Fantasy Football 2023 – Offensive lines that will give a boost to running backs

Erik MoodyESPNJune 29, 2023, 11:15 a.m. ET8 minutes of reading

Evaluating O-lines for an edge in fantasy

Eric Moody explores some key offensive line metrics and the impact it has on fantasy players.

Imagine the excitement when your fantasy football running back breaks free for a spectacular 40-yard touchdown run. That happy fist pumping as you tally up those precious fantasy points. But in the midst of our celebrations, let’s not overlook the unsung heroes along the offensive line.

Yes, a running back can create his own space to break away to make big scoring plays, but more often than not, those explosive plays are generated from the lanes created by the men up front doing the dirty work.

So as you prepare for your 2023 fantasy football drafts, don’t ignore the adjustments teams made during the offseason to their offensive line — or changes to scheme or coach.

Here are the teams that improved the most heading into 2023, whether from free agency, the draft or health, and what that could mean for the fantasy prospects of the running backs behind them.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Important additions: G Isaac Seumalo, G Nate Herbig, OT Broderick Jones
Subtractions: None
2022 run block win rate ranking: 14 (72%)

The Steelers finished 2022 ranked 14th in run block win rate, but the offensive line showed improvement as the season went on. That improvement coincided with Najee Harris finding his stride after overcoming a Lisfranc injury that hampered him early. In Weeks 10-17, Harris was fantasy’s eighth-ranked running back, averaging 15.3 PPG.

Fast forward to this offseason, when the Steelers made significant changes along the O-line, adding former Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo and ex-Jet Nate Herbig through free agency and moving up to take Jones in the first round of April’s draft. With QB Kenny Pickett expected to make a significant jump in Year 2 and an upgraded unit up front, Harris becomes an appealing option at his current average draft position as a mid-range RB2. By 2023, he could easily climb back into the top tier of fantasy running backs and is a solid Round 2 or Round 3 pick.

Over the past two seasons, Harris ranks fifth with 1,087 rushing yards after first contact and seventh with 1,147 rushing yards before first contact.

Denver Broncos

Important additions: G Ben Powers, OT Mike McGlinchey, C Alex Forsyth, HC Sean Payton
Subtractions: G Dalton Risner, G Billy Turner
2022 run block win rate ranking: 4 (74%)

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing in Denver last season. The Broncos faced numerous issues, with offensive line play among them. It was the first time no Denver offensive lineman started every game since 1987. However, the Broncos made targeted improvements to the unit in the offseason, acquiring two top-tier starters in Powers and McGlinchey.

Of course, they also brought in former Saints head coach Sean Payton. During Payton’s tenure in New Orleans from 2006 to 2021, the Saints had the ninth-highest run block win rate in the league. With his emphasis on O-line play and the running game, the Broncos are poised for a turnaround after ranking 21st in rushing yards per game in 2022.

That’s good news for prospects Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine. While Williams’ Week 1 status is uncertain as he is coming off a season-ending knee injury, Perine is expected to play a significant role this season regardless. Both could benefit from the renewed focus on the run game and should surpass fantasy projections.

Kansas City Chiefs

Important additions: RT Jawaan Taylor, LT Donovan Smith, OT Wanya Morris
Subtractions: OT Orlando Brown Jr.
2022 run block win rate ranking: 3 (74%)

When fantasy managers think of the Chiefs, the passing attack under Patrick Mahomes is probably the first thing that comes to mind. So perhaps it comes as a surprise that Kansas City’s offensive line finished fifth in run block win rate last season. With the addition of two new starting tackles — former Jaguars RT Jawaan Taylor signed a four-year deal worth $80 million and ex-Bucs LT Donovan Smith was signed on a one-year deal — this unit could get even better in 2023.

That’s good news for the running back and Isiah Pacheco, who led the Chiefs with 830 rushing yards as a rookie last season and showed his ability with another 197 yards in the postseason (and a TD in the Super Bowl). Pacheco was 14th in the NFL with 2.91 rushing yards per carry. carry before contact and had the third-highest success rate among running backs with at least 150 rushing attempts last season. From Weeks 10-17 last season, he was sixth with 569 rushing yards. Tied to a high-powered offense and an improved offensive line, his talents will shine brighter. Projected as a low-end RB2, he will likely exceed expectations. Available in rounds 5 and 6, consider picking him a round earlier.

Jerick McKinnon also had a solid season in 2022, playing in all 17 regular season games and accumulating 803 yards from scrimmage while setting career highs in targets (71), receptions (56) and total touchdowns (10). Both backs promise to make a significant impact in 2023 behind an even stronger line, making them solid additions to fantasy teams.

Cleveland Browns

Important additions: OT Dawand Jones
Subtractions: None
2022 run block win rate: 12 (72%)

The Browns dealt with injuries along the offensive line last season and had a somewhat lackluster performance, ranking 13th in run block win rate. But when healthy, and with Pro Bowl guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller anchoring the unit, Cleveland boasts one of the league’s top O-lines and should see a rebound in 2023. The Browns also re-signed center Ethan Pocic and added Jones in the fourth round of the draft.

As a team, the Browns were fifth in the NFL last season with 146.5 rushing yards per game and 31.3 attempts. Leading Nick Chubb (last year’s RB6), ranked fourth in total rushing yards before first contact (798), and showed a strong ability to read blocks and identify open running lanes (16th in success rate). Additionally, Chubb was third in rushing yards after contact, so he also breaks tackles and eludes defenders (his 88 rushes of 10-plus yards over the past two seasons lead the league).

Over the past three seasons, Chubb has averaged 18.2 touches, 102.7 total yards and 16.3 fantasy points per game. match. Our projections for this season place him right inside the top 10 among running backs. With a healthy offensive line, Chubb has the potential to crack the top five. He was RB4 in Weeks 1-12 and slipped to RB23 when Deshaun Watson returned. As Watson becomes more acclimated, the Browns’ offense should be more efficient. Additionally, Chubb could see increased targets with Kareem Hunt and Duke Johnson gone. Don’t hesitate to draft him near the end of round 1 or at the top of round 2.

Meanwhile, fantasy managers looking for a lottery ticket should keep an eye on second-year running back Jerome Ford. Should Chubb miss time, the former Cincinnati Bearcats running back, who ran for 1,319 yards and 19 TDs on 215 rushing attempts in 2021, has shown a versatile skill set that could translate well to the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

Important additions: None
Subtractions: QB Aaron Rodgers
2022 run block win rate ranking: 8 (72%)

Sometimes not making the move is the biggest move. Green Bay has made significant investments to bolster its offensive line in recent years, and it has paid off with a line that remains intact. Last season, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for nearly 1,900 rushing yards behind a unit that ranked eighth in run block win rate. Jones ranked seventh in rushing yards before first contact (704) and had the fifth-highest success rate among running backs with at least 150 rushing attempts last season.

With first-year starter Jordan Love taking over at quarterback after sitting behind a future Hall of Famer in Rodgers, I expect the Packers to put more emphasis on the running game. (The Packers invested in two tight ends and two wide receivers in their first seven picks of April’s draft.)

A fantasy-friendly schedule also benefits Jones and Dillon. Six of Green Bay’s games are against NFC North opponents. Based on their offseason changes, the Vikings, Bears and Lions are not considered top-20 defenses. There are also four games against the NFC South, another division without a threatening defense. The Packers’ offensive line should have great success against these opponents.

Jones is projected to finish as a top-10 fantasy running back. If you prioritize wide receivers early in your draft, you shouldn’t overlook him. Jones and Dillon project for a combined 430-plus touches, making them excellent picks in fantasy football drafts at their current average draft positions.

Atlanta Falcons

Important additions: G Matthew Bergeron
Subtractions: G Elijah Wilkinson
2022 run block win rate ranking: 25 (71%)

Atlanta struggled mightily in the passing game last season, but that certainly didn’t translate to the running game. The Falcons ranked second in the league with 32.9 rushing attempts per game and third in rushing yards per contest with 159.9. Despite ranking 26th in run block win rate in 2022, this is a solid offensive line that returns four starters and adds promising rookie Matthew Bergeron (second round) at guard to bolster the unit in Arthur Smith’s run-heavy scheme.

The biggest boost, however, will come from Bijan Robinson, who the Falcons took with the eighth overall pick in April’s draft. After an impressive career at Texas where he racked up 3,410 rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns, the former Longhorn should have no trouble putting up big numbers behind that line. He is already being drafted as a fantasy star and will have a significant workload. Don’t hesitate to spend a first-round pick on Robinson, as he is one of the most talented dual-threat backs since LaDanian Tomlinson. Look to the rookie seasons of Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley for a glimpse of Robinson’s potential. Elliott finished as the RB2 in 2016 and Barkley as the RB1 in 2018, averaging nearly 23 touches per game. match.

And don’t overlook Tyler Allgeier in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. He could prove to be a hidden gem in the event of a Robinson injury, as he rushed for a Falcons rookie record 1,035 yards in 2022.

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