Make a Call in Fantasy Football: 3 key running backs, 3 tough decisions

This is the third part of a new series that will examine players who are tough to rank in fantasy football, continuing with running backs. Click here for QB and WRs.

Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles

PROS

Barkley goes from a New York offense that averaged the third-fewest points per game (15.6) last season to a Philadelphia team that averaged 24.6 ppg and has a far superior offensive line; in fact, the Giants ranked last in adjusted line yards last year, while the Eagles ranked first in run block win rate. Barkley has only 19 career rush attempts during the fourth quarter when leading by 8+ points; the Eagles have 109 carries in those situations over just the last two seasons!

D'Andre Swift led the NFL last year in rush attempts off the read option, where Barkley's YPC jumped from 3.9 to 5.0. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has engineered at least a top-four pace (situation-neutral) during all five years he's coached, and the Eagles were just 18th last year.

According to a report, "several scouts around the league believe Barkley could have a Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco type impact" with his move to Philadelphia. Jalen Hurts may steal some touchdowns, but Eagles running backs totaled 33 rushing TDs from 2021-2022. Barkley doesn't have a huge career workload for a 27-year-old, and he was fantasy's RB5 as recently as 2022.

A healthy Barkley could be lethal while finally running behind a dominant offensive line.

CONS

Barkley's decline last season involved more than just his teammates, as his broken tackle% (4.7) was the sixth-worst in the league — only Kareem Hunt, Miles Sanders, Ezekiel Elliott, Ty Chandler and Swift were worse. Barkley's new quarterback scored 15 rushing touchdowns last year, including 11 from the one-yard line. The Eagles were one of only two teams without a single RB rush attempt from the goal line last season.

Philadelphia running backs rank just 25th in targets since Hurts took over as starter and have seen the fifth-fewest expected fantasy points over the last two years. The Eagles have a loaded WR/TE group and a running QB, so targets to Barkley will be limited. Barkley struggles before contact (and remember, Jason Kelce retired) and has never been as good as he was during his rookie season.

VERDICT

Barkley's expert consensus rank is the RB6, but he's my RB8 and has too many red flags to be worth a top-12 pick in Yahoo leagues.

Josh Jacobs, Green Bay Packers

PROS

Jacobs is coming off a down year, but he faced the highest average number of defenders (7.2) in the box among all running backs. He was also dealing with holding out, a bad offense that got just 4.9 yards per play and a quad injury. Jacobs was one of only four running backs who played at least 60% of their snaps when active last season, and coach Matt LeFleur said "he's capable of being a high-volume feature back."

Jacobs will benefit greatly from joining a highly efficient Green Bay offense that's loaded with receiving weapons. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones is gone, and AJ Dillon might be the worst back in the league. Jacobs earned 74% and 76% snap shares over the last two seasons, is one year removed from leading the NFL in rushing and is joining an ascending Packers' offense in which "the sky's the limit."

CONS

Jacobs had excuses, but he was bad last season, when the aforementioned Elliott and new teammate Dillon outperformed him. Fourth-rounder Zamir White was far more productive in the same Las Vegas offense. Jacobs ranked 50th among 52 running backs in YPC when first contact was initiated after the line of scrimmage, and he had the fourth-biggest difference in fantasy points and expected FP over the last decade. Alexander Mattison and Miles Sanders have more 10-yard carries over the last 18 games than Jacobs.

LeFleur finished his "high-volume feature back" quote by saying, "Typically, we like to platoon those guys, whether it's two guys or three guys." No RB has surpassed a 62% snap share under LeFleur, who once gave Dion Lewis 155 carries in a backfield with Derrick Henry.

The Packers drafted MarShawn Lloyd in Round 3, and Jacobs has zero career receiving touchdowns. Jacobs also dealt with a hamstring injury in May, and Green Bay's offensive line is shaky. The Packers may need to change their zone-heavy run scheme given Jacobs' struggles as a zone rusher (27th percentile EPA/snap over the last three seasons) too.

VERDICT

Jacobs is reasonably ranked as the RB13 now in Green Bay but don't expect his usual workload. I'd avoid Jacobs at his Yahoo ADP (25.4).

De’Von Achane, Miami Dolphins

PROS

Achane averaged the fourth-most 0.5 PPR fantasy points (16.5) last season despite playing five snaps or fewer in two games and never eclipsing 18 carries (or 38 snaps). He had the highest YPC (7.8) and rushing DVOA of any running back in NFL history. Achane's healthy full season's pace was 1,541 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns despite sharing the backfield with an RB who led the NFL in rushing TDs. He averaged 115 yards from scrimmage when playing 40% of the snaps. Achane led the league in yards after contact per touch among manyotherrushing categories. Achane had the same number of first-read targets as Rachaad White over just nine healthy games as a rookie, so he has legit receiving upside as well.

Even with a healthy Raheem Mostert, Achane averaged more opportunities per game (15.1) than Jahmyr Gibbs (14.0) did with David Montgomery. Mike McDaniel expects a bulked-up Achane to have a bigger role in Year 2, and the 32-year-old Mostert has an extensive injury history. Miami running backs racked up 50+ more 0.5 PPR points last season than any RB group since 2020, and a healthy Achane could explode in an expanded role.

CONS

The argument against Achane comes mainly down to health, as he's costing a top-30 pick after playing just nine full games while dealing with multiple injuries as a rookie. He's 5-9 and 188 pounds, so 250 touches might even be a stretch. Moreover, Achane isn't even the starter in an evenly split Miami backfield, where he loses most of the red-zone work. He had a lowly 42% backfield weighted opportunity share last season, and the Dolphins added Jaylen Wright in the draft (with Mostert also coming back).

Achane no doubt looked amazing as a rookie, but his historic efficiency numbers will unquestionably regress. An already shaky Dolphins offensive line ostensibly got even worse during the offseason, and Miami’s touchdowns should come more via the pass in 2024.

VERDICT

Achane is undoubtedly a riskier fantasy pick, but he also possesses league-winning upside given his ability and the likelihood of Mostert going down. Even if Achane misses games, few players are more likely to help win your week when healthy. He's the RB10 by ECR, but Achane is my RB7 — ahead of Barkley. I'm a sucker for younger players with big potential and big injury concerns.

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