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Dynasty Spotlight: Rookie RB Report Card

By C. H. Herms | Updated on Thu, 21 Dec 2023 . 7:45 AM EST

2023 Rookie RBs: Who's For Real? 

The shelf life of a productive NFL RB is short.

That makes it even more important to figure out early who’s worth rostering in dynasty and who isn’t.

Many 2023 rookie RBs have seen limited opportunity behind veterans or got hurt before we could draw any big conclusions.

But the last thing you want to do is drop or trade away the next Kyren Williams, right?

That’s why we’re going to analyze this group of players and try to figure out what to expect in 2024 and beyond.

TIP

Never make a deal without consulting our dynasty trade value charts.

 

‘Safe’ Rookies

These rookie RBs have already broken out. If you roster these players, hold onto them. If you don’t, there’ll be a hefty price to acquire them.

Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons

Robinson’s rookie season didn’t reach the heights of 2016 Ezekiel Elliott or 2018 Saquon Barkley, but he’s still been pretty good.

Among 41 RBs with at least 100 carries this season, the former Texas standout ranks 13th in rushing yards (800), tied for 18th in yards after contact per attempt (2.90), and 25th in Pro Football Focus rushing grade.

Robinson and the next player on our list are pacing to etch their names as the 17th and 18th rookie RBs over the past decade to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards and should be lineup stalwarts for years to come.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions

Here’s hoping you didn’t panic after Gibbs’ slow start.

Through 12 games, he ranks within the top 10 in targets (60), receptions (47), PPR points per game (17.0), and yards after contact per attempt (3.22).

The Lions have demonstrated there’s plenty of room for both Gibbs and David Montgomery.

OC Ben Johnson is reportedly among the top candidates for HC openings this offseason. Losing him would add a challenge,  but certainly not enough to cloud Gibbs’ future.

De’Von Achane, Miami Dolphins

Achane has flashed the same incredible, game-breaking ability we talked about in his prospect profile when healthy.

Across eight games played, Achane is PFF’s highest-graded runner, ranks first in yards per carry (8.5) and yards after contact per carry (5.28), ranks fifth in rushing yards per game (76.6), and sits fourth in PPR points per game (18.7).

It’s fair to wonder about his durability, but we’ll trade a few missed games for explosive upside when he plays.

‘Buy Now’ Rookies

These RBs haven’t achieved as much yet. But they’ve shown enough to make us optimistic and might still be affordable via trade.

We’ll give loose frameworks for trade offers, based on our trade value charts.

Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans

We haven’t gotten a chance to see Spears be the RB1 yet, but there’s still reason to be excited about his future.

Henry’s headed for free agency in March and almost certainly done in Tennessee. Even with Henry still around, Spears’ receiving impact has been notable.

Here’s how the rookie ranks among 33 RBs who’ve seen at least 30 targets in 2023:

  • Tied for 13th in receptions (40)
  • 16th in yards per route run (1.16)
  • 15th in PFF receiving grade

Spears also ranks 15th among qualified RBs in fantasy points per opportunity (0.83, second-highest among rookie RBs), ahead of Rachaad White, Travis Etienne, and Isiah Pacheco.

Buy now before Henry leaves.

Potential Trade Offer: 2024 second-round rookie pick + a third-round rookie pick

Find the Perfect Trade Partner; Build the Perfect Trade

Our Dynasty Trade Navigator will help you find the league mate who has what you're looking for. And it'll help you build a trade offer that will help right away, long term ... or BOTH.

 

Jury’s Out

Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks

Charbonnet has spent most of his rookie campaign as the No. 2, but he did at least get a three-game run as the lead guy.

Kenneth Walker III injured an oblique in Week 11 and then missed the ensuing two games. Over that span, Charbonnet posted:

  • 13.2 PPR points per game (equivalent to RB23 in 2023)
  • 75.3 scrimmage yards per game
  • 19.6 opportunities per game

Across his other 10 games, though Charbonnet has averaged just:

  • 5.1 carries
  • 27.4 yards
  • 1.9 targets
  • 1.4 catches

Perhaps he can earn more in Year 2, but falling back behind Walker after the incumbent got healthy doesn't look encouraging. And Walker's signed through 2025.

Charbonnet's a hold if you already have him and not an attractive dynasty buy.

Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears

Johnson never got the lead role in the Bears’ backfield, even with injuries to teammates Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman this season cracking open small windows of opportunity.

He has, however, been the team’s top pass-catching back, leading the way with 34 targets and 155 receiving yards across 12 games.

Johnson could see an expanded role in 2024. Both Herbert and Foreman will be free agents after this season.

The main issue facing him is that he ranks tied for 51st in PFF rushing grade, 53rd in elusive rating, and tied for 58th in yards after contact per attempt (2.25) among 61 RBs with at least 50 carries in 2023.

Those numbers don’t even compare favorably with his teammates:

Stat Johnson Herbert Foreman
PFF
Rushing Grade
65.6 (t-51st) 76.4 (25th) 77.4 (21st)
Elusive Rating
33.6 (53rd) 75.4 (12th) 57.3 (23rd)
YAC/attempt 2.25 (t-58th) 3.05 (15th) 2.75 (t-37th)

It’s too early to give up on Johnson completely. After all, he only started playing RB after he got the Texas. (He arrived as a QB.) But this offseason could show us how the Bears feel about him in 2024 and beyond.

If they chase a significant free agent or spend an early draft pick on the position, bad news for Johnson. Lower-level additions, however, could signal opportunity for him to compete for a larger role.

Hold Johnson for now if you have him. If you don’t, we wouldn’t go chasing after him too hard.

Chase Brown, Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon ranks ninth among RBs in opportunity share this season, leaving little room for anyone else.

But Brown has started to cut into Mixon’s workload and show some signs of explosiveness lately.

The rookie has accounted for 31.9% of the Bengals’ RB opportunities since Week 13, has nearly matched Mixon with 108 receiving yards on half as many catches (6) in that span, and has logged the same number of 10+-yard runs (three) as his veteran counterpart.

Will They Move On?

The Bengals could save about $3 million in cap space by dumping Mixon before next season. They probably don’t need that, as they’re projected to have the league’s sixth-most cap space ($69.8 million).

Cincinnati could just decide to move on from Mixon even if it doesn’t need the space. Or it could not.

And, of course, Mixon leaving wouldn’t guarantee that a fifth-round pick from 2023 is the new backfield leader.

It’s fine to hang on to Brown if you have him. But keep an eye out for any league mates looking to buy the “next man up” in Cincinnati. Turning Brown into a second-round rookie pick or stronger veteran asset ahead of 2024 would be nice.

Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars

Bigsby has been arguably the most disappointing RB from the 2023 class.

The third-round pick has seen just 61 snaps this year and accumulated a poor 84 rushing yards on 37 attempts. Bigsby has also struggled with fumbles, losing two in the regular season and one red zone turnover in the preseason finale.

His standing on the Jaguars’ depth chart has also taken a hit. Bigsby has failed to appear on more than 3% of the team’s offensive snaps in any game since Week 12.

He’ll remain behind Travis Etienne for at least one more season, and the team will decide this spring whether to exercise Etienne’s option for 2025.

Don’t expect Bigsby to turn into more than a handcuff anytime soon. You don’t need to hang on to him in shallower leagues.

Kendre Miller, New Orleans Saints

Injuries have kept Miller from showing us much in 2023:

  • The right MCL sprain from college cost him offseason workouts.
  • He sprained the same knee in the preseason opener.
  • A hamstring issue cost him the first two regular-season games.
  • And now he hasn’t played since a Week 9 ankle injury.

None of these should inhibit him long term. But they’ve sapped a year of assessing Miller’s NFL potential.

Here’s what we do know: The Saints drafted in in Round 3 as the fourth RB off the board, ahead of Spears and Achane, among others. And HC Dennis Allen talked up various aspects of the rookie’s game over the summer.

We also know that the 2024 Saints face some salary-cap trouble.

Alvin Kamara a Casualty?

New Orleans is set to enter 2024 at $89 million over the cap. No single move is fixing that. But one cutting Alvin Kamara (post-June 1 designation) could save them approximately $5 million.

That could be enough incentive to ditch a 29-year-old RB (as of next July) who’s averaging a career-low 66 yards per catch and has managed just 3.9 yards per rush over the past three seasons.

Even if Kamara sticks around, Miller should get a chance to compete for the No. 2 role. Jamaal Williams has two years left on his contract and would actually cost cap space if the team cut him (according to Spotrac). But he’s also wrapping up arguably the worst season of his career.

What to do with Miller?

If you drafted Miller, there’s no reason to quit on him already. Now might actually be a good time to try to add him as a throw-in to larger deals.

If he pans out from there, the return on investment could be large. And if he doesn’t, you haven’t invested much.

Israel Abanikanda, New York Jets

Abanikanda has just 8 carries through Week 15.

Among 227 rookie RBs who’ve seen 20 or fewer carries since 2013, only 11 have gone on to have at least one season as a flex-level player (RB36) or better.

The most productive members of that group to date:

  • Raheem Mostert
  • C.J. Anderson
  • Damien Harris
  • James White
  • Jerome Ford

There have been some factors working against this rookie, though.

He sustained a nasty thigh contusion in the preseason finale against the Buccaneers. This was well-documented in HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ and overlaps with the signing of RB Dalvin Cook.

That buried Abanikanda on the depth chart from the outset.

Just Needs a Chance?

Abanikanda sports size (5’10, 216 pounds) and speed (4.41-second pro day 40 time) similar to Breece Hall. That breakaway speed showed up on his college tape and helped him average 6.0 yards per carry in his final season. He also showed some inconsistency and spent just one year as Pittsburgh's lead back.

Like Miller, Abanikanda was one of the youngest prospects (turned 21 in October) in the 2023 class and possessed more raw traits than refined skills entering the league.

Jets HC Robert Saleh said in mid-November that part of the reason the team let RB Michael Carter go “came down to just wanting to give [Abanikanda] an opportunity,” calling him a “big, strong, powerful back.”

Abanikanda finally ran ahead of Cook as Jets RB2 in Week 15, logging a season-high 8 touches on 38% of snaps.

Three-Week Trial

With the team already eliminated from playoff contention and Cook set to become a free agent, Abanikanda now gets a window to show what he’s got.

These final few games will be informative, both in the amount of playing time he gets and what he does with it.

A strong finish will make him an interesting bench stash. A quiet three weeks could make him forgettable. Feel free to move on from Abanikanda in shallower leagues.

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C. H. Herms, Content Creator
C.H. Herms is a content creator at Draft Sharks who joined the company in 2022.
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