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3 RB3s with RB1 Potential (2024 Fantasy Football)

3 RB3s with RB1 Potential (2024 Fantasy Football)

The RB position has become increasingly difficult to predict over the years. It appears as though the true workhorse RB has gone extinct in today’s NFL. Backfields across the league have become more ambiguous than ever. As fantasy managers, it has never been more challenging to assess depth charts and decipher the division of carries between RBs on a roster. It also means that when you are able to identify values and fantasy football running back sleepers that hit, you have that much more room for profit.

RB3s With RB1 Potential

Last year, most Rams beat writers speculated Cam Akers would be the main ball-carrier for the Rams’ offense. With this in mind, many drafters invested in the RB in the fourth or fifth round of drafts. To the dismay of many, Akers went on to suit up for a single game with the Rams before being healthy scratched and eventually dealt to the Vikings. Los Angeles instead opted for former fifth-round pick Kyren Williams as their lead back.

In retrospect, it would have been impossible to predict the Akers/Williams situation unfolding how it did. With RB fantasy value being harder to gauge than ever, there is plenty of value to be had in the later rounds of drafts. Below are some RBs currently viewed as RB3s based on average draft position (ADP). These RBs find themselves in intriguing situations where they may defy all odds and deliver RB1 production in fantasy.

Running Back Sleepers

Trey Benson (RB – ARI)

Trey Benson was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. The selection certainly filled a need for the Cardinals. Their RB depth chart was in dire need of options other than the often-injured James Conner. Benson will be the secondary ball-carrying option from day one of training camp. He immediately gains stand-alone value as an electric change-of-pace RB. The Florida State alum has a good chance of rising further up the depth chart as the season progresses.

Benson’s collegiate statistical profile is truly staggering. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he averaged 4.14 yards after contact per carry and finished with an elusive rating of 168.9. He ran at an impressive clip of 6.1 yards per carry and punched in 14 touchdowns in his final season as a Seminole. He offers game-changing explosiveness that is otherwise lacking in this Cardinals rushing attack.

As impressive as James Conner was in 2023, he profiles primarily as a bruiser back. His 60 missed tackles forced and 3.93 yards after contact per attempt, per PFF, highlight how effective he is as a between-the-tackles runner. On the other hand, his lack of break-away speed is highlighted by his 31.6% PFF breakaway percentage. In contrast, 55.7% of Benson’s yardage came from break-away runs in 2023.

In the event Conner gets injured, Benson’s workload will increase further. Given the veteran’s lengthy injury history, it would be somewhat unrealistic to project a full 17-game season for Conner in 2024. On the other hand, there is also the possibility Conner starts to show signs of regression. At 29 years old, it’s unlikely he will be able to maintain the same level of efficiency as years prior.

At the RB position, the age-related dip in performance tends to occur in the blink of an eye (see Todd Gurley and David Johnson). In either case, Benson would be vaulted into a prominent role in the offense and would provide RB1 production in fantasy. He’s worth the investment based on his current ADP as the RB31 in half-PPR leagues.

Zack Moss (RB – CIN)

By all accounts, Zack Moss was an above-average starting RB in the NFL in 2023. Among RBs with at least 150 carries, Moss ranked 13th in yards per carry and 17th in PFF elusive rating. He filled in admirably for Jonathan Taylor, who struggled with injury for the majority of the season. Most importantly, he showed the ability to withstand a heavy workload as the primary RB in an offense.

In Cincinnati, he inherits the RB1 role from the now-departed Joe Mixon. During Mixon’s tenure in Cincinnati, he had elite usage. Per StatMuse, he averaged 19.1 touches per game across seven seasons as a Bengal. Many in the industry believe these vacated touches will be divided between Moss and his presumed running mate Chase Brown.

While Chase Brown showed some explosiveness in his rookie year, he will undoubtedly take on a secondary role in this RB room. He has not shown the ability to gain yards on a carry-to-carry basis in the NFL. His 2023 PFF rushing grade of 59.0 is indicative of this. Moss’s offseason acquisition likely indicates the Bengals were not confident in Brown as their primary rusher. Had they trusted his ability to withstand a larger workload, they perhaps would not have felt the need to sign one of the bigger names in this RB free agency class.

The last factor to consider is the incredible touchdown upside in this offense. Last year was somewhat of a lost season for this unit that struggled with serious injuries to QB Joe Burrow and WR Tee Higgins. However, this is an offense that can put up points with the best of them when its key players are healthy.

In 2022, the Bengals ranked seventh with 26.1 points per game. With Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins back in the fold in 2024, there will be plenty of points to go around in Cincinnati. Moss will benefit from frequent visits to the red zone and is a strong candidate to score 8+ touchdowns. Currently going as the RB29 in drafts, Moss has the upside to finish at the top of fantasy rankings.

Tyjae Spears (RB – TEN)

Tyjae Spears quietly put together an extremely efficient performance in 2023. Among 49 RBs with a minimum of 100 carries, Spears ranked 11th in yards after contact per attempt, fourth in elusive rating and 13th in yards per carry, per PFF. He managed to produce these numbers despite being in an offensive unit that was among the league’s worst.

The offense figures to show great signs of improvement after key offseason additions. JC Latham was drafted seventh overall to help bolster an offensive line that has struggled mightily as of late. WR Calvin Ridley and RB Tony Pollard were brought in to generate big plays and to help with the development of sophomore QB Will Levis.

Many will see the addition of Tony Pollard as a devastating blow to Spears’ fantasy value. That being said, last season proved Pollard is best suited for a low-volume change-of-pace role. After many years of impressive efficiency as the RB2 in Dallas, Pollard was slated to be the workhorse for the 2023 campaign. He failed to translate his effectiveness with this increased usage.

Per PFF, Pollarf produced career lows in yards after contact per attempt and elusive rating. With this in mind, it would be unwise to project Pollard to take on the majority of the work in this backfield. Spears will get plenty of carries and is likely to produce at a higher clip, given their respective career trajectories.

A large portion of Spears’ value will come via the receiving game. He emerged as a true difference-maker through the air in 2023. Among 57 RBs with at least 20 targets, Spears ranked eighth in PFF receiving grade and 16th in yards per route run.

He became a reliable safety valve for Will Levis as the QB came into his own during his rookie year. Spears has a stranglehold on the receiving equity in this RB room. Fantasy managers should always be looking for RBs who provide additional value as receivers, especially in PPR formats.

Tyjae Spears will be a focal point in an up-and-coming offensive unit in 2024. Very few fantasy profiles have the RB1 upside he possesses. Drafting him as the RB33 in half-PPR formats should be a no-brainer.

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