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Second-Year Scouting Report: Isiah Pacheco

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It’s now July, and we’re getting closer and closer to the 2023 regular season. Best ball leagues have been drafting for months now and they are getting more popular now that we understand landing spots for veteran free agents and rookies.

 

Every year, rookie fever emerges and the previous class gets pushed aside by the shiny new NFL toys. This usually results in a rookie surge of ADP, which opens up pockets of value, especially with players from the previous class who may not be as established as some long-time veterans in the league. This happens even though most fantasy analysts (and players) understand the largest leap occurs from year 1 to year 2.

Throughout the summer, FTN will be releasing second-year scouting reports to keep these players fresh in fantasy managers’ minds. The series shifts today to Isiah Pacheco, now the starting running back for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Throughout training camp last season, there were some whispers regarding seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco being involved in year one. Pacheco started the season on special teams but an injury to Clyde Edwards-Helaire propelled Pacheco to a larger role. He ultimately finished the season with 830 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 170 carries. And Pacheco, a seventh-round draft selection, was playing considerable snaps and getting significant volume in a Patrick Mahomes-led offense during a Super Bowl run. 

What Went Right

Well, for starters, Pacheco certainly looked the part. 

Pacheco averaged a strong 5.2 yards per touch last season, good for the No. 16 rate among qualified running backs. And according to FTN Data, Pacheco gained two or fewer yards on just 31.2% of his carries, the lowest rate among qualified running backs. He was fairly efficient and trustworthy in one of the league’s most high-powered offenses, especially down the stretch. In fact, from Week 10 on last year, Pacheco ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards (633), averaging 15.1 touches and just over 12 fantasy points per game during that span. Pacheco was also impressive in two of Kansas City’s three playoff contests, rushing for 95 yards on 12 carries against the Jaguars and 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against the Eagles in the Super Bowl. He proved that he can not only fill in admirably for the Chiefs when called upon but is the starting running back for the top offense in football entering the 2023 campaign.

What Went Wrong

While Pacheco was strong on a per-carry basis last season, it didn’t always translate to huge fantasy production. During that impressive nine-week stretch to end the season, Pacheco was still just the RB27 in PPR fantasy points per game. Why? Well, he didn’t offer much in the passing game. From Week 10 on, Pacheco averaged just 1.2 targets and 13 receiving yards per game, catching 13 total passes over the course of the season. Jerick McKinnon was the clear passing downs running back for a team that throws the ball as much as anyone in the league. Per FTN Data, only Rhamondre Stevenson played a higher percentage of his team’s third downs than McKinnon last season (78.5%), who also ranked second among all running backs in both red zone targets (16) and targets from inside the 10-yard line (11). Kansas City, meanwhile, has called pass at the second-highest rate in the NFL over the last three years at 60.2%. That could be a problem for Pacheco, who averaged just 9.58 PPR points per game in contests where he failed to find the end zone from Week 10 on last year. 

 

Prognosis Entering 2023

Pacheco currently projects as the lead running back for the Chiefs, which is obviously very enticing. I do believe, however, that it is possible Pacheco’s inside-the-5 line carries underwhelm, given how pass-happy and creative Kansas City is when inside the red zone. And we know that his role in the passing game is minimal, if not nonexistent, which means he could see a ton of carries from in between the 20s, which are the least valuable touches in all of fantasy football. Without an uptick in receiving work or an outlier touchdown season, Pacheco will struggle to get past low-end RB2/flex range.

Dynasty Outlook

If you managed to add Pacheco to your dynasty roster at some point last season, I would strongly consider trying to trade him. We’ve seen so many instances where late-round running backs have a very good year, maybe a second and then fall off the face of the earth. Yes, the Chiefs declined Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s fifth-year option, so he doesn’t appear to be part of their plans, but Kansas City has also been linked to multiple running backs over the past two seasons. Is it possible Pacheco is the Chiefs’ lead running back for the next handful of years? Sure. But I think it is more possible that he isn’t and if that is the case, this is the highest his value will be. 

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