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12 RB Dead Zone Running Backs: Draft or Fade? (2024 Fantasy Football)

12 RB Dead Zone Running Backs: Draft or Fade? (2024 Fantasy Football)

Each year the viability of running backs within the dead zone becomes a hot topic as people fight fiercely for or against players with an ADP between Rounds 3-6. Historically, this has been the area of the draft where running backs fail to pay off their cost and wide receivers typically outperform the running backs in this section. There are currently 12 different backs being drafted in the dead zone, according to Underdog Fantasy’s Big Board average draft position (ADP).

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

In 2023, nine of the 14 dead zone running backs finished below their ADP. With six over 15 spots below. And that’s in points per game (PPG) scoring, not total points. In theory, that should be friendlier to those running backs, allowing for them to have missed time, but still scored well. Despite the expectation being that the RB dead zone would fare better with receivers being pushed higher up, it still claimed many victims in 2023. Let’s take a look at the current RB dead zone landscape and decipher who we should target.

2024 RB Dead Zone Candidates

These are the current dead zone backs as we approach free agency and the draft. Much will change between now and the start of the season but it seems fair to expect a bunch of these backs to remain in the dead zone.

Name Team Position Underdog ADP
Isiah Pacheco KC RB 27.7
Rachaad White TB RB 28.4
Travis Etienne Jr. JAX RB 32
James Cook BUF RB 39
Kenneth Walker III SEA RB 46.7
Alvin Kamara NO RB 52.3
Josh Jacobs UFA RB 52.6
Derrick Henry UFA RB 60.3
Austin Ekeler UFA RB 61.1
Nick Chubb CLE RB 64.1
Rhamondre Stevenson NE RB 65.8
Aaron Jones GB RB 66.5

Isiah Pacheco (RB – KC)

So far through his career, Isiah Pacheco has done everything asked of him and more, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt in 2022 and 4.6 in 2023, while picking up the sixth-most first downs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a pending free agent, as is the soon-to-be 32-year-old Jerick McKinnon, leaving this Chiefs backfield firmly in Pacheco’s hands. The Chiefs may well add another back to this rotation but Pacheco isn’t going to be easily replaced and drafters should feel fine about mixing him in.

Verdict: Medium priority target.

Rachaad White (RB – TB)

2023 represented a massive step forward for Rachaad White, who has long been viewed as a good receiver of the ball, but not a particularly good rusher. That changed slightly, though, with White averaging 3.9 yards per carry over the last eight games and rushing for 80+ yards in four consecutive games from Week 12 onwards. White had managed 80+ yards just once in his career prior to that. The Bucs have plenty of holes to fill but RB isn’t one of them. Seeing them add a noteworthy name to this offense would be a surprise.

Verdict: Target at or below ADP.

Travis Etienne (RB – JAX)

After finishing as the RB6 in 2023, some drafters might be surprised to see Travis Etienne’s ADP outside the top 30. Those who drafted him, though, remember all too well it wasn’t all plain sailing in both 2022 and 2023. In 2022, Etienne averaged 14.0 points per game and 6.2 yards per carry over the first half of the season before averaging 10.2 the rest of the way. In 2023, Etienne again thrived over the opening half of the season, averaging 20.5 points in Weeks 1-8 before averaging 13.1 the rest of the season. The Jaguars wanted Tank Bigsby to carve out a role to help keep Etienne fresher but that didn’t happen. It wouldn’t be surprising if they added another back this year who does eat into Etienne’s touches.

Verdict: Fade at ADP until we have more clarity.

James Cook (RB – BUF)

It took a while but James Cook finally wrestled away control of the Bills’ backfield this year due to Damien Harris dealing with persistent injuries and Latavius Murray being no spring chicken. Cook finished the fantasy season with eight games of 100+ total yards from scrimmage and finished as the half-PPR RB17 in points per game. Cook is always going to have to worry about Josh Allen vulturing rushing touchdowns but it’s unlikely he will rack up 15 again in 2024, allowing Cook to score a few more.

Verdict: Mix in at cost and hoover up when he slips past ADP.

Kenneth Walker (RB – KC)

The Seahawks brought in Zach Charbonnet with visions of a one-two punch that never really materialized as Kenneth Walker outplayed Charbonnet in his rookie season. A new offense may allow Charbonnet to make a second-year jump, but after consecutive years where Walker averaged over 4.1 yards per carry, it’s fair to say he’s good enough to be an RB1. Walker’s cost is also more palatable in Underdog’s half-PPR format that levels the playing field between those who do and don’t catch passes regularly.

Verdict: Mix in at cost and hoover up when he slips past ADP.

Alvin Kamara (RB – NO)

It says plenty about the running back position and what Alvin Kamara can still do as he was the RB11 (PPG) in only 13 games last season. Kamara should have a smoother offseason this year without the legal trouble that plagued him and resulted in a suspension last year. Even at age 28, he seems to have plenty left in the tank after scoring 14+ points on six occasions. The worry with Kamara would be that Kendre Miller takes a second-year leap and Jamaal Williams stays healthier. Keep in mind Kamara’s contract looks like the most expendable of the trio.

Verdict: Mix in but let’s not get crazy aggressive this year.

Josh Jacobs (RB – UFA)

As a pending free agent unlikely to return to the Raiders, it’s hard to gauge Josh Jacobs’ outlook. He regressed last season after his fantastic 2022 campaign. Jacobs managed 3.5 yards per carry, a career-low and significantly down from 2022’s 4.9, along with seeing his fewest receptions per game since 2020 (2.8). The biggest question here is where can Jacobs land to improve his fantasy outlook above pick 52?

Verdict: Scoop up when falling past ADP but don’t reach.

Derrick Henry (RB – UFA)

Another free agent for the first time in their career is Derrick Henry, who, at age 30, will no doubt have suitors. He likely won’t be dominating touches quite like he used to, though. Henry has rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry in all of his eight seasons in the NFL and finished sixth in PFF’s rushing grade last year, along with being 17th in NFL’s Next Gen Stats’ rush yards over expected per attempt. The cliff-edge may come fast for Henry, but around this ADP, it feels okay to target a player who can break week-winning runs more often than he’s given credit for.

Verdict: Target but not overly aggressively.

Austin Ekeler (RB – UFA)

The third in a trio of veteran running back free agents is Austin Ekeler, who had hopes of cashing in over the last few years but never made it to the open market or received the contract he felt fair from the Chargers. Ekeler’s age caught up with him in 2023, with career lows in yards per carry (3.5), rushing touchdowns (1), catch rate (68.9%) and yards per touch (4.6). Ekeler was the consensus RB2 at draft time but finished as the RB22 in points per game. He now needs to find a team willing to give him a large workload.

Verdict: Fade until his ADP gets past 80.

Nick Chubb (RB – CLE)

After needing multiple surgeries to repair his torn ACL, MCL and meniscus, Nick Chubb is a potential cap-casualty for the Browns who are currently $19 million over the cap, according to Chubb suffered his gruesome injury in Week 2, which in theory gives him almost a full year to recover, but anyone who’s drafted players coming off multiple knee injuries lately will tell you it can be a slow recovery. From Chubb’s point of view, why rush back to only end up needing a second surgery as JK Dobbins did? Or re-injuring himself even worse.

Verdict: It hurts to say it but fade Chubb.

Rhamondre Stevenson (RB – NE)

Of all the running backs in the dead zone, Rhamondre Stevenson’s fall by 32 spots might be the most intriguing, given that Ezekiel Elliott is a free agent once again. Stevenson was slow to get going in 2023, dropping from 61 rushing yards per game in 2022 to 51 in 2023 and seeing his receptions per game drop from 4.1 to 3.1. However, it seemed he was just getting going when he got injured after finishing as the RB2, RB20 and RB7, before missing the rest of the season. With new leadership in charge and Stevenson heading into a contract year, there are worse bets to make, particularly if this offense can be slightly more competent than last year.

Verdict: Target.

Aaron Jones (RB – GB)

It was a bleak season for Aaron Jones as he dealt with injuries and doled out up-and-down performances through most of the regular season, but from Week 16 onwards, including the Wild Card and Divisional Round playoff games, Jones averaged 18.16 half-PPR points. He rushed for over 105 yards in each of the five games and saw at least 20 rush attempts in each game. The Packers seem to know AJ Dillon isn’t the answer, allowing him to test free agency and likely move on. Aaron Jones is old enough at 29 years old that we should be wary, but as the current last member of the dead zone, his ADP is at least interesting.

Verdict: Mix in at cost and hoover up when he slips past ADP.

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