Can Isiah Pacheco Finish as a Top-12 RB for Fantasy Football in 2023?

Last season, rookie Kansas City Chiefs RB Isiah Pacheco defied much of the industry’s most bullish expectations, becoming one of the year’s most surprising fantasy football contributors. Can the previously underrated running back take another giant leap forward in 2023, finishing as a top-12 RB?

Did you get a trade offer in your dynasty or redraft league? Not sure what to do? Make championship-winning decisions with PFN’s FREE Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer and Calculator!

Isiah Pacheco’s 2022 Season

Pacheco’s breakout campaign is a reminder of the realities of the NFL Draft — that even the smartest people in football (personnel who invest years scouting and grading talent) make mistakes. And “mistakes” might be too harsh. The fact is, sometimes great players are underdrafted, while seemingly can’t-miss prospects over overdrafted.

Entering last year’s draft, Pacheco possessed the speed, build, and vision to succeed at the professional level. A poor offensive line at Rutgers masked an even greater potential — one that the Chiefs clearly identified, though they waited until the seventh round to snag him. All 32 teams passed on Pacheco repeatedly in the first 250 picks. Nineteen teams opted for one or two different running backs, 14 of whom barely saw the field as rookies.

And so it goes in the NFL, where diamonds in the rough materialize each season. The challenge is knowing where to look.

Even when he made it past final cuts in the preseason, Pacheco’s fate remained unclear. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the incumbent bell cow — a former first-round selection with supposed sky-high potential, who happened to have secured an RB7 fantasy ADP entering his rookie year. That’s almost “can’t-miss” territory.

Yet, injuries and minimal goal-line usage had capped Edwards-Helaire’s ceiling. Entering Year 3, his RB24 ADP suggested more risk than reward.

These market concerns turned out to be entirely warranted. The Chiefs employed a three-man backfield with CEH at the apex and Pacheco and the veteran Jerick McKinnon filling in the gaps. After six contests, McKinnon was sitting on a 27-97-0 rushing line (3.6 ypc) with his customary prowess in the passing game. Edwards-Helaire had garnered a 59-256-2 rushing line (4.3 ypc) and plenty of catches as well.

Meanwhile, Pacheco was deployed in games where Kansas City had fairly comfortable leads while taking a backseat to the veterans in closer contests. He assembled a 31-149-1 rushing line (4.8 ypc) with a pair of receptions.

And with the 4-2 Chiefs coming off a tough home loss to the Bills and Edwards-Helaire struggling in three of his previous four outings, head coach Andy Reid initiated a gradual switch, giving Pacheco more snaps and reps at CEH’s expense.

By and large, the rookie dominated in his new role. Pacheco carried that success into the postseason, where he netted 5.3 ypc on 37 carries while helping to lead the Chiefs to the title.

Isiah Pacheco’s 2023 Expectations

It’s a great story and well-earned. Pacheco leapfrogged two starting-caliber running backs on a Super Bowl-winning team. How often does that happen? Not very often. He’s the real deal.

But in fantasy football, “real deals” don’t always pay big dividends for managers. And Pacheco is facing deceptively fierce headwinds in 2023. No longer a flyer, he’s now expected to be a weekly fantasy starter — or something close to it. In some corners of the industry, managers are eyeing a breakout campaign in Year 2 that could push Pacheco into the top 12.

Let’s put the brakes on that thinking. First and foremost, CEH doesn’t merely loom in this backfield and could easily take back the starting job. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Edwards-Helaire is coming off a season where he posted a career-high 8.9 yards per catch. Among the 75 players with 60+ carries, his 2.4 yards after contact ranked third in the league, behind only Khalil Herbert and Tony Pollard.

Those aren’t pedestrian numbers. Yes, injuries have marred Edwards-Helaire’s NFL growth, but he’s still only 24 years old. In fact, Pacheco is actually a month older.

CEH is still developing; he simply needs to stay on the field. If he does, it’s hard to envision the Chiefs benching him for Pacheco — who, by the way, did most of his damage last year with CEH on the sidelines.

Pacheco is also coming off an injury-plagued campaign, where he played through a broken hand and torn labrum, requiring offseason surgeries. Kudos to him, but it’s also possible that a healthy CEH might have compelled Kansas City to sit Pacheco one or two games to get healthier for the playoffs. CEH’s absence essentially might have forced K.C. to ride Pacheco as long as he was physically able to handle the ball.

It’s also important to note that, while topping out at 15.4 carries per game as a college sophomore, Pacheco didn’t hit 14+ in any of his other three seasons. Last year, he received more than 15 carries only once in 20 outings (including the postseason). In fact, in 14 games as a starter (again, including the playoffs), he averaged only 12.6 rushing attempts.

With CEH and McKinnon serving as proficient pass-catching RBs, Pacheco probably won’t get as much attention through the air. This could make things rough for fantasy managers, who will need Pacheco to score to be a weekly top-20 running back.

The only somewhat clear path for Pacheco to be a top-12 RB in 2023 is for CEH and McKinnon to endure season-ending injuries and for the Chiefs to somehow decide that Pacheco can be their 275+ touch bell cow. That’s not Reid’s style these days. He likes utilizing multiple running backs in various situations.

Pacheco’s most realistic outcome is a top 28-36 finish among RBs. This would assume 13+ games from CEH and 12+ from McKinnon while the Chiefs manage Pacheco’s reps ahead of another Super Bowl push.

Source link

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *