Dynasty Debate: Who are your Dynasty Top 5 Running Backs?
By Joe Goodwin, Nick Goodwin, and Cody Folden
In this week's edition of Dynasty Debate, we are looking ahead to one of next year's most debatable topics: Who are your Top 5 dynasty running backs?
In 2023, we saw fantasy stalwarts like Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, and Ezekiel Elliott begin to show their age and found themselves on many fantasy benches as younger backs began to surge and establish themselves for years to come. In this edition of Dynasty Debate, we will have a 3-way showdown as Nick Goodwin (@ngoodwin_TV), Cody Folden (@codyfolden), and myself (@JGoody77) will post our Dynasty running back Top 5's and then debate which list is the most likely to resemble the truth next year. And, as always, the readers will vote and decide which list reigns supreme. Sit back, relax, and let this 3-way Death Match begin!
Goody: My Top 5 Dynasty Running backs are Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson, Christian McCaffrey, Devon Achane, and Jonathan Taylor.
Nick: My Top 5 Dynasty Running backs are Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Christian McCaffrey, and Jonathan Taylor.
Goody and I have similar lists, but I'm afraid I disagree with having Achane as a top 5 dynasty running back. He lacks the size for me to feel comfortable at this price. There is no denying his production and the big-play ability displayed during his rookie campaign. However, when I consider a player for the Top 5 at a position, a player should be regarded as a cornerstone piece for their team and mine. His lack of size and injury-riddled rookie season is too significant of a concern for me to include him in my top 5.
Cody: My Top 5 Running Backs are Breece Hall, Saquon Barkley, Kenneth Walker, James Cook, and Travis Etienne.
Goody: I'm climbing the top ropes! Nick, Devon Achane is 5'9" and 188 lbs. Jahmyr Gibbs is 5'9" and 200 lbs, and you critique his "lack of size"? When you run a 4.3 40-yard dash, size is less critical when defenders can't catch you. Achane had a great rookie season and had to split time with Raheem Mostert. With Mostert at 31 years old, I believe the Dolphins have found their 1A running back, and his name is Achane (rhymes with ran…as in, I ran by you for a touchdown).
Cody: Nick and Goody want to zig; I will zag. Breece Hall showed Week 18 why he is at the top of the list; there is no debate. The disrespect starts with the other New York running back, Saquon Barkley. Younger than Christian McCaffrey, Barkley, and Hall are the only ones with a shot at taking down the running back fantasy gold. We're talking next season here, boys; Walker, Cook, and Etienne have all been through their second year, meaning they have seen the struggles and successes. They know how to conduct their business, and I project them to be in the top 5. Jahmyr Gibbs may see some regression, and Bijan Robinson will have a whole new scheme. Let them have their tribulations before we crown them next best.
Goody: Cody, my question to you is this: Why are you ignoring the talent of Bijan Robinson and Gibbs? And why do you think Gibbs will have regression?
Cody: I am not ignoring their talent. I know they are going to be assets. Barkley is my oldest asset on my rankings at 26. In Dynasty, everyone must always remember there is value in being a veteran. A veteran knows what he needs to do. Gibbs regresses because there is a full year of tape on him, and who knows if Ben Johnson will come back as their offensive coordinator. It looks like Bijan is getting a whole new coaching staff, too. These things out of those players' control could cause a bit of regression next season. Etienne, Cook, and Hall fit your narrative of "youth." They are also in systems where they have been in it for two years. Walker was supposed to regress with Zach Charbonnet on the team and injuries. He was still one of the best things going for Seattle. One of the problems with Dynasty and why some people lose is that you trade your assets too early to get younger but always fall into the mold of "youth is always better."
I agree you need youth, but the 3 2025 first-rounders you have won't win you a championship next year. I can build for the future and try to succeed in the same year. It's funny how youth is a driving factor in the list, yet CMC is also the most significant outlier. You could acquire anyone on my list in a dynasty off-season trade for much less than some of the last two years' 1.01 and 1.02s of fantasy drafts. I don't play for the top pick; I play to win.
Nick: Circling back around to why I prefer Gibbs over Achane. We see few running backs with Achane's size have long-term NFL success. Ten to twelve pounds at the position is a significant amount. There is no doubt that Achane is super explosive and talented. However, history tells us we want running backs over 200. I worry that he lacks the size to have 250+ touches (over an entire season), and in fantasy, that's where I want to put my money. Achane's speed, vision, and the Miami offense will make him a top asset; I just can't put him in the top five. Before the season, I did a Dynasty Dilemma on James Cook, with one of my chief concerns being his size. In doing that research, I found over the past 15 seasons, no running back had finished in the top 10 in fantasy weighing less than 200 pounds. This year, Kyren Williams was in the top 10 at 194 lbs. It is essential to note Williams is an outlier, not the trend.
As for Cody, I need help with your Saquan ranking. We've already seen the best of Barkley, and I don't see an RB1 finish in his range of outcomes for next season. The Giants' offense did not look good in 2023, and with Barkley being another year older, I need more confidence that he'll outperform some of the younger backs on this list over the next two or so years. Please give me the youth and ascension of Robinson, Gibbs, and Cook over Barkley. CMC is still elite in every way, and until I see a decline, he's still worthy of being a top pick in dynasty startups.
Goody: Nick, I agree that historically, the NFL's most successful running backs have been a specific size. However, this is not your "grandfather's" NFL. Running backs are used in more ways than ever before. That is why size is no longer a factor. Imagine Tyreek Hill as a receiver in 1998. He would have been dismissed just based on his size. However, offensive coordinators and head coaches have gotten better at seeing what players can do instead of what they can't do. Devon Achane has excellent vision and is arguably the fastest player in the NFL. With those two traits combined, Achane will be an asset for Dynasty managers for years.
Nick: It's essential to explain what goes into my rankings. For Dynasty, the factors I look at when ranking players:
1) How good can you be for me this year
2) How good can you be for me next year (considering both regression and progression)
3) What is your current market value
4) How high is your long-term ceiling
5) Current Offense/ Circumstance
We are early in the offseason. The NFL draft and organizational changes will no doubt have us reevaluating rankings as the year progresses. If we were drafting for the 2024 season (re-draft) today, I'd have CMC, Hall, Gibbs, and Robinson on my team before selecting Barkley. Barring injury, CMC has RB1 upside for the next two seasons. I couldn't confidently say that about Barkley. Youth isn't the only factor, but how long I can expect to have you at an elite ceiling must be considered when building a roster or acquiring some players.
As for Achane, he's just outside my top 5 coming in at RB7. I love what I see, but when splitting hairs on the next group of young running backs, his size causes him to fall short of my list.
Cody: CMC is an asset. I can find 2 or 3 articles here in 2 minutes that said the same thing about Derrick Henry two years ago as an RB1. I have to give up my future first-rounders to acquire Bijan and Jahmyr. When in 3 years, they aren't going to be in your Top 5. This is my point! I would trade the more volatile picks, the 2nd and 3rd rounders, and some lower-tier wide receivers to acquire James Cook or Kenneth Walker and not risk my future by spending 3 first-round picks to acquire Robinson and Gibbs. If you plan on having your pick be the 1.01 every other year, that's not long-term thinking.
Goody: It's time to jump from the top rope and drop in like Jimmy "Super Fly" Snuka. Nick, I get the Gibbs choice. He's dynamic like Achane. However, the situation could be better. I don't see Gibbs having the workload conducive to a Top 5 Dynasty player. Yes, he will be outstanding in Dynasty; I like Achane better. Achane will make good use of the opportunity as he continues to inherit more of the workload, as for Cody picking Barkley. I am just trying to understand the logic. Barkley doesn't even have a home next year. The market was set for him last year, and he realized many NFL teams did not want him. I cannot, under any circumstances, list a player in a Dynasty Top 5 if I don't know what team he is on next year. The Giants are a dumpster fire. He is better off going to a different team. That team is unknown; for that reason, he's off the list, as for James Cook and Kenneth Walker. I don't see Walker or Cook being dynamic enough compared to the players we are discussing, especially Bijan, Gibbs, or Achane. Cook isn't even the best runner on his team (Josh Allen), and Kenneth Walker just saw his team spend insane draft capital to take Charbonnet.
Cody: Insane draft capital in Charbonnet? How did he do when Walker was out? It was subpar. Barkley's need for a home isn't because of talent. It's because of the contract; how do you not apply this same thing with the antics pulled by Johnathon Taylor in the last offseason? Yes, he got the contract extension, but they seemed content with Zack Moss in there while Taylor was out. They want a great player at a good value so you can get more great players at a lower price.
Cook has never been phased by the other running backs the Buffalo Bills have signed to take the lead role. I'm not going to rank a dynasty top 5 with a consensus of first or second-year players that were high fantasy picks because I cannot attain them. I can acquire at least four of these guys to improve my team. You only sometimes have a startup to fleece people in; you have to be realistic. Saying Josh Allen is the Bills' best runner over Cook when Josh Allen only had 524 yards rushing compared to James Cook's 1122 also makes me question what you're looking at. That isn't even bringing in the receiving upside from Cook, who had 44 receptions for 445 yards.
I want to get in the stats about Walker and Charbonnet, too. Fine. Let's do it; Walker had 219 attempts compared to Charbonnet's 108. Walker also had 905 yards, while Charbonnet had 462 yards. Eight rushing touchdowns to 1 rushing touchdown. Charbonnet only has receptions over Walker (33-29), yet that is negated based on the yardage, with Walker having 259 yards receiving to Charbonnet 209. Insane draft capital doesn't matter if you don't produce. Gibbs, Robinson, Achane, and Taylor all had players "compliment" them too. So, using the "logic" that Charbonnet doesn't help Walker's case because there was competition doesn't make sense. If Zack Moss, Tyler Allegeir, Raheem Mostert, and David Montgomery don't count against your backs. Charbonnet doesn't matter either.
Nick: Cody and Goody made solid points in defending their top five. That said, here are my final thoughts on the rankings; they are fluid. Offenses can change, injuries happen, and free agency and the draft are still to come. As a dynasty manager, it is essential to understand your team. If you are in a complete rebuild, you should be trading for something other than Barkley or CMC, as there are younger assets you can build around. If you are competing, they would both be solid additions to your team, hoping to bring home a championship. Suppose you are in a new dynasty startup draft. In that case, you can draft youth for sustainability, stack your team with established veterans with a history of fantasy success, or create a balanced roster with a little bit of everything.
There's more than one strategy in approaching Dynasty. It's about understanding your team, your league, and what everyone is willing to pay for players. As for me, I'm buying youth right now at the position. The top-end talent at running back is thinning. With guys like Kamara, Henry, Mixon, Jones, and Jacobs all another year older, having a Gibbs, Robinson, or Hall on my roster will give me the advantage long term over my league-mates who are holding on to the production of yesteryear. If you're not a step ahead, you're a step behind.
Cody: The step ahead may just be drafting WRs. If you get a chance to draft young, do it. There is value in some of the aging running backs. Like you said, Nick, it's about what you need from your team. If you know RB will be slim very soon on your roster, there are two things you can do. Bundle as many Alvin Kamara, Henry, Joe Mixon, and Aaron Jones together to make a fun 2-year run while trying to gain access, or you can try to ship them off and grab a WR that has more fantasy upside. We could debate about this for days or even weeks. Know your build and stick to it.
Goody: We have all made our cases for which running backs are in our Top 5 for Dynasty next year. Nick, we have similar lists, except Gibbs for Achane. Both had tremendous rookie seasons, and both have bright futures ahead. Cody's list had more intrigue but also more debate. The inclusion of Saquon Barkley is a head-scratcher since we have yet to determine where he will play next season. And Cody is banking on the ascension of the careers of James Cook and Kenneth Walker, both of whom had solid and promising seasons but have yet to prove they are elite.
I will plant my flag with Devon Achane. He is explosive, catches the ball, and is on an offense that will provide plenty of opportunities for fantasy production.
Goody's Top 5: Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson, Christian McCaffrey, Devon Achane, and Jonathan Taylor.
Nick's Top 5: Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Christian McCaffrey, and Jonathan Taylor.
Cody's Top 5: Breece Hall, Saquon Barkley, Kenneth Walker, James Cook, and Travis Etienne.
Who do you think has the Top 5 Dynasty Running Backs you believe in?
If you liked this article, check out the last debate on Dynasty TE!
Full time teacher, full time fantasy sports enthusiast. I try to look at fantasy sports through my own lens and share that vision with my readers I love to explore and find new, and exciting fantasy football options including: C2C, dynasty, IDP, and Devy. See me on Twitter @JGoody77
Always willing to give advice, reach out via Twitter