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The Fantasy Forecast for New England Running Backs in 2023

Fantasy Football 2023

Well. It appears that the New England Patriots are having a fire sale — ON EVERY GOOD PLAYER THEY HAD. (insert annoyed emoji here.)

Ok. That might be a slight exaggeration made by a slightly frustrated Patriots fan.

Yes, I wrote last week how losing Jakobi and gaining Juju wasn’t necessarily a death sentence, but I’m starting to lose a little faith here — pun intended.

For two of the last three years, Damien Harris has been the rushing leader for the Patriots. In 2020, he had 137 carries for 691 yards and two TDs. In 2021, Harris increased those numbers to 202, 929, and 15. FIFTEEN TOUCHDOWNS.

In 2022, a thigh injury sidelined Harris for six games, and he lost his golden boy status to Rhamondre Stevenson. Last season, Stevenson totaled 210 carries for 1,040 yards and 5 TDs for a 66% share of offensive snaps. This vastly dwarfed Harris’ 22% snap share. That was a significant change from 2021, when Harris led with 36% of the offensive snaps, and Stevenson totaled 25%.

After a solid 2020 and 2021, a shaky 2022 seems to be what sealed his fate. After the Patriots’ loss to Buffalo (oh, the irony), Harris expressed interest in returning to Foxboro but understood the business side of things.

“If they want to have me, I’d love to be back. But at the end of the day, I know this is a business. The organization is going to do what they feel is best for them and I have to do what I feel is best for me.”

Instead of returning to Massachusetts, Harris is headed northwest. As of yesterday, Harris signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills. Yes, New England’s biggest division rivals. Great. (insert eye roll emoji here.)

With Harris out, Stevenson clearly shifts to the RB1 in New England. So then, who will be the RB2?

Ok, but What is the Fantasy Forecast for New England RBs?

I’m glad you asked. Just like any true meteorologist, I have no idea. I can make an educated guess based on history and models, but — like the weather — Bill Belichick is largely unpredictable.

All signs point to Rhamondre Stevenson being the RB1 in New England, given his performance last year. He played in 17 games with a total of 14.65 fantasy points per game (fppg), finishing as RB7. In his split season, Robinson only averaged 8.05 fppg, finishing as RB50.

After that…

Cloudy With a Chance of J-Rob

On Wednesday, March 15, the New England Patriots signed running back James Robinson to a two-year, $8M contract. Like Harris, Robinson was RB1 on his team (Jaguars) in 2020 and 2021 but was unceremoniously traded to the NY Jets before Week 8. In 2020, he totaled 240 carries for 1,070 yards and 7 TDs. The following year, those numbers decreased to 164, 767, and 8. (Ok, so his TD count technically increased. This is why words > numbers.)

In 2022, Robinson totaled 110 carries for 425 yards and 3 TDs. Of those, 81 carries, 340 yards, and 3 TDs all came from Weeks 1-7 in Jacksonville. The remaining 29 carries and 85 yards came during the second half of the season, from his time with the Jets.

I don’t have to tell you this, but only playing four games in 10 weeks and averaging fewer than eight touches in those games is not a great sign. Unfortunately, we have to wonder how much recovery is left for Robinson after his Achilles tear.

A Cold Front for Last Year’s Rookies?

Which J-Rob we get will determine what is left for the other running backs on the roster. Last year, the Patriots drafted Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Neither touched the ball much, but both showed some ability in their limited time.

With Robinson turning to dust in the season’s second half, one or both of these guys might end up with more opportunities later in the season. Things aren’t looking great for them right now, but the forecast can turn quickly.

Extended Forecast

If you have Rhamondre Stevenson, congratulations. You now have New England’s RB1 and a top-10 fantasy running back. I’d hang on to him if I were you. If you don’t have him, get him. In dynasty leagues, a trade is possible, but be prepared to pay for him. In a draft, I’d feel totally ok with making him my RB1.

If you have James Robinson, uhhh, congrats? As the RB2 in New England, he will likely see more production. However, I wouldn’t count on top-tier numbers. I’d consider him as my RB3 or RB4.

To see what @BigTravyFF thinks the fantasy impact of Harris’ trade to Buffalo is, or his thoughts on other NFL free agency moves, click here.

Follow me on Twitter at @FF_LeapOfFaith, and be sure to follow Women of Fantasy Football on Twitter and Instagram at @WomenOf_FF.