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3 Early Breakout Candidates: Running Backs (2024 Fantasy Football)

3 Early Breakout Candidates: Running Backs (2024 Fantasy Football)

The 2023 NFL Draft class was excellent for the fantasy football community. C.J. Stroud was a top-10 quarterback as a rookie. Multiple non-first-round wide receivers were outstanding, including Puka Nacua, Rashee Rice, Tank Dell, and Jayden Reed. Sam LaPorta wasn’t even the first rookie tight end drafted, but he ended the year as the overall TE1.

While the fantasy football community got star production from multiple rookies, the running back class had mixed results. Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs ended the season as top-10 running backs in half-point PPR scoring. However, they had multiple poor performances, especially given the preseason hype surrounding them.

There were other rookie running backs that had flashy moments this year besides Robinson and Gibbs, but none of them finished as a top-20 running back. While that was disappointing, don’t give up on these rookie running backs heading into next season.

We saw seven second-year players end the 2023 season as a top-20 running back. While everyone should have high expectations for Robinson and Gibbs again in 2024, which second-year running back could be next season’s breakout star?

Early Guesses at Second-Year Breakout Running Back Candidates (2024 Fantasy Football)

De’Von Achane (MIA)

Some might consider Achane a fantasy star already. The rookie running back was one of the most dangerous players with the ball in his hands this season. He averaged 7.8 yards per rushing attempt, more than double the average of Travis Etienne Jr. However, there are questions with the former Texas A&M star. Will Achane be the featured running back in 2024, or will the Dolphins keep Raheem Mostert around? Can Achane handle a featured workload? Which version of the rookie will fantasy players get next year?

The first question will be answered this offseason. It seems unlikely that Miami won’t keep Mostert on the roster or add someone to split the backfield work with Achane. Yet, that didn’t matter this year. The rookie averaged 15.9 half-point PPR fantasy points per game with Mostert playing, compared to 17.2 per game without the veteran. However, his four-touchdown and 49.3 fantasy point performance in Week 2 didn’t skew that average.

Achane averaged 15.2 fantasy points per game in the six contests with at least three touches, and Mostert played outside the matchup against the Denver Broncos. However, the rookie started to struggle when the injuries piled up. After returning from an injury in Week 13, he averaged 10 rushing attempts and 11.2 fantasy points per game in the four contests with Mostert playing. But unless the Dolphins add a player like Saquon Barkley in free agency, Achane could be a superstar next season.

Tyjae Spears (TEN)

There wasn’t a more popular second-year breakout candidate than James Cook during the preseason. The former Georgia running back flashed as a rookie. Unfortunately, he was stuck behind Devin Singletary, who was in the last year of his contract. Doesn’t that situation sound exactly like Spears? The former Tulane star had 152 touches in 17 games, averaging 7.5 half-point PPR fantasy points per contest despite playing behind Derrick Henry.

While the Titans haven’t closed the door on a Henry return, many believe the veteran running back will play elsewhere in 2024. Spears is an explosive runner. While he averaged a solid 4.5 yards per rushing attempt, the rookie ranked fifth in explosive run rate (7%) among running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts during the regular season (per Fantasy Points Data). Spears also ranked ninth in yards after contact per attempt (2.92) among the 49 running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts. More importantly, he put up those impressive numbers despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the rookie was also a weapon in the passing game. Spears had 276 routes and 68 targets, ranking fourth and third on the team, respectively. He averaged 3.48 yards after contact per reception and 9.08 yards after the catch, ranking top-seven among running backs with at least 50 targets (per Fantasy Points Data). His role in the passing game should only grow in 2024.

Roschon Johnson (CHI)

While many, including myself, called Johnson a sleeper candidate, the rookie running back was a massive flop. The former Longhorn was the RB49, averaging 5.7 half-point PPR fantasy points per game in 2023. He finished third on the team in total fantasy points (85.1) and fantasy points per game despite playing the most games of the three running backs. Yet, fantasy players shouldn’t give up on him. Instead, they should explore trading for the rookie in their dynasty leagues.

According to Over the Cap, the Bears rank in the top 10 for most available cap space this offseason. However, don’t expect them to add a big-name running back in free agency. The team has a few key players to re-sign. More importantly, the coaching staff and front office still have high hopes for Johnson. While the rookie running back struggled for fantasy players, there is plenty to be excited about with the former Longhorn.

Johnson was Chicago’s clear-cut pass-catching running back. He led the backfield in targets (41), routes run (172), target per route run rate (24%), and yards per route run (1.22) this season (per Fantasy Points Data). More importantly, the rookie out-performed fellow Bears back Khalil Herbert with a higher touchdown rate (2.5% vs. 1.5%) and yards after contact per rush (2.43 vs. 2.33). Don’t be surprised if Herbert gets treated like Antonio Gibson this past August – a mid-round running back everyone likes – only to see Johnson become the 2023 version of Brian Robinson Jr.

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Mike Fanelli is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @Mike_NFL2.

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