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2024 NFL Free Agency Primer: Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

2024 NFL Free Agency Primer: Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

Let’s dive into the 2024 NFL Free Agency Primer for Running Backs in Fantasy Football. Just like quarterbacks, free agency plays a crucial role in shaping Super Bowl contenders.

Here are some notable impending free agent running backs and how fantasy players should view them for 2024 fantasy football redraft leagues, best ball leagues and dynasty leagues.

2024 NFL Running Back Free Agency Primer

Saquon Barkley

After playing the 2023 season on the franchise tag, Saquon Barkley is seeking a long-term deal from the Giants. Reports have stated that Big Blue will let him test the waters of free agency, and the 27-year-old will allow New York to match or exceed the best offer.

Despite missing three games due to a high ankle sprain, Barkley finished as the RB16 heading into Week 18, averaging 13.8 half-point PPR fantasy points per game (RB11).

He posted the 3rd-highest snap rate in the NFL at 80% behind only Kyren Williams and Christian McCaffrey. 8th in touches (288) at 20.6 per game.

Barkley compares his talent to that of McCaffrey (one year younger), and we saw CMC go nuclear in the 49ers offense the past two seasons. If Houston – 5th-most available cap space – wants to take their offense to the next level, adding Barkley could be the exact move they need to make to upgrade from Devin Singletary/Dameon Pierce.

Barkley could benefit from a better-supporting cast, given his 40% rushing success rate, ranked 4th-worst in the NFL in 2023. He was still 7th in rushing yards per game (69).

The Texans are the current favorites (-105) to sign the talented running back, followed by the Giants (+170), Chargers (+400) and Cowboys (+1000).

Josh Jacobs

Jacobs had a rollercoaster 2023 season, starting slow but then performing well until a quad injury knocked him out of the last four games of the season.

Jacobs was on my do-not-draft list during the offseason, as the track record of RBs leading the NFL in touches the year before was horrible. Jacobs, unfortunately, lived up to the billing, finishing the year as the RB23 overall averaging 12.5 points per game (RB19).

He was at his best in three of his four starts under Antonio Pierce, seeing carry totals of 27, 26, 20 and 14 while averaging 14.9 points per game (RB6).

Las Vegas has interest in a reunion with Jacobs, but it will have to be at the right price given how well Zamir White played the last part of the season. New GM Tom Telesco – famous for not giving Austin Ekeler a contract last season – has already stated he will not franchise tag Jacobs.

Current betting odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbooks have Jacobs at -320 to remain in Las Vegas.  Then it’s the Chargers (+750), Texans (+850) and Ravens (+1100).

Jacobs is by far one of the top free-agent running backs available at 26 years old. I wouldn’t read too much into Jacobs’s brutally inefficient season as a rusher in 2023 – as it looks more like a complete outlier compared to the rest of his career. If anything, it’s just another reason to fade the RB coming off a year after leading the NFL in touches. 2023 leader in touches? Christian McCaffrey. Second? Rachaad White at 336.

D’Andre Swift

D’Andre Swift surprised many during the 2023 season, outperforming expectations as a rusher.

He was the RB17, averaging 11.2 half-point PPR fantasy points per game, accounting for nearly 70% of the backfield rushing attempts for the Eagles. RB25 in points per game.

Still, on the year, Swift was never fully emphasized as a receiver, being swapped for Kenneth Gainwell at times of third downs and inside two minutes. As a result, he only ran a route on 37% of dropbacks (29th) – although he posted a strong 21% target rate per route run.

Similar to last season, the entire Eagles backfield are free agents, aside from Gainwell, who will be entering the final year of his contract. Gainwell-stans had about the worst run-out possible in 2023 because Kenny G was the RB1 in Week 1 before getting hurt. And once Swift got the RB1 job and stayed healthy, he was the Eagle’s primary rusher all season, giving Gainwell no chance at getting the job back.

But the Eagles’ trust in Gainwell this past offseason should not be forgotten about, as they entered the year with Gainwell as the starter. However, Gainwell’s status as PFF’s last-graded rusher among RBs with at least 80 carries does not project in his favor.

Regardless, Philly is a prime landing spot for an FA RB or rookie RB in the draft.

With how this run game struggled down the stretch, it’s beyond me why they never opted to give Rashaad Penny a chance to play. Penny will also be a free agent in 2024.

Swift also fell victim to the Eagles’ late-season tailspin. After starting the season as a back-end fantasy RB1, he fell to RB30 from Week 11 onward, averaging under 10 fantasy points per game (9.3). He started the year (aside from Week 1 when he barely played) averaging five more points per game (14.3).

Only time will tell whether Swift will return to Philly, but there’s no denying that his career statistical year should not be overlooked by RB-needy teams. He was healthy the entire season, which allowed him to hit career-highs in offensive snaps, carries, yards (1,083 rushing yards, 5th in the NFL), etc. He proved he could handle a heavy workload – 282 touches – while maintaining high-end efficiency (4.5 yards per carry).

He’s only 25 years old and has plenty of gas left in the tank. Had it not been for the dreaded Eagles “tush push,” Swift could have easily flirted with double-digit TDs instead of settling for just 6 scores (5 rushing).

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Tony Pollard

Tony Pollard drafters had high hopes for 2023 after a breakout season. But alas, to no avail.

Nobody can be sure whether Dallas will bring back Pollard as RB1 in 2024 after they franchised him this past season. The decrease in rushing efficiency and lack of TDs made Pollard an overall disappointment in fantasy football, but there’s reason to believe he can bounce back should he return to Dallas.

He is vastly overdue for positive TD regression after finishing second in the NFL in red-zone touches (71). He scored 5 red-zone TDs. Woof.

I’d leave the light on for a Pollard rebound in 2024. He will be turning 27 years old and won’t be rehabbing a broken leg as he did last year at this time.

Pollard said he started to feel ‘back to normal’ during the Carolina Panthers game (Week 11).

PFF’s highest-graded rusher from Week 11 onward…Tony Pollard.

We could easily see the NFC East play musical chairs with their RBs, with the following outcomes not too farfetched…

  • Pollard – Philadelphia
  • Barkley – Dallas
  • Swift – New York

Derrick Henry

What do Derrick Henry and I have in common? We will both be 30 by the time 2024 kicks off.

Henry is coming off his lowest rushing yards per game of his career (68.6) as he enters the back-9 of his NFL career as a free agent for the first time. Well, at least if you ask anybody off the street.

With a new coaching staff under Brian Callahan coming in for Tennessee, the Titans will surely be looking ahead to their backfield with Tyjae Spears at the forefront alongside Will Levis at quarterback.

I don’t expect Henry to return, which makes him extremely tough to rank in 2024. If he lands in the right situation, we could easily see the Big Dog continue to feast. Even if he had a “down” year by his own high standards, he was still a top-10 RB across several advanced metrics such as yards after contact per attempt, PFF rushing grade and breakaway run rate. And that was while facing the league’s second-highest 8-man front box rate. Also finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards – 1,167 yards.

If Henry lands on the Baltimore Ravens – whom he has been connected to before as part of a trade last season – oh baby. The Heisman backfield is back. Dallas would be another great spot with the potential for him to see double-digit TDs and plenty of positive game scripts.

Current betting odds have Henry listed at +110 to be a Raven, followed by the Cowboys (+450).

Keep in mind that Henry is a situational-dependent RB. If a team commits to him in certain game scripts with leads, he can be an absolute monster. Henry was the reason why the Titans were averaging 140 rushing yards per game at home in 2023.

Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler’s season was frustrating due to injuries and declining production. His yards per carry and total touchdowns dropped significantly.

It was a sour way for Austin Ekeler to end his career in LA, 4th-worst rushing EPA among all ball carriers and RB31 overall, averaging fewer than 10 points per game.

The year was a disaster for Ekeler, and I can’t help but think he is on the major downswing of his football career. He is going to be a free agent after career lows across the board. We saw the cliff hit REAL quick for Dalvin Cook. Ekeler might be next. Be wary even if he “projects” well on a new team.

Keep an eye out for Ekeler ending up in the nation’s capital. The Commanders just hired former Chargers head coach, Anthony Lynn, as their new run-game coordinator.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

Zack Moss

Zack Moss will hit free agency this offseason and will likely garner some interest on the open market after a career year in Indianapolis. Even after Jonathan Taylor returned from injury, Moss was still used in some capacity, given how well he performed in relief as the starter. I’d be concerned about him winning out a backfield competition – something he has never done – so don’t be overly bullish should he rise up RB rankings on “projected workload” alone.

Devin Singletary

Will be curious to see how Houston approaches their backfield this offseason. Dameon Pierce lost his job to Singletary and might not fit the scheme of the Bobby Slowik offense. Singletary will be a free agent, as will Dare Ogunbowale.

The journeyman running back took over the Houston backfield in Week 8 after a Pierce injury and never let go of the starting gig. 11.6 points per game as the RB23. Nothing new for Singletary, who has been a rock-solid fantasy producer when given starting opportunities in the second halves of multiple seasons throughout his NFL career.

Singletary could easily re-sign with Houston or perhaps land in Cleveland to reunite with former Bills OC Ken Dorsey.

He also still has ties to the Giants regime from their time spent in Buffalo together. If Barkley leaves, look for Singletary to be high on the list of replacements to lead Big Blue’s backfield in 2024.

Antonio Gibson

Antonio Gibson will be a free agent in 2024 and undoubtedly on a new roster. I, for one, cannot wait to see what team he lands on after he’s been misused on the Commanders the last two seasons.

AG ranked fourth in yards after contact per attempt (3.5) in 2023. Over the past four seasons, Gibson is just one of 15 RBs to handle a season with at least 300 touches. He can handle a three-down workload with his size and pass-catching skillset and three straight seasons with 40-plus receptions.

He just needs the opportunity to do so and needs to clean up the fumbles as well, with four this past season.

Could see a potential fit in Las Vegas alongside his former OC, Scott Turner, to further tap into Gibson’s receiving ability should they be unable to retain Jacobs.

Also possible for Gibson to sign with the Titans to replace Henry; the Titans’ new RB coach, Randy Jordan, was the Commanders’ RB coach all four years Gibson played in the nation’s capital. AG also played his college ball in Memphis.

J.K. DobbinsGus Edwards

The last time we saw J.K. Dobbins healthy (2022), he averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per carry, 92 rushing yards, and 14 carries per game over a five-game stretch. He started 2023 out with a TD on 10 touches before going down in the season opener versus Houston.

As we project this backfield into 2024, there are a few key things to address. Both Edwards and J.K. Dobbins (torn Achilles) are free agents. This backfield has the chance to look very different in 2024, with potentially Keaton Mitchell (torn ACL) and Hill the top 2 backs under contract.

Mitchell finished as the RB38 in points per game (9.3) as PFF’s second-highest graded rusher (92.5). Averaged 8.4 yards per carry.

But if the Ravens have taught us anything from the way they had addressed their backfield in past seasons, they love to build a stable and run a committee backfield. That was true even as the offense transitioned from Greg Roman to Todd Monken.

Be aware that this rotation is often defined by roles – Gus Edwards is the closer/goal line back, and Justice Hill is the change-of-pace pass-catching back, so don’t be overly confident that we see a clear-cut RB1 emerge for the entire season. Unless they make a splash move at the position in free agency.

Edwards finished the season as the RB32 in points per game (10.4), while Hill finished as the RB48 (6.2). Edwards entered the year with 13 career TDs and scored 13 rushing touchdowns in 2023 alone. No RB had more carries inside the 5-yard line than Edwards.

The team to keep an eye out for one of these free-agent Ravens RBs is the Chargers. Why? The Jim/John Harbaugh brotherly connection. And the fact that Greg Roman (formerly of the Ravens) is also the Chargers’ new offensive coordinator.

LAC also desperately needs another RB, with Joshua Kelley and Austin Ekeler hitting free agency.

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott was far from washed with the Patriots, taking over a three-down role after Rhamondre Stevenson was lost for the season. He played 81% or more of the snaps in the Patriots’ final five games.

He can still be viable in the passing game – 51 catches for 247 yards – and be a team’s primary goal-line rusher. Should Kellen Moore fail to convince Tony Pollard to join forces with him in Philly, Zeke might be the next call he makes.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

CEH never lived up to the billing of being a first-round pick, but the fact that he has first-round draft capital attached to his name will land him a job in the backfield somewhere. The Bengals could need a new RB if they move on from Joe Mixon‘s contract. Who better than Joe Burrow to unlock Edwards-Helaire’s potential ceiling? Or he could also reunite with former LSU OC Joe Brady in Buffalo as James Cook’s new backup.

Note that Edwards-Helaire’s only fantasy value will be tied to his situation. He finished 2023 as PFF’s 50th-graded rusher among 55 qualifiers.

D’Onta Foreman

I’m not sure why, but the NFL sure seems to hate D’Onta Foreman. The journeyman RB jumps from team to team despite producing with every opportunity he gets. In his seven games as the Bears RB1, Foreman averaged 59 rushing yards, 14 carries, and 11.8 fantasy points per game. His major highlight was his 33-point bombshell against the Raiders in Week 7, with three TDs and over 100 yards from scrimmage.

Foreman also posted a career-high PFF rushing grade of 77.4 (25th among RBs). He will be 28 years old and likely on his 4th team in as many years in 2024.

A.J. Dillon

A.J. Dillon was gifted a golden opportunity to earn a big payday as a 2024 free agent. Aaron Jones was injured throughout the season, putting Dillon in position to start before he landed himself on IR after Week 15. But he failed to provide anything of substance, averaging 3.4 yards per carry (5th-worst) with just two TD scores. His advanced rushing metrics were career-lows across the board, and he didn’t have the scores (despite a robust red-zone role) to mask the lack of rushing production. At age 26, Dillon still has the chance to carve out a red-zone role on a new offense, so don’t be too sour on his 2024 outlook should he land in an advantageous spot. As bad as he was in 2023, it looks much more like an outlier than a sign of decline for a relatively young and rare-sized RB at 247 pounds. The Raiders could be a potential fit under new OC Luke Getsy, who was with Dillon in Green Bay from 2020-2021.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Damien Harris

Harris’ season in Buffalo was limited to just 6 games due to injuries. The former Patriots and Bills RB has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons, with just 17 games played the last two seasons. He will likely be added as a depth piece, potentially either back in New England or with familiar staff in New York (Giants).

Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt was signed off the coach by the Browns after the team lost Nick Chubb to a season-ending knee injury. Hunt was productive in terms of TDs, but not as a rusher or receiver in any capacity. He was dead last in yards after contact per attempt, with nine forced missed tackles on 143 carries (6%). The soon-to-be 29-year-old doesn’t have the juice he once had.

I’d expect the team to move on from Hunt – and his ELEVEN TDs – with Chubb returning and younger guys like Ford/Pierre Strong Jr. on the roster. Hunt and Ford COMBINED for 20 TDs scored for the Browns in 2023.

Chase Edmonds

Had it not been for injuries, we could have seen Edmonds have a much larger role in the Buccaneers’ offense, given how badly Rachaad White started the season. Gun to my head, I bet Edmonds signs a one-year deal with the Commanders as their new third-down back alongside Brian Robinson Jr. He’s had past success with new Commanders OC, Kliff Kingsbury, from their days in Arizona.

Joe Mixon

Mixon’s not a free agent, but he has an “out” in his contract and looks primed to be released as a salary-cut candidate. Dead cap hit is $2.75 million compared to his salary cap hit at nearly $9M. Mixon was RB12 in points per game and RB5 overall through 18 weeks. He played all 17 games and finished 8th in RB snap rate (69%). Also ended the year fourth in red zone carries.

He was essentially a three-down bell cow from Weeks 1-12 until the Bengals started to feature rookie Chase Brown more in the backfield. Mixon’s target share (11%) stayed the same, but his route participation (42% vs 48%) dipped with Brown in the lineup.

Brown could be pegged as the team’s starter heading into 2024, depending on how the backfield shakes out. At worst, he likely proved he can carve out a small role alongside Mixon (should he return to Cincy), especially as a receiver.

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