Buffalo Bills RBs
The Bills have a couple of holdovers in James Cook and Nyheim Hines but both profile in the “scatback” category. Hines is out of the picture now, however, after suffering an injury that is set to sideline him the entire 2023 season. Cook never took on a full workload but flashed some pop as a runner.
The real makeover came in the “big back” department, where both Damien Harris and Latavius Murray were added to the roster.
While Harris’ addition drew a ton of praise from football heads and interest from fantasy players, Murray’s signing flew under the radar after the draft. And yet, their contracts are nearly identical in terms of value. Harris is younger and probably has more theoretical upside, so I still favor him. However, the contracts are important as I tend to doubt both big backs are on the Week 1 roster.
It’s clear that Buffalo wants to take some of the rushing load off of Josh Allen’s plate and put more emphasis on the traditional run game based on how they’ve attacked this offseason. At least one player is going to matter from this position group in 2023. Cook and Harris are the favorites.
Baltimore Ravens WRs
Take Greg Roman’s 1990’s passing game concepts, volume and offensive designs and get it out of your mind. Allow this to be the final time you view the Ravens in that capacity. Every single step of their offseason so far — from hiring Todd Monken to drafting Zay Flowers in Round 1 — shows you the offense is about to evolve.
The wide receiver room is easily the best proof of concept. On paper, it’s better than any Lamar Jackson has ever had and perhaps the top one in recent Ravens’ memory.
Ready to have my heart broken by injuries (using old charts already a setup) but man I love this Ravens WR trio.
Most recent #ReceptionPerception success rates vs man coverage:
These guys can line up at all three WR spots, win at any level pic.twitter.com/XSDuw45zsw
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) April 28, 2023
At the end of last season, Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins were the top receivers on the team. Neither was even on the roster to start training camp. They were cut by other teams. Even when we entered the season, Devin Duvernay was the projected WR2. He won’t rank higher than fourth when everyone is healthy. The top three Baltimore receivers all have legitimate No. 1 receiver upside.
No wide receiver room has gone from undermanned to downright spicy in more drastic fashion than Baltimore’s collection of wideouts.
Carolina Panthers QBs/RBs/WRs/TEs
I just covered this in my rookie quarterback article, so I won’t belabor the points made in that piece, but you can’t have a discussion about overhauled units and not mention the Carolina Panthers.
No one that projects to start for Carolina at any of the skill-position spots was on the roster last year. The Panthers built an entire starting lineup out of free-agent additions and finished the three-receiver set with Jonathan Mingo in Round 2. Even if a guy like Terrace Marshall beats out a free-agent add like D.J. Chark for the vertical X-receiver role, he didn’t start Week 1 last season.
Bryce Young is easily the most consequential new face on offense. Even his backup Andy Dalton is an offseason addition to the team. This new and impressive coaching staff elected to completely remake the Panthers' offense. Given how the last few years went under Matt Rhule, that’s understandable.
Chicago Bears RBs
Chicago waved goodbye to long-time starter David Montgomery this offseason when he signed with the division-rival Lions. Khalil Herbert is a holdover running back for the Bears but the team added D’Onta Foreman in free agency and Roschon Johnson in the draft.
How this rotation plays out is pretty close to anyone’s guess. Herbert has been impressive in spurts but this front office and coaching staff wasn’t the original group that drafted him. Their moves this offseason and his rotation with Montgomery last year indicate they don’t view him as a primary runner. There was a report in The Athletic this week that indicated “the Bears don’t want one for their offense. They want a wave of backs,” to throw at teams. That fits this group.
Herbert and Foreman overlap a little as efficient early down bangers and while Johnson brings some of that to the table, he likely projects for the most receiving work. Don’t forget the Bears also gave Travis Homer a two-year deal. He was primarily a passing-down back and special teamer for the Seahawks. If he holds that role for Chicago, he might push one of those other three guys off the game-day active list or perhaps the roster altogether.
“A wave of backs” indeed. It could be tough to predict how this rotation plays out in 2023.
Cincinnati Bengals TEs
The Bengals helped revive Hayden Hurst’s career last year so much that he signed a solid three-year deal to start for the Panthers this season. Are they about to do the same with Vikings flameout, Irv Smith?
Smith never caught on with the Vikings but did deal with constant injuries. He’s still a young player at 24 years old and we’ve seen second-contract tight ends break out plenty of times over the years.
Unless Smith absolutely crushes it in this role, we might see the starting spot for this team be a constant rotation on an annual basis given the money Cincinnati will be doling out to the wide receiver room in short order. The castoff veteran market is as good a spot as any to find possible untapped talent.
Cleveland Browns WRs
The Browns were quietly one of the neediest wide receiver rooms in the NFL heading into this offseason. While Amari Cooper is a good player, he’s a low-end WR1 — if that — in my view, and Donovan Peoples-Jones is just a guy. No one else on the roster made an impact in 2022. They’ve approached play acquisition with that knowledge.
Cleveland made a shrewd move to get Elijah Moore from the Jets. Moore was awesome as a rookie but grew frustrated with the poor quarterback play in New York and made an ill-advised scene during a winning streak. He has a ton of talent to be a starter at slot or flanker receiver. They also added rookie Cedric Tillman who could start at X-receiver over DPJ at some point. That allows the team to give Cooper free releases on pre-snap motion, which unlocks his best play.
Deshaun Watson needs to play much better for the fruits of this labor to be realized but you have to love these moves. A once weak room now goes four deep with quality options.
Detroit Lions RBs
Detroit made a couple of surprise moves this offseason to completely remake their running back room — a unit that was good in 2022.
The Lions let Jamaal Williams walk and replaced him with fellow free agent David Montgomery. They drafted Jahmyr Gibbs in Round 1 and promptly traded D’Andre Swift to Philadelphia. While Montgomery and Gibbs won’t directly overlap with the roles of their predecessors, it’s clear they view these two as better than the players they are replacing. That’s especially true in the case of Gibbs and Swift.
— Yahoo Fantasy Sports (@YahooFantasy) May 2, 2023
Players of Gibbs’ archetype are extremely valuable in fantasy. He’ll contribute heavily as a receiver and it’s likely the Lions are higher on his ability as a runner than they were on Swift's. Montgomery is still a solid bet to push for the team lead in carries and get goal-line work.
Philadelphia Eagles RBs
Miles Sanders had a nice year for the Eagles but he was never going to return to Philly on the same salary level the Panthers gave him in free agency.
Philadelphia is likely to go with a committee approach to replace Sanders’ workload. Rashaad Penny was added in free agency on a cheap deal and they sent some late-round picks to pluck D’Andre Swift from the Lions. Those two will join Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott on the depth chart.
Penny and Swift are talented backs. The former has proven himself to be an efficient and big-play rusher when he’s on the field. While Swift is more of a theory than an actualized version of the player many fantasy managers want him to be, he is a verifiably good receiving back.
The problem for both players is durability. There’s a chance fantasy Twitter spends months debating them during the summer ... and then we’re looking at a Scott and Gainwell two-man backfield by December. However, because the rushing ecosystem is so good in the Eagles offense, you need to take smart shots on these two in drafts.