Rookie RB's in fantasy football are always an interesting case of how much snaps and touches they with receive. With less information to go off, their placement in fantasy football player rankings can vary greatly. Hopefully you've already been doing some fantasy football mock drafts and you've checked out the fantasy football draft guide so you can start building some strategies around how to approach the rookies in this year's draft.
But even with all of that research, you are probably still staring at certain players, wondering if drafting them at their current fantasy football ADP is, not just giving you the proper value, but if they are even right for you or your team. Is the juice worth the squeeze?
This is where we come in with our all-new Fantasy Football Player Debate series where two analysts go head-to-head and give you the pros and cons to help with your decisions.
Why You Should Draft Jahmyr Gibbs in Fantasy Football
By Britt Flinn
Look, I get the apprehension behind drafting a rookie running back when we don’t know what their role is going to be. Gibbs has moved all the way up to RB14 in aggregate ADP, and you admittedly are taking a chance on an unknown. We can’t exactly translate college production to NFL production because they are two vastly different products. However, with the combination of his college production, high draft capital, and advantageous landing spot, Gibbs is set to return value on ADP. Everything is aligned for him to have a big season.
First, let’s look at his college production. Last year, Gibbs led the NCAA in explosive plays (plays for 15+ yards) at Alabama, and his 4.36 speed is in the 99th percentile for someone his size. He rushed for 6.1 yards per carry on 151 attempts and added another 444 receiving yards on 44 receptions. His speed was particularly apparent in his special teams work, where he averaged 19.8 yards per touch on kick returns, and this combination of speed and receiving ability fits in perfectly in today’s NFL.
Second, let’s look at the draft capital. We rarely see running backs go in the first round due to the depreciation of the running back position overall in the NFL, but despite signing David Montgomery in free agency, the Lions selected him with the 12th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. According to Matthew Berry, “11 of the last 12 running backs drafted in the first round saw 200+ touches their rookie season,” and there are no indications to think this year will be any different. For context, Tony Pollard, the RB7 in PPR leagues last season, only saw 232 touches in Dallas.
Detroit clearly has a plan for him in their offense, especially as a receiver, as they lost several players due to gambling policy suspensions. It should also give you confidence that after drafting Gibbs, the Lions traded their primary pass-catching back, D’Andre Swift, to the Philadelphia Eagles. They wouldn’t have traded him if they didn’t believe in Gibbs’ talent, and from all accounts during training camp, he has proven them right. He was seen working with the receivers and running routes rather than working with the running backs on blocking drills on August 5, and this has been the recurring theme throughout training camp.
Finally, let’s look at the landing spot. The Lions led the league last season in fantasy production from the running back position (again, thank you, Matthew Berry), and now with both Swift and Jamaal Williams off the roster, there will be plenty of opportunity for Gibbs to show off his talents. It’s a very real possibility that both Gibbs and Montgomery can provide fantasy value in this offense, but the receiving upside Gibbs possesses makes his ceiling sky high.
I know it’s hard to place your faith in a rookie running back, but Gibbs' role will be far more than just your run-of-the-mill, between the tackles guy. His ability to make plays in space and his receiving upside should result in a ton of touches, and, if training camp is any indication, he’s going to be one of the best multi-purpose backs in the league.
Why You Should Not Draft Jahmyr Gibbs in Fantasy Football
By Andrew Cooper
This is the hardest part of my job. Not because I don’t like Jahmyr Gibbs - but because I DO. I think he’s an incredibly talented player. In dynasty leagues, I’m taking him right after Bijan Robinson. I think he’s destined for great things in this league. And that’s why it’s such a difficult task to explain to fantasy gamers out there why, despite liking the individual player in a vacuum, he might not be worth his ADP.
And, naturally I understand the arguments in favor of Gibbs. He has great hands. He’s good in space. They have a great offensive line. They spent a high pick on him. But we also have to understand how the player selection process works in the NFL. And how modern NFL backfields operate. It’s not as simple as “first round pick so he’ll immediately be the three down starting back”. It’s a running back ROOM. The work will, at best, be divided and Jahmyr Gibbs might not get all of the high leverage touches that we would expect for a running back being drafted as a backend RB1 on sites like Underdog.
First, the obvious one - goal line. The Detroit Lions made David Montgomery the second highest paid running back this offseason, with an AAV of $6 million (Sanders is at $6.25 million). Montgomery will likely be the starter/early down back for the team but should also serve as the goal line back, much like Jamaal Williams last year. Picture a pass interference in the end zone - who do the Lions send down there to punch it in? The rookie or the veteran who has 25 pounds on him?
As for the pass work, we in the fantasy community LOVE to jump out to “best case scenario” and say every good pass catching back will just play slot. But that almost never happens because professional slot WRs, even middle of the pack ones, are simply better at actually playing slot. We’ve said for YEARS that Tony Pollard or Kareem Hunt would just play slot. And they didn’t. In college Gibbs only ran 34 routes from the slot because even college teams have better slot WRs. Last year the RB to run the most routes from the slot was Christian McCaffrey with 64 - there were 160 WRs and TEs than ran more than that. And do you know which back was second? Kyle Juszczyk. In fact, Juszcyzk was first the year before that too. Over the last five years, the only RB to run 100 routes from the slot was Tarik Cohen in 2019 (112). It doesn’t happen despite our best “fantasy wishing” and, with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta, they simply have better options.
On top of that, rookie RBs often struggle with pass blocking schemes and mastering playbooks so Gibbs might not even earn that two minute drill role where there are no substitutions - you need to know every play, every audible, every scheme. The Gibbs pick might simply be the Lions drafting “best player available” with the future in mind. We could easily see both Lions backs finish as RB2s but that’s not what I’m looking for when I spend a pick in the backend RB1/high end RB2 range. Even a guy like Miles Sanders, who we wrote about as well, has three down potential and I can get him a lot cheaper.