Bounce-back seasons can happen for running backs in the NFL in many different ways– from coming back from an injury or just having a poor season. Many players will look for a better 2023 than in 2022. Here I will discuss three players primed to be a bounce-back running back season in 2023.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Akers missed the entire 2021 season after tearing his Achilles in training camp. He had mixed results in 2022, and being in coach Sean McVay’s doghouse did not help his case. From Week 1 through Week 12, he was only the RB67, averaging 3.9 PPG. A slow start was expected, but a start like this was even slower than many, including the Rams, anticipated. A torn Achilles can take time to come back from fully, and even if Akers isn’t there yet, he showed good progress toward the end of the 2022 season. From Week 13 through Week 17, Akers ended very strong as RB4, averaging 18.1 PPG. In those weeks, Akers achieved four top-20 finishes; in Week 16, he finished as RB1. Even with starting so poorly, Akers ended the season as the RB36.
As for Akers in 2023, he will attempt to have a bounce-back season on the heels of what he did at the end of last season. Another year from his Achilles injury should only help his physical ability on the field. There are things out of his control, like if the Rams draft a running back in the draft. The Rams’ first draft pick is 36 overall, and they have many positions to fill on the roster. So if they do draft someone, I believe it will be a complementary back. But they will be someone that will not take away Akers’s role in the backfield. If the Rams’ offensive line holds up, they should be in line to run the ball more than last season. If Akers can start somewhere near where he left off last season, the upside is there to be a top 20, maybe even top 15 running back in fantasy this season. He is also motivated to have a bounceback performance since it is the last season of his rookie contract.
Akers will look to build back up his dynasty value with a bounceback 2023 season. Even though he is in the last year of his contract, I still see him possibly having a future as a part of the Rams. With a top-20 season or higher, the Rams could re-sign or franchise tag him. If you could get a few good games out of him this season and then trade him for good value, I would consider that a success.
David Montgomery, Detroit Lions
As a member of the Chicago Bears, Montgomery finished as the fantasy RB23. By the time the 2022 season was over, he was in a split backfield, with Khalil Herbert ending with a running back market share of 60.3%. By no means did Montgomery have a bad season; it was largely due to a split backfield and team circumstances. The Bears have a quarterback in Justin Fields, who is lethal in the running game. For example, Montgomery led the team with 201 attempts and ran for 801 yards. Fields, however, had 192 attempts and led the team with 1,143 yards. Even with Fields taking that many opportunities, Montgomery ended with six top 20 performances, half of which were top 10.
Montgomery is now a member of the Detroit Lions, signing a 3yr/18-million contract with 8.75 million guaranteed. Montgomery is primed for a bounce-back season, replacing Jamaal Williams in the Lions backfield. Luckily, Montgomery won’t have to share rushing opportunities with a quarterback. However, he will only be competing for opportunities with Deandre Swift. In Detroit, the running back position last season overall had 90% of the opportunities compared to only 65.3% in Chicago. Even with Swift in the backfield, the Lions did not sign Montgomery as a complimentary piece to the offense. A bounce-back season for Montgomery can easily put him in conversation to be a top-20 running back. He won’t be receiving all of the vacated opportunities. But even if he gets 75% which I believe he can, he will likely end up with double-digit touchdowns.
With a bounce-back season and a top-20 fantasy performance Montgomery will only see his value rise after this season. Swift is a UFA after 2023, meaning Montgomery could be the lead in 2024. The dynasty community has mixed opinions about both running backs in the Detroit backfield. I recommend buying him low or drafting him for ZeroRB startup builds.
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Dobbins missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL and could only play eight games in 2022. He was cleared to play after missing the first two games in 2022; however, he had a tough time returning from the knee injury. Dobbins finished the season as the fantasy RB56. He was able to have a few big performances, including three top-20 performances. The Ravens’ offense has been a run-first offense in Dobbins’s entire career in the NFL. After missing Week 7 through Week 13, he was able to play for four more games. Dobbins had a 57.5% opportunity share even though he played less than half of the season. He ran for 520 yards and two touchdowns and had one more touchdown through the air. The Ravens also had some major instability at quarterback throughout the season, which did not help the situation.
Dobbins’ biggest key to having a bounceback year in 2023 is staying healthy the entire season. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented running backs when healthy. The Ravens fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman this offseason and hired Todd Monken to take his place. In his last season in the NFL in 2019, as a coordinator, Monken led a Cleveland offense with Nick Chubb rushing for 1,494 yards. The Ravens ran the ball 51.9%, which was third in the NFL. With a full season in a run-first offense, Dobbins should be able to have a top-20 season. If the Ravens are without Lamar Jackson in 2023, he should have an even greater impact on the offense. If Jackson does play for Baltimore in 2023, it will only help Dobbins and the offense in general. Opposing defenses must account for one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. Either way, I see a bounceback season definitely in his future.
At 24 years old, Dobbins still has the potential for a few more seasons as a top-level fantasy asset. Like any running back, health will be his biggest question. If Dobbins has a bounce-back season, you probably can’t get what you believe he is worth in trade at this moment. If the manager with Dobbins in your league is wary of Dobbins, make sure to at least put an offering for him. In closing, his highest value will be halfway through the season when he is on his way to a bounce-back season.
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