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8 Must-Have Running Backs to Draft (2024 Fantasy Football)

8 Must-Have Running Backs to Draft (2024 Fantasy Football)

Trying to predict the ups and downs of running backs during free agency is more of a ruse than a science. The way to win when diving into running backs is by categorizing players and refining those groups as you get closer and closer to the season.

When evaluating running backs, there are the “Worth the Price” players, of which there are a limited few, the “On-Paper Winners” and then the “One Thing Away” players. Let’s dive into each category.

Must-Have Running Backs

Worth the Price

Let’s keep it short and sweet for this group. You’re probably thinking, ‘Well, duh!’ These four running backs are hot commodities and will likely be gone before the end of the second round in single-quarterback leagues. You might disagree with my rankings but these are the only running backs worth the early draft capital it will require to roster them in 2024. Why? They’re efficient rushers with high involvement as receivers out of the backfield. Plus, except for Jahmyr Gibbs, they’re workhorses who won’t be sharing the workload with another significant player. Gibbs earns his spot here because he showed promising trends towards the end of the season and had impressive efficiency metrics, like ranking second in most yards per carry after contact.

On-Paper Winner

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Saquon Barkley. He entered the NFL with the promise of generational production but he has yet to live up to the hype. Now, the question everyone’s asking is whether it’s the Giants or Barkley to blame. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the former. But here’s the silver lining — Barkley is finally getting the blocking and protection he was missing in New York. He’s moving from one of the worst run-blocking teams in the NFL to one of the best in the Eagles, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

He also no longer gets the sole attention of opposing defenses and has a functional quarterback. Even in his sixth season, Barkley ranked first in rushing yards over expected per attempt, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. In 2024, he has an average draft position (ADP) outside the top five at running back, which is league-winning value. Don’t play the “I can predict injury” game; draft Saquon Barkley.

One Thing Away

The Seahawks have playmakers all over their offense. New head coach Mike Macdonald comes from Baltimore and will be bold in establishing the run early in the 2024 season. Zach Charbonnet will undoubtedly have to fight for touches behind Kenneth Walker, hence the category. A healthy Walker means Charbonnet profiles as an RB3 with upside. If Walker were to go down, Charbonnet would have league-winning potential. In his rookie season, he eclipsed 100 carries and added 33 receptions while playing 60% of snaps only three times. Charbonnet will keep the pass-catching role in 2024 and it is easy to find a path for him to eat into red-zone work. He has the workhorse frame and might already be the complete player in this backfield.

We can keep these two together. D’Andre Swift finds a new home in the Windy City. While he won’t have the same offensive line he did in Philly, he still gets an opportunity to lead a backfield on an improving offense. Swift fits the Khalil Herbert role well for Chicago. His addition will likely have Herbert looking for a new home before the start of the 2024 season. The reason Swift falls into this category is Roschon Johnson.

Johnson will compete for the high-leverage touches for fantasy football, passing downs and goal-line work. If Johnson goes down, Swift could flirt with being a top-15 running back. Both of these players are here because of their acquisition costs. Swift is sitting around RB15-RB18 in ADP, which will drop some as we get closer to the season, assuming health for the Bears, which makes him a decent value. Roschon Johnson, on the other hand, is going outside the top 30 running backs. At that cost, he is my choice between these two to be a true must-have running back. Johnson was an efficient runner last year, averaging 4.35 yards per carry. He also added 34 receptions on 40 targets. He only saw more than 50% of snaps once all season. His not claiming the starting role in his rookie season is a firm yellow flag for now. However, at his current ADP, he provides the skill set and value to be an easy bench stash for your roster.

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