Everyone knows and understands the saying “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. Except for dynasty fantasy football players. Dynasty gamers will let the bird fly right out of their hand because they think they are going to get three birds a few years from now. They just cross the aging players right off of their running back rankings and salivate over the rookies because they’ll almost certainly go back to back to back in 2027 through 2029 right? Right??
Probably not. Here’s what I do. If I have a shot at winning, I push the chips in. The entire goal of your fantasy league is to win it. So go put your name on the trophy and the money in your pocket. Then try it again. And, if you do go back to back, now you can now talk trash forever. If you focus on winning later then you can only win later. We’ll win now and we’ll win later. Because we are good at this. So take advantage of the 2023 NFL Draft hype and trade those picks for good players. And win. It’s as simple as that.
For the sake of this article, I’ve reviewed a ton of different dynasty sources like DLF Startup ADP, the industry ranking focused PeakedInHighSkool’s Dynasty Trade Charts, the consumer survey thought experiment KeepTradeCut’s Valuation System etc. to get a handle on what the general market might be. Then I considered my own win-now teams and what aging players I might be willing to target. First, here’s a quick list of ones that are a little more obvious that don’t need as much explanation. Naturally, if you can get these guys at a reasonable price, you do it. These prices will be based on single QB leagues but in Superflex you can realistically just move the price down a tier (mid 1st = late 1st and so on). Again, there is no consensus on price and no exact science to negotiating but this is a ballpark of what I believe is fair based on market data. If you see a name and think “I would pay that immediately” then good - go do that. If you want the wide receiver version of this article, that can be found here.
As our own Kevin Tompkins points out in this article, the peak age production for running backs generally comes from guys in the age 24-26 range which we consider to be the Age Apex. Here’s a chart from Kevin’s article that gives you an idea.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t get startable or even elite seasons from guys beyond that age - guys like Derrick Henry and Cordarelle Patterson have very recently proven that not to be true. This chart covers RB1 seasons after all and essentially every one of the leagues I’m in has at least two dedicated RB spots and a flex so you need more than just RB1s. The names we mentioned above are some of the more obvious “older” backs to trade for that will cost you a pretty penny so I wanted to put the spotlight on a handful of guys that can be had for a second or even a third round rookie pick that could slide right into your RB2 or flex spot on a competitive team. And for this next guy at least, maybe even your RB1 spot.
2023 Dynasty Fantasy Football Win-Now RB Trade Targets
Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers – Age 25
The story of Miles Sanders so far can really be summed up in two words: “Not quite”. Has he been an RB1? Not quite. Can he stay healthy? Not quite. Have we seen his peak? Not quite.
My argument for Miles Sanders is pretty simple. It’s that the Eagles are a “fake” great spot for fantasy RB production. The offensive line has virtually always been good. The mobile quarterback running RPO (run-pass option) plays opens up wide running lanes. But that’s really only good for having a high yards-per-carry running between the 20s and not much else. A guy like Gus Edwards also has a career YPC of over 5.0 yards playing with Lamar Jackson – but that’s not really doing much for us either. We need the high-leverage stats like receptions and goalline carries.
The great thing about the fantasy community is that we can lean on each other’s research. For instance, Scott Barrett already did the math proving that, even in standard leagues, a target is more valuable than a carry. The study showed that, in standard, a target is worth 1.36 times as much as a carry and, in PPR, that number is 2.74 times as much. And Andrew Erickson already showed us that mobile QBs target the RB far less than their non-mobile counterparts. Which makes sense - if I’m Carson Wentz and the pocket collapses, I’m dumping it off to the RB but, if I’m Jalen Hurts, I’m taking it myself. That’s a big reason why Miles Sanders was on 60-70 target paces with Carson Wentz in 2019 and 2020 but only had 26 targets in 17 games with Jalen Hurts in 2022. Eagles RBs last year combined (which includes Kenneth Gainwell) had the lowest target share of any RB group in the league.
As for the other high-leverage plays, at the goal line? Jalen Hurts was second in carries inside the five-yard line. Not second on the team or second among QBs - second in the entire league. His 20 attempts inside the five were more than guys like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, etc., and second only to Jamaal Williams. Hurts scored nine TDs from inside the five and 11 from inside the ten. Those are TDs that go to the RB on other teams. Well, the Panthers might not have that many TDs available but they did just pay Miles Sanders a lot of money. And right now there are only six players with 500+ carries and a career YPC over 5 (Nick Chubb, Gus Edwards, Tony Pollard, Aaron Jones, Jonathan Taylor, and Miles Sanders). Maybe that number comes down without the RPOs and the O-line, but I’ll trade those empty rushing yards for receptions and goal-line work any day of the week. And the Panthers made Miles Sanders the highest-paid RB this offseason to be that guy.
Market Price: Late 1st, Early 2nd.
What We Would Pay: Mid to Late 1st
Devin Singletary, Houston Texans – Age 25
For most teams, the modern NFL running back depth chart is not linear like it once was. Here’s a tweet I recently sent reminiscing about the good old days of fantasy football with the Kansas City Chiefs backfields.
Last year, the Chiefs carries looked like this:
The times they are a-changing. The new game is to “complement” the players in your backfield. You look around the room and ask, “Who is good at doing what?” Conversely, “Who is bad at doing what?” In the case of the Texans backfield, that seems pretty clear.
Dameon Pierce exploded onto the scene as a rookie with 939 rushing yards and four TDs in only 13 games. There is no denying he’s a hard runner. But there was one part of his game that was routinely called into question from the very start. Pass blocking. Here is what Lovie Smith had to say after the very first game.
The “situation” that happened was Rex Burkhead played 50 snaps that week and Pierce played 20 because Pierce apparently did not understand the pass protection scheme. And that game actually ended up being one of Pierce’s higher graded pass-blocking grades per Pro Football Focus. On the season, Pierce graded outside the top 100 RBs both in overall pass blocking and on “True Pass Sets” which are obvious passing situations. There are only 32 NFL teams so I don’t need to explain that “outside the top 100” is not ideal.
So what did they do? Well, they brought in Devin Singletary who was fifth in the entire league in pass snaps and routes run last year. He at least graded out within the top 30 RBs at pass blocking and he was top five in pass blocking grade on True Pass Sets for any running back that played at least ~150 of them. New Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik actually spent three years working at Pro Football Focus so he’s probably pretty familiar with some of these metrics. He’s also probably aware that Vegas sportsbooks have the Texans set at an over/under win total of 5.5 and Super Bowl odds of 200 to 1 which are both dead last among NFL teams. So they’ll probably need to throw the football.
Market Price: Late 2nd, Early 3rd
What We Would Pay: Mid to Late 2nd
Samaje Perine, Denver Broncos – Age 27
I don’t know about you, but all of my leagues these days are some sort of PPR (point per reception). Either half or full. If you play in standard, maybe you don’t go after guys like Devin Singletary. And you probably shouldn’t go after this guy. But, in any sort of PPR, he might be able to crack your lineup right away. And he can be had for next to nothing.
In 2017, in a conversation about Christian McCaffrey, Sean Payton alluded to a role in his offense known as the “Joker” back. He mentioned guys like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush that played that role as dynamic pass catchers. They didn’t get McCaffrey in that draft but they did take another player for the Joker role in the third round - Alvin Kamara. Joe Lombardi, who just coached Austin Ekeler in San Diego, is also familiar with guys like Reggie Bush who he called plays for on the 2014 Lions. In that year, Reggie Bush (56 targets), Joique Bell (53), and Theo Riddick (50) combined for 159 targets out of the backfield. Joe Lombardi will be Sean Payton’s offensive coordinator in Denver.
I think you get where I am coming from here. The Broncos already released Chase Edmonds. With Javonte Williams, it’s difficult to tell where he’s at and even harder to speculate. We do know that it’s not just a straightforward ACL tear like we saw with guys like Adrian Peterson or Jets rookie Breece Hall. Breece Hall tore his ACL on October 23rd and there were already clips of him back on a treadmill in January. Now Robert Saleh says he “looks fantastic”. And even Hall might not be ready for Week 1. Saquon Barkley suffered a similar fairly basic knee injury to Hall in 2020 and didn’t get fully back up to speed until 2022. With Javonte Williams, he tore multiple ligaments like JK Dobbins did last season so there is a bit more concern about his timeline. Which is why we got comments like this from Sean Payton at the combine. And it’s why I’m looking to pick Perine up for cheap if I need running back help.
“I see position flex," Payton said at the Combine. "If you really watch Perine and study the tape, you see him on early downs, and you see him playing third down. He’s a really good receiver. Obviously, he could block the blitz. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s smart, he’s tough. He’s built to last. That was an important piece for us knowing the injury that we’re dealing with. He was really important.”
Market Price: Mid 3rd
What We Would Pay: Early 3rd to Mid 3rd
Honorable Mention RB Trade Targets
Jamaal Williams, New Orleans Saints – Age 28
This one is pretty obvious - with Alvin Kamara facing a suspension, he could be in line to be the lead back in Derek Carr’s offense. You’ll likely need to give up a second for him if you want him but I’d feel really good about a third.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals – Age 27
The Cardinals are likely going to be pretty bad during this “bridge year." Vegas has them about as low as the Texans in their odds. But, with DeAndre Hopkins likely gone and Zach Ertz potentially missing the start of the season, that could mean a lot of empty targets floating around for whoever is left. Conner has a nose for the endzone but he’s also never played a full season so I wouldn’t count on him as your RB1 or RB2. He can likely be had for a late second or early third.
Damien Harris, Buffalo Bills – Age 26
D’Onta Foreman, Chicago Bears – Age 26
The Bills have James Cook for pass downs and Josh Allen is a vulture. So, Damien Harris is most appealing in standard, half-PPR, or best ball fantasy football formats. But there should be touchdowns available for him as the starting RB for the Bills, so Harris could help you bridge any RB deficiencies in your lineup. You can literally just swap out Josh Allen/Bills for Justin Fields/Bears here and it’s the same write-up for D’Onta Foreman which is why I just lumped them together. I wouldn’t give up more than a third for either. If you aren’t scared of any even more injury-prone version of this same asset, go for Rashaad Penny.
Raheem Mostert, Miami Dolphins – Age 31
Mostert is incredibly risky given his age, injury history, and the looming NFL draft. But he can still fly and he quietly had over 1,100 yards from scrimmage in this Miami offense last year. More of a waiver add if possible, but a very late third for a team competing now could be worth it.
Related NFL Links:
- 2023 NFL Mock Draft 1st Round: C.J. Stroud Goes No.1 to Carolina Panthers
- 2023 NFL Draft Top Quarterback Prospects: Bryce Young & C.J. Stroud Headline the Rookie QB Class
- 2023 NFL Free Agent Tracker
- 2023 NFL Offseason Recap
- Dynasty Fantasy Football Strategies: Keenan Allen Headlines Win-Now WR Trade Targets