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2024 NFL Draft Prospects: Undervalued Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

2024 NFL Draft Prospects: Undervalued Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

Most of the running backs in the 2024 NFL Draft are bunched together on draft boards. Much of this is due to the fact that there isn’t a consensus No. 1 running back in the draft this year. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the running back position is devalued in the NFL or not. If you say that it is, that could help this class of running backs be better than expected.

Reason being, there won’t be such a high expectation placed on this position group. That’s not saying there’s no talent at the position, it’s saying that you will get the right value for these running backs due to where they’re drafted this year.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

Could we see a running back selected in the top 50 of the 2024 NFL Draft? Certainly, we could. Right now, though, it doesn’t seem likely. Currently, it feels like we’ll see a mid-to-late second day run on halfbacks that will carry over into the beginning of Day Three. Many people already know plenty about Jonathon Brooks, Blake Corum and Bucky Irving. But what about the underrated/lesser-known backs? Below you will find six such running backs that are currently flying under the radar.

Under-the-Radar RB Targets

Ray Davis (RB – Kentucky)

It wouldn’t be surprising if Ray Davis ended up closer to being a top running back on draft boards than in the middle of the pack. For now, that’s right where he is on my draft board as my sixth-ranked running back. Much of that is due to Davis not having great burst in space and tight areas of the field. It felt like there were too many times where he’d have an opening and he’d not hit it or he wouldn’t see it.

However, Davis still checks a lot of boxes. He’s been consistent as a pass-catcher in his career with 86 receptions over the last five seasons. In addition to that, his efficiency as a runner is a joy to watch. He makes fluid jump cuts to force defenders to miss. His patience as a runner is a huge asset that allows blocks to develop and contributed to him averaging almost five yards per carry (4.9) in his career.

Testing will be huge for a lot of players. Specifically for Davis, he can show why he was a multi-sport athlete (baseball, track and field, basketball and football) in high school. Teams will value that he doesn’t get too cute as a runner and takes what’s in front of him. Projecting as a rotational back for a team, it wouldn’t be surprising if Davis outplays that projection by becoming a three-down back for an NFL team.

Dillon Johnson (RB – Washington)

If it weren’t for injuries in the final month of the season, it feels like we would be talking more about Dillon Johnson. That being said, teams will value his toughness. Seeing him play through injury will certainly win over a few teams during the draft process.

When watching the tape of Johnson, you’ll see he plays best when running between the tackles. He’s able to run through contact or make one cut and get to the next level. Even though he isn’t very elusive in space, his ability as a pass-catcher will be a huge asset to his game at the next level. Between his time at Mississippi State and Washington, he had 173 receptions in his career.

As a runner, he’ll need to improve on his pad level as he runs too high. But he does run through contact well and is strong enough to gain additional yardage. Medical testing will be important for Johnson but seeing him run at the NFL Combine will be just as important. Being over a month removed from the National Championship, teams will want to see how he moves around and tests. It’ll be interesting to see where Johnson lands in the 2024 NFL Draft. He could go as early on Day Two of the draft and earn a role early in his career as a pass-catcher for an NFL team.

Jaylen Wright (RB – Tennessee)

There might not be a running back I’m more excited to talk about during the draft process than Jaylen Wright. He’s an explosive playmaker who has the speed needed to take it the distance in the NFL. In high school, he was a former track and field star that had a 55-meter dash time of 6.29 seconds in 2019. That time was the best in the country. In addition to that, his personal record for the 100-meter dash was 10.85 seconds and 21.98 seconds in the 200-meter dash.

Being able to outrun defenders will be expected of him at the next level. However, he will need to get stronger. He doesn’t always gain yards after contact despite being a physical runner. He’s a patient runner that allows blocks to develop but he doesn’t always see the openings in front of him, forcing him to run with some hesitation.

At the combine, it’s expected Wright will be one of the top performers in just about every category. That could boost his stock for teams looking to add a spark-plug that can create plays on offense. Wright may not be expected to be an every-down back but he’s got experience as a pass-catcher and is willing to pick up blitzes and line stunts. Flying somewhat under the radar, I could see a scenario where Wright ends up going somewhere on the later part of Day Two and ends up earning 10-to-12 touches per game for a team.

Emani Bailey (RB – TCU)

One of the surprising film studies I’ve had in recent weeks was Emani Bailey from TCU. When watching the tape, he immediately popped due to his contact balance and how he always fell forward. Additionally, his size allows him to lower his center of gravity with ease and get skinny through the hole.

While his size (5-foot-9 and 207 pounds) will come into question, he plays hard and is a tough runner with adequate burst. Bailey should find a role as a pass-catcher at the next level as well. He had 25 receptions this season and was able to average 7.5 yards per reception this past season. Prior to this season, he was used sparingly behind Kendre Miller and was part of a rotation at Louisiana that featured Elijah Mitchell in 2020. However, he showed this season he could carry a workload for an offense.

In addition to playing football, Bailey also ran track in high school. His personal record for the 100-meter dash was 11.04 seconds. We’ll see how that translates to his athletic testing at the combine. For now, Bailey projects as a rotational back with a versatile skill set that should provide a change of pace to an offense.

Jawhar Jordan (RB – Louisville)

An older player, Jawhar Jordan turns 25 in August. That shouldn’t force teams to hesitate when selecting him. Playing 26 games over the last two seasons, Jordan showed he can be a productive player when given the correct role. With 320+ carries over the last two seasons, he was able to generate over 1,900 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

Additionally, Jordan appears to be an adequate pass-catcher when running swing routes. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, his wiry frame will come into question. However, he runs much harder than his size would indicate. He looks comfortable when running in a zone scheme and has shown he knows how to bend, bounce and break runs. His lateral quickness is effective and his long speed is good enough to take it all the way.

In high school, he was a sprinter on the track and field team and his personal record for the 100-meter dash was 10.62 seconds. If he tests well, teams could look at his speed and elusiveness as a benefit to become a returner on special teams. Much of the way Jordan is built and plays the game is reminiscent of Kenneth Gainwell. He’ll need to get stronger and remain healthy to carve out a significant role in a team’s backfield. With that, there’s much to be desired for him to earn some type of role in the NFL.

Audric Estime (RB – Notre Dame)

There’s not many big bodied running backs that have the athleticism Audric Estime possesses. While the 5-foot-11, 227-pound back won’t beat defenders in a foot race, he’s shown he can change direction and hurdle defenders consistently. As his lateral movement isn’t as fluid as other backs, it’s still encouraging to see Estime plant his foot in the ground and change where he’s going while having defenders in his face.

This season, Estime had over 1,300 rushing yards. His 18 rushing touchdowns were tied for third-most in the NCAA. His 6.4 yards per carry bested any running back with over 200 carries. Coming off this career year, teams could look at Estime as a potential three-down back in the NFL.

Age shouldn’t be a factor for him as he doesn’t turn 21 until September. There could be a scenario where a team values his youth and upside. For now, he’s best projected to run between the tackles with his downhill running style. To start his career, he could split a backfield with another talented back.

2024 NFL Mock Drafts

Here are a few early predictions for the 2024 NFL Draft. We’ll continue to add our 2024 NFL Mock Drafts leading up to the start of Round 1.

2024 NFL Draft Coverage

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