NFL Running Back Breakout Candidates | Win Your Leagues with Help From The PlayerProfiler Staff!

The PlayerProfiler Staff have collaborated and come up with six NFL Running Back Breakout Candidates for 2023!

Who is Your Breakout RB in 2023?

James Cook

Writer: Matt Babich

If you’re looking for this season’s breakout running back, look no further than James Cook. After struggling to force veteran Devin Singletary off of the field, Cook is the perfect post-hype sleeper. He confirmed our priors on his pass-catching abilities in a small sample, as his 1.65 Yards per Route Run would have ranked No. 10 among qualified candidates. Beyond that, he was dominant as a rusher, generating 5.3 (No. 2) True Yards per Carry and a 12.1-percent (No. 1) Breakaway Run Rate. His explosive playmaking ability is amplified by a world-class offensive line along with an offense nearing the top of the charts in Game Script and Pace of Play.

Singletary is Gone

Letting Singletary walk is Buffalo’s way of announcing they want Cook to be much more involved next season. Singletary was an entrenched veteran with a proficiency in pass catching. Newcomer Damien Harris is a similar rushing talent but has yet to earn 25 targets in a season. As rushers, the two backs are similar. Both are effective tackle breakers, but ultimately are plodders who serve best in goal line and short-yardage situations.

Displaying elite efficiency as a receiver as a rookie, along with earning 18-percent of his targets in the red zone, Cook is set to earn at least a 10-percent Target Share this season. Dating back to 2012, running backs who cross that mark average 13.8 fantasy points per game. Harris can assume his expected rushing role without ruining Cook’s breakout chances. Despite Cook’s league-winning upside, his ADP is suppressed by the presence of a plodder. Capitalize on this uncertainty and win your leagues.

Isiah Pacheco

Writer: Matty Kiwoom

The second year running back is poised to break out in 2023. He has the talent profile, he performed as a rookie, he’s on an elite offense, and his situation is great. That is why I couldn’t resist selecting Isiah Pacheco as my RB breakout candidate for 2023!

In his rookie year, Pacheco showed off his talent. He really started getting a chance to play from Week 10 until the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. In his final 12 games (including the NFL playoffs), Pacheco averaged 84.3 yards from scrimmage. He scored five times and averaged 11.9 fantasy points per game. Looking closer at his analytical profile, there are some very positive indicators. A 4.8 True Yards per Carry (No. 10 amongst qualified running backs) and 5.2 Yards per Touch (No. 16) suggest that he is very capable of taking advantage of his situation.

The Kansas City Chiefs did not put much effort into adding running backs to the fold. Jerick McKinnon re-signed. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is still there. Deneric Prince is a UDFA. This backfield will feature a lot of Isiah PachecoRemember those stats that were referenced in the previous paragraph? Well, McKinnon was active in all twelve of those games and Pacheco posted a sub 50-percent Snap Share. So, he proved he can score at least eleven fantasy points without immense volume and if his usage in the passing game takes a slight bump up…look out. A running back with a sturdy floor plus a high ceiling is a player worth taking at his current ADP. Draft Pacheco and sit back to enjoy a second-year breakout. 

Najee Harris

Writer: Jason Allwine

It’s hard to call Najee Harris a breakout when he’s had back to back 1,000 yard and 10 TD seasons and finished as RB3 in 2021. However, he is a great value right now at the RB position and should be considered as a “re-breakout.” After going in the first round of many drafts last year, he’s now going in the middle of the third. Harris is being drafted after RBs such as Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Kenneth Walker, etc. This discount is only present because he disappointed last season while playing through a Lisfranc injury.

A Lisfranc injury that is now healed. It’s easy to forget that during his rookie year- Najee Harris led the NFL in Targets, Receptions, Snap Share, Opportunity Share, Routes Run, and Weighted Opportunities. He was also top five in Carries, Rush Yards, Receiving Yards, Target Share, Evaded Tackles, Yards Created, & Dominator Rating. Oh yeah, he was a first round pick too. I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t bet on a player that had this kind of domination in his first year in the league.

The Injury

I mentioned the Lisfranc injury that Najee Harris played through last year. This is a severe injury, especially for running backs. But again, he played through it. And that’s an understatement. While battling this injury he still had 1250 all-purpose yards and 10 TDs. He was also Top 10 in Opportunity Share, Carries, Redzone Touches, Evaded Tackles, and Dominator Rating.

Now that he’s fully healthy, he should regain some passing opportunity that was lost to Jaylen Warren. Additionally, he should easily be a lock for a top 10 RB season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren’s usage gets halved and Harris returns to top three form with RB1 overall upside. You can’t often say that for a guy being drafted outside the top 10 in his position. Draft Harris now, win your league later.

Antonio Gibson

Writer: Jack Cavanagh

It feels weird saying that a player with back to back seasons with 1,000 yards from scrimmage to start his career is going to break out. However, Antonio Gibson is ready to take his game to another level. It’s rare to see a 6-0, 228lb running back transition to receiving in college, but that’s exactly what happened as Gibson played a WR/TE/RB hybrid role at Memphis. Gibson was able to make a surprisingly smooth transition and become a professional running back thanks to incredible athleticism, namely a 99th percentile Speed Score thanks to his 4.39 speed. His rookie season would see him score an impressive 11 TDs while rushing for 795 yards and adding an extra 247 yards on 36 receptions.

Gibson became a workhorse in the run game in 2021, finishing No. 4 in the league with 258 carries, going for 1,037 yards on the ground. He’d add an additional 294 yards on 42 catches, ending the year with 1,331 yards from scrimmage, which was No. 8 at the position. These numbers came despite the fact that Gibson was suffering from nagging shin and foot injuries for the entirety of the season.

2022 was less kind to Gibson, who saw the Commanders select Brian Robinson in the third round to give Ron Rivera an old school between the tackles grinder who runs for three yards and a cloud of dust. Rivera’s poor decisions as a coach led to a career low 546 yards on the ground for Gibson. But even then, the talent couldn’t be held back entirely. Gibson once again set career highs in the receiving game with 58 targets, 46 receptions, and 353 yards.

Eric Bieniemy

The Washington Commanders signed former Chiefs’ OC Eric Bieniemy to direct the offense, and chatter immediately began that Antonio Gibson was destined for the Jerick McKinnon role. PlayerProfiler does not believe in coach worship, so we do not expect Gibson to have multiple weeks as the RB1 just because he has a new OC. But we do expect Antonio Gibson to take yet another step forward in the receiving game following the departure of J.D. McKissic.

We also expect Eric Bieniemy to make more rational decisions with his personnel than Ron Rivera did when he had his fingers in the offense. Brian Robinson is not a good running back, and neither is this year’s sixth Rounder Chris Rodriguez. As The Podfather said, all Brian Robinson does is telegraph that it will be a run.

Gibson is a better receiver than anyone else in Washington. He is a more explosive runner than anyone else in Washington. Antonio Gibson is the best running back in Washington, and he will smash the 1,300, 10TD, RB10 season he had in 2021 in a true breakout season.

Jahmyr Gibbs

Writer: Theo Gremminger

Bijan Robinson is not the only rookie running back set to make a massive impact this year in fantasy. My breakout running back for 2023 is Jahmyr Gibbs of the Detroit Lions
Gibbs has been an ADP rocketship since he was the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL Draft. His combination of blazing speed and elite pass-catching ability has resulted in fantasy smash seasons in years past with players like Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Austin Ekeler. Gibbs has this sort of upside. He has a path to an RB1 finish as a rookie and could finish top five in receptions among all running backs.

The Detroit Lions offense thrived in Year 1 under Ben Johnson. This group proved to have incredible balance and production, finishing No. 11 in rushing yards per game and No. 8 in passing yards per game. Gibbs has a shot at finishing No. 2 among all Lions in targets behind WR1 Amon-Ra St. Brown. He also could get off to a fast start to the season, with Jameson Williams serving an early six-game suspension and even more target opportunities. Rushing-wise, Gibbs should split the work with David Montgomery and be incredibly efficient, much like he was at Georgia Tech and Alabama (Gibbs averaged 6.1 YPC in 2022).

Talent, situation, draft capital, and opportunity: Gibbs checks off all the boxes of a player who can smash his ADP and help drafters win championships. Draft him with confidence and have him breakout on your team and not one of your league mates. 

J.K. Dobbins

Writer: Seth Diewold

Okay, I understand that J.K. Dobbins has largely let down the fantasy community, but enough is enough. Dobbins is poised to breakout in 2023 and is being drafted far too low in both Underdog (ADP – Pick 55.9) and FFPC (ADP- Pick 52.1). Firstly, Dobbins is an amazing athlete. Dobbins possesses elite Speed and Burst, scoring in the upper-90th percentiles in both categories according to PlayerProfiler. This means that any time Dobbins has the ball in his hands, he has the capability to take it to the house.

The case is further proved by Dobbins’s efficiency metrics. In 2022, Dobbins played in eight games and was coming off an injury. During that span Dobbins produced 520 yards on the ground with less than 100 carries and caught seven passes for 42 yards and scored a total of three touchdowns. Dobbins also ranked No. 4 amongst running backs in True Yards Per Carry (5.2). Additionally, Dobbins’s Yards Per Touch ranked No. 9 amongst running backs. This is all while dealing with some of the most stacked fronts in the NFL. Last season, Dobbins saw the No. 2 most defenders in the box on average (7.2) and ranked No. 1 in Stacked Front Carry Rate (35.9-percent). Again, this was all while coming off an injury.

100-percent Healthy

This season, Dobbins is 100-percent healthy. Also, the Baltimore Ravens have shown faith in Dobbins by not adding a running back in the NFL Draft or free agency up to this point. While Todd Monken is the new offensive coordinator, and there is some uncertainty there, there is no question that Dobbins is the most talented running back the Ravens have, and they will no doubt use one of their best weapons on offense to help Lamar Jackson as he continues his ascent as a passer. Even though Dobbins is not known as a pass catcher, Dobbins is still being undervalued by fantasy gamers in 2023. Even without the passing volume, I like Dobbins. If he does see more targets out of the backfield in 2023, that is the cherry on top of this take. 

Theo Gremminger:

Jack Cavanagh:

Matt Babich:

Jason Allwine:

Matty Kiwoom:

Seth Diewold: