdog Fantasy drafters should eagerly select him at his current 1.08, RB3 average draft position (ADP). Hall’s 82.5 PFF offense grade ranks sixth among 44 NFL running backs with at least 370 offensive snaps. 

Underwhelming offensive line play coupled with catastrophic quarterbacking led to New York’s offense logging the third-fewest regular season green zone snaps among NFL teams. The unit was bogged down by the league’s worst expected points added (EPA) success rate (+EPA%, 35.8%) and EPA per play rate (-0.243) in addition to finishing in the bottom four in success rate (28.6%), scoring rate (26.0%) and offensive plays per drive (5.3). 

Hall now lines up behind a revamped offensive line, anchored by veteran tackles Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses with first-round rookie Olumuyiwa Fashanu waiting in the wings and quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned from his 2023 Week 1 Achilles tendon rupture. Smith and Moses’ respective 84.5 PFF offense grade and 83.2 PFF offense grade both rank top 10 among 64 NFL tackles with at least 549 offensive snaps while Fashanu’s 79.6 PFF offense grade ranks 11th among 84 Power Five tackles with at least 700 snaps. Rodgers’ 75.9 PFF passing grade in his largely healthy 2022 season ranks 10th among 32 NFL quarterbacks with at least 290 dropbacks that year.

Hall’s remarkable successes in his first season post-ACLR bode positively for the upgraded unit, which should make far more trips deep into enemy territory. 

Hall’s respective rushing and receiving data among 34 NFL running backs with at least 175 rushing attempts and 33 NFL running backs with at least 40 targets:
NFL RB Rushing & Receiving Breece Hall
PFF Rushing Grade 80.2 (No. 12)
Rushing Attempts 222 (No. 17)
Yards/Rush Att. 4.5 (No. 11)
MTF/Rush Att. 0.21 (T-No. 8)
YAC/Rush Att. 3.4 (No. 2)
PFF Receiving Grade 88.9 (No. 1)
Targets 90 (No. 2)
Target Rate – YPRR 26.8% (No. 4) – 1.76 (No. 2)
Yards/Rec. 7.8 (No. 11)
YAC/Rec. 8.4 (No. 13)
MTF/Rec. 0.41 (No. 3)
Explosive Pass Play Rate 14.5% (No. 7)

Hall should have little issue replicating his sterling efficiency now focusing purely on honing his craft with his knee rehabilitation well in the rearview. He makes for an excellent early-round anchor running back.

RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions second-year running back Jahmyr Gibbs finished as the half-points-per-reception (half-PPR) RB9 in Weeks 1-to-17 despite an up-and-down Weeks 1-to-6 stretch. He is a surefire bet to produce an elite RB1 season operating as the full-time starter from start to finish playing behind Detroit’s elite offensive line. He is available with the first round’s final pick as the RB4 by ADP. Gibbs’ 76.3 PFF offense grade among 44 NFL running backs with at least 370 offensive snaps. 

Gibbs totaled just 39 rushing attempts and 17 targets in Weeks 1-4, averaging just eight half-PPR points per game and straining his hamstring in the latter contest. Head coach Dan Campbell sidelined Gibbs for two weeks before unleashing him as a dual-threat dominator from Week 7-on. Gibbs’ 17.5 half-PPR points per game and 175.2 half-PPR-point total in Weeks 7-to-17 both rank third at the position.

Gibbs’ Weeks 7-through-Super Bowl LVIII respective rushing and receiving data among 32 NFL running backs with at least 120 rushing attempts and 34 NFL running backs with at least 25 targets during that span:
NFL RB Rushing & Receiving Jahmyr Gibbs
PFF Rushing Grade 82.0 (T-No. 9)
Rushing Attempts 172 (No. 10)
Yards/Rush Att. 5.3 (No. 3)
MTF/Rush Att. 0.22 (T-No. 7)
YAC/Rush Att. 3.0 (No. 13)
PFF Receiving Grade 68.5 (No. 13)
Targets 66 (No. 3)
Target Rate – YPRR 21.2% (No. 13) – 1.09 (T-No. 20)
aDot -0.1 (No. 13)
Yards/Rec. 6.9 (T-No. 16)
MTF/Rec. 0.39 (No. 6)

Backfield mate David Montgomery notably totaled 164 rushing attempts and 20 targets from Week 7-on. Gibbs’ success should at least mildly increase his 2024 touch share. 

Detroit retains four-of-five 2023 offensive line starters, upgrading the right guard position by swapping out guard Jonah Jackson for former Baltimore Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler’s 72.2 PFF offense grade ranks 15th among 64 NFL guards with at least 500 offensive snaps while Jackson’s 62.6 PFF offense grade ranks 30th. The 2023 Detroit offensive line’s 85.3 PFF offense grade ranks No. 1 among NFL offensive lines by a 5.3-point margin. 

The mauling unit will create wide-open rushing lanes for Gibbs to run through en route to an elite RB1 2024 finish. 

RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is primed for a dominant bounce-back season following his injury-plagued 2023 campaign. He benefits from head coach Shane Steichen’s RPO usage, an offensive line returning all five starters and a welcoming run-defense slate. Taylor’s current ADP is an easily affordable 2.03, RB5. His 74.9 PFF offense grade ranks 21st among 44 NFL running backs with at least 370 offensive snaps. 

Indianapolis’ hyperathletic starting quarterback Anthony Richardson suffered a season-ending Grade 3 AC joint sprain in Week 5 but Steichen’s devotion to his RPO tactics never waivered. Fill-in starter Gardner Minshew’sled all NFL quarterbacks in Weeks 1-through-Super Bowl LVII with 264 RPO snaps, despite averaging just 2.9 yards per rushing attempt, tying for the sixth-fewest among 29 NFL quarterbacks with at least 30 rushing attempts. Richardson conversely averaged 5.4 yards on 25 attempts.

Taylor’s 81.7 PFF rushing grade on RPOs ranks second among 39 NFL running backs with at least 25 RPO rushing attempts. He ties for seventh in missed tackles forced per rushing attempts (0.23) and ranks fourth in yards per rushing attempt (5.3), third in first-down and/or touchdown conversion rate (30.0%) and explosive run-play rate (18.8%) and first in yards after contact per rushing attempt (4.0) on 80 qualifying rushing attempts. Marvelous efficiency for a player limited to just 10 total games played thanks to ankle and thumb ligament injuries.

As stated above, Indianapolis returns all five offensive line starters for 2024 and stud right tackle Braden Smith is reportedly healthy following offseason knee surgery. Smith was likewise limited to 10 games played, including at least one incomplete contest. His return to health is significant; among 65 NFL tackles with at least 545 offensive snaps, Smith’s 90.1 PFF run-blocking grade ranks third. Indianapolis’ offensive line’s 69.4 PFF run-blocking grade ranks 10th among NFL teams overall.

Taylor’s AFC South and NFC North competition affords him at least eight opportunities to tear through below-average run defenses. 

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed 30-year-old interior defender Arik Armstead to anchor the interior, despite producing a pair of career lows last year via a 52.7 PFF run-defense grade and an 18.1% negatively-graded run-play rate. He notably has a history of foot injuries as well. He gets little assistance from nose tackle Davon Hamilton, whose 37.4 PFF run-defense grade ranks 128th among 141 NFL interior defenders with at least 100 run-defense snaps. 

The Houston Texans smartly added three pass-rushing defensive linemen to the starting lineup, but none earned a 61.0 PFF run-defense grade or better last year. The Tennessee Titans feature a similarly built defensive front, with volatile interior defender Jeffery Simmons tying for the 14th-highest negatively-graded run-play rate (20.0%) among 63 NFL interior defenders with at least 220 run-defense snaps. 

The Green Bay Packers lost former first-team All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell in free agency. The team produced a 62.7 PFF run-defense grade with Campbell in the lineup last year and just a 58.4 PFF run-defense grade without him. Fellow NFC North contenders, the Minnesota Vikings’ lackluster interior defenders are unlikely to hold the point; Harrison Phillips’ 2.71-yard average depth of tackle ties for 11th-worst among qualifying interior defenders and his nine missed tackles tie for second most. Free agent signee Jihad Ward earned just a 40.4 PFF run-defense grade.

Taylor is primed for a dominant, RB1 bounce-back season.


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