It may seem early, but the 2023 fantasy football draft season will soon be upon us! One of the biggest questions this year pertains to who should be the first running back off the board. Let’s look at who is in contention, while factoring in the various fantasy league formats. Also, we will focus specifically on where Raiders running back Josh Jacobs fits into the picture.
Get your notepads out, fantasy football players.
There should not be too many surprises with who this conversation is going to surround.
First, we have our ’22 PPR (point per reception) scoring leader Austin Ekeler, in addition to our ’22 non-PPR leader Josh Jacobs. Next is the runner-up in both of those categories, 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. Finally, let’s throw in Derrick Henry of the Titans, Nick Chubb of the Browns, and Saquon Barkley of the Giants, since each finished top-six in both categories. For what it is worth, these six were also at the top of last year’s half-PPR (half-point per reception) list; a format that is growing in popularity.
While last year’s stats help to narrow things down a bit, we’re looking towards the upcoming season.
These guys are all poised to be the focal point of their respective offenses once again this year. However, when we start to look at how these players’ respective teams have spent their money, two teams stick out as heavily invested in the quarterback position: The Browns, and the Giants. These teams are paying Deshaun Watson and Daniel Jones a lot of money – are they really going to throw big money at their QB if the expectation is to spend most of their time making hand-offs and short throws to running backs?
To be fair, the Raiders are paying Jimmy Garoppolo a decent chunk of change as well, but the details of the contract show a lack of total commitment to the former Niners quarterback.
Given Ekeler, Jacobs, McCaffrey and Henry were the clear top-four in scoring, and none of their team’s have quarterbacks on mega-deals, let’s eliminate Chubb and Barkley.
Narrowing it Down Further
Now we are down to Ekeler, McCaffrey, Jacobs, and Henry. This is where format comes into play a little bit.
In total non-PPR formats (are you tracking points on a stone tablet, too?) Ekeler is a dicey pick. He has never had a 1,000-yard rushing season. On the flip side, in full-point PPR formats, Henry is a tough sell. However, Henry’s 41 targets last season was a career high, so he remains in the RB1 debate.
For the sake of this debate, let’s split the difference and assume a half-point PPR format. This keeps us narrowed down to four running backs for now.
As to where Jacobs ranks among this group, a case can be made for him to be at the top.
First, let’s compare him with Henry, which has been a popular debate lately. The Titans running back is going to be dealing with a murky quarterback situation at best next year. Expect him to see a ton of seven and eight-man boxes in 2023, but if he is playing with an underwhelming Will Levis all year, it could get ugly. Next, let’s look at Ekeler, who was last year’s half-point PPR scoring leader among running backs. The issue with Ekeler is that in order to keep his title, he will likely have to have another 100 catch season. That feat has only ever been achieved by a running back six times, and only one player has ever done it twice.
That player is none other than Christian McCaffrey.
Raiders’ Josh Jacobs vs 49ers’ McCaffrey
At the end of the day, it all boils down these two guys. McCaffrey is a fantasy football legend at this point. There isn’t a fantasy owner out there that hasn’t been devastated by one of his 40-point outbursts. However, Jacobs is beginning to build his own fantasy football legacy. Last year’s performance was truly special and it cemented his place among the elite in terms of fantasy production.
In most formats, these two are likely the top candidates to lead all running backs in fantasy scoring this year.
That being said, it is important to note that we are talking about who to draft first, and not necessarily trying to predict who will score the most points. To do that, we have to consider a few other factors such as consistency, volatility, and durability. We have to compare both the floor and the ceiling for each player.
As far as the ceiling goes, McCaffrey is probably the odds-on favorite to take home the scoring title. He is a home-run threat on every play, whether it is a run or pass. Yes, Brock Purdy still has a lot to prove, and San Francisco has several other weapons such as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, but none of that matters. If anything, McCaffrey will be a safety blanket for Purdy, and Kittle and Samuel will just make it harder for defenses to key-in on him.
The real worry for McCaffrey is his injury history. We have to consider the possibility of him missing 10-plus games. Is it worth taking that risk for someone who might average a point or two more per game than Josh Jacobs?
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs is the answer
The case for Jacobs is simple. He is coming off arguably his best season, is used in both the running and passing game, and has never missed more than three games in a season. Also, at just 25, he is younger than McCaffrey by about two years.
Finally, Jacobs is more than likely going to be in a contract year once again, which usually bodes well for fantasy production. The only downside with the first-team All-Pro in 2022 is that there were some games last year where the Raiders offense completely stalled, ultimately hurting Jacobs’ production. Year-two under Josh McDaniels should go a little more smoothly, however, raising his floor a bit.
At the end of the day, if you find yourself with the top pick in your fantasy draft and want to take a running back, go with Jacobs. While McCaffrey’s ceiling might be slightly higher than that of Josh Jacobs, his floor is much lower than the Raiders back. Jacobs is the guy to go with this year.
*Top Photo: Abbie Parr/Associated Press