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Fantasy Football: Darkhorse candidates to finish as the overall RB1 in 2023

2K4J137 Pittsburgh, USA. Acrisure Stadium. 2nd Oct, 2022. Breece Hall #20 during the Pittsburgh Steelers vs New York Jets game in Pittsburgh, PA at Acrisure Stadium. Jason Pohuski/CSM/Alamy Live News

  • Betting on health: Breece Hall wouldn’t be considered a darkhorse if we knew he was fully healthy, and if he is, then he’s the best bet to finish as RB1 going outside the top 10 RBs.
  • A need to have his best season at 27 years old: Like Austin Ekeler last year, can a slightly older workhorse running back like Joe Mixon break through with RB1 potential?
  • Jahmyr Gibbs could surprise as a rookie: If he’s able to steal away rushing opportunities in combination with what he can do as a receiver, there’s a path to RB1.
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

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Oftentimes, the annual RB1 for fantasy purposes is already being drafted inside the top-10 players at his position, and for the most part, inside the top five. Over the past 10 seasons, the overall PPR RB1 has been drafted inside the top-six at his position 60% of the time, with only a few truly deep outliers making it too far beyond that range, including 2014’s Le’Veon Bell (RB14 ADP) and the biggest outlier, 2015’s DeVonta Freeman, who was drafted as RB40 that year.

We’re going to play the odds here and not venture too far from the top six into the RB40 range, instead focusing on running backs going outside the top 10 at their positional ADP. To find these darkhorse candidates, we’ll study the recipe for success from years past to highlight three candidates who have a real shot at finishing 2023 as the PPR RB1. 

Before we get into this year’s darkhorse candidates for RB1, we need to understand what allows a player to top their positional scoring so starting by looking at the past five year’s worth of RB1s and their points per game totals is a good place to start.

Season RB1 Total PPR Points PPR PPG PPG Rank ADP
2022 Austin Ekeler 372.3 21.9 1 RB3
2021 Jonathan Taylor 374.0 22.0 1 RB11
2020 Alvin Kamara 378.0 25.2 1 RB4
2019 Christian McCaffrey 468.8 29.3 1 RB3
2018 Saquon Barkley 384.0 24.0 3 RB6
  • The first thing that stands out is that each posted over 20 PPR points per game, which is a significant mark to hit on a weekly basis, creating elite consistency and the highest of fantasy floors. 
  • Other than Alvin Kamara in 2020, each of these players played every game in the year, so staying healthy plays a significant part in their ability to top the leaderboard by year's end.
  • It’s also worth noting that four of these five players were 25 years old or younger, which has been the case each year for the past decade, bookended by Austin Ekeler and Jamaal Charles as the lone outliers in 2022 and 2013, respectively.
Season RB1 Attempts Rushing yards Att/game Team run rate rank Rush TDs
2022 Austin Ekeler 204 915 12.0 31st 13
2021 Jonathan Taylor 332 1,811 19.5 6th 18
2020 Alvin Kamara 187 932 12.5 5th 16
2019 Christian McCaffrey 287 1,387 17.9 28th 15
2018 Saquon Barkley 261 1,307 16.3 25th 11

Next, taking a look at what each back did as a runner should give us an idea of the type of workload to target and what to expect from a touchdown standpoint.

  • 900 rushing yards were the floor for each of the past RB1s, and while Jonathan Taylor’s 1,811 yards are the highest ceiling, it isn’t necessary to have that level of production to reach that RB1 goal, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. 
  • What is important is converting touches into at least double-digit touchdowns on the ground, converting those high-value opportunities into six fantasy points a piece.
  • Interestingly, the RB1 also doesn’t have to come from a run-heavy offense, as evidenced by three of them coming from teams that ranked 25th or lower in overall team run rate. As long as they are the team’s primary runner with little competition, that matters much more.
Season RB1 TGT REC REC yards TGT/game REC TDs
2022 Austin Ekeler 123 107 709 7.2 5
2021 Jonathan Taylor 48 40 360 2.8 2
2020 Alvin Kamara 103 83 756 6.9 5
2019 Christian McCaffrey 135 116 1,005 8.4 4
2018 Saquon Barkley 114 91 721 7.1 4

For PPR purposes, what each player adds as a receiver is going to be important, unless, of course, they can run for over 1,800 yards like Taylor. 

  • Aside from 2021, each of these PPR RB1s saw over 100 targets on the year, averaging a minimum of 6.9 targets per game. 
  • Combining that opportunity for receiving touches with the double-digit carries per game is going to be crucial. 
  • It also won’t hurt to convert some of those targets into touchdowns, especially for Ekeler and Kamara, who were the only ones to post fewer than 1,000 rushing yards, but they made up for it as the only backs to score five receiving touchdowns.
Season Team Offensive scoring Red zone plays Goal line plays
2022 Los Angeles Chargers 11th 3rd 12th
2021 Indianapolis Colts 10th 8th 3rd
2020 New Orleans Saints 3rd 1st 17th
2019 Carolina Panthers 17th 14th 3rd
2018 New York Giants 12th 9th 4th

The one other important piece to look at is the team around these players and how effective of an offense they’re a part of. 

  • Each NFL offense that produced the overall RB1 finished inside the top five in the league in either total plays in the red zone or total plays inside the five-yard line. Getting opportunities inside those high-scoring opportunity areas of the field is crucial.
  • As for overall scoring, being at least above average in that regard should be considered the minimum goal to accomplish.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at this year’s darkhorse candidates going outside the top 10 in ADP who have a shot to be the 2023 PPR RB1.

BEST SHOT: Breece Hall, New York Jets

  • Sleeper ADP: RB11
  • Underdog ADP: RB11
  • ESPN ADP: RB12


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