There is always a dead zone in drafts- in 2023 the RB you want is JK Dobbins. At the moment there is a cluster of running backs being taken in the 6th round on Underdog that have a wide range of outcomes.
- Dameon Pierce (HOU)
- JK Dobbins (BAL)
- Miles Sanders (CAR)
- Cam Akers (LAR)
Each currently projects to get the majority of volume in their backfields, but they all come with their own individual question marks. Often in fantasy football drafts, this range of fantasy running backs are called “dead-zone” running backs. In simple terms, these backs provide known volume with unknown ceilings, historically making them risky picks in fantasy. **This argument is mainly pro-JK Dobbins as opposed to being anti-Pierce, Sanders, and Akers. So let me start by addressing why I like Dobbins in the first place**
JK Dobbins Ability
Dobbins, when healthy, has been electric. We should take advantage of uncertainty leading to the depreciated values of players, and no one encapsulates that idea more than JK Dobbins in 2023. He averaged 6 yards per carry during his rookie season in 2020 while working alongside Mark Ingram. That led him to be primed to break out as the main back in Baltimore in 2021 before suffering a nasty injury to his ACL and LCL in the preseason.
That injury led to him returning in 2022 and was clearly less than 100%. Yet he still averaged 5.7 yards per carry. He averaged 8 and 9.6 yards per carry in back-to-back games in Weeks 14 and 15 in 2023 after getting another surgery to solve some residual discomfort from his injury in the middle of last season.
The Ravens didn’t add to their backfield this offseason. With previous health concerns surrounding Dobbins, the Ravens had every right to invest in the running back position over the offseason. Instead, Baltimore decided to put faith in their backfield and give Dobbins a chance to prove himself in 2023. They did bring in Melvin Gordon during Dobbins’ brief holdout, but I don’t expect either Gordon, Gus Edwards, or Justice Hill to get legitimate work in this backfield.
The fact that Dobbins has averaged 1.3 targets per game in his career so far is less of a statement about Dobbins than it is about Greg Roman. In 8 seasons as an OC, Roman’s offenses have finished higher than 30th in RB targets just twice. I fully believe that Dobbins is a better pass catcher than how he’s been utilized, and his targets per game will float a lot closer to average with Todd Monken as OC. In Monken’s last stint as an OC in Cleveland in 2019, Nick Chubb averaged the most targets per game through his career (3.1), while Kareem Hunt also received over 40 targets
While volume is ultimately what I look for when targeting running backs in fantasy, the success that I project for this Ravens offense should allow for plenty of TD opportunities for JK Dobbins. PFF has the Ravens ranked as their 4th best offensive line, and with a revamped receiving room I expect this Ravens offense to get back to 2019-levels of efficiency as a unit. The Ravens added to their receiving corps in an effort to become more explosive, and I expect the offense to be faster-paced than in years past. Dobbins is also in a contract year, so there’s no reason for the Ravens not to utilize him as much as possible before presumptively letting him test free agency in 2024.
Concerns over other Dead zone RBs
Dameon Pierce has a rookie QB leading his offense. While I think Pierce may provide the safest floor out of this bunch, I don’t expect this Texans offense to be able to move the ball well in CJ Stroud’s first year. Pierce will be used often and is the likely focal point of the offense in Houston, but his touchdown opportunities may suffer while Stroud tries to find his way in the NFL with one of the worst pass-catching rooms in the league.
Cam Akers is on a bad team with a bad offensive line. Akers was highly productive towards the end of 2022, but there’s legitimate concerns around what this Rams team will look like in 2023. The Rams have one of the worst defensive rosters in the league, so will Akers get many opportunities down the stretch of games in 2023? Sean McVay’s offenses don’t tend to heavily involve their running backs in the passing game, and the offensive line in LA is not the same unit it’s been in years past. I also worry about Matthew Stafford’s health. If Stafford gets hurt, the entire team may unravel. If the team is bad, do they make Stafford keep playing with lingering injuries?
Miles Sanders is a volume play who’s talent doesn’t get me excited. Sanders is already dealing with a groin injury and is being put on the shelf in an effort to get him ready for Week 1. He was hyper-efficient in Philadelphia last season, but their offensive line is almost inarguably the best in the NFL. I don’t see him being as efficient in 2023, and much like Dameon Pierce he will be on an offense that may struggle with a rookie QB and lackluster receiving talent.
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